Now through May 20th, Artsy, Bergdorf Goodman, Dior, and American Express present The Artsy Vanguard exhibition, an in-store installation, and curated Fifth Avenue windows at Bergdorf Goodman.
In the windows and on display on the store’s 2nd floor will be the works of artists currently shaping the contemporary art landscape who have been selected by Artsy for their annual editorial feature, including TM Davy, Hayden Dunham, Rochelle Feinstein, Allison Janae Hamilton, Lena Henke, Hannah Levy, Tyler Mitchell, Cynthia Talmadge, and Lina Iris Viktor, alongside Dior looks from the fashion house’s pre-fall collection.
Ahead of the launch, BG visited Allison Janae Hamilton in her Chelsea studio to get a behind-the-scenes look at her work and her process from ideation to creation. Here, you can read all about her experience as an artist and how she feels to be a part of The Artsy Vanguard exhibition at Bergdorf Goodman.
Photography by Brendan Burke
Allison Janae Hamilton: Art and art making have been important parts of my life since childhood. I was making 35mm photographs in the darkroom from about twelve onward. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized that it was possible to choose art as my career. Today, my work draws on early experiences, specifically relating to landscapes and being raised in a family of farmers and hunters. The photos I made when I was young were mostly landscapes of my family’s farm in Tennessee and other places in the south that were important to me—I was born in Kentucky and raised in Florida.
Landscape is still the key consideration of my work; I use sculpture, installation, video and photography to think about land as a social and political element in our lives.
I use plant matter, layered imagery, sounds, found objects, animal remains in order to create immersive environments that consider things like environmental justice, land loss, and climate change. These environments engage the parts of landscape that are both beautiful and haunting, pleasurable and horrific.
BG: Can you take us through your creative process.
AJH: I’m always working in two different ways, simultaneously. I’ll often have an idea or concept in mind, and I’ll figure out ways to explore that concept through an installation, or a sculpture, or maybe a video, etc. At the same time, I’m always collecting found objects or recording images and sound that I find interesting but don’t have a plan for at that exact moment. It’s also important for me to go home as much as possible to gather imagery and natural materials and also to collaborate with friends and family who often perform in my photographs and videos. Whenever I’m in North Florida, I’m visiting my family, but I’m also making work. Most recently, I collaborated with my mother and godmother on my video installation, FLORIDALAND (2017/2018).
BG: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being an artist today?
AJH: For me, the most rewarding thing about working as an artist today is taking in what’s going on in the world, processing it through the artwork, and sharing it with the public. Making a living by exchanging ideas with the world outweighs any of the challenges I may come across. I support myself by going to my studio, or traveling to a site, and thinking about things, creating things from ideas. That’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.
BG: How does it feel to have your work on display at Bergdorf Goodman in partnership with Dior?
AJH: One of my undergraduate majors was Fashion Merchandising and I worked in fashion in my years right out of college, and those early years working in fashion have definitely informed some elements of my work today. It’s definitely a kind of full circle moment to be involved in this collaboration.
BG: Is there a piece of work that you feel particularly proud of? Why?
AJH: I just opened my first solo museum exhibition, Pitch, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), and I’m excited about the ways it’s pushed my work. The main part of the exhibition is a pine forest I created in the gallery using dozens of 500 lb pine logs that surround FLORIDALAND, the four-channel video installation I mentioned earlier. It was an ambitious project and it’s encouraged me to think of new ways to immerse the viewer in an environment. Similarly, I’m soon unveiling my first large-scale outdoor work at Storm King Art Center, titled The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm (2018), which also introduces a new element of site-specific outdoor artwork into my practice. I’m always happy when an artwork I’ve completed has challenged me to work in new ways.