Martha Mysko has worked in Baltimore and Brooklyn, and currently resides in Pontiac, MI. Her site specific installations uses pop culture and film references to create immersive environments that make you revisit a darker side of nostalgia. We chatted with her about cinematography, favorite movie rooms, and 90s vibes. She is currently working on a second book project with Good Weather Gallery.
Can you tell us a little background about yourself? How did you get into the arts and into installation work?
I grew up in the Baltimore area and moved to Brooklyn in 2005. Around that time I was making Alice Neel-inspired figurative and narrative paintings. I was still finding my way. Once I was in New York I started going frequently to galleries and museums. Being exposed to so much art pushed me to want to pursue it more seriously. I had hit a wall with painting when I submitted a proposal to an open call for site-specific installations through the Dumbo Arts Center. They gave me the opportunity to take over an old freight elevator in a building in Dumbo for a weekend. This was my first installation and it incorporated sound, lighting, and domestic materials that I manipulated within the elevator into a kind of tableau. I found right away that I loved the directness, and the associative and visceral aspects that came with working with materials and objects in a physical space. Soon after making that piece, I participated in an installation workshop at the Summer Academy in Austria, which felt like a crash course in the discipline. Around this time I was also really inspired by Mike Nelson' s “A Psychic Vacuum,” in which he created a huge installation for Creative Time that took over the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. I went to grad school at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2009. During my time there I refocused on painting, not in the traditional sense, but in exploring the potential for it to be expansive and immersive. This way of working has been keeping me going and challenging me in the studio ever since.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions/projects?
I'm currently working on my second book project to be published by Good Weather Gallery in early 2017. This is an extension of my most recent installation with the Good Weather (Blue Tiers at COOP in Nashville, TN), and is exploring ways to convey mood through color and materiality.
If you could collaborate with anyone...
Pipilotti Rist and Jessica Stockholder together.
Can you talk about your "War of the Roses" installation? What was the world you were portraying?
The installation first began with a very direct reference to a Magritte painting in which an interior door appears to be cut open to reveal an evening sky. There were some other nods to Magritte through objects and imagery like a plastic pear, a ceramic mask, a motif of a blue sky with clouds, and a disembodied plaster cast of my arm that recur throughout the installation. I wanted this space to have a kind of kitschy and campy surrealistic vibe, but to also simultaneously be a little bit uncanny and macabre. It had a soundtrack that played on a loop of the introductory scores of several Lifetime Original movies from the 90s including “A Friend to Die For: Death of a Cheerleader” starring Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin. This installation was at Sadie Halie Projects in their previous Brooklyn location, which was a garage. I wanted it to have that empty, partially finished basement feel, but to also exist in a kind of dream space. I worked with layering it on top of the existing garage as opposed to working against what was already there.
Many of your installations are about creating immersive rooms and environments. Do cinematography and set design play an important role in your work?
Yes, absolutely. But I am more interested in the low budget kind and more television based - crime dramas, reenactments, sitcoms, old music videos, and made-for-TV movies. My work can often have rawness, and it's really very temporary. I like to expose the seams and flaws. There tends to be a front stage/back stage that reinforces its relationship to painting. I like that there is the moment when illusion is sustained and then ultimately it begins to break down or falls or apart up close. For my show at Good Weather I was specifically looking at a lot of teen girl bedrooms from movies and television in the 90s. One example of how that played out was the back wall which was based on the bedroom wall from the set of “Clarissa Explains it All,” a Nickelodeon sitcom.
So what is your favorite "room"?
It would be too hard for me to choose one favorite room, there are so many that I love. To name a few that come to mind, the sets for the Incredible “Shrinking Woman,” “Bartleby,” “Fargo” and “Twin Peaks” all have some great rooms.
What recurring themes do you work with?
The juxtaposition of the digital and the physical, the trope of windows in painting, domestic and cultural debris from my youth, compression and expansion, interior and exterior.
Do you work with a narrative?
I'm always thinking about narrative, and more recently fiction, but it is more the suggestion of narrative that I work with. The narrative that I usually end up with is process based.
There is a sense of nostalgia in your works, a 90's vibe, being a teenage girl. Are these themes that are important to you? If so, why?
I'm working against nostalgia while using materials that have strong personal or cultural associations. A lot of my materials are familiar items from my past that I seek out specifically. But rather than doing this for nostalgic reasons, I'm interested in that feeling of revisiting something from your childhood or past and realizing how crappy it actually is. I also like to work in a way where I may exaggerate an implied meaning or emotion of a material or object, and then simultaneously work with it on a purely formal level. I want to take what is familiar and deconstruct it until it becomes something new.
What role do titles play in your works?
I see titles as an opportunity to add another layer of meaning or interpretation.
What music are you listening to?
Niki and the Dove, The Julie Ruin, TT the Artist