Artist Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos to Bring Giant Inflatable Hands to Bayfront Park for Art Basel

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

and Spanish.

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

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.

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