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~ In Conversation with Lucia Bell

When Lucia Bell-Epstein shoots the food at work, she doesn’t just capture the finished product. She includes bits of the floor, takes portraits of the kitchen staff, and snaps pictures of ingredients in the boxes they arrived in. All of these come together to create a narrative. She doesn’t want to make things feel fake. Her photographic diligence made collecting images for this interview a breeze. She wants this to be the truth. She doesn’t want to make the experience she’s having aestheticized,  but instead show  appreciation for the space and the people she gets to work with. This is an homage to them, to the farmers, to everyone who is a part of where this food comes from and where it ends up.

Lucia Bell-Epstein is an artist from the Lower East Side in New York. She takes photos and cooks, connecting the two with intent and intimacy. Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke is a producer, curator, and editor from Sugar land, Texas. She sat down with Lucia a couple months to talk about community, what fruits are in season, and her experience cooking at LaLou.

Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke: How would you describe your professional and personal relationship with food?

Lucia Bell-Epstein: Dance. Intimate. It’s what I think about when I’m alone in bed at one in the morning, trying to fall asleep, looking up or writing down notes on my phone about things I want to try to make. Saving photos of dishes that inspire me. There is no boundary between the professional and intimate. I work at a restaurant. That environment is different than if I’m cooking at home with friends. The rigidness that comes with working shapes your relationship to food. In terms of time and space, and in terms of learning how to put out food that you would want to eat yourself.

Jay Wolman, chef @ Lalou

But at work, it’s chef Jay Wolman‘s food. I work at LaLou, a natural wine bar and restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Facilitating chef Jay’s ideas in a way that’s collaborative is really exciting. Say we make a citrus salad at work- when I go to the market on my own and see melons, kumquats or other winter citrus, I’m instantly inspired by what I’m doing at work. Those ingredients stick with me and it becomes intimate. I want to put my own twist on them.

LA: Do you have tips for people who want to incorporate fruit into their savory dishes?


1. Mix fruit with olive oil and dairy, or something that bites, like a sharp lettuce. You could also take beets and pair them with a Clementine or some sort of blood orange. 

2. Slice apples on a mandolin and throw them into your favorite salad. See if you like that juicy, sweet taste. 

3. Baked apples, or poached pears and red wine. That’s delicious. You could take pears and poach them in a bottle of Malbec, and it’ll still be kind of sweet. Eat them with a piece of meat. That could be your side. 

It’s citrus season right now, which is crazy. I didn’t know that winter citrus was a thing until I got into food. 

LA: How do you know what’s in season?

LBE: I ask my mom, I ask chef Jay. I ask my friend Sam’s mom, Andrea. She knows everything about produce and the market. This morning we were recipe testing for her cookbook and she made confit kumquats. You submerge kumquats in olive oil and slowly bake them at 200-250 degrees for a few hours and they get nice and soft. You can eat them with literally anything; on breakfast with sour yogurt, or on a piece of toasted rye bread.

LA: What else is she putting in her cookbook? 

LBE: I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s from the perspective of a photographer, so aesthetically, it’s going to be gorgeous. She uses a lot of healthy ingredients that taste good, and a lot of Italian influence as well – farm to table vibes.

LA: How is cooking like making artwork?

LBE: It’s one in the same. One of the first things I observed working in the kitchen at Lalou was the idea of the dance; the physicality between chefs moving around seamlessly, sometimes without speaking. Building a salad is a total dance. You want to invite whoever’s eating your salad to taste the art in the way that you want them to. 

You know when you go on a date with someone and you’re fighting for that last bite of food with the most shaved Parmesan? Chef Jay always says to me that every bite of the food you put out should be like that. It’s just like if I’m taking a photograph, painting or drawing. I’m not gonna leave a quarter of surface lacking that kind of lust and lushness. 

LA: Could walk us through your plating process?

LBE: I’m such a new cook that I learn from watching. When I’m at home cooking for myself and my friends, I try to break lines of the plate or make things look a bit messy and realistic. The last thing I want is to cook something that is so perfect it feels unattainable. Food should be inviting. I think a little gem caesar salad plated with your hands can be just as inviting as something that was plated with tweezers.

My plating process depends on what I’m making, but height is something I strive for. I like things to be a bit glossy, so I like using olive oil to finish things. It makes everything look sexy. These are things I have learned from chef Jay and Andrea. 

I also love nights where I’m eating out of the pot. We’re young and don’t like doing the dishes all the time.

LA: Would you rather go on a dinner date or out for drinks?

LBE: Out on a date to get a nice meal. Even hotter than a dinner date; being invited over to cook dinner together.

LA:  In the kitchen, what does community mean?

LBE: It’s what I try to illustrate in the photos I take at LaLou.  The team I work with is quite small. 

I work with people that inspire me and change the way I think about food. Not many people can say that. In the kitchen, there are traditional hierarchies. I’m at the bottom of that totem pole because I just started working there, but it doesn’t feel that way. 

Whenever I’m photographing at the restaurant, it’s beautiful to watch how every person on the team has influenced and inspired the food that we put out.

Sitting after service and having a glass of wine with chef Jay and other cooks, listening to them talk about stuff that they want to make; it’s amazing. It’s a natural wine bar, too. I’m learning about orange wines and how to make food pairings with alcohol. Community-wise, it feels like a small family. 

LA: How do you build trust in that environment? 

LBE: I had to prove my work ethic and my seriousness to myself and the rest of the team. We have fun, but it’s serious work. It’s physically and mentally demanding. Trust was built through the feeling that my coworkers accepted me for who I am, despite the fact that I’m still learning.

Rather than going home feeling weighted and anxious from whatever mistakes I’ve made, I go home feeling inspired to do better. Not for myself, but for the team. Trust is an unspoken result of that. 

LA: What’s the difference between cooking with friends and cooking at work?

LBE: At work, I’m cooking the dishes that we serve, which are the dishes by chef Jay. At home, it’s my own intellectual property; I can do whatever I want. xI’m so excited to go to work and talk about what I cooked in my free time.

At work, there’s consistency.  Every chicory salad I make will look a little different, but they all have to taste the same. Learning about new ingredients, I get all of that at work too. I’m still growing as a cook and learning how to plate in new dance formations.

LA: What are three of your favorite color combinations?

LBE: I made this chocolate maple tart that was topped with toasted Sicilian pistachios with my friend Hedi. There’s a tan crust next to chocolate brown ganache. It’s finished with bright green pistachios with a pinkish purple hue.

As spring comes, I want to work with more green. I’m thinking about asparagus, wild arugula, leeks and green garlic, which will be sprouting up soon.

