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AMA NEWSLETTER 65

19

16 AUGUST 2012

Interview… STEPHEN SHAHEEN: SCULPTURE, INSTALLATION, DESIGN Stephen Shaheen is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work typically takes the form of sculptures, while also exploring the realms of installation, design and architecture. Training in Italy as a sculptor and earning his MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2005, Shaheen also incorporates recycled materials. His projects include large, community-driven pieces such as a 100-ton marble and granite installation, Memoria (2002), and his Metrobench (2011), created from 5,000 NYC Metrocards. Shaheen is the recipient of a Ludwig Vogelstein grant, the Italian Cultural Institute/La Fortuna Foundation grant, and a 2009-2010 Residency at the Digital Stone Project. His indoor and outdoor installations are in public and private collections in the United States and Europe. He recently taught a sculpture course at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Vermont and also offers installation classes at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Connecticut. Art Media Agency met him to know a bit more about his projects and techniques. How old were you when you first decided to become an artist? When I consciously decided to focus my life on that I was about 25. I have drawn since I can remember but up until that point I was doing other things. I decided to rein it all in when I moved to Italy. A year after, when I was 26, I quit the job that I was working at and I decided to focus on art. So your main reason for moving to Italy was to study art? I went to Italy for a bunch of different reasons: I had never lived out of the country; I was looking for a change in my life, in general; and also to experience living abroad. I also felt I could focus on my art in some capacity there. It was not until after six months of living there that I discovered a stone-carving program whivh was being taught outside of Siena where I had been living and I got involved in that. After the year and half program, I came back to the States in December of 2001. At the time, the part of New Jersey where I had grown up had just been traumatised that September by the attacks in New York. This motivated me to start working on an ambitious memorial project. From there, I enrolled in the graduate program at the New York Academy of Art and got my MFA with a concentration in sculpture. After getting your MFA, did stone become your primary medium? I started this journey with stone in 2000 and over the last ten years a lot of the focus of my art has been on stone, mostly marble in fact. However, I found myself moving away from that in the last year. Since your classical training in Italy, how would you say your methods have developed since then? The rigorous training I received gave me a kind of freedom now that I would not have had otherwise. In other words, I use tools pretty aggressively and work pretty quickly without thinking too much about what I am doing because some of the techniques have become almost second nature. And so, I am grateful for that, although I do find that now I am moving in more of an abstract direction with my work and that the projects I engage in focus less on the human figure and tend to inhabit the realm where sculpture and design intersect. Stylistically, I am moving in a different direction from my training.

Do you use currently use any software during the initial phases of your artistic production? I definitely use software during the planning period of my production. However, in the very beginning, I feel most comfortable working out my ideas in physical reality. Sometimes with chairs, I will work with aluminium foil or clay, generally, things that I can manipulate with fluidity. Once I am able to resolve those forms, to the point where I can study it from every possible angle, in actual space, in front of my eyes, then I put that preliminary model into the digital realm. Then it goes through a fabrication process that I have selected. What I have been experimenting with is lamination. There is a thin chair called Lou P. that is actually constructed not from a solid piece of stone but rather from ¾ inch contours that are all laminated together. There are maybe thirty of them and it is all hand-united afterward. That would be the same approach that I would use with the onyx cloud chair that I am developing. There is also a sculptural lighting that I have done (the Eistla series) and those are done with three or four laminates of onyx together and then the form is cut from that.

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I noticed that you did a residency at the Digital Stone Project. Can you talk a little bit about that? Initially, I was a bit sceptical of the project because I was not sure if artists could give the physical portion of the work to a machine. So when they awarded me the residency, I engaged in a two-year project, which sought to push the technology. I wanted to create something that I did not think I could do manually. Ultimately, the final product was a result of multiple layers of my handwork. Starting with a clay model that I had made, I proceeded to scan that and then work on manipulating and developing the sculpture digitally. And even though I was able to extensively control every part of the design and fabrication process, when the machine milled out the stone sculpture, I did not feel like it was not mine yet. So, I went back in and I carved for another two or three months and reasserted the influence of my hand. So the final work was kind of a hybrid of those two processes. I found it really interesting to learn both the capabilities and also the limitations of using digital processes where stone sculpture is involved.

