Brydee Rood in New York
With a self-professed love of waste, Auckland artist Brydee Rood took her work to a New York festival which questions our culture of consumption.
Ila Couch talks to Rood about her impressions of a city where even the smallest purchase comes with a plastic bag.
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This is the second time they’ve been to Pepe Giallo today. Eighteen thousand restaurants to choose from and Florian Habicht and Brydee Rood have declared this Italian joint worthy a re-visit. They order the pasta with zucchini, tomato, goat cheese and olives for $10, a cheap and tasty celebratory meal.
The pair have just opened and closed their first exhibition at Chelsea’s P.P.O.W gallery as part of the Hostess Project aimed at enabling artists of all fields to present their work through one night events. Brydee, an Auckland born artist with a self-professed passion for waste, featured her work Quiet Bright - A Temporary Installation. Florian, New Zealand filmmaker and recent Harriet Friendlander Scholarship recipient, presented his short film Liebestraume.
Florian apologies for running out of wine at the gallery but it’s a sign of the night’s success and my fault for not arriving earlier. He’s two months into his residency and has for the past two weeks played host to Brydee who in addition to tonight’s exhibition took part in the fifth annual Last Supper Festival. The multi-media festival with a focus on consumption sounds a perfect fit for Brydee whose work involves recycling and reappropriating found and everyday materials into works of art.
I talk to Brydee about her impressions of a city that has trouble selling gum without putting it in a plastic bag.
You just got back from your first visit to New York City, how has it been settling back into a country of 4 million after being in a city of 8 million?
Well a little static, especially with the chilly blitz and Auckland bus strikes of late. I rely on feet and public transport to move myself so returning to the bus black hole has only saturated my feelings of being stuck. Nothing like being left with a raging gash in your pshyche that only New York can fill.
How long were you in NYC and what propelled you over this way?
I guess I followed a trail to New York. Whilst exhibiting at GEISAI Miami / PULSE Contemporary Art Fair last December I met a collecter who asked me If I’d heard of The Last Supper Arts Festival in Brooklyn and its relative themes of consumption. I hadn’t, we talked some more and in the months to come he connected me to the Last Supper Director Coralina Meyer. One thing led to the next and I was selected to exhibit. In the background I knew Florian Habicht was going over to New York on the inaugural Harriet Friedlander Residency. We’d joked about the fact that if I got a show in New York I’d be staying on his couch... funny how things turn out with a little foreshadowing.
The Last Supper sounds like an amazing festival to be a part of – music, art, film, food, performance - all addressing the act of consumption. It’s wonderful that the proceeds go toward benefiting the Food Bank of New York. Have you ever been a part of anything like this before?
I think it’s a stand out thing and a credit to Coralina Meyer that The Last Supper Festival happens and has been happening for 5 years. An art festival dedicated to exploring the means of Consumption is a big deal. It’s not the kind of thing you would find in New Zealand or actually anywhere else before now. Even though consumption is a part of all life everywhere, I’ve not before experienced this level of engagement with ideas and art in relation to consumption.
What was your contribution?
The I am temporary Temple was in 2 parts: Using red LED plastic hose lights to form a fiery script - read like an altar sliding off the brick wall and over the concrete held in place with gorilla tape and good will..., alight and encouraging people to declare a simple reading “I am Temporary” speaking to the relatively short period of time in which we inhabit the earth compared to the forests, the oceans and stars which surround us. I worked in mind of the impact of our consumption on resources and our waste on the environment; using red as the colour of warning to inherent themes of global warming and climate change. The “temple top” was a floating cloud of red and white collected plastic waste bags hand cut, suggestive of tribally fauna patterns and waving delicately above the festival toilets.
I read there was an “Edible Ghetto” of a miniature public housing project made out of gingerbread last year. What was the highlight of this year's Last Supper for you?
The Last Supper was unique in terms of anything I’ve ever been involved with. An incredible mix of art and feast: Fresh organic, locally grown, inventive food dishes and a diversity of multimedia art all explorative to ideas and practice of consumption. My favourite works were by food and installation artists – Lucia Madriz - Todo Bajo Control (All Under Control) 2007 composed in a planter box with beans and rice grains and Suko Presseau - ‘Thunder Moon Offering a visually splendid, under the table, flower girl performance. In the Film section I loved Thomas Beug - ‘The Spotter’ a gentle rat hunting romance set on a Brooklyn fire escape. And not to be forgotten - I really enjoyed the DIY stall in the food art exhibition serving homemade whisky lemonade – that was a treat!