There’s a lot you can do with the color white; buttery, brothy cannellini beans with ribbons of pecorino….

LA: How do you come up with color combinations? Do you test things together visually?

LBE: It’s less about color combinations, and more about ingredient combinations. I’m not planning the color palette of things I want to make. I’m newly into beets. At work we made this salad with beets and shaved Humboldt fog, a type of cheese. The texture was amazing. There was the crunchiness, the green leaves, the white snowy humboldt fog with blue ash running through the middle. Then you have a glossy, tender, juicy beet dripping onto the side of the white plate and dying the lettuce. It’s finished with a bit of olive oil. When you take a bite into it, all those colors, textures, and flavors come together.

LA: Our hunger impulse is so associated with color.

LB: Oh totally. When I shoot the food at work, I’m trying to kind of zoom out and document everything from another perspective, not just cooking with the food or handling the ingredients. I really like including bits of the floor, other human beings, hands holding things or shooting within the containers of the ingredients. All of these come together to create a narrative. I don’t want to make things feel fake. I want my photos to show what we do at Lalou. I want this interview, like what I’m explaining to you, to be the truth. I don’t want to make the experience I am having there be aestheticized in my work that I’ve shot there, but rather my appreciation for my space there and the people I get to work with. It’s an homage to the farmers, I’m considering where this food comes from and who’s growing it

LA: Why should people have a relationship with their food from start to finish?

LBE: The first thing that comes to mind Canal Cafeteria. You can go to their produce stand and get free groceries. They’re community-building in the Lower East Side, where I grew up. It’s great to see people in my generation taking initiative like that. 

Now more than ever, we need to know where our food is coming from, what we’re putting into our bodies, and how we can buy things that support small businesses and local economies. People make the argument that it’s cheaper to get pre-packaged food but there are ways to buy healthy, fresh ingredients without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money. Invest in what you put into your body.

LA: Self-love. 

LBE: There’s nothing that releases more endorphins for me than cooking for myself. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and what you don’t like. It’s a labor of love.

LA: Ben made the analogy between ordering food vs. cooking at home being like swiping on Tinder vs. meeting someone in real life.

LBE: Part of growing up is learning how to nourish yourself.

LA: What traits make someone easy to work with in the kitchen?

LBE: We all have bad days and get moody, myself included. Keeping that outside of the professional environment is critical to being a part of a team. If one person’s feeling off, everybody else feels it. It’s how it is in any work environment. 

What makes it easy to work with someone? Being a good listener and teacher. Everyone I work with is easy to work with because they all love what they’re doing. If I was working in some corporate job with people that hated their work, it would be a very different environment. At Lalou, every person in the kitchen is passionate about food and cooking. If you go there and eat the food, you’re tasting their hard work. They care. That in itself is art.

~ The Senseless Bliss of Bippleyipsnip

A few weeks ago, my morning ritual of sheer silence and/or disdained interpersonal interaction was perturbingly halted by a friend of mine in the next room, door slightly ajar, emitting a noise somewhere between a scream and a maniacal laugh. Given the track record of the past year, literally anything could be happening; our bars for both agony and delight had drastically lowered. Conscious of both the day’s prematurity and my own lack of desire for unnecessary dialogue, I peered into the eight inch opening between the door’s edge and frame, only to be slightly disappointed that they were simply in bed, watching a series of indiscernible Instagram videos– a quintessentially 2021 internet-era false alarm. 

My baseline level of concern quickly drained to nonexistence as I went on with my day. Over the course of the week, I began to notice patterns in their behavior that seemed like legitimate means to feel apprehensive. As they did dishes, I would hear them speaking in some sort of unintelligible, indecipherable tongue, punctuated with intermittent giggles. The week progressed, and the more mundane the household activity, the more bizarre their congruent linguistics became. Had pandemic-induced psychosis, at long last, reached a loved one? After another morning christened by the same laugh-scream call to prayer, it was time for an intervention – I had to see if they were okay. This had to be done with the utmost delicacy, of course, as this legitimately could have been a mental health crisis. 

“Yo, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

With no verbal response, I was countered with a giant grin and a phone subsequently shoved into my face. This was how I was impetuously indoctrinated into the vast universe of a Baltimore-based barber, government name uncertain, with the Instagram handle @bippleyipsnip

Bippleyipsnip self-portrait, 2020

Before proceeding any further, it is imperative to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the cultural connotation of a place like Baltimore. The wild west is not the wild west, Baltimore is the wild west. It’s a metropolis often overshadowed by its coastal counterparts, was popularly contextualized by HBO, and the culture that pervades it can be defined in a very simple but often too-liberally thrown around word: real. This realness spans throughout the storied Bike Life to the youth uprising following the police murder of Freddie Gray to the hotly contested Baltimore vs. DCownership of New Balance to the “back vowel fronting” drawl of the Baltimore accent. Even amidst the looming epidemic of globalization that will eventually make all major cities look and feel like one lone architect’s sadistic, glass-and-steel-shopping-mall-simulation wet dream– Baltimore is a place where they will continue to do things in a way that is distinctly Baltimore. 

Image courtesy of Snake USA

The Bippleyipsnip Instagram page (he is also on TikTok, obviously, but for social media users who have not taken the inevitable leap to the other side, he transfers most of his content between platforms) may not leap out of the screen and drag you in by the collar. It deploys an “accidentally intentional” nature to the discovery of his work. The viewer may find themselves in a sort of algorithmic fever dream– curious, intrigued, and yearning for more, before even completing whichever film happens to be their introduction. He is perspicacious, yet humble. Calculated, yet recherché. Without an affinity to a singular visual vernacular, he tactfully reimagines and pushes the boundaries of the video format. Some of his films are shot via cell phone (front) camera, directly addressing the viewer with no frills and absolutely no distractions from his riveting monologues. With others, he demonstrates his multidisciplinary ability, effortlessly navigating as narrator, cinematographer, composer, and hair stylist– his off-camera métier. While impressive, there is a single identifying factor that distinguishes himself between the filmmakers of the world and a true visionary. 

He created his own dialect. 

First and foremost, his root language is not English, it’s Baltimorese; one of the most beguiling and elusive regional articulations in the continental United States. Most do not have the awareness that it even exists, and those that do are unlikely to be able to describe it. Using this as a canvas– maybe even referring to it as a canvas is too restrictive– he mesmerizingly emblazons and expands on it while deploying tactics from dadaist and abstract expressionist movements. 

