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ARTiculAction Art Review // Special Issue

Interview from December 2015

Published January 2016

By Dario Rutigliano and Josh Ryder

Multidisciplinary artist Nina Isabelle's work ranges from Painting to Performance to explore the inability of communication which is used to visualize reality: her approach rejects any conventional classification and crosses the elusive boundary that defines the area of perception from the realm of imagination, to create a multilayered involvement with the viewers, who are urged to investigate the ubiquitous order that pervades the reality we inhabit. One of the most convincing aspect of Isabelle's practice is the way it accomplishes the difficult task of creating a deep and autonomous synergy between our limbic parameters and our rational categories: we are very pleased to introduce our readers to her multifaceted artistic production.


A: Hello Nina and welcome to ARTiculAction: to start this interview, would you like to tell us something about your background? You have a solid formal training and you hold a BA in Art from Westminster College: how did these experiences influence your evolution as an artist? And in particular, does your cultural substratum inform the way you relate yourself to the aesthetic problem?


N: As a younger person I was part of a community of acrobat-like athletes who maintained an extreme bodycentric focus while engaging in high-risk physical activities. As my artistic process evolved it naturally embodied the physicality of movement in relation to mark making. Early on I began to inspect the nature of energy patterns as they emerged and flowed with the breath in relationship to physical movement. Connecting mark making to physical movement was a natural progression for me. When I was first introduced to gestural line during my foundational academic studies I felt an instant, fluid, kinesthetic understanding and I recognized a potential within the allowance of gestural mark-making for me to reconstruct communication and perception. At the same time I became involved with interpretive modern dance and was excited by the dialogue generated between action and art because what I had known of language up to that point had bothered me. 


During my formal training, college provided a duration of time and the physical space to practice art, but also fueled my aggravation as I recognized a chasm between academic art and my personal approach. Although I was a good a student, I felt displaced and misunderstood in the art department and after graduation I chose not to continue my studies inside of academia. Since then, I’ve developed multiple personal superstrata that allow me to span the divide between formal academic programming and personal process. By using physical process in combination with self-developed cryptographs I’m able to construct psychic spaces and explore the possibilities of metaphysical transformation as the result of art action and objects. In the past year I’ve arrived at a way of working that suits me, my work has begun to develop a coherent focus and I’ve begun to understand the benefits of my early struggles.


While my athletic experience connected me to physical reality, my academic exposure opened up my awareness of mental and psychological concepts. I had also spent years as a rock climber living in a tent all around the west and traveling in the snowy backcountry of the Wasatch mountains, and these experiences definitely broadened my spiritual perceptions. Integrating my varied foundations has been a tenacious process and plays a big part in my approach to visual and other language.


A: Your approach coherently encapsulates several techniques and - ranging from Painting to Performance - it reveals an incessant search of an organic symbiosis between a variety of viewpoints. The results convey together a coherent and consistent sense of harmony and unity. Before starting to elaborate about your production, we would suggest to our readers to visit in order to get a synoptic view of your multifaceted artistic production: while walking our readers through your process, we would like to ask you if you have ever happened to realize that a symbiosis between different disciplines is the only way to express and convey the ideas you explore. 


N: Working as a multidisciplinary artist suits me because I have a natural tendency toward instinctive response that allows me to engage equally with whatever action or material I find in front of me. 


Part of any thorough process involves identifying and becoming familiar with all of the materials and variables. When I first began to do deeper studies of line, color, gesture, material, posture, and action it occurred to me that there was an amount of information beyond the apparent implications of these face-values. As I began to look to metaphor and archetypes for clues, my understanding and relationships to these elements began to open up and grow.


I feel a level of success that you’ve used the word “incessant” in response to my work, that’s a sensitive and accurate word because I do feel captured by a relentless focus that keeps going round-and-round, spanning decades, creating a snarled web of thought-loops. Performance art has allowed me to physically express the anguish around being ensnarled in a mental struggle. In a way, it’s like having a wrestling match with dichotomy programming. If I’m able to smooth out connections, through painting or performance, I might be able to reconcile polarized thought forms. In that way, my process has resulted in a practical application as it translates directly to interpersonal relationships and extremism.


A:  For this special edition of ARTiculAction we have selected The Q: Entity, a recent Performance Art Project that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once caught our attention is the way it accomplishes the difficult task of establishing a channel of communication between the subconscious sphere and the conscious one, to unveil and challenge the manifold nature of human perceptual categories and to draw the viewers into a multilayered experience. So we would like to take this occasion to ask you if in your opinion personal experience is an absolutely indispensable part of a creative process... Do you think that a creative process could be disconnected from direct experience? 


