Wavepool – When looking at your work, I immediately start to think about themes such as mortality, superstition, and ritual. Are you referencing any specifc beliefs or experiences related to these ideas?
Alexandra Forsyth – Exploring aspects of the human condition – the meaning of life, the transient nature of time, the inevitability of death – is the drive behind my artistic practice. I was born in Puerto Rico into a Roman Catholic family with Santería infuences, so was raised with ritualistic and spiritual sensibilities. I didn’t truly tap into these, however, until I began my artistic practice. In fact, my desire to understand my own mortality lead me to realize my vocation as an artist and what themes I wanted to explore in my work.
I was visiting Vrindavan, India and noticed I had some sort of uncanny, that is, foreign and familiar, connection to it. At this point, I had just completed That There Then, a year-long series of self-portraits documenting the accumulation of bodily residues I collected from rituals of self-maintenance. This project highlighted the impossibility of creating a complete portrait of a person if one is relying solely on their physicality. This fact made me question the ultimate signifcance of the activities I repeatedly spend time on. My experience in Vrindavan made me ask myself, “What is my connection to a place, or anything physical, based on? If there is a diference between what I am and who I am, then how and why do these relate?”
I’ve returned to India each following year to live in ashrams in different holy cities and study Hinduism’s philosophical expounding of the body-soul relationship. The main purpose in their connection is to mediate with materiality in order to develop the soul by engaging in meaningful activities. I see this understanding as comparable to the artist’s act of using and transforming particular materials to access, develop, and communicate concepts. Making this connection essentially substantiated my vocation as an artist, while correlating my external art practice with my internal spiritual practice.
Wavepool – Your background is in photography, but you regularly work in installation, sculpture, and video. Has this always been the case? Are you typically aware of the form that an idea will take on when you begin thinking about it?
Alexandra Forsyth – It’s hard to pin-point exactly which comes first – the idea or what I want the idea to finally look like – as it is neither always one or the other. It wasn’t until I was about to complete my undergraduate studies in photography that I began making work in other mediums. I produced a number of pieces with glass, sand, fire, gold, and wax. Each of these materials is historically significant in its associations to ideas about mortality, time, vanity, frailty, purity, and so forth. After collecting my own detritus for a year I wanted to get rid of all that stuff. I needed to destroy it all, but I also wanted to create something from that destruction. So, I cremated my own remnants and recorded the process for a video titled Ashes. I later inserted a portion of those ashes into a sealed hourglass (Instance 03) and added the remaining ashes to a self-portrait in the form of a gilded candle effigy molded from my bust (Self Portrait in Gold). If anything, one piece informs and inspires another both formally and conceptually.
Wavepool – You’ve used yourself as both a subject and a material in your work. What do you find to be significant and interesting about this gesture?
Alexandra Forsyth – I have a relatively minimal aesthetic, so bringing my body into my work makes it personal and messy in a way that breaks it up and adds complexity. Mainly, though, this move is both practical and necessary. A lot of my inspiration stems from my fear of and fascination with being embodied, so it only makes sense that I include my body in my work as both subject and material. The most significant aspect of this gesture is that my body’s decay was given purpose when I began to employ it in my artwork, as it allowed me to access issues about and beyond my own corporeal reality.
It is important for me to engage with matter in a mindful way in order to transform the art object, an environment, myself, and ultimately the viewer as they experience my work. Whether I’m working with insects, gold, or my own skin, they are all treated equally. They are simply materials I’m using to communicate some idea through an object or within a space, so their materiality becomes meaningful when placed into an art context in relation to that idea.
Wavepool – I’m curious about your ongoing project Place of Birth/Place of Rest. The photographs, when considered on their own, are fairly vague, but the title quickly makes them highly charged. Can you explain the project?
Alexandra Forsyth – The way a title can affect the reading of a piece is really interesting, especially when it creates a particular atmosphere or quality which the piece might otherwise not instantly reveal. The project consists of one diptych of the same patch of grass documented at different moments. In one photograph, the grass is dry, dead, and uprooted. In the second, the grass is fresh and overgrown. When the photos are placed together, the diptych reveals the effects of time. It is unclear which photograph was taken first, pointing towards the ongoing and cyclical nature of time. The title Place of Birth/Place of Rest refers to the idea that we are, atomically speaking, made up of the material world we inhabit. When we die and are disposed of, our bodies return to the earth from which they are made. I believe titling this piece Place of Birth/Place of Rest reveals that funerary aura I saw in the photographs as I made and paired them.
Wavepool – Have you been exploring any new concepts in your recent photographs?
Alexandra Forsyth – In my recent photographs I am focusing on the material qualities of traditional still-life symbols and exploring how these qualities reveal the idea(s) each object symbolizes. For example, a bubble represents the brevity of life or the suddenness of death. With reason: it is beautiful and mesmerizing, while it is fragile and short-lived. By photographing it before it disappears, I’m materializing (or reincarnating) the idea it symbolizes in my photograph. My intention is to use the photographic medium to document, and thus extend the life of, these symbols for mortality. In doing this I want to establish a tangible connection between seemingly polar but actually codependent dualities – life and death, spirit and matter, impermanence and immortality. Although they are antonymous, one cannot exist without the other. The photographs, in turn, become symbolic objects themselves directly reminding the viewer of their own mortality. This is particularly true in Photograph of a Mirror Reflecting Dust. The mirror faces the viewer as if one could see their own refection, but only shows specs of dust and their refections. It’s a still-life, but I would also consider it a portrait as soon as the viewer steps in front of the photograph and sees their own slight refection in the frame’s glass.
Wavepool – What are your plans for the future? Any exciting things coming up?
Alexandra Forsyth – I’m currently living in West Bengal, India. Over the next few months, I’ll be studying Sanskrit and classic Vaishnav philosophical scriptures based on the Vedas.
I’m very excited to have a piece in Botanica, a group show curated by AA Bronson and Michael Bühler-Rose. The show will present a range of affordable works by artists engaging with spirituality, magic, ritualism, and superstition in their practice, for which I’ve produced a series of votive kits. Each Kit Votivo consists of a custom solid gold candle and gold matchbox, which can be lit and offered in fulfillment of a vow or at the end of someone’s life.
Botanica is currently on view at Carroll and Sons in Boston, and will open at Invisible-Exports in NYC on November 30th.
To see more, please visit Alexandra’s website.