Joshua Tree-based multidisciplinary artist Patricia Vernhes invites us on a transcendental journey through the desert as we learn more about her practice and ongoing series Other One.
Patricia Vernhes has spent the past two decades constructing an artistic career that embraces and intersects an array of creative disciplines. The Polish-born artist traveled extensively across Europe and is now planted in Joshua Tree where she explores the visual and experiential arts through sculpture and sound. Reveling in the absurd microcosm of California’s high desert, she creates site-specific works that seem to decode the patterns of life itself. Vernhes took the time to explore her interdisciplinary practice, the progression of her career, and her ongoing series Other One with the readers of Tainted Magazine.
Constructing a Terrestrial Cipher
Verhnes’ work simultaneously juxtaposes the landscapes in which they are positioned while also revealing themselves to be inextricably linked to a sense of place. The site-specific nature of her work exposes a set of inherent complexities imbued into the Earth. She constructs an entirely new narrative in the world surrounding her pieces, using time as a medium for inscribing an unseen chronology for her anthropomorphized objects. Her art acts as a cipher for the broader relationships of displacement between humanity and the natural world.
TM: Your investigations into the relationships between the environment and humanity take many forms. Can you share how you view this relationship and how does it manifest within your work?
PV: There is always information encoded within an object. It speaks in volumes: the purpose, the material, the location it came from, how it’s deteriorating, if at all, and how it’s going to change the environment it will be placed in. Whatever process you apply to a raw material—mechanical, chemical, metaphysical, or just time—it will inevitably create newness. That newness is the field I work with.
TM: Your work comes to life in a variety of mediums and an array of materials, including things like wood, glass, and plaster. How do you determine which materials you will use for a work or a series?
PV: In Other One, the materials created the series. It was humbling to allow found objects to speak for themselves. That humility was the first “love” of the object, its way of entering into a conversation. It made me feel small and showed me its transcendent nature and allowed me to “dress it” in plaster and paint to protect it. Once made, the object would transform. The physical part is just the surface. The time and processes are the true medium, so that’s where the work of the viewer happens. I am as much the instigator as the viewer.
TM: When viewing your work, we can see an intentionality in regards to place. What significance does site-specificity have to you as an artist?
PV: An object on its own has power, but its environment, birthplace, or intended placement is like a single human versus a family. I am the medium and I mess with that very connection. Placing a rock wrapped in plaster in a room with white walls, on a pedestal, hundreds of miles away from where it was born is somewhat perverse. To me it’s also a metaphor for everything humanity is doing to itself and the entire planet.
TM: Do you have a specific process when it comes to determining which site you choose to install your work?
PV: I am always tempted by the idea of not following my instincts. I ask the site itself. Then I look at my instincts again, question them, and ferment it all. That’s why, deep inside, I don’t take credit for my work. I want to be guided and lose myself.
TM: Today, your practice is based in the gorgeous desert landscape of Joshua Tree. What drew you here and how has that impacted your work?
PV: Honestly, it wasn’t the landscape. The high desert has so many contradictions and offers so many different experiences. You can be up in the northeast and live on soft sands like a beach without water, or up high by the mountains watching the snow and studying the cantilevered boulders, or sink into the small town grid of chain link fences and never-ending construction, chain stores and old timers with amazing hair styles. All of it offers a vast amount of ether to get high on: you can pull down any idea and it may materialize in front of your eyes so you have to know what you wish for. Being in a committed relationship with oneself is at the essence of being a thorough observer.
Amongst Vernhes’ accomplishments, outside of the realm of visual arts, was her career within the music industry. Spending her youth with her father’s punk band in Europe, releasing a solo album during her time in London, founding a series of musical groups, and contributing to film soundtracks, we see the emergence of a running thread between her past and current work. Amongst her current projects is Noirmoutier, a groundbreaking experiential audio project in collaboration with music producer Nicolas Vernhes. Viewing her overarching bodies of work, we watch as her cross-disciplinary experimentations radiate with a sense of authenticity, defying the limitations of a singular medium. Her work is a testament to the power of relinquishing control and actively deconstructing how we perceive and act on intuition
TM: Before your time as a visual artist you were known for your music career. What led you from music to the visual arts and how have these experiences impacted the artworks you produce?
PV: Very early in my life, I landed at the heart of the music industry that paid my bills at the expense of my soul. I recorded and toured as a signed artist on major labels against the backdrop of the ever-changing landscape of the music industry of the new millennium. It didn’t agree with me right from the start. The success was measured in letting go of experimentation, and I thought, if I don’t experiment I will never grow up as a being. It took years to unhook and deprogram. I didn’t quit music, I redefined my relationship with it. I had the rare opportunity to learn how to play binaural quartz bowls at a place called The Integratron, and so I began working within a different field of acoustics altogether, composing in Hertz instead of composing songs. I feel utterly liberated as a musician and it’s my ultimate victory.
TM: Would you be able to share with us a bit about your collaborative sound project, Noirmoutier, and how that fits into your greater artistic practice?
PV: Nicolas is a musician, composer, and producer, someone I consider the most capable of breaking away from the mold. We are able to rewrite the rules we grew up with, together. It’s also a lot of fun to let it be, give it time, improvise, which is rare these days. Right now, Noirmoutier is a performance-focused project, because, like with objects, it’s at its most present and lucid when it’s happening and it’s not subject to any pressures of what we should or shouldn’t do. We are bridging the conventional and the binaural acoustics using whatever makes sounds. It’s so much fun.
Uncovering the Other
Other One is one of Vernhes’ most notable bodies of work. A series of sculptural pieces that she meticulously places amongst the desert landscape only to reconfigure within traditional curatorial practices, such as pedestals, keeping these obscure objects in a liminal space of constant flux. Venus, a brilliant white amorphous form of river rock and plaster, organically spills over boulders alludes to the mythical goddess of beauty, now transplanted to the California desert. A monolithic assemblage of mixed woods forms The Naked Woman, questioning safety and vulnerability in these socially and environmentally uncertain times. These works represent a small assortment of the pieces within the collection that challenge our perspectives as she ascribes everyday objects with a sense of wonder and beauty that questions our relationship to the Earth.
TM: We would love it if you could share some details about your series Other One. What is the premise of these series, and what types of pieces are within this body of work?
PV: It’s about taking ourselves out of the equation, shifting perspectives, trying to grasp being a teardrop in the ocean but one that has the capacity to change the ocean. I am always amazed by our potential to ruin things for each other in the grand scheme of things, and yet individual people continue to amaze me and bring me love and hope. Our focus is on what’s in front of us. We are taught to make ourselves easily classifiable, but what about the “other one”? Scroll down to the category that embraces all that’s left. It’s ok to be just that.
TM: When people encounter the works in this series, what do you hope they take away from that experience?
PV: A piece of themselves they didn’t connect with before.
TM: Reflecting on the Other One series, what makes these works stand apart from others you have created?
PV: I was hoping to stay consistent yet address different aspects of what it means to be the “other one.” It’s still not explored fully. I love that I left it before it was completed.
TM: Would you be able to share with our readers any news on projects you may have coming up in the new year?
PV: I am working on a new series now. It will be ready to present in the fall. I am grateful to share my insights and process. Thank you for reading and considering it. It takes a lot of radical steps to get here, and I hope I won’t be the only one whom it will serve.
While we eagerly await the latest evolution of Vernhes’ otherworldly practice, we will continue to marvel at her ability to envelop us in transcendental experiences. Standing before her work we are asked to reconceive our place within both time and space as the natural world degrades and regrows in response to the sheer existence of our species.
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