“I set about making a natural history museum of creatures that might evolve on a trash continent. … Expect to look at plastic forks differently from now on.”
One look at the preview shots for Ataxophilia, Zoë Friend’s premiere solo exhibition at Boston Sculptors Gallery, and the questions started flowing. We asked about these “sculptural works exploring the fetishization of objects through the artist’s baroque-inspired maximal aesthetic,” as well as what it takes to get them to the gallery.
Ataxophilia is on view through Dec. 11, with a meet and greets on Thursday, Nov. 17 and Sunday, Dec. 4, an artist talk on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3pm, and a First Friday reception on Dec. 2 from 5 to 8:30pm. Our interview follows …
This is your first solo exhibition at Boston Sculptors Gallery. What’s the biggest difference in approaching something like this as opposed to a group show where you get to bring just a few pieces, if that many?
The difference here is that I have the opportunity to overwhelm the space. Since I have a cohesive color palette I can create a sense of theater and drama by truly controlling lighting, scale, and placement. A lot of my work has built-in lighting or light up elements and this can be a challenge in group-show environments. My intention with the show is to create the feeling of a sacred or vaguely ecclesiastical space. There is also a lot of self imposed pressure as this gallery represents some of the best sculptors in Boston who I have admired for many years. Since this is my first show I want it to be as authentically mine as possible while maintaining the standards and reputation this gallery has earned.
About the show’s title …
The title is “ataxophilia,” which is a word I made up as the antonym of Ataxophobia. The implication here is that it is a compulsion towards clutter, towards things and objects. The word is reflective of the modern consumer landscape and how our consumption is intertwined and monetized by compulsion. The choices of materials of decidedly man-made disposables and faux luxury objects is meant to juxtaposed the subject choices which are imagined after the Victorian naturalist aesthetic and baroque decorative motifs.
Tell us a little bit about yourself-described consumer anxieties …
I think that there is a growing awareness of the inflection point we are at with our consumption. A few years ago, pre-pandemic, there was an upheaval of public eco-outcry against plastic straws. This became a lightning rod for calls to examine the single-use plastics that had become so embedded in our day to day life. While it is completely unfair and unrealistic to put our current environmental crisis on the shoulders of the individual consumer, it’s impossible for one to not in some way feel a direct responsibility for every plastic utensils, every reusable bag not re-used, every trash bin full of discarded product packaging that streams through our lives whether we seek it out or not. There is a compulsion to consume, which carries with it a compulsion for guilt.
While you no doubt create art for the art, what are your thoughts going into a decidedly non-consumer show when you’d obviously also like to sell a few pieces?
I think doing these non-consumer works is an enormous luxury and one I genuinely relish. I have a real problem with scale, my work begins expanding beyond its intention the moment I plug in my glue gun, or at least it feels that way. Making work free of the hypotheticals of “Will this fit into someone else’s life?” “Will anyone love this enough to want to take it home?” enables me to take risks, and make decisions autonomous of the future-owner of the piece. It’s how I have made some of my best work. In this way I get the chance to know myself a little better too as I am making the work truly to make myself happy.
What were some of the first steps you took with this concept? Some of the first pieces?
One of the initial prompts I gave myself was “there is a floating pile of trash out there in the ocean, the size of a small nation… it deserves museum representation” so I set about making a natural history museum of creatures that might evolve on a trash continent. The work evolved from there.
You reportedly used everything from “plastic utensils and cheap costume jewelry” to “fake fauna.” Where do you hunt for materials?
Sourcing materials is probably one of the nicest parts of this and refers back to the concept of “consumer anxiety.” Because I am so afraid of owning things, and accumulating things, shopping for materials is one of the only times I can consume without guilt as it isn’t a “thing” it’s now a “material.” I do most of my sourcing from online retailers like Alibaba, and Ebay, and my taxidermy forms are from a variety of specialty taxidermy form wholesalers.
We have to ask a super basic question—how do you move this stuff around? It must be extremely nerve-racking. How much does space and transport limit what you can do in this medium?
That is an excellent question and one that I think is not addressed enough especially in the sculpture community. Storage is a problem. I have actually bit the bullet this month and rented my first storage unit to empty this show into once it comes down. I am always thinking of the move and install when I am building though, all of my work is built to break down quickly and simply and can, in theory, be transported in a minivan. The forms themselves are made of styrofoam so are very light if not somewhat unwieldy. My largest piece, Vestige, takes around 2 to 4 hours to install and around 30 minutes to uninstall. My main issue is that plastic does degrade naturally over time, so often there are a lot of repairs that need to be made onsite, which is very time consuming.
Finally, what should people expect with this show? Some of the images we have already seen are quite striking.
My work seems to resonate very differently with everyone. One consistent thing is that it delights, most people are very excited when the materials of a very ornate and luxurious piece reveal themselves to be common everyday trash and junk. I like to reward a “nosey viewer” so expect to find tiny little surprises throughout the work, it’s not simply meant to be viewed from afar but up close as well, the more time you spend with the pieces the more you will get back from them. Also expect to look at plastic forks differently from now on.