EB: Where are you right now? How are you doing?
BB: Right now I'm in New York sitting at a desk in the back of the gallery. I am okay. It's been a rough moment, personally. I'm really undecided about how much I want to share about my personal life because it's so intertwined with my work. A lot of people who know me have been telling me that they can't wait to see all these emotions that I've put into the pieces. Though I think for an artist in order to actually use fresh emotions, it takes time for them to mature and be thought through. While I was talking with Jacqueline in preparation for the exhibition I came up with this mental image of me being a mold. Ceramic molds are like a shell and you pour this liquid clay inside, which creates a pressure and the mold has to hold tight. During this difficult moment, I had all this pressure for something coming into me, which I didn't choose to happen. It was hard to manage and I was really bracing myself the whole time. So like the mold, there is this sensation of trying to hold myself honestly in a way that allows me to fish into my emotions. It was like fishing into my core personality and my happy self to make all the pieces, if this makes any sense.
EB: I can definitely relate to the idea of using our materials and processes around us as a metaphor to make sense of our non-physical or emotional states.
BB: We learn so much from this. I believe that what we witness while we work – the way my materials behave, how we touch them, how they react to that touch, the tools we use – are really useful to understand our internal reality.
EB: In your own words, what do you do?
BB: I very recently started to make art and am still struggling with calling myself an artist for this reason. But this is what I'm currently doing and what I want to do in the near future. Although I also have other jobs. I'm a set designer in Paris as well as a curator, and I just recently finished my PhD in Sanskrit in December of last year. I decided to take a little break from that and told myself that I would give myself a year to explore other interests that I had, mainly art. Then this exhibition with the gallery came, and I couldn't expect anything better.
EB: You have a very multifaceted professional identity. Disciplines, materials, and methodologies weave together in a way that feels natural, holistic and generative. How do you balance it all? Or maybe you prefer to consider them as unique chapters?
BB: It's a real juggle. I would say that each of them leaks into the other, to use another material metaphor! I was always very serious about academic work, but I never wanted it to be the only thing I would do. And realizing that in order to be a serious academic you have to devote all your time to that I decided to take a proper break. I guess we can call them chapters although they could be cycles as well, that repeat themselves at some point. At this moment, I'm really just surfing this wave. I have no idea what's gonna happen in the future, but I'm calm about it. It's the first time in my life that I feel this. I'm faithful, hopeful. We were talking with a friend the other day about the difference between being grateful for something and being faithful. I never found myself saying, "oh, I'm grateful for that" because to me it feels like there’s a component that doesn't depend entirely on you.
EB: That there’s a little bit left to maybe chance or other forces?
BB: Exactly. When you're grateful, you look back, towards the past let's say. With being faithful or hopeful you still leave something to chance, but it's focused on looking to the future. I feel very faithful.
EB: It sounds like this is a particularly special moment for you as an artist.
BB: I perceive it as such, a very special moment. And just to better answer your earlier question, these different kinds of work definitely leak into each other. Even though I stopped academia for now, I think the methodology that I've learned through research has really changed the way I see and do things. Even for my artistic practice, there is a lot of referencing, which is good, because it's part of me, it's part of what I have right now. Sometimes I also feel that it's a bit limiting in the sense that I almost feel that I'm not entitled to formulate or to describe what I do with my own voice. I think this really is reflected in our publication for the exhibition. You will see a quote of Frances A. Yates from her book, The Art of Memory. Then under the quote is my quote. I'm still in this phase where I have to rely on something that has already been said and validated though I'm almost ready to say what I think, which is nice.
EB: Your material palette and visual language comes across as incredibly sensitive, warm and emotionally rich. It also feels intrinsically tied to time, history and place. Do any of these descriptors feel foundational to you?
