Puerto Rico born artist, Edra Soto attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she obtained her Masters of Fine Arts in 2000. Immediately after, she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work has been featured in New American Paintings, and her show at Ebersmoore Gallery was among Best Solo Exhibitions of 2010 by NewCity Art. Her work has recently appeared at: Terrain, Roots and Culture, El Museo de Puerto Rico, Longman and Eagle with Harold Arts, Ebersmoore and at the UBS 12 x 12 at The Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago.
Kristina: What kind of artist do you consider yourself?
Edra: I think I am definitely a conceptual artist. Everything I do has an idea behind it.
K: I think of ‘conceptual’ relating specifically to design.
E: I think a lot of people think about it more high end and technical, but I don’t see it that way. K: What do you mean by high end? E: Just that it’s not part of popular language.
K: Also, you’ve stated on your website that you work with repetition and memory?
E: I’ve been using repetition but in certain parts of my work, not in every part of my work. It’s very frank, but right now at this moment my work has evolved to a point where I am taking [it] slower. And I sort of recreate images, like the shells, I am recreating the shape. You saw the portraits that I did. I’ve been working on those portraits too.
K: Yes, I saw those. I think you showed at Dock 6 ? I saw a couple before but I think I saw many more together online.
E: Yeah, I did ten for a show in Puerto Rico. And they are in this particular style. And this symmetry. Symmetry is also important to me in my work. I’ve been exploring the face, and I feel like it ends up [coming to me] really naturally. I think it has to do with my religious upbringing, being in the catholic church, and that’s why I talk about childhood, because that part is important. I don’t think I’m focusing on religious aspects of my work, but more like it’s that the aesthetic part that became important, like the symmetry of the church and the symmetry that I see in life. Like our face and our bodies and structure. You know when there is someone on stage talking, like the president on a podium on a stage, and all of this becomes a symmetrical composition. And I just start thinking about symmetry in life, like all the places we are exposed to that are symmetrical and our symmetry and our humanity.
K: I was thinking about them as masks. Do you think of them as masks? I don’t know if you call them that.
E: I think that they are a bridge between a mask and also trying to have certain humanity. They come from real people, but I think they’re kind of like a mask and kind of like portraits.
K: I didn’t realize that they were pulled from real people that you knew. I just read that on your website today, and it really shows through on there. I was like, “Wow. These are definitely different from each other.”
E: Yes. They are online under Excess of Joy. You will see there are other portraits there. I did one of my cat that died. I did one that I sort of invented. At the beginning I wasn’t sure who I was going to portray, and then the ten finished drawings, because they were sketches before. I do a lot of planning now which I didn’t used to do before. Everything has become more older like me. I think I’m more into the classical way of things like making a picture on a paper of a standard size. I feel more comfortable with classic things.
K: Do you think part of the planning is due to running The Franklin? Or that you have just done a lot more planning lately, in general?
E: Could be, I don’t know. I think teaching for many years has been part of it too. I have become more organized. And that wasn’t very natural to me, but I think I’ve become more comfortable with a structure that I can follow. It never came natural to me I’m the kind of person that can…
K: Turn around really quickly?
E: Well, like if I’m walking in the street, I don’t walk in a straight line. I might do really random crossings. And I always think about myself in that way. I’m really random. But teaching for so many years really changed and pushed that. I think I get more clarity. The last presentation I gave for my work at the Hyde Park Art Center, I had to give a presentation in front of people including a professional, and I always get really nervous and it’s horrible. I made a little script of what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to read my statement because I thought that was too mechanical or something and I thought I wanted to explain it in a way that was really simple and reachable. I don’t want to be cryptic about what I’m doing; I want it to be clear.
K: And did you get feedback?
E: It was amazing, everybody loved it. I didn’t feel like I got a lot of feedback. Well, I got an analysis from Jim Dempsey. He is the owner of Corbett vs. Dempsey. He was visiting the class. Everybody really liked it in the sense that I am proposing a project for the Hyde Park Art Center like the fences that I did at Terrain. I want to fence their library. Their library is in a place by the entrance, but it’s upstaged by the reception area. It’s this desk that has a light, and so the library becomes more obscured. And there is an office next to it. Libraries have become so sad now because of technology. I feel like if they don’t have wi-fi and cupcakes, nobody will want to go to the library.