At times he plays with the viewer, teasing the opportunity for comprehension with each piece, then serendipitously diverting away. There are traces of English roots in this bespoke (pun intended) dialect, but perhaps to some dismay, it simply isn’t enough for external fluency. As an artist, he possesses a rare inclination for self awareness and will work, out of good faith or promotion, to construct a basic bridge of understanding among his audience. 

When all is said and done, why does his work matter? He is not the first digital artist to cultivate an audience and surely won’t be the last. And to the plight or pleasure of his regional culture– much of what happens in Baltimore, stays in Baltimore. There’s a multifaceted significance to the discovering of his work in this particular moment in our lives. With each day that comes, we’re faced with mounting headlines to either process (or not) and glissade further into mental anguish, before even being able to start on the ones from the day before. Reality has never felt more real,and there’s a propensity building in culture where the things we once knew are being exchanged for much more abstract versions of themselves, whether they are being resurrected from the past or readapted in the midst of our newly realized desire. 

Scottish band Cocteau Twins is among the more relatively recent internet resurgences of artists at the meme-music crossroads. The ambiguity of singer Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal lyrics almost too perfectly plays into our own proclivity to disengage from reality as a whole, even if just for 2 minutes and 37 seconds (the shortest vocal track among their discography). Make no mistake, society has been trying to disconnect from itself much before the Cocteau Twins strummed their first cords, but our current socio-political-economic framework of reality palpably makes the timing of this particular new collective inclination no coincidence. 

Bippleyipsnip represents, in part, a recognition of both a symbolic and artistic departure from the system that we’re trying to evade. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about his work is that the subjects documented within it, those sitting in the barber chair, are nearly unfazed (a subtle smile is just a technique of breaking the fourth wall) by what is going on, ultimately signifying a ready and willing acceptance for transcendence. 

The other facet of Bippleyipsnip’s work navigates something distinctly characteristic of our current era. In 2019, the foreboding authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster, appointed the word ‘they as the company’s word of the year, due to the English language’s notorious lack of a gender-neutral pronoun and increased searches of the word’s meaning due to various public figures announcing their preference of said pronoun. While colloquial use of theycertainly predated the dictionary’s official induction of the word in this context, the fact that it had finally been recognized on this scale marks a shift in collective consciousness, and at a greater level, signals the fact that we are now placing a much larger emphasis on language in a handful of ways. Enter the culture wars

Laissez-faire Language has been a decidedly American concept and vehemently protected since the conception of the Great Experiment some two and a half centuries ago, but as we creep towards a higher social-consciousness, it has caused various fissures among our general attitude about this public awakening– more specifically about language’s uses, malleability, and weaponization. Objectively, the use of language in terms of recognizing marginalized groups and having some cognitive consideration for experiences outside your own is a good thing. Where we see those cracks start to spread are, by and large, those reactionary to any sort of change and that should be seen as no surprise because, after all, this is America. If all else fails, freedom is guaranteed. 

The multi-sided tug of war happening adjacent to those who decided not to play in the first place is ongoing, and there seems like no elucidation is coming anytime soon. Did we become so woke that now we need to catch up on some sleep? Can you still be conscious without memorizing every line of the script? How do you discern irony from intent? Does language substitute or substantiate action? Is it worse that the system is starting to adopt this use of language or that people believe it is pushing us forward? Who is censoring who? Is shitposting true liberation? In 2021, is the only way to make sense to not make sense? 

New York-based multimedia artist, Alex Lee, coined a phrase within his work that comes to mind when describing the spirit and significance of Bippleyipsnip– “Jaywalking through the language”. While his artistic efficacy is aggrandized by the fact that he created his own dialect, it is the intent behind it that makes it all the more sweeter. 

Culture and transcendence

With every video of someone with a semi-composed facade and fresh fade in a barber chair trying not to laugh (edges so sharp it’s miraculous that it was orchestrated by a human hand), with every monologue, every keynote address delivered via the Ted Talk filter, every TikTok duet with aspiring rapper and Bippleyipsnip’s aspiring-to-understand audience, we see a mastermind both behind and in front of the camera commandeering our attention beyond the bounds of what we perceive as reality, language, filmmaking, or even being an artist as a whole. 

Someone who surpasses breaking the rules because he doesn’t even acknowledge the quiddity of rules in the first place. His work is not futurist, because even those theories stem from what we know presently. There is no line to toe, no barriers to be broken, no physical determinations of figurative movement. He has transcended it all and leaves his audience with a simple quest– for understanding. Now it’s up for us to figure out not what we want to understand, but how much.

~ No Boundaries: An Interview with Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath

No Boundaries: An Interview with Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath

 The art world has a tendency to forgo boundaries. Living, working, and scheming all in the same building in East Williamsburg, Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath are a prime example of how romance and professionalism can overlap and create a partnership built to last. McElwreath’s vast experience in high-end art advisory and Sahmel’s title as one of the few master chromists in New York City solidify the two as a power couple. This label is not lost on the two, who have recently teamed together to join the handful of art galleries popping up in East Williamsburg. In the midst of working with the couple to organize STP Group Show 3, STP Blog Editor in Chief Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke pops into their apartment across the hall from the gallery for a conversation about what it’s like to mix business with pleasure. 

LA: How would you two describe the work that you do, and does it ever overlap?

Ali Sahmel: There’s Pegasus Prints, and there’s Sidel McElwreath. Pegasus is a print shop studio creating and collaborating with artists. 

Emily McElwreath: With Sidel McElwreath, it’s art advisory and curation. I’ve never been with someone as involved in the art community as I am. There is so much overlap. We are either working with the same artist, or there’s a person I’d always wanted to work with, and Ali introduced me, or vice versa. The overlap was super beneficial for both of our careers.

LA: Did you guys meet through art? 

EM: We met on Tinder. Living in New York City in the queer community, it’s hard to meet people. Plus, we’re so busy. I wasn’t bar hopping, meeting people. 

LA: And there are no lesbian bars anymore.

AS: Well there’s Ginger’s, in Park slope. There’s Cubbyhole. They’re still there.

LA: What was your first date?

AS: It was an Irish pub type place in Clinton Hill. They have the best popcorn there. It was just a block away from my house. I was like, if we’re gonna meet, you’re coming to me.

EM: We started dating right away, as lesbians do. The synergy was there immediately. I had been in business for four years. I was at the Brant Foundation as director of communications and education for six years. Then, I went out on my own and started my art advisory. Your first five years of going out on your own, you’re an infant. Although I was still green, when Ali was like, I want to start my own silk-screen studio,I’d had the experience of starting a small business.

Pegasus Prints Studio

LA: You’re both workaholics.

