From Idea to Installation, Go Inside the Practice of a Conceptual Artist

We talked to Perspectives artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos about the mechanics of her artistic process.

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Dec 6 2016, 6:05pm

Genesis 11:1-9 - 2016


CLiMAX - 2016. Images courtesy of the artist

Since her artwork is so closely connected to public space and human interaction, conceptual artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos doesn't operate within the purview of a traditional studio practice. Her inspiration derives from observations of daily life and how technology has become intertwined into our everyday actions. Her subject nudges her into the public sphere.

Kosmatopoulos says she finds her ideas during long walks around the city and days spent sitting in a park. Her eclectic portfolio of sculpture, text works, neon lights installations, and video explore the nature of being present in the modern age, and how our perception of intimacy has changed during recent years. Kosmatopoulos is featured in The Creators Project's Perspectives series on artists on display at the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair in Miami. Her exhibition at PULSE, The _ _ _ _ _ is absent, poses the idea that we now occupy a space in limbo, split between our virtual and physical selves. The Creators Project spoke with Kosmatopoulos to better understand the mechanics of her process.

The Creators Project: What are some of the steps you take to workshop your ideas into a fully realized body of work?

Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos: It's very, very strange. I think I'm not creating my work, it's more that I am remembering concepts that have presented themselves to me. You have an instant idea or image and you are just seeing a vague shadow of it. I develop the whole idea in my head and then I render it so I can show it to other people. But when it starts it hits me in a very strange way. I cross the street, and I'm going to hear a sound that, out of the blue, is going to remind me of a poem I learned in high school that I didn't even know I remembered, or maybe it recalls a song I heard six years ago. When it hits me there's this image that comes to my head, I don't really know where I'm going with it but i know I'm going somewhere. I keep on processing this image and I try to figure out how I can reconstruct it until I land on something more concrete. It's almost like a sketch in my head: I'm going to move things, and walk and feel out the work and then in the end I have a clear image of how I want the piece to look, and then I 3D render it and share it with people to figure out how to make it.

I had a residency at the in North Adams. When I was there I was using Google Translate a lot. I would plug in a new sentence and translate it through Google several times, which allows the algorithm to create a completely new meaning from the original sentence. I knew I liked that. I know I wanted to create more work that involved translation. Three weeks before that, I heard a reporter on NPR interviewing someone who was talking about Genesis. And they were talking about the different meaning of Genesis. I go to the CVS in North Adams and I see index cards and it just hit me. I figured out that I was going to use the book of Genesis — the first sentence that introduces or revisits the Tower of Babel, and translate it several times in Google translate. I decided to make a video where I have my two hands with the index cards, and on each card I'm going to have one of the translations. I cannot explain how it all came together. I just happened to go to CVS to buy an envelope when I saw these index cards and it kind of just hit me.
MASS MOCA

I have a very visual language. So the image becomes extremely clear in my head but I have to run it through a 3D rendering program to be able to communicate it to others. Because I know very well that my words are not able to allow someone to visualize my idea fully. This is why I'm a visual artist and not a writer. My work is centered around a concept and concepts can be expressed with words but because I'm multi-lingual and I don't really fully own one language.

Fifteen Pairs of Mouths - 2016

You work through a range of mediums. Once you have conceived an idea how do you go about choosing the medium to best execute it?

One thing that is very important in my work is that I do not create, I re-appropriate. When I was casting the hands, I wanted to get at the code of the museum, of the Greek old statues. So it had to be white, and it had to look like it was from the era of the old Greek marble statues. Like when I was telling you about the video with the index cards, I wanted to use all of the codes that are associated with childhood, so the pen had to be a blue ink. I try to use a code that everybody knows and then twist the meaning of it to challenge the associations with a particular object.

fahrenheit140 - 2014

How do you know when you're done? Do you give yourself deadlines?

Each work has its own process. But like a week, maximum. Because the work has to be simple. I presume myself like a five-year-old that just questions the object, questions the simple, questions what we take for granted. I want to question the main concept or the main ideas we have. So to do that, the main ideas are simple. I want to remove as much as I can, not add. The final result is very simple. Getting a hand cast in plaster takes 30 minutes to mold the hand, 10 minutes to pull the plaster, and then like one day to finish it and put it on a pedestal. But to get there it takes a month of brainstorming and trying to figure out where I'm going with a certain concept.

Is there a particular place that you like to create all this work?

No. Everyday looks different. Everyday is absolutely different. And I'm very nomadic. The routine and the repetition, first of all, is what kills my work. Because I always love being out of my comfort zone. I think that is very important. This is why when you put me in a beautiful studio with all white walls, my installation might be as sterile as the four walls. I need to be out. I need to be exposed and I need to challenge comfort.

See our Perspectives video on Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos here:

See more of Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos's art on her website and learn more about the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair here

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