IN DIALOGUE WITH Isabelle Albuquerque, SCULPTOR
Isabelle Albuquerque is a multi-media artist who has delved into the worlds of music, sculpture, directing and more. The co-founder of musical group Hecuba and multi-disciplinary studio Osk, Isabelle’s inspirations range from ancient mythology to the emotional potential of virtual and physical spaces. Her works, in their many mediums, are connected by a common thread of emotional intensity and piercing presence, with visuals that live in a space somewhere between intimate and provoking. Isabelle grew up in California, where she is still based today. We sat down with Isabelle to discuss her journey as an artist and the inspiration powering her many works.
Interview by Gabriella Lacombe ~ Photos by Mina Alyeshmerni
You come from a family of artists, your mother Lita Albuquerque is an artist and your sister Jasmine is a dancer and choreographer. What was it like growing up in that household?
It was pretty wild. My great grandmother was a traditional Arabic singer with her own orchestra and my grandmother was a playwright and so there is this strong matriarchal line of artists that goes back multiple generations. We lived in Los Angeles but spent time with my grandma in Tunisia and Paris. And I traveled with my mom to places like The Mojave Desert, Death Valley and the Giza Plateau in Egypt where she used the desert as her canvas in these very expansive earthworks.
My sister and I listened through movement a lot. We started a dance company when I was 7 and she was 6 and we’d go to the Venice Beach Boardwalk with our stereo and perform to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection. Later, it was from my sister that I learned how to understand the body as a container for personal longing, feeling, pleasure but also collective pain, history and epigenetic memory.
You appear to be a fountain of creativity, to put it lightly--you’re a multimedia artist who has worked as an art director, a director, a musician, a sculptor...how do you sustain that creative energy, and what inspires you to branch into a new medium?
Sometimes one medium gives birth to the ideas in another. For example, a few years ago, I spent many months at my company Osk hand painting frame by frame animation sequences of nude bodies for the episodic adaptation of Kris Kraus’s I Love Dick. The project tapped into a long personal obsession with the nude in art. When it was over, I was so addicted to drawing these bodies that I really couldn’t stop and the sketches for some of my first figurative sculptures began there. This alone can be energizing - the way that everything is in dialogue with and bearing the fruit of each other.
I often think about Bernini, one of my favorite sculptors from the 1600s, who was also an architect, a city planer, a painter, a director and an actor. And how the mastery and emotion in for example his Ecstasy is born through a relationship with all of his modes.
On your Instagram, you’ve recently posted a lot of beautiful classical (or classically-inspired) sculptural work, tribal works and mythology. Can you speak to why these appeal to you?
I’m continually moved by the development of sculpture as a communicative technology outside the constraints of language and finite time. Often in the presence of a particularly powerful ancient piece, I feel a strong emotional and almost erotic connection to the experience of the person/people who made it. In this way, it can act as a kind of time travel machine, folding me into direct contact with those who came before (and those who come after). And I just really relate to any kind of art that challenge traditional understandings of time in a linear sequence and speaks to an experience that is more networked and fluid.
I'm also interested in how the ideas contained in classical works and myth are the DNA of so much of the thought that we still contain in our bodies. Lately I've become obsessed with paintings and sculptures of Leda and the Swan which depict the rape of Leda by Zeus (in the form of a swan) and how through this act of violence against a woman was born Helen of Troy, the Trojan War and the beginning of Classical History.
Tell us about what drew you to Sculpture as a way to express your art?
I think that at first I was drawn to it because I needed to make transmitters that could send direct messages from my subconscious in a form that I could understand or at least try to understand. And it was important that this form was not didactic, that it existed in more than one dimension and would shift and deepen depending on what angle you looked at it.
When we visited you in the studio you gave mention to the strong females of the Amazonian who inspired some of the pieces we saw, can you tell us more?
