Amongst the rolling litter and passing Cadillac’s of downtown Bushwick, Adam Frezza & Terri Chiao hone their craft, in a shared loft space, amongst the fluorescent trees of their artistic endeavors. In a state of creative bliss withdrawn from the urban space below, the static, the expected and the everyday are willed into a different and vibrant version of the form that inspired their creation, and yet seem to retain an organic ease about them, as if grown from the bench atop they sit.
It is this juxtaposition between serious thought and unbridled fun and enthusiasm that is part of the delight of speaking with Adam and Terri. In a culture saturated with false equivalents, the two are in a diminishing army who beat a silent drum towards an alternate reality; a path their enlightened and wandering minds meanderingly take as they see fit, simultaneously creating the path as they want it and will it to be, never weighed down by perceptions except those of their own making.
Exploring, contradicting, simplifying and appropriating form, structure and color are all within the scope of their favored approaches. Psychedelic colors mismatch with surrealistic and alien art direction in a manner that has seemingly little rhyme or reason, beyond being an object forced into origination by the sheer creativity and unfettered artistic expression of the duo. Intrinsically engaged and inspired by the world around them. Whatever you think about Adam Frezza & Terri Chiao, they are undeniably artists on their own path.
We sat down with Adam and Terri to discuss, in a fittingly non-linear conversation, aliens’ interest in rocks, what a large pot of 3 year old goop is still doing in their fridge and many other curious things.
So tell me. Issues in the world today?
T: As visual artists and as people living in New York and part of the economy, we talk a lot about media and its influence on peoples’ lives.
A: Of particular interest is our relationship with our objects and our screens. It’s not a problem, but it’s certainly an issue we all have to deal with.
T: It’s a shift in the way we are living our lives. It comes back to issues of how people interact with their environment and their presence of mind.
A: And I can see it as an encouraging tool also. Without the screen would we be encouraged to set it down? And in setting it down, are we then able to see the world around us differently than we otherwise would have? Or are we just waiting for the next time we pick up our screen? It is a tool that has changed our engagement with nature. Now, when we go on a walk, suddenly a rock is more fascinating than it should be. Part of that is the visceral and tactile nature of the outdoors, when we are so used to touching something flat and man made.
T: A rock has history, the longest history of anything on earth, basically….
If only they could speak?
A: Well, maybe they can and we just don’t know the language.
T: Well, that’s a wormhole. We just got back from New Mexico, on an artists residency and as you might know, there are a lot of rocks out there. A lot of crystals. The part of New Mexico we were in is quite close to Roswell and White Sands – which is near where the nuclear testing and alien sightings happen. And we were speculating, that maybe if there were beings from other planets out there, they are drawn to the deserts because there are so many rocks and crystals. Because they are a wealth of information…
Something to think about – Geologists would love it! Moving from rocks to other natural elements, your work seems to draw from mother nature quite a lot. Yet, you live in New York, about as separated as you can get. So where are the natural elements in your work coming from?
T: I think it comes from a fascination we both have of re-looking at the world. We are very slow walkers. We will always stop and look at things. We try and get out of the city as much as we can. That is not to say the outdoors is not in the city as well, it’s just very different. Obviously. But really they’re just different versions. There is life in the city as well. People are wildlife too.
A: I grew up in Syracuse, NY, studied in Florida, and have lived in the city since ‘07. The first couple of years I don’t know if I left at all. Because I hadn’t been here before, I was living off the city’s energy and once I found I could settle here, I began to realize a longing or a lack of balance. When I go out to a forest, I don’t have the false sense of security of another human being there to help me. So I feel as if those are gathering times. That is when a 5 minute walk becomes a 2 hour walk and we end up with all sorts of things in our pockets! We are looting the forest!
But really, the things and places you choose to surround yourself with are important in shifting our perspective from our urban bubble. It reminds me of this little quip:
‘A friend of mine owned a vitamin shop, and this man who seemed slightly unstable came in with some ailments and was prescribed all these herbal remedies and purchased everything he was recommended.
Weeks later the shop owner sees the man and sees he is looking better, more healthy and vibrant. She says to the man, ‘how are those vitamins working for you?’ to which he replies ‘they are wonderful! I cant tell you how much they have done for me!’ And so she was like, ‘how many are you taking a day?’ and he said ‘I’m not taking any!’. The shop owner said ‘what do you mean?!’ ‘I just set them up around me when I’m sleeping and I feel a lot better.’
So there is something in that idea that the things we choose to set up around us can have an impact on who we are.
Ok, ‘Eternity Stew’. When, how, why, what?
T: Eternity Stew is what we call our website. It is kind of a silly joke we have with each other. We met in 2011 but we started dating first before we started making things together. For my birthday the first year we were together, Adam got me a big stew stock-pot, and we made a stew together. It was taking a very long time to cook and we made way too much of it. We jokingly named it The Eternity Stew, as it was taking forever and it would last forever. We saved as much as we could in the biggest Tupperware we had and stored it in our fridge. And we even labeled it with an index card, using crayon, ‘ETERNITY STEW’. And we’ve never opened it again! It is still in our fridge – so it has been like 3 years!
A: It is now like a living sculpture!
T: Slash living environment that you cannot see into. We might never open it as the world might end! But then we started collaborating and didn’t know what to call our website, so we chose Eternity Stew. I think it is a metaphor for how we work together. Marinating ideas and conversation coming back and forth….
Ok, so whilst on topic, can you delve a little deeper into the collaboration process?
A: During the ideation stage, it is a conversation. One of us has an idea and through talking about it, the idea grows. The next stage is deciding whether the idea is worth committing to; is the idea ready to be turned into a project? If it’s not, it might be worth letting the idea grow a bit more, before we begin work on it.
Once we decide on what we want to do, we work independently to put things together, but everything comes through a mutual filter. Can I allow the plant Terri has made into our work? Can Terri allow the plant I have made into our work? So we are always making something we want to see in the world, but we also want to make something that the other is going to approve of. It has to pass both of our tests.
T: But a lot of the time, we decide together whether something has spots or dashes, or is one color or another; many choices come from a joint decision – a part of sitting next to each other. It definitely feels like a very fluid collaboration.
A: Yeah, there is also an encouragement of our independent practice. Although we are really committed to collaborating at the moment, there is an idea we may want to do separate things as well. At the moment, what we make, we can make it grow better together. It is important that there is a sense of generosity in sharing our ideas.
And once something is done, what happens next?
T: I don’t even know what we consider finished projects. I think everything is a sketch.
A: We have a studio anthem, after a big outpouring, we play Orange Juice’s – ‘Rip It Up (and start again)’. It encompasses the idea of keeping on going even after you feel like you have accomplished something. Don’t pat yourself on the back, keep going and find more that you can do. It’s fun. It’s liberating to realize I can start over.
While I’m excited to make something that is great in the moment, there is the idea that even if the thing doesn’t last forever, maybe the ideas or the image of the thing can excite somebody else as well. There is an abstract idea of history, in that the heroes we look to for inspiration, those with a like-minded spirit, are part of the audience as well. People that don’t even exist any more are connected to a thread that I would like to be a part of. And the idea of an ancient future, a time far away, is that a potential audience that we can also connect to? But obviously we need to be here right now to cultivate our work in the present. And we will keep at it!
See more of Adam & Terri’s work here