WMA Artist Interview with Chintia Kirana

The exhibition Path of Entry was to have opened at WMA this spring, but due to the temporary closure of the museum, it was postponed until next year. The group show, featuring artists from around the world and guest curated by Chintia Kirana, was inspired by the poem “Remember” by U.S. poet laureate Jo Harjo, and features work dealing with the environment, the process of reflection, and remembering.

Below is a short interview with Kirana, who also speaks about her solo exhibition, Between Heaven and Earth, set to open at WMA next year. Be sure to check out Kirana’s takeover of WMA’s Instagram account on May 21st, as well as those of other Path of Entry artists through June 25.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live and work now? 

A. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. Due to the fall of Suharto and the political uprising followed after, Chinese descents in Indonesia were targeted by radical groups. As a result, my family lost everything. Fortunately, we were to be able to flee and start over in the States. We arrived in Montgomery, Alabama on Christmas Eve of 1999. My teenage years were spent learning to speak English by watching Disney Channel and MTV. I left Montgomery in 2012 to pursue an MFA in Painting and Drawing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Starting in 2016, I began to relocate my studio back to Montgomery and happy to say it’s nice to be back.

Most months of the year, before the pandemic, I split my time between Montgomery and New York. During the summer months, I am typically in different parts of Europe. In terms of work, I find myself following wherever the project takes me. Although, traveling for work is a bit challenging since the pandemic. I am certain many artists could relate! On the other hand, this isolation provides opportunity for artists to be resourceful and connect with one another, even more so than before.

Q. What medium(s) do you work with principally?  

A. I tend to be very minimal with my medium and typically they are accumulated over the years such as eggshells, ashes, and carbon build up. I love the idea of rebirth, of deconstruction and reconstruction of materials. Objects and materials are embedded with meaning, therefore the materials used typically depends on the content of the work I’m creating. I’m not a purist by any means, I enjoy exploring and experimenting with different media. Oftentimes, the challenge is finding resources to do the work. For example, before the pandemic I had started exploring glass blowing at a friend’s studio in Macon, GA–truly enjoy the property of glass, how it is liquid and solid at the same time. Sadly, I’ve only made three glass blown eggs before the lockdown. Another “to do” on the list!  

Q. Tell us about your experience guest curating  Path of Entry. Explain the inspiration for the show.  

A. In May of last year, my path crossed with Karen, Hyomin, Laura, and Bethany during our residency at Vermont Studio Center. Vermont is a magical place, especially at the time when we were there. I’ve never seen leaves so green, and air so fresh (aside from being in Sweden and Switzerland)! I have learned much from Karen, Hyomin, Laura, and Bethany and admire their individual practices. When Dana invited me to guest curate an exhibition at the Wiregrass Museum, I was ecstatic! Right away, I thought of their work and in addition to Joe Ren; who’s beautiful landscapes were made of collaged images of trash and landfills.  

In the process of curation, I came across a poem by Joy Harjo, the first Native American United States Poet Laureate, titled “Remember”. This poem serves as inspiration and starting point of our show. Works included in this exhibition all deal with the environment on some level. In addition, another commonality is the process of reflection and of remembering. The show is an ode to the poetics of nature and our connectivity with one another.  

I am quite interested to see the evolution of this exhibition once we set up next year. At the time of curation, all considerations were directed towards visual meditation on our natural world, as well as on our human attempts to capture, understand, and translate natural phenomena. I wonder if post pandemic will bring forth new interpretation for the works included in this show and the show in general… 

Q. You also had a solo exhibition scheduled to open at WMA this year. Can you tell us about Between Heaven and Earth?   

A. Sure. Between Heaven and Earth comprised six serial works; Fire, Charred, The Rising Sun, Silver Lining, Red Lining, and Forest of Unspoken Words. These works are an exploration of perpetual transformation and poetics of the human condition. These works examine longing and belonging while depicting permanency in impermanence.  

The pieces intended for this show marked a departure from earlier works. The use of circular shapes, which often represent life or beginning, are being replaced by arches filled with lines to represent a poetic metaphor for the borders and divisions that make up our world; whether it is physical, psychological, or philosophical.  

