Studio visit: Linda Ganjian
Published: Saturday October 11, 2008
Cities of the mind
"I shall tell you what I dreamed last night," he says to Marco Polo. "In the midst of a flat and yellow land, I saw from a distance the spires of a city rise, slender pinnacles, made in such a way that the moon in her journey can rest now on one spire, now on another, or sway from the cables of the cranes."-Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
The Italian novelist Italo Calvino, author of Invisible Cities, would no doubt be fascinated had he lived long enough to experience Linda Ganjian's intricate miniature cities. In his 1972 novel, Calvino imagines a conversation between emperor Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, who describes cities glorious and diverse, encountered in his travels around the world. Made of painted, scored, and glued paper, Ganjian's latest work, Avestan (2007), could easily take its place next to Calvino's imagined cities of Bauci, Leandra, Melania, and Fillide.
Named after an ancient Zoroastrian alphabet used in pre-Islamic Persia, Avestan is a veritable feast for the eyes in gold and black. Ganjian terms her makeshift city "a three-dimensional interpretation of calligraphic script." Built upon a large, slightly raised 5 by 3 foot-long wood pedestal, Avestan's curved spires, foot-tall towers, and gridded streets of cut-out paper lettering rise majestically into the air. The interplay of detail and scale, pattern and size delights the eye. What magic, to build a city from an alphabet, as if the streets were words, the boulevard sentences, and the whole a universe-full of novels or stories! Ganjian's most remarkable achievement in this piece is perhaps to have created work which appears at once Oriental and ancient (the Persian, sabre-like curves and curlicues), yet pop-art-like and postmodern (the bright colors, the exaggerated forms), as if Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol had lent a hand in its creation.
Sitting in her Long Island City studio, on 48th Avenue, Ganjian points to a previous miniature cityscape, Ode to Disappearing Smokestacks (2005). Structured as a carpet, this extended visual essay is based on the nearby defunct Schwarz power plant, which once powered Penn Station. Its many forms and details inspired the Brighton, Massachusetts-born artist. "I was intrigued by the intricate architectural details. Take the rotating blades of the vents on top of the plant," Ganjian notes, pointing to some curvilinear forms in deep red. "They are quite beautiful. I meant the piece as a tribute to a neighborhood that is being gentrified and to the many industrial structures that are being turned into condominiums." The plant's architectural elements lay side by side in both horizontal and vertical stretches. Made of blue and red polymer clay, the pill shapes and candy forms propel the onlooker into a Willy Wonka fantasy of urban sweets and delights.
Sculpture as metaphor
Dictionary definition of "metaphor:" from the Greek metaphora, "a transfer;" in rhetoric, "transference of a word to a new sense. To carry over, to transfer."
Ganjian first appeared in full force on the New York art scene after obtaining her MFA in combined media from Hunter College CUNY in 1998. Her intricate Golden Cities (2000-2001), exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal in Leiden, Netherlands, in November 2001 are direct precursors to her current work. These biomorphically-shaped structures, made of glue and then painted gold, were the first hint of the depth and extent of Ganjian's artistic vision, creating urban landscapes that morphed like so many visual metaphors into computer circuitry, intricate jewelry, and sartorial allusions - buttons, threading, and the like.
Since then, Ganjian has exhibited her work both locally at Mixed Greens gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, the Queens Museum, PS 122, and Art in General, as well as internationally, as far away as Scotland and Armenia. This December she is taking her works to the Aqua Art Fair in Miami with New York-based Heskin Contemporary.
Ganjian's great originality has been to pursue her own idiosyncratic vision, even when it has not fit into pre-existing molds or the current trends in the Chelsea art scene. She treads a fine line: though she is not a true insider, she also does not belong to what is commonly referred to as "outsider art," a moniker which has acquired a facile patina of acceptability in recent years.
"I've been influenced by the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s," Ganjian notes, referring to artists such as Miriam Schapiro, Joyce Kozloff, and Robert Zakanitch, who began to look for influences beyond America, to objects such as Oriental rugs and Japanese kimonos. They employed then-iconoclastic materials such as fabric, acrylic paint, and other media in order to achieve heretofore unseen results, often creating lush floral and botanical scenes. "They went beyond the mainstream American art scene," Ganjian continues, referring no doubt to her keen interest in Middle Eastern carpets, architectural elements, and antique alphabets, as well as her own circuitous route as a sculptor.
Trained as a painter, Ganjian worked for many years as a propmaker on the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue: "That's where I learned to use a glue gun," Ganjian recounts, laughing: "You have to work incredibly quickly in that métier. That's where I acquired my love of assemblage." In her expert hands, small, discarded everyday glued and paper cut-outs become metaphors for a city, and cities metaphors for the imagination.
A love of extremes
Off we go, like Gulliver, to the land of the both large and small.
A tranquil and reflective presence in person, in her work Ganjian has created a lyrical, visual ballad of extremes. She takes an almost Swiftian delight in alternating between large and small. While her metaphorical cityscapes may be the best example of her Lilliputian tendencies, her 2007 work, Bountiful LIC Memorial Carpet, affirms her opposite tendency towards the large and statuesque.