Q and A with 2014 FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist Torkwase Dyson

Torkwase Dyson arrived at Franconia in the beginning of May with plans to build Site on Site, a sculpture set in to the ground with mirrored surfaces. She planned to use it as a site to make drawings. Three weeks later, she’s installed the first new sculpture of the year. Now titled Site on Sight, the sculpture sits above ground at a rather steep angle, and mirrors both the sky and structure above it.

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A drawing of “Site on Site” from Torkwase’s original proposal.

Torkwase, who is based in Brooklyn, NY, received her MFA from Yale University in painting/printmaking. An interdisciplinary artist, her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Her work has been supported by Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Fund, Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practices, The Green Festival of New York, Obsidian Arts and Public funds of the City of Minneapolis, Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, and Dorchester Projects in Chicago. She is also a 2014-2015 Eyebeam Fellow.

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Torkwase and I sat down a few days ago to talk about her process and the evolution of Site on Sight. Check it out!

What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?

I have an idea, and I try to think about materials that will bring meaning to the idea. Then I think about the physicality of the materials, where they’re from, structural history, color, the story the material has gone through. I try to really consider the physicality of that idea filling a certain kind of built space. With sculptural objects in particular, I’m conscious of the the space I’m building to house it. There is always a conversation between my body and the architectural structure that I make to put other things in. It’s like a fractal. There’s a big idea and then there’s an idea that’s inside that idea, and then there’s an idea that fits inside that idea too. Physical space, physical form, dimensionality. That’s generally my process.

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Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?

Sight on Site collapses the architectural work that I’ve done in the past and new paintings that I’m doing now. For the past eight years I’ve been making site specific solar powered public presentations that are architectural in form, but this sculpture reduces that social engagement. It’s purposefully away from place-making, and geared toward site-making. This work is not about sociality in any way and it’s not geared toward environmental politics. It’s about working more conceptually with subjects that just involve me and my own identity history. Sight on Site is very reduced, it’s just me and the things itself.

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Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?

I heard about Franconia through other artist friends. They told me to come out here because I could do anything. Looking at the site and seeing what other people had done it really seemed that way. It let me make reductions that were important for my new work. I wanted a safe, quiet space where I could strip all of that stuff out and start anew. Franconia seemed like a space to experiment seriously with dense and conceptual ideas. And that’s what happened.

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Where and with whom did you study? How have those experiences influenced your own work?

My first art teacher was Jonnie Mae Gilbert. She was first painting instructor at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Then I studied with Wolfgang Jasper at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Mel Bochner at Yale. I really appreciate people who concentrate on teaching me important things, and all three of them taught me all different and all important things. I lean on a collection of all those things they taught me- those ideas make up a really important sensibility that I pull on, that I depend on.

How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?

Every residency is different, but the access to intern artists, the access to knowledgeable staff that are there to specifically there to help you do something you’ve not done before was what stood out here. There is a steadfast transparency about Franconia. You come here to experiment, to do something ambitious.  This is where you take risks, this is where you think big, fall apart, pull it together, make something fantastic. That was good. I don’t feel like I’m by myself experimenting, I feel like I’m really supported in my experimentation, in a very non-spectacle way. It’s very unassuming.

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