EM: Ali’s far more organized than I am, but in terms of time in, we’re both constantly working.

AS: We work a lot. Making things, but also looking at shows, studio visits, researching, staying informed. 

LA: When I think of the dynamic between me and my work husband, Ben, the reason it works is because we both have our own thing. It overlaps in that we support each other, and we get to collaborate, but we’re always equals. There’s never a weird power dynamic in our relationship.

EM: Being equal is the only way it works. We both have our own separate things that exist without the other person. Those two things are going to exist, even if we don’t as a couple.

AS: We offer different things which benefit the other. Emily’s more outgoing and assertive. I’m more hands-on and creative. It’s a good team.

EM: Launching the art space, Pegasus Gallery, was a no brainer. It used to be an office space for the previous owner of the studio. We came up here and we were like, why don’t we have some sort of experimental, invitation only, art space where we can bring in young curators and emerging artists.

AS: Not as much structure as a Chelsea Gallery.

EM: Downstairs (Pegasus Prints Shop) is the bread-and-butter business. The gallery gives us the freedom to play. That’s where the overlap is- we’re co-directors of the gallery. 

STP Group Show 3 at Pegasus Gallery

LA: What are your goals with both of your projects?

AS: Stepping outside of the box, not creating your traditional print, experimenting with different mediums, paints, and ink. I want to get something new and fresh, so I’m experimenting with airbrush or with printing on different types of substrates. 

EM: I’ve worked with everything from blue chip artists to total emerging artists. I deal with the blue chip pieces so I have the opportunity to take chances with emerging artists. I love being able to go to the collector that has a Julian Schnabel in their living room and say, check this artist out. They just graduated and I want you to invest in their talent. 

LA: How has digital innovation affected printmaking and selling and purchasing artwork?

AS: Digital printing is easier and faster. It’s like reading the newspaper versus picking up your phone. With that said, it makes me appreciate it more. For me, printmaking is a completely different aesthetic that I’m naturally more drawn to than digital.With the silkscreen process, you see the hand; the tedious nature of creating something.

EM: In terms of digital takeover across the board,  we’re 40 year old women. It doesn’t come organically to us. In college, I was still going to the library to use their desktop to write my essays, and actually printing them with a printer to hand it in. It’s a constant learning curve. 

LA: There’s a new appreciation for printmaking. People crave that physical process.

AS: Yes. To see the trace of your hand, the manual creation of something, versus hitting buttons all day and just spitting something out.

EM: There’s always going to be room for the authentic, classic, beauty of tangible art. It’s like a little black dress. It doesn’t ever go out of style. There’s an element of the fine art world, especially silk screen, that doesn’t change.  Luckily we are dealing with fine art, which for the most part remains tangible and separate from digital takeover.

Ali at Pegasus Prints

LA: What did you guys learn about each other through the process of teaching Emily about printmaking?

AS: Emily’s very impatient. She has a difficult time multitasking. We have a different eye. 

EM: However, we work well together. We have to. To be able to sustain two small businesses,  we both had to help each other out and move into parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable. I’m not that detail oriented. Allie is so organized, patient and all those things that go into being a printmaker. I don’t have those. I’m scrappy, I’m fast, I’m impatient. I want results right away. We’re very different, but I’m still in the shop, racking the prints and helping her, because we have to. It’s free help. When you’re lovers and you work together, it’s like, I need you for five hours downstairs because I’m not paying someone to come in today.

AS: When we meet with artists, too, we just bring forth different concepts and respond to artists differently. It works due to the differences.

EM: I’ve had to learn to take second place to Allie when we’re [in the print shop]. It’s Allie’s studio, and I’m in it. That does not come naturally for me. I’m bossy. I like to be in charge. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t try to do that in the studio anymore, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. That’s a big learning curve.

LA: When you love someone so much and you’re working together, there’s never any ugh, I can’t believe they’re making me do this. You want to be there.

EM: Yeah. Everything bleeds into one. There’s no we’re doing each other a favor by doing this

AS: Emily comes down and works with me in the print shop, but also, when she’s doing studio visits, I come and add my insight or criticism in some way. Emily spills into my world and I spill into her world.

EM: I’ve gotten 10 times cooler dating Ali. She’s like, why don’t you come with me to meet this young artist? Then when we’re there she’s like, I’m a chromist. They’re like, oh my god.

LA: What is your favorite thing about working with your partner and what is your least favorite thing?

AS:  I love always being around Emily. She’s so fun and funny. At the same time, it’s hard always being together; working together, living together, going to studio visits-

LA: And you don’t have doors in your apartment.

AS: Right. So I value my alone time, my space. I’m a Gemini. I’m contradicting myself. At the same time, I want to be alone.

EM: I’ll oftentimes make the call, like, I’m going to go away for the night. I’ll feel that we need a beat.

The best thing about working together is that Ali’s my favorite person. I want to be around her all the time. We’re talking about working together, living together, and getting through a pandemic together. It’s created a level of intimacy that I didn’t know existed. It’s also two women. I can’t even express how much work needs to go into understanding one another when it’s two women together all the time.

LA: Emotions, sensitivity, thoughtfulness. Women understand; they see so much.

EM: Yeah. I don’t want to see it all. I  want to be that dumb dude who’s like, what’s the matter? My favorite thing is being around her, and my least favorite thing probably has to do with me, and my lack of patience and ability to let go of the reins. That’s really hard for me. Sometimes I’m unpleasant to be around. I’m trying to work  on that.

LA: I feel like everyone says communication, communication, communication. No one ever says, let things go.

EM: You have to let things go. That’s such a good point. We do our best when we’re able to accept one another for who we are. When it’s not good, we hone in on every little thing. It becomes, why’d you do thatWhat’s going onLet’s talk about it. Sometimes there’s nothing to talk about. Also, we’re 40, this is who we are. It might get a little better, but there won’t be some huge upheaval of our personalities.

LA: Can you talk about building trust with each other, but also, the artists you work with?

EM: It was important for me, when I started my own business, to build relationships with the art community. Especially the emerging, mid-career art community. Go into those studios, get to know the artists on a personal level. With that comes a level of trust. These artists are allowing me in their spaces. They’re allowing me into their lives. They’re allowing me to sell work for them. I always liked this quote: Love comes easy. You don’t have to earn love. You have to earn trust, and respect. You can really dig someone, love them, but the trust and respect comes after. That takes a while. 

AS: When you’re building and nurturing these relationships, the dialogue is a little bit more at ease. Concepts come naturally, it just kind of flourishes. The more you build relationships with artists, things  grow and evolve.

