Artist Interviews 2022

Daniela Soberman  
By Johnny Otto

All Photos Credits: Robert Swanson

Before we get into your art, I’d love to know more about your visits to Yugoslavia and how that affected your life?

Such a great question! First, growing up in Southern California, I realized I was from another “planet.” The culture in our house was so full of passionate, physically expressive motion and behavior – that I looked really quite alien and strange among all of my much more reserved classmates. I felt feral/wild compared to them and learned early on that I had to become very small in the US in order to not be shunned.

BUT, the first time visiting my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents in former Yugoslavia felt like …. coming home. The rhythm of the culture, of the people, of the physical interactions felt familiar, felt right, and I was allowed to take up space. Taking up space with emotionality seems to be a core underpinning of my practice.

Second, when I was there as a tween in the summers – we actually were quite feral. We would leave the house in the morning and not make it back until midnight. We would go to cafes, outdoor rock festivals, duck into ice cream shops at dusk so you wouldn’t get sprayed by mosquito poison, you name it. We were given total, complete, and unapologetic freedom to roam the city streets at a very young age – and we developed a fundamental lack of fear because of it. I try to tap into that same lack of fear and adventure when creating the work. My references to brutalist architecture also stem from these early adventures among brutalist buildings.

Finally, my grandparents in the former Yugoslavia were badasses. They were partisan revolutionaries that fought in WWII and had definite opinions about ownership of task and effort. They would often tell stories of horrific pain, and brushing it off without complaint. Unstoppable, unflappable, and without hesitation. I try to keep to that philosophy.

When I first saw your work I was reminded of my childhood and building things with building blocks and legos. I wouldn’t say your work is monolithic, but it is reminiscent of buildings, cities, structures that have been left behind after civilization has vanished. Is that accurate? Are you heavily influenced by architecture and cites?

Yes, I would say that’s pretty accurate. I am interested in architecture / cities / buildings / ideas / structures / concepts – in the sense that they are human constructs, and as human’s we as a species seem to have the need to construct our environments in order to makes sense of the world around us. It seems we all have a need to do it and it’s all something we just made up. I’m nodding to these constructs and ideas as fallable, that they are inherently weak and dying.

Can you tell us about the materials and processes that you use and how you came to discover some of your techniques?

I was working in ceramics doing similar interlocking forms and finishes but on a much smaller scale. I had heard about a 2 day pop-up show that Max Presneill, Director of the Torrance Art Museum, was going to be doing inside a massive empty office building. There was no way I could put a small ceramic sculpture inside of that massive space – it would have gotten swallowed up. So I tried to think of a way to scale up what I was doing in ceramics – but in a material that would be lightweight enough for me to construct and transport for a 2 day pop-up – but still have the essence of my small ceramic pieces.. That’s how I landed on polystyrene and lime plaster. Polystyrene gives me a stiff, but lightweight structure that is easily carvable and constructable – albeit it does have it’s challenges. The lime plaster finish gives me my “clay/mud” fix.

Once I scaled up. It was easy to keep going and I haven’t looked back. All the materials I use (with the exception of the hot knife for cutting the polystyrene) – i purchase from Home Depot as a way to give a nod to my working class background. I grew up in the aisles of our local Home Depot fiddling through the hardware drawers. Feels right to source my materials from there.

Brutalism is often called crude or purposefully menacing, but I find it can also look futuristic... Like a future that was expected but didn’t happen. What attracts you to Brutalism in art?

I think both of those things – there is a quality in brutalism that can seem oppressing and stark but also hopeful. I find the combination of those two things – really strange and intriguing. In the parts of former Yugoslavia where I spent the most time, most of the people lived in giant brutalist style apartment blocks. The buildings would be pretty dilapidated on the outside, but once invited inside, each apartment was full of warmth, laughter, and cherished objects. There was beauty on the inside of those building if you were invited in but I remember as a child, they looked quite scary from the outside. Brutalism as an aesthetic finds its way into the the sculptures as I play with the ideas of false first impressions/perceptions, false facades, and constructed systems that are now dilapidated and dying.

Do you do more than sculpture? Paint? Conceptual art?

I’ve done paintings (both oil and acrylic), collage, drawings, artsy short films, written books – but none of those forms really engaged me the way sculpture does. For me currently, I’m realizing that the process of making sculptures or forms gives me the physicality I need plus some breathing room to take up space and flesh out ideas that are insisting on making their way out;

What other passions do you have outside of the art world, if there is time for such things?

Right now I’ve got my head down making work. I’m making work in a fervor and I’m a bit possessed at the moment. But, if I had to pick a passion – I would say sleep. God, I love sleep, and I miss it so much. Really.

Any shows planned or coming up?

Yes? Maybe? The last year has been spent making ginormous sculptures and installations so I haven’t had any time to think about much else. I have a break at the moment, so I’m going quite mad trying to figure out what to do with myself. I have some ideas for pieces and some collaborations in the works – and if I can’t find a space for them – I’ll make one and maybe throw them up guerilla style.

Music. Music. Music. Who do you listen to and who inspires you to create?

When I’m creating the pieces (versus installing them) I’m creating in a frenzy, usually under a deadline, and without an assistant. I tend to move my body quickly as I work to keep things loose, so I throw on music with an up rhythm similar to the one my body is moving in. Some things I throw on regularly in the studio include: Crash, by the Primitives. I legit have it on a loop. Other’s that I have on a loop include: 99 luftbaloons, by Nena and Mr. Blue Sky (Pamplemoose version). Other bands that I mix in include The Strokes, White Stripes, Green Day is always fun, and of course songs by Bajaga i Instructori and Bijelo Dugme (especially the song Djurdjevdan, so good).

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