Janice Sloane has been living in the Downtown Manhattan’s East Village since the 80s, when it was still super underground, dirty cool and rents were extra cheap..the good old days!
She contacted me after she saw a group show I curated titled “Haired”, which I organized during Miami Art Basel and then presented for the NYC Armory Art Week.
I guess it’s a topic a lot of people can relate to and, in fact, Janice did an entire photographic series about hair. Her fascination with hair lies in its long lasting quality: it’s the body part that resists longer to time: indeed, even mummies still have some hair after thousands of years!
When I went to her LES home/studio for this interview, I discovered Janice’s attraction for the human body, for skin, prosthesis and plastic surgery, which she translates into photographs, sculptures and drawings that are beautiful and perturbing at the same time.
Check out the interview below to know more about this real and bold NYC artist.
V: By looking at the variety of your work, from photography to sculpture, it seems pretty clear that the common denominator is the body, with a focus on skin. Can you tell me more about this essential theme in your work?
J: Much of my work is about skin yet deals more with impermanence. The skin is the all protector of the body. It’s what wrinkles, what shows age, what stretches, what scars and cuts. It is a strong symbol of impermanence. I became fascinated with plastic surgery while working as a cater waiter for many years. I saw mainly women who couldn’t move their faces, show expression or had a permanent look of surprise. Faces so tightly stretched while the rest of the body hung all around. This is what inspired the head series that I did for years. Most recently I have been working with hair and dentures. Hair and teeth are 2 things that remain after the body has decomposed. The more permanent of the impermanent.
V: As women, our relationship with our bodies is definitely more complicated than for men as we have to deal with social and cultural standards, dogmas and restrictions every day. How does your art address the topic of the female body?
J: People try to halt the aging process at all costs because it is so scary to grow old. As we all know there is much pressure from society for women to look young and be eternally beautiful. It constantly haunts us. The youth is not eternal yet the beauty can be. The idea of beauty just has to change.
V: You’ve been living in the East Village for about 20 years and you’ve seen one of the most famous artist neighborhoods in the world changing dramatically. Can you tell us a little bit of the story of this change, what was better before, how do you see the neighborhood now and the direction that it’s taking?
J: I’ve lived in the East Village more or less since I was 17. Yes.. many changes. It’s so easy to forget them yet every now and then I remember how long it would take to buy a carton of milk as you ran into so many people you knew along the way. They are mostly all gone now. Unfortunately I never took photos of my surroundings back then yet my next door neighbor took photos all the time of the street art, rock bands, street people and abandoned buildings. I could fill a book with just the goings on in my building alone. From the fires, drug dealers, murders, dog fights to the robberies, blood, needles and knife fights. The neighborhood was full of storefront art galleries, street performances, burning oil cans, as well the lines for shooting galleries and fake bodegas that sold drugs..Where is the neighborhood going now? Nowhere. . It’s a high rent NYU campus full of bars to accommodate them. I thank god for the community gardens and Tompkins Square Park. Of course we gentrified the neighborhood by being artists – as this happens everywhere–and then it keeps going.. much like what happened in Williamsburg (yet without as much building) and now Bushwick, in Brooklyn.
V: You recently opened a gallery named “The Parlor” in a “not-gentrified-yet” area of Bushwick. The gallery is actually a brownstone and the space has kept the house interior design rather than being turned into a white cube. What’s the reason for this choice and in what way does that environment influence the perception of the art on display?
J: I started up The Parlor with 2 friends– a married couple, Rachel Phillips and Charles Tisa. Rachel had been curating shows for years and had invited me to participate in many. They bought this beautiful old row house in Bushwick. We thought of doing some shows there and make an underground supper club yet having been in the food business for years, I opted against the food part and fell into the gallery idea. The Parlor floor of their house was so beautiful and with so much detail and history there was never a question of changing it. They wanted a classic space from the color of the walls, which they painted themselves, as they are decorative painters as well as visual artists to the detail in the wood carving and mirrors. The space has a different feel: more classic and warm than the usual white gallery box.
V: What’s The Parlor’s mission? How are you guys planning to involve the neighborhood in the gallery’s initiatives?
J: The mission of the Parlor is basically to have good shows. As we are artist-run and starting out, the idea of exclusively representing artists is not at the forefront. We are concentrating on group shows. We also wanted a venue to show our own work and work that we like which was not “in style” or in the mainstream. We are showing artists from all over the city and abroad. As far as integrating ourselves into the neighborhood– we haven’t gotten to that point yet in a formal way. We are still exploring those ideas. We respect the area we are in and hope the oncoming change is not as drastic as we’ve seen happen in other parts of the city.
V: What project or series or piece are you currently working on?
J: Presently I am working with some colored hair, finishing up video footage, organizing ideas, drawing, sewing things with red thread, taking photos, printing them and getting ready to go away in August to a residency in a castle in the south of Germany.