This is a conversation between Nicole Franchy, Ground Floor Resident at ISCP since 2015, and Director of Development and Programs Manager, Juliana Cope.
Juliana Cope (JC): I would like to talk about your practice, but also your experience here as a resident at ISCP. Let’s start with what you do.
Nicole Franchy (NF): For a while now I have been working with images and texts related to travel and history. More recently, I have been focusing on encyclopedic material. I was always fascinated with the idea of representation and translation. I am intrigued with how we extract images and information from different knowledge systems, in particular those constructed from a western framework.
Over the years I have built an archive that I employ in various ways. Sometimes I use the images in my archive directly, and others, I scan and excerpt information from the “original” context, which I then reconstruct into what I call “Associative Landscapes.” I am surrounded by these materials.
JC: How do you organize the images and your collection? What do you mean when you say you’re surrounded by them?
NF: I keep them in drawers in my studio and also laid out on tables around my studio, and well, most importantly, I memorize them. When I began, I would take the images I collected and catalogue them; then I’d repeat the process by inventing different ways of classifying them over and over again. Throughout the process, I would end up memorizing the images. It has gotten easier throughout the years and this process now occurs somewhat unconsciously. There is an entire transformation that happens on my studio tables by cutting, collaging, scanning, inverting and drawing from my material. Translation, memory and the idea of place are quite present in my practice.
JC: So when you talk about memorization of images you’re thinking not just of individual images but also their structure and the iconography.
NF: Yes, I learn the images and texts, and then try to unlearn them or think of them as patterns out of their context or source material.
JC: What are you reading now?
NF: I am currently re-reading certain passages of Tristes Tropiques by Claude Levi-Strauss, The History of the XXth Century by Eric Hobsbawm and a small essay called Can The Subaltern Speak? by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
JC: This makes sense; you are not trying to create a direct one-to-one correlation.
NF: Not really. The works end up being re-constructed landscapes of fictive memory mostly from archival photographic material. It´s quite amazing to see viewers encounter my work as they try to make sense of a place, or try to find a point of reference within these landscapes.
Right now, I’m working with a German ethnographical atlas called Die Grosse Volker Kunde from 1936. I´m excerpting from the publication the portrayal of groups and individuals. I am purposefully leaving out human features and excerpting only clothing patterns, accessories and tattoos. I select the images, cut them, invert them, and transpose them into various scenarios. It starts to get pretty layered. I am now focusing on a site-specific project that has been a work in progress since last year. I will be exhibiting the final pieces this upcoming September at a gallery in Bushwick called The Chimney.
JC: I don’t think I’ve ever seen you work with people before.
NF: No, this is something new for me. I’m glad you noticed. I’m struggling with it because I’ve mostly worked with landscapes before and this seems so specific and complex due to the sensibility of the content.
My interest in landscape departs from its representation by travelers and naturalists. My early works mostly revolved around power or empowerment through the portrayal of landscape. In a sense, I was somewhat ironically using photographic material to imitate these grandiose landscapes. I was also recreating scenarios from text-based descriptions of travelers but rather than depicting the vistas of their travels, I was using their hometown landscapes. I was also imitating recurrent print motifs by using postcards images, such as waterfalls or volcanoes.
JC: You have been a resident at ISCP twice now. How has your work changed over that time and have you had any particular influences? Your practice seems more studio-based now.
NF: I began working with archival material in 2009 and with this specific kind of material since 2011 during my postgraduate studies at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts (HISK) in Belgium. Since I became a resident at ISCP, I have spent a lot of time in the studio. There is also a sense of perspective when you return to your work after relocating to a new country. ISCP has given me the opportunity to speak with curators and scholars about my work, which has definitely anchored my practice. It’s a very different experience than being here in New York and working alone. Being at ISCP has given me the opportunity to start building a network with academics as well as with peers from all over the world who are also in residence. I have this whole context that’s sustained my work at many different levels; curators or artists can write to me saying, “Hey I was checking on the website and I thought your work was interesting and I’d love to do a studio visit.” There was a wonderful artist who visited my studio last month, who reached out to me through ISCP’s website. I also had a class visit led by scholar, sociologist, and artist Hakan Topal from the School of Visual Arts. I think these have been some of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences in New York. Then of course, there is all that the city has to offer, the field trips organized by ISCP, and the workshops with art professionals, as well as the support by ISCP staff members onsite.
JC: You gave up your stability in Peru to come here.
NF: You leave your family behind. You leave your friends behind. I left Peru in 2009 when I moved to Europe and, although I’ve gone back for a period of time, I have been moving around for a while. It takes a lot of energy and it is a lot to deal with of course. Being in a place like ISCP though, where you receive feedback about your practice, and easily become friends with other artists and curators is extremely rewarding.
JC: Has New York itself been an anchor? Do you feel like you’re using local resources such as research centers or university libraries?
NF: I started doing research at the New York Public Library. I am not doing it right now because I´m working with this specific publication, but it is great to have these amazing resources at your fingertips here in New York. There are always research-focused times and then there’s work in the studio. At times they overlap.
I was also invited by curator Rocio Aranda-Alvarado to talk about my work at El Museo del Barrio earlier this summer. It was great to meet Latin American artists based in the city, getting to speak to them, and learning more about their work.