The Carole Feuerman Studio in a Blizzard

After three weeks of work in the studio, intern Craig writes about some of Carole’s pieces and the jobs he’s been working on.

Three weeks now!  It hasn’t been so many days, with Christmas and the new year, but I’ve gotten more comfortable working in this studio and going between my head and my hands in the different tasks I’m doing around here.

We packed a giant woman into four crates on Tuesday.  She’s called DurgaMa, and she sits cross legged with her shoulders back on top of a flower.  Each petal had to be wrapped individually with Tyvek and foam, so that’s what I spent most of the day doing.  DurgaMa ignored me the whole time, half in a box and locked into her contemplation.  We’re sending her across the country to Los Angeles, to a show called INTO ACTION!

According to it’s organizers, INTO ACTION! “is a celebration of community power + cultural resistance, bringing together hundreds of the nation's top visual artists, activists and influencers for creative installations, powerful panels, and music performances,” and is starting already this Friday the 13th.  In this weather, I was thinking about crawling into the crates with her.

Rob and Mathew pack a crate with  DurgaMa 's petals.

Rob and Mathew pack a crate with DurgaMa's petals.

A couple millennia ago, after Alexander’s empire fell apart, it was succeeded by a bunch of different Greek speaking kingdoms.  In the far east of the Hellenistic world were the Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek kingdom, and life in these kingdoms combined the conquering Hellenic culture with local traditions and practices.  The first anthropomorphic depictions of the Buddha come from this era.  These religious sculptures would be covered in schist so that they could be detailed down to the fingernails.

DurgaMa is syncretic, like the Hellenistic Buddhas.  On one hand, she is named after an aspect of Devi from the Shakti tradition of Hinduism, the warrior and creator goddess Durga.  On the other hand, this woman wears a one piece bathing suit linking her to the rest of Carole’s Swimmers series.  The curator Simeran Maxwell writes that the “graceful upturned faces” of Carole’s sculptures “present proud and confident women who revel in personal triumph and erotic liberation and in the sensual quality of water.”  Durga defeated the invincible buffalo demon Mahishasura after a ten day battle.  Maybe the contemplating woman depicted in DurgaMa is quietly sitting in the triumph of restoring balance after her own ten day battle with demonic forces.

DurgaMa,  assembled.

DurgaMa, assembled.

Maybe she was dealing with frozen pipes.  As I’m sitting here in the studio writing about DurgaMa, I can see a blizzard that’s being called a “bomb cyclone” come down through the window.  I’m wrapped up in my biggest sweater and two pairs of pants.  It’s dissonant to look at and think about Carole’s swimsuit clad figures in the thick of a New York winter, the dissonance that comes from having your visual understanding of a situation contradicted by information that you get in other ways.  

Even without a blizzard, that dissonance is always present in Carole’s work.  It defies expectations to see drops of water that will never slide or dry, to see people that will always be relieved at their escapes but never get emotional distance from the moment.

Yesterday a senior fabricator, Natasha, started teaching me how to do the lay-up of one of Carole’s sculptures, a Mini Serena.  Serena is resting on an inner tube, her head on her arm.  She looks tired and self-satisfied.  One of the artists here, Heath, said he saw in it the story of a woman who has escaped abuse and created a new life for herself, and is resting in that moment of security she has created.

Natasha's torso and the  Mini Serena  mold.

Natasha's torso and the Mini Serena mold.

I thought about that story as I was applying layers of resin and fiberglass to her mold, building up her substance from the outside of her skin in.  Is there a metaphor there?  I think so but I guess it's not about Serena's journey. 

Serena self-realizes, and it's impossible for me as another person in dialogue with her to replicate her self-realization.  Instead I have to begin at the level of her skin to work down to the things that give her strength and solidity.  If viewers can take that time to explore the narrative of an art object they interact with, exploring that object's material and spiritual reality, then they can learn what techniques they need to use inside themselves to replicate what they find appealing in that object.  I'm attracted to Serena's floating, mobile self-security; maybe in understanding her production I can find that security for myself.

—Craig Hartl

What's it like to start out at Carole A. Feuerman's studio?

A new intern started at my New York studio this week.  Craig is a graduate of Pratt in Brooklyn, where he studied product design, and he’s going to be gaining experience doing both writing and fabrication work for the studio.  I asked him to write a post about how his first week here has been:

I have worked a lot of different kinds of jobs.  I grew up in Scotland and Ohio, and ever since I moved to New York six years ago it’s been non-stop hustle.  Working for Carole so far has been validating because it feels like the different kinds of work and education I’ve landed in could all be useful in some way here.  Beyond that, her studio is a place where I’m going to have the chance to expand a lot of different skills that I’ve only been able to dip my toes into before.  Instead of spending all day yelling at tourists for the East River Ferry or getting paid under the table to package toffees Uptown, here I get to engage with the art world both as someone who can think and write about the work of a groundbreaking sculptor like Carole and who can work with my hands with the team that realizes her ideas.

Getting down to business with  Survival of Serena.

Getting down to business with Survival of Serena.

Last week I translated Carole’s bio into German, my family language, and Greek, which I learned while attending a university in Athens for a year.  Translating an artist’s biography is a more difficult linguistic task than I expected it to be!  In Greek, I immediately ran into the problem that a direct translation of hyperrealism, “υπερρεαλισμός,” is a word that’s used in Greek to refer to the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century.  It took research on Greek art blogs that talked about Carole and her contemporaries to find out that the movement that she helped pioneer is usually referred to by its English name in Greek to avoid confusion.

In German, there was a different set of obstacles.  German has a lot of what are known as false friends: words that sound the same in German and English but have subtly different uses between the languages.  When I sent my draft to my papa to proofread, he had to remind me that while English uses the word sculpture for both the field of making sculptures and the sculptures themselves, Skulptur in German only refers to the art object produced and the field is usually called Bildhauerkunst.  Luckily these obstacles are enjoyable to overcome; by comparing the way words and ideas are talked about in different languages, it becomes more possible to precisely grasp the ideas themselves and the meaning that underlies the communication mode you’re employing.

In the end, this is one of the exciting things about art as a communication method.  The art objects that Carole produces are ways of producing a dialogue that you would conduct very differently in English or Greek.  That’s been the other engaging thing about beginning work in this studio: the chance to interact intimately with Carole’s work.

This week I waxed a giant inflatable swan at Mana Contemporary in New Jersey, and buffed up giant women to get them ready to show.  In New York, I worked on chasing a cast of a new sculpture and taping up a Balance to be ready for painting.  Spending more time with these sculptures makes room for the strangeness of the studio to sink into me bit by bit: beautiful figures surrounded by disembodied limbs everywhere, crates full of people, scale shifts that leave you unsure if you’re a giant or an ant.  My coworkers switching back and forth unconsciously between calling the sculptures hers, hims, and its.  Watching a models face get consumed by casting goop.  Getting spooked by the bronze bust of a man that I see behind me in the mirror every time I open the bathroom door.

Heath works on  Midpoint.

Heath works on Midpoint.

I talked with the studio team a little about the surreality of the space, and according to them everyone adjusts to it eventually.  The works are their profession, they have to be rationalized and understood practically so that they can be produced to the highest quality.  I understand the necessary trade off, but for now I’m in love with the contrasts in this space, the fantastic interior reality of this artist’s studio invisible to the satellites passing overhead.  I’m thrilled to have the next three weeks of this internship in this space.

—Craig Hartl