When creating the work, I found myself creating what my innermost self was attempting to express; the sublime, a meditative moment of contemplation, similar to those experienced when one enters sacred spaces. I hope the viewers will find a moment of contemplation and peace within those recurrences. In Between Heaven and Earth perhaps we could find splendor of beauty in its simplest form.  

Q. What is Expose Art and how did it come to be?  

A. Expose Art is an artist-run initiative which provides an opportunity for residency, exhibitions, collaborations and experimentation. The project was in part started as an effort to expand the mission of an artist run publication I co- founded many years ago called Expose Art Magazine– to create an artistic community that provides opportunity for others and ourselves. We understood that we needed one another to make things happen.  

Therefore, when I relocated back to Montgomery (Alabama) I was determined to find my tribe. With the advantage of having multiple residents, I was able to create Happenings (Last Supper Dinner Parties, New Montgomery Cocktails Challenges–I suppose it’s also an excuse to party!). Eventually, I turned my homes into an alternative art space/artist residency (Expose Art House) because somewhere along the way the challenges facing creatives are more apparent; having limited space to create, not having the tools to create and not having a place to show the work. In collaboration with local and regional Arts institutions we are able to build partnerships and joint ventures to provide residents with studio visits from collectors, docents, and curators.  

Expose Art allows me to collaborate and expand my interests in art as social practice. To move beyond aesthetics, the confinement of white walls, and into creating positive change in the community. Thus, turning placemaking into homemaking. With this in mind, I collaborated with French photographer JR for Inside Out Project. We thought it was a great way to introduce a large scale public art installation by reintroducing portraits of our community from the inside out. The installation was made in the heart of downtown Montgomery. A place that contains a layered, complex, powerful history of human struggle and redemption.  

Through this project, I’ve learned that we share the desire to present a more accurate portrait of our city from the “inside”–a community of individuals who are loving, intelligent, passionate, creative, and evolving together. This project reminds us that the power to transform exists within each of us; that an engaged loving community is the way forward and the real challenge for artists is not to simply transform ideas into matter, but to make those ideas actually matter.  

Q. What have you been doing to stay inspired during these times of social isolation? What inspires your work in general?  

A. In the beginning, I had a difficult time in keeping with my studio practice. Anxiety from lost income and an uncertain future took a bit off my productivity. Then, I realized my emotional rollercoaster was shared by many others across disciplines and this has brought immense comfort to know that we are all connected.  

Each morning, I started a Quarantine Haiku to help with processing the new normal. Since traveling has become impossible, I have spent much time in the garden; plowing, planting, and watering–It has become a ritualistic activity with much learning, contemplating, and meditating. 

Aside from being a busy bee in the studio, I have been reading, leather crafting, cooking (next recipe: duck confit) reconnecting with friends over Zoom for art talks (and afternoon cocktails!). I’ve also been taking advantage of the free workshops and curatorial talks provided by art museums across the globe. Interesting enough these activities have brought the art world closer together (#togetherapart).  

My inspiration derives from numerous disciplines and sources; from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, philosophy of Gaston Bachelard, teachings of Taoism and Zen Buddishm, John Cage and his Avant-garde music, Bill Viola’s enigmatic slow art, to the cyclical nature of life vis-a-vis gardening.  

Q. How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your schedule for the upcoming year? What’s next for you? 

A. Well, most everything is up in the air at the moment and I am being flexible and open to whatever comes. There is a plan of presenting Path of Entry and Between Heaven and Earth at the Wiregrass Museum next year. Similarly, I am hoping my up in the air project in LA would make its way back to me in the coming year.  

Since the confinement, I’ve been noticing all of my domestic duties and organization flaws around the house–I guess there is no better time to do this than now! Around the corner I have a group exhibition at the Alabama State Art Council’s Artist Gallery in Montgomery, Alabama with other 2019-2020 fellowship grantees. Aside from this exhibition, I am working on developing an artist residency with a few friends outside of Paris, France. 

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The Wiregrass Museum of Art reserves the right to photograph and reproduce chosen works publication, publicity, and educational purposes. Participation in this exhibition shall be an agreement on the part of the artist to these conditions. The museum reserves the right to exclude works submitted without appropriate preparation (documentation, mounting hardware, suitable frame/mat, etc.), or which are damaged or incomplete. The museum is not responsible for the safekeeping of any works left in its care ninety (90) days after the close of the exhibition.