On Saturday afternoon, artist Chakaia Booker and curator E. Carmen Ramos spoke in the Renwick Gallery's Grand Salon about Booker's work, process, and Anonymous Donor her sculpture/installation in the current exhibition, WONDER.
Booker, who was born in Newark, New Jersey, began her career as an artist working in textiles (including jute and yarn) and ceramics, but there was always a sculptural element to her work. When she first began using tires, she found she was able to create a bit of alchemy: changing everyday objects based on rubber, a natural material, into works of art that, according to Ramos, are "visually and conceptually rich in meaning." As Booker describes it, New York City in the 1980s set the scene. Trash and debris were everywhere, including "scraps along the highway," often burnt material from car fires, as well as in landfills. In Booker's hands, tires are reworked —cut, shredded, reassembled— to form her often large-scale works that resonate with equal parts grit and beauty. The tire, a symbol of transportation becomes a means of contemplation. Booker refers to herself as an "abstract sculptor" using a material we can all relate to, and defines abstraction as "a way of communication."
Booker's way of dressing, too, is artful and communicative. Wearing a colorful headdress and layers of varying textiles, she walked through the audience and told us a little bit about this process. "I sculpt my own body everyday when I dress myself. I start sculpting myself and then I continue my work."
View a slide show of from all the artists in WONDER, including Booker's work.