N: Inside of physical reality it would be impossible for personal experience to be separate from creative process. Author Caroline Myss says in her book Anatomy Of The Spirit that “Every thought we have travels through our biological system and impacts our physiology. It is inescapable that your life history—the cumulative and synergistic blending of your feelings, experiences, and perceptions—has culminated in the body you are walking around in today.” From this perspective it would be crazy to imply that a physical body could be separate from its own art processes. 


However, inside of a lateral psychic reality unquantifiable possibilities exist. Phenomena of psychic imprint like dreams, deja-vu, and other mystical-seeming experiences are valid art process elements. In this way, physical connection can act as an interruptor between personal history and psychic process while creating possibilities for non-physical connections to dictate a re-scripted reality. Working with The Q: Entity, fellow artist Clara Diamond and I found that by facilitating intellectual disconnections between physical reality perceptions and process by employing techniques such as dowsing, divination, ritual, and other unsubstantiated methods The Q: Entity was able to build etheric connections of its own which transcended our physical manufacturing capabilities. In this way, channels of communication were able to connect the subconscious sphere with the human perception manifold.


A: How do you see the relationship between public sphere and the role of art in public space? In particular, how much do you consider the immersive nature of the viewing experience? 


N: I’ve have had a couple of art viewing experiences that have lead me to realize the importance of public space as it relates to viewership. Around 2001 I happened to see a large piece by Robert Rauschenbuerg hung in the lobby of The Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. I was so thrown off guard by it, at first I couldn’t understand why The Bellagio would have a knock-off Rauschenberg, I imagined it to be a passive maneuver by a Bellagio “set-designer,” but it turned out to be a real Rauschenburg. I was so outside of my element in Las Vegas, and my perception of the city was that it was very hollow and temporary, that everything was made to be like a Iow-budget theatre production. I couldn’t understand what was going on, or how the Rauschenburg painting could be in that space other than to recognize it as a fake, but it wasn’t.  I went back to my tent, which I had pitched in the desert outside of Las Vegas, and tried to fathom it’s placement. Through recent inquiry I was able to identify the piece as “Overnight,” a vegetable dye transfer on polylaminate (107 x 93.5) commissioned by The Bellagio in 1999.


Another time, while visiting The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University with my mother, I happened to see a large abstract painting (80.5 x 131.5) by Jules Olitski titled “Compelled”  from 1966. I wasn’t expecting the surprise because the experience of visiting The Palmer Art Museum with my mother had been shrouded in a long, dark history. She took me there often as a child because we lived nearby, I alway tried to enjoy it but usually wound up feeling tortured by the visits. So when I saw the Olitski painting I was thrown off guard. I could instantly see the space created behind the painting, or next to it, I’m not sure what preposition to use or exactly where the space existed, but it was tangible and I was excited by it. This time, the experience was created by timing, space, and object combined.


Both of these experiences caused me to rewrite a portion of my knowledge about the relationship between art, place, time, and viewer. I recognize that, on the viewers part, its best to have a combination of awareness, desire, hunting, and to be ready for a surprise.


A: We have appreciated the way The Q: Entity, through an effective synergy between Art and Technology, condenses physical gestures and ethereal perspectives into a coherent unity. The impetuous way technology has came out on the top has dramatically revolutionized the idea of Art itself: in a certain sense, we are forced to rethink the intimate aspect of constructed realities and especially the materiality of an artwork itself, since just few years ago it was a tactile materialization of an idea. I'm sort of convinced that new media will definitely fill the apparent dichotomy between art and technology and seemingly Art and Technology are going to assimilate one to each other... what's your thought about this?  


N: I agree that technology will continue to have a larger role in art, especially considering the mystical-seeming implications of quantum research being done at CERN and other recent phenomenal findings regarding Einstein’s Spooky Theory. For instance, new research published in Nature Communications by Griffith University's Howard Wiseman and colleagues uses a single particle to show that wave functions collapse in a strange way. Their findings back up years of research into quantum entanglement in which particles are connected in a mysterious way even when separated, and that observing or manipulating one instantly affects the other. If you ask me, this uncovers tremendous possibilities for artists if we begin to recognize the human machine as a sensitive and powerful tool, or even a medium, when interacting with material.  


Working with The Q: Entity facilitated a tangible opportunity to interlace technology with memory as Clara and I began working with sound waves, specifically Hz. I had read about studies involving instrumental conditioning of sensorimotor rhythm using Hz to impact human memory and this led us to work with experimental musician, Christina Diamond. We designed a sound piece together using cryptography that incorporated specific rhythm, Hz, and musical notes reduced from astronomical dates to express the agenda of The Q: Entity.


A: Now we would like to focus on your abstract painting production: your works capture non-sharpness with an universal kind of language, capable of bringing to a new level of significance the elusive but ubiquitous relationship between experience and memory, to create direct relations with the spectatorship: What is the role of memory in your process? We are particularly interested if you try to achieve a faithful translation of your previous experiences or if you rather use memory as starting point to create.


