Episode 06: Stephanie Syjuco

  Rogue States, for "This Site is Under Revolution" at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, June 6 - July 12, 2018. (Courtesy of the Artist.)

Rogue States, for "This Site is Under Revolution" at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, June 6 - July 12, 2018. (Courtesy of the Artist.)

Stephanie Syjuco is an artist and professor from UC Berkeley. Syjuco is one of the four artists featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational opening on November 9, across the street from the White House.  She works on monuments by scaling them to handheld objects, newly imagined commodities, and tools for protest. Syjuco is a former Guggenheim Fellow, was featured in the New Photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern of Art (MOMA) this year, and was just featured on the long-running Art21 television show for her work as a Bay Area artist.


Paul Farber, Host: Stephanie Syjuco, it's great to have you joining us on the Monument Lab podcast.

Stephanie Syjuco: Great to be here, Paul.

Farber:  You are one of the four artists included in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational. I want to ask you about your work in the exhibition in a moment, but first, I have to ask what was it like working out of a museum just several hundred feet away from the current White House over the last several weeks?

Syjuco:  Well, I had a one-week install period, so I literally would walk over from my hotel to the museum and invariably pass a number sometimes of security checkpoints, and so in order sometimes to get into the actual museum itself, there were police cars blocking it off, security services, also things to kind of definitely make it known that it was in really close proximity to the White House. Once you get inside the museum, though, it becomes this other space where I just was focusing on my own work, but it was definitely a surreal experience to then pop out and then take a stroll to the White House and watch just everyone gathering in front of it, the small protests, the actions, the tourists, the kind of lookie-lous right in front of the White House. It's definitely an odd experience.

Farber:  You've worked around the topic of monuments both physical and virtual. As you were installing in D.C., how did the landscape of memory, monuments, memorials, museums, appear to you now at this moment with the Trump administration in power?

Syjuco:  Well, I'm based in California, and most of my professional career has been in the San Francisco Bay Area. I feel like my region's relationship to monuments or kind of statues or commemorative plaques, for me, it appears very different from how it's evidenced on the East Coast, and especially in Washington, D.C. I'm an American citizen in the sense that I became a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process, so I came here as an immigrant and as I grew up in the U.S., I learned American history and historical events and figures that are considered pivotal to the founding of this country. So, you know, if I go to a place like Washington, D.C. or especially in any of the former, original colonies of the founding of the U.S., it's so striking to see all the historical objects completely in front of you, still contemporary in many ways, even though it harkens back to hundreds of years ago. Thinking about making work as a contemporary artist and also now trying to incorporate looking back at American history in my own work, it's been fascinating to see how much I've been taking for granted some of the older historical narratives, and now I'm very interested in kind of revising them and reexamining them. That was definitely kicked off by the 2016 presidential election.

Farber:  In Renwick's Disrupting Craft show, are you exploring those historical narratives?

Syjuco:  Yeah. The work in the Renwick, actually, almost everything in it was produced from 2016 onwards, so in a way, you could say that it encapsulates the last two years of work. Immediately before the election, I had finished a large-scale installation called Neutral Calibration Studies, and that was a work that examined issues of empire and colonialism. It was a very full show and a very kind of full installation, but that was immediately before the election. Then in November 2016, I felt like I had to kind of revisit and even more directly address some of the issues that had only kind of been surfacely put forth in the prior installation. Everything after that, really, from November 2016 onwards, I realized that I can't really be subtle anymore in the work because it's so easy to have it be misread in a kind of neutralizing way. I'm also curious to see, I think a lot of other artists are in the same predicament as well.

Farber:  As an artist, were you trained to be more subtle in your approaches?

