September 13, 2011


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Roxanne Yamins (B.F.A ’12), is the winner of the Cornell Undergraduate Artist Award for 2011. The award distinguishes an exceptional undergraduate student who has demonstrated ability, devotion and notable achievement in an artistic discipline at Cornell.  With the proceeds from the award, she is planning to create an artistic project that will be presented here on campus. One of the ideas Roxanne is considering for the project is to look at a common, architectural characteristic of Ithaca, the front porch. The Sun had the opportunity to chat with her about it.

The Sun: What are you planning to create with the proceeds from the award? Are you still thinking about doing something dealing with front porches?

Roxanne Yamins: So, I’m not sure what the final piece for that award will be, but what I’m interested in is recontextualizing, or moving from one place to another, liminal spaces or spaces of transitions. So porches are very much liminal spaces in general.

Sun: What exactly is a liminal space?

R.Y.: It means like a transitional space, like steps. You don’t spend your time there. The porch itself is a very specific and unique boundary between the inside and the outside because you’re kind of inside, you’re in a private sphere, but you’re right there encircled by a very public sphere.

Sun: What other spaces besides front porches are you looking at?

R.Y.: I would still use this idea of liminality, but there are lots of examples like that. Places in a subway track would be one of them. Maybe all of the subway tracks would be liminal spaces. Construction sites are liminal spaces. I think I’m going to be making reference to the construction site that just occurred. It’s an opportunity to do a land piece, meaning an outdoor piece. And it might still be interesting to do these porch pieces but I have another idea that relates more to construction.

Sun: How did this general idea of liminal spaces come about?

R.Y.: I don’t know. I guess I initially got really interested in alleyways and the kind of socialization of behavior that occurs in them. Like, there’s no law in an alleyway. You can kind of do whatever you want in them. It’s kind of like a really separate space from the rest. It’s really just a product of leftover spaces. Then I just started thinking about leftover spaces and spaces in-between. I began thinking about inhabiting those unused spaces, putting art or maybe putting in cues for people to occupy them in. And that’s when I started to think about the porch spaces and pushing their transitional qualities further.

Sun: Did your studies in Florence, Italy influence this idea?

R.Y.: Probably. I’m sure to some degree it did. I was 19 then, now I’m 23. Big difference. And I was thinking really differently. I was looking at paintings, I was a painter. Now I try to do everything. But, yeah, Florence and my memories of my time there influenced me, just like growing up in the city (New York) certainly influenced me. And just being in a place long enough will influence you. For instance, I picked porches because the language of Ithaca, the architecture, is really including of porches.

Sun: Are front porches that unique to Ithaca?

R.Y.: I’m sure it exists in many other Upstate NY towns, but there’s something about this particular place that I have not seen before. Probably because there’s lots of rain in the summer and people like to spend time outside. Also, these houses were originally mansions. As they were repurposed into student housing, large porches were added.

Sun: Now, did you apply to get this award?

R.Y.: No, I guess my department nominated me. So every department nominates a person, and that person goes up against all the other nominations.

I’ve been working with different materials, caste and concrete in particular, figuring out the chemistry of those things. I kind of continued to do my own work, not just focusing on what I was awarded money for. But I think all one’s work contributes in the end. And when I proposed it I had this idea about the porches but frequently with art proposals, like if you have a year, hopefully they will change because you have changed.

Sun: To whom will you be presenting this final project to? Where will it be?

R.Y.: I picked varying locations, but for a new location I might use Libe Slope. I guess people will see it and there will be an opening. Hopefully it will be up for a while so that people can engage with it.

Sun: Do you have to get approval from administration before proceeding with such a project?

R.Y.: Well, I have to speak to a lot of people. And I’m not even sure if that’s what I want to do. So I guess I have to get permission before I’m sure. That way if I chose to do it I will have permission.

Sun: Can you reveal what yout plan is for Libe Slope?

R.Y.: Well, it’s kind of hard to describe art verbally. I could show you a drawing, but in watching the Milstein construction I was really excited by the liminal layers, or the in between layers, basically, and how much you learn from them, as well as these weird spaces created by the architecture. And the fact that its construction allows you to see the floors underneath, you can see those types of spaces, and you have access to them. So I think it’s going to be a piece about that, about having access to these spaces that you normally wouldn’t have access to. It’s kind of abstract at the moment.

Sun: Do you try and incorporate elements of architecture in your work?

R.Y.: I think art can be more open-ended than architecture. I think, ultimately, I’m no architect, but I like this space between art and architecture, where installation can be subtle to the point where you want to engage in it but you can’t because of what it’s made out of, or, if you encounter some of the projects I do, they are kind of subtle. You see them, certainly, but they imply that maybe you could walk on them, or maybe you can get in them, but you can’t because it’s cardboard. See, when I’m in museums I go touch things. I know you’re not supposed to, but I touch paintings.

Sun: What material do you best like working with?

R.Y.: Cardboard. It’s a very neutral color. You can build with it quickly. I can use all of the machine tools — I can use a tablesaw — it’s just lighter and faster. But mostly it’s just very neutral and you can just bend it if you want to.

Sun: What are your plans for the next year?

R.Y.: So I have one semester left. Then I will be working on finishing this grant. Then I will be applying to different grad schools.

Sun: What do you see yourself doing in five years?

R.Y.: Hopefully art. Hopefully grad school will get me where I need to be in order to find a community to help get work out there. As an artist, my goal is to have money and space to make things.

Sun: And when will we be seeing your main project?

R.Y.: My plan was initially to have the project done in the fall, but with trying to graduate and everything I realized April would be better. Then parents could see it if they’re up for graduation.

Original Author: Brian Gordon