“Buy Nothing New” month hasn’t made it to America, yet. However, as Americans sift through the financial ruins of the post housing boom/bust new economy, many are taking a second look at runaway consumerism and it’s impact both environmentally and socially.
Joseph Quintela is a New York based artist who delights in taking existing texts or publications as “post-consumer” artifacts – redacting and/or re-structuring them into new forms. Quintela’s works challenge conventional consumption of known objects, challenging viewers to reshape their engagement within the capitalist world.
I caught up with Joseph in his studio recently as he prepares for his first solo show – a huge installation created entirely from recycled books “Foot-Knots” at the Project Space Envelope. I am taken with the scale and the ambition of this project as a first major work, but upon being sucked into Quintela’s infectiously larger than life personality, drive and energy, I begin to see Foot-Knots as simply the beginning of an exponential curve.
Joseph Quintela is an artist to watch – just hold on tight to your books.
1. Writer, editor, performer, artist? Which of these do you consider yourself as first and foremost?
Honestly, there is no first and foremost in my (intra)Art engagement. For a long time I wanted to focus on poetry to become a master of that art. My time as a student at Sarah Lawrence College helped me realize that though I value the virtuoso when I work in collaboration, it serves my vision better to be a Jack-of-all-Trades. This allows me to choose the form and the role that works best to approach my subject/object/sobject of attention. Sometimes (intra)Art has required me to take up a pen, to load up desktop publishing software, to put on a costume or to stretch a canvas. More recently it has required coding in HTML, getting behind a camera, firing up a soldering iron, loading up Photoshop, working on a dress form, and helping to produce a performance. I let the evolving work decide what best suits its needs. In other words, I believe that (intra)Art is a way not a discipline; a direction of attention and a movement within the world.
2. You began as a creator/constructor of books, what was it that turned you toward de-construction?
I wouldn’t call it de-construction. I’d call it (re)construction. That’s a small but vital differentiation. While there is obviously a destructive element to my artistic process it is part of a larger cycle of (re)generation, a move toward (re)creating and (re)imagining, (cue the Disney music) “a circle of life”. Gag, right? I don’t care. We have to get over our disdain of an earnest examination of the beauty of life/death and our constant movement through that cycle. Someone might tell you that it’s already been done (say, by Fluxus) but the truth is that work like this can never be done (i.e. finished). So yes, I tear up books. But I also breathe life back into them. I often think of my studio as a magical, healing rookery for injured birds.
3. Is this specifically a dialogue of consumption and environment, or is it a study in form?
I don’t believe that form can exist outside of consumption and environment. Form is not a neutral container. It is always in dialogue with both content and ecology. I cannot truly write a Ghazal without engaging with its history, its cultural situation, and its politic. I cannot create a website without the complex array of protocols and cultures that we call the Internet.
4. What (if any) action would you like to see inspired by your work?
(re)Action. It is unfortunate that the negative connotation of The Reactionary has polluted a perfectly good word like reaction. I want people who engage with my work to be inspired to go out into the world and react to consumption, to react to waste, to react to Capitalism: to be emboldened to dream new ways of living. My work is political. I am a secret revolutionary. I am part of the Us that is preparing us to change our ways. That sounds dramatic, huh? Well, let it be. If there is hope, we all have to get into this performance, together.
6. You have a huge installation called FOOT | KNOTS coming up at Project Space Envelope in the Lower East Side. What is the inspiration for this and what are some of the studio challenges/surprises you have encountered in your process?
FOOT | KNOTS is a blossoming moment in the evolution of my poetry into a sculptural practice grounded in the materiality of the book object. It is part of a transition for me. It is a new way of dreaming. In terms of space, it is a transformation of a 12”x15” space into a living ecology of (re)formed books. They have been torn to shreds and given a new life as a site of poetic potential. So that you can wander into FOOT | KNOTS and create poetry simply by moving from word to printed word. The floor, the ceiling, the walls are all covered with pages. Words spring from everywhere. The performance artist, Sarah McSherry, is frolicking around in a #BookDress, wandering through the space and helping you learn how to engage with your environment. It is a work of play and fantasy but it is also very serious. It is about learning how to (re)fashion an object that has become obsolete in our cycle of consumption. That’s a hard thing for a book lover like me to admit. Books aren’t dead, but their role is changing. We have to honor that fact. And (re)use the staggering amount of material that our fetish of the book object has created.
7. Recycling/re-purposing conventional objects has a long tradition in modern art, from Duchamp, to Rauschenberg, to Warhol. Imagine taking its life cycle one step further: How would you like to see your artwork recycled/ re-purposed?
This is a question that I often think about. I’m not interested in (intra)Art as an end point. So the issue I have to engage as an artist is how to make my work generative, or as I’ve come to call it “a site of potential”. I’ve approached this in many ways. With my writing, I’ve re-published most of my work in the Creative Commons, inviting others to rearrange and reuse it in much the same way that I write it. This seems liked a good way to keep my work open-ended, but it’s not enough, you also have to get people to engage. So I’ve worked with writing “poetry recipes” and with creating projects that have moments of instantiation but continue to evolve. I think FOOT | KNOTS is the most ambitious of these so far, but I have more in store. One of my next turns will be to food and the cycle of restaurant consumption/waste as a long-term artistic engagement.
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
An invitation: take my work and do with it as you will. I give you my blessing. WE is a blessing.
Bio: Joseph A. W. Quintela graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in May of 2012, where he transformed his already post-productive practice of poetry (erasure, re-mix, mash-up) into a material practice centered around the page and spine as a site of poetic potential. He has been published widely in literary magazines such as >Kill Author, Existere (York University), PANK, and the Ecklesberg Review (forthcoming). His first chapbook (This is not Poetry. #poetry) was published by Red Ceilings Press in 2011 and a full length collection is forthcoming from Patasola Press in January of 2012. His art has been sold to private collections and shown in group shows in New York City. FOOT | KNOTS is his first solo showing.