Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Cecilia Salama

I've never seen Michelangelo's David in person, but I can only hope it looks as cool as it does on Cecilia Salamas hot pink socks when she shows up for basketball practice on Canal Street. Cecilia has been playing with Downtown Girls Basketball, a women’s only pickup team made of primarily artists, writers, and photographers, for several years. She is herself a multimedia artist whose work has been featured in Purple, i-D (in an article by yours truly, which is how we met), Hyperallergic, The New York Observer, and more. She also works full time as a Production Artist for a luxury jewelry brand.

The team is running drills when Cecilia arrives. Sunlight begins to fade slowly on the nearby Hudson River as the pickup games start, five on five, girls speeding up and down the pavement while BeyoncĂ© and Cardi B play on someone’s speakers. They clap for each basket (Cecilia gets a couple of them for her team). Cars stream past on 6th Avenue. Soon it’s dark and players spill off into the night, lit by bright orange bulbs from a factory nearby.

We head to her studio in Queens. She has a new show called Displaced Desire” opening at LVL3 Gallery in Chicago with another artist later this month. Cecilia’s work for this show comments on long distance relationships, unfulfilled wants, impermanence, and more. While some of her work is multimedia sculpture with unusual materials like latex and plastic sheeting, she doesn’t like to limit herself to one medium and also brings video, painting, and installation into her projects.

The floor of Cecilia’s studio is dotted with splashes of paint and resin, boxes of tools and fabric and rope. Suspended from the walls with orange bungee cord is a swath of fluffy pink fabric. Plastic sheets are nailed to the walls as well, drawn on with crayon, painted on with metallic pastel paint, tied up with rhinestone collars or belts. Hearts made of digital images collaged together have the words “I Want” written on them. Shallow, square plastic trays are filled with paint waiting to dry around Ziploc bags of animal figurines. Cecilia changes clothes and begins painting then repainting different sheets, clawing at the metallic pastel pink with both her hands and a paintbrush. “No,” she says to herself, then takes the nail out of the sheet and replaces it on the wall. This time the placement works and she begins hammering the sheet again, the “I Want” collage in a different location than before. “Okay,” she says. “That’s good.”

She grabs another piece, a sheet hardened into sculpture and painted with a pale pearlized pink, and heads for the elevator. This one won’t go to Chicago. She is nervous about transporting some of her pieces—How do you protect plastic sheeting from being ruined in a suitcase? What if the colored paints peel off or the homemade airplane stickers get torn in transit?—but she seems calm and laughs quietly through a smile: “I’ll just…figure it out.”

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Sunday, September 3, 2017


Whenever I stare into my fridge and I encounter only an old jar of cocktail olives and two containers of sprinkles (one rainbow, one chocolate, naturally), I think of something someone told me once: that doing the little things in New York, like grocery shopping or laundry for example, sometimes feel so much harder than doing the big things, like maintaining and keeping a job. I know for me this idea feels so real, that while I am buried under the deadlines that creatively fulfill me and pay my rent, the dust bunnies under my bed begin to grow, my laundry pile reaches past the height of my dresser, and I start to seriously consider eating chocolate sprinkles by the handful. 

August was a particularly busy month, thank goodness, and in the midst of all my work, the last thing I ever wanted to do when I was finished for the day was dig out a vacuum or haul a towering cart of laundry to get clean. Maybe it was important for me to not do anything, as rest and relaxation are often required to keep one’s sanity functioning. Or maybe I was just too fucking lazy. Either way, the bunnies had grown to dog size and I was tired of looking at them around the same time I had a free day to spend on myself, so I took the opportunity to deep clean. 

Running the vacuum around my house, folding my clothes, dusting my blinds, spraying my mirrors with Windex, I didn’t feel like June Cleaver; rather, I saw it as an act of, dare I say it, wellness, an act of self-care. Every spritz and swipe was an act of solidarity, a vote of confidence in myself. Coming home to a messy room, a home that doesn’t feel or doesn’t look clean can seriously mess with one’s sense of well-being. Living in New York, this city that quite literally never sleeps if and/or since it doesn’t want to, this is not something that needs to be messed with. 

I wonder if this prioritization of chores is something New Yorkers deal with on a more regular basis than people who live in quieter cities. Because there’s less to do, is there more time to take care of one’s life? Or are people everywhere just better adults than I am, who know how to prioritize these things over going to burlesque shows; trying a fascinating new restaurant whose bread alone is swoon-worthy, let alone the rest of the menu; and binge-watching Difficult People on Hulu using a friend’s borrowed password? All of the above may be true. 

My mother told me a long time ago that you have to treat living in New York as if it were any other city. The Guggenheim is always going to be there. So are street fairs and coffee shops and, if you play your cards right and find genuine people who like you and who you like, so are your friends. Stepping away from the city and choosing not to engage with it and instead spend the time inside on yourself, on your space is as much an act of New Yorker-dom as is crying on the subway, taking a cab from someone who needs it more, and getting a slice from the pizza place below your apartment when you’re drunk before you head in for the night.

I’ve had the strange experience of having kept my room clean for a week now, something I sadly may not have done for any of my nearly 29 years. I think cleaning just never felt good before, it never felt like something I was doing to take care of myself; it felt like a chore. I don’t know that it does now. In an age where it seems we’re being taught that taking care of oneself is the ultimate luxury, as opposed to perhaps the fine clothes and jewelry of yore, cleaning my home rather feels, well, like luxury too. Imagine having time to spend doing such a thing? I may even be looking forward to my next date with Scrubbing Bubbles more than I care to admit. Tide, however, will still take some getting used to.