Studio Visit, June, 2021
Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Braxton Congrove
A: You’ve been working recently on a chandelier series, and have shown them at Peep Projects in Philadelphia and just closed a show at Proto Gomez in New York. Can you talk about the trajectory of this work and these exhibitions?
B: This whole chandelier series started over the winter and really came together over the last few months. Libby Rosa, a Philadelphia artist and friend and I had been talking about her starting a space in (Peep) and how I planned to make an installation for it. It was my first big show in a while so it was kind of this moment of ok, all these molds and tests and whatever I was doing finally have to become something. I’ve been really into chandeliers for a long time. I think it is related to my interest in interiors and home objects.
A big part of my process is collecting images, I’ve always done it. Lately they’re more images I’ve taken but in the past it has been saved things from the internet, mostly fashion. When things were first starting to shut down, my favorite lighting store on the Bowery went out of business, and I looked for the one photo I took while I was there, which you’re totally not supposed to do, but of course I had to. The photo from inside the shop became this guiding force for the work I think. I just really wanted to make a giant chandelier.
I don’t quite know how it happened, but all of the sudden I was using totally different materials. I was casting, making molds, calling Compleat Sculptor and asking about how to start. You make enough molds and kind of learn what works and what doesn’t. I knew I wanted to make a chandelier with chains and dangling charms but working in a new material I had no idea how exactly that was going to happen until it happened. I remember just thinking about it and making tests until each time it kind of clicked more or a better way of doing it would come up. I learned so much about mold making and casting when I was making the first chandelier.
At the same time, I was in a studio residency called Project Studios in Hoboken, NJ and the show at Proto Gomez was through that residency program, which is how I had access to ceramics. I was back to working as a freelancer and at the same time the iconic chandelier store in Brooklyn I had been obsessed with, I thought it had gone out of business too, was actually hiring. So I got a job fabricating the actual chandeliers during all of this. I wired one of mine before I started working there and it wasn’t exactly wrong, but there’s a really specific way to do it that totally makes sense. For the show at Proto Gomez I was really interested in making a chandelier shop installation, thinking about the ones that closed and the allure of the chandeliers from the outside.
This website and interview series is a lot about how we keep it all going even when we are feeling down or unmotivated. The pandemic has affected us all in a myriad of ways; what impact do you feel it has had your studio practice and your work?
I feel like I’m still processing this year. At first there was just a lot of uncertainty and anxiety and too much time to think about it all. I was unsure if my studio was going to close so I worked out of my apartment for a while, which is somewhat impractical for someone who makes messy large scale installation works. I started figuring out what I could do that was somewhat related and small and not going to destroy my apartment because I have roommates and pets and suddenly we were all home together. Everything pretty much had to fit on a table. I mostly just made natural dye and worked on the roof. It was a weird moment to make work because I had moments of feeling unmotivated and also focused on what was happening around me that was more important than just being in the studio. Late summer this shift happened when more people left the city and I moved into the old Chromat space in the same building as my studio before. All of a sudden I had space to make work and suddenly it felt like I could do more because I had the space to do it, which was exciting. Eventually, I just kept working and I got going with mold making and casting and that’s when I finally felt like things were coming together, and at that point I had a project and a deadline again. The shift toward function and home objects is definitely a result of being in my apartment so much more and the pandemic in general. I just wanted to make things that could be lived with. My studio practice has been primarily project based working in installation so when all the sudden there were no upcoming projects or space I started rethinking what I wanted from all this, how to make my practice more sustainable and what that even means. I went on a lot of walks in my neighborhood and appreciated time away from the studio and the intensity of making work. I actually spent more time reading. Right now I’m more focused on collaboration and doing projects with friends.
How long have you been at your current studio and in New York?
I’ve been in my current studio since October 2020, but have been in the same building for over a year. I’ve been in New York for almost two years and lived in Richmond before.