Syjuco:  Yeah. I think it's a generational thing. I came of age as a young artist in the early '90s, and that was this very pivotal time where more artists were getting attention for dealing with issues of race and gender and sexuality, and there was also a backlash to it. We can think about the 1993 Whitney Biennial and the amazing artists that were spotlighted there, but as a young art student in college, it was really apparent that there was also a backlash to it. How that manifested in my own work was that I realized that I needed to kind of, at the time, bury or even kind of cloak in metaphor some of the concerns that I felt might be considered overly political or, at the time, labeled didactic. That was, what? That was 25, 30 years ago now, which is amazing because here we are at this moment where artists are now starting to try to bring forward and also highlight more of the politics in their work today.

Farber: After the election, there were many people who were forced to reckon with the way that they practiced their politics. For you, did you reflect on the way that you work just for yourself or did you find yourself in conversation with others? Was this a reflection just for you or was it a part of a bigger conversation with colleagues and with people in the community?

Syjuco:  You mean in terms of having politics directly addressed now?

Farber:  Yeah, having a kind of shift from a subtlety to something more direct or even just amping up what you already do? Was it something that you sat there and thought kind of like, "Oh, gosh, I have to make a move," or was it part of larger conversations?

Syjuco: Well, I feel like it happened on two fronts. Art and the production of art can be a rather slow reaction to a situation. I think, a number of artists that I was kind of meeting with and talking to, we would divide our time between participating in direct action, that could be making the visuals for protests or graphics for political activities, and then there was also the studio work where I think everyone was kind of grappling with to what extent do the events as they're unfolding actually wind up becoming incorporated in the work, and if so, how? Is that something that's actually kind of explicit or does it just become a quality of the studio artwork? I think that, for myself, I feel like I've always had a kind of socially engaged or even a critical component in my discreet studio practice, but thinking about how to be the most effective with what I was creating, I now divide time between actually producing visuals and work that goes directly out in the world and isn't necessarily labeled as artwork per se, but has, I would say, a more, I guess, active effect, hopefully. Then I do have sort of discreet works that then go into, say, galleries or art spaces are recognized as artwork. But definitely, my art community has been kind of grappling with these same questions of where do you divide your time? And also, how can you have the most impact, if that's something that you're interested in with your artwork.

  "I AM AN..." 2017, sewn cotton panel on moveable ceiling track, 9' x 24' and "Total Transparency Filter (Portrait of N)," archival pigment print, 30" x 40" (Courtesy of the Artist.)

"I AM AN..." 2017, sewn cotton panel on moveable ceiling track, 9' x 24' and "Total Transparency Filter (Portrait of N)," archival pigment print, 30" x 40" (Courtesy of the Artist.)

Farber:  In the Renwick Show, you explore protests through traditional craft forms like sewing, sign-making. Is craft the approach that you thought of as you have been making this work?

Syjuco:  Yeah, that's interesting. When the curator of the exhibition approached me to say that I was being put into a craft biennial, I was a bit surprised, actually, because my background is a fairly traditional, fine art sculpture background. I don't have the same credentials as I think other artists that find themselves in a craft museum might have. The work itself, though, is very materials-based, so there's a lot of handmade components. I spend a lot of time working on things in the studio. As a reflection of it being crafted, then that's definitely, that's a very kind of prominent aspect of the work. In regards to thinking about it politically or protest-wise, I think those two things kind of converge just because one of the projects that I was working on had to do with remaking historical American garments, and so sewing and kind of laboring over those objects definitely infused this kind of homespun and handmade quality in it. I think craft has a lot of connection to the idea of tradition in many ways. Thinking about what American tradition is and American craft, I think, started to come into play with my artwork.

Farber:  You deal with commerce in your work, including the incorporation of purchased materials and found materials. And work in anything from fabric to paper to pieces of rubble. What is it like shopping with you as you prepare for an exhibition?

Syjuco:  [Laughs.] Guess I'd call it a voluminous experience. Many of my installations actually operate on quantity in the sense that I have a tendency to throw in a lot of material references, everything from, as you alluded, like purchased objects to handmade objects to modified objects to used objects. There's a kind of abundance, I think, of stuff and in general, I feel like I act a bit like a pack rat in the beginning of the process, so it's about gathering and just kind of accumulating. Then, from there, the sorting and the sifting and the arranging starts to happen about what's going to be included in the work. I think the shopping experience is quite fun, actually.

