Utopia Now: The Abstract Art of Ema Sintamarian

Ema Sintamarian,  Die Suche nach Alternativen im Fokus , 2016 gouache on paper, 70” x 70” / 178cm x 178cm

Ema Sintamarian, Die Suche nach Alternativen im Fokus, 2016 gouache on paper, 70” x 70” / 178cm x 178cm

Utopia Now: The Abstract Art of Ema Sintamarian

by Scott Gleeson

Describe your studio practice and working methods? How does this space contribute to your process and development of idea?

I like to use the studio as the playground for processing, translating and interpreting outside information. In doing so, the studio time becomes a living, -breathing space of exploration, enjoyment and, seemingly paradoxically, a time of connecting with people. Not only it is a strong reminder of why I started making art, as a form of adapting, but it also helps in fueling the desire of keeping making art. As an artist, I am interested in choices: what remains to be seen, what is absent and how decisions are made. From a formalist point of view, I want to reevaluate the algorithms existing in a drawing and the parameters of possibilities for changes from one drawing to the next without disruptions in the meaning and without visual redundancy. TMethods No. here is a time when I step back and, considering issues of form, I reevaluate and rework. My work is serial; my working method is fueled by improvisation, intuition and accidents, which are then transformed into events.

I am not averse to finding a style and sticking it to it for the rest of my life; however, I believe in change, adopting different approaches that may reflect where we are at a point in our lives. I want to believe there is room for newness through play, through trying to answer questions such as "what if" and just doing it. Tackling different issues, styles or media helped me to remove myself from a zone of the familiar, a place of contentment and placidity. While embracing new and unfamiliar methodologies I encounter accidents that lead me to finding more excitement in the working process and its results.

As an artist, I am interested in choices: what remains to be seen, what is absent and how decisions are made. I want to reevaluate the algorithms existing in a drawing and the parameters of possibilities for changes from one drawing to the next without disruptions in the meaning or visual redundancy. 

Although my main medium is currently drawing/gouache on paper, over the years I’ve moved from painting to video, and installation; from social commentary to playing with text; from figuration to abstraction. Embracing new and unfamiliar methodologies: "every story has a beginning, middle, and an end: but not always in that order."

Tell us about your current body of work?

"Everything is in motion, Every Object is Modified by One's Look," a colloquial paraphrasing of Heisenberg, is a new body of work in which I translate and turn the external world inside out, reducing it to colorful vortexes of familiar yet fictitious forms and structures. The main idea is based on a facet of modern physics, which states that everything that seems solid is really comprised of energy, and that molecules in motion are subject to human intervention. 

I began this series of large-scale drawings on paper after several months of confinement following a ligament transplant surgery and living vicariously through my friends' stories. During that time, I grew more curious about the mechanics of motion and its possible visual translation, as well as how memory relates to perception. In physics, motion is described as any change in position or place. My explorations gravitate towards how much can be conveyed emotionally and conceptually within a physically static support. I am interested in pushing the limits of abstraction and in suggesting emotional, and physical motion in a visceral manner rather than in offering a narrative.

I regard memory as a selective forgetting guided by the changes within us. The methodological process of memory in finding a personal relationship to the past is similar to the one of archeology. “Excavation,” in which space and time are mapped and unearthed, has emotional content based on extrapolation from what we have not found rather than what we have found. The missing or incomplete parts of our memories comprise the chasm to be filled with new, fluid stories, which don’t necessarily reconcile with the linear narrative of the initial story. 

Within these new works, I explore not only space and its division, but also the fluidity and tension of contradictions: organized chaos and uncontrolled order, machine-like generated image and imperfections, the fictitious and concrete, recognizable/known and suggested. I also connect the dichotomies intrinsic to motion (past-present/past-future; transfer vs. change; progress vs. regress; action vs. reaction), with memory and perception: how do we remember stories/information, and how do we retell the stories or make associations between the pieces of information that we have?

My aim is to map an articulated visual system of understanding the movement between memory and a posteriori experiences.

Ema Sintamarian,  The center is in between , 2016 gouache on paper 70”x'71” / 178cm x 180cm

Ema Sintamarian, The center is in between, 2016 gouache on paper 70”x'71” / 178cm x 180cm

Describe your work as an educator or administrator and how this relates to you personal art practice.

