Emma Safir in conversation with Martin Mayorga


Emma Safir in conversation with Martin Mayorga

Martin Mayorga

In May 2022, I took the subway to Brooklyn to visit the temporary studio of artist Emma Safir, while she was in residency at Textile Center for the Arts. Commissioned by Acrylicize on behalf of our client LinkedIn, she created a bespoke wall vinyl for their new offices located in the Empire State Building, New York. We explored how she brought life inside into the outside world and the ‘private solutions’ used to divide these two environments. For the work, the artist used photographs taken while she was abroad in the Netherlands right before the lockdown in 2020. The bespoke vinyl represents a type of mystical nostalgia, where one can get a sense of the interstitial times of the day, such as twilight and dusk.

MM: Can you describe your process? You told me that you were taught to make prints with great precision, but your prints on fabric often produce a more soft and blurry quality.

ES: I got a BFA from RISD in Printmaking. After I learned traditional printmaking techniques I became interested in subverting its exacting nature. I appreciate imprecise precision.

My collages intermingle blurry and blown out imagery, which operates in contrast to the high resolution trompe l'oeil elements. I make digital collages from photographs that I’ve been taking for the last 12 years. I aim to manipulate the viewing experience by encouraging viewers to focus on multiple resolutions in one picture plane.

MM: During our studio visit last year, you noted that your colour choice is “completely subjective.” Does this mirror the same approach you underwent in conceptualising Arnhem Rorschach via Brooklyn (2022), the wall vinyl commissioned by Acrylicize for LinkedIn in the Empire State Building?

ES: I wanted to represent the in-between times of day, daybreak and twilight. I kept thinking about the literal, hyper-visibility of the Empire State Building and how different it looks in the light of day versus when it lights up at night. When I first visited the site, before I started working on the collages, I was struck by the greenish-gray and black marble of the iconic Art Deco elevators in the Empire State Building. I wanted to create a stark contrast, one that would take a moment to adjust to, like stepping into the light from the shade. When we were first discussing inspiration for this specific installation, we talked about Olafer Eliasson’s various light works and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room (1965-present), which are all encompassing spaces that are transformed by light absorption and reflection.

MM: Moiré patterns, which are the interfering overlapping lines that can be seen on television screens, span across your wall vinyl. Can you describe your interest in this type of pattern design?

ES: Moirés occur when two gridded patterns overlap and create a third pattern. Sometimes moirés become visible when patterns are physically layered on top of each other and create a third pattern in real-time. Sometimes a digital moiré occurs via information feedback when a camera can’t resolve gridded patterns. This second set of moirés is not necessarily visible to the human eye in real-time. I’m curious about image processing, dissection, and reassembly, and its disorienting implications.

MM: Throughout your practice, you meticulously reconstruct and deconstruct analogue and digital images you have taken throughout the years. Can you describe this process, especially in relation to your work for the Empire State Building?

ES: My photographs tend to be records of places I have gone, rather than my day to day. I photograph ‘privacy solutions’ like curtains, blinds, fabric behind glass, privacy glass, stickers, basically ways to keep outside out and inside in. I don’t consider these photos to be voyeuristic. I am usually creating a new space in the photograph, one that is enmeshing reflections, light, and whatever is behind them.

The images that I used to create the collages for the Empire State Building were the last images I took abroad right before lockdown in 2020. They represent a “before” time for me, and for that reason they have a sort of mystical nostalgia.

MM: With each series, you focus on a specific colour palette, such as the flint and mauve of “Raising Glitches,” the coral and tan of “Veils.” How do you go about deciding on these combinations?

ES: I start a new series of paintings by selecting a couple anchor photographs, which turn out to be the basis of all my paintings. Using those images, I feel out what color should represent them, even if it’s not obviously part of the original photograph. I suppose that it is a personal logic with not much explanation.


Frankie Altamura

Raul Zbengheci

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