Saturday, February 19, 2022

Gallery Watch: 'Beetlejuice' by Faith Icecold at Housing

Interview by Clare Gemima 
Photos courtesy of Faith Icecold 

Faith Icecold is a craftsperson from planet Earth. In 2018, Faith Icecold was a Studio Immersion Project (SIP) Fellowship recipient at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop

I interviewed Icecold about their solo show “Beetlejuice,” currently running at Housing, 191 Henry St. on the Lower East Side, until Feb. 25. We discussed ceramics, Icecold’s inspirational figures, and some systemic issues that run through art’s history. 

How would you describe your artistic practice? 

My practice is an attempt to perform art therapy on myself, to create some version of balance of the mind and soul under global anti-Blackness. Also, my practice is a reactionary response to artworks that I strongly dislike or find offensive for various reasons. 

So basically, my practice is about making diss tracks to help myself feel better under global anti-Blackness. I believe most artists want people to forget that all new art movements started as diss tracks like “x is fucking terrible, let me show ’em how it should be done…” 

I also hold onto the one strict rubric: if the artwork isn’t a fraction as good as Brandy’s album Full Moon, then was it really hitting? I make pretty things for myself, and I am happy when other people enjoy the pretty things I create as well. 

At the beginning of 2021, I wasn’t sure if I would survive to see 2022 and thought to myself, “Nah, I need to do ceramics somehow before I die.” So, I said “fuck it” and sent Woody De Othello a cold email to ask him if I could come to California to work at his studio, to have kiln access and to work alongside a Black artist I respect. (Othello and Alake Shilling changed the course of ceramics forever — quote me on that). He said yes, so I ended up living in the Bay Area for the first part of 2021. 

That is literally the only way I could’ve made ceramics at that point in the pandemic. I am forever grateful to Woody for extending a gesture that all degree artists should be able to make toward non-degree Black artists — helping them have access to afford to make art. Two works from my time in Oakland are in “Beetlejuice.”

What have you learned about ceramics in the process of crafting “Beetlejuice”? 

Working on “Beetlejuice” was an adventure, to say the least. What I fully grasped from making this exhibition is the idea that ceramic art continues to be divorced from its non-degree Black origins. Nine out of 10 Black people in Amerika cannot afford to even take a one-day “try-out” ceramics course. “Beetlejuice” would have been mostly ceramic works, but I did not have my own kiln after working with Woody,  so I had to wait to take a community-studio course, which was very expensive.

It wasn’t until the fall of 2021 that I had access to a kiln to make my clay works. In community-studio courses, I am usually the only Black person. Having very few Black peers in a mostly white studio, plus being in a large art studio during that stage of the pandemic… plus finding time to have open studio time while working full time, plus only having a shared shelf in the kiln for making works made it extremely difficult to finish. 

Due to my lack of kiln access and seeing a Rosie Lee Tompkins show while in California, I was pushed toward fiber arts where yes, it would be amazing to have my own studio, but a lot of fiber art can be made “at home.” 

Once I have my own kiln, I will be able to create more freely and more frequently. Working with clay is one of the only things I do not hate in this hellish world. I wish that all Black people had access to ceramics — not just well-off people who can afford to take classes or those who can afford to have and run their own kiln.
Could you explain the soft/hard practice to someone unfamiliar with this terminology? 

Soft/hard references materiality. It is a system of relational aesthetics. Soft materials like light, air, fiber or water interact with hard materials like stone, steel, glazed ceramic or glass within the same piece to create a version of harmony. 

Getting into Barbara Chase-Riboud’s rope and metal works made me realize that the best sculptures have soft materials that are activated through close conversations with hard materials. I believe there is a “soft” and “hard” version to all materiality if the material is guided in a way. But then there are materials that are in-between, like plasma, which is not fully hard nor fully soft. 

Mixing up molecules through materiality establishes a dynamic of musicality within art, like when one instrument plays a sustained note while another instrument is playing a series of moving notes all at the same time. Soft materials determine hardness, and hard materials determine softness — they help define each other. For me, blending a variety of textures introduces depth when it comes to sculpture. 

