Nicki Green is an artist from the Bay Area, whose multi-disciplinary work includes, ceramics and textiles that examine the legacy of marginalized communities. Green’s use of traditional materials like ceramics and textiles conflate the tangible and hermatic forces within the human condition. They’re objects that encompass the history of marginalized individuals and reflect on the visibility of contemporary marginalized communities. Her ceramic and brick works are ubiquitous objects that also employ revolutionary tactics.
Nicki’s work is currently on view in the group exhibition (SIGNAL) at Smack Mellon on view through April 17, 2016. The exhibition, curated by Alexis Heller, is a poignant survey of contemporary artists whose work challenges the gender binary. Additional artists include: Jess T. Dugan, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Rhys Ernst & Zackary Drucker, Young Joon Kwak, Carlos Motta, Cobi Moules, Chelsea Thompto, Gil Yefman, and Rona Yefman.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Nicki a few questions about her work:
First, I want to ask you how you came to embrace the very highly skilled labor intensive work you do with traditional mediums?
I’ve always been really fascinated by laborious craft processes, particularly the aesthetic of little actions done over and over, something about the rhythm of building something through smaller repetitive actions. I think as a femme young person, I became really in awe of crafts and practices that signaled Woman-ness, and while I know now that deeming, say, textile work as inherently “feminine” or Woman’s Work is both inaccurate and essentialist, but i think my preoccupation and identification with these practices were ways for me to affirm, nurture and generate physical objects from an effeminate nature that only received negative reactions from the world around me.
Your work at large has a vast vocabulary, which references many art historical periods, religious mysticism, as well as revolutionary cultural movements. What made you decide you wanted your artwork to address socially engaged themes?
As someone who has never really “passed” as straight or cis, I feel like moving through the world on a day to day basis is a socially-engaged and politicized experience. I’m drawn to work that in it’s most straightforward nature is aestheticized and inherently political because that is my reality. I feel like when I look at these references I’m using them to filter my own lived experience, these concepts help me make sense of my own body in world.
Can you describe more about how your identity informs your work?
I’m really interested in the way queer and trans communities interact with each other, I think this is the impetus for making work about communication. Whether it be the coding of concepts or the archiving of images, I think the way my body and the way I talk and think about my identity references histories of people like me interacting (or not interacting) with each other is so fascinating. I grew up with the internet as a means of communication, but a very basic form, like AOL chat rooms and livejournal, I think the recent explosion and ubiquity of contact between queer and trans young people having critical conversations about identity and bodies is incredible.
I get a lot of references to the esoteric and mystical aspects of religion within the iconography you create. Judaism and the Kabbalah are apparent. It is as if you’re essentially making vessels for this spiritual energy while examining it through the lens of LGBT identity. How did you make this realization?
The concept of vessels holding divine energy is a central Kabbalistic creation story, the divine matter placed into vessels that shattered and created the world. The vessel is a very common concept in ceramics as well, so this felt like a natural thread to tie. It might be a bit of a cop out to say that everything I think about is through the lens of LGBT identity, but I guess I can also say that queer bodies and realities, to me, are very magical, transformative concepts, and traditional ceramic vessels like alcohol jugs and particularly crocks and fermentation vessels are objects that are made to facilitate transformation of matter, I think utilizing the surfaces of these objects for images/symbols related to queerness and thinking about them as important ritual objects for queer lives feels like a very exciting direction to move in!
Can you tell me about the pieces you have in (SIGNAL) and what are your thoughts on this survey of artworks that challenge the Gender Binary?
In (SIGNAL), I have two lavender quilted hankies, this exciting crossover I discovered of gay and trans bodies where lavender is for flagging drag and signals the sexual desire for femmes. As a femme in the masc 4 masc world we operate in, I’m particularly interested in looking back at a time before this oppressive concept became so widespread. I’m also showing a series of glazed bricks. They’re bricks picked up around San Francisco, so for me, they are imbued with the energy of a city with a very queer history. I’ve treated the surfaces like tiles, painting chanterelle mushroom patterns instead of flowers (mushroom patterns is a concept I’ve been working with to represent the reclamation of undesirability and visible queer bodies, the concept comes from nazi propaganda referring to Jews as Poisonous Mushrooms.”) The bricks also to me extend from a body of work about ceramic objects as queer, DIY riot tools, this idea of aestheticizing a weapon for a queer revolution.
I have mixed feelings about survey shows that highlight a certain marginalized community. I’ve heard a lot of queer and trans folks express feelings of tokenization in being sought out for shows like that, I’ve sometimes experienced it myself, but for me, I think these shows are most successful when the work is well curated together and the works themselves are strong. In trans women’s communities, there’s been this culture of estrangement, not wanting to be seen together for the fear of being outed and having our safety compromised, and also this culture of Reading each other, essentially picking apart each other’s bodies and presentations as a means of protecting each other through tough love. I very much understand that the impetus for these cultural practices stems from survival tactics in a world that wants us to not exist, but I’m excited that survey shows that are smartly put together offer us the opportunity to be in conversation with each other in a visible way. The desire to be visible is a very loaded concept for trans folks, often one that stems from either an inability to be anything but, or the privileges surrounding whiteness, affluence and access to safe space/community. I hope that as trans and GNC politics become more widely visible, trans and GNC folks who are also more visible will become increasingly safer. The spike in murders of trans women of color would prove that this is not the case, but I just hope that the more we can love, support, empower and be in conversation with each other, the more we can stake out space and creative output together and ultimately direct the way the world interacts with us.