Studio Spotlight: Bat-Ami Rivlin
November 28th, 2020
One gray windy day, I visited Bat-Ami Rivlin's studio in Brooklyn Army Terminal to hear about her recent residency experience at Governor's Island and the recent body of work that she has been working on for her solo exhibition in January 2021.
GHOST: Thanks for having me, tell me about this new studio space.
Rivlin: I just finished a residency in Governor’s Island where I had a studio space. It was fun yet challenging, I utilized how particular the space was to make site-specific installations. When the residency was over, I needed another place to park my shit in.
G: I have been following your work since 2017, and I remember the conversations we had on the streets about you scavenging a lot of raw materials for your work.
R: Yes GHOST, I am glad that you remember our conversations. It is kind of important to me that the objects that I gather are utilitarian and cast away, or surplus. If an object has too many decorative elements I lose interest. My partner jokes that I put shit on shit. But I kind of like that. We are used to pushing objects into the background and stop looking at them after they’ve been disposed of, but I think it’s interesting to bring them back.
G: When I was with you back in those days, you would find something that looked like trash to me, and get very excited about the discovery. I always thought your intuition towards those materials that are limited in value was fascinating.
R: Thank you GHOST. Sometimes objects look like they have a direction that I could push them further into.
Other times I get excited about certain objects because I can see a potential connection/relationship with the materials I had already collected in my studio.
G: So I guess you are a potential hoarder.
R: Yes, absolutely. 50% of making my work is identifying and thinking about the objects I want to manipulate, so you could say that hoarding is a foundational element of the process.
G: So it really is like ‘pairing shit with shit’, as you put it. But the result looks more calculated and, a lot of times, holds the idea of ‘bodily care’.
R: There is an interesting mutual relationship between materials that are assembled together. It mimics the functions of the human body and its relationship to objects that are around us. I’m interested in this tension created with the just-right amount of support or pressure to sustain comfort or shape. I’m trying to create this ideal tension between materials in a sculpture so that it could exist as both a collection of things and one single body, without losing the original identity of any of the found-object components.
G: How was creating the site-specific installation different from making individual sculptures in your studio?
R: I think what happens with site-specific works is that the site becomes one of the objects. So my new incorporated materials are physically touching and holding onto space in such a way that the space almost scales down to being a tangible functional thing.
G: That makes sense. What was your last site-specific project on Governor’s Island?
R: Governors Island was interesting because we were housed in one of the Colonels' Row buildings. These historical buildings are old and rundown and the interior has slowly deteriorated, exposing the inner parts of the structure. I was interested in the shapes that the deterioration created. I took 400 of these plastic bedpans I sourced from a surplus center and started making a pattern with them in response to the shapes in the peeled walls and ceilings. The environment of the island and the commute also influenced the work; the 400 plastic bedpans-basins were responding to both the shape of the interior as well as the ferry that I was taking to commute to Governor’s Island every day. The humidity from the water is an active component in fatiguing the materials of these houses, which produces these clouds-like-eaten-away shapes in the paint and wood of the rooms.
G: Tell me what you are working on right now.
R: Well GHOST, I have a solo exhibition coming up in January that I am super excited about at M23 gallery in Chinatown, NYC. It’s been a while since the pandemic started and this would be the first time showing some of the works that I made during this strange time. I really miss having conversations with other artists about the work so I am looking forward to sharing new things.
G: Great, I am very much looking forward to seeing your show. Thanks for having me Bat-Ami.
R: Thanks for coming GHOST.
** All images courtesy of Backyard Ghost & Bat-Ami Rivlin