After barely graduating with her MFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 2007, Niki Kriese moved to New York in search of fame, fortune, and falafel. She doesn’t remember anything before that. She makes art and lives in Long Island City with her husband and freaking adorable kids. She’s worked in ADHT since 2011.
What current projects are you at work on?
I have long been interested in the residue of the passage of time. This subtle trace takes on many forms as we grasp for memories of people, and try to define our own history. Similarly, in my work I’m interested in the futility of containing the ineffable, of portraying the glint of chemistry between people, and of recognizing traces of the absent. In the ongoing series of drawings “Last Minute of the Day,” I have been tracing my shadow in the last moment of sunlight on a given day. The resulting line is a desperate attempt at preserving time, specifically the melancholic moment where the day visually disappears. It is a charged activity to frantically capture this light as it fades – to watch it slipping through my fingers. Using the last minute of sunlight as a material is a very tenuous endeavor, and one that fits within the way I describe my practice: earnestly embarking on tasks that are bound to fail.
In exploring invisible concepts and attempting to make them physical, I have ended up with two approaches: the delicate indexical trace that is the direct result of contact, and the heavy, material-based objects that speak to the awkward, very human ways of fumbling through the world. It excites me to present simultaneously these two modes of working, allowing them to communicate from their respective extremes. Though they are very different, they both demonstrate that failure and futility are crucial locations of humanity. This is ultimately what I want the viewer to experience: insight into the excessive behaviors of humans grasping for more time, followed by questioning of our own complicity, and on what side of the blurry line we stand.
In terms of “ultra-recent”, my work has made a major shift, in a “coming back home” sort of way. My background is in painting but for the last ten years I have been working in sculpture and video. I’ve recently made a return to painting, in a way that is more about the verb “painting” rather than “making a painting”. Still working with the traced images, I’ve been embracing improvisation and invention, freeing myself from the restrictions I had placed on my process. I am back to responding to the materials and enjoying the color, composition, and texture: all the things I had become suspicious of. The resulting paintings contain the tension of the rule-based starting point grinding against the play of the studio.
I am also organizing a brown bag lecture series called The Nocturnals that will begin in February. I’ve assembled seven artists (Paul Nicholson, Jill Corson, Rebecca Nison, myself, Carolina Wheat, Heechan Kim, and Amanda Keller) who are Parsons staff-members, and they will be speaking on their work, one per week, from February 20 – April 10. The scope of the artists’ work is quite varied, yet they all share common threads of longing, absence, and humor. These talks will be presented to the larger Parsons community, and will provide an opportunity for conversation and engagement. I have been working with each artist, but ultimately they are in control of their own presentations—so I am waiting to see how the final events will actually go down.
What inspired these projects?
Honestly, several months ago I had a dream that I organized a lecture series for artists who are Parsons staff-members, and it was wildly successful. But once the idea was in my head, it just made sense. So many of our staff have careers and practices outside of their lives here, and there are very few opportunities to discuss them. I wanted to create a place for the conversation to begin between these artists and the larger community.
Through my work I have always probed failure, futility, vulnerability. In 2005, while I was working on fabric sculptures related to memory and placeIhappened to travel to Italy. Everything I encountered struck a chord with what I had been trying to sort out. and also my own anxiety surrounding time/memories slipping through my fingers. The souvenirs, reliquaries, tourists, devout pilgrims I found there gave me a point of context in the world as well as a physicality to model the work on, and it also gave me plenty of fodder for inserting humor into the work.
If you’re pursuing more than one project, are you finding connections between these pursuits, or do they feel separate?
The two most important projects in my life are also the most at odds with each other – practicing art and raising children. I have two young sons, and it would be an understatement to say that balancing everything is a challenge. While on the surface (and some days more than others) it seems like each of these “pursuits” would threaten the other, becoming a parent has deepened my creative process immensely. The practical logistics of making work had to change if I was to keep working, and that shook me out of any ruts I had been in. I have also seen my patience (never a strong trait before) increase, as well as a necessity to be present in the moment and not second guess myself.
Is this your first project of this kind? What unique challenges and discoveries are presenting themselves?
This is the first time I have organized a lecture series. I have given my own artist talks, organized exhibitions, and arranged plenty of collaborative and group projects, but this feels unique because it is so closely connected to my work life. I found it exciting yet vulnerable to propose the idea to staff, not knowing what the response would be. Each step along the way has been very gratifying, as the artists involved have been open and generous, and it has been a thrill delving into their work. I cannot wait for the talks to actually start, because as much as I can learn about their work on my own, something new happens when work is presented for an audience who is equally open and generous. I am hopeful that this will serve as a catalystfor new connections between Parsons folks, and an exchange of ideas and opportunities.
And while we do have several visual artists who will be speaking, there will also be a writer, a choreographer, and an audio artist. I wouldn’t call this a challenge per se, but these are outside my own bubble of experience, so I am not completely sure what to expect. Have I mentioned I am really excited for the talks to finally begin?
If this project is part of a long-term interest, how have you seen your work shift through time?
I have always worked as an artist, and is the work is always shifting. One of the best things about putting together your own work for a talk is that the act forces you to see the trajectory of your work over time, which usually gets lost in the day to day labor. Even work that seems like it’s spinning out of control usually has some of the DNA of your long-haul project embedded in it, and it’s incredibly helpful to be able to step back and see the connective thread. The physicality of my work has shifted dramatically over the last ten years, and the immediate subject matter is often fluid, but the larger themes are hard to shake.