San Francisco-based artist Beth Waldman has worked with a variety of media largely inspired by her many travels and familial background. She is currently curating a show called Manual Digital at Space 101 in San Francisco. She tells us more about her work and the upcoming exhibition:
Alison Martin: When did you first learn you wanted to be an artist?
Beth Waldman: When I was 15, I took my 1st cast bronze class at my high school in Houston, TX and knew it was something I connected to deeply. I even went so far as to tell my parents that I was going to be an artist. My senior year of high school I took my 1st art history class; that class sealed the deal. I never felt interested in any other subject until art and art history. Then, I was obsessed.
AL: Is there one type of medium (paintings, sculpture, digital) that you prefer or identify with over another?
BW: I view my paintings as an extension of my sculpture. When I started my mixed media painting series, I approached it in a constructive manner. Bricks and the ideas of creating space, brick by brick, has been a theme in my work since my sculptural days. My paintings initially were created in a collage fashion with digital photographs laid out brick by brick, as one would construct a wall, in order to create new urban landscapes with various elements of one site. The merging of these elements and the digital lines and textures that resulted from this process are equally important media to the actual paint of the paintings that joined in for the second half of their creations. Thus, together, all these media play a role in my current work together.
AM: In your Urban Ruins series do the scenes depict one particular city or several different ones? What was it about that city or cities that inspired you?
BW: My Urban Ruins Series comes from photo shoots in Mexico and a living medieval town on a small island in Greece called Kea. The actual locations are rather low key on a travel marketing level, but to me, immediately had a sense of story to them. The photo shoot in Mexico was literally in a random area near a residential neighborhood, but I was intrigued right away. The texture in the materials and the layers of architectural language spoke to me. With Kea, it was literally the power of the building blocks, the bricks that made the walls that once held another layer of life and experience that was not directly attainable anymore. It was also of interest how these walls integrated into more modern constructions in this living village. Their strength and history withstood time and merged with present day experience to create a richer urban landscape.
AM: Is there a particular story or theme that you’re trying to convey through your work?
BW: I am often considering how we experience site, especially ordinary sites. I use architecture as a vehicle to express humanity – the stories that are within these walls and that live within those communities of past and present. I feel that by creating a shifting sense of space and time, I also speak to the variables of our interpretations of our experiences. I like to isolate in floating planes these unique data points to recognize how one’s memory or exchange can rightly be registered in multiple forms via our humanity.
AM: You’ve traveled quite extensively over the course of your career and have been influenced by the places you’ve lived. Is there a particular city that inspired you the most?
BW: Definitely Arequipa, Peru has been my urban muse. It is a place I feel at home and very tied to through my Peruvian-born and raised mother, but also a place and culture that, as an American, I have always felt miles away from physically and culturally. I have memories of visiting multiple times as a child with a 15-year gap from age 9 to 21, thus I have a pivotal experience of place with Arequipa as well. It has heavily influenced my art since my senior year in college (1996-1997) when I developed a sculptural thesis entitled “Transposing Time and Culture: Abstract and Personal Interpretations of Pre-Incan and Incan Art”.
AM: How did you come up with the idea for the Manual Digital show?
BW: This is a special exhibition that embraces themes in my own art practice as well for my fellow practicing artists. We artists have always embraced technology and the newest tools. It is our job to reflect the experiences of our culture and interpret it in various accessible ways. This exhibition MANUAL DIGITAL features the works of nine national artists who have developed new visual languages by embracing digital tools in their primarily analog work. Part of a genre The New Aesthetic, coined by James Bridle, this exhibition presents artwork that is defined by or influenced by computer technology’s increasing role in daily life. The technologically informed practices of these artists reveal new potential meeting points about the time and space in which we equally reside. While the intersections of art & technology have garnered attention in the growing and varied genre known as new media, the practice of many contemporary artists relies on technology in ways that are more subtle to the eye and accessible to a wider public audience.
AM: Do you see digital art as a medium as an art form that’s growing? In your opinion, what makes it so appealing?
BW: Most definitely. I personally have a strong connection to the merging of the analog and the digital. Digital tools are the newest most fascinating tools. I think that they are constantly allowing us as artists to recreate in ways that have never been done. Even considering the role the VR is playing in the art world is fascinating. We no longer are limited to the physical. These tools are not only expansion of our hands but also of our minds.
AM: How did you select the participating artists?
BW: I have known most participating artists for a year or two through various capacities. I have visited their studios or seen their work in exhibitions and/or participating in exhibitions with them. For this show, it was their practice that intrigued me. The resulting works highlighted the breath of work that develops from the merging of the manual with the digital.
AM: What will the panel discussion be about?
BW: The Panel Discussion accompanying “Manual Digital” will look at the evolving technical, conceptual and theoretical merging of art and technology in art practice, including innovations in media such as painting as well as electronic media.
The Bay Area has had a special relationship to technology. While there has been a focus on the developing genre of media art since the SFMOMA starting acquiring works in the 1970s, artists were embracing technology in various forms in their own practice. I will highlight the evolving practice of artist Sonya Rapoport and especially emphasize how she started to use computer programs in her work that led to her reinventing herself as a digital artist.
Focusing more on the experience that technology has on our culture, I ask the panelists to speak to the way they see artists responding to our shifting experience of time and space in our society as a result highlighting the world of social Virtual Reality and augmented realities. I am also interested in highlighting with the panelist input new developments have you seen at the institutional level with the integration of this new practice into other genres. In addition, I want to also highlight the current Lynn Hershman Leeson exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center of the artist and to speak to her relationship between humans, tech, identity and surveillance and how she used media as a tool of empowerment against censorship and political repression. Lastly, I want to focus on examples of work that each panelist sees in their specific area of academia, institutions and DIY artists scene that speaks to how digital technology, in particular, has infused traditional approaches to art making and created possibilities for the invention of new practices.
AM: Who’s on the panel?
BW: I am honored to have a former professor of mine, a fellow committee member and art school classmate be part of the panel including Meredith Tromble, SFAI Associate Professor; DC Spensley, director of the new Dogpatch based Fiction Science Gallery; Maria Naula, Outreach Committee member of ArtSpan and Head of Acquisitions at SFMOMA.
Manual Digital will be on view Feb. 23-Mar. 25 at Space 151, 151 POTRERO AVE. FLOOR 2, in San Francisco, CA.