On Spaces: A Conversation with Maya Beaudry
Maya Beaudry is an artist living and working in Vancouver, Canada. In her practice she uses sculpture, painting, installation, textile and video to establish a language of accumulated interior space. Her work explores recollection, architecture, dream time, growth, trip space, entropy and loss. In the following text, Maya is interviewed by writer and movement analyst Hannah Acton on the process that lead to her recent collaboration with Dani Griffiths for Clyde.
Maya currently works out of her studio apartment on the top floor of a house in East Vancouver. When I drive to meet with her there I pull up next to her house under the cherry trees that line her street. The trees are nearing the end of their bloom; their saturated, taffeta-like flowers point towards the ground, which they’ve turned entirely pink. I step into it, laughing a little at the excess. I follow a narrow path through the garden behind the house to the foot of the stairs and meet Maya on her balcony at the top them. We sit outside, level with these ridiculous flowers.
Maya, the hats – it is my understanding that Dani suggested this collaboration after seeing a painting you had recently finished and had hung on the wall of your apartment.
Yeah, this was Dani’s vision. The paintings I was working on had all of these different images in them, made up of photos of the inside of an empty, pretty tired looking house. They’re printed on fabric. There’s one image stretched flat, then another piece of fabric, printed with the same image, has been cut down the center and its corners retreated; pulled into the corners of the frame, and then –puffed.
The image has been puffed.
Did her idea for the collaboration feel like an apt continuation of that painting to you, in that the material was already on its way off of the plane; that it was already moving from the 2D to the 3D?
This is what’s most exciting about printing photographs on fabric: fabric is able to move from the 2D to the 3D so quickly. When you go from working with an image digitally to working with it as a piece of cotton it does really fun things conceptually. Fabric, by nature, makes containers – like clothing: a containing space.
I like to think of that painting as inviting Dani’s vision by having already taken itself beyond the 2 dimensional plane – as you had puffed it, it was on it’s way to not only being a container, but also potentially mobile.
Definitely. The images were starting to have their own objecthood, to take up space in the world. I realize I’ve been working with prints of interiors for a long time now. It started in 2014 with a project called “Sunset Ideas for Crisis Rooms.” I had found a roll of photos on the ground near Home Hardware; the most random pile of photos that some real estate agent had taken of some empty, 80’s style condos downtown. I thought they were the nicest pictures so I started hunting for similar ones on Craigslist. I was obsessed with those photos, and I was trying to use them in whatever way possible.
This also marked a time in my life where I was moving a lot, forever looking for apartments: sublet-to-sublet style. The ritual of looking through these listings gave the images a kind of magical quality: you set up your constraints for location and price, and then you’re just scrolling through photos and any one you stall on could be your next home. There is this intense potential in every image.
And you are successively projecting yourself into them, which animate all of them.
You are picturing yourself in them, your stuff in them – can I imagine myself in that room? –and the photographic style is very specific: it’s functional photography, attempting to communicate as clearly, and with as little effort as possible, what a space is. A landlord doesn’t want to waste your time, or their time – you know. So there is this unusual immediacy, the angles are always funky: taken through doorways, at a window. There is such a huge amount of photos like this. I started collecting them, with some kind of equivalent mindset to thrifting: you’re scanning and if its the one, you know its the one.
And as in thrifting, these are not neutralized opportunities you are scanning, as much as they are not images of actually “empty” spaces.
Exactly, these are not unlived in spaces – they are skins of a space. They have evidence of life, but no evidence of a person living there. It’s an interesting moment of habitation.
So this informed the kind of photos you used for this painting, which lead to the collaboration with Clyde, but the photos used in this work are not from Craigslist, they are one’s you took yourself. Were you taking these photos in the style you had familiarized yourself with while spending all this time in “the archive”?
Basically. Because I had developed all of these criteria for the photos I loved, and I found myself in this essentially emptied house. It was in the perfect state of habitation that I had fantasized about: there was so much evidence of life in it, but no ‘stuff.’
What was up with that empty house?
Our friend Chad Murray worked for a painter, who had a friend who was a contractor. He was flipping houses on a really small scale; I don’t know the whole story. He had bought what turned out to be a kind of infamous house, in that people would know it if you mentioned it: “I always wondered what was up with that house.” The owner had lived in an alternative way, had welcomed a lot of transient folks from the neighbourhood to move in – there were all kinds of people living in it, in different capacities. It had an eerie vibe; some strange forces were at play there. The contractor had bought the house when the old owner passed away, but because so many people were attached to the house they were always coming around and hanging out on the porch. He needed someone to be living there, so he had Chad – it was cheaper than paying for security.
I went there a few times; it was a pretty remarkable space. Chad had set up that painting studio –
Yeah. He had done a lot of work on the main floor: he made that entire atrium room and fixed up his painting space. He was living the dream. I had been away from the city, I returned to another uncertain period of sublets and life upheaval, and I needed a studio. I was over at the house hanging out and noticed there were two empty rooms upstairs. I asked Chad if I could use one as a studio, and he was psyched: the upstairs was eerie –
What do you think made it eerie? Was it just that Chad wasn’t going up there?
You could tell weird stuff had happened up there: writing on the walls, evidence of some – hard living, I would say. Chad had inhabited the downstairs, it was warm – but yeah, he wasn’t going up there at all. I picked one of the rooms, started working. I took hundreds of photos of that space and they all turned out so good.
When you saw the rooms of that house did it immediately remind you of the images you had been looking at on Craigslist?
Exactly. It’s rare to have access to an empty house like that.
Yeah – with that same liminal energy of occupancy, albeit emptiness.
