photo: courtesy of the artist, Saya Woolfalk.
In the bleakness of winter, art becomes even more essential in brightening the spirit. Saya Woolfalk's solo show at Zg Gallery
, "No Place: Wonders from the World," promises to resuscitate your winter-weary soul. Plushies (soft sculptures) made of fluorescent fabrics in surrealistic shapes share space with a series of psychedelic paintings inspired by the Seven Wonders of the World, rendered as an explosion of pattern, color and the iconography of Americana and Japanese anime.
Though steeped in sensuality, all of Woolfalk's art makes intellectual connections between tourism, colonization, commercialization, war, politics and racism. Her work begins with sketches, which then inspire the sewing of dolls and soft-sculptures, which then inspire performances in costume, which are then documented on video.
At 27, Woolfalk's art career has already taken off. Since graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, she has exhibited in San Francisco, New York, China and finished a Fulbright fellowship in Sau Paulo, Brazil. Currently enrolled in the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York City, I caught up with Woolfalk by cell phone, as she was running an errand at Home Depot, to chat about her new show.
What are some things that are going on with you right now?
The show at Zg Gallery lays out the foundations of my current body of work. The title, "No Place," is based on Thomas Moore's book Utopia. I used this show as an opportunity to begin to model and play with socially difficult subject matter in a fictional utopic space. I'm currently living in New York and participating in the Whitney Independent Study program. At the end of the program, in May, there will be an exhibition at Artist Space and for that exhibition I will continue the project "No Place."
There are so many layers to your art, so many big ideas going on, but it's still so accessible. Is it that important?
Being accessible to someone who doesn't necessarily know about art is very important to me. I think my work is seductive, and through pleasure I try to talk to people about of many different ideas.
How were you inspired to create "plushies?"
My grandmother taught me how to sew when I was little. I didn't find traditional art-making materials physically appealing [in college]. I found fabric was something I had an immediate physical affinity to; it was lightweight and I could work with it at home. I was also reading about the beginnings of the feminist art movement, a lot of feminist art came out of sewing traditions. I wanted to be a part of that history...I think fabric is my home.
In the past two years you've exhibited in New York City, San Francisco, Miami and China. How do you create so much work?
I'm a terrible workaholic. I am constantly working. I've been lucky enough to get a lot of grants and I've been selling pretty well. This is what I do full-time. But I don't take days off. My holidays were spent making the paintings for the Zg Gallery show. But I love what I do.
How do you think living in Chicago affected your development as an artist?
In Chicago there are so many places you can show; there are so many opportunities for emerging artists. I graduated from SAIC and had an opportunity to show at the MCA. Being in Chicago was a really productive and informative part of my education. I come back quite frequently. My fiance is there getting his doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
What's a favorite place to visit when in town?
Los Comales, a taco joint in Pilsen that is awesome. And I always go to Devon for Pakistani food, but I don't know the name of the place.
Where do you go in Chicago to get inspired?
The Textile Discount Outlet, also in Pilsen. It's a warehouse with miles and miles of fabric.
To look at art in Chicago you go to:
When I lived in Chicago I went to the West Loop a lot. I would frequent Monique Meloche Gallery, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery, many of the galleries in the [118 N. Peoria St.] building. Now I go to the Renaissance Society.