What discoveries did you make about New York and the unique way the artists here respond to their environment?
Actually New York is the working home to one of my favourite artists Mierle Laderman Ukeles, a self proclaimed "maintenance artist" whose worked literally touched over 8500 New York City Department of Sanitation workers in a handshaking performance titled Touch Sanitation (1970-1980). I also revere her very special piece The Social Mirror (1983) appearing in the grand finale of the first New York City Art Parade; a 20 cubic yard garbage collection truck, clad in hand-tempered glass mirrors. The reflecting truck is a metaphor for the interrelationship between "us" whose images get caught in the mirror and "those" who collect our garbage. Apparently it is still used by the New York Department of Sanitation for special events and festivals. I wish to see it next time!
Any other great discoveries?
There was a promising show at Nurture Art Gallery in Williamsburg, Plan B curated by Krista N. Saunders. An engaging exhibition, questioning and re-inventing processes of sustainable food production and new economic realities. The exhibiting artists touched on a variety of issues which have their basis in present day consumption. Maybe New York is a place where artists and consumption smash together, there seems to be more going and it has a lot to do with being there.
I spent a much loved afternoon at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens at the EAF09 - the Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition – brilliant to just walk down Broadway to the river’s edge and find a Sculpture Park. Open and free to all passersby – a great site to be with art and what appears to be a wonderful program of artists developing projects.
When it comes to over-consumption it's fair to say America is perceived by the rest of the world to be amongst the worst offenders. Was there anything that disturbed or surprised you about New York in this respect?
There was definitely a great deal of trash! Suggesting a lot of American waste; Sesame Street style garbage pails, bursting black sweaty bags and overstuffed vomiting dumpsters congregating on every other street corner. Sensorial, stimulating and feeding my cryptic passion for waste. Yet it seemed the locals were thick skinned about it all. Unlike my sensitive skin...
Speaking of your cryptic passion for waste, when did it all begin and how did it first manifest itself as art?
I’ve been scrounging in bins for as long as I can remember; pulling stuff out - potential materials. The collision was inevitable. As a child I sifted through the local inorganic rubbish collections with my father and grandfather. It begun (and it continues) on the streets around me, the neighbourhoods of weekly rubbish days giving birth to bulging girths of waste, the toxic pilgrimage of one manned cars on daily commute. I think it most notably manifested in a yellow wheelie bin work Tui Kowhai Wheelie (2005) which led to other wheelie bin works and will doubtless lead to future wheelie bin works. I’m not afraid to say that I care and I stand by the philosophy that art responds to a time and place, here and now.
What draws you to the materials you work with?
I’m attracted by things with a common use and a material relationship to consumption. Colour plays a significant part in my collection tendencies. I’m easily fascinated by pink recycling bags, orange rubbish bags, yellow biohazards bags and so on. I’m doubly and/or equally interested in both the pesty nature of things, out of control in a critically changing world. Things which may evolve, presenting new beginnings or a fleeting sentiment of hope. There’s an undeniable optimism which somehow finds voice in the materials I work with and I’m never quite sure whether it is in spite of the materials I select or because of them, or both. There’s an unresolved complexity here in this relationship which continues to captivate my thinking and feeling.
Did you come away with any ideas you're interested in developing or incorporating into your art?
I broke out in unknown spots whilst walking over the Williamsburg Bridge to downtown Manhattan, and oddly not the 1st allergic reaction flared up on an installation trip. (At the Parihaka International Peace festival in Taranaki I’d been up a weedy hillside for hours dispersing solar lights into the terrain. I was so determined to make some headway with my installation that I ignored the progressive red scratchiness on my arms and legs until I started to feel my throat swelling up. So that time it was the hell weeds that were ravaging both me and the landscape together.) Anyway, Local curator Alison Beth Levy suggested she might find me some polka dotted rubbish bags. I’m curious to develop a project using spotty disposable sacks (Yayoi Kusuma - Dots my mind) It comes back to sensitivity; Allergic waste, nagging a response and begging a sense of reactionary awareness to ones lived in environment.
How important is it as an artist to travel beyond your own country?
Being globally aware ... and responsive to our changing world is what it comes down to for me on a personal level. Professionally it’s a wonderful privilege to have the opportunity to diversify ones experiences; creating and exhibiting and of course the 2 cross over. There’s always more to learn from and share with different cultures and places. In recent times I’ve thought quite a lot about China. China I imagine to be a wild cat scratching a million fleas in my noodles; stimulating in a fantastically engrossing, consume at all costs kind of way. China would likely break my heart, and so be it.
