DELVE Interview: Krista Svalbonas

Welcome to DELVE Interviews, a look into the unique paths of artistic and creative individuals. These conversations are a branch of our DELVE Workshops and Networking Events, where we celebrate and discover everyone's unique paths as artistic and creative forces. Join us for DELVE: Architecture + Art on December 9th at MEx in Brooklyn. Tickets here (before they sell out!)

Today we're excited to be speaking with Chicago-based artist Krista Svalbonas.Thanks, Krista, for sharing your path with us!

Krista Svalbonas is a mixed media artist based in Chicago. Her studies lead her to a BFA degree in Photography and Design from Syracuse University and an interdisciplinary MFA degree in Photography, Sculpture and Design from SUNY New Paltz. Benefiting from her extensive media knowledge, Krista enjoys experimenting with traditional materials in unexpected ways. She is heavily influenced by her urban environment in her work and focuses on spatial relationships and architecture when developing her abstract pieces and installations.

Krista was recently awarded a Bemis Fellowship for 2015. She has had numerous solo, two-person and group exhibitions throughout the United States. Recently, Krista completed a large scale site specific installation at the Ise Cultural Foundation in New York. She has exhibited at venues including the Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder Colorado; Kenise Barnes Fine Art in Larchmont, New York; Watchung Art Center in New Jersey; Monterey Peninsula Art Gallery in California; Mattewan Gallery, The Painting Center, Trestle Gallery, and BWAC in New York; Tubac Center For The Arts, Arizona; George Segal Gallery, New Jersey. She was also part of a two-year traveling group exhibition in Latvia, Europe, where her piece remains in the permanent collection at the Cesis Art Museum. She is a recipient of a Cooper Union Artist residency as well as a New Arts Program residency and exhibition and has works in numerous private collections. Krista is currently a lecturer in Photography at Columbia College.

How does architecture influence your work as an artist? 

Architecture is the inception of my work. I’m interested in its formal qualities along with its historical, social and cultural implications. Thomas Beeby wrote, “Through its long use as an ideological language, architecture carries within its forms a complicated and often contradictory set of values that are charged with a heritage that has to do with their past uses and associations. It is exactly this aspect that can give architecture its social meaning, for it carries the past into the present.” These contradicting values are the focal point of what interests me. Both of my parents emigrated to the United States after World War II, from the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. Ideas of home, homeland, place and sense of belonging have been very compelling to me because of my family’s history of displacement. Deconstructing my built environment is part of a continuing exploration of place and “home” that is contingent, in flux and influenced by socio-political factors.

Migrants 4, Giclée Collage on board, 14×14 by Krista Svalbonas

Migrants 4, Giclée Collage on board, 14×14 by Krista Svalbonas

Migrants 5, Giclée Collage on board, 14×14 by Krista Svalbonas

Migrants 5, Giclée Collage on board, 14×14 by Krista Svalbonas


Where do you find your visual inspiration?

I seem to find it everywhere. In my most recent body of work “Migrants”, I’ve found inspiration living in the greater New York area, living in rural Pennsylvania and now living in Chicago. I come from a background in photography, and that has made me a documentarian. With technology today, I’m never without a photographic device and I’m constantly shooting, taking note, paying attention to the environment around me, and my responses to it. One thing I find inspiring about Chicago is the coexistence of new and old, historic and contemporary. You’ll find Mies van der Rohe rubbing elbows with Jeanne Gang and Frank Lloyd Wright sitting next to Bertrand Goldberg. I really love seeing the ideals of these eras colliding in a very visual way.

When and why did the built environment start to be part of your work? 

It’s hard to really find a specific point in time where I can say this is definitively where my interest in space began. I can remember photographing the built environment in high school. I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania straddled between Bethlehem Steel and rural farming. The steel plant had already closed years before I arrived and it’s carbon black buildings were a fixture of the town. Farms were scattered all around, converted into homes or garages or simply falling apart. I think I’ve always been interested in cultural history and its roots in architecture, I just didn’t know it at the time. In grad school, I built a memory palace as my thesis exhibition, a room whose walls were covered in a membrane like material, containing small doors that visitors could open to view autobiographical video sequences. The space was very psychological and dealt with an inner architecture. I think my work now stems from these roots; I’m looking outward with a very inward gaze, referencing ideas of home, dislocation and migration, things that are very much a part of my family history.

