Deborah Anzinger

Jamaica Biennial 2017




I've been doing quite a bit of research on your background, and was surprised to learn that you were a scientist prior to pursuing art full time?! How did you make such a drastic career change? Do you find your science background influences the work your create now?

No matter how many times this question about my science background comes up it always manages to surprise me... living as much as I can in the present I can sometimes forget the journey I took to come to the current moment. So even though I don’t anticipate it, this question reminds me of the depth of this journey of knowledge-building and discovery that is the foundation of my practice as an artist and a being. 

I think we are socialized to think of existence as compartmentalized fields, when really epistemological limits are many times social limitations and constructs that maybe we feel pressured to live by, more so than they are actual physical limitations of a person’s mind and potential. 

In reality I have found myself lucky to be exposed and therefore present and attentive to an ongoing and highly varied series of experiences, fields, and relationships. This has provided the architecture for how I understand the world around me, and then what I do with the way I understand. 

I do think that my PhD in science helped foster an experimental approach to thinking about what I do in the studio and how I formulate thoughts, things like the inherent hypotheses behind creating new aesthetics and syntax. There’s a lot of independent research and literature search methods that you learn in graduate school too that I think have also benefited my practice as an artist. A lot of observing, reading, self-reflection, and what-ifs.

Aesthetics and molding and cultivating and ecology and systems have always been important to me. Looking at it this way it comes as no surprise that my background is what it is.

The art industry feels particularly male dominated, and from my understanding, the sciences are also a predominantly male field - did/do you find this to effect how you approach the work you make? If so how? If not, why?

Though you could say that there was good gender representation when I was in graduate school, the field of science was dominated by white men primarily.  The distinction between representation and domination is important because while we had quite a few female lab techs (a non-faculty lower-paying position) who were working around us during grad school, and we also had quite a few white female junior faculty members, what you saw over and over again was that the faculty at the top of the chain— the ones with the big grants and big labs were almost always white men. In terms of graduate students, gender was more or less 50/50, though I was the only black female and black person in our program for several years, and before me there was only one black female or black graduate student for several years. There were no black male student in the program, and no black faculty members of any gender. There are definitely intersectional issues of gender and race that can’t be separated, as it relates to value, hierarchy and opportunity in this system.

I find visual art to be similar in terms of who is at the top and the way the system works. You could say that there have never been more women of color with opportunities to practice and share their work as there are today.... But how often is their work being recognized to the same extent and with as much respect as their counterparts belonging to other demographics, especially the demographic of White and male?

Those kinds of observations throughout life led me to begin imagining how people behave when their presence is affirmed in this empowering way...when one operates from a position of inherent empowerment. What must that feel like?  And how does a feeling of potential and empowerment affect what we perceive to be possible and therefore the steps we take to mold our surroundings. What are the thought patterns that come out of a place of empowerment versus a place of trauma? How do the thought patterns of each re-affirm and solidify those respective places? Though I might be marginalized socially, economically, by the oppressive systems we’ve been born into, what happens if I manage to disrupt the thought patterns such trauma inflicts on me? What potential lies there? How can I open up that space? My art practice becomes a useful place for me to imagine new paradigms—social, ecological, internal— by experimenting with aesthetic syntax...I can use material elements that may already have implied meaning socially— such as gender, race, environmental signifiers— and I can shuffle or mold new aesthetic understandings of them and, using mirrors, the self amidst them. I consider the work to be both an artifact of living and a device for thinking potential.

On the topic of gender (this issues core theme), has being a woman, and a woman of color at that, strongly influenced your work? If so, how? If not, Why? How do you think its affected the trajectory of you career (in terms of changing styles or narratives)?

My work is informed by lived internal and external experiences, and driven by a purposeful questioning process that in itself serve as a type of answer once the process is engaged. I don’t think I would have the drive to search for this particular process if I hadn’t been born into this particular gendered and raced body and what has come with that. So yes, definitely being a woman of color has influenced my work. But more abstractly, notions of marginalization versus  empowerment influence my work, as I also cannot remove the trauma of the geopolitical marginalization of Jamaica, where I am from, from my experiences. What thought patterns or disruptions seed moving to a state of empowerment from a marginal position? 

There is no narrative in the work as far as storytelling goes but there is a setup to destabilize biases and patterns, creating a seductive space for imaging new understandings of self in relation to one’s surrounding environment.  

"Seascape Web"
Zoe Rayn Evans