EM: It’s creating like a family for ourselves. My favorite part of our relationship is getting to be mama bears, creating this family of artists, creatives, makers, thinkers, and having a physical hub for people to come to.

Ali, Emily, and Trempor in their loft

LA: How do you build a creative community through the work that you do?

EM: First of all, it takes time. Time, and experience. I’m a huge networker. I’m always connecting the dots. You have to make it a priority to meet people; go to the shows, go to the openings, go to the events. Be authentic. Instagram has allowed us the opportunity to feel connected with one another. There’s a lot of stuff that I hate about Instagram and social media at large, but I love more than I hate.

AS: It’s accessible, easy, and efficient.

LA: You can’t have one without the other. Right now, at least.

EM: 50% of the artists that I do studio visits with, I’m introducing myself via Instagram. Like, this artist told me to check you outI’d love to see your work in person. 

Plus, we get to see what LA is doing at 1:00 AM on a Tuesday. We’re not going to be at that restaurant with you, because we’re on our 10th dream, but I get to wake up and be like look at what LA did last night.

LA: I love Instagram. I didn’t have one for 6 years. I needed the break, to learn to love myself and to not find that validation through other people.

AS: Did you delete your account and then come back?

LA: I deleted it in 2016.

AS: It’s like deleting part of your identity, then reappearing. It’s your digital identity.

~ Fashion and Agency with Gia Kuan Consultancy 

Fashion and Agency with Gia Kuan Consultancy

Some remember Fashion’s Night Out with a twinkle in their eye, the tents at Bryant Park are a thing of the past, and fashion has instead sauntered downtown. Is nostalgia on the list? Heritage logos and saddle bags have been traded for pool-blue Telfar shoppers and backless Kim Shui qi pao’s as PR maven Gia Kuan moves steadily through the second year of running her namesake consultancy. Following years at Comme des Garçons and Nadine Johnson, Kuan now represents some of the most exciting names in NYC Fashion, Arts, and Culture today. These “clients” are more likely to call her a friend than their PR agent; the relationships she has with those she represents extends far beyond the scope of traditional PR campaigns and influencer lists. The difference in Kuan’s consultancy is that she is part of the community whose voices she helps to amplify and shape. An immigrant who moved to New York with a dream, Kuan worked three jobs during school. With no friendly, phoned-in favors from daddy to get her in the door, she’s never had to ask, “what’s authentic?” She doesn’t have to try to understand, she empathizes. Her intuition is a skill that she has been sharpened through sustained self-awareness, and it guides her as she actively redefines her entire profession. Kuan builds bridges between curation, marketing, and public relations in today’s distorted landscape so that brands may see themselves reflected in the decisions they make and the legacies they leave. 

STP’s Lindsey Okubo sits down with Kuan to talk about life in the fast lane, the cracks in the system, and the realities of an industry that has us all wide-eyed, inspired, and anxious. 

Gia Kuan by Lindsey Okubo
Gia Kuan by Lindsey Okubo

Lindsey Okubo: You started your own consulting agency just over a year ago and represent some of downtown’s biggest names in fashion including Telfar, Area, PriscaVERA, Kim Shui, Lou Dallas, Puppets and Puppets and Barragán. Can you give us the lowdown on your trajectory,  from being Arts and Culture Director at Nadine Johnson and cutting your chops in the early days at Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market? 

Gia Kuan: I had just moved to New York in 2010 with no professional fashion training. I graduated school in Australia with a degree in Communications and Art History, but at one point, was pursuing a degree in Law [laughs]. I wanted to be a food editor or work in fashion. I applied for so many internships and no one was replying to me. They only ever looked for one intern, and it had to be someone they knew. I decided to take a break from Australia and come to New York for post-grad; a fast course at Parsons in Fashion Marketing. My rounds of internships secured me my first job at Comme des Garcons. I was there for a good five years working under the Press Department. I also worked on the Dover Street Market press when it opened in New York in 2013, and was part of creating and witnessing that culture at the beginning. Looking back, I still haven’t seen anything like it, the way that the staff was curated alongside the work culture behind it.

After five years, I took a turn and went into agency mode with Nadine Johnson. I headed her Arts and Culture department. There, I did press and communication strategies. Nadine was such an icon, since the late 90s she was known for throwing the best parties in town  –– a straight from Sex and The City Samantha inspiration. She kind of just threw me into fire, which built my confidence. Even when I told Nadine that I didn’t have completely linear experience, she said, “don’t doubt yourself, just do it.” That mentality is so much of what I believe in now. If you have a sense of “this might be something,” don’t overthink it, do it. 

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: It seems like embracing that mentality is what allowed you to go off and do your own thing, right? That, and wanting to help build the community that you were a part of and to see it thrive. 

GK: While at Nadine, I delved into the brands I loved, which at the time were very much the new, young, rising talents in New York City. I moved to New York during a period in which fashion wasn’t as raw. It was Bryant Park, it was Fashion’s Night Out, and it didn’t get brought downtown. My first client was Eric Schlosberg, who worked with me at Dover Street, followed by Robert Childs, who at the time was launching his menswear brand, Childs. I realized that a lot of the young designers were usually one or two people shows. If I liked the collection, I’d want to push them forward even if there was no monetary return initially. I would rather see the market change to reflect what I like, and what I know a lot of people like me like.

LO: What does that change look like?

GK: It tells a deeper cultural narrative. Fashion before then was very white. Hood By Air was one of the early pioneers of this new fashion vanguard per se, and Telfar had always existed but it wasn’t on the calendar. The question became: how do I bring that narrative up a level to reach everyone who just doesn’t know about it yet? There is a hierarchy in place and this system doesn’t always allow smaller brands to push further. Without being totally conscious of it, I was also vouching for a lot of minority brands because I wanted to tell a multidimensional story and show that clothing didn’t have to look a certain way. Brands like Lou Dallas, who I worked with, brought something  more fantastical that makes us question if fashion needs to be the clothes that we wear to work. It’s about changing those rules.

LO: What is fashion there for? As we’re thinking about changing narratives, what really is the importance of words like “heritage” and “legacy”?

GK: Fashion means so many things. It’s a way of personal expression. Depending on what you wear, it goes beyond function. If you think about brands like Telfar, the designs are fantastic but there’s something more deeply rooted there; what you’re supporting is a cultural community that you want to be a part of. It’s the same with Kim Shui and the hypersexuality and confidence that she puts into the Kim Shuigirls, you want to be part of it. What fashion means to me is asking, how do you support that community? How do you extend your personal narrative through mixing and matching these subcultures as wearable items into one?

