Ginevra Shay (b. 1987, Washington, DC) is an artist who studied Studio Art and Art History at the University of Vermont. Ginevra’s work has been exhibited and published internationally. She recently participated in a three person exhibit with Jen Schwarting and Cooper Holoweski at Present Company in NYC. Other recent exhibitions include, a two person exhibition at Rock512Devil (Baltimore), The Finnish Museum of Photography (Finland), Notre Dame University (Maryland), John Hansard Gallery (United Kingdom), Galleri Vasli Souza (Sweden), and Flying Object (Mass). Her work and publications are in the libraries of Yale University Art Gallery Library, The International Center for Photography, Indie Photobook Library, Houston Center for Photography, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I’m an artist based in Baltimore. I’m also the Program Manager for The Contemporary a nomadic museum here, a member of Current Space, an independent curator, and soon to be an artist-in-residence at Gallery Four.
How has living in Baltimore affected your art practice? It’s hard for me to describe Baltimore, especially after the past few weeks of its uprising. Baltimore has always felt like movement to me. I look at this city’s landscape, its people, its architecture, and feel inspired — similarly to the way I feel when I look at a mountain range or a highway that stretches off into the horizon or a square filled with thousands of people acting as one unified body. Years ago when I used to walk home at night across Guilford bridge and look across at East Oliver to see a mostly vacant street with the cemetery in the background; it felt similar to looking at a large lake at night. A beautiful heaviness, latent with potential. There’s an expansiveness of space, of vacant, and crumbling buildings — but growing out of all that is a strong and unprecedented spirit.
Living in Baltimore has pushed me to not be afraid. I think what enviably holds artists back is fear. The work ethic in this city is very inspiring.
Max Guy said it well: “Baltimore is a post-industrial city, where many artists and organizations have a real sense of obligation. The creative energy is very wild, tribal in a way. A history of economic depression has afforded artists with thriving live/work spaces.”
I think there’s a kind of by any means necessary mentally here in Baltimore. People don’t want to hold back and everyone wants to see each other and the city succeed.
What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? Well, I’m very cookie driven. :)
Tell us about your work process and how it develops. My work is rooted in an interest to understand and contextualize the proliferation and dissemination of imagery. I’m pretty process driven and for a while I’ve been experimenting in the studio and darkroom with ways that I can deconstruct and reconstruct an image.
I’m always working on a number of things at once but for a little while now I’ve been working on this series, Raum Bilder, which explores how American society utilizes the proliferation of images in print and media as a means of distraction within a dystopian capitalist landscape. I’m interested in the ways re-appropriated images can be used to construct a new visual landscape, one that can critique and challenge the need for distraction through narrative spectacle — though, my dioramas were initially conceived as a means to dissolve the prescribed meaning or use of the photographic image. I’ve been pulling source imagery from advertisements and articles within mass produced publications. Through the dioramas I’ve been able to strip these images of their initial content and focus on their tonal quality, form, and texture — the photograph becoming a paint stroke, or other mark, to build new meaning and purpose within a idealized landscape.
I’ve been simultaneously working on Bronzelidded which continues my interest in dismantling the photographic medium. I spent a year making a series titled Lesser Chainsin, a black and white darkroom without the use of a camera. It was important for me to abandon the camera for a moment and make photographs with as minimal means as possible. After exhausting my set parameters for image making, and finishing the series, I decided to start a new body of work where I used bleach to destroy the remaining photographs from Lesser Chains. It’s been exciting to make photos that are unfixed, imperfect, and frankly smelly.
I have to shout out the Afro-American Newspaper, which is based in Baltimore. I worked in the Afro’s archive for a little while and it was really influential to my practice. That archive is perfect, so much so, that there are hundreds of photographs and articles on churches and buildings that no longer physically exist in the city. It just destroyed me. It flipped my interests in preservation; I no longer wanted to focus my energy into maintaining Baltimore’s historic photographs and documents, and making that information available. I wanted to be part of a larger movement to maintain the city’s living culture and history. The Afro inspired me to dig deeper into the structures of Baltimore, and cities in general. Lately I find my reading list branching out more into architecture, urban planning, graphic design, typography, and dance.
