NIKKI ZUARO'S process-oriented art speaks to the idea of futility.
The Long Island native was first interested in abstract art, but after taking a conceptual art course, the scope of her work changed.
Zuaro creates objects that don’t function in the way they should, like a shovel made of bubble wrap or canvas, and records video of herself using the objects.
We spoke with Zuaro last week.
1. How did you end up in Savannah?
I was looking for a graduate program. I was working in New York City for a little while after I graduated undergrad. I was interning at Christie’s and I decided that wasn’t the career path I wanted to go on.
For me, I’m not a type of person that likes to sit at a desk under fluorescent lights all day, and that’s kind of what I was doing the majority of the time. I was an intern for the Impressionist and modern art department, so I was doing a lot of research for the higher ups. I just couldn’t do it—it was not my thing.
I’m grateful for the experience at Christie’s because the knowledge I obtained from my internship has impacted where I am today and helped me to forge my own path by pursuing a higher degree in my education.
So I started doing my research. I’ve always wanted to be a professor of painting or in the fine arts, so I found SCAD and I applied and I got in. I’ve never been to Georgia, I’ve never visited, I just decided to take the plunge and move here.
It was wild because when I left the airport, we were driving down the road and I was like, “Oh no, where am I?” I was so nervous. Then once we hit the city of Savannah, I was like, “Oh my God, thank God it’s beautiful here.”
2. Tell me about your artistic practice.
It’s all based out of futility and frustration. The futility of labor, really, is the essence of my whole practice and ideology. I created the shovels in particular because in my video work, I was digging these holes and producing action to show futility, digging holes without a purpose. I was trying to heighten the futility and make the shovels that weren’t functional.
Scrubbing is also based in futility. I wanted to bring painting into it as an aspect of scrubbing and trying to show a different type of labor. It’s almost more domestic in a sense, yet it’s a little bit harder and tougher, I’ve found. By scrubbing, I’m showing the pain I was feeling through my paintings.
I started off by scrubbing blue canvas and muslin and scrubbing it until it started to fall apart. I’m destroying something I’m creating—that’s the whole point of it. Creating something that is eventually going to be destroyed is futile in itself because I’m accomplishing nothing, so I accomplish everything.
For the “Scrubbing Blue is Nothing But Shoulder Pain,” that was going through my head at one point because I was like, “Oh my God, my shoulder is killing me.” It’s so physical that it was just hurting me, so I decided to become obsessed with that and repeat it.
Repetition is very prominent in my work as well, because I’m repeating the motions over and over and over again.
For me, the most frustrating part was painting it on the raw canvas because I had to keep re-wetting my brush. That’s more frustrating than anything, trying to get heavy body acrylic paint on a canvas, then waiting for it to dry and then prepping my solution.
I use bleach and water as a solution to scrub my paintings so it helps the process of the destruction of it and the disintegration of it a little bit faster.
Then I just bring it outside and scrub until I can’t scrub anymore. It takes a few day to get to the point where I’m just done with it. It’s mainly to when my body is so exhausted—that’s when I’m done.
I’m not going to push myself over my limit, but I’m going to push myself to that limit. I’m not that type of person that would hurt themselves for their art at all. That’s just crazy. So I go until I can’t really go anymore.
3. Has your work always looked like this?
Oh no, absolutely not! I came from a totally non-representational, abstract background, and I was really interested in street art. I came in using spray paints and different types of mediums and methods and practice than I’m doing now.
It wasn’t really until I took a conceptual and experimental class at SCAD, which is where it really opened my eyes to a lot of different things. I absolutely fell in love with process. I felt like process for me was so much more satisfying than the end result. To me, process is [more] my true artwork than it is in the final product.
4. How does your 3D work and your video work relate to each other?
They’re artifacts, really. They’re the artifacts of the end result, and that’s how I see them. Even with the shovels, because that takes a long process to do as well because I’m making something that won’t function and I’m going to use it anyway. They ended up getting destroyed in the process, too, especially the cardboard one. I have an unfired ceramic one, I have a papier-mache one.
Some of them get more destroyed than others. To me, they’re artifacts of the action that happened.
5. What’s next for you and your work?
For my work, I see it expanding on this whole futility thing. If it starts gearing in a different direction, I’m totally okay with that. I’m not going to force something. My ideology shifts all the time, so I’m totally okay with and open to change.
Professionally, I would love to keep showing in galleries, both small shows and larger shows. I’ve been applying to stuff like that, maybe picking up a residency in the future.
For more stability, I would love to be a professor. That’s my goal; that’s why I came to get my MFA. I think I’m going to stay in Savannah for maybe a year or two and move on, but it’s really open. I’m open to going anywhere.