In this iteration of These Are the People in Your Neighborhood—our local tours guided by prominent local artists—we talk to Zane Wilson. The Bushwick-based sculptor recently finished a new piece—with the help of L Mag contributing editor Paul D’Agostino (Hi Paul!)—which serves as a scenic element, conversation piece and generative force in Elective Affinities, a new site-specific one-woman show on the Upper East Side.
Best place to people-watch?
The Sculpture Garden at MoMA.
Best place to drink?
The Narrows on Flushing.
The Park on Tenth.
Best bookstore or record store?
I’m still a sucker for the Strand.
Best grocery store or farmer’s market?
Any one close to me and open.
I miss my old laundry in Bensonhurst at 20th Ave; $.65/lb, wash and fold. And a really cute kid running around.
Best outdoor spot?
Walking along the west side highway heading to the Chelsea piers.
Best place to attend a show/view art/see a movie?
I stop by Cueto Project every time I’m in Chelsea—they’re relatively small and decidedly random in their offerings.
Best coffee shop?
The Roasting Plant, 75 Greenwich Avenue. Get a chocolate chip cookie and a piece of ginger with amazing fresh-roasted coffee.
Best subway line?
Only in recent months have I begun to love the G train. A year ago it still would have been the “ghost train” in my mind.
Best neighborhood person whose name you don’t know?
That random guy I always see sitting on the LOVE sign on 6th Ave. He always offers to take people’s photos when he’s not sleeping in between the V and E.
Which are there more of: dogs, bodega cats, strollers, American Apparel ads, or old men on stoops?
Old men—oh to be retired and listless.
What’s missing from your neighborhood?
Trees and green space.
What’s the biggest change since you’ve moved in?
Having an awesome boyfriend in my life.
It’s a Saturday night in December. You don’t feel like traveling very far but are antsy for a night out. Where do you go?
MoMo Sushi Shack because Roberta’s is too crowded, followed by a nightcap and a conversation at the Narrows.
Have you ever done anything that functioned as an element in a performance or theatrical production before? Is that something you’ve been interested in doing more of?
Our sculpture studio at the College of Charleston backed up to the stage of the Emmet Robinson Theater. I was asked periodically to lend a hand to the scenic designers there. I lent some technical knowledge to a production of Waiting for Godot in exchange for tickets.
My limited experiences there yielded a great opportunity to work for Spoleto Festival building a 20-foot-tall steel tree with scenic designer Jeffery Eisenmann—during the course of the Braunfels’ opera The Birds (Die Vogel) the tree catches fire and spins on stage. It was an unbelievable production with 80 actors/dancers/singers moving around the central tree prop throughout the show. I also helped build a Ring Cycle that traveled from Pittsburgh to Long Beach where we created about a hundred steel figures of varying sizes in the style of Magdalena Abakanowicz. I love that theater allows for ridiculous things to exist in reality much the way that art often does—the difference often lies in the context in which art and theater are seen. Making sculpture for myself it’s often relegated to a white cube gallery and I’d rather that it exist within the context of a home.
How were you initially approached to create a sculpture for this production? What were the parameters you were given?
I was initially approached by Caleb Hammons (one of the producers for Soho Rep) and brought into discussions with Louisa Thompson about what they were looking for in the production. I was given a copy of the play which I discussed with Paul D’Agostino, my assistant on the build. Louisa provided a small maquette (I have the maquette still) and by bantering about artists (William Tucker, George Condo and Ben Godward) we made some initial decisions about form, texture, color and scale. The real challenges were in trying to make a 10 feet by 5 feet by 13 feet sculpture fit in narrow hallways of an Upper East Side mansion and to make sure it could navigate stairwells. For most theater the audience is 20-30 feet from the stage—here, theater-goers would be able to walk right up to this object. I’d built sculptures in sections before, the challenge was trying to make the eight different sections relatively seamless and small enough to navigate the house.
This sculpture seems radically different from your usual work; did this commission enable you to try things you’d been wanting to attempt but hadn’t been able to?
I was definitely allowed to play with form and mass in ways I don’t often engage in my own work. There were challenges with one material I’d never worked with and half the fun of this project was determining what Paul and I could do with those materials in the studio. Working on this project gave me an opportunity to figure out at least one material that I would like to return to in the near future but in a radically different context than the way it was used in the sculpture for this show. I love that theater allows for ridiculous things to exist in reality much the way that art often does—the difference often lies in the context in which art and theater are seen. Making sculpture for myself it’s often relegated to a white cube gallery and I’d rather that it exist within the context of a home.
What happens to the sculpture when the run of the show ends?
I’ve heard that a supporter of Soho Repertory is interested in taking it home to his apartment on the Lower East Side. It’s really nice to know that the sculpture from this show is wanted. Seeing the giant tree described above end up in a dumpster after two months of work was severely depressing.
Did this project open any new avenues for exploration in your practice?
Despite the insular nature of the object for this show I’m inclined to think about installation in my own practice again.
How long did it take to create, and how did you get it into the space?
We had two weeks to design, build, and transport the sculpture. There were a lot of late nights and feverish trips to the hardware store or Compleat Sculptor. Actually moving the sculpture is relatively easy since it comes apart in eight sections. It took a 14 foot truck and two guys no longer than an hour to help break it down and transport to the Upper East Side—less time than it took to get the black plastic resin of my fingernails after painting it all night long.