In the studio, I’m pushing to see how photography can be more experiential beyond its two-dimensionality, while still maintaining an interest in the deconstruction/reconstruction of an image.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I’m working on the second half of my series Raum Bilder and heavy in the b+w darkroom. I’m also working on a whole new body of work that is more sculptural but still rooted in photography. I’m moving into Gallery Four soon where my studio will be much larger than the one I have now. I’m pumped to have more space to make big work and expand my practice, also to do programming with some rad folks in a 5,000 sq ft gallery 0_0 !
Last week I curated a screening of art shorts for the Maryland Film Festival called Error: Host Unknown, featuring films by Zadie Xa, Emma Hazen, Dina Kelberman, Milton Melvin Crossiant III, Wickerham & Lomax, Laurie Kang, and Amanda Horowitz. It was organized around my interest in things that come out of dystopia, afrofuturism, net art, internet-realized fetishes, and speculative realism. There was a panel discussion with Dina Kelberman, Wickerham & Lomax, and Amanda Horowitz. It’ll all be on my website eventually.
I moderated a talk for The Contemporary called 3D Printing + Access with the Smithsonian’s 3D Digitization Program Officers Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi and LA-based artist Dwyer Kilcollin.
If you were a drink what would your top five cookies be? This question was actually “If you were a drink what kind of drink would you be” an opportunity to say something witty, sure, but I would say, “over steeped lukewarm tea” which is true but super boring and gross. So I’m going to talk about my current top 5 favorite cookies in Baltimore, because 2015 is year of the beautiful cookie, and I’m done with cupcakes:
1 – Cafe Poupon: Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
2 – Kinderhook: Triple Ginger Cookie
3 – Charmingtons: Espresso Cookie
4 – Dooby’s: Burned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie
5 – Ma Petite Shoe Cafe: Everything Cookie
Describe your current studio or workspace. My studio is two strange rooms in an old warehouse called the Annex in the Greenmount West neighborhood of Baltimore. I have a window that faces east overlooking the Greenmount Cemetery. One room houses all my art and philosophy books, flat file, framed work, and publications. There’s a cut out in between the rooms where I keep my life size Spuds Mackenzie lamp. The other room is pretty open, with a small desk facing the window, bleachy, stainy floor, and painty walls, right now full of crazy materials and new things.
What artists are you interested in describing as cookies right now?
Ryan Syrell – Funfetti Cookie
Max Guy – Triple Ginger Cookie
Molly Colleen O’Connel – Fig Newton
James Bouché – Black and White Cookie
Kyle Tata – Gingerbread Man
Victoria Fu – A Vegan Cookie from Red Emmas
Lee Heinemann – The Great Cookie
Roxana Azar – Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich
Laura Judkis – Peanut Butter Jelly Cookie
Dina Kelberman – Biscuit
What are your favorite things on the internet?
What are you reading right now? I’m reading Lisa Nakamura’s DIGITIZING RACE: Visual Cultures of the Internet, though slightly dated, it’s an interesting foundational text for internet studies and has an intersectional approach through a visual and art historical lens. “These questions of identity constitution via digital technologies have tended to get elided in critical discussions of Internet access, or when they are discussed, it is often as inconvenient stumbling blocks that stand in the way of the ultimate goal: universal access. What has yet to be explored are the ways that race and gender permit differential access to digital visual capital, as well as the distinctive means by which people of color and women create and in some sense redefine it. Women and people of color are both subjects and objects of interactivity; they participate in digital racial formation via acts of technological appropriation, yet are subject to it as well.” Nakamura goes on to use J.Lo’s If You Had My Love music video as an example of the interactive objectivity. Such a good example.
I just finished reading Moyra Davey’s Burn Diaries. Come to think of it, she’s probably one of my favorite contemporary photographers AND thinkers on photography. She has a beautiful and straightforward way of speaking about the philosophical anxieties of being a photographer, about examining photography in all its complexities beyond its two-dimensionality, and spends a considerable amount of time comparing the act of photographing to the act of writing, which I appreciate.
In Burn Diaries she addresses her struggles with the writings of Jean Genet and pulls this beautiful quote from his book Prisoner of Love that I’ll leave you with, “I was amazed when I realized that my life…was nothing but a blank sheet of paper which I’d managed to fold into something different.”