“My works move between states of fragmentation and wholeness. Independent parts combine into a singular form; amalgamations of subjective memories flow together into a unified consciousness. By layering narrative intersections to expose their similarities, my pieces become mirrors through which the viewer begins to recognize aspects of himself or herself in the work. This identification with the experiences of another human life opens up a dialogue between self and other, in turn cultivating an awareness of a grander, interconnective community,” writes Samantha Greenfeld.
I was intrigued by her work the moment I read her artist’s statement. Born in 1987 in Los Angeles, Samantha received her BFA in Painting from Otis College of Art and Design in 2013. She creates sculptures, collages and mixed media pieces. All her works, she maintains, no matter how different they may look from each other, in the end, tend to explore the same tension. They hover between two states of being—incompletion and completion, confusion and clarity.
Identity, history and memory are some of Samantha’s more immediate themes. For example, the question of ‘identity’ is raised through statues made up of used clothing, ‘history’ comes alive in the form of a wall with mysterious depressions containing human fingers (a project inspired by the Western Wall in Jerusalem), and ‘memory’ is explored through furniture constructed from old cardboard boxes.
Art-making, for Samantha, was initially a therapeutic act that gave her a new focus and purpose after a difficult period in her life. Later, it became a pursuit through which she was able to express her individuality and also reach out to others. Samantha likes the writings of Carl Sagan (particularly his 1985 novel Contact) and also the vision of painter and graphic artist Robert Rauschenberg (especially his quote: “I don’t want a picture to look like something it isn’t. I want it to look like something it is. And I think a picture is more like the real world when it’s made out of the real world”).
You can learn about Samantha Greenfeld on her website (www.samanthagreenfeld.com), Instagram page (@samgreenfeld) and Saatchi Art profile (www.saatchiart.com/samanthagreenfeld). Here is a conversation I recently had with the artist:
Firstly, how has the city of Los Angeles affected your creativity? I see that you were born there and went to college there as well. How did your environment stimulate you? How old were you when you started taking art seriously? And when did you begin making it?
While it is true that I grew up in Los Angeles, I don’t think I really got to understand and explore the wonders of the city until adulthood. I grew up in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, which isn’t to say I didn’t spend my fair share of time in the city but the city was more of a place you visited or travelled to. I was a tourist in my own city.
When I was very young (maybe 5 or 6) my dream was to be a paleontologist and I read something that said all paleontologists knew how to draw so they could draw where the bones were in the ground as they dug them up and this was what made me start drawing. Ever since that time I have been painting or drawing or making something with my hands.
I find your “Vestis” series very intriguing. The pieces resemble statues of draped female figures from the Hellenistic period but I love the originality with which you have constructed them, using layers of used clothing. There are no faces, no definite forms to be seen. Just fabric is added upon fabric to create this heavy and suffocating mass that seems to go nowhere in particular. To me, these sculptures stand for the various skins/roles/designations that external entities (the society) may impose on us. It seems that the artworks are saying we won’t find our identities, we won’t be free as individuals if we continue to take upon the expectations of others. Those unnecessary burdens will only end up dissolving our real essence. That is my interpretation. What motivated you to make these sculptures and how does my conception fit with your vision?
“Vestis virrum reddit” – the clothes make the man. I think your interpretation was pretty close to what I was aiming for. I have always found myself interested in how so much of one’s identity is based on whatever clothing they decide to wear. One day you want to be a hipster so you go to the thrift store and get a bunch of old retro clothes. Then the next day you can go back to that same place and switch those clothes out and be a yuppie. The thrift store itself is such an interesting place because it is a communal space in ways people often don’t think about. The people who frequent it are wearing the skins of their neighbors in a sense.
You mention that your project “Golem”—involving clay and found objects—was a performance piece. I am a huge fan of early 20th-century German expressionist cinema, and I remember being introduced to this fascinating character from Jewish folklore (that seems to be all over popular culture in various avatars) through Paul Wegener’s three movies. On your website, you quote from a very interesting article called “Interpretations of the Golem” by Benjamin Kerstein published on the site My Jewish Learning: “In other words, was he something wholly other, or merely an incomplete human being? Perhaps he was both, or neither.” What does the Golem mean to you – and what is its place within your theatre of “fragmentation” and “wholeness”?
I grew up with my grandmother telling me the golem story as a child and always felt an attachment to it. I was asked to do a piece for Shangri-La (Joshua tree art festival) and I had always wanted to make a collaborative sculptural piece and this seemed like a great opportunity.
There is something about not having full control over how an art piece ends up that I find myself interested in although it is very hard for me to relinquish control sometimes. The idea of community is what I wanted most out of making this work and again that desire to bring single people together to create a unified form is what I think relates to the fragmentation and wholeness within my work.
I asked the participants to add something personal of themselves to the Golem so in this way the golem becomes a representation of us (our community).
Fingers appear again and again in your portfolio, in “Emergence” and also “Wall”. What’s the significance of these projections? Are they trying to break out of restrictive domains? Looking for something to hold on to?
It isn’t so much the fingers themselves that I am drawn to but rather the imprint of the hand as a signifier of identity as well as a physical link between past and present. Think about the caves in Lascaux where ancient people left behind hand impressions on the walls. We see incredibly detailed depictions of animals but the human representations are merely stick figures. But the one thing that we do see is handprints. Obviously there is no way to know what these people really intended but what I see is a desire to mark one’s place in time.
There is an added level to these concepts that I begin to see when comparing the handprint with the hand of the artist. Our identity is forever tied to the work we create just like a handprint is forever tied to the individual who left it. To answer your question, I think my desire to use the handprints in my work is both a desire to mark my own place in time and hold onto it in some way.
In “The Proustian Effect”, you display a grand china tea set on a table. Why did you choose “ash casts” for eatables? Given that the phenomenon of the Proustian Effect is all about lost moments, events from the past – were you trying to indicate a kind of “death” through your use of ash? This opens up another question – how important is the material/substance for you in your sculptural works?
Proustian effect- the senses as doorways to lost memories – ash casts of desserts were the choice because I wanted to take something that would represent an intensely sweet sensory experience (decadent desserts were the choice). These casts are supposed to represent a sort of futility in how we remember, you can remember only a ghost of the experience. This is why I chose to cast the works in ash. I was thinking a lot about Pompeii when I was making this piece.
Who are some of your favourite living sculptors?
One of my all time favorites would have to be Rachel Whiteread. The way she is able to take absence and give it such an emotionally charged and weighty form is something that leaves me in a state of awe every time I stand in front of one of her works. I also am a big fan of El Anatsui’s work.
Finally, what are you working on right now and what can we expect in the future? Are there any other philosophical concepts in your mind that you’d like to explore in the years to come?
I am interested in the complexities of the human trace as it relates to the residue we leave behind. There are all sorts of personal, and complex cultural narratives that I try and delve into through the use of different materials. I want to position the materials in ways that create open narratives that are relatable to all human beings – basic emotional responses- fear, loss, etc.