K: Ha! Oh, my goodness. Yes. If there are not cupcakes and champagne, we’re not going. Do you think they might actually do your project?
E: They really want to.
K: That’s exciting! So it would be like a permanent installation?
E: My personal issue is that I need to get money to do it the way I want to do it. I don’t think I will want to present it in any other way than the one that I can see for that project.
K: That makes sense.
E: Because at the end it’s going to be my name there. And I feel like I’m always really proud of what I do even if it’s so threatened by this kind of project. Doing projects in alternative spaces, I feel like it’s a good way of exercising how to create ideas and how to interact within a different environment with different ideas that I generate. I see it like some kind of game. I have a challenge. Can I do that? Yes I can.
K: It is definitely a lot of problem solving.
E: Yeah. Well, I have become more structured. But my nature has been very open to make things and I’m sort of impulsive. I want to be impulsive about it. I take my time to try to elaborate on the conceptual part of work. I like the idea of holding onto one thing because I can eventually understand it better and better. To reach the bigger potential that it has, I need to hold onto it for a while.
K: How long do you think you spend with something before you’re like, “I’m definitely done with this, and I’m movin’ on?”
E: Well, this is the first time I’ve been holding on for a while to the things like the cake.
K: Ah well we’ve got the cakes, and the shells, and the portraits.
Edra’s Pineapple Cake:
K: Do you see yourself saying “I’m never making another cake as long as I live ever again” someday? Or…
E: I keep making it. The funny thing about me making the cake now is that I feel very very relaxed doing it. I feel sort of…
K: Well that’s a big change since the beginning isn’t it?
E: I was really disorganized the time that you guys came and we were doing it. I have to remember to take the butter outside of the fridge the day before and that will be excellent. It’s the main thing to do. The butter. Ha. Take it out of the fridge the day before and then everything is going to be fine.
K: Yeah! So really it’s not, not really about ‘I’m making this cake.’ Its more like I’m following all of these same steps and that’s sort of calming?
E: To the cake? Well I know it by heart by now. I feel more natural doing it. I feel like its more organic the way it comes together.
K: So you know almost everything there is to know about it. You don’t have to wonder, “oh my god if I don’t do this what will happen????”
E: Yeah. But what I haven’t experimented with is not doing it with the cake mix because I’m not a baker from a bakery. I’m just doing this art project. I know I can rely on that box.
K: Would you like to?
E: Yeah, I think I’m going to have a chance to learn that this summer. With doing the project for the MCA. Doing all the cakes.
K: You think you’re still going to do the cake? I thought you said they were not going to let you give away food there?
E: No, I am making cake. I have to team up with a bakery.
K: Oh, Good! I’m glad they are going to let you do it.
E: No, yeah we just clarified. They really wanted to do it but the food couldn’t come from me for liability. They needed to team up with a bakery. So I teamed up with Sara Weber. Her parents have a bakery, Weber Bakery, I think it’s called. They came to the show too and they tasted my cake.
K: Oh, and what did they say?
E: They loved it!
K: Well, everyone loves it!
E: But they are bakers. I was sort of nervous for a real bakery to try it.
K: Did you tell them it was from a box?
E: Oh, yeah I told them everything. It’s a project to me. I don’t have those hang- ups about it being pure or organic. Not now. What is the difference?
K: Well time, and maybe some preservatives. It’s all measured out in the box already. That does save time, and it’s easy.
E: And I know its not going to let the cake sink when I use it.
K: Yeah, You’re trusting the reliability. But once you’ve made a cake from scratch enough times you’re going to be absolutely sure what’s going to happen. You’ll develop the intuition.
E: I know. I’m going to have to try. It will happen! I might do it with them because I know I will be able to trust them they know what they are doing. They are going to help me make 55 cakes!
K: Ooooh, I am so excited. I can’t wait to see it. When is it?
E: August 24th.
K: Alright. I can’t miss that one. You have to be excited.