To quote Beetlejuice’s checklist, “All of the craftwork in this show exists without a personal studio, a BFA, or an MFA.” In response to this, I would like to ask: Where has this work been made? 

All of the craft-driven objects in “Beetlejuice” were made in my bedroom or in shared community-studio spaces. The art world likes to downplay that poor people cannot afford to pay rent on a place to live AND pay rent on an art studio at the same time (especially during the pandemic). 

What are your thoughts regarding “institutionalized” art learning? 

I can go on for days about art of the academy and its mountains of anti-Blackness and other forms of exploitation, but what I will say is that all degree art (Black AND non-Black) is just watered down non-degree Black art. All of it. 

I did not pursue a BFA because I did not even think that was an option as a Black person. And I cannot afford to get a BFA even now unless it is a full ride, which is a rarity for most Black people. Almost all degree artists are not poor, and the academy wants to flatten that fact. Like, even if I did get a full ride, I wouldn’t be able to afford supplies to make work as often as fellow students.

Is there a reason you have chosen not to pursue a university qualification in art-making, and if so, why? 

It is not about choice. Black people do not have autonomy under global anti-Blackness, and “alternative options” only present themselves once a Black person has enabled and/or enacted “enough” anti-Blackness. I center non-degree Black art because we are the most marginalized in the art world but get stolen from the most. It’s all systemic. Almost all non-degree Black artists do not get material support they need until they are old, about to die or dead already. There are very few exceptions, but they are usually non-degree Black people that render Black people for non-Black consumption or they render things like a Black police person or a protest. 

What defines your works as “remixes”? 

The only “original” art pieces are the first cave paintings and the first craft objects ever made, all of which were made by Black people. So, I am fully aware that nothing I make and nothing anyone else makes in 2022 is “original.” Someone else has done it before all of us, so the best approach is to fully identify who came before me and what movements came before me to figure out how to add to the source instead of doing the exact thing someone else has already done. 

The language of remixes is born from Black culture, and most Black people already understand that concept — like how Black people cover the same track, but each cover is not the same, or how Black people will create remixes of pre-existing tracks and build directly from the source. All good art is a direct “response” to an “original call.” All artists copy but not all artists (spell)cast and transform. 

How long did it take you to create this body of work and was there any technique in the process that you had no prior experience with? 

One day in May, toward the end of my shift (where I stand for most of the day), the idea for the mini quilts and most of the works for the show came to mind. Art-making sometimes feels like you are reaching into a space with no lights, searching for something you need but cannot describe, and then suddenly, you’ll pull something from the ether/the void to build upon.

For “Beetlejuice,” I learned glass fusing, learned to quilt, learned to make jewelry and simple beading, learned to wet felt, learned to sew, learned how to flock materials, and learned how to apply ceramic decals. I wanted “Beetlejuice” to be an ode to non-degree Black craftspeople that came before me, so my idea was to showcase Black craft in various interconnected craft-based skill-sets. 

What piece in the show challenges you the most? 

The wet felt piece was probably the “most challenging” only because I learned how to do it by watching a YouTube video and wasn’t sure if I was “doing it right” the whole time, but it worked out. Also, the ceramic tile piece — only because I made each tile for the piece myself before adding the decals and learned to do the decals by watching a YouTube video too. 

What piece in the show do you resonate with the most or are the proudest? 

I am proud of the entire show, like I really did a solo show in NY while working full time during multiple waves of this pandemic. All without rendering Black bodies for non-Black consumption, or using the poor Black experience as materiality, or using Black suffering as materiality, or using my family as materiality! 

I look at some of the pieces now, and I am honestly shocked that I finished all of this new work within a year, and most of it involved new processes to me. I hope non-degree Black artists who came before me are proud of my work in “Beetlejuice” because non-degree Black art determines the flow of all art movements globally. 

We are the past, present and future of art and craft. I plan on “retiring” from art criticism and center my focus on making art and trying to stay alive/afloat under global anti-Blackness.


Housing is open Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. at 191 Henry St. between Jefferson and Clinton.


Clare Gemima is a visual artist and arts writer from New Zealand, now based in the East Village of New York. You can find her work here:

No comments: