Other Investigations: Roxana Azar

Philadelphia-based Roxana Azar, who was featured on Make Space last January, shares some thoughts on her work and process. She received a BFA in photography from Tyler School of Art in 2012. Her work has been featured online and in print publications such as Mossless Magazine, Of the Afternoon, Ain’t Bad Magazine, Beautiful/Decay, and Waterfall. Check out her work and enjoy the rad playlist she made for Make Space.

The photographs in “Through A Gilded Stomach,” at least from what I have seen through a screen, focus on very subtle moments in the everyday. Yet the color, composition, patterns, and/or textures in these images are striking and somewhat defiant. What is the narrative within this series?

Through A Gilded Stomach included a mix of arranged still lives, text, found images, and portraits. A lot of my work had dealt with my connection to domestic spaces but I started focusing on the objects and images within that space. Some of the objects are cultural, others are more symbolic. I was thinking a lot about my relationship to the women in my family, particularly the matriarchs — my mother and grandmother, as well as my older sister and the cultural gap between each of us, and how that culture and its expectations have affected us differently. I wanted the images and text to act as a puzzle with some of the larger pieces missing. The artist statement itself is ambiguous and acts the same way as the images. Most of the images are arranged, but some are not. I printed the image of the bodice of a dress on fabric, hoping it would fray and unravel over time. The bodice is part of an incomplete dress with frayed edges, and the fabric it’s printed on is similarly lustrous and soft. I liked the incompleteness of the image mixed with fragility of the fabric. One of the other objects was the curled, double-sided photograph. On one side, there is an image of a torn page from an origami book of a vase with paper flowers, resting on a vase with flowers, but you only see the stems. On the inside of the curl, there is an image an old, framed illustration of a woman with her mouth covered. I was thinking that these two images could have similar meanings and are pieces that complement each other.

The pieces in the digital series “Fluid/Foliage” contain manipulated textures and patterns that create excessive, painterly gestures. Can you expand on the process and concept of this series?

Fluid/Foliage begins as a photograph of flowers and other plants that is then layered with scans of objects that have been completely abstracted by moving the object while scanning. The fluid gestures are collaged and layered with the image and manipulated, liquified, and painted on in Photoshop. I was playing with the layering of the fluid scans and still images to create a unique composition by manipulating a raw image, turning something organic into something very digital and removed from what it originally was. The composition is then recreated over and over in different color variations. The images are only available online as low-res jpgs and are perfect for viewing on a computer or iPhone screen. A photograph can be used in so many different ways especially since creating an image is a very accessible thing now. It’s very exciting.

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Do you consider collecting an important part of your practice and does this influence your practice? What kinds of things do you research or examine as part of your practice?

Images on the internet come and go, but I like a good object or book. I have a lot of old National Geographic magazines and Life collections that I use for collage or just look at. The color casts in these older magazines make the photographs seem so unreal and dense, even though the colors are pretty muted. The most important and influential things I read are poems. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is a book of deeply personal and intimate prose and it revolves around the color blue. I also love it when I read something and think to myself, “I wish this was a photograph.” Like William Carlos’ Williams “The Red Wheelbarrow” — it should be a photograph! I can see it every time think about it. As far as artists go, right now I’m looking at the work Molly Matalon, Vivian Fu, and Hobbes Ginsburg. I also highly recommend these books: Ruth Van Beek’s “The Arrangement” and Aidan Koch’s “The Blonde Woman.” I also love the color palette in Godard’s Une Femme Est Une Femme and the composition of many of the shots in that film.

What is your work process like?

It’s hard to say. Every project I’ve worked on has started out as a completely different idea. Anything I’ve considered successful has been the product of an initial failure, I suppose. Mostly, I start working with a couple different ideas at one time and go with whatever seems to be working at the time.

What are some of the concepts or themes you are exploring in your practice at the moment?

Beauty mixed with subtle chaos and ambiguity. I think that’s mostly the general feeling I want to convey. I am not great with words.

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What upcoming projects are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on still lives using objects and textiles from my home, fruits, and family heirlooms, and hoping to see where that takes me. Last summer I started taking photographs outside of the house (in the garden) and I will be taking more photographs outside when the weather picks up and the flowers start blooming. I’m going to California in May to visit my other family members and will be focusing on the objects in those spaces as well. Also, once a month, I try to come up with a new cocktail and image for Post-Cocktail.

What do you listen to while making work?

I listen to a lot of Pavement and Patsy Cline. Electric Wizard is quite good when I’m editing photos. I made you a mix (see below).