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: Now things feel more like they’re in visual communication through the choices that the consumer makes. I think a lot of designers have felt this weird sense of competition between each other and I feel that’s something you’re changing through this community downtown. All these disparate voices have become crucial pieces to the collective framework. 

GK: I came to New York with the American dream in that I wanted to be part of this industry, but quickly felt disillusioned by it. (The Industry) becomes something other than how you’ve envisioned it, but that magic is still there. How do you make that happen or bring it back? It stems from the work environment; the way that the community interacts with each other. All of those stereotypes that you see in fashion, they definitely used to exist. In the mid-2010s, this slightly different generation of kids came up on the scene. They were very crafty, very DIY before it became such a phenomenon. They were breaking the rules of what wearable art could be, they were more supportive of each other because they went to school with each other, or interned together. That dialogue was important. At the end of the day, are the people in positions of power really the ones deciding what should? We have come to realize that you don’t have to show within the context of a certain time or place, you don’t have to follow a certain format. I said this three or four years ago and I’m saying it now, they don’t have the power, you do. If all of the designers came together and said, we’re not going to do this, that’s the only way that this system will crumble. 

LO: What do you think is the hesitation for people? It sounds so simple when you put it that way, but there is this underlying sense of fear because of firmly rooted ideals of what success looks like based on validation from the old guard.

GK: There’s some truth to the idea of passing knowledge down through generations, but it has also created problems. Young designers are paired with heritage designers, and while these are very lucrative companies, they’re not always thinking about these young brands; who they really are, who they speak to. They’re not born out of the same time, they’re not functioning the same way. I think that it’s important to have that mentorship program be more balanced. A lot of young designers do feel daunted being told by a legacy designer of 30 years that you’re not going to succeed unless you do x, y, z.

LO: Right, and thinking about the ways success can be subjective but at the end of the day, fashion is still a business. Questions of where you are stocked and what your sell-through is are still valid. 

GK: Exactly, even the wholesalers can be bullies to these younger brands by trapping them for seasons at a time so they can have the exclusive buy. Sometimes young brands don’t know any better. Before it was like, “oh my god, I really want to be at Barney’s!” but  look what happened to Barney’s. We’ve seen that in a lot of multi-brand retailers because certain formats aren’t working anymore. It’s an exciting time for brands because if you can do things direct to consumer, you can have 100% control over your distribution, your voice, and your own time.

LO: Right, and if that’s the case, their exposure would come from magazines or the press. Many of these publications, historically speaking, used to have distinct communities behind them. That’s shifted. The brands are the ones with the communities now, with key people behind them who represent the values and a multidimensional demographic. What happened to publications?

GK: It’s a double whammy and a good question because it’s also a very sensitive time. We know Conde Nast has their own set of problems, but from the devil’s advocate side, those “problems” existed because they represented a certain voice, perspective or demographic. It’s really important to have diversity across the board. At the same time, if you apply the same diversity rules to every single publication, then everyone is advocating for exactly the same thing. This year when a lot of people were canceled for various reasons, they often had small teams and a distinct voice that appealed to a certain audience. There’s something about that cancel culture which I don’t fully agree with, because then you’re just removing certain perspectives from the conversation. It’s like someone coming to me at GK Consulting where I have, like, two employees and being like, you have no diversity in your staff. I wouldn’t know what to say, I too had a specific vision as like a minority Asian woman. The applicants who apply to my business are also probably drawn to me because they share the same narrative.  

LO: Yeah, and with cancel culture, to what extent are you allowed to have diversity in opinion?  To what extent do you have to police yourself to make sure to cater to other people’s opinions, and where do you draw the line with that?

 GK: It’s very tricky. I’ve been thinking about this all year. I don’t know if I’m just being the devil’s advocate because I don’t agree with all of the times publishers and magazines face backlash because of what they say. What happened to independent journalism and free speech, you know? It’s more about accountability, not cancelling each other.

LO: I feel like everyone is kind of a weird clone of someone else. We’re all expected to have the same affinities, references, interest in food, love for this brand, whatever it is. Individuality is now a trend. You can’t really be in your own lane without feeling like you have to also be up on the latest news. 

What resources, conversations, etc. are you using to shape your vision? 

GK: Honestly, this is probably bad for me to say, but I really don’t read fashion digests. My staff sends out daily news updates and I read about it when there’s something that I need to know. I feel like too much competitor research might deter me from what my vision is.

I actually read a lot about food. A lot of it also comes from my daily conversations. I don’t know if I ever really sit down and strategize what I envision for Gia Kuan Consulting, I feel like I’ve just been doing it. It’s just as simple as how to help the brand get their voice to the people in ways that are not so straightforward. Previously, I think that wasn’t really even in the scope of public relations because people think that the publicist is doing a very certain, traditional scope of service.There are so many other ways to raise visibility for your client’s brand. A lot of it now is just being culturally attuned, being a matchmaker of sorts. It’s saying, ‘oh, I think that person will think it’s cool, let me connect you with them’ because you never know what that person can bring you.

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: Your clients are diverse and require this balance between curation, marketing and PR. All of these words have seemingly meshed into one sticky existence now, how do they all still differ and do they need to differ?

GK: There’s definitely a little bit more of a blurred line now, more so now than ever. The textbook definition of what PR is that you are engaging with the public to raise the profile of your client or help them gain visibility in a positive way. That is still really what I do, being the bridge between the direct consumer and the media. How you build that bridge is now very, very different. The scope is now more fluid. We’re working with not only the external public, but oftentimes with how brands talk to their audiences directly. In the past, you usually had a third party that helped do that for you. I’ve also been helping brands consider conversations in how they should speak to their staff. Everything has to be in sync now more than ever. What happens internally can very quickly be externalized. 

LO: Fashion is traditionally plagued by this idea of relevancy. How do you best ensure that working in this industry is sustainable? 

GK: Yeah, for sure. That’s why we’ve seen the rise and fall of a lot of these young designers. It’s a pretty brutal industry. I’ve worked with brands who are now no longer brands but during their time were amazing. I left fashion at one point to go to Nadine’s and now I’m back, but I don’t read fashion news religiously. I think if you keep your life fashion and fashion only, then it can become a little disillusioned. Fashion is never just clothes, it’s always borrowed from something else. You can’t live and breathe fashion alone. Everything is intermixed. 

