Q&A with December 2021's Cover Artist

The Scene's December 2021 cover features artwork by Los Angeles-based artist and ESMoA intern Kiani Wish. This work appears on the official poster for ESMoA's Video Art + Film Festival 2021: blue/s. In this Q&A, the artist shares some details about their inspiration for the piece and the creative process it required.

A mixed-media collage of a variety of materials, including water, soap, and shaving cream. By Kiani Wish
“Untitled Bath” by Kiani Wish, Mixed media collage of various blue inks, epsom salts, shaving cream, paper towels, and digital intervention. 2021.

The El Segundo Scene (TESS): Eugenia Torre, ESMoA’s Director of Information and Media and the curator of ESMoA’s Video Art + Film Festival, "blue/s," tells me that to create this work, you "played with various materials in a plexiglas container, lit the container from underneath, and photographed it." Could you elaborate a bit on what materials you used and your process for creating the work? (And can you tell me if making it was as fun as it sounds?!)

Kiani Wish (KW): Initiating the poster creation started with word lists, brain maps, and bubble charts exploring what personal, cultural, and environmental associations we (Eugenia, my fellow ESMoA intern Marisa, and myself) immediately tied to the word “blues,” which is the theme of this year's festival. We considered how the color was used in different artworks, such as Hokusai’s wave prints or Picasso’s Blue Period—but we also considered the musical form of Blues, the hydrologic cycle of Earth, and a lot of emotional ties.

It was ultimately a very elusive thing to us, and we were hitting a lot of walls, until a few weeks into the internship I was lucky enough to sit in on a meeting with Essence Harden, who is the curator of the blue/s gallery show at ESMoA. Essence was explaining the idea of “blue/s” in such a beautiful and profound way, it really affected the entirety of how I had been approaching this work. (I super recommend everyone listen to Essence talk about it in the gallery walkthrough video on ESMoA’s YouTube.)

A condensed and simplified note I took from that explanation to heart was that blues is “abundant” and “ever-present”—thus something intimate to ourselves by proximity, such as the sky and sea and more—but also something “we cannot grasp” in vastness and vision. There are a lot of mysterious things about blue that human eyes once couldn’t witness.

So I went from beginning the design process with a font-driven poster and ocean-themed background, which was very literal, to knowing this process had to be a lot less rigid and a lot more abstract. I was then working with thumbnails of cyanotypes and abstract nature pictures, and even the El Segundo Blue butterfly. After some more thought-pushing, I had this extreme idea to put on a live water-art-making performance on an overhead projector, like the ones they used in kindergarten, while some line art of doodled figures and items would animate atop the screen of the performance piece. It was a lot. Parts of this translated into several different facets for what would become the final work(s) of the #EVAFF2021 (ESMoA Video Art + Film Festival 2021) campaign.

I borrowed my friend’s DSLR and got started. ESMoA's back room became a dark room, where a powerful LED light shined upwards through a plexiglass paper sorter transformed into a shallow, glowing pool. Eugenia supplied paints with all different consistencies for playing with opacity, and eventually a lot of supplies you’d find in a bathroom, for bonus pizzazz. There was a lot of experimenting with the camera angles, paint drips and coagulation, chalk shavings, soapy bubble reactions, mirror shots, and additional lighting. It was fun, but also a bit intense because I wasn’t sure if I was getting the shot. It’s important to note that there was always jazz or instrumental sounds playing in the background.

After the two-day shoot and scanning some colorful dried napkins from clean-up, I wanted to push the abstraction further. I put all of the footage and images into the computer and uploaded them as training datasets into what is called a “GAN,” or generative adversarial network, which I will artfully describe as neural networks that eat data and regurgitate their interpretation of it back at you. They come out pretty intriguing if you let them observe enough information. These results were incorporated into parts of the poster in the final assemblage in PhotoShop, as well as used directly with the poster release on social media alongside blue-item-themed animations.

Kiani Wish poses in an ESMoA t-shirt in the office of the building.
Kiani Wish at ESMoA

TESS: Could you provide a few details about your background and your relationship with ESMoA?

KW: I’m an LA native currently residing in Long Beach, and I have been in Long Beach for the past decade. I went through growing pains in art high school and community college, and I recently graduated from the Design Media Arts department at UCLA. Feels good! I was connected to ESMoA as a Digital Media & Communications Intern through the Getty Marrow Undergraduate Internship Program, which links students to museums and third-space institutions to get experience working within a behind-the-scenes side of the art world. I really, really love everyone I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with at ESMoA because it’s such an empowering, honest space and community.

Find Kiani Wish on Instagram at @recontextualism.

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