Farber:  When speaking of shopping, we first came in contact related to your artwork. This is Not the Berlin Wall, which includes a collection of pieces of rubble from crumbled infrastructure around the United States and around the world and presented in ways that Berlin Wall pieces are often in museums and galleries and other context. This is the anniversary week, the 29th anniversary week of the Berlin Wall being dismantled. How do you approach big historical topics like that? How do you find a way to respond to large historical narratives in a way that's true to you as an artist?

Syjuco:  That's a good question. I think that my tactic has been to literally start from examining my own relationship or maybe distance from the actual event. You were talking about the fragments of the Berlin Wall, the project that I was working on where I was kind of examining my own relationship to this very, sort of distant or even historical event that happened far away from where I grew up and didn't necessarily have a direct experience with, but the impact of that event rippled through economically and globally and psychologically. In that case, I was actually starting from a place of, I don't want to say fantasy because that's not quite it, but it was more how could I try to draw myself closer to this pivotal event that I don't have any direct connection with? One of the ways that I found was to literally search for its fragments that had scattered all over the world via tourist souvenir objects, pieces of the Berlin Wall that were then able to be personally owned or function as a stand-in for the actual event itself. In a lot of cases. I'm not super close to the situation, but I think sometimes coming from a place of not knowing can be really interesting because you have to kind of invent the relationship and also maybe make some really interesting artistic leaps of logic in terms of getting closer.

Farber:  I read online, and perhaps was in preparation for the Renwick exhibition, that you attended a Civil War reenactment in California. What was that like?

Syjuco:  Oh, gosh. It's funny, because I lived for a short time in Richmond, Virginia. That was the seat of the Confederacy. There's Monument Avenue. There's all sorts of very, kind of contemporary residues of the Civil War and the Confederacy in that city. As a Californian, I'd always considered that as something that operated far away, in the South or in parts of the U.S. where battles had actually happened. But in doing more research and even thinking about maybe traveling to different battle sites, actual sites throughout the U.S., I was finding Confederate, or Civil War reenactments happening in California, which was insane because at no point did any of those Civil War battles actually happen in California. So, what is being enacted in these situations, It's less of a historical fidelity and more of a fantasy, and maybe that's true in the reenactments that happen even at the actual battle sites. But going to the one in California, it was near Guerneville, which is actually a really popular vacation destination in northern California. You can rent cabins. It's a beautiful rustic area near the Russian River in northern California. In the middle of this is a yearly Civil War reenactment with Confederate side and the Union side, and as a visitor, you pay admission and then you can kind of wander through the site, and it was really weird. [Laughs.] It was so odd because the thin line between reenactment and wishful thinking might actually be closer than you think. I spent a lot of time on the Confederate camp, just looking at the families and the individuals and just trying to kind of figure out why they wanted to be in that space, in that moment, and also very far away from the actual site.

Farber:  California has a great mythology in the American imagination. Do you think of the state in terms of its mythologies, especially the landscape, the bridges, the parks?

Syjuco:  We're at the end of the space of manifest destiny. The westward expansion from the East Coast moving towards the West, California was almost the farthest you could go, except for Alaska and Hawaii, obviously. So, the promised land, California being the golden state also, and obviously the forty-niners and the Gold Rush and now the contemporary gold rush of the tech industry that's based out here. It is this kind of fantastical place, but it's also, it has its own mythologies that are very similar to the historical mythologies of, say, the East or the South in terms of the Confederacy and the founding of the country. We have statues here that commemorate both pioneer days and also the Spanish conquest of native peoples. We have our own forms of these relics that we either ignore, just because they've always been there, or in some cases fight against. I've been thinking a lot about how for better, for worse, a lot of the monuments on the East Coast and the South are the ones that get the most attention in terms of being the repositories of anxiety, but especially in California, we have ours here. We just have our blind spots to them.