THIS DOCUMENT IS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF AMA ’ S CLIENTS . DO NOT DISTRIBUTE .

www.artmediaagency.com


AMA NEWSLETTER 65

20

16 AUGUST 2012

Interview… STEPHEN SHAHEEN: SCULPTURE, INSTALLATION, DESIGN (…more) Why do you create chairs? What attracts you to chairs? I am totally fascinated by chairs. It is one of those borderline objects between something functional and something purely aesthetic. If you think about it, you can sit on practically anything: a concrete wall, the ground or a boulder. Oftentimes, we find ourselves sitting on things that are not intended to be sat upon, and when I look at the work of the top designers in the world like Ron Arad or Mark Newson, their forms are, to me, more inviting to look at than things that I would want to sit on for a couple of hours. I think they are usually purchased more for their aesthetic content than their functional value. Are you exhibiting anywhere right now? I have some furniture pieces in a location in Brooklyn called ABC Stone. I understand you just finished teaching a course at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Rutland, VT. What would you say is your educational philosophy? Teaching for me has always been important. I think it is important to keep a hand in it because I feel a moral responsibility to pass the torch on to the next generation of artists. I am currently teaching an installation art class at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art which is really open and abstract. I find it greatly enriching to work with young people who are exploring different media for the first time whether they are using stone or newspaper to create form. There is a lot of freshness in their ideas and my guiding them through technical or conceptual issues that they are wrestling with helps maintains my own active flow of ideas. Very often, teaching causes me to think about a particular issue in my own studio practice differently. After creating your 9/11 memorial, do you have any other abstract or concrete plans to create more monumental public works? As soon as those statues were erected and I saw people coming into the park and experiencing them, that was the first time that I ever internalised what it meant to really put something out into the world and not own it anymore. I felt like it was not mine, it was theirs: the people who were experiencing it. It was

Stephen Shaheen at work

both a strange and gratifying experience. It is delightful to have things in a public space. However, there is a risk in creating public art insofar as it can be killed by a jury of people, determining a long list of criteria and parameters. This is a problem that has existed for all of time. Even in Renaissance Italy, you can see how the fates of particular sculptures were determined by individuals other than the artist. There are certain public competitions and situations where there are many different criteria and many people picking apart what you are doing. This is not something that I would be interested in doing. Public art is something that I enjoy doing when the circumstances are right. Regarding your career as an artist, how would you like to see it play out from here forward? As a very simple base, my requirements are to generate enough work so that I can continue my studio practice and send that work out in the world as much as possible. I have a restlessness to constantly create work which I feel both challenges me as an artist and expresses that which I want to express. Whether that manifests itself in objects which end up in the public realm or in museum collections, that is less important to me than simply creating work that I feel really good about and which engages and affects others. If you had an unlimited budget and could create a public work for any city, institution or public space, where would it be and what would it look like? Part of me thinks it could be just as interesting to create something in a desert as in a bustling metropolis. I will say instinctively New York because I live there and I feel connected to it. Being rooted to this city, I feel I could respond to the space in a way that was aesthetically appropriate. In terms of what I would make, I don’t know if I can answer that, but I would say that there are really interesting places in New York and because of the constant flow of people it would be a great opportunity to create a public piece. In a city that has so much to offer visually and culturally, I think it would be a great challenge artistically to create something unique and different that would really engage people.

Photo Courtesy of kentmillerstudios.com

Interview with Stephen Shaheen, New York-based american artist.

THIS DOCUMENT IS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF AMA ’ S CLIENTS . DO NOT DISTRIBUTE .

www.artmediaagency.com


Stephen Shaheen Interview with Art Media Agency, August 2012