at Ad Hoc Art
in the Williamsburg area
This event has ended - (2008-06-13 - 2008-07-13)
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When I went to see the “Poets of the Paste” show at Ad Hoc Art in East Williamsburg, the lesser known of the four exhibited artists particularly captured my attention. There was something about Imminent Disaster’s work that asked to be further explored; the pieces seemed to emit a flurry of stories. When I found out that Disaster is a woman, I was even more curious.
When we met I was immediately struck by Disaster’s open, straightforward and affable personality. Originally from South Florida, Disaster moved to New York when she was 17. She graduated from a design program and specializes in printmaking. I talked with the young street artist about her work and life before and after her first gallery show.
Viewing your photography on Flickr I thought you might be Hispanic. What is your connection with Latin America?
I studied Spanish for about five years and because of that I decided to study in Peru for a semester. Recently I traveled for four months in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. I painted a few murals and did a little bit of wheat pasting and some other things. I am really fascinated by the whole South American continent and want to continue to get to know it better. There’s a certain authenticity in their lifestyle that I think our culture has lost in its quest for commodities.
When did you start doing street art?
I started about two years ago doing culture jamming—like altering store signs and that sort of thing—and also doing small wheat pastes and stickers. I have gradually been scaling up in the past year or so. My first piece was on the Express Store on 5th Avenue and 18th street. I added a sentence onto one of their displays. Since I had access to a laser cutter at that time, I was able to cut my own stickers and matched their font. The advertisement was a raunchy photo of a woman with her butt up in the air on top a guy. It was about these pants that make you look slimmer. It said “Something Express Jeans” and I put under “to make your ass look hot.”
Did you get any reaction?
I really don’t think there was a whole lot of reaction. It was very subtle and that was the beauty of it. Unless you looked closely you couldn’t tell that it was put there by someone else. People thought it was actually the store signage. It stayed up for about a month.
When you post pieces now, what is the reaction from the public?
The reaction I notice from the public is almost always on Flickr, which I think is one of the most widely used ways of sharing images of street art and graffiti. Generally the reaction has been positive, at least there are a lot of pieces that have been photographed, and photographed by multiple people.
When doing street art do you go out there by yourself?
It varies. I don’t like to be dependent on other people. I am doing a very specific thing. It is illegal and there is the risk of getting caught. I do have a handful of friends that have come out with me, but not all the time. I do go out alone.
So it doesn’t scare you or make you feel alone?
There are certain situations that make me feel uncomfortable and I’ve tried to alter my habits, my preferences for going out, like the time when I do it. For certain pieces I might chose to wait until someone can come with me.
Your show at Ad Hoc Art is pretty successful. Only a few days after the opening, almost everything was sold. How do you feel about that?
I had mixed feelings about it because it was the first time selling my work. I feel I need to rethink exactly what I am doing. Now that I am selling work I need to have a clear vision, a more direct path. I am flummoxed that some of the pieces sold—I definitely wasn’t making pieces that I expected to sell. For example the one on plywood, which is big and heavy. There were pieces that would have been destined for the street and there were pieces that took a lot more time to make, but at the same time it wasn’t like I was making it easy to have them rolled up and mailed. I was making it very difficult for anybody to take it home.
Let’s talk about the work you showed at the gallery. What inspired the stencil Cargando Dinamita, the 19th-century woman with dynamite sticks loaded in her skirt?
“Cargando Dinamita” is a Spanish phrase for carrying dynamite—although it is not apparent what exactly she is carrying. Some people think it is spools of thread or cans, or somebody said oil barrels. It’s kind of a Victorian-era suicide bomber. I’ve been drawing a lot of my inspiration and imagery in a looser way from a certain period in the late 19th century.
Why is that?
I did a project at the end of my college career, which involved a lot of historical research. Reading all the history about New York City sparked my imagination. You can see it everywhere. It’s visible in bits of cobblestone and defunct tramlines peeking through asphalt, in old warehouses gutted and resold as hip condos. The city is old, but constantly being torn down and rebuilt. There are all these things that are buried below modern structures and many on them are now invisible. The modern has obliterated it, and now it lays forgotten. In some ways I am trying to reveal what has been lost. All of this is partially a commentary on gentrification.
Copper on Duty depicts a cop busy with a crowbar…
That was based on a project I did in Red Hook and a particular article from 1959 about something that happened in that neighborhood. It was a mafia dice game that was busted up by the cops. The way that article was written was so detailed and vivid that I could see everything that was happening, and the piece came out of that. It was just an image that made sense to me and I just sort of went with it. For this piece I’ve been using a lot of sinewy, tendon-like lines, just like for Biofuel. I also like how, on the street, the message is somewhat ambiguous. Is the cop busting in on a quest for justice, or is he another common criminal?
Your largest piece, The Organist really touched me. Is it based on a true story or did you make it up?
The Organist is based on historical facts. Herbert Asbury, who wrote the Gangs of New York, also wrote a compilation of different weird mayhem stories that happened in New York over a 50-year period (All Around the Town: Murder, Scandal, Riot and Mayhem in Old New York). One is “The Great Fire of 1835” that almost decimated New York. They didn’t think the city would come back. It affected the area that is now the Financial District. In the essay there was a little blip about a warehouse burning and organ music mysteriously coming out of it and ceasing when the building collapsed. That blip is not necessarily history; it’s pretty subjective and may not even have happened. It’s merely somebody’s memory of this event. And so the story is somewhere between history and legend, and that’s maybe what captured my imagination.
There are also two silk screens that are used, not only for The Organist, but also hanging as individual units. Did you write the copy? And are these being sold separately?
Yes, I did write the copy and I am selling them separately. They are $20 a piece. It’s really important to have things that anyone can buy.
Both Cargando and The Organist convey suicide and destruction. Do you have specific fascination with these subjects?
I can’t say that the thematic unity is intentional necessarily. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to a macabre and cynical view of the world. If somebody can explain why, I might learn something about myself that I didn’t know.
The diptych All American Dream shows a woman exposing her backside and some cars on a parking lot. What is the story of the two stencils and how are they related?
It’s a personal political statement about the values of our society: fast cars, pretty women and sex. It’s not a particularly in-depth representation.
Are you also addressing the values and behavior of specifically American women?
I don’t think I blame the woman as much as the person that put her in that position. She is the exploited and the exploiters are the ones who have subjected her to her current treatment. Some say that a woman’s behavior as a sex object is a choice, but I don’t believe it’s always so cut and dry. When you’re pressured, manipulated and guilted into certain behaviors, then you have been emotionally swindled into believing that a position that you never wanted is okay. Some may find this a very feminist position, but in my experience, I’ve rarely found the roles reversed.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by 18th- and 19th-century oil paintings, specifically Caravaggio and the way he used light. The piece that I am working on right now is all about light, and that’s something I’m really trying to develop.
What are your plans and goals for the next 5–10 years?
The commodification of artwork is something that really concerns me. I am definitely grateful for the opportunity to sell my work right now, but I also don’t want to rely on it, or think of it as a career, or as a source of income. I feel like that will taint my artistic drive and my ability to make pieces that are really coming from a genuine source inside of me. I have some plans for the summer that involve clandestine art installations in hard to get to places. I think at least for the short term, I’ll still be making street art. As a reaction to doing installations in galleries or selling work in private spaces I’ll be focusing on doing really time-intensive things in public spaces for more or less nobody. I am also planning on starting a print shop and a type library, specifically a letterpress for fine art use, not for commercial use, and to have it as an open studio workshop so that other people can learn how to use it and take advantage of the resource.
I think I still have a couple of more years until my style develops into something cohesive. I am still young and just starting.