Farber:  In San Francisco, the city recently took down the Early Days statue which depicts a Native American figure at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and Catholic missionary. Did you have a sense of this statue as a problematic site in the city and how have you been thinking about this takedown in the Bay Area?

Syjuco:  Having grown up in the Bay Area, that statue was actually quite prominent. It's located in the Civic Center, which is the seat of the city government. It's also right next door to the main public library, so it occupies this very kind of central space. And I'd always kind of known it in the back of my head. It was just always there. I'd always known, too, that it had been trailed with an amount of controversy. I think a lot of folks have been advocating for its removal for quite a while, but given, I think, the parallels of Confederate monuments that are currently being taken down and have been taken down in the past two years, the push to get it removed seemed to kind of ramp up. I'd photographed it, actually, multiple times in the past, and was following very closely some of the litigation on both sides in terms of trying to have it removed. They finally got it passed to have it removed, and literally, I was so surprised. Literally the next morning after the verdict was handed down, it was quietly removed at 5:00 in the morning, before any other protest or stay could have happened. Unfortunately, what that did for me, though, was I had actually planned to go that day to photograph it using a 3D software and actually create a kind of 3D model of it on its site before it had been removed, but literally five hours before I was headed out to do it, it was removed [Laughs]. I've been thinking about a project relating to it where I've been 3D scanning monuments and historical objects and also creating imperfect models of them. My scanning software is actually very poor. It's a very kind of informal way to doing it. Eventually, what happens though is you render this kind of fragmented object, which for me would hint at the metaphor of an imperfect history or something wrong or incomplete about the object. With Early Days, I'm interested in it because it's been at that site since 1894. It's now gone, and this idea of where it is very fascinating to me because you can't destroy an artwork, in the sense that I think all the civic owners of all the monuments that have been removed still have to kind of care for them in some way. According to an article that I read, it was going to cost $120,000 to remove, to restore, and store Early Days. So, it still is this kind of cultural investment that we're making towards it, even through an economic means, and it won't be destroyed because it is an artwork. What do we do with these very problematic artworks? It's really fascinating, and I'm interested in following through on those questions.

Farber:  Speaking of location, you're a Bay Area artist. Author Rebecca Solnit wrote about one of your projects in her book Faraway Nearby, when you flooded proposals for the Bedazzle Tech Bus project. What's your relationship with big tech?

Syjuco:  Well, let's see. It's a complicated question because I've been located in the Bay Area pretty much my entire life, which means that I moved here with my mother when I was three years old in 1977, and ever since then have kind of witnessed the shifting of both the economy, the culture, and also the general psychology of the Bay Area. I think in the beginning, when the culture of invention, which the Bay Area is also very famous for, everything from the 1960s and the free speech movement and hippie culture and then all sorts of kind of avant garde or alternative lifestyles, which were kind of enshrined in Bay Area history. When the tech industry in its early days, when it was literally folks making computers in their garages and having this kind of visionary look towards what was possible, it was really invigorating. It was the kind of Stewart Brand version of tech at the time, this kind of very positive look at the future. Then, as it's unfolded in the subsequent decades, there's this horror that's now accompanying it, where it really has been harnessed by rampant capitalism and speculation. I have a complicated relationship to it, too, because it's as much a part of the area that I grew up in as much as it's also this really foreign invader at the same time.

Farber:  You were recently featured on the show Art21 in their ninth season, and you were presented as a San Francisco Bay Area artist. Did you feel pressure to represent the city, especially at this moment that the city's identity shifts?

Syjuco:  Yeah. Art21 is an amazing documentary series. They choose several different cities for each episode, and then from there, spotlight four artists to kind of represent. That's a tall order in the sense that you can tell that a narrative arc that gets set up from that structure means that each artist literally has to kind of hold maybe a lot of the concerns of the area, or at least they're symbolic of it. Whether they're truly reflective, who knows? That's a curatorial kind of decision. But I think when I was asked to be a part of it, I was incredibly honored because that really becomes a way for the work to be contextualized in a global sense, but also to have to symbolize the Bay Area I think was a lot of pressure because I also know so many artists and movements and concerns and other tracks of art happening here that get left out because of the curatorial focus. In the end, I'm incredibly proud of it because I do think that as an almost native to the Bay that I've seen it go through so many changes that it is in my work. I am very proud to say that I'm a Bay Area artist. I also do think, though, that the only way to survive as an artist in the Bay Area is to actually leave it as often as possible.