What is your favorite art making tool?

This changes but I think one of my favorite tools is box set of x-acto blades which houses a variety of blade types, from curved to square, extremely useful for the amount of cutting I’m finding myself doing these days. This set is probably in a tie with my 4ft by 6ft cutting mat which I cannot live without!


What music/band/artist are you listening to the most right now?

I usually have a mix going of several artists. Currently that mix consists of MGMT, She and Him, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Wood Brothers.

Where is your next dream travel destination?

There are so many, how can I choose! Narrowing down to one is tough. How about top three: Berlin, Tibet and Prague.

In the Presence of Memory 13  by Krista Svalbonas   oil, steel photo-serigraph and mixed media on industrial felt   15×9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory 13 by Krista Svalbonas
oil, steel photo-serigraph and mixed media on industrial felt
15×9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory 14  by Krista Svalbonas   oil, steel photo-serigraph and mixed media on industrial felt   15×9, 2014

In the Presence of Memory 14 by Krista Svalbonas
oil, steel photo-serigraph and mixed media on industrial felt
15×9, 2014

Krista also shared her statements with us about both projects featured here. Enjoy!

In the Presence of Memory Statement:

I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania dominated by the steel industry, and have long been interested in industrial architecture as an expression of cultural history.  “In the Presence of Memory” explores the architectural vestiges of a far more ancient industry: agriculture. The disappearing vernacular architecture of barns in rural Pennsylvania reveals their varied European lineages: specific structural elements reflect the building traditions of the home countries of the immigrant families who built them. A typology of these barn structures bears witness to centuries of migration. But what once seemed a stable and permanent destination is now in flux, as the family farm gives way to industrial farming, and farmland is converted to residential or commercial developments. For the past year I have been traveling throughout my home state to document these agricultural structures: abandoned, re-purposed, or – occasionally – still in use.  These photographic images have become the source material for this body of work. Using industrial felt (manufactured in Pennsylvania) as a substrate, I silk-screen images of architectural details of the barns using industrial pigments such as steel, iron and copper. I paint each piece individually using oil and cold wax, and cut into the felt, echoing the empty and thatched spaces of the often-dilapidated structures I have photographed. I “patch” these cut areas with colored sections of serigraph negatives, mimicking the splashes of incongruous color on the weathered surfaces that have been repaired again and again. The colors, forms and shapes of the felt panels all refer to the original structures; even in their abstraction, these paintings document the vanishing rural industrial landscape.

Migrants statement:

Ideas of home and dislocation have always been compelling to me as the child of parents who arrived in the United States as refugees. Born in Latvia and Lithuania, my parents spent many years after the end of the Second World War in displaced-persons camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. My family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted peoples for whom the idea of “home” is contingent, in flux, without permanent definition and undermined by political agendas beyond their control. Perhaps as a result, I am fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the impact of architectural form and structure on the psychology of the human environment.

Photography also plays a key role in this history of displacement: photographs were among the few possessions my family was able to take with them when they fled the Russian occupation. Photographs documented a home and a country that most Baltic refugees, including my parents, thought they would never see again. I was raised on these visual memories, and the accompanying stories of a “homeland” that remained distant and inaccessible — until the unimaginable happened in 1991, when the Baltic states regained their freedom.

Complicated by this family history, my definition of home constantly oscillates between past and present. “Migrants” began with photographs I took in the three locations I have called home in the past eight years: the New York metro area, rural Pennsylvania, and Chicago. Taken with digital camera, camera phone, and point and shoot, each image is a visual sketch of the genius loci of the landscape at a particular moment in my history. I cut and reassemble the images in sets of three, creating hybrid structures that reinterpret and reinvent architecture, disrupting space, light, and direction. At the same time, because the triangle is the simplest stable two-dimensional form, anchoring each piece in three geographical points creates a stability that acts as counterweight to the sense of dislocation. “Migrants” turns an analytical gaze on the architecture of my past and present while offering a personal reflection on the nature of home.


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