Magazine article Sculpture

Serendipity and Faith: A Conversation with NARI WARD

Magazine article Sculpture

Serendipity and Faith: A Conversation with NARI WARD

Article excerpt

Nari Ward's monumental works merge mystery and meaning. His 2012 exhibition at Lehmann Maupin's Chrystie Street gallery consisted of beautiful objects with double and triple meanings. Why would shoelaces embedded in a gallery wall spell out "We the People?" Why was a fox with an Afro-tail standing at the base of a police observation tower? Did the infrared light beam signal a gun targeting its prey or a policeman saving a victim?

Since earning his MFA at Brooklyn College in 1992, Ward has exhibited at numerous museums and galleries, including the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia; Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and Deitch Projects in New York. Last year, his mega-exhibition at Mass MoCA connected displaced workers in North Adams with their counterparts in his native Jamaica. Amazing Grace (1993), an iconic work originally created in an abandoned fire station in Harlem, was reinstalled in the New Museum's Studio 231 space earlier this year. The recipient of a 2012 Rome Prize, Ward has also received the Willard L. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pollock Krasner Foundation Award, and Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. His work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Galleria Civica di Arte in Turin.

Jan Garden Castro: "Sub Mirage Lignum," your Mass MoCA exhibition, featured several massive works, including Nu Colossus-a juxtaposition of an old American fishing boat with an oversized, vortex-shaped, Jamaican fish trap filled with distressed furniture. Could you discuss the role of memory in your work? How did you discover these unlikely connections between the industrial town of North Adams and Jamaica?

Nari Ward: Denise Markonish, the curator, basically said, "Do whatever you need to do." While I was at Mass MoCA, I got a chance to walk around several buildings-remnants of the old factory, not yet open to the public. I was able to rummage through what I call "little treasures" and pick out what I needed to work with. For me, the memory part was inherent in going through the space. There was a distance between it being a productive space-people's lives were spent there-and this emptiness. That's the space that memory occupies-I'm trying to mine the memories of this particular space.

I had a fish trap that I found at a yard sale. It's woven, about 15 inches long, with an industrious elegance of design. Once the fish goes through, he's not able to come back out. It's a trap, but it's also a portal, a one-way door. One can't come back out. I got intrigued with the possibility of using this form to talk about a viewer's relationship to a moment-the idea that we can never relive a moment. We go into it, it changes us, and we're in a different place, but we can never recover that moment in its entirety. So, the trap became a metaphor for that possibility and that limitation; it's also a visually eloquent form.

I decided that I needed to make a dialogue between the form and the place-a stopped moment in time. The boat was a happy accident. While I was working on the fish conduit, Denise sent out a memo explaining what I was doing-contrasting the fragile economy of North Adams as a former site of Spraig production equipment and that of Jamaica, both now economically dependent on outside forces and trying to rebuild themselves through the arts. Somebody wrote back that a boat was available, and I got really excited about having another kind of dialogue between the boat and the device that I was working on. The suspended boat became another way to layer the ideas in the work; in a way, the boat becomes the viewer, just like the fox becomes the viewer in T. P. Reign Bow.

JGC: Why is the fish trap filled with run-down furniture?

NW: I wanted to emulate a material that has gone through some transformation. …

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