The new owner kept talking about “gutting” the place – this was the language. So I was thinking about the skin of that place, which still held all of the memories of the lives that had occupied it. I was aware that this was a very specific moment that it would exist like this, before it was all obliterated. And it was so beautiful! People that had been living there before had painted the floor in the attic in these amazing purples and blues, there were paintings right on the window panes, some very mysterious repair jobs… When I was taking photos for the installation I ended up doing there, called Gutted, it was a dream composition.
So when you started working on this project with Dani you were using images from this collection?
Yes, when Dani and I started on the hats I had so many photos of that house. She had specific colour ideas so I went back through them all –
Ah, so there were so many images you could use them like a swatch book and search them for tone.
Yeah. And the colours were so alive: all of these domestic shades - the light was really nice. When I was working with the image-printed fabrics of that house, in the house that they were of, they weren’t as fetishy. But now that the house has been gutted, they are a different kind of record.
I imagine a superpower of being in a space and pulling the walls off as a film, then putting them back on in a different formation – the walls folding in on themselves. Which is – an experience of – tripping indoors and needing to get outside: like: “this is caving in on me.” This is a feeling I was trying to capture for a long time. Art is primarily an indoor activity – the studio, the gallery – and there is the feeling of going crazy inside of it.
Like you feel the space pressing on it’s own limits; as though being inside a rectangle with a hyper-mobile perspective is cause to imagine what contains you differently.
And a lot of this stuff was about the way that indoor space becomes imprinted in us, and then, abstracted. You know the sensation of being on a street corner where a building has been torn down and you can remember this different experience of how the architecture felt?
Yeah, I do.
You’re confused, or caught on it. Memory has no place and so it goes into an abstract realm, sort of like dream architecture – where you dream about a house, but it is not the house.
Like you are confronted with expectations that are dormant in you: if they are being met you don’t see that you have them, it’s only in the moment they are not met that you realize this latent anticipation for certain consistencies.
It’s like, if your childhood home is intact I think you are a different kind of person than if it is not.
Completely. Is this childhood home a real space you could actually go to and that changes by laws of matter, or is it a space you can only access as an image, and is therefor subject to change by different kinds of forces?
And your childhood memories that are triggered by architectural features: do those exist without those triggers? Or do they disappear as soon as the architecture does?
We’ve ran into the reason that, at the origin of mnemonics, the direction was: in order to remember discrete information, build a house in your mind, and place what you would like to recall in the rooms. “The Method of Loci.”
Yeah, I love that. I feel like this work sits somewhere between memory palace and haunted house. Even if you are skeptical about the paranormal, there are undeniably creepy houses and not creepy houses. Energy is caught inside spaces in obvious ways. I feel like this is very established: nobody questions whether a house has a vibe or not. But it is difficult to pinpoint what makes it so: is it the stuff? Is it the care? Is it, just, the energy?
And when we would say there is technically “nothing” in these qualitative spaces, what’s left? – In what I am hearing in your story, the emptiness activates attention to the flat surfaces: what remains is inscribed, and you have to imagine the multidimensional activities that left their traces. If dwelling is reduced to what remains on the floor, on the wall, on a windowpane, then reading these surfaces pops it back out – “puffs it,” I should say.
Haha – habitation as a form of mark making. That in dwelling we create dirt and dust and residue and attract animals and that the job of the domestic figure, traditionally the job of the woman, is to restrict what life is present in the house and determine what life does not get to enter the house. Mold and mice and bugs: that’s just life. But the job of domesticity is to dictate what life thrives in here and what life fucking perishes. That’s cleanliness, or, housekeeping.
[snapping fingers] … How does it feel now, to think about the space being ‘gone’ and still have all of this material left?
It’s trippy. It feels like thinking about my childhood house, which my family was selling at the same time as I was making that work. You know that sense of loss when you move out of a place? Removing all evidence of your self, and the sadness that comes with ending a period of time. I take so many photos of the spaces I work in, my studios – junk on the desk, whatever. Because I love them so much, so deeply – every space I ever live in. I want to remember because it holds so much of what’s going on in my life. It’s a feedback loop: you do things to it, it does things to you, your life is inscribed in the space, and the space dictates how you live your life …Having a record of it, in this case, having this fabric, is interesting. With this house, I had no personal attachment: it was a stand-in for an idea of an attachment to a house.
And maybe that was true to this house specifically, in that it seems it may have been that kind of symbol for many of the people that had occupied it so temporarily.
Totally, I was caught up in considering Chad and mine’s weird role in that house: these in-between dwellers, the availability of that space, and us just worming in for a bit. I felt so compelled to record the house in general, and I felt complicated about my implication in it.
The craigslist photos, the photos of that house, will be very specifically dated in the future. The quality of personal digital photography, the way an empty room looks, has already changed and will continue to change. I am aware of how ephemeral all of this is. The act of amassing these images is sort of like making a record of Vancouver housing…. There’s even this guy who I am “a fan” of his photography style on Craigslist. He runs a bunch of rooming houses and styles the rooms so good: bare mattress on the ground, jammed in the corner; shelf; chair; desk. The real basics of a sublet: one soft place, one sitting place, and one container.
Temporary holding tanks, advertised for the ease with which they can be ‘put on’ and ‘taken off’ – there is something garment-like about much of this. Have you seen any of the hats yet?
No, but I’ve seen photos. I love the way the windows look on them. Those interior photos do something very basic and trippy: they create a space. On some of those hats, the checkered ones, the white in the window reads like light and it looks like an actual window...
To someone’s head.
The effect of twisting architectural space is a simple, disorientating tactic.
I leave Maya’s balcony, down the stairs, and back on to the street. I get into the car and look through the windshield plastered in flowers; I’ve tracked in clumps of pink mess on my shoes. Surrounded by these damp, pink, suspended instances, I have the sensation of being in an aquarium.