Allyson Vieira

Allyson Vieira talks about her research in Greece

Left: Allyson Vieira, Weight Bearing II, 2012, drywall, screws, steel, 75 x 65 x 22“. Right: Allyson Vieira, Clad 13, 14, 15, 2013, metal stud, drywall, Plaster-Weld, screws, plaster, ink, cardboard, tape, gloves, cups, blades, sweepings, Clad 12 scrap, wax. 65 x 16 x 5”. Photo: Allyson Vieira.

Allyson Vieira is a New York–based sculptor. Between installing her work at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn for “Configurations,” which is on view until September 16, and prepping for a solo show in New York at Laurel Gitlen from February 22 to March 24, as well as a joint show with Stephen Ellis this summer at Non Objectif Sud in Tulette, France, and then a solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel in September, Vieira recently took time off to travel to Greece for research. Here she talks about her fascination with the Hellenic architectural and sculptural legacy, and how it informs her practice.

THERE ARE TENSIONS between material and form and between labor and form that excite me. I’m not talking about labor in a politicized way, but something more along the lines of labor as skilled, manual work—maybe cutting off material from a mountainside, the accumulating and forming of materials. Some recent pieces, a series called “Clad,” are made from the detritus of my studio—the stuff that gets chipped off of other pieces, the sweepings off the floor. I mix plaster into a conglomerate with this junk material, pour a thick layer of it on top of a stud and drywall form, and then I work that surface after it cures with chisels, a rasp, a grinder, whatever. They’re made in order, and they’re numbered sequentially. So all that detritus from Clad I goes into a scrap bucket and then gets mixed with the next batch to make Clad II, and so on and so forth. Each piece includes the scraps of the one before it, along with whatever else I was making in the studio. It kind of becomes an irrational index of what was going on in there at the time.

One of the newer “Clad” pieces contains concrete chunks I brought back from the garage where we finished the “Weight Bearing” pieces for MetroTech. Those pieces start as accumulations of construction materials into blocks suitable for carving a figural sculpture. The ones at MetroTech are made of mortared cinder blocks; other ones are made of stacks of drywall screwed together to create a solid block. I love it when you go to Lowe’s and see those drywall stacks that go up to the ceiling. It’s like going to Carrara. I kid—sort of. Millions of years from now, what’s the rock that’s made from the layers of materials we accumulated on the surface of the earth going to be like?

With the “Weight Bearing” pieces I’m trying for something pretty simple: to create works that simultaneously feel like vertical blocks—which can read as figural, whether there’s a figure carved into it or not—and also have a sense of contrapposto which I hope infuses these pieces with a kind of dynamic tension. And hips. This kind of talk about figuration probably sounds like I’m a reactionary or something. But it’s exciting stuff and people have loved it for thousands of years, so why not? Just because we have the Internet doesn’t mean we can’t be thinking about form sometimes too. I used a Sawzall to carve the drywall “Weight Bearing” sculptures. I like being limited by tools: I could only cut so deep, and only at certain angles. I didn’t know how any of it was going to work out when I started because I hadn’t done it before. And then there are the marks of the tool. If I use too many different tools on one piece, those marks get obscured.

That’s one of the things I love about Greece, where I end up going every couple years at this point. It’s like sculpture porn over there. You get to see up underneath pieces and between blocks, to see the weird ways that they’re clamped in and braced, the backsides, the rough parts. Everything you’re not supposed to see. It’s completely different than seeing that stuff in American and western European museums. On site, it’s all cracked open and you can see its gooey insides. It’s dirty and real. When I was just there, I watched masons fluting the Parthenon’s restored columns with grinders. Their workmanship is astonishing. And the intelligence with which the Greeks have been pursuing the recent bout of restoration—the new marble is carved to perfectly match the old fragments like insane three-dimensional puzzle pieces, but they make it visibly obvious that the restored parts are restored, and everything they do is completely reversible—really feels right. It’s not Disney World; they’re not trying to fool you. It’s a contemporary project that feels as deeply invested in the present as in the past. When you watch them, there’s an uncanny sense of temporal displacement and simultaneity—objects persist through multiple slices of time, actions replay but are not replicated, materials and sites are reutilized and changed.

It’s cool to feel like you’re part of a humanist tradition that extends that far back. I’m not saying I’m the inheritor of Phidias or anything, I’m just one of a bunch of schmoes who have decided to do this with their lives. The long view of humans building things from Paleolithic times up to the present is just really interesting. You get to see all of that laid out before you when you’re there.