~ Vancouver to Berlin: Interdisciplinary Art Practice with Kira Buro + Zeynep Samioglu 

Vancouver to Berlin: Interdisciplinary Art Practice with Kira Buro + Zeynep Samioglu

Kira Buro: Kira Buro (they/them) is a visual artist and writer currently based in so-called Vancouver, Canada. Their work is primarily a surreal, dream-like exploration of our shared emotional landscapes — the feelings and worlds we create through being in relation to one another and all we are embedded within. Kira graduated from the Bachelor of Illustration program at Sheridan College in 2019, and is currently a member of the studio SPACE. You can find them on their website and on Instagram.

Zeynep Samioglu (She/They) is an interdisciplinary artist who sees art through the lens of poetry. For them, existence in itself is poetic, therefore every piece of art created is a poem. After briefly studying Visual and Critical Studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Zeynep now lives in Berlin where they study Fine Arts at the Universität der Künste Berlin in Berlin, Germany. Their hometown is Istanbul, Turkey. You can find them on their personal Instagramart Instagram and on their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Buro and Samioglu to conduct an interview-style “studio visit” to introduce them as artists working outside of the traditional art world. Their goals are to expand the notion of what is classified as “art” and connect other people to like-minded creators. You can find them online through their Instagram or their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn: What experiences and realizations have influenced your artistic trajectory?

Zeynep Samigolu: I’ve found that the only way for me to get out of the cycle of overthinking and just life my life is by making Art. What has brought me to where I am today was the realization that I could not live doing anything else, the realization that creation is survival. Making, and even just thinking about and conceptualizing art is what gives my life meaning. It’s important in these times where it feels like we’re approaching the finish mark;the end of time for humanity (That is, unless global and simultaneous revolution  ends capitalism and saves the green earth we walk upon). Until then, I want to put as much human experience into the world as is possible and to do so in a beautiful manner. It doesn’t even have to be all pretty-there’s beauty to be found in pain and suffering.

Kira Buro: That’s a succinct way of putting that. It’s true- acting as a channel for the experiences  that you harvest from the world, and then finding a way to formulate and share those experiences and feelings with the folks around you as a way to connect with them. (Creating is) integrating your personal experience with that of the world. I don’t know what I would be doing otherwise. Whenever there’s a longer stretch of time where I’m away from the work that I’m doing, I feel a tension in my body.

ZS: I agree- I get this pain in my stomach. It feels like a breakup to me. Like I am abandoning my Art; the one true love that I have in my life.

KB: Part of feeling well-grounded in the practice is having a positive relationship with yourself and with your emotions. When I feel like my art is informing other parts of my life, it feels so good. Professional and collaborative work can disrupt that mode of creating and that method of self soothing, but ultimately creating work is so integral to my stability. Art is like engaging with those innermost truths, and truths outside of me, as well. It sounds like i’m saying, “no big deal, but this is the only thing that connects me to the world,” even though of course there are other things, but creation is the  site where all of these seemingly disparate areas of my life connect and become something new. Even if I chose not to do this professionally, it would continue to feel essential to my existence, which is nice to know.

ZS: With Art, you can put everything about yourself in one medium, then take a step back and figure out what’s actually going on. It’s the whole micromacro and macro, microcliché; You look at something so closely that you start seeing something bigger than yourself. Then, you look at something from far away and say, “well that’s me.” In a way, that ties into meme culture, which has, in my opinion, become one of the most popular and relatable Art forms of our day. Everybody can actually say “oh yeah, me” in the face of existential questions raised by a simple meme, because that is what the culture has become. We are all in different bodies, we have our individual problems, but in the end we all want jokes about things that are depressing. “Oh, the world is ending and I’m just here trying to pay my taxes!”

KB: We’re all desperately looking for something out in the world that we recognize ourselves in, and we’re constantly looking for affirmation that we are real, and that the things that we’re experiencing are real, or shared by other people. I love that memes are often an absurd expression of the need to be connected and to share your existence, your joy and your suffering, with other people. It’s funny because it’s easy to get really complex when talking about work methodology, intent, and relation to the self. So much of that complexity is just stripped bare and turned into a meme!

Autumn by Kira Buro (2020).
Autumn by Kira Buro (2020).

TNG: As interdisciplinary artists, how have you developed such a wide skill set?

ZS: Short attention span. I can’t focus on one thing for a long time. I feel like it’s the internet’s fault that our attention spans are relatively shorter than that of older generations. 

In short, I want to be a master of all trades, the whole renaissance man thing. When I come up with a concept, the material, the approach that I take, and the way that I present it develops accordingly. One idea may require me to do a sculpture. Another one would require me to do a painting because that would be the best medium. It all depends and I feel like I should have the skills to do whatever necessary. If I don’t have it I can always learn it.

KB: I agree with you that  the fact that our attention spans are so short Is a culturally created thing. I can’t focus on something for a long period of time. When I do manage to focus, I hyperfocus, which is part of why so much of my work is a really detailed clusterfuck. There’s no negative space; everything  is filled. It’s reflective of my inner-experience and the way that I relate to the details around me. I really love being able to just flow intuitively. That process is interrupted when I’m trying to learn a new skill, which feels frightening but also worth investing in. Baptism by fire.

ZS: I kind of understand the whole baptism by fire thing. I started knitting a house while not knowing how to knit. It was so horrible! There were so many mistakes! I kept skipping lines, but it was all part of the process of making this house, which seems to add so much more to the concept which it began from. There were a lot of injuries and frustrations, and you keep doing the work but you never find an end to it.

For me, the clusterfuck happens in my head more so than in the end product. I am trying to filter it in order for it to make sense to other people. If I were to just show what was in my head, people would be really confused.

Geldik Gidiyoz by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)
Geldik Gidiyoz by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)

TNG: How has your style progressed over the years?

ZS: (My style now) is symbolic, it’s a reflection of how I think. During quarantine, I got very into Anatolian traditions and old religions. I’ve noticed that everything there is magic related or ceremonial. In history, when people would try to conjure things into reality, they just created symbols and performance around it. I feel like artwork comes into reality in the same way, and I know what my reality looks like now, before it wasn’t too sharp. My hands work better now, they intuitively know what to do.

KB: Both of our work does a lot of internal reflection. That’s part of the reason why the work that I’ve made has shifted so dramatically – because I have also changed quite dramatically. There’s more built into the work that I create now than there was back, when I was constructing these very specific worlds. I was almost condemning myself to live within them. Now, more of the doors are open. I’m allowing myself to go out into the world, experience beauty, bring that back, and not have to cloak everything in the same sad story. 

There’s room for complexity and different kinds of feelings in the work that I create now, it’s not coming from a place of stuckness. I don’t feel condemned to create the same things for the rest of my life.