I love the flocked cardboard pieces you’ve done and your willingness to push materials, is there anything you’re experimenting with these days?
It’s been really great to finally work with new materials. The paper-mâché and flocked cardboard had been my main process for the past few years and started to feel limiting. I had a hard time getting excited about making work when I pretty much knew how it was going to turn out. I started making molds and learning about casting this year which actually made sense since I had been casting paper-mâché over clay before. I don’t remember specifically how the resin started, but I liked that it looked like fake cast glass with the matte finish. I was going to the Met a lot and looking at the ancient glass pieces. I want to make more complicated multi part molds. I would love to do glass casting too. I’m really excited about ceramics right now, which started a couple months ago during the Project Studios Residency, and I just tried iridescent overglazes so that is something I am definitely going to keep working with.
Your newest work has a function along with being decorative. What is the ideal setting for these pieces and how do you see that type of work progressing in the future?
I really want people to live with these chandeliers, I want them to be used not just sit in storage forever. Right now they’re back in my studio but where they were just installed (at Proto Gomez) was a more conventional gallery space, but it’s also this weird storefront space with an amazing decorative ceiling. It feels almost like a store, which is part of how the work evolved from the chandelier shop idea. There’s a huge window at the front, it’s a ground floor space and the work was hanging in the front window so it can be seen from the street, like the chandelier store everyone passes on Flushing that is lit up all night. For the Spring Collection installation I wanted the work to hang low, like chandeliers hanging in showrooms. You get this really intimate experience of seeing them by looking at them at eye level. Usually they are hung really high up and they’re inaccessible. I think I got interested in chandeliers because I wanted to feel like this object that is so unattainable is within reach and made out of faux versions of its usual materials. This faux-luxury aesthetic, with resin and epoxy made to look like cast glass and ceramic–it’s not dripping with metal and crystals. They are functional so of course I’d like them to be somewhere they can be used like someone’s home or a store. I think they can exist in both a gallery or functional setting, I like seeing how people interact with them. I’m interested in the functional aspect of this work and I think it will continue, it feels very related to the visual language of my sculptures. Right now I’m working on smaller editions of home objects and have a few collaborations still in early stages I am really excited about.
Can you explain the title of your show and chandeliers?
The title of my show is Spring Collection, thinking about a designer’s seasonal collections. I would honestly love to make a collection of clothes, but these chandeliers are almost like accessorized sculptural versions, each one is part of the collection. The green one with the snake, Niki, is related to the artist Niki de Saint Phalle who uses a lot of snake imagery. The resin one is Cherry, which obviously has cherries all over it like haribo gummies and also was originally part of an installation Celestial Cherry. The small one Cami is named after my friend Cameron who was making ceramic candelabras at the same time. She was the person I was sharing images and ideas most when I was making the work and we kept talking about how great it is to name pieces after friends.
What entertainment or media has been getting you through the pandemic?
At the beginning, everyone was hanging out on House Party which was funny but now feels like a lifetime ago. I was watching a lot of movies on the Criterion Collection and way too much tv with my friend Eric who was living in a different city but we rewatched all our favorite Grey’s Anatomy episodes together. There was a period over the summer where everyone I knew was reading Ninth Street Women. All winter I walked to the Prospect Park rink and went ice skating.
Braxton Congrove (b. 1991) is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY who builds immersive sculptural worlds. Her work has been shown at Proto Gomez (New York, NY), Peep Projects (Philadelphia, PA), Random Access Gallery (Syracuse University), Arlington Arts Center, (Arlington,VA) and included in group exhibitions at ADA Gallery (Richmond, VA), DISJECTA (Portland, OR), and Governor’s Island (New York, NY), among others. Residencies include Ox-Bow, Bread and Puppet Theater, c3:Initiative,Vermont Studio Center, and Project Studios. She earned a BFA from James Madison University as well as a Post- Baccalaureate Certificate from the Summer Studio Program at Virginia Commonwealth University.