BRIC Biennial artist Katie Bell creates works made of found materials that have dynamic surfaces and tie together aspects of painting and sculpture. Bell’s site-specific special project for the BRIC Biennial, The Ruin, can be seen at the Humanities Building Gallery on the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University (steps from BRIC House) through December 14, 2014. We spoke with Bell about her artistic practice, being an artist living in Brooklyn, and her “hot tub lady.”
BRIC: Tell us a little about your work in general and how you arrived at the media and subject matter you currently touch upon.
KB: My work has been evolving based on the materials I encounter and find. My studio is a test site where I can gather things and look at them. I can move them around, put them together, build, and ask questions. I think about the history of the material, what’s behind it, what will be in front of it, and why this is our visual language. I am interested in the ways that home surfaces (carpet, tile, linoleum, vinyl, wall covering etc.) relate to abstraction and how the building process relates to making a painting. I think about the surface of walls, the layers behind walls, and how we compile the structures that hold us. Pulling up the rug, opening the closet, and turning up the blinds are a source of material. This building process is one of excavation through time and place. It is through material that allows the ideas to unravel.
BRIC: Tell us about The Ruin, and how you arrived at the concept for it?
KB: The Ruin formed slowly and evolved with the materials I came across. When encountering the circular glass gallery space at LIU I knew that I wanted to make one large sculpture. The expansive glass walls of the gallery reminded me of display windows and I knew I wanted my piece to act as a display or still life. I began to look for materials that could act as display devices. I started looking for and building my own columns and pedestals. Many of the other materials in the piece I have been collecting for years and others I came across days before the install. Bringing my collection of materials into the space really dictated how the piece formed. It was a carefully curated and arranged piece that went through various iterations before taking its final shape. The display I was trying to create was a combination between a curated construction site, a weight lifting yard, and an ancient ruin site.
BRIC: What are some of the materials that make up The Ruin, and how did you secure them?
KB: The materials for The Ruin were gathered over the course of many months. Some of the columns were found and some were made. The bulletproof glass was found on the street and dragged back to my studio. The sections of hot tub came from a material gathering mission in Pennsylvania. Over the course of a few years, I have made friends with a woman who runs a pool and spa store in Phoenixville, PA. She sells hot tubs and pools and also gets rid of old ones for people. Every time she gets a used hot tub in she calls me. Amy Barto has become my “hot tub lady.” Recently she had a large stock come in and I went and cut pieces out of three different hot tubs for the piece at LIU. Material is always trying to find me, sometimes I just find it on the street and other times it is an elaborate mission.
BRIC: What did you think of the LIU Humanities Gallery when you saw it, and how did it influence your piece?
KB: It is a very unusual gallery space and I was caught a bit off guard when I first saw it. I thought of it as a giant bubble inside of a lobby. It seemed space age, and that my work inside of it would be part of another world. The space challenged me to make something that was in the round. I think it greatly influenced what I ultimately made inside of it.
BRIC: How do you think having a satellite installation (a couple of blocks from BRIC House on the LIU campus) will impact the exhibition/community?
KB: I think it is great to have my sculpture at LIU. It is nice that it involved the neighboring university in the biennial as well as the many students that get to walk by it everyday.
BRIC: How do feel about being part of BRIC’s inaugural “Biennial” exhibition – and do you think Brooklyn needs more Biennials and/or exhibitions that spotlight Brooklyn-based artists?
KB: The BRIC Biennial comes at an interesting time when the Brooklyn Museum has theirCrossing Brooklyn show is also on view. It is great to see so many institutions that are representing the work of the artists that live around them. Brooklyn is in a very unique position in that so many of its community members are artists; so it is nice to support the locals and make connections between their work.
BRIC: How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What do you think of the changes happening in Downtown Brooklyn (the neighborhood focused on in theBRIC Biennial), and do you feel you have an advantages being a visual artist living in Brooklyn?
KB: I am new to calling Brooklyn my home, going on my fifth year living here. The many changes happening in Downtown Brooklyn are changes that seem to be happening all over Brooklyn. Currently it is a space of evolution, constantly morphing and changing. It is an increasingly hard place to be an artist because of the drastic changes in cost of space. I am in a strange place- moving here to be part of the arts community, yet feeling part of the reason why Brooklyn is undergoing so many changes. It is a complicated position that I think many artists and people new to the city are facing. It will be interesting to see what kind of place Brooklyn becomes for artists.
- Interview compiled by Abby Clark