EFA ShifT Residency Interview




Natural Cleaners video - 01EFA:Natural Cleaners is a video of you cleaning the trees and rivers of rural Pennsylvania using household tools such as a broom and mop. How do you see environmental issues being linked to domesticity?

KMM: We see domesticity as a focus point, where many issues are tight together reflecting not only our personal life, but also the wider context of environment and culture. In our homes personal reflects the general and the individual choices influence the larger surroundings.

The performance Natural Cleaners draws attention to wider issues of how we perceive indoor and outdoor space while it challenges the way we behave in these environments. It examines the common domestic task of cleaning as a primeval cultural statement of claiming, defining and controlling space.

It also asks basic questions about the general acceptance of the toxicity of the household products. By shifting the activity of cleaning to nature and using the conventional home cleaners, we experience, how artificial they truly are. Spraying glass cleaner on a mirror seems normal, while using it on a tree bark feels disturbing, pouring it in to mountain stream will ultimately turn it in to a pollutant. Many household products we routinely announce to kill 99.9 % of bacteria, creating a “clean” environment. Culturally the idea of cleanliness is connected to idealized image of nature as something pristine.

Paradoxically the concept of cleaning could create rather the opposite. Statistic indicate that today the interior spaces in New York City are more polluted then the air outside, thanks to toxic fumes and residua from paint, plastic and common household chemicals. Since the 70s and early 80s approximately 95-100% cleaners are synthetic, many having a harmful effect on health and the environment. Most of the conventional cleaners include unregulated carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, narcotics, and other, which cause numerous health problems. It is obvious that as users and consumers we not only put at risk our selves but the effects of our domestic routine extend in to the environment.

EFA: The majority of your work involves nature and domestic situations. Why do you think these are important issues to address?

KMM: We think that for approaching the key environmental questions of today the personal space is a great point to begin, taking the fact that majority of people spend most of their life indoors. We believe that the isolation of prevalently indoor-based culture connects closely to environmental crisis and alienation. While we all enjoy the comforts of the modern living, the removed interior based perspective of the world outside is today a cultural norm. For us exploring domesticity and life styles in the environmental context is intriguing, as it makes possible to confront cultural views and fantasies about nature at place where they were created. In our projects we explore idea of environmental integrity and possibilities to reconnect constructed reality to a larger environmental context of geography, and nature.

EFA: Do either of you consider yourselves environmental activists? Why or why not?

KMM: Experiencing of nature is important part of our art practice, being it simple walk in the forest or an observation of a spider web overtaking a corner in the living room. These events serve us as inspiration for making works sensitive to environment.

We do not think that our work fits in to category of activism. Despite of dealing with the topics on the intersection of culture and nature, which includes environmental issues, our approach is more oriented on the questioning of the cultural codes and gaining awareness. In our practice we use strategies like metaphors, irony and absurdity to challenge stereotypes about nature. We don’t necessarily seek straightforward conclusions, but are rather interested in an active approach towards nature in an open, interactive form, giving the participants to space to re-think. The activism on the other hand has a set agenda, politics and ideology pointing to the ecological problems and solutions of the environmental issues. Our installations often explore ways how to produce an environmental consciousness that may grow out of a direct experience.

Environmental movement today makes it harder to identify with, as its message became part of the mainstream political agenda. As with any politics it is important to ask, whom it serves. It became necessary to distinguish the green from the greenwashed sorting out the real and integrative environmental approaches from its ideological forms active in the politics, media and market. While activism already made difference and there is a valuable discourse going on, it is alarming that environmentalism in today’s politics got in a role similar to large religion or any dominant ideological systems of the past. In our art practice we attempt to escape any of the ism’s and deal with environment directly.

EFA: How has your experience as a SHIFT resident affected your life/your art?

MM: After 7 years of full time work in the arts the idea of SHIFT came in exactly the right moment. We were excited to meet people with similar backgrounds and experiences. The SHIFT made the double life of the artist/ art-administrator definitely more obvious, helping to realize the complexity of this position. While the intensity of working for an art institution can sometimes be overwhelming the SHIFT works as an antidote letting the artists remember they have their individual agendas and art practice. We very much enjoyed the presentations and dialogs with the other residents in the group; especially fruitful was the development of the Double VisionS show at EFA Project Space, which was a great motivation for us to develop new works.

EFA: Tell me one thing about you and the SHIFT program. What is unique about your experience with SHIFT? What has SHIFT done differently from other artists-focused programs/residencies that you’ve been involved in?

KMM: SHIFT is a special experience and feels very personal not only because it is a small group of similarly minded individuals that shares kin experiences but also due to generously open approach of the organizers of the program, who are actively involved being very encouraging and supportive. EFA opened door to us, they let us feel at home. In our case that is to be understand literary. In summer 2014, during the SHIFT intensive, we brought to the gallery for our project Corner Lab several spiders from our home to study their interaction with the white cube environment. Later for the exhibition Double Visions we have created an installation called Cabinet of Smells, which was a distillation station for producing the smell of a home out of various household objects. That involved bringing many items in to the gallery, of which some of them were quite fitly like dirty socks or food scraps. We have to give the EFA staff credit for allowing us to experiment in their gallery space and make us feel welcome and supported in our ventures.



SHIFT Residency (formerly the Residency for Arts-Workers as Artists) was launched in August 2010 to provide an unprecedented opportunity: peer support and studio space for artists who work in arts organizations (as curators, educators, preparators, etc.). For these individuals, their livelihood isn’t just a day job, but a passion and responsibility, demanding high amounts of creativity, stamina, and sacrifice. SHIFT Residency honors these artists’ commitment to the art community with a unique environment to revitalize their studio practices. Each year, seven residents are selected through a competitive nomination process based on the excellence of their work, their strong potential for artistic growth, and the outstanding contributions they have made to New York’s cultural institutions. Since its launch, SHIFT has accommodated over thirty-five artists working in a growing range of media, from sound and installation to painting, performance, and social practice.

How it works:

  • The full cycle of residency is one year long, beginning with the two-week SHIFT Residency Intensive in August and ending with an evaluative retreat and public presentation.
  • During SHIFT Residency Intensive, residents transform EFA Project Space’s 3,500
    square foot gallery into a collective studio space with 24-hour access.
  • After SHIFT Residency Intensive, monthly follow-up meetings are held to maintain
    creative momentum.
  • SHIFT artists participate in a series of activities including brainstorming sessions,
    presentation of new work, and discussion of strategies for future creative work
    throughout their residency.

Meet our 2015 SHIFT Residents.

Past SHIFT residents represent a number of arts organizations. Examples include:
Abrons Art Center, Bronx Museum, Bronx River Arts Center,
CUE Art Foundation, Elastic City, Eyebeam, Flux Factory, freeDimensional,
International Center for Photography, Joan Mitchell Foundation,
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The Museum of Art and Design,
Museum of Modern Art, NYFA, NURTUREart, Residency Unlimited,
Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, and Wave Hill.

For more information, please visit www.shift-efanyc.org.