EMERGING is a regular column where ARTINFO spotlights an up-and-coming artist.
You may be more likely to encounter Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels’s atmospheric installations in a ruined building (she participated in the acclaimed 2011 installation “The Music Box” in New Orleans) or an abandoned convent (“Sequence of Waves,” also 2011, in Greenpoint) than a gallery. Yet no matter the location, her work converts the space it inhabits into a strange new world. “I’m interested in sculpting environments, and playing with how specific qualities of constructed environments create experiential constructs for the people in them,” Fels told ARTINFO. “I like to make sculptures people can touch, where you can get inside a sculpture’s mood.”
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982, the Brooklyn-based artist double majored in social psychology and political science at Stanford University before taking courses in metalsmithing at the Appalachian Center for Craft and art at Columbia University. She also lived in Brazil on and off during school, and spent two years in Melbourne, Australia, her mom’s home country. The large-scale sculptures she has come to make are assembled from wood discarded from construction sites or salvaged from the remains of demolished houses, giving the installations, which range from geometric studies to full-scale tree houses or candlelit shacks, the impression that they’ve been there for decades. Floorboards, lath from drywall, and worn wood faded with peeling paint are all “gold” to Fels.
The focus on reclaiming tossed away materials, and siting installations in locations that have been equally rejected, represents Fels's interest in “places that feel placeless.” For her current residency at Clocktower Gallery in New York, she is building an installation in one of the project spaces based on the otherworldly Crystal Cavern of Mexico, a dense chamber deep underground full of towering milky crystals, as unreal as something Jules Verne would have imagined for “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (the natural wonder was discovered in 2000 and remains a mystery due to its extreme heat). The environment — which builds on an earlier show at New Orleans's Parse Gallery — will evolve throughout its run, as the artist adds crystals and collaborates with musician and performance artist VnessWolfChild and audio engineer Terence Caulkins on a soundscape.
The collaborative aspect of much of her art was part of what interested Clocktower, which supports artists who experiment with blurring the edges of their work. “From my very first encounter with Serra at an audio-themed art show at St. Cecilia’s [in Brooklyn], to her recent participation in an amazing audio installation project in New Orleans called ‘The Music Box,’ she has been consistently exploring these overlaps,” Joe Ahearn, curator of performance and installation at Clocktower, explained to ARTINFO.
To see images of work by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, click on the slideshow.