Toronto artist Alicia Nauta is currently exhibiting her work at Narwhal as part of the group show, Roll Up That Tender Air and the Plant Dies, the Colour Fades. We had a chance to visit her studio where Alicia shared insight on her process, inspirations, and the current exhibition.
In the exhibition Roll Up that Tender Air and the Plant Dies, the Colour Fades there are references to domestic living such as rugs, plants, and ceramics throughout the show. What role does domesticity play in your work?
A lot of the collage material I work with comes from books found in thrift stores. I look out for DIY home manuals, including picture framing, woodworking, interior decorating, gardening, natural houses, curtain and drapery how-tos, houseplant and architecture encyclopedias, as well as collectors guides to glassware, ceramics, rugs etc. I identify with a lot of the ideas found in these books around creating or doing yourself, growing your own garden and creating a beautiful and environmentally friendly place to live. Recycling, reusing and reducing are referenced more heavily in a lot of these dated books (60’s/70’s era mostly) and although those green ideologies and movements are still circulating, they seem to have been commodified, rather than incorporated into our lives in a more holistic way.
Plants are featured heavily throughout the show. There is a sense that nature has overtaken the environment; however, all the plants have a manicured air as to suggest they’ve been raised and kept in domestic spaces – a tension between the natural world and our ongoing attempt to tame it. Why do you think we are compelled to bring nature indoors?
The plant images I use for collage material are found from a variety of sources, but mostly encyclopedias or houseplant manuals where a simple line drawing of the plant accompanies the description. I like to combine the organic lines of the plants with harder, more graphic lines and shapes. The tensions between the natural and manufactured world are all around us; I fear humans have damaged the natural world to an irreparable point. Environmental damage, nuclear waste piling up (that will be around for 250,000+ years) food and water shortages, overpopulation, and failing ecosystems don’t exactly paint a positive picture for our future. A quote from Michael Pollen’s article The Intelligent Plant, “Plants dominate every terrestrial environment, composing ninety-nine per cent of the biomass on earth. By comparison, humans and all the other animals are, in the words of one plant neurobiologist, “just traces.” Imagine a world after humans have left and plants slowly take over again; that’s a pretty beautiful image.
There have been theories about plants having intuitive feelings or reactions to their environments and just as sunlight and water affect them, theoretically music or conversation could perhaps play a role in their well being. What do you do to stay connected to your plants? Do you have any special care tips to share?
I love The Secret Life of Plants, the since debunked book about plant intelligence by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. Classical music is supposed to be good for your houseplants. I talk to my plants, sometimes out of frustration like WHAT DO YOU NEED!? tell me!!! but mostly to say, You look great, thank you for cleaning the air! I have some air plants I have to give a bath to a couple times a week. It’s pretty funny. They take luxurious baths more often than I do. Mort Garson wrote an album on a Moog synthesizer in 1976 called Plantasia where each song was dedicated to a different houseplant. I will admit to having played “Symphony for a spider plant” and “Concerto For Philodendron & Pothos” for my plants.
There are hints of illusion within the work. What’s your relationship to alternate realities?
In the words of my friend Rebecca Simonetti “reality is psychedelic”. I am interested in creating compositions that are familiar and alienating at the same time. Much of my work has conflicting perspectives or the scale of objects are wrong, or there are 2D and 3D images depicted within the same piece. In my print ‘A stone is nobody’s’ the lamp’s light shining down is darker instead of lighter. I use a lot of op art patterns that confuse the eye, and sometimes move images on the photocopy bed to create a warped or wiggly image. For example, in ‘Melting columns’, a collaborative print by Eunice and myself, the columns appear to be melting under a dying sun. Through a series of open doorways and windows to another time and place, I think my compositions offer a glimpse of ruins from the future.
How do your surroundings affect you? Are you more affected by your exterior or interior environment?
I feel equally influenced by both exterior and interior environments. I am drawn to the ways that people decorate (or don’t) their personal spaces and the objects they choose to surround themselves with. I love personal museums in people’s homes (like the Smiley Face Museum in Halifax, or the Troll Museum in New York) and the personality of stores whose owners have collections of their favourite things next to products for sale, like Fernandas Cleaning Supplies; his store is down the street from my house and has the best window display. Because I spend a lot of time in thrift stores looking for source material, they can start to feel like sad and strange museums too, which definitely influences me.
I am also really enamored with the natural world, it’s so diverse and incredible. To be in open spaces where you can see more of the sky, more of the land, just feels right. I grew up camping with my family during our summers and feel most at ease close to trees and water.
What’s your studio time like? Do you have a routine or schedule?
Studio time can be pretty sporadic, with weeks of collaging followed by weeks of printing, or if i’m collaborating with Eunice we might meet a couple times a week until we’ve completed a project. But I also like to take time to collect collage materials by going to bookstores, thrift stores and garage sales. Outside of the studio, reading and simply thinking while walking around outside are also an important part of my practice.
What's your favourite studio snack?
Those real fruit juice gummies from the bulk store. I can’t stop eating them. I’ve been making a lot of stovetop popcorn lately and chips are always welcome.
What is inspiring you right now?
My incredibly talented and hardworking friends who are artists and musicians, like Seth Scriver who has a great exhibition at Weird Things right now, Cameron Lee’s incredible drag performances, Nikki Woolsey’ sculptures and collages, Victoria Cheong’s music project New Chance, Jon McCurley and Amy Lam’s collective Life of a Craphead who also run the performance and comedy night Doored, Carl Didur’s solo music as well as his band Zacht Automaat and my dear friend and collaborator Eunice Luk – these are just a few among many.
I am also inspired and grateful to stand with community organizers and leaders in Toronto, and elsewhere, who challenge the oppressive systems and ideologies we live in. There is a climate march lead by Indigenous peoples happening in Toronto July 5th, very inspiring!
Can you share a recent studio playlist, track or video?
I’ve been working on a new mix of my favourite female rappers, I really like Noname Gypsy, she’s from Chicago.
Here’s an older mix I made of some of my favourites:
Can you share a photo from a favourite interior environment?
Is there a place in Toronto that inspires you?
Toronto Island. I am doing a residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point for the last two weeks of August, I’m very much looking forward to it. It’s a beautiful place I can’t believe exists in Toronto. One of the best beaches, and the residency takes place in an old schoolhouse, so the studio space is a big classroom with huge tables. Swimming and making collages without any distractions, pretty ideal!
Can you tell us about what’s next / upcoming projects?
I’m currently working on a mural around a community garden in Parkdale with the collective Buck Teeth Girls. This summer I’m helping to organize Zine Dream 8 (small press and print expo) which will be held at the Great Hall this year. I’ll have installations on a barn at Way Home Music Festival happening in July…and hopefully going to the New York Art Book Fair again in September.