PowerHouse Presents

PowerHouse Presents . . . Raphaele Shirley

Interview by Astrid Persans


Raphaele Shirley has been a moving force behind some of the most dynamic and exciting projects to come down the pike in the past ten years—Fringe Al Fresco, The Perpetual Art Machine, Show World. She’s a collaborator’s collaborator, having worked with such luminaries as Nam June Paik, Shimon Attie and Brian Eno. In spite of her far-reaching work and globe-trotting activities, she’s maintained a remarkably low-profile both in her collaborative efforts and in her own studio practice.

The past two years have been a period of intense studio work for Raphaele. Last October she emerged from her garret to present her work in numerous exhibitions, including Sunken City Preludes with PowerHouseProjects. Increasingly, she’s become an artist to watch.

I caught up with Raphaele over a glass of wine before she hopped on yet another plane, this one destined for Basel, where she was to install her solo exhibition with the Marc de Puechredon gallery.

PowerHouse Presents: So are you excited about your first solo show?

Raphaele Shirley: Yeah, I am. I’ve made a bunch of new sculptures in these past couple of weeks, and I’ve asked Marc de Puechredon to save any Styrofoam they come across. I’ll pick up some materials on site—resin, wax and silicone—and I’ve shipped some clay over, literally some raw clay, in case Basel doesn’t have any (laughter).

PHP: That’s hard to imagine.

RS: Worst case scenario, I know. I’ve even shipped my clip lights, my spotlights, and I’ll get some transformers. The final detail will be the lasers, although I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to carry them over because of security at the airport. If I’m not able to bring those over the piece might change into yet another dimension where I’m not putting in any effects.

PHP: So it’s really kind of a mystery. You have an idea, but it’s a mystery about what it actually is going to be.

RS: Well, I would have been more strict and had a set way of doing things, but since the overall plan kept on shifting, I came to a point where I just didn’t want to make any set plans because the gallery’s ability to provide what we originally talked about was changing. So I just decided “alright, I’m just going to put all these things in the crates and go with my feeling,” which is what I usually do. I’ll arrive there and have a certain amount of finished pieces and a certain number of pieces to make. So yeah, it’s a challenge.


PHP: So the finished pieces will be the starting point and the space itself will dictate how the rest goes?

RS: Exactly.

PHP: Marc’s gallery is a more formal context than what you’ve done so far with Sunken City Preludes for PowerHouse Projects and Sunken City Episode II for the Emily Harvey Foundation. What is your approach going to be for this iteration? The other ones were executed a little more on the fly, and it seems like the stakes are higher here.

RS: If I’m under a lot of pressure, it usually means that my improvisation will be even better. I’ll just get a ride into the studio in the morning, and Marc’s got a space where I can work. I work better under those circumstances than with too much time. I try to be a sure shot. You’ve got your gun, and you don’t have much time, and you’ve got to hit the bull’s eye. If you miss, you miss, and that’s too bad.

PHP: And do you ever feel that you’ve missed the bull’s eye?

RS: To take the long view, the answer is no. In the short range? Possibly. I believe that external forces have a strong play in what I’m doing, and that brings a tremendous vitality to my work. One of the best pictures I’ve taken was the day after a show when I was exhausted. I got the freshest, rawest impression. Afterwards I tried to recreate that effect through composition, through time, through planning, putting curtains up, hiring professionals, and I was never
able to generate the energy of my immediate perception of the work right after my October installation with PowerHouse Projects.

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