Words by: Chelsea Green Photos courtesy of: Aleksandra Zee How would you describe what you do as an installation artist? I take a three-dimensional piece of work, and create a place for it. My work is almost always site specific. In any install that I do, it’s my goal to transform the perception of the space that the artwork is dwelling in. That can mean a distortion of the room itself, or a material massed out to make a space completely filled with one thing or sculpture, so the purpose of the room or space completely changes. Would you say that you have a certain aesthetic? What might that be? I feel that the core of my aesthetic is very rustic and whimsical. I enjoy creating work that has an element of something soft and whimsical, but can be made out of a very harsh, broken, or rotted old material. I want my observer to enjoy being in the space that I create, and to have a moment to pause and almost lose him or herself in the environment. What materials do you find yourself working with the most? My favorite materials are ALWAYS found at salvage yards – I am a master scavenger. I can spend an entire day at Urban Ore in Berkeley just sifting through materials that give me inspiration. I love reclaimed wood, old iron gates, rusted light fixtures, and old windows that have layers and layers of paint on them that are peeling off. If I see a piece of wood that looks a million years old I will ALWAYS bring it home. Once I choose a material I then figure out how I can build something large out of it and how I can illuminate it. I want to make everything into a light fixture or chandelier. Building lighting from scratch is one of my favorite elements to bring to my installations.
I enjoy creating work that has an element of something soft and whimsical, but can be made out of a very harsh, broken, or rotted old material.
What was the very first thing you ever built? First thing I ever built was a VHS holder out of wood. It had 21 slots and was covered in old maps, way too much varnish and topped with old jewelry that I got at a thrift store. It was as tall as me, about 5’, and I was so proud of it! I just recently took it apart for scrap wood a few years ago. I was 14-years-old when I made it, and the VHS’ that it held were things like Romeo and Juliet, Mrs. Doubtfire, Free Willy and Forest Gump. After I built that, I knew that creating three-dimensional things with my hands was something that I wanted to pursue. Tell us about your recent installation at the Winchester Mystery House. I received the opportunity to create an installation for the Winchester Mystery House. I was approached through my website and was granted the freedom to completely come up with an idea for the space that was allotted to me. Because Sarah Winchester had an affinity for windows, the number 13 and was somewhat of a witch, I decided to suspend over 80 windows, and illuminate them with 13 old fashioned lights, creating a massive chandelier that was decorated in tarot cards, Winchester bullets and skeleton keys. Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces? My inspiration comes from taking trips to salvage yards and becoming obsessed and inspired with a certain material. I then think of how many ways I can build with, mass out, or illuminate the object that I am obsessing about. It all begins with a material! Does living in San Francisco influence the art you create? Yes! There are so many creative people here that inspire me. San Francisco has recently gone crazy with beautiful natural wood build-outs in retail stores, incredible parklets, and so many artists that are making three dimensional things out of obscure materials. I feel that San Francisco has such a community of artists – we all want to be inspired by one another and want each other to succeed so we pass on names and opportunities. I feel so lucky to be immersed in a city that is so rich with art on every level, that it only takes walking a few blocks from my house in the mission neighborhood to see a new installations that I love, or a piece of artwork that I have never seen before. I get influenced with every new piece of work that goes up, and every art show that I go to. I am very fortunate to live in this incredible city. How do you acquire your materials? I bargain for my materials. Most of the things that I use to create, are from junk yards or salvage yards – so it’s not too hard to make a deal because most likely I am taking something off of their hands.
I feel so lucky to be immersed in a city that is so rich with art on every level, that it only takes walking a few blocks from my house in the mission neighborhood to see a new installations that I love, or a piece of artwork that I have never seen before.
What do you do outside of working on installations? I am always re-doing my room and workspace; I constantly hunt for new things to add to my walls. I love assisting my friends on the projects they need help with, because so many of my friends have lent a hand with my installs. I also love to ride my bike. I enjoy riding around the city on my scooter, her name is Tootsie. Getting lost in Golden Gate Park is always an adventure. And I am never afraid to be a tourist and enjoy all the little quirks that San Francisco has to offer. If you could build anything, what would your dream creation be? I’ve had a very grand idea cooking in my brain for quite some time, I just need to find the right space to do it in. I want to build a massive tornado out of all reclaimed wood. When I say massive I mean taking over a and entire space, traveling inside and outside of the building, there will be points where people can walk through it. The entire thing will be illuminated. It would pretty much be a massive lit-up tornado that you could walk through – if I were presented with the opportunity to do it right now I would jump right in! Who are some of your favorite artists? Chiharu Shiota’s window sculptures, Michael Johansson’s perfect arrangements, Floyd Gompf’s obscure furniture, Jose Antonio Millan’s Ghost Buildings. What type of music do you listen to while you work? Recently, I have been listening to a lot of Os Mutantes, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Buddy Holly, DeVotchka, Beirut, Best Coast, and both sides of the Forge Your Own Chains record has been on constant repeat on my record player!
I am constructing a dress out of hundreds of handmade bows and arrows. The dress is constructed mainly of bows and the arrows will shoot from under the dress across a massive window
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve done so far? My favorite piece so far is the Winchester Mystery House install. That comes close to installing these massive nests in Golden Gate Park that I made for a show I was in at Hijinks Gallery. They disappeared in two days! What are you working on right now? I’m prepping for a show that I’m in at Hangart Gallery in January. I am constructing a dress out of hundreds of handmade bows and arrows. The dress is constructed mainly of bows and the arrows will shoot from under the dress across a massive window – it opens on January 5th. Check out more of Aleksandra’s work at her website, aleksandrazee.com.