Farber:  Have you heard feedback from people in the Bay or in other cities about the episode, especially around the idea of what it takes to be a successful Bay Area artist?

Syjuco:  Not so much about being successful. Most of the artists that were spotlighted in the episode actually were doing projects outside of the Bay Area as well. The nice thing was that it showed that although every area is regional, in the sense that it has its own concerns, it also looks outwards. The work that I was making was actually for a gallery in New York, and then it spotlighted some of the opening of the project there. Just like the Renwick exhibition opening in D.C. was all made in my Bay Area studio, but then is headed to Washington, D.C. I think, if anything, the feedback that I've been getting from folks, usually, especially from younger artists of color, it's this idea that, "wonderful, someone is representing us in some way." Because it's very easy to have that perspective left out of the larger conversation. That's really made me feel really proud being a part of it that way.

Farber:  Thinking about the broader landscape of geopolitics, there's a project of yours that I've really been captivated by, and it's your Rogue States from the Moscow Biennial, which you describe as an installation of fictional flags, of made-up countries, from Hollywood movies that pose countries as terrorist, backward, resistant, or unstable, in your words. Those movies include Coming to America and Die Hard [2]. What was the impetus for that project?

SyjucoRogue States has only been shown in Moscow, which I think is really interesting because we're at this complicated relationship right now with Russia in terms of American-Russian relations. When I was asked to do a project for the Moscow Biennial, I really wanted to think about how perceptions of us and them and here and there and also how empires tend to view each other. To do something in Moscow, I think, is a really different context from doing a project, say, in Asia or Europe or the U.S. Each city or each country or continent has assumptions of the other, whoever the other is. When we talked and settled on showing Rogue States, which was a series of flags, there's 22 flags, very colorful. They're hung in a way that it kind of suggests a United Nations style convention. When you walk into the room, it appears as it's a very sort of prestigious space or a gathering of nations. Then when you look at the graphic on the wall and it points out that these are Hollywood fictional countries that were essentially made up as a kind of foil to a western or American protagonist. The films range from everything from comedies, like you were mentioning, Coming to America with Eddie Murphy, Die Hard 2, somewhere in South America. By hanging them all up and putting them up, it almost became this reflection of fears of both the U.S. but also any country that considers itself an empire. When it went to Russia, I thought it was perfect because I think in Moscow, it's a kind of critique of the West. I think that the way they were seeing is like, "Oh, these, Europe and the U.S. is so scared of these phantoms, these fictions." Here in the U.S., that Rogue States project would also operate differently. It was kind of funny to be kind of complicit with the Russian critique of the West.

Farber:  You're not the producer of those films that you drew these samples from, but I'm curious. Did you think at all about why producers of those films would kind of make-up countries on one hand and make up their flags, but kind of locate them geopolitically nonetheless?

Syjuco:  Obviously, I think it's better PR to not position a specific country to hold whatever villainous actions need to happen in a film. It's much more convenient to also create a type, a kind of generic enemy which may appear or look like a rogue state in Southeast Asia or the Middle East or Eastern Europe. It becomes a repository of all the fears and fantasies, and it's a perfect space of othering, where then you don't have to worry about consequences as a filmmaker because it doesn't exist. It really is a kind of phantom, in a way.

FarberRogue States and many of the other projects that we're discussing take on big historical themes, but it also kind of blurs them and visits them in the middle, whether it's colonialism or the Cold War or globalization. Is it important to separate out these thematics or are you looking to find the kind of patterns and cycles of history?

