February 21, 2014

Spotlight: Alyssa Kazew

What's the difference between real and imaginary anyway?

There's a sense of delirium pervasive in Alyssa Kazew's work; a sort of generalized frenzy woven through the neon disorder of her collections. Her art reminded me of those first few moments after waking up in the middle of the night when I can't tell if my dream, or nightmare, was real; when I'm still parsing out the hypnagogic visions from the bed I wake up in. Her work incorporates unsettling details interwoven with fluorescent portraits at different points along the spectrum of reality: a ghost in a cage, cicadas overtaking the Empire State Building.

Going through her collections gives a vague feeling of adrenaline as bright colors intensify to lurid; imbuing the pieces with a sort of momentum. Calling art 'imaginative' is usually redundant, but there is a defiance of categorization in Kazew's work (strengthened, perhaps, by its theme of androgyny) that makes it feel singular. I talked to Alyssa about what inspires her art, her life in New York and the perfect playlist for making stuff (it really is perfect, I tried it).

THE LE SIGH: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where you're from, where you went to school, where you currently live?

Alyssa Kazew: I'm from Mars, Pennsylvania. I went to school at Pratt Institute and I currently live in Brooklyn.

TLS: How do you think your environment has informed your work? Have you felt any difference in terms of the themes of your work as you've moved geographically?

AK: I'm interested in sub-cultures and being inspired by other artists, and New York City is great for that because there's always something happening, and there's always new people to meet and new things to experience. I feel like I've always been interested in the things I like now, but before moving to the city I didn't really have the opportunity or resources to explore them.

TLS: When did you know art was something you'd want to pursue? Did you have a moment where it all started to click, or is it something that has been a theme in your life for a long time?

AK: I've always been making art my whole life.

TLS: Has your outlet changed? For instance, was there a time when you were more focused on a different mode of expression? How has your style transitioned over time?

AK: It all depends, really. I mean, from time to time I'll be more focused on maybe taking photos or other times it changes to drawing. It more or less depends on what outlet would best suit an idea I have. I write poetry on and off as well, and occasionally practice guitar. I also want to get into making clothes in the future. I guess over time I've become more open to trying and mixing various modes of art making, like for example, making a sculpture that's ultimately part of a photo.

TLS: While looking through the pieces on your website, I noticed they were created in what appeared to be different media. Can you explain a little about that? I see some are illustration and some are photographs, but there also appear to be some that are in between: a photograph that also appears to incorporate illustration; the usage of color and light to alter an image. Can you explain a little about how you create the different types of pieces?

AK: Hm, I don't want to reveal too much about my process. I more or less prefer working by hand, and scan my drawings and photos and then assemble them in Photoshop. I like the method of layering in a psychical sense, like taking a photo, photocopying it and then scanning it.

TLS: What do you mean by 'psychical'?

AK: Like, not digital. Not layers in Photoshop. Making photos that could be taken with a digital camera, but printing them and rescanning them (or some variation of that) - so these photos that started as a digital file, go through a process of entering the physical realm and becoming something you can touch and then going back to being a file on a computer.

TLS: Can you identify some themes in your work? How are the categories I, II, and III delineated? 

AK: As far as themes go, I don't have a particular theme or idea I abide by. Half of my pieces are documentations of my life at the time and the other half are premeditated, or like a romanticized version of the truth. Oh, and there's really no rhyme or reason to how I have my website set up right now. I'm still in the process of figuring out a more meaningful way to categorize my work. One of my current projects I'm working on is going through thousands of negatives I've taken in Brooklyn over the past five years and condensing them under a "Brooklyn" category. I'll probably remove a lot of the images I have on my site and put all the premeditated, mixed media photos in another category. I usually make things and then figure out what they mean later.

TLS: Have you every talked to anyone about their reactions to your work? Have there been any reactions that have surprised you?

AK: I mean, it's always nice to get feedback for perspective, whether it's good or bad. If another artist I respect likes my art, I'm usually pretty stoked, but other than that, I really don't expect any particular reaction. I guess it all just depends on who the person is that's reacting.

TLS: I wondered what the illustration of the submerged Statue of Liberty was meant to represent. I also noticed that androgyny seemed to be a recurring element of your work. Are there political or social messages in your collections?

AK: That piece was actually an editorial piece for an article about natural disasters in New York City. It doesn't mean anything to me (another part of my website I need to redefine a little better). I'm not trying to make a statement about anything political or social. If I'm not making art for someone or something else, the art I make for myself is solely to make myself happy or document my life. As far as androgyny goes - I do try to live my life in a neutral way, free of/re-appropriating gender roles. And I like to surround myself with people who live their life in a similar way.

TLS: What upcoming plans do you have for your work? Where do you see yourself (in general, or in terms of artistic development and progress) in five years?

AK: I recently moved into a new apartment with a photographer friend of mine, and we plan on using our living room as an installation space for photo projects. So I'm looking forward to starting on that. I'm also in the middle of working on a diptych dickpic involving ouroboros and the Hollywood Hills.

TLS: What is a 'diptych dickpic'?

AK: It's a diptych that involves a dick picture (I thought it was a funny play on words).

TLS: Do you currently support yourself with your art, or do you have additional jobs or commitments?

AK: I wish. Ideally, I'll hopefully be able to support myself with art at some point soon. But in the mean time, I'm the model casting director for the photographer Matthias Clamer. I also babysit, and just started to intern at this art space called The Hole.

TLS: What are your ideal conditions for creating work? Do you listen to music, have a certain workspace?

AK: My ideal working conditions are a large space on the floor I can sprawl out on and make a big mess. I end up working on my bedroom floor a majority of the time. I always have to have music on. Most of the time I'll pick a song to obsess over and play that on repeat and get into a trance.

TLS: Can you give examples of any songs you've done that with?

AK: So many! Okay okay, I'll just list some of my favorites in no particular order:

"Molly" - John Maus
"Xtal" - Aphex Twin
"Among Dreams" - Ariel Pink
"Sulk" - Trust
"Sucker" - Astrobrite
"Letter to Hermoine" - David Bowie

Most recently I've been obsessed with "I'd Like to Walk Around in Your Mind" by Vashti Bunyan.

Check out more of Alyssa's work here.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel and spends most of her free time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she has ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.