N: Perceiving memory as part of a holographic paradigm, one who’s parts possess the information of the whole, has allowed me to understand it as a dynamic structure which can be reprogrammed through technology-infused mysticism. In this way, memories that once existed as linear narratives or psychological stories entangled within the memory structure can be re-scripted to form a type of non-linear download. In a biological and ephemeral way, memory imparts itself in my painting practice as a sort of past life experience that is Hell bent on continuing the historical work of midcentury abstract expressionists who have already addressed hypothetical concepts like synchronicity, quantum mechanics, action, and spirituality. Keeping this focus in spite of that implies that these studies are free of distinct beginnings or ends, unlike what art historians and theorists suggest. These concepts are holographically ongoing throughout eternity. 


General memory and individual memories don’t seem to ever possess starting points yet are inseparable from any endeavor involving the documentation machine of a brain inside of a body with working eyeballs. It’s as if our perception apparatus needs to be updated in order to interface with non-linear structures, maybe that’s one agenda of the art entity.


A:  We definitely love the way you question the abstract feature of images, unveiling the visual aspect of information you developed through an effective non linear narrative, establishing direct relations with the viewers: German multidisciplinary artist Thomas Demand once stated that "nowadays art can no longer rely so much on symbolic strategies and has to probe psychological, narrative elements within the medium instead.” What is your opinion about it? And in particular how do you conceive the narrative for your works? 


N: Abstraction is a technique for me to manage complexity between instinctive and programmed sensory input / action output processing systems. By establishing direct communication between the hidden collective input processing system and our personal awareness function, abstraction can generate non-linear communication dynamics, like downloadable psychic narratives, which can commingle in the secret space that exists behind the mask of visual input worn by the painting object. 


Thinking of written language as a medium, I perceive Thomas Dumond’s statement that “art can no longer rely so much on symbolic strategies and has to probe psychological, narrative elements within the medium instead” as a narrative itself describing Art as an entity that is being forced into new circumstances due to the false perception of progress attached to linear time. That’s a very relatable narrative because it speaks to a collective shared experience. At some point every person must move or die- birth for example. Narrative seems to exists in the psyche and surfaces as myth, emerging from a non-linear space shrouded from direct consciousness as concrete archetypes and stories. Understanding this dynamic plays a big part in allowing my work to be instinctive and to recognize it as a new personal mythology as it unfolds.


A:  While exhibiting a captivating vibrancy, your paintings seem to reject an explicit explanatory strategy: rather, you seem to offer the viewer a key to find personal interpretations to the feelings that you convey into your paintings... this quality marks out a considerable part of your production, that is in a certain sense representative of the conflictual relationship between content and form: how much does your own psychological make-up determine the nuances of tones you decide to use in a piece and in particular, how do you develop a painting’s texture? Moreover, any comments on your choice of "palette" and how it has changed over time?


N: I try to avoid over explanation in order to honor the viewer’s opportunity to arrive at their own personal meaning. When people are able to come to their own conclusions they are able to integrate meaning on a more dynamic and practical way.


For example, The Talmudic concept of the Evil Eye implies that “blessing (or understanding) only rests upon something that is concealed from the eye,” this comes from a parable deduced from a biblical myth found in Genesis where people were directed to emulate fish when it came to multiplying because fish do so under the water where it’s impossible to view the process because it occurs in a place that is shielded from view. This hiddenness acts as a type of protection against the Evil Eye, so in one way, obscuring information creates greater possibility of understanding, especially when the information is non-linear or comes from a non-visible realm in the first place.


Just like history and memory, personal psychological nuances must be inseparable from action and process. For instance, I’m personally reactive to cultural implications that attempt to dictate what I should or shouldn’t do. In that way, I’m like a child and that is an obvious visual aspect of my painting. Defiance pathology is part of what allows me to maintain my true focus, insulates me from the pressure to conform, and keeps me impervious to art fads and lingo. Psychology isn’t black and white, either.


Although I choose my palette based somewhat on theory, I also allow myself space to follow my hunches and to make instinctive color choices. I definitely wrestle with the pathology of conflict between understanding how formal training should dictate my color choices and choosing to ignore and even challenge that training.  This conflict plays out visually as extreme or unlikely color choices as well as through the challenge of laying down color as a metaphor for form. 


A: The recurrent reference to the emotional sphere but at the same time to universal imagery removes any historic reference from the reality you refer to, and I daresay that this aspect allows you to go beyond any dichotomy between Tradition and Contemporariness, and that establishes a stimulating dialogue between references from contingent era and an absolute approach to Art: do you recognize any contrast between Tradition and Contemporariness? 