E: Yeah! I’m curious too. Its’ going to be nice. I hope everything works out well.
K: I’m sure it will. besides the cake are you working on something new that we haven’t seen before?
E: Not really, no. I’m making more shells.
K: Yes! I was going to ask you about that because I heard you were adding more black?
E: Yeah, I am blending the colors. I only liked just a few of them. I didn’t like all the ones that I tried. But I will try again. I tried one time experimenting but I feel like I have to spend more time and measure things and place them in a right way.
K: So you’re mixing black and white to get a sort of grey?
E: To get a swirl. And some of them look really cool. They looked like marble. I didn’t like them.
K: That’s too bad. Do you think you’ll go with other colors?
E: If I don’t get it right with the black and white, I will either make them black, or if I don’t like it, I will stick with the white.
Edra On The Franklin & Curation:
K: You said you feel like your most recent show at The Franklin, Methodical Deconstruction is the one you’ve curated the most?
E: Yeah I’ve had a heavy hand in this one because there were 4 people.
K: Because usually you have one person show, and they have free reign of the space?
E: Yeah, when there is one person or collaborative they have more democratic how they can run it. But if I have 4 or 5 artists I cannot. I feel like I cannot be like here do whatever you want because boundaries will be crossed. And I’m sort of the referee of that space and I can help each of them a little bit, and because of that it became curated and also I wrote a statement of the exhibition. It was curated in the sense that I saw the pieces and said, “Ok, I think this piece will be good for this show.” I wanted to include all these artist but for it to work It needed to be cohesive.
K: So, you’re doing more shows like that in the future?
E: I have 2 group shows next year. This year there is one more group show, but it’s curated by Jessica Cochran. She is the curator of the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College.
K: Oh ok. And so how did you select your artists? One was even from New York?
E: She used to live in Chicago and now she’s moved to Brooklyn.
K: Ah, I was just wondering if you saw her work and tracked her down to invite her to the show.
E: No. I think there are a lot of people who want to show their work. And there are a lot of spaces now. But artists like to do that. I think that’s why there are so many alternative spaces. I think that’s something people don’t really understand that artist’s communicate visually, and that’s so important to have those spaces. And I think that there are spaces for everything. I have shown in spaces where I feel no pressure whatsoever. I know no significant writer is going to review it. I can really take a risk.
K: What do you think is the riskiest space you think you’ve shown in?
E: Well I did show at my neighbor’s, GAG gallery. She doesn’t have an agenda. She’s not an artist. She likes to do art. I think It’s probably one of my favorite [shows] that I’ve done with the shells. And if I didn’t decide to, if I didn’t say yes, then I never would have tried it. If you get too snobby or selective about…but I think it also depends on the artist. Every artist has their own way of thinking. But to me an alternative space provides an opportunity that will generate something interesting with what I do.
K: Is that part of the reason why you guys came up with the idea of starting The Franklin? Did it just come to you and Dan one day, “Let’s build The Franklin!” ?
E: No, it took us a year to come up with it. We had a lot of conversations about it and we thought about making an installation or doing some kind of art thing for this exhibition or mixing design and art. But then we really ended up making design and art. It surpassed our expectations. It’s going to be functional and the artists are going to interact but it was just a simple structure that became a sort of container.
K: Did you always see it as a gallery?
E: In the end it was made for that. It holds 6 walls, we also saw it as a place for us to retreat to. As a patio. It gets a lot of sun. We were thinking about doing something out there, not specifically a gallery, and just like a shade hooked to the wall and make a hang out space. But then it was happening the same time as this show, and the ideas merged and it became sort of practical.
K: I think I saw it at it’s debut at northeastern Illinois university. That might have been the first time I met you in fact! I thought it was awesome, and I was excited to see it in the yard. I’ve seen it from the beginning and now to this. It’s exciting. Are you keeping track of the amount of people that show up?
E: Not yet.
K: you’re going to need to get a counter.
E: I thought our last opening was great. I felt good. It was a good show.
K: I always meet really interesting people at The Franklin.
Check out upcoming shows at The Franklin here: http://thefranklinoutdoor.tumblr.com/
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