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Narrative

Q&A with CHIAOZZA

CHIAOZZA [rhymes with “wowza!”] is a Brooklyn-based collaborative artist duo comprised of Terri Chiao & Adam Frezza. As an output of their October 2021 residency at MacArthur Place, they created a colorful quadriptych as a spirited interpretation of our natural natural surroundings, and the four seasons in Sonoma. We sat down with Adam and Terri to learn more about their artistic practice, inspirations and future projects. You can view CHIAOZZA’s artist bio here.

Tell us about your collective name, CHIAOZZA, which so aptly speaks to your artistic practice rooted in playful collaboration. 

Terri’s last name is Chiao, and Adam’s last name is Frezza. We’ve combined the two names to create our studio name, CHIAOZZA (pronounced “CHOW-zah”). Somehow, having a collective name has helped us create an entity that is separate from our own identities, opening up a world of possibility for the work. “CHIAOZZA” also sounds fun, unexpected, and raises curiosity, which reflects our approach to the practice.

Both of you have formal art education, yet your current practice proudly and playfully eschews classical principals. How did you develop your signature (and wholly untraditional) style of expression?

Terri has degrees in Art History and Architecture; Adam has degrees in Studio Art and Drawing & Painting. When we started working together we naturally found ourselves working in sculpture as a way to communicate our ideas most distinctly. The rigor with which we have applied our playful back-and-forth dialogue and collaboration in sculpture has slowly included ideas and projects in many different mediums including photography, collage, drawing, painting, games, design objects, home decor, art installations and public art. It’s nice to hear that our practice may seem untraditional; however, we see ourselves deeply rooted in a history and dialogue that reveres art as one of the most important tools for communication, expression, and discovery. Our heroes in the art world, both ancestral and unborn, are constant sources of encouragement, giving us permission, almost demanding, that we take the work and its ideas as far and deeply as we can in our lifetime.

Your “meandering collage” series was born from a drawing game you play with your daughter, Tove. What is her role in your creative process? 

The “Meandering Collage” series actually started before our daughter entered our lives, when we were waiting for food at a diner in Alfred, NY. The diner had paper placemats and crayons, and we played a back-and-forth drawing game to pass the time. For us, these types of back-and-forth games (be it with drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, etc) have helped us build a visual and conceptual language together over the course of years. Now, Tove engages with them as well, and it’s a great way to play together and strengthen our collaboration, communication, and creativity. We try to involve her in the work when she shows interest. For instance, she loves rolling paint with a paint roller, and we let her practice with priming. She is present in the studio for much of the production, and we welcome her feedback as well. Tove gives great descriptive tours of the artworks, and it’s so valuable to hear her perspective.

Paper and wood feature prominently in your repertoire, yet you flip the inherent properties of these materials on their head. Paper takes on dimension, mass and chunkiness. Conversely, wood becomes fluid, shapeless, and reflective. What sparked you to use traditional materials in such surprising ways?

We LOVE that observation! Thank you for noticing that. Honestly, our initial draw to our materials comes from a utilitarian response to what is most readily available. Paper is easy to come by and versatile to manipulate. We were making mini sculptures in painted paper when we started noticing how much paper was coming to us everyday in our mailbox, much of it junk. We started ripping up our mail and turning it into a pulp and that is where our first Lump Nubbins came from. After experimenting with the material for some time we started to make thick paper tablets with the pulp (similar, yet much clunkier than the pieces we’ve made for MacArthur Place) which we call Pulp Paintings. It is great fun to play with the dimensionality and texture potential in paper. Conversely, we love thinking of our Wooden Wall Works as low-relief drawings on the wall. Using simple planks of wood and traditional lap-joints, we continue to investigate color and form on a variety of scales and are excited to keep growing both paths of work in multiple directions.

Some of your work includes impressive public art such as your recent outdoor installation at Northeastern University. How do you translate your recurring themes of exploration, wonder and humor on such a large scale?

With larger public work, we get to engage the whole body as well as the eyes, the mind, and the site. We often translate these ideas of exploration, wonder, and humor through the lens of play in natural settings. For instance, when hiking in a forest, how does it feel to walk beneath the tree canopy, peering up from a low place to look at a world above you? When walking in the desert, how does it feel to discover a low plant with an unexpected bloom? When exploring a pebbly beach, how does it feel to lay across a smooth, water-worn, sun-warmed rock? The memories and imaginations of these feelings inspire some of the forms, concepts, and colors of our outdoor installations.

What was the driving inspiration behind the colorful pulp painting series you created for MacArthur Place? 

We spent a lot of time collecting natural objects within the beautiful gardens at MacArthur Place and also the surrounding Sonoma landscape. We started seeing overlapping patterns and shapes and colors and began creating color studies based upon the items we had been collecting. It was fun to continually re-organize our collections and re-look at these things plucked from nature with fresh eyes. This helped create a feeling of discovering the items for the first time. Arriving from a damp and cold autumn in New York City to the clear and crisp dry air of the Sonoma Valley was particularly distinct and inspiring. Of course we could not easily collect air and display it with our collections. However, we’ve tried to imbue these 4 paper pulp paintings for MacArthur Place with the clarity and abundance that we felt in California.

What, praytell, is a “lump nubbin” and how did this adorably amorphous and anthropomorphic figure come into being? 

Lump Nubbins are a series of small paper pulp sculptures we have been making since 2014. When exploring ways to make papier-mache sculpture more enduring and versatile, we experimented with tearing up our junk mail and creating a paper pulp. At first, we used our hands to press and form the paper pulp into little lumps, which we then baked dry in our oven, painted, mounted to little cast bases, and then gave them individual names based on each lump’s perceived characteristics, in a steam-of-consciousness kind of naming session. This exploration opened up the world of paper pulp for us, and we have continued to refine our pulp process to create works of different scales and concepts, including the artworks for MacArthur Place.

Vivid and vibrant color is central to your work. What inspires your color palette? 

We often find ourselves inspired by unexpected color relationships between vibrant, glowing colors and more muted tones, such as the tonal pale insides of a turkey sandwich with mustard, lettuce, pickles, and mayo; tiny springtime blooms in a dusty desert landscape; utilitarian juxtapositions of hardware store objects; water-shone stones upon a sandy beach. The wash of colors at sunset and sunrise is a particularly strong inspiration, when everything, even shadows, glow with momentary vibrancy.

How long have you been represented by Uprise Art, and what has been the organization’s impact on your careers?

We have been working with Uprise Art for nearly a decade. Both Uprise and CHIAOZZA were formed in 2011, and, in a way, we’ve had the chance to grow up together. Uprise has encouraged us to keep making work, show it, sell it, and try new things. They have brought many unique opportunities to the table that help us expand our practice, including this residency at MacArthur Place. We value their faith in us from the very beginning, and their willingness to experiment and learn with us as we grow 🙂