You teamed up with Florian Habicht and put together a temporary installation titled Quiet Bright. What did it take to pull this off given the short amount of time you were in the country?
I stayed with Florian during my trip so I thought it’d be nice to ask him to join me. We had fun and it was sweet sharing the event, like holding hands. I heard about The Hostess Project at PPOW Gallery from fellow GEISAI Artist Deric Carner and I noticed a White Fungus event on the 2010 Hostess Project horizon. Taking this as good omen I contacted Jamie Sterns. Everything grew from there. This speck of an idea blew into my thoughts just days before flying to New York. As I packed my suitcase I slipped a set of electric blue solar lights in with my socks. I suppose I had the quiet bright hope that an impromptu installation may follow. And it did.
When did you meet Florian and what was it like exploring New York with a fellow New Zealand artist?
I met Florain when I was 17, in my first year at Elam. Florian was a few years ahead of me but I often caught glimpses of him above the partitions. Elam in the 90’s was pretty small and social with famous Friday’s Elam drinks, beers and BBQ’d mussels. I look back on my Elam undergrad years with special fondness.
I had a feast of excellent experiences with Florian starting with Trash Bar and me - gouging out a stage slippin’ Karaoke of GNR’s Sweet Child of Mine in style without style, an un-staged collapse, recollected limbs and sung to the last tearing note! (bit of a hit with the locals?!?)
Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers NYFF Premier and meeting Jonas Mekas (Godfather of American Avant-Garde cinema) for drinks afterwards with the Trash Humping gang. Trash Humpers; I hold a screwed up, biffed away, gutter sniping fascination for the rhythmic garbage banging episodes that somehow made me laugh amidst the freakish rotten narrative – Trash Humpers! (Quietly addicted to the title I am) Trash Humpers! And so good to share it and not go it alone! It would have been a horrible film alone!!
The highlight of my Florian stay was the openended unnaviagted as-you-like-it tour from Williamsburg via Union Square to East Village. It all ended back in Brooklyn with dog poo. We dimly stumbled up Florians rickety teal staircase, spicy basil mock duck Thai takeout on the anticipating taste buds, directly via front door dog poo on shoe (4 feetsworth) into the kitchen. Within seconds I’d plastic bagged my hands and feet whilst bending over, double scrubbing the offended kitchen floor. Before long we were enjoying sumptuous basil sniffing Thai and granny smith apple cider. The poo was forgotten. The tour was memorable.
Ahh, you’ve just referenced the ubiquitous plastic bag. Did that method of clean up make you feel just the tiniest bit guilty?
Ha, ha well there were no rubber gloves in Florian’s kitchen and the door handle seemed to be establishing something of plastic bag nest. Actually Florian and I had both commented several times on how there were no (well we hadn’t spotted them yet) visible alternatives to plastic bags. I don’t think I saw a reusable shopping bag once in my 2 weeks which isn’t to say they weren’t out there, just seemingly inaccessible.
What was your greatest achievement while here in New York?
I’ve mentioned the art achievements already so I’d have to go with riding the subway solo. Initially I was petrified! But as logic set in I was spurred on by thoughts of surviving Tokyo and Mexico City. When I made my first line transfer my sense of happiness was out of proportion but hey there’s nothing wrong with smiling! It’s a great system! Wish we had one. Even better if it comes with the man playing a pair of Caribbean Steel Drums! Music in the subway is so alive and spontaneous you just stumble across something brilliant and then your train comes.
What about food? Any sweet memories for your taste buds?
Many! Pepe Giallo Trattoria a skip around the corner from P.P.O.W Gallery in Chelsea, serving delicious, cosy, artist pocket friendly pasta. A delicious Red Lentil Soup at Medina Cafe in Union Square. The budget Mexican on the corner of Montrose and Bushwick Ave with yummy authentic enchiladas, beans, rice and salad and fiery bottles of green salsa to add at will. Anna Maria Pizza on Bedford Ave - this place I couldn’t get enough of, a countertop brimming with tempting gigantic freshly made slices!
What do you have planned next?
Now, I have work in the Waikato Museum with the New Zealand Contemporary Art Award exhibition and I’m working on ‘Te Ra Te Ra Te Ra Black Hole Black Hole’ a temporary installation project on Willis Street coming up soon. Add to this my never-ending secret hopes and dreams with a bit of wait and see. Most of all - I’m pretty fired up to return to New York!
Photos care of Florian Habicht.