The dangerous ideas of an artist
Miami-based poet and artist Antonia Wright examines the personal complexities and contradictions of the human experience in her compelling and confronting work. Often using her own body, she pushes situations, emotions and taboos into the public realm for the viewer to contemplate and assimilate.
In a recent project, “Are You Ok?”, Wright stood crying on a street corner in Havana, Cuba, and filmed the responses of passers by from afar. The result was a moving and telling portrait of how people interact and avoid one another.
With an MFA from from the New School University in New York City in Poetry as well as another from the International Center of Photography, it’s no wonder she chooses to blur the boundaries between literature, live performance, video, photography, and sculpture—with stunning results. She exhibited extensively in U.S and abroad, from Switzerland to the Bahamas, and is currently in an artist-in-residence program at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn (where you can see her work at their Second Sundays open studio series).
Here she talks about the influences in her work, her favorite contemporary galleries in Miami, and more.
You’re a poet and an artist – at what point did you decide to fully commit to the creative life?
Unconsciously, when I was born. As a kid, my best friend, Susan Panko, and I would walk around the neighborhood collecting flowers and make bouquets. We would ring the doorbell of the neighbors, drop the flowers on their doorsteps, hide in a bush, and watch as they found our presents. We did this for years.
I also loved to stare out the window. My mom worked, my sister studied, and I looked out the window with the cat. I thought I was neighborhood watch. One day I saw a woman have her purse stolen. I gave a police report. It was one of the best days of my childhood.
Consciously, it felt like my life restarted when I moved to New York to study poetry. Getting a Masters in poetry is probably one of the least lucrative things you can do—yet it was so right, it was awakening.
How would you describe the overarching themes and impulses in your work?
My work is founded in a deep political and social consciousness. The pieces are curious actions, always questioning their surroundings in an attempt to unveil the bizarre, sad, beautiful, wondering why we do the things we do. I pay a lot of attention to esthetic quality when making the work and try and blur the boundaries between literature, live performance, video, photography, and sculpture.
I use my body in all the projects to create visual metaphors. I push myself and the limits of what is possible. I put myself in different scenarios, at time very intense situations, in the attempt to deeply feel so that this is transmissible to the audience. I think apathy is the worst emotion. I find that when I start a new project and stop sleeping I’m moving in the right direction. As Oscar Wilde says, “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea.”
Do you have any more plans for more “Are You Ok?” performances where you cry I the street in different cities? What did observe about human nature from these experiences?
I recently did the performance in Havana. People approached me so quickly. I was crying for only a few minutes when a nice person invited me to sit down and talk. Each city is very different. A friend from the French West Indies mentioned to me the other day that she could tell which ones were shot in the US because Americans like to hug. I never noticed that before. Now there are 4 in the series – which I think makes them more dynamic to compare. When someone does stop to ask me if I am OK, it feels like the zenith of human compassion. I’m not sure where I’ll do it next. I’ve been feeling pretty happy recently.
What project are you working on now?
Last week I started an artist-in-residence program at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. I have about 20 projects I’m starting right now. Most of them explore the idea “what does the performance of sculpture look like?”
How does Miami inform you work?
Miami is such a fascinating city. My studio is right on the Miami River and I’ve seen manatees swimming in the water next to floating Santeria chickens with huge tankers going in one direction and half naked party boats going in the other while it is sunny and raining simultaneously. It is a wild mix of gorgeous natural beauty and gritty surreal Miami. It is a fun place to make work and the light is euphoric.
What are your three favorite galleries/art spaces for the best contemporary art in Miami?