An interview series spotlighting New York’s creative community. Hear directly from artists, curators, and art workers about their current projects and personal quirks.
And we’re back. Welcome to the second edition of our ongoing interview series Meet the NYC Art Community, which profiles a different artist or art worker every three weeks.
This week, I spoke with Constantina Zavitsanos, an artist who works in sculpture, performance, text, and sound. Zavitsanos’s practice hones in what is perceived as invaluable, on the re/production of debt, dependency, and means beyond measure. In New York, Zavitsanos has exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the New Museum, Artists Space, the Kitchen, and Participant Inc. With Park McArthur, they co-authored “Other Forms of Conviviality” for Women and Performance (Routledge, 2013), and “The Guild of the Brave Poor Things” in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT Press, 2017). Zavitsanos lives in New York and teaches at the New School.
Where do you consider home?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and anywhere else I can spread out in that brotherly love.
What brought you to New York/what has made you stay?
I came to New York ten years ago for love and I’m only going to stay for love too.
Tell me about your first memory of art.
Painting pet rocks, building mazes and houses out of legos and cardboard or whatever else we could find with my friends, making clouds in a bottle, my Gram’s paintings, my Uncle’s wood carvings, my Yiayia hand tatting my lace dowry and stretching phyllo dough across my father’s empty bed that she used just for making dough, drawing all the icons in her home, trying to draw a horse friend of mine at the track where my Dad worked and just getting so hung up on the nostrils not working out right – holes are like so impossible still… Drawing tattoos for all my neighbors, working by commission to draw on classmate’s folders. Does pretending to be Rocky on the art museum steps count? If not, the Duchamp wing at the PMA.
How would you describe your practice?
As desire meeting desire, where both are needs; debt and dependency in the best of ways; take aways, give aways, no ways, only means. Where abundance and scarcity are different but not opposites; where the entanglement of disability and impossibility is the (under)ground of possibility. Where the incapacity to produce induces the invaluable. The thing is, it’s really hard for me to describe my practice because that would mean separating from it or drawing that life and art line somewhere distinct, rather than just enjoying the blur and moving with or getting stuck in the co-constitutive transduction of life and art. I’m really just trying to have some fun in these conditions, and hoping to also, you know, recondition them or decommission them. I just do things for love. My practice is epistolary; I’m just trying to heal enough [so] that I can love better or at least write a better letter. I just keep messing up so I’m stuck having to make more. Idk a hole in a hole maybe? It’s hazy. Maybe ask again later.
What are you working on currently?
Trying to not die and collaborating with people in that same practice — right now I’m mainly chipping in with scheduling care, deliveries, and raising funds for disabled and immunocompromised people, teaching online, sleeping a ton, and making some reflection holograms at home that are a continuation of my work from my solo show at Participant Inc. I want to work with infrared and maybe those observatory things that listen to space but seems a bit out of reach at the moment so really I’m just looking at pictures and data of cosmic background radiation and listening to Blind tours online.
Creatively speaking, what keeps you up at night and what makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I don’t do that — creatively speaking, sleep is a fundamental part of my practice; I make my best work in bed one way or another and much of it asleep or somewhere in between waking and dreaming. My bed is a key component in my practice in so many ways — for both production and reproduction, creatively and recreatively speaking.
What are you reading currently?
Right now I’m mainly reading or rereading the following: an ephemeris of the 1770s, old horse Racing Forms from the 1990s, a handful of science papers on allele frequencies and protein binding, stuff on how to do quantum mechanics at home, random closed captioning on Youtube, recipes for this acorn squash my housemate brought home, Wikipedia entries on the potato and on locusts, Polynesian navigation charts and a bunch of stuff on waves of all kinds, Sean D Henry-Smith’s poetry, Cameron Rowland’s ICA show website, Geelia Ronkina’s text on Park McArthur, Carolyn Lazard’s writing, Jota Mombaça’s writings, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, and a wide range of text messages from friends, loved ones, and three strangers, one who I met on Craigslist years ago — I think — and one who I’m pretty sure is a bot.
What is your favorite way of experiencing art?
Touch, however noncontiguously, and usually through another, preferably with or through someone I love. And I prefer to actually be in love with the art I’m taking in or it just kind of isn’t worth the experience — same for the maker, but you know: take and take/give and give. I’m happy to work for it and don’t mind begging or even just being a bit lost. I like to be moved, to have to feel things through, to be too close to even see it, [be] confused, maybe even dumbfounded, struck, caught up. I don’t really like when things are too clear unless that one-liner is a one-two punch type of deal where there’s dually veiled valences to the work — where there’s levels to the thing, multiple reads, ambiguity, and clarity simultaneously. I love work that trolls hard but comes with real feel. I like corny, sappy, seriously sincere stuff. And works that scale from the whole wide world or word to the artist’s almost boring take or allow for the viewer/participant’s absurd idiosyncratic wanderings alongside serious edge.
Favorite exhibition you’ve seen in the last year?
Jason Hirata’s Sometimes You’re Both solo(ish) situation at 80 WSE. Like literally my hero. He turns out the entanglement of dependency and labor so hard and so softly in this sincere service that’s so far beyond critique but uses that criticality as a material means rather than its own ends. It’s my favorite Hannah Black piece in my favorite Jason Hirata show. I just, ugh —they, he, Hirata is just so smooth and in my opinion the most slept-on artist in New York after a few of the guards at the New Museum – especially Julio [Davila] (his wood engravings are gorgeous). If you didn’t see it, it’s fine — you’re seeing his work in all kinds of places already anyway. I saw it and still missed it, I’m sure. Wow, I really miss that show. Thanks for asking.
In the creative circles you’re part of, what questions do you want to see more people asking?
I want to see more artists ask how to reveal the world (or destroy the world as we know it) by helping mystic truths, so to speak. I want artists to ask to be paid more and more often, in acknowledgement of knowing what we want is free sometimes, and toward the destruction of the wage altogether. I want the im/material worlds we’re making to ask more about how to serve in and beyond the frame of what this over-vetted little gated community deems art. I want us to ask in and beyond the geeking out on form and critique and politics, what aesthetics really shape and deform and elaborate. I want us to ask to serve and care for one another and IDGAF how silly that sounds. I want us to ask all of our questions more from, and in, love and life — however militant or cool or dark or sweet or deep or beautifully, absurdly weird and messy that must render. I want everyone to ask about what’s actually invaluable. I want us to ask the trees and seas for some clues right now. And I want the Earth itself to answer.