BB: I guess "sensitive" can be right in a way that you can really see the presence of me in how I leave my traces in my work. It could be traces of my hands in a tactile way. In terms of thinking about history, the materials that I’m using right now mostly come from hardware stores. They have been there for a long time as literally the pieces that I choose are dusty as they haven't been picked up for a while. I get a lot of satisfaction in using them, like I'm taking them for a ride. They are also materials that have been used for different purposes for a long historical time. To repurpose them really is part of my practice right now. I like to bend their physical qualities. For example, I've been using a lot of latex. Latex by nature is something that's really slippery, that doesn't like to stay in place. So in some of the works, I’ve nailed it down. I think this describes the larger feeling of the exhibition – materials that are not supposed to stay where I’ve put them. It's all about the binding, the securing of these things that inherently want to change.
EB: It sounds like there's a lot of tension, delicateness and precariousness intrinsic to each piece.
BB: Absolutely. There is a lot of fastening and binding and trying to keep them in place, just as I have tried to keep myself “in place” during this time. It's something visual and physical that has been translated from my internal and emotional word.
EB: Is there a piece in the show that feels like a compelling example of these ideas?
BB: The latex stools. The way we had to fold the latex in a way that it would stay in place to be nailed to the wood underneath was quite intense. One of the stools incorporates a particular design of purple roses that I found on these plastic bags here in Chinatown. These roses are trapped under the latex, which feels like a nice example of some tension with a bit of cheeky playfulness.
EB: The exhibition also includes some of your ongoing works in ceramic. I'm struck by these unglazed pieces made in black clay. They feel like ghosts of domestic objects, like Pompeiian artifacts frozen in ash. Could you talk me through the origin story of this work? How are they made and what do you hope they communicate?
BB: I've dressed these pieces for the exhibition. You can see these unglazed ceramics in the dress pots and also in other little objects. I started to make ceramics about five years ago when I was in Australia. A friend of mine taught me how to make pieces through coiling and hand-building. I started with this black clay and I was so taken by the colors and all the nuances of this color of clay. In the bigger pieces like the pots, you look inside them and it’s like gazing into a bottomless well.
Ceramics can be a very meditative process and I like to think that in every coil, some thoughts go in and they get stuck in there. So I really love when you say they look like ghosts, because there are a lot of thoughts trapped in there, which is an idea that I like. I don't want them to get out. They are like trapped ghosts.
EB: A recurring thread throughout exhibitions at the gallery is the work's relationship to preexisting texts. I know that this has very much been the case for you...
BB: Last year, I read this book that my sister gave to me by Frances A. Yates called The Art of Memory. She talks about the different techniques of memorization that were used by the ancient Greeks to the Romans, and then in the Renaissance and so on. All of us have different ways of memorizing, but back then, whether for juridical trials or debates, orators had to memorize some long and articulated speeches. In order to do so, they came up with these rather complex and obscure mental tools. They would imagine an architectural space like an ancient villa with columns. Between the columns would be highly symbolic statues. These orators would then attribute parts of their speech to these intercolumnar statues that they mentally created. When they had to recite the speech in front of the judge to defend their client, for instance, they would mentally walk through their imagined architectural space and the statues would return the part of the speech that they had been attributed with. It’s a very complex and fascinating system that has surprisingly been theorized at different moments in history and that is common to different cultures.
BB: Yeah, it's crazy. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever come to know. When I create objects, I already imagine them in my own mental space. So when I was reading about these techniques, I felt very connected to the way this works. I believe that artists really do donate their thoughts, their sensations, their visuals, to the objects we're creating. To me at least, every time I look at them, they send something back. This process is also informing the physical installation of the pieces in the gallery. I want it to look like a path, an architectural space, a garden placed in a way that you can walk through them. They are symbolic to me in the combination of materials and their qualities of binding and fastening, trying to keep these weird, unfit materials on surfaces where they're not supposed to be on, not supposed to stay still. These objects are going to give that back to me, and hopefully to the people who are experiencing them.
EB: Is the process of installing the work driven by intuition or is it more conceptually thought out?
BB: This part is going to be more thought through. It's a lot of intuition during the creation process because I don’t really draw the pieces before, for example. The installation process is going to be supported and informed. I think it's nice to study the space and try different possibilities. And I'm going to do this with Jacqueline. So it's going to be its own kind of communication.