ZS: One of the things about growing up doing Art is that you have a record of the feelings that you have felt. (In my old work) there was a shorter range of emotions, feelings and experiences than what I have today.

KB: So much of what I used to struggle with closed the door to any further discussion or development. I was like, nope, this is how it is! I will suffer forever! Now I recognize, there are so many different things to look at and listen to, even within myself. Allowing more space for all of those different voices and perspectives has led to a lot of healing. It’s a shift in my relationship to myself and to others.

Thank You by KB Buro (2020)
Thank You by KB Buro (2020)

TNG: How do you incorporate metaphor into your work?

KB: There are a lot of metaphors that exist inside of my work, but it’s something that comes later. I work with what is presented to me in the piece that I’m creating, then work around that and try to understand it. It’s this process of interpreting my own work as I go.  It’s all happening for some reason. There’s intention in the things that I’m doing. It reveals itself more through the process of creating than what I could ever hope to know at its outset. 

ZS: I have a dictionary of symbols in my head; colors, objects, names, lettersall with some kind of meaning assigned. I like when I happen to see those symbols in my regular life. I’ll see something red and go, “oh, passion.” Very recently, learned the language of Tarot, which helps me with the connections I make with symbols. I believe that esoteric teachings can be universal and help with the conversation one has with the universe. So now in my daily life when I see something that catches my eye I can say, “Oh, that’s a tree, baby. What do I do with this information?

The creation process is like giving birth to something. You get pregnant with an idea, and then you grow that idea inside you. You read books, you get ideas in your head and then the idea may mature. After that, the idea becomes the Art piece. It’s physical and free to do whatever it wants, like the way you can’t really control your child that much.

You can play make-believe with Art, do things that you can’t actually do in real life. I feel like when I write a very intense poem for someone, I obviously might not even give it to (them), but I did say what I wanted to say. Now I’m not burdened with it anymore.

“You May Not See Küble, But Can You Feel Her?” by Zeynep Samioglu (2020)
“You May Not See Küble, But Can You Feel Her?” by Zeynep Samioglu (2020)

TNG: Both of you are based and from outside the United States, but have experienced living and working in New York City. Did you enjoy living in the city?

ZS: Yes and no.The biggest stressor was (not having) money. Going into the United States, I was in a more capitalist mindset. Then I realized that making money is horrible. I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to work five jobs! 

Art scene wise, amazing place. I love the energy NYC has. It was a very nice experience living on my own outside of Turkey, which happens to not be a great place to live as an artist and as a queer person. I identify as a non-binary, pansexual person. In Turkey, (I am) a lesbian woman. It’s very hostile here.

Turkey is such a shit place geo-politically. You just can’t win. Whatever happens in the world, it goes around and blows up in Turkey’s ass. If America is going through a recession, political (issues) and racism, those are problems that America has to deal with on its own. Turkey has to deal with its own problems plus the effect that (America’s issues) have on the world dynamics and economy.

In my experience, it isn’t easy being Turkish in America. I had seen how people treated immigrants and people not of their own skin, I just didn’t know it went so far. I never saw actual white privilege before going to the United States. Then I saw that I could get away with things easier than most of my friends could and it was just a thing! You guys live like this! 

The reaction of people going, “Oh my god, you’re Turkish? your English is so good. You speak English? You’re blonde? Are you really Middle Eastern? Are you sure your family from the Middle East? Are you sure about that?”

KB: Living in Canada most of my life and then spending some time in the States, there isn’t an enormous difference. In what (Zeynep was) saying about the advent of white supremacy, colonialism and how obviously that affects the way that people feel capable of relating to one another, all of that is definitely at play in Canada. 

(New York City) is a very intoxicating place to be. It’s a place where I wonder whether I would ever feel comfortable being anything but anonymous within. I was there three years ago, feeling very small, excited, and eager to connect and see everything but not really wanting to contribute my own voice very much. 

One of the things that feels comfortable to me in Vancouver is that the communities are small enough for me to feel capable of existing within them. I can carve out a little space for myself rather than constantly being surrounded by this barrage of energy, intensity and workaholic-ism. ] After having lived and studied just outside of Toronto, I feel that there is a marked difference in the urgency that people feel. People move at a slower pace where I live now, and that feels really necessary. I’m not someone who’s constantly on the go with my energy split between a million different things. It’s nice to be somewhere inspiring but not overwhelming.

ZS: Berlin sounds like it is a healthier medium to me. Obviously, there’s a lot more Art happening in Berlin than in Istanbul,  and the chaos of the city is not at the level of my hometown. What I loved about New York was having Art everywhere all the time. The galleries were a very positive experience. A lot of people went to them, compared to (Istanbul) where there’s not many people that are like-minded. Even if there are people, it’s going to be the same people all the time. It’s a smaller community here.

I love Art made by queer people. I love that in New York, you could do that and not get penalized for it. (In Turkey) you just can’t do that. If you do a very sensational groundbreaking artwork in which you voiced an opinion you are not allowed to, you could go to prison. They had an artist that went to prison for doing political pieces. There is no free speech in Turkey.  

In The Woods by Kira Buro (2020)


TNG: How do you feel about centralized art world hubs like New York and Berlin, in general?

KB: I kind of wish they didn’t exist. It makes sense that they exist, but I wish that they were everywhere rather than just having these intense, localized, and often inaccessible spaces.

ZS: IIt’s good that you can go to a space and be with people that think likewise. I wish it was like that everywhere. I think about Turkey and how we’ve idealized the West to the point that all we deem worthy and important is what the West says. 

Now (Turkey) has this problem. There needs to be artists in our country that have the education, the will, the passion and the skills to revolutionize and make a new Turkish Art culture. In order to do that, you need to leave the  place where you are, get the education and  connections of the more legitimized Art world, and then find a way to bring it back to where you came from. But once you leave, it’s hard to come back. Now you have a life over there. 

I’m moving to Berlin because I want to go to school there and be in the Berlin Art scene. I want to be able to support myself as an artist so I don’t have to do anything else in order to live. I know I can’t do that back (in Turkey). One good thing about Berlin compared to New York, is that they actually support you in doing that. It’s not hard to get an artist’s visa.

If you want to go to America to be an artist, they don’t want you in their country and you can feel it. I never felt it with the people that I spent my time with, but the policies made me feel that. The hubs are not the problem, the problem is that there aren’t t policies that help ensure artists have an easier time.

KB: The support must come not only from your peers, who are potentially also facing the same barriers as you, but also on a state level. That’s what prevents people from accessing these spaces. Something as simple as not being let into the country.

Asik Olmam by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)
Asik Olmam by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)