Partners in both life and work, Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza share a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they run an art practice together as well as a design company called Chiaozza. Yet the first two things they ever collaborated on belonged to neither of those disciplines: One was a stew they made for dinner soon after they began dating — which took so long to cook that joking about it inspired their eventual website name, eternitystew.com — and the other was the pancakes they made the next morning. “We were fascinated by their topography, so we took some printmaking ink, inked up a pancake, and started making monoprints with them,” Frezza recalls. “That was when it began, this idea of turning our everyday life and domestic play into some kind of product or work.” Two and a half years later, it’s still the motivation underlying many of their colorful projects, which they characterize as existing at the “intersection of imagination and the natural world.”
Their ongoing series of papier-maché plant forms, for example, began when Chiao, trained as an architect (Frezza studied fine art and sculpture), was constructing a foam model of a treehouse one night and wanted to populate it with miniature foliage. “When Adam came home, I had a feeling that he would know exactly what to do,” she says. “I didn’t even have to say anything. He got out pieces of paper and starting painting them, and then we stayed up all night making these tiny little plants and photographing them.” The results fueled not only a residency at the Wave Hill botanical garden in the Bronx — where the couple rebuilt the treehouse and its imaginary vegetation at full-scale — but also a forthcoming video animation project, as well as the collection of faux houseplants the pair will make available for sale for the first time ever at this weekend’s Sight Unseen OFFSITE show. Their rainbow rock cairn sculptures and Chiaozza wall mirrors in endless geometric iterations share an equal sense of whimsy and experimentation.
To be sure, though, the couple’s process isn’t just play for play’s sake; they both went to great lengths to commit their lives as fully as possible to their creative endeavors. A large part of why they formed Chiaozza and Eternity Stew in the first place, says Chiao, is because “both of us were frustrated with our respective disciplines.” Chiao in particular — she went to architecture school at Columbia and worked for OMA and 2×4 before she decided to follow her instinct of exploring environments from a more art-based standpoint. Frezza, on the other hand, pursued painting and drawing for years before giving in to a natural drift towards three dimensions, and building things with his hands. They met somewhere in the middle, sharing their individual practices with each other because they figured, says Frezza, “this is going to be way more fun if we do it together.”
Portland is a place where, so the saying goes, the ’90s are alive and well. And it may very well be the only place that could have spawned an artist like Emily Counts, who deals with the self-reflective nostalgia of outdated technological innovations once found in her childhood home: dial-up telephones sculpted in porcelain and stoneware, a life-size fax machine, an interactive Mac SE computer made from walnut, casting epoxy, glass, porcelain, copper, and electrical wiring that acts as a two-way mirror after a button is pressed on the keyboard, lighting up the sculpture’s interior. “I’m interested in the mystery of these inventions that we seem to take for granted in our everyday life,” says the 35-year-old Seattle native, who we first spotted on photographer Carlie Armstrong’s blog Work.Place. “For me, there’s a thin line between technology and magic.”
It all started with the pistol, if only because it was “the simplest to do,” says photographer Adam Voorhes. He first studied the gun, looking for ways to segment it, then he took it apart so that its innards were exposed, right down to the bullet casings. “Some objects can be separated like a technical drawing, while others look more organic, like a football helmet with its straps weaving in and out,” he says. The pistol was squarely in the former camp. He took its disassembled parts and built a kind of 3-D installation, each part hanging from a fishing line in proximity, so that the gun would appear to have exploded in mid-air, a bit like the artist Damián Ortega’s axonometric Beetle or this iconic ad from the ’60s. The wires could be erased in Photoshop once Voorhes got the final shot. After the pistol he’d do an Etch-a-Sketch, and an old-school telephone, turning the studio experiments into his best-known series and then selling commercial clients like ESPN and Spirit magazine on the technique. This is how Voorhes works — he is a commercial photographer. He’s not interested in gallery shows. He tests ideas, and then he sells them.
It’s not every day that one of our subjects answers the phone by giddily announcing she’s just opened the mail to find the Legend soundtrack she ordered and proclaiming that 1985 Tom Cruise fantasy flick to be her favorite movie. But then San Francisco artist Sarah Applebaum has always tended to march to the beat of her own drum: Paying no mind when her work meanders back and forth between craft and art, she mostly uses dime-store materials like yarn, papier mâché, and felt. Unlike most crafters, she often turns those materials into three-dimensional symbols plucked from her subconscious.