Yes, I recently started making a fleet of 8 foot tall figures for a series called Alien Spring. They are inspired by both the Amazons and H.R. Giger’s work for the film Alien. Both the Amazons (or the real nomadic Scythian female warriors that the Amazon myth is based on) and Giger’s alien were mothers who existed so outside our limited ideas of that role that we could only understand them through myth, science fiction and bodies seemingly unlike our own. One breast, one tail, many teeth.
You and your partner Jon Ray collaborate on many things, including your music project Hecuba and Osk, a multi-disciplinary studio focusing on the merging of art, film and technology. Why do you feel you work so well together?
Jon and I first met to talk about me playing a woman who processes sexual trauma through the projected memory of an alien abduction in a film we eventually made together. What was supposed to be an hour long coffee turned into a twenty hour long film planning, music making, eating, talking, walk across the city and the beginning of a very fertile and multidimensional conversation. Seventeen years later and we’re still deep in that conversation.
I think the way that we work together has something to do with belief and a deep belief in each other (in our constant states of change) as individuals and as partners (admits constant states of change) and in art (as an agent of change).
Through Hecuba, you create works that focus on the relationship between experimentation and classical form. Can you say more about how you landed on this focus, and why you chose the name Hecuba?
The name comes from an Ancient Greek play by Euripides about several continuous themes - women in captivity, agency, how we process violence and its effects on the body and the gaze.
Hecuba's body undergoes a process of transmutation through tragedy and war from that of a queen and a mother to one of a dog with fiery eyes.
When I think of this dog, I think of the Egyptian goddess Nuit- her tits covering the sky, of Louise Bourgeois’s Nature Study, of Iggy Pop cutting himself open to the audience and of the way that Jon and I collapsed our identities into one in the songwriting and performance of our Hecuba. The creative and destructive power of that.
And also, just the terror and courage in those fiery eyes and how they keep looking when it would be easier to go blind.
What do you hope to achieve with Osk?
Osk is always on the hunt for new modes of seeing/feeling/making. This has manifested in many ways over the years, but currently we are developing artificial (or alien) intelligence to create and look at art and human experience through new (and often nonhuman) perspectives.
You appear in Arthur Jafa’s ‘The White Album,’ which interrogates and examines whiteness and racism. How did you get involved, and do you have any hopes for what audiences will take away from the final work? In your opinion, how is art an effective medium for interacting with these kinds of challenging (and often painful) topics?
AJ has had a profound influence on so many artists and a deep impact on my own thinking/feeling/seeing/being.
AJ, Jon and I work together in many ways, the design of his 840-page anti-monograph A Series Of Utterly Improbable Yet extraordinary Renditions being one of our recent and most meaningful projects yet.
But I am most moved when I get to be one of the subjects of his lens/eye/frame, as in the case of The White Album, because he has such a deeply loving gaze. I’ve noticed that the way he marries this loving perspective with one that so acutely looks at the terrifying structures of oppression all around and embedded in us, to have a nervous system altering effect on those who see/hear/feel it.
And I think that art has always been the way that humans process our experience. How else would we survive this shit?
Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon that you can speak about?
I am currently working on a sculpture called Orgy For 10 People In One Body. I’ve spent a lot of this summer in the studio of the life caster and artist Sarah Sitkin making a copy of my nude decapitated outer self. Last week I drove this self up the coast to a foundry where it has begun an alchemical process in which it is metamorphosing into something more like music for a show (TBA) this October.
What is something you are yearning to experience?
Sex with a shape shifter
Maimoun comes from the Persian language word, meaning to welcome a guest into your home. If you could invite anyone to dinner in your home, who would it be and why?
I would invite Julia Kristeva, George Bataille, Jon Ray, Arthur Jafa, Math Pearl Bass, Bradford Young, Kahlil Joseph, Miranda July, Shakti Orismekusa, Onye Anyanwu and Lance Hammer because I still have so many questions. And then I would also invite Mary Shelly, James Tiptree and Artaud for help in the kitchen.