by Rachel Reese
Slinko: I feel like when I met you guys [at Possible Projects] it was the first time someone gave me carte blanche… it was a tiny gallery but it was MY gallery. That was awesome because I really took it seriously, I took it seriously and I was so proud, I took a bus that time to come to install…
Rachel Reese: Yeah because you were in school at VCU.
S: And the bus was an overnight bus to New York, I came to Possible Projects space and took a nap right on the floor because I was so exhausted.
RR: What was the name of that piece on the floor that was molded silicone, from the cracks in the sidewalk?
S: I honestly don’t remember the full title, it was long and had ‘archaic’ something in it, and the piece is long gone. It was these cracks from a deteriorating road filled in with silicone and then pulled out, so disgusting shit like dirt and cigarette butts all that was embedded in the piece…I have a special attraction to mud, and dirt, and things that are on the road, things that are pushed aside, things that I don’t think people look at really. I don’t know why there is such a strong attraction to detritus.
RR: It’s kind of like the understated, it’s so overwhelmingly understated, and I think that’s how it relates to power in all of these complex systems, but if you use something so overwhelmingly understated, like mud or butts… you use cigarette butts in other work.
S: Yeah, they’re coming back… my vocabulary is very, very small.
RR: You’re recycling yourself. I think that’s what you do really well actually, you look at the lowest, right? And you think about those power dynamics.
S: I like to look at the lowest. But then I think I elevate it, and I sort of fetishize it. Or, maybe I just love looking at trash.
RR: What were your thoughts on looking at all the materials at RAIR? What did you get to look through?
S: There’s a lot of stuff. I mean, just the scale of churning in and out of material things, whether they be objects or materials, is quite large, but for me the strongest impression was from realizing that this is like 80% of someone’s life. For instance, the workers go in for 8 hours of a work day, and that’s what they do, they process this material and out comes this trash, this recycling.
RR: Did you start with an idea, and did your idea change when you got on site?
S: When I got there I still didn’t have a firm idea of what I was going to do, it’s always very exciting when you have access to things and you get to be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make all these sculptures,’ but you know, realistically, six weeks is not a very long period. But, then at the same time, I kept thinking that my practice was wrong, I kept thinking that I always pursued maybe a point of view or idea and I always neglected a feeling.
RR: What do you mean?
S: It was too cerebral, but the feeling … I mean it was there by default, just as a byproduct, it wasn’t a pursuit. I started thinking a lot about feelings and started thinking about this feeling of grinding…
RR: Like mechanical grinding?
S: Like the grinding that you feel on your physical body, day in and day out. That kind of anchored it in a way for me, so the video really became a metaphor for the quality of everyday life, and then secretly I was hoping to find some kind of metaphor. There are all of these things coming in and out and there’s always this expectation that something awesome is going to come through, right?
RR: That you’ll have a breakthrough.
S: No, for these guys who work at RAIR.
RR: Oh the objects, like you’re looking or searching.
S: Yeah, like gold or money, or like big diamonds! I was pursuing in a way, in the back of my mind, this feeling of search, but secretly I was literally looking for the way to discover the meaning of life. It’s big, right? But, that was the hope, to lay this framework that would capture the search, the search to answer this question: why are we doing this for living? You know?
RR: Do you feel like you were looking for something, but then you realized it was the process of looking that was more important?
S: I wasn’t personally looking for things. I was looking for stories.
RR: Stories embedded in the objects?
S: The people who work there, the stories that somehow affect their lives in some way that is significant. Their labor is very hard, and it’s very repetitive… I mean it’s kind of boring, you know? So I was thinking, what are these moments of reprieve? Or, moments of huge wonder and surprise, the ones that remind you that not everything is so bleak or repetitive.
RR: So you have all this video footage that you shot. How did you shoot the objects?
S: I followed the flow of the stuff, from the start of the plant to the end of the sortline. There’s one shot where we mounted the camera on the end of the truck and the shot is almost feels gravity free, because the stuff just flows out of the screen, and from the other viewpoint the stuff flows into the screen, so the feeling was to create this continuity, repetition. Billy [Dufala] gave me a good idea to record walkie-talkie conversations, this is how the workers communicate to each other, and sometimes there’s jokes, and sometimes there’s just unexpected stuff. They all communicate in Spanish, so I still have to transcribe, translate, and for me this is where my discovery will be. Then, I also talked to this one guy, Adam, who worked at the plant for eleven years, and he was a goldmine, he was my goldmine with this project!
RR: Tell me about Adam.
S: He’s just a very good, very natural storyteller, he knows how to pause and deliver. He told me these crazy stories about how there was a dead shark, boxes of money, social security checks, empty safe, all kinds of stuff! I don’t even have enough footage to cover all of his stories.
RR: You took footage of him, or just audio?
S: Audio. Because I really wanted to not focus on people in a way. There’s another layer to it, so all these workers are immigrants, except for Adam, and there’s a certain level of hierarchy whether the place wants it or not, it is there. And there’s a certain kind of feeling of invisibility or separated-ness, and I just wanted to replicate that… also I didn’t want to use people as props, you know what I mean?
RR: Exactly. I wanted to ask you about the idea of incorporating material sounds into the film when it’s completed and I guess how you’re going to layer that.
S: I have never paid attention to the sound before, and I feel like the idea of the grind and the physical body in this environment needs some kind of auditory sensation, and I think breaking of glass, breaking of wood, things scratching against each other, there’s a lot of different sounds there. I picked up some with a very directed mic, specific sounds… I feel like the visual is only the framework, but the sound is actually the biggest part of this.
