• Branding Another Regard

    Date posted: July 12, 2010 Author: jolanta
    Leah Oates: What is your background, and when did you know you would be an artist?
    Vadana Jain:
    I was born in Queens, but we flew back to India often while I was growing up to visit family. It was such a change from New York City, with animals grazing everywhere and rag carts and hand-painted billboards for Bollywood movies. Sometimes it seemed like everything was done by hand, with household tailors and mehndi wallis and shoe repair guys on every corner. Also, there was an entirely different notion of thrift and waste, and we would save all our paper garbage to see to the rag cart when it came by. My barometer of consumerism and production was really whacked by all this.

    Vadana Jain, interviewed by Leah Oates

    Vadana Jain, Chop Suey Portraits. Courtesy of the artist.

    Leah Oates: What is your background, and when did you know you would be an artist?

    Vadana Jain: I was born in Queens, but we flew back to India often while I was growing up to visit family. It was such a change from New York City, with animals grazing everywhere and rag carts and hand-painted billboards for Bollywood movies. Sometimes it seemed like everything was done by hand, with household tailors and mehndi wallis and shoe repair guys on every corner. Also, there was an entirely different notion of thrift and waste, and we would save all our paper garbage to see to the rag cart when it came by. My barometer of consumerism and production was really whacked by all this.

    LO: Please explain your working process. Some artists are very methodical and others are looser. How do ideas and artworks take shape for you?

    VJ: I respond strongly to concepts and projects. Often a curator will come to me with an idea for an exhibition, and it will spark a latent sketch into a full-blown work. This way of working is wonderful, but can be very erratic, and leads to very divergent works. More recently, I have been investigating more of a studio-based practice, to help ground my work within a greater context. With either approach, the use of materials is crucial to my work, and I spend a lot of time just experimenting.

    LO: Much of your work utilizes corporate logos in a playful way, and explores private and public space. Please explain these themes in more detail.

    VJ: So much of our public space is populated by advertisements and product placements and promos and whatever, it’s like having a radio that is always on day in day out, playing the same crappy songs you hated the first time around. Advertising is so ingrained in our society that it shapes the way we think, and I wanted to challenge that by taking these proprietary images and using them to create artworks that would encourage people to think about the role of corporate money in the public sphere. The GE Highway, for instance, takes the notion of corporate subsidization of public infrastructure to the tenth degree.

    LO: Who are your favorite artists and why?

    VJ: This past summer, we were out west and visited the Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson. Though we had printed out directions from the Web site, we had to find our way through smaller and smaller roads through the scrub desert until we reached the salt areas by the Great Salt Lake. The unpaved roads made it slow-going, though we didn’t have far to go. We were the only ones out there, and after passing a derelict oil drilling station, we approached the jetty. The road was almost un-drivable at that point, and we got out and walked the last half-mile. The slow and solitary approach made the experience almost surreal. The sky was bright blue and the water pink with bacteria. The salt had crusted over the jetty in parts, creating a moon-ish scape. It was impossible not to follow the path in to the center, rather than walk straight across to the center. Somehow, being there, it felt like you had something, not a connection so much as a moment. You had had a moment.

    LO: What are your thoughts on the art market? Do you consider the art market corporate?

    VJ: The art market is cute and all, but it hasn’t found a way to capitalize on my work. Until it can, I will work corporate day jobs that know how to write me a paycheck.

    LO: You have been quite successful in getting your work shown and funded. What advice do you have for other artists who would like to show more and have more funding?

    VJ: It is important to make work for its own sake, and to not think of it as a product or as a panacea. You have to be faithful to your vision, and willing to pursue it regardless of public reception or opinion. You should constantly engage your creative self in a challenging and rigorous manner. You need to create your own opportunities, and more so, you need to develop creative communities. Funding comes when you are having fun.

    LO: What shows and projects are you working on, and what do you have coming up in the future?

    VJ: I am working on a few different projects right now. Prayer Flags for Healthcare utilizes the form of the Tibetan prayer flag to express my hope for a single payer health care. I am working towards creating 3,500 of these flags so that I can send a set of seven to every Congressperson. Logo Alphabet is a series of 26 embroideries where each letter of the English Alphabet is represented by a logo. I have just completed the letter R. In May, I am traveling to Beijing to visit the art communities there. I anticipate taking a lot of photos, deciphering foreign branding, and brushing up on my Mandarin: 未来大开.

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