Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Checking in with East Village artist Ethan Minsker
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
I’m meeting up with camouflage-suited East Village artist, writer and filmmaker Ethan Minsker at Tompkins Square Park to talk about his quarantine projects, what collaborating with his daughter is like (she’s busy playing in the playground during the interview under the supervision of Ethan’s mother), and what keeps him sane during the COVID-19 lockdown.
How did your new short film, “New York I Love You But You Are Bringing Me Down” come about?
I was asked to do a solo art show at Howl! Happening Gallery and, along with [gallery director] Ted Riederer, we came up with the concept of building a city out of recycled materials like the display of the city in the Queens Museum.
There’s always this thing in New York City about missing the old New York. I thought about the LCD Soundsystem song “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down.”
If you listen to the lyrics it perfectly sums up my love and irritation with this city. I had already been working on the project for more than a year and ran out of space in my own apartment so I shuttled many of the buildings over to my mother’s on the West Side and filled up her spare room. Then when quarantine happened, I focused on building one city block with the buildings above the street and the subway station below.
I also got laid off, so it gave me a lot of time to finish the piece.
Your daughter is featured in the film, and you and your family have been quarantined together in your East Village apartment. How has that affected your artwork?
I’ve been collaborating with my daughter on art projects since she was an infant. When quarantine started, we just continued our process. Clearly, it’s tough to be stuck in a small apartment with your wife and your kid.
At times we’re just trying to keep ourselves from going insane. It’s good to have art projects to focus on. It’s one of those things where everybody has to make their own space in separate rooms for at least part of the time. The quarantine has made me really focus more intensely on what I do creatively.
The streets were empty. I wanted to make something that reflected the city pre-pandemic and at the same time connect with my friends. I asked my friends to send photos of themselves standing as if they were waiting for the subway or walking down the street. I printed those out, attached them to plastic water bottles, cut them out, and stuck them in the artwork.
How did you source the materials you used for your film?
Everything is from recycled material. Cardboard from boxes that were shipped to the apartment. Oatmeal containers for water towers. Plastic bottles for the windows and the caps for tires. I used Christmas lights and all the paint that I had. Basically, it’s made from trash in my place.
At this moment in time you can look around your apartment and probably repurpose tons of things for art. For the video I just kept shooting as I created, using apps on my phone to do the animation and hand drawing in [Adobe] After Effects.
Where does the set live now?
It’s in my living room. It’s like having a roommate. A really big roommate. My wife hates it. If I had a studio, I would make even bigger work.
Has there been any silver lining for you, as an artist, during the pandemic quarantine?
I want to acknowledge that this is a very sad time. I am sad and that is OK. We can be sad together. For me the purpose of all these projects is to fend off depression. So don’t feel pressure to make art, just do what you can to stay happy.
Anybody who has a day job and does something creative always has this thing: “If there were just more time…” Now we have all the time in the world, and I’m not going to waste it.
Every morning I get up and I work for about five or six hours on projects, take a break and have some lunch and hang out with my daughter, do some more work on the projects and at 7 p.m. I interview artists. Even though we’re isolated we can still build a community virtually. I’ve learned a lot from the interviews, especially when it comes to art practices and art scenes around the world. I call it Isolation Nation TV. And I act as the host. It’s a routine, it’s a workout — a creative workout.
What’s next for you? Any future projects on the horizon?
At the moment I am promoting my feature film, “Man In Camo.” It just came out and is available everywhere you can rent and buy movies. It’s an artist’s statement, a self-portrait documentary about my need to create and champion others. The handcrafted animation took me five years to make.
It’s my life flashing before your eyes. I highly recommend checking it out. It won’t be like anything you have seen before. And tell a friend!
You can keep up with Ethan on Instagram and Vimeo.