New York-based artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos has lived her life surrounded by unique cultures--born in Greece, raised in Paris--and now she aims to bring her one-of-a-kind vision to Miami's own little center of culture, Art Basel. With "Palm Authority," Kosmatopoulos is raising funds to create five towering sculptures of hands in Bayfront Park, complete with an audiotape of a man discussing the art of palm reading.
Intrigued by this idea, we were able to chat with the artist about the genesis of the project, the difficulty of crafting the sculptures, and what the work means for her and for the rest of us.
New Times: Can you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of the project?
Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos: This piece is part of "The Future Is on Your
Hand," where I use the metaphor of palm reading to investigate the ways
society shapes the individual's identity.
I really loved the way people interacted with the piece. While adults
where intrigued by the unusual format of the sculpture and the meaning
of the installation, kids were drawn by the almost "cartoonish" giant
hand and wanted to play with it. That made me want to create a larger
installation around this thematic and show it in a public space.
I have attended Miami Art Basel for the last four years. There are a lot
of events, installations and performances during these four days, but
they are mostly concentrated in the Wynwood neighborhood
and Miami Beach. I wanted to bring Art to a more common public space and
involve the local community in this major art event. The management of
Bayfront Park shared this vision and gave me the space during Art Basel.
So will it just be giant hands?
In addition to the inflatables, the other key component of the
installation is the audio part. In the original installation Palm
Authority, the text was said by a very strong male voice in a very
authoritarian voice. For the Palm Authority project, I wanted to work
with kids for the audio part. I see childhood as the time when the
individual just starts getting exposed to social norms, but his/her
identity is not yet too influenced by them. For the Palm Authority
project, I worked with children from Jamaica, St Lucia, Haiti and El
Salvador to record the audio part of the installation in English, French
Describe the process of making the hands.
The sculptures are made of rip-stop fabric, the same material used to
make parachutes. All five sculptures where designed and sewed by hand in
my studio. I first made a model in clay and covered it with three
layers of duct tape. Then I cut the duct tape into 26 small pieces and
used them as a reference to create a sewing pattern for the inflatable
hands. With a projector, I enlarged the pattern, projected on large
pieces of rip-stop fabric and drew the shapes.
Then came the hardest part--sewing the large pieces of rip-stop and
making all the adjustments. Once all the pieces were assembled, I spent
days blowing the inflatable in my studio and working on the details.It
was like sculpting the air. The same way tailors do with garments, I
was adjusting the fabric with pins to create the shapes I wanted with
the air. Their size varies between eight feet and 14 feet.
What would you like your audience to understand about it?
My pieces are a reflection of my personal journey to explore my identity
and every new piece makes me go deeper in this journey. The most
eye-opening part of this project was the collaboration with the kids.
Working with kids made me reconnect more with my own childhood and
understand better my personal history.
Even if the inspiration for this piece is very personal, I intentionally
removed any subjective references to my self-introspection to focus on
the path followed and not the results achieved. I like to see this piece
as an unfinished metaphor, a white canvas that invites a viewer's
personal interpretation and creates a multi-dimensional dialogue between
the viewer and the piece, the viewer and the external world but, most
importantly, between the viewer and his own conscience.
I do not want to tell viewers what they should think, it is more about
the experience he/she will have in front of the piece. This installation
plays with contrasts that I feel create very strong emotions to the
viewer and raise interrogations. On the one side, there is oversized
hand with a kind of threatening gesture (fingers a little folded) that
tells him/her who he/she is, but this clashes with the "cartoonish"
aspect of the inflatable, the white color and the voice of the kid.
Can you describe a bit of the audio portion, and what this adds to the work?
The audio part is a key element of the installation. The text looks at
the basic rules of palmistry -- the shape of the hand and the 3 main
lines -- and lists very specific details of your personality based on
these rules. It uses very technical and elaborated terms which contrast
with the very innocent voice of the kids.
Are you a believer in palm reading yourself, or is it used strictly as a metaphor?
This installation is about questioning the way people embrace their
individuality away from the general social templates. In palmistry, the
lines inside your hand, that you where born with, tell you very specific
details about your personality and your future. The same way, society
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teaches individuals from a very young age what kind of person he or she
is supposed embody.
See "Palm Authority" at Bayfront Park from November 30 to December 4.