A CONVERSATION WITH MARIA MOLTENI ON THE OCCASION OF WOANDER,
CURATED BY COREY OBERLANDER AND LINDSEY STAPLETON
GRIN- How would you describe your relationship with nature? Is this something you often consider? Does living in a city affect this relationship?
MARIA MOLTENI- This is something I often consider. I feel I have a strong relationship with nature, though I've mostly lived in cities. I grew up in Nashville and moved to Boston as a young adult, but both cities are quite lush and close to mountains, fields, forests, etc. As a child I spent a lot of time digging around in creeks, climbing trees, and visiting my grandparents who were strawberry farmers. There were a lot of those influences that I've always wanted more of in my life.
I have other thoughts about the relationship that artists have to nature... whether they're situated rurally or in one of Jane Jacob's described “diverse urban ecosystems” that adhere to similar rules of coexistence. Because many contemporary artists are economically undernourished, they tend to reshape their habits for survival. Many people describe art-making in terms of novelty or profession, but I believe the artistic necessity can be likened to certain primal instincts. They can't easily be explained or shed. It's just something you do, or have to do, or know how to do.
Some of the gaps that 'civilized' or socialized humans try to forge between themselves and other animals may be closed by an artist who designs her life around these necessities and available resources. Many artists live less conventionally and their lifestyles reflect those of animals for whom productivity and play haven't been standardized. I've shared studios with all sorts of organisms who share some of my tendencies. I worked among spiders in an Allston basement and much enjoyed watching them weave between my sculptures as I crocheted. I worked out of a honey warehouse in Leominster where bees often snuck in. It's great to be around such productive, matriarchal communities like honeybees as you're hustling and working your butt off. I did a residency in Pennsylvania that was overrun with bats (one of my spirit animals). We had regular interactions because our sleeping patterns were similar. And now I live in a fancier live/work building in downtown Boston. Midway Studios used to be a wool factory and there are still what I like to call "heirloom" clothing moths that make messes of my fiber pieces! People living in denser cities aren't as removed from "nature" as they may think. But what I miss most about Tennessee, besides being able to see more stars, are the powerful night calls of cicadas and other insects. Those sounds really massage the soul.
GRIN- Would you mind providing some background information about the works in Woander? Where do these ideas germinate, and why have they held your attention?
MM- I’m interested aesthetically and philosophically in how the artificial interacts with the organic and how they become separated as “natural” and “unnatural”. I’m as heavily influenced by pop-culture as ecology, particularly when queer culture appropriates it. I’m drawn to this tanning bed image, like a moth to a flame, because it appears both toxic and alluring, threatening and nourishing. It’s placed in the front window of a salon as an advertisement, but the rhythmic rise and fall of color shifts remind me of droning insect calls or animals that change color with their moods/surroundings. I paired it with a cicada call because it juxtaposes varying natural cycles- the electromagnetic (visible) spectrum, sunrise/setting, seasonal recreation, insect mating patterns, etc. People work these tidy 9-5 jobs so they can go and “work” on their tans every 5 days. Some cicadas stay in the earth for 13 years and only see the sun to have babies before going back under. Circadian rhythms manifest in many different ways, but we often think there is this one “natural” way to exist.
The Cicada drone you hear in my installation is a field recording from a trip I took to Texas. The Cacama valvata, or “Cactus Dodger” was named after the lord of the Aztec kingdom Tezcuco. Cacama was killed by Spanish conquistadors and is supposed to live on in these creatures.
GRIN- Do you find that materials inform your work? Is it the other way around? Or is it in constant motion?
MM- It is in constant motion, but I’m a very tactile, material-oriented person. In this way I'm like a Magpie, collecting shiny objects and hoarding them into my space. Half of my practice is playing Tetris and finding ways to build them into my apartment layout. Sometimes I wish I were less of a "pack rat" but I also believe that my materials find me and that this whole process ties daily life to a finally arranged piece. The objects, then, are also kind of charged with a previous history or energy that I think makes its way in psychically.
GRIN- From paintings, to video installations, to interactive performance, your work has its own sort of spectrum. How do these projects inform each other and how do you transition between them?
MM- I’m not sure I’ve found the most graceful way to work between them, but I’m very much following my instincts/intuition and responding with tactile and tactical solutions to various irresistible stimuli. I like to move between media that seem more and less concrete or ephemeral. Much of that is about experimentation and experiential research. I believe that life, art, and nature are tangled up and I’m trying to tease this all apart. I’ll basically try anything.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Maria Molteni is a Nashville-to-Boston-based multimedia artist, beekeeper, and educator. Having completed rigorous studies in drawing, painting and printmaking at Boston University her practice sprang from roots in observation and formalism.
Over time, it expanded to incorporate performance, research, and participation. In the spirit of early puppeteers, with roots in religion and radical politics, she attempts to extract or embellish psychic energy in urban and natural environments. Exploring iterations of sport, craft, feminism, spiritualism, animism, utopia, pop-culture, cryptozoology, and queerness, her work seeks to embody or expose unseen presences or predicaments, whether cosmic or practical. She enjoys problem solving via traditional methods of craft, employing original or absurdist tactics as applied aesthetic solutions.