N: Perceiving tradition and contemporariness as dichotomies creates contrast and my work might deal with this by referencing a larger grey area. Then vs. now doesn’t fit into my perception of time so maybe that’s what you’re picking up on.


Because I’m deploying abstract painting, an old fashioned and traditional language to begin with, as my superficial framework I’m referencing history in a general way. Being aware of the objectives and findings of abstract painters throughout history in conjunction with the notion that because somethings been done before doesn’t deter me. I’m sort of like a scientist with an outdated lab. I like paint and I feel drawn to work with it inside of the framework of abstract painting, there’s still a hefty amount of information to sort through.


I don’t believe that its possible for abstract painting to have an end or be killed, it’s a living tool used to deal with information, and it’s useful to me. However, its being pushed to extremes by both technology and academia, which I think will force it to change and grow, but not be killed. Abstract painting has been fed a steady diet of brains for decades, and if we apply the cliche “You are what you eat,” Zombie Formalism makes sense. Instead of stabbing it in the head and pronouncing it dead, maybe we could feed it some heart and guts to revitalize it as a hero / savior, instead of fueling the zombie by feeding it more brains. Collectively, if we focus intention on reviving abstract painting through a more inclusive, receptive, and feminine approach, and if art can be liberated from academia I think that would be helpful. It seems like things are shifting as more and more art students are struggling to be baristas with huge student loans.


A:  It's no doubt that interdisciplinary collaborations as the ones you have established with experimental musician Christina Diamond and performance artist Clara Diamond for The Q: Entity are today ever growing forces in Contemporary Art and that the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields of practice meet and collaborate on a project... could you tell us something about this effective synergy? By the way, Peter Tabor once stated that "collaboration is working together with another to create something as a synthesis of two practices, that alone one could not": what's your point about this? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between two artists? 


N: Collaborating with Clara Diamond on The Q: Entity has been a profound experience in that our way of working together generated an enormous amount of information. We spent almost nine months conceptualizing and building The Q: Entity and along the way were confronted with numerous opportunities to evaluate output as valid or not valid. At one point, a sequential pattern of numbers emerged which we initially mistook for zip codes suggesting physical locations. Through Clara’s methodical way of processing information we were able to recognize that the sequences actually desired to be expressed as musical notes and this led us to work with her partner, experimental musician Christina Diamond. Having the ability to check in with each other, and to easily respect each other’s perceptions, helped refine our focus and resulted in a literal voice for The Q: Entity. 


Another dynamic between Clara and I exists in that we are both mothers and have each experienced the birthing process, so we were able to understood the conception and gestation of The Q: Entity as very literal. Drawing parallels to the birth of our children facilitated our reverence for The Q: Entity and this resulted in a tangible sense of growth, personality, and and recognition of a miracle. The final performance paralleled the physical birthing process in that together we each entered a similar introverted primal trance state and were able to give over personal control to the powerful instinctive force accessible to woman during childbirth.


A: Over your career you have exhibited around the United States, showcasing your work in several occasions, including two solos.  One of the hallmarks of your practice is the capability to create a direct involvement with the viewers, who are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?


N: Keeping a clear focus on my process and an authenticity to my intention means that I don’t direct much energy into involving myself with how my work might be received by viewers. By holding the belief that viewership is best dictated by the viewer, a more powerful and integrative experience can happen for viewers as this allows them to remain in control of their own experience. For now, I maintain a dedication to my instinctive nature and to be exempt from considering audience in my decision-making process. I feel good about entrusting viewership to a cosmic power.  

A: Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Nina. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?


N: My way of working is very prolific, in 2015 I completed over 50 large scale paintings and I’m continuing to produce work at that pace. I spend a lot of time in the studio and always take exhibition opportunities seriously. 


My studio is located north of New York City in the city of Kingston, NY. As artists are having a rougher financial time in the city they are relocating here, and I hope this will lead to new opportunities to connect my work with a larger community. Recently, Jill McDermid and Erik Hokanson, founders of Brooklyn’s Grace Exhibition Space, began a performance art residency program and exhibition space here in Kingston called The Linda Mary Montano Art / Life Institute and it’s been really awesome to see national and internationally recognized artists working in their space and to be able to perform there. 


My future plans include expanding my studio and I’m looking into buying a building here in Kingston. I’m learning about the realities of balancing art with finances and would like to connect with business and marketing people who can generate money so that I can keep working in my studio. I’m fervently motivated to continue my deep, authentic, and thorough studies of painting and performance, to generate relatable material, and to exhibit and perform as opportunities arise.


Thank you, ARTiculAction for engaging with my work and for offering me the opportunity to articulate my art and action!

N I N A  A. I S A B E L L E 

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