I have been teaching art and offering workshops and lectures for the past 16 years. There exists a strong connection between my teaching and artistic practices, and I believe that the two inform each other. The common point is based upon a dialogue, which enables curiosity to fuel discovery, new ideas and new possibilities of expression. Quite often, by having to find answers to my students' questions, I find answers to my own.

Describe a grant or award you have received that has contributed to the development of your practice?

The most important grant was the Eureka Fleishaaker Fellowship, which allowed me a long-term release from immediate financial concerns. It also allowed me to work on several new projects. Those projects turned to be part of several residency/grants applications, as well as several shows and collaborations abroad.

Master of Fine Arts degree programs, unlike other graduate degree programs in the humanities, are notoriously underfunded, requiring aspiring artists to acquire student debt. What is your perspective on the issue of student debt, and how has the acquisition of debt affected your vision of your future practice?

Unlike many students (be that in arts or other fields), I was very fortunate to have a supportive family who helped me in every possible way, including financially, to have done parts of my studies in Bucharest – a free school system – and to be awarded some scholarships so upon my degrees' completion I am not in debt. Nevertheless, as both a student and as someone involved in academia, I firmly believe school should be free and merit-base. Some of my students who are very academically inclined cannot go any further than city college due to financial problems. I believe we as society can and ought to work on and find solutions to this major issue.

What country were you born in? What has inspired your decision to live and make your art in the United States? Has your experience as an immigrant influenced your art?

I was born, practiced art, exhibited nationally and internationally, and lived until the age of twenty-three, in Romania, a then Communist country where dreaming and access to information were unwelcome and limited. Furthermore, artistic creativity was considered to be both subversive and punishable, unless it was enslaved aesthetically and ideologically to the party’s agenda. 

I was relatively young when the '89 Revolution happened and change the system- from communism to … I am not so sure what, but for the sake of conversation let's call it “democracy” (through the mere new right of voting and having multiple political parties). I still remember though the effects of a cultural, economical, social and politically repressive party and system. I remember our house being under surveillance due to one of my mom's jobs and her fear of it or of me being outspoken. When you are trapped in a situation it is very hard to have some reference points.

However, in the late '90's while still in college I received a couple of scholarships in Italy (Instituto Romeno di Cultura-Venice) and France (under the tutelage of Association Culturelle de Saint Remy de Provence). Those scholarships abroad offered not only the possibilities of enriching my education, but also the prospect of creating new referential points; a new world has been opened, thus new questions, sometimes frustrations relating to being in Romania have risen.

In 1999, I came for the first time to the United States in a one-month student exchange program. I volunteered to assist and participate in opening a basic art program for the children of a Sioux Falls Reservation (South Dakota). The volunteer work was familiar to me, since I had worked with HIV Positive children in a Romanian orphanage. During the time spent in Dakota, I had the chance to discover and feel at another level the meaning of being “other” and of “otherness”. 

In the summer of 2000, I returned to the United States on a scholarship offered by the University of Delaware, where I received my first MFA in Printmaking. In 2005, I received my second MFA in Painting at San Jose State University where I expanded my vocabulary into different media (video, digital photo) and worked in several collaborative projects. This experience endowed me with a fresh perspective on the interdependence of art, scientific paradigms, and social contexts.

As a Romanian immigrant to the United States, I live in and between two diametrically opposed cultures, thus I often think about the relationship of my identity to displacement, and about the ways I have devised to reconcile these incongruities. My work tackles the dichotomy between containment and liberation by infusing static diagrams with changes that propel them into motion. I incorporate in my visual lexicon elements that either borrow directly from or reference Eastern European folklore, Constructivism, architectural diagrams and color theory charts. 

Collectively, these references also create complex and fractured allegorical “maps” of my physical, emotional, and intellectual journey—a means to explore loss itself as a form of identity that transforms the schema of containment into a ritualized form of self-expropriation.

What is next for you in your art practice?

Currently, I am interested in the physical spatial/architectural potential in drawing. A three-months residency in Austria/Krems/Vienna has deepened this interest where I familiarized myself with the aesthetic and theory of Viennese architecture. Thus, I started to explore and expand on the spatial potentialities by introducing relief (both constructed and painted), in my drawings, thus making it more three-dimensional.

Learn more about Ema Sintamarian on the artist's Profile.