RR: So when we’re looking at the object on the screen we’re going to hear a heightened awareness of the sound of the objects being processed ….
S: It’s more like the sound of space, but there’s so many competing sounds, it’s very hard to hear it when you’re in it. Like loud thuds, machinery… the physical sound of materials being broken down on the ground, shredded, and a voice telling stories. In a way the stories are also a little bit shredded, because they’re like intermittent fragments. They won’t be making any kind of complete sense.
RR: So… no linear narrative?
S: I don’t think so. There are stories, but they’re used in the same way as the materials. The stories come in, they get chopped up. The way I want to structure the video, I want to loop it, but each loop is slightly different and the sound is different. Visually you have this overwhelming almost boring repetitiveness, but then if you really tune in and listen, you will hear that there are all these little variations of stories.
RR: Well in that way it’s linear, you have to stick with it. What was it like form you to be in this environment?
S: [Being at RAIR] was an intense experience. I didn’t feel exactly like I was employed there, but I did go in with a hard hat, and boots, it was one of the most interesting and most unusual experiences. And yet somehow very familiar because I’m always drawn to trash.
RR: In that way, you’re interested in detritus, you’re sort of also a citizen anthropologist.
S: You have to really embed yourself in a culture and really talk to people, and that introduces a whole other dimension, an idea of ethical dimension. You can’t just land somewhere and make assumptions, and make work based on those assumptions, that just looks stupid.
RR: You mentioned that you didn’t pay attention to sound, but all of your videos, when they’re finished are very cinematic.
S: It doesn’t mean they have good sound though… Technically they’re absolutely terrible, because I’m not trained in that.
RR: I feel like you learn what you need to learn to make what you’re going to make as you go.
S: Exactly, but that puts a lot of pressure and anxiety into the work. There’s always this anxious feeling … how am I gonna make it? I’m approaching it as a total fraud because everyone’s going to see that I don’t know how to make this?
RR: And you shot in color? Digital?
S: Yes… my films are not shot in raw, I have an old camera. At first, I was obsessing over everybody shooting in raw format now because it gives you an edge in editing. But you always work with a budget that’s under 1,000 dollars, and you always have to rent another camera and two lenses and thank god for Billy, and Theo, and Lucia because you cannot rent those guys! They were very instrumental in solving problems for me, like how do you do this, how do you do that? Billy had to jump on a truck, climb down with the camera.
RR: So they were sort of your team that you let in?
S: Right. But there were risks, physical risks involved, because Billy almost got crushed by a truck.
RR: That doesn’t surprise me. I wanted to ask about the relationship between the people working on the site and with the artists. What was your perception of how they felt about artists working at the site at RAIR?
S: I can only speak for my own experience, but I feel like the biggest barrier is the language, if only I spoke Spanish I would establish quick and more involved rapport. But there’s also another barrier, the gender barrier – it’s all guys and I’m a female. My rapport was to slowly show interest, and show that I respect the boundaries, and also not to talk to guys directly, not to bother them during their work and only go through the foreman… There wasn’t enough time for me to develop a different sort of everyday relationship, so I had to rely on someone like Billy who does have a relationship with these guys, and then I found this guy Adam who did have a relationship with all these guys. Because otherwise I’m not sure it’s possible without the language.
RR: Do you think of yourself as a character, you know? Like are you a protagonist in your own narrative?
S: I’m determined that I’m better off thinking of myself as if I were a camera, or like a tool, some weird processing tool, like you feed me stuff and something comes out. And of course it’s going to be affected by me, because I’m also a product of various cultures… I have learned that through traveling as an artist. Traveling is really revealing of course of biases, of limitations, but when you travel as an artist and you try to make work outside of your culture… Oh, that’s a hard one.
RR: It’s a lot of responsibility, too.
S: It’s kind of like cultural imperialism, you know? In a way. I am tool, I’m just a tool in the grind.
Slinko is a multi-disciplinary artist born in Ukraine, and now working and living in New Jersey. Slinko studied painting at Kharkiv Institute of Indusrtial Art, graphic design at Fashion Institute of Technology, and has an MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to Bemis residency Slinko has been awarded Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, and had residencies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Sculpture Space, Henry Street Settlement, and Dar al-Ma’mun in Morocco. Slinko has exhibited at Socrates Sculpture Park, Vox, Populi, Soap Factory, and published in Possible Press, Rattle Journal, and +rosebud magazine.
Rachel Reese is Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums in Savannah, GA. She is a curator, arts writer, and independent publisher. Reese holds an MFA from City College New York, CUNY. Reese has held positions at Atlanta Contemporary, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia; Deitch Projects, Petzel Gallery and Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York. As an arts writer, Reese was the former editor of BURNAWAYMagazine in Atlanta, and her writing and artist interviews appear in BOMB Daily, Temporary Art Review, TWELV Magazine, and ART PAPERS, among others. She has taught Critical Issues art courses at PAFA in Philadelphia and Georgia State University in Atlanta. In 2009, Reese and her husband founded Possible Projects—a curatorial space—in Brooklyn, and in 2010, Reese founded Possible Press, a free newsprint publication supporting artists’ writings and distributed internationally. In its five-year history, Possible Press has published writings from more than 115 contemporary artists working nationally and internationally. In her multifarious work, Reese is passionate about supporting the artists’ voice, small print publications and ephemera, and research-based art practices. She is currently organizing exhibitions with Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, Triple Candie, KCHUNG Radio, and We Are the Medium in 2017 at Telfair Museums.