ANDREW ZIENTEK STUDIO VISIT
Andrew Zientek is a landscape architect and artist. He works in "collaborative environments with architects, artists, scientists and others who project concerns about our constructed environment and seek to produce inquiries into the human-landscape relationship." Over the last year Andrew has begun to focus on his studio art practice, one that involves constructing painstaking sculptures comprised of glass rods and glass panels. His attention to detail and experimentation with perception are awe-inspiring.
1. Tell us about your current body of work, what motifs are you exploring?
I’m working on two related but separate types of work at the moment—sculptures made with glass rods and wall pieces working with color and reflection. Both of these lines, and my work in general, rest partially on a kind of 1960’s phenomenological lineage. At the same time we live in a very different world now. The core interest is the same; the act of perceiving and assigning value. But displacement or disconnection is very prevalent in our culture now. I often feel like I’m not actually in the place that I am. Not fully anyway. I know that’s weird to say. We lay in bed and watch “TV” on our laptops and play on our phones at the same time because TV is no longer enough stimulation. I think this has seeped into the way we inhabit the world at large. My work is not about a simpler nostalgia but rather is experimenting with this peculiarity of perception and sense of presence.
2. Can you explain how the Faberge Big Egg Hunt project came about?
Ann Priftis, of Clark Priftis Art, was the Head of Art for The Faberge Big Egg Hunt and tapped me to be a part of the project. Ann has known my work for a long time and I did a gallery installation for her years ago with the musician Dave Williams.
3. In terms of developing the initial egg for Faberge you used the help of some of your landscape design students, can you talk about the collaborative nature of the initial designs?
I was teaching at CCNY in the graduate landscape architecture program at the time and ended up working with six of my students (Samuel Berkheiser III, Kathleen Cholewka, Jerome Thomson, Eli Sands, Andrew Joseph, Ivy Harrison). There was a tight schedule and I submitted a concept description of the egg to the organization before I knew what it was going to be. So when I met with the students the first time, I had a title (Half Transformed, Half Transmuted) that described what I wanted the piece to do or to be, but I had no formal ideas as to what it would look like or be made of. So we all went off for a week and collected ideas and made an informal presentation to the group. Nothing anyone presented that day, my work included, was “it” but our conversation was enough to retreat back and coalesce into the submission.
4. What does it take to assemble one of the glass pieces?
The work is extremely time intensive. Nearly all of my work ends up being “dazzlingly obsessive” as one collector put it. These pieces are made entirely from glass rods and a special type of glass adhesive. One of my favorite elements of the completed work is also one of the hardest to deal with during construction – there is almost a sense of vertigo looking into them, as it’s hard for your eyes to find stable purchase, with all of the layers of glass as object and glass as refraction and reflection and the empty spaces between.
5. How did working on the Faberge egg alter the course of what you do for a living?
I think I was always meant to be an artist and always found reasons not to be. I am a landscape architect and have had my own practice here in NY for the last three years. I love landscape architecture and all that it touches, but a design practice requires some degree of separation. I draw things, then other people build them and sometimes separated by large time spans. The piece I submitted for the Big Egg Hunt was very well received. After the display period it was selected to be live auctioned at Sotheby’s (all of the eggs were auctioned for charity, most online and a select few were at this live auction) and sold for a substantial amount. Following the auction multiple people reached out to me asking if I had other work they could purchase. Those turned into commissions. I took those and the response to the egg and decided to go all-in on pursuing an art practice in a more direct way.
6. Can you tell us about your plans for doing larger scale pieces with the glass rods?
Being a landscape architect I often think about ideas on that scale. Big art. This is partly due to over a decade of working on that scale, but also due to what I want for all of my work, regardless of size, which is a sense of active engagement. When I finished the original glass piece, one of my immediate reactions was – I want to inhabit this. I want to walk around inside it and lay down under it. So I made a first test at scaling up the pedestal sculptures to room size and am in talks right now with a property development company in Baltimore, Himmelrich Associates, to create a large work for one of their buildings. I’m also looking around for the right venue to do one outside.
7. In addition to the glass-pieces you are working on these color wheel/circular pieces. Can you walk us through what it takes to make one of them?
Described simply, it’s a dark mirror with thousands (7322 in this case) of small holes drilled all the way through. The interior walls of the holes are then painted by hand, one by one.
8. Viewing one of the color wheel pieces in the flesh is something to behold, what is the significance of the pieces themselves and the colors chosen?
This piece condenses all of the main themes of my work – transparency, reflection, and object in interplay with each other and requiring movement around the piece to fully understand. Viewed straight on, the piece is a mix of reflection and transparency, placing you and the environment directly in the perception of piece. It is only when you move to view the piece on an angle that the paint. The hole, a void becomes an object within the thickness of the panel. One step from perpendicular there is just a suggestion of color. From four or five steps to the side the color is fully revealed. For this particular piece the holes are drilled in a pattern of concentric circles and is painted as a color wheel. It is based on the work of Michel Eugène Chevreul who was a French chemist in the 1800’s and produced one of the first widely accepted color wheels. My version is not meant to be demonstration of physical fact (a scientific color study), but rather I’m interested in my displacement from the original. I’ve never seen Chevreul’s original work. I have only seen a jpeg of it on the Internet. I took that digitized copy and brought it into Photoshop and used the color picker to identify each of the 72 colors in his wheel. But this is problematic as it grabs a single color from a field of subtle variations. Then I took those swatches and mixed 72 paints to match with a painter friend of mine, Erin Treacy. This is the world we live in, first order perception via degrees of separation, and alteration.
9. What are some of the most challenging aspects of your practice?
All that’s coming to mind at this moment are mundane things like the physical demands of my time intensive work, or affording studio space in the NY market or things like that. The truth is, I’m making a living from making art and I couldn’t be more grateful. There are great struggles in stumbling through the unknown and pursuing that language-failing feeling of “it works.” But even the failures, which out-number the successes, are just more experiments.
10. What inspires you to push limits and explore new frontiers as an artist?
I don’t know how to answer this question other than to say curiosity. I look at my work as a form of self-education. A professor of mine in college, Yi Fu Tuan, was once asked why he was a geographer and his response was 'I have always wanted to know what it is like to live on earth.' I feel the same way about my practice. My work allows me to explore new ways of seeing the world.