For Art & Dialogue: Los Angeles, Diana Nawi, Associate Curator, Pérez Art Museum Miami, traveled to Los Angeles to give a talk in conversation with Iman Issa at 356 S. Mission Rd. As a culmination of her participation in the program, Nawi presented a summary of her experience in the city. 

I was delighted to have been invited by Artadia to visit Los Angeles to conduct studio visits with their awardees and participate in a public conversation hosted by 356 Mission. Los Angeles is a city close to my heart—I went to UCLA as an undergraduate and my time there was incredibly formative—and it was great to have the chance to return to connect in earnest with the constantly changing scene there.

I found this trip particularly rewarding as I was able to meet artist who I didn’t know as well as reconnect with artists who I’ve been in conversation with for some time, a product of the breadth and diversity of artist’s with whom Artadia works. Over the course of three days I met with Max King Cap, Meg Cranston, Cayetano Ferrer, Mariah Garnett, Stanya Kahn, Robyn O’Neil, Melanie Schiff, and Kerry Tribe. My trip came on the heels of the election and many of the conversations I had were filtered through that lens and a sense of renewed urgency. It was an interesting moment to be in the studios of so many artists as they responded to their usual context (preparing for or coming off of exhibitions, working through new ideas and materials, teaching, etc.) as well as to this new national circumstance.

My first two visits were with Tribe and Kahn. Having met with both artists about a year ago, it was great timing to pick up the conversation—seeing how previous projects and exhibitions had evolved and been realized, and having the chance to see new works in formation. Tribe and I discussed the work she had recently shown as part of the Current: LA Water, Exquisite Corpse (2016), which is 51-minute meditation on the 51 miles of the LA River. Comprised of original footage of the waterway and its nearby communities, the film touches on the ecology, sociology, and economy of the river and its surrounding environs, beautifully capturing the complexity of such a present but strangely overlooked site. Tribe was in the early stages of embarking on a newly commissioned piece, and it was really interesting to get a sense of how she determines and approaches her subject matter. Kahn had likewise recently finished new work for exhibitions and it was great to see not only the work itself, but discuss how she had approached installing these projects in gallery spaces. We also spent quite some time discussing a video work that is in progress; a really compelling piece that like much of her work taps into so much that is painfully, exquisitely personal and yet somehow collective.

Likewise Mariah Garnett, whose film Full Burn (2014), included in Made in L.A. 2014 at the Hammer, was a real highlight for me, was very generous in discussing previous works and newly in formation projects. We watched a few of her older films together, talking about her process and in particular, the decisions that go into her own role within the works and into determining what is revealed to the viewer and what is withheld. Garnett’s work often seems to seek to understand its subject matter through the self, and it is both her and the viewer that thus become implicated in the works. It was really interesting to see how this focus shapes the formal concerns of her projects.

Robyn O’Neil was deep in preparations for an exhibition that was right around the corner, and it was a great moment to be in the studio as she was working towards completing her labor-intensive, large-scale drawings. I appreciated being afforded insights into the actual processes that guide the work, as well spending time talking about her recent production and its relationship to this new body of work. Cayetano Ferrer was similarly preparing for an upcoming exhibition and it was great to speak with him about his materials and processes, both of which are so central to the conceptual underpinnings of his work. I had seen an excellent installation of his work in an exhibition at Miami’s Michael Jon and Alan and I was really pleased to be able to learn more about his practice through this visit.

I’ve known Meg Cranston for many years, having studied with her at UCLA. Cranston’s classes remain a touchstone for me, both for the direct lessons she imparted but also in the way in which she, and many of the other UCLA faculty, modeled how to be an artist in the world. Her relationship to her subject matter and forms, which is wonderfully idiosyncratic and open, really exposed me to the way in which artists work and approach ideas. I was grateful for the chance to reconnect with Cranston at this moment, and in addition to looking at new work, much of our visit was spent discussing the election, the role of feminism in shaping the current conversation, and the arts education.

My last two visits were with Melanie Schiff, whose work I knew in particular from my time in Chicago, and with Max King Cap, whose practice I was pleased to learn more about. Schiff had recently opened an exhibition in New York and it was great to see some of the work from the bodies that comprised that show, as well as to talk about her shooting and editing process. We also discussed her recent show at LAXART, which I was fortunate to see in person, and it was a great touchstone to discuss the way in which she conceptualizes exhibitions and installations. Cap was in the midst of a number of projects, both artistic and focused on arts education, and our conversation was very open, pivoting around both topics. I particularly enjoyed seeing his bold, graphic drawings and discussing ways in which they might circulate, as well as learning about his research into the successes and failures of art schools in the US.

I invited Iman Issa to join me from New York after speaking with Ethan Swan at 356 Mission, who, like me, has been following her work for a few years now. I very much think of LA as a sculptor’s city and Issa’s practice offers a really interesting and pointedly political dimension to that conversation. I am grateful to Artadia and to Ethan and his team for supporting this program and for opening up the space for us to have this conversation, both literally and figuratively. I’m also grateful to Artadia for facilitating this trip and these visits, which were so productive. And lastly, I’m thankful to the artists with for opening their studios to me. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Image: Max King Cap, Dubois is Back in Town, 2014, ink on paper, 24 x 36 inches