June 19, 2014
Location:Brooklyn, New York
Miriam Songster grew up in Massachusettes and now lives in Brooklyn NY, where she is pursuing a dual career in the arts and in digital advertising and production. Miriam’s artistic practice engages with several themes: minimalism, site-specificity, the private experience of public space, and the multi-faceted nature of sensory perception. Each of these themes has been more or less prevalent, as her practice has moved from sculpture and video to installation and scent-focused immersive works. Engaging the active collaboration of the public has become an increasingly important part of her practice.
Consenses Interview with Sally Taylor:
Your Name: Miriam Songster
Where you live: Brooklyn, NY
Where you came from: Burlington, MA
Your Medium: sculpture, installation, scent, conceptual art, site-specific art
The name of your work: The Subject Awaits Further Clarification
Dimensions: (Height, length, width & weight) 45″ x 15″ x 15″ 30 lbs
Price: Wholesale (how much would your sculpture Be to buy?) $1100, which would include a bottle of the scent.
What made you want to participate in this project?
First and probably most important is that I was intrigued by the concepts underlying Consenses. The idea of responding to another artist’s work, across different media, and having my work be part of this chain of interpretation – that was a real draw. Plus I enjoy the constraints of building off of something that already exists in the world, rather than starting with the proverbial blank slate.
Without going back to look at the photograph what do you remember about it?
I could describe many aspects of the image, because I spent a lot of time looking at it. But in terms of relevance to what I ended up creating, I would mention:
-The significant horizontality of the image. It is a stacked landscape.
-The subject appears at first to be the woman standing in the pool, but after careful consideration it is not clear that she really is the main subject, since the landscape overwhelms her in physical and possibly emotional terms. It is also difficult to read her facial expression, adding to the impression that she is a prop, a needed vertical element, rather than a fully-fledged human subject.
-Yellow/biege with blue-ish bookends; and a flat sky.
-The angle of the shot, with the photographer positioned above the pool/woman, combined with the pool appearing within a mostly natural landscape, led me to think about domesticity.
What was your first reaction to the image? (thoughts, emotions, memories, tastes, smells etc?)
I found the image graphically striking but emotionally ambiguous or neutral. In terms of smells I imagined the ocean (a brackish, vegetal version) and dry grasses, and chlorine.
If you had to choose one word to sum up the photograph what would it be?
What emotion did the photo elicit?
Initially, none. And I wasn’t getting any immediate inspiration, so I spent more time with the photo and sort of dissected it. I went so far as to send a survey to a few friends to ask them where and when they thought it was shot and what the subject of the photo was. One friend (who happens to be a professional photographer) told me, referring to the woman in the photo, “she looks so happy it makes me smile.”
What was the image about in your mind? (Did it tell a story? Who was wearing it? Etc.)
I thought about several possibilities. For ex, the photo could have been shot years ago (based on the woman’s clothes) or it could have been taken recently. I ultimately decided that it is recent and posed, rather than older or impromptu. Possibly the photographer was there with this friend by chance and just thought it was a cool location so took the shot. But I think it’s more likely that this location was a place that the photographer knew about and that he went back to specifically to get this shot. For some reason I also considered that the owners of the house (which presumably is behind the pool?) weren’t there and the photographer and the model had to sneak in. So the “story” for me seemed to be about the circumstances of taking the photo, the relationship between the model and the photographer, and the location.
Take me through each step of your process from getting the photo to the creation of your sculpture.
-looked at photo on and off for a few days
-decided to send short survey to friends – kept thinking about the photo intermittently for another week or so, and took a bunch of notes describing various details of the photo and about whatever else came to mind
-came to an interpretation based on domesticity/domestication concept (as applies to people and land)
-was thinking of ways to incorporate the height differential between the photographer and the woman in the shot
-came up with idea of using native birds (bird’s-eye view of photographer represented by a hawk compared with smaller female bird who is at or below ground level). i think this idea sprang from an earlier consideration of bird baths.
-sketched some ideas, and settled on cat condo as base for the piece
-looked at a bunch of cat condos online and then bought one
-researched bird taxidermy and learned that all raptors are protected and unavailable in the US (thank you to the various taxidermists who answered my unusual questions)
-spent too much time online still looking for hawks
-woke up one morning with the idea of the gauntlet. ordered one from the UK.
-decided on quail as the female bird. ordered one from a taxidermist in Florida.
-meanwhile i was thinking of combinations of raw materials for the scent
-the scent went through many iterations but conceptually had only a few
-something classic that would suit the woman’s outfit, or
-something more location-based
-would it be literal in having either pool or suntan lotion smell? (no)
-quail arrived in the mail. adjusted the angle of her neck and waited for her to set for a another few days.
-assembled the sculpture
What did you title your work and why?
The Subject Awaits Further Clarification
What part of the sculpture came to you first and how did it evolve?
Once I had the concept it didn’t evolve that much. Other than having to substitute for the hawk (see audio), I built it as originally planned.
How do you normally create? How was this experience different?
For the sculpture, this was a process similar to what I’ve used for other work, in the sense that there is a lot of up front concepting and then the build was not iterative or additive. The scent was extremely iterative and required a lot of adjustments throughout the process, but I think that is the nature of that medium. And to be honest, I do not have a huge amount of experience building scents, since I have tended in the past to work with professional perfumers.
What techniques/tools did you use to help you express you’re interpretation?
The only thing I can think to mention is that the scent includes a seaweed tincture that I made. Otherwise it is all pretty standard, with store-bought raw materials for both the sculpture and the scent.
Are there certain choices you made which mean something specific to you that the observer might not know?
Great question but in this case I don’t think so. I did almost use Bain de Soleil suntan gel in the scent formulation because I associate it with one of my aunts who I spent a lot of time with on the Cape. But it is not used in the final scent.
Extra credit: Did you enjoy this project? More you want to say about your experience?
Yes I enjoyed it! I’m really looking forward to seeing the thread that my work is part of, as well as the rest of the show.