Syjuco:  Yeah, that's an interesting question. In general, my work, sometimes it can appear like it's jumping around from everything from digital networks and 3D modeling of city spaces to global politics or sometimes really specific that I think sometimes appears that it doesn't have to do with the rest of it. I think I am trying to find patterns, though. It's like the patterns of power, patterns also of manipulation. In many cases, my work incorporates a kind of a counterfeit element, something that isn't quite true or is a stand-in for something else. Whether that's fake pieces of the Berlin Wall to fake stacks of money or inauthentic flags, there's this notion that somehow that things can be manipulated in such a way that it takes on the role that it shouldn't. In thinking about how power can kind of manifest in objects and symbols, that is a complete construction in the sense that power really needs strong symbols and images. If you are able to actually harness that and manipulate it, then you find yourself in this really scary position very similar to maybe where we are today in thinking about how signs and symbols and messages and slogans can be used to really powerful and negative ends.

  Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on lasercut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigslist, photographic prints, artificial plants, live plants, neutral calibrated gray paint. 10’ x 20’ x 8.’ (Courtesy of the Artist.)

Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on lasercut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigslist, photographic prints, artificial plants, live plants, neutral calibrated gray paint. 10’ x 20’ x 8.’ (Courtesy of the Artist.)

Farber:  As an artist operating in this political moment, can you find critical distance to be able to sense those patterns or do you ever feel inundated by the daily news stories and onslaught of the contemporary moment?

Syjuco:  I guess that goes back again then to the initial predicament immediately after the election when the barrage of information and the barrage of just everything being thrown into the fire, how to react? I think that my response was really to kind of start segmenting it out. My artwork now is more about looking at how we got here, reexamining historical forms, whether that's monuments or icons or sites, because although I do think we need to kind of find our way out of it by moving forward. I still think that it's really useful to examine all the kind of hidden spaces that led up to this. Again, maybe in thinking about how I kind of bifurcated some of my output today where I'm very active with producing graphics and posters and protest imagery and banners when it's necessary because I feel like that moves forward, that's something that actually can be utilized. Then on the flip side, too, by looking at historical forms through my artwork, that kind of helps balance maybe this idea of where I am now in the middle, which is in our present moment. It's delicate in the sense that I think all artists now are also thinking about how are we incorporating these ideas in our work? And should we? I also want to acknowledge that I think this idea, too, that all art has to be immediately political isn't necessarily true or needed for folks. But I also do think now, and I've been asked this rather recently, "do you make political work? Are you a political artist?" My response to that has been that as an artist that makes work that is reflective of the things around them, if all of a sudden things get very heated and political around me, I can't help but respond to that. My intent may not be to make political work, but the conditions around me have become political, so that's how it's turning out.

 Farber:  Do you ever approach work around this idea of it having to hit a certain level of impact or success or activation? Or can you take a step back from your work and let it sit and simmer and be absorbed in its own rhythm?

Syjuco:  I'm curious about what project would you consider maybe?

Farber:  Potentially one example is the work shown at the MoMA and bought by PAFA, Cargo Cults, for example.

Syjuco:  Yeah, so actually, that project was done, started in 2013. It's a series of photographs that appear to be the reworked ethnographic images of these faux, what look like tribespeople or natives from the Philippines. That was made in Omaha, Nebraska, and the funny thing about that project, it was done in 2013, and now five years later thinking back on it, I do feel that it has, in my eyes at least, become more complicated for me just because the conditions on the ground have changed. Also, I think as artists, we make work where we may be responding to specific things that are happening or that we're thinking about then and, hopefully, if we make something complicated enough, it actually starts to read differently later. It doesn't stay fixed. Maybe it even starts to kind of contradict itself down the road. I've been making work for over two decades now as a professional artist, and I'm surprised at how often I come back to some of the early projects that I've done and I've sort of disavowed them somewhere along the way at times [Laughs], but then revisiting it, I can kind of realize, oh, there's actually something there. It was more interesting than I thought, and that might have been unintentional. Hopefully, that's a happy accident if that happens.