EB: How long has it taken to produce the work? Do you prefer working fast or slow?
BB: I am a fast worker. When something clicks, I make it immediately. I also work better under a bit of pressure. Since I also work as a set designer, where I often make something and destroy it a few hours later, it was really challenging for me to create pieces that I would be confident enough in having a permanence. It also took me a long time to find the best places where I could find the right materials for example. I know everywhere I need to go when I'm in Paris because I've learned that by now and here, I had to start again from zero. I'm happy that I’ve been here for this amount of time because it was definitely needed. Even if I'm not doing anything physically – even if I'm lying somewhere and just resting – I know that preparation is needed in order for me to be ready when I have to make. I guess I am a fast worker but a slow thinker.
EB: This sounds so indicative of a very classic kind of experience for an artist: the residency. These experiences are often defined by spending a concentrated amount of time in a specific place, not always with the intention of production, but very much necessitating the rhythms of making, thinking, resting, and exhibiting.
BB: It was a lot of experimentation. Some of the pieces in the exhibition are versions of things that I’ve made before. They were kind of like charms to me, something that would bring me luck from or serve a base to start from. I also see them as charms because they're the smallest objects. I needed them to be present in order to launch myself into something new. There was a part of remaking something that I made before but the rest was all entirely new. This has never happened to me to have the opportunity to have a long moment where I wouldn't feel guilty because I was supposed to do something else at the same time.
EB: Were there any frictions or unexpected surprises?
BB: In my artistic journey, I'm a solitary worker. This time I worked with Currie, who works for the gallery. He was my mirror in all of this. Learning how to work with someone was unexpected for sure, but also extremely nice! Sometimes I would physically feel like I was hitting a wall, but I guess that happens to everyone in the creative process. At the end of each day, Currie and I would tidy the gallery by folding all the fabrics and putting everything back where it needed to be. This process would take pressure off me having to create something and magically, literally every time after this moment of tidying the room, the best pieces came.
EB: Is there a particular work in the show that you're especially proud of?
BB: I don't know if I would say “proud”, but there is a piece that is my favorite. It's a pot with brown plastic attached to it and rhinestones on the mouth. It gives me physical pleasure to see the combinations of these materials: the watery plastic, the stony clay, the shiny rhinestones. It's a lot of things together and I'm happy that I could put all these moods in one piece.
EB: Does that piece have a name?
BB: None of the pieces are named. They're all untitled, but it's nice because the way we say untitled is senza titolo in Italian so it looks like they have a name. There are little ceramic glasses with ribbons on the sides. Lately, those have started to look like little fountains that are crying a bit. If I could give a name to some of them it would be fontanelle (little fountains).
For me, to give a name to something really means that the piece is finished. Maybe my ability to not title them comes from my desire for these pieces to still be transitory? This is my excuse. I feel that I have a lot of nice excuses!
EB: What is important to you right now as an artist and human?
BB: Since I don't design the objects beforehand, I don't know what's gonna happen. I don't know if I'm going to make it, I don't know if I'm going to like it. But now, after a few moments of creation, I've come to know that I will always make what represents me. This is what's important to me right now. To know that there is a core that will always allow me to make something that mirrors me. It’s a kind of double movement of being sure that that piece will happen, but to also be surprised in the result. There is determination and necessity but also space for something unexpected. I really enjoy the combination of these emotions in a way. It’s not that I know that it's gonna be great, I just know that it’s going to reflect me. To me, this means that there is something stable inside me. There is something that has been accompanying me all along. I guess that’s what some philosophers would call the ‘self’, the ‘soul’.
BB: To be able to see that element in the pieces, that element which is all internal, is what makes everything so beautiful for me. The objects are somehow the externalized space where one can meet that thing called ‘self’. I meet myself through creation and that's always important.
EB: There is a power in this approach, not just for yourself, but also for how others can engage with and make meaning of the work.
BB: Like what Frances describes in the book: you donate something to the piece and the piece returns to you. I really cherished this exchange between the objects and me.