Weinberg’s work has a sensual graphic quality to it
Miami-based artist Michelle Weinberg has had a string of interesting exhibitions lately from a solo show in the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown to a group show in the Miami Art Museum. She’s also completed a dynamic mosaic tile installation in Miami that architectural photographer Paul Clemence captured. We have a guest interview today on Roaming By Design. Felice Grodin sat down with the talented artist, who works in a variety of media that range from paper collage to tile mosaics to woven rugs, to ask her about her inimitable style:
FG: There is a vernacular in your work that makes me think of a neighborhood—the local store, signs that you see, even products. Is this meant to be urban, suburban or both? In addition, is it meant to be a critique of the American landscape?
MW: Neither, and it’s not any sort of value judgment. I’m filtering these places, these experiences of city, country, neighborhood through my imagination. It’s kind of a celebration, a positive act meant to elevate. I like how folklore works—a contemporary folklore that combines different cultures and universal notions of pattern, flavor, graphic—the idea of inflection. It’s my own take on an underlying structure that exists throughout things like furniture or objects. The designer Patricia Urquiola uses it. I’ve always been inspired by Persian miniatures, decorative motifs and Matisse. There is something in the decorated surface that captivates me. The designer Andrea Branzi said that fluctuating, flickering pattern provides its own structure.
FG: Why are there no people depicted in your work?
MW: It’s a conscious decision. The objects rather than people act as figures. The viewer is really the figure, meant to enter my spaces. My work is not about the “gaze” (of one human subject to another). I’m not interested in depicting (other) human emotion. My work exists separate from my own emotion, or anyone else’s psychology. I’m not interested in the fetish value of objects or a cult of personality. I’m more interested in the relationships among things and how those relationships describe something new. The exploration of compositional space and how things are developed within the two dimensional plane is what I am interested in.
FG: Do you think there is a boundary between art and design?
MW: There can be but does one have to care about it? Obviously the training is different. In design you solve problems, talk about functionality. In art you set up your own problems, talk about theory. In the contemporary art world works are shown in a specialized arena. I want my work to spread beyond that arena, relate to the environment, which may include relationships with a “client” and the public.
FG: What about scale in your work? For example, in your latest project through Miami-Dade Art in Public Places—Shadow Canopy, GSA Facility, Miami, FL (2009-10)—how does the intricacy of one tile filter to an entire public plaza?
MW: There was so much “design” initially in that building. The idea is that the tiles would enhance the architecture, not overload the experience. Through an irregular pattern, a pattern that seems to track how a human would walk into the space, it reinforces the human element. Tile breaks a space into units to become an animated backdrop, that of a humming heartbeat or a neurological activity. It reinforces our relationship with our own functioning, our everyday life.
FG: Your way of working is reminiscent of practices when art and craft were considered a trade. Postmodernism introduced the notion of the “concept” where there could be a divorce between art and craft. Is your work a return to the former idea and how is it contemporary?
MW: There is so much art and so many artists who have influenced me, from all over the historical map. Italian Futurists, Sonia Delaunay, Persian rugs, Warner Brothers animations, the theater. My view of technology encompasses the handmade, the artisan-made, the industrially fabricated and the high tech—all those technologies have distinctive textures. I think it’s impossible to reflect on art without responding to its physicality, its manufacture.
FG: What about future projects?
MW: I’m inspired by industrial design and graphic design, and also moving into 3D—from surface design to furniture and even my own rudimentary architecture. My father is an architect. I would love to collaborate on a building with him!