Vincenzo Della Corte: Georges Didi – Huberman defines painting as “nothing but representation”, “stasis without presence”, a being that is “less than being”, and also, due to its appearance, as “the smallest truth that exists”. Do you agree with this vision?
Isabel Yellin: This seems apt here – “The decorum of communicating through the medium of an object has a quiet, cowboy courtesy about it, like wranglers sitting around a campfire talking into the flames, and it suits me.” – Dave Hickey’s essay “Art Collectors” found in Pirates and Farmers.
VDC: In your works I have the impression that consciously or maybe unconsciously, you fight against an idea of “order” and “demarcation”. Your works seem to “flow”, more than simply hang on the wall. I have the impression they come from somewhere or some place and have an autonomous life. Can you tell me something more?
IY: Rather than fighting against borders, the work is a re-arrangement, which results in questioning how we perceive things. I had one piece (Whimsical Grime) recently likened to a “traditional sea-scape painting”, when actually it was an assemblage of sex sheets, door chains, and polyester vinyl and acrylic paint. That completely disconnected interpretation between the work and the physical materials it was created with is exactly what makes our basic experience of materials, colors, and textures individual and beautiful. The unexpected and incongruous familiarity is exactly why they have this sense of autonomy.
VDC: You have a very intriguing way of working with materials. Some works are very raw materially speaking and have a strong plasticity; other works are delicate, they give an idea of lightness: they are more ethereal and are oriented toward transparency. Is this dualism a conscious decision?
IY: Everything we look at is experienced in reference to something else. I always try to create an unresolvable conflict within the work, whether that is by combining the delicate with the ugly, the hasty with the particular, or the hard and the soft, light and heavy, etc.
VDC: Could you tell me something more specific about your use of materials?
IY: All of the pieces of the puzzle are vital to the whole structure. Texture is crucial as it is evocative at a most basic of levels. Each piece uses a different combination of fabrics which I sew together, as well as a combination of acrylic paints, tiling grout, clotheslines, chains, hooks, metal rods and scraps… etc. Many materials I use are conventionally situated within a fashion or domestic context. Clothes are something we deal with and curate constantly, they are our basic way of presenting ourselves to everybody else. They speak volumes when you care about it and when you don’t. Materials used to build up the rooms in our home, the seats in our cars or offices, are the backdrop to our day-to-day lives, .
VDC: Some of your works look like “paintings on the verge of becoming sculptures”. Could you tell me something about that?
IY: While they are being made they are all over the place – the floor, hanging on a clothesline, pinned to a rail. A lot of the work eventually creeps off the wall and becomes three-dimensional. Whether they drape out onto the floor, or are suspended in the air, they always question their own context. I like the discomfort of straddling those two realms – I like the work to sit there.
The texture on the surface of the work is just as important as the space it takes up, the space around it, the environment it’s situated in, etc. etc.
VDC: Could you tell me something more about the background of your works (how you choose the materials, why, etc.)
IY: I am drawn to materials that either immediately trigger an attraction or a repulsion, both personally and universally. Fabric is loaded with connotations and innuendos. There is a commercial for Fruit of the Loom cotton in America and their tagline is, “Cotton: the fabric of our lives” and it is sung out in a slow sweet woman’s voice. Pretty powerful, no? Lots of the pleated materials I use remind me of the crinkled fabrics used by the designer Issey Miyake, which was a favorite designer of my mother. Or conversely I have started using a lot of fetishistic fake leathers and vinyls that are for orgies and the like – fabrics often associated with the vulgar or the “dirty” parts of society. Having this range of fabrics and materials on top of each other pokes at our inherent notions of taste and class that have a direct effect on our experience of the world.
IY: Art is a mediation.
VDC: How important in your work is the idea of “transparency” and “liquidness”?
IY: Well, I am part of the last generation to remember the world without the internet. “Liquidness” and “transparency” can conjure up aspects of this virtual world, which we invest in just as seriously as the physical world and I think anyone working today thinks about that to a certain degree. Our self-perception is more multilayered and much more complicated because of it. My work plays with these layers and how our world-view is constantly changing and expanding more quickly than ever before.
VDC: You were born in New York. What are the principal differences between the US and European contemporary art scenes?
IY: I was just back in the states for a couple of months to show some work and it was the longest amount of time I had been there since I moved to London. It was great to be there again and meet tons of people doing really exciting things. I think the two scenes are crossing over now more often than ever because everything is so accessible… if anything every artist I have met recently seems more prolific and varied than ever before, almost impossible to categorize.
VDC: Could you tell me something about your upcoming projects?
IY: Well I just designed some of my own fabrics, which are getting digitally printed onto a silk chiffon. The fabrics have patterns using images from my own lexicon of experience that are also quite universally known, things like Dr. Seuss characters and the tiger from William Blake’s poem. Even if these fabrics end up obscured within the final work, I am excited to play around with embedding these images into the pieces. A children’s story that teaches self-reliance or a poem you read in school is formative, even if only subconsciously.
Isabel Yellin was born on 1987 in New York. She lives and works in London.
Vincenzo Della Corte