Farber:  You are a professor, a teaching artist. What are the most important values and practices you try to impart to your students at Berkeley?

Syjuco:  I have been teaching at the university level for about 12 years now, and most of my, for most of the students that I work with, the amount of contact is not a lot, and that's just a function of the way that the classes work. Sometimes a student is only at UC Berkeley for two years, because they enter as a transfer student, which means they come in during their, literally their junior year in college. In two years, I have to kind of work with them to develop their project and also prepare them for whatever it means to be an artist out in the world. Given that time, there's only so much. Many young artists come in thinking that they want to be artists because they know how to paint and draw. Then my job is to try to show them all the different examples of contemporary art and how it actually functions today in terms of being in the world or having forms that might be completely unexpected to them. That's a tall order for two years, and in many cases less, because if I only have contact with someone for a class or one meeting, what I attempt to do is try to instill this notion that there is an ethics also in being an artist, and that as well as being an artist, you are also a citizen. What that means is that you're a citizen in the sense of being a civic participant in the world. Whether or not that means you're a citizen of a country, that's not the important thing. It's how are you participating through individual actions, community involvement, or even political work. Many students aren't really prepared for that proposition when they decide to become artists or go to art school, and I think that's a challenge. In the cases where I succeed or my department succeeds, because I do think the other professors I work with are also on board with this idea, then it's a wonderful thing to see. It's worth it in even just trying to interject that as often as possible, but in a way that they can also understand.

Farber: If we're thinking about this moment, it's not the end of history, it's the continuation of it or revenge of history or resurgence. If you had to forecast what kinds of monuments and public history will emerge out of this time of struggle in the United States and elsewhere, can you see that as something emerging or what do you see going on from your perspective now?

Syjuco:  Whoo, wow. Well, let's see. I think the idea of stability. When a monument is put up or any kind of sort of marker of an event, traditionally it has been placed in a rather stable space. By that I mean there's a physical weight to it. It's a marker, it's a monument. It's made out of stone or steel or a structure. It's usually immovable. It's permanent. That's the intention or has been the intention of monuments. I'm wondering if, not to kind of make it seem that everything should be transitory, but I'm wondering if there's a way that our future monuments always have built into them some form of reflexivity, some ability to have things added to them or annotated onto them or the ability to kind of flip something, if necessary. I can see that also being very problematic because then that means, well, how do you literally try to make sure something stays in memory if it's actually malleable in some way? But when thinking about how works put up 100 or even sometimes just 50 years ago can seem so contrary to our current values, I wonder if we can in any way create a structure or a form that is much more open to change. I don't know what that could look like, and I also know from what I've seen of Monument Lab, the examples are amazing. Also, it seems like these monuments are also not meant necessarily to be there forever. That itself could be a condition for a monument.

Farber:  You have answered heavy questions and you take on heavy themes, and you do so with a joy and a verve. What do you do for self-care and where do you find your release?

Syjuco:  Yeah. It's funny, because the term "self-care," I can imagine there's been a lot of Internet searches and I can imagine that term has sort of skyrocketed in the last two years in terms of what people are searching for. What I try to do, similar to I think what a lot of folks do, which is attempt to kind of make sure that their own base, their relationships, their friendships, their families, are somehow secure. I do spend a lot of time actually gardening. I have a back yard and I literally get invested in time out in it as a way to try to get closer to something more physical, something that's cyclical, something that I know has been around as a form for time immemorial. Interestingly, growing food, learning how to work with those cycles and processes, I think is really grounding. It's definitely a slower pace than the 24-hour news cycle that we're all used to, but that's one way, for sure.

Farber:  Stephanie Syjuco, thank you so much for your time and conversation today.

Syjuco:  Paul, it's been a pleasure. I really appreciate being a part of this podcast.


Stephanie Syjuco’s work is featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational, which opens November 9 and runs through May 5. You can also see her feature on Season 9 of Art21 by checking local listings or watching online at Art21.org. Visit StephanieSyjuco.com for more.