Art & Design

Costanza Theodoli-Braschi on Polaroid Art & Finding Inspiration in the Decaying American West

Art & Design

Costanza Theodoli-Braschi on Polaroid Art & Finding Inspiration in the Decaying American West

Untitled, 2011
Untitled, 2011
Untitled, 2011
Untitled, 2011
a man meets a woman in the street, 2013
having it out with melancholy, 2013
One in a Thousand of Years of the Nights, 2013
alone, 2013

Costanza Theodoli-Braschi deals in time. Her photography—which is polaroid based—is shot on deadstock film. Each photo is one she can never get back again, counting down to zero. This is not Instagram with hundreds of filters and re-shoots and “Holy shit that cat is fucking adorable.” This is: think before you shoot. And the images she captures are analogous to the film, ghost towns, a dead horse by the side of the road, old train cars. What once was there, now is not. Time passes, houses diminish, people forget. Her drawings are meticulously written-drawn using micro-script. She works away at them in her studio on 12th & 4th, where time ticks between the fluctuation of light to dark and back again. But don’t be fooled, the young British artist is surprisingly chipper.

How did you first get a start in the art world?
I went to college at Central Saint Martins.  It’s a conceptual art school, right in the thick of London. This is where I really started to learn about the art world and photography and be around other aspiring young artists. My initiation into the New York cultural world was in film, however. I came to New York, the Summer I graduated, to work on The Squid and the Whale, assisting the production designer. I then went on to work on Broken Flowers with Jim Jarmusch. After that I began working with the photographer Gregory Crewdson, which is when I made the professional transition from film to stills and really began working in the art world. 

How have the artists you’ve worked with in the past informed your work, if at all?
I have been working closely with Gregory Crewdson for just over 8 years. I think part of why we work so well together is we share a strong love of movies and a common outlook in how we see the world. I think that when you work so closely with someone for that amount of time your interests certainly grow together. I am lucky in that several of my friends are also artists, filmmakers and musicians. That’s one of the things that is so great about living in New York— there is always something creative happening and an interesting dialogue taking place.

Many of the locations you create or shoot seem rooted in the Old West. As a Brit, where did this fascination come from?
I have been obsessed with cinema since I was a child and my main source of inspiration has been from movies, for as long as I can remember. My father is a big fan of the American West—the landscape, history, and nature—so I was weaned on westerns. He was also a big fan of Twin Peaks and I remember sneaking into my parents room to watch it with them on TV, when I was a child (I since became a big David Lynch fan). So I would say my interest in the American West and the ghost towns definitely started from the world of movies. This passion turned from a fantastical love into a tangible love when I first traveled out west with my dad, about 12 years ago. He rides a motorcycle and we go on these trips across country together. I sit on the back, clutching my camera. My series of Polaroids was taken on one of these adventures. 

The imagery deals with forgotten places and subjects. Do you find these subjects to be optimistic or pessimistic in your display of them?
Optimistic, definitely. I have always had a fascination with the remains of things. Place is, of course, central to my work, as is time, history, ghosts, the past. I was truly bewitched by the ghost towns I came across on my travels out west. Crumbling houses left to rot, so beautiful in their fragility and decay. Shrouded in mystery and haunted by times passed, what struck me was how the remains of these forgotten places had become something completely new and beautiful in themselves. Aside from the subject matter, I think that the act of making art and putting it out there in the world is in itself a truly optimistic endeavor. It’s at once terrifying and exciting and requires a sense of commitment and trust. It is an act of faith. 

Edward Gorey, who you have cited as a great inspiration to your work, said, “Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.” Would you rather have the dangerous hole in the floor, metaphorically speaking, or the quiet solitude of boredom?
The dangerous hole in the floor. Always. I’m not sure that any art can really be created out of. Boredom. But then I don’t really believe in boredom.  I spend a lot of time on my own, I always have, and I have never experienced true boredom. What I am ultimately looking for in my work is this particular feeling, a sort of tension between what we think we know and what remains unknown—the uncanny. I try to create images that on the surface appear simple and direct, but can lead us into a place that is equally mysterious and forbidden. I think this polarity is what Gorey was alluding to. It is the mystery in the mundane that makes things interesting.

What kind of factor does time play in your everyday both as a person and an artist? Is it something you’re constantly aware of?
Time is something that I am certainly preoccupied with. I constantly feel as though it is slipping through my fingers, escaping, away. It is, of course, a common phenomenon that people, in general, find it difficult to really sit in the present moment, to fully experience it, feel it, savor it. For me the act of drawing and of making pictures, or taking pictures, creates a sense of focus and clarity. The main reason I create my work is for these moments of clarity, when everything seems to make sense in the world. Then these moments are gone and the work is what remains.

Your drawings are also pieces of writing. How do you approach a drawing as both the writer and the artist? Do those two roles ever clash?
My poem drawings are created with micro-script, meaning I write in incredibly tiny script, to form the lines of the pictures. These lines seem to take on a haunted, obscure quality. The literal text of the poetry becomes almost inconsequential once the image emerges within/out of these drawings. Just as the remains of the ghost towns take on a new meaning in the photographs, the same happens with the words when they morph into images: they come strangely alive. It is the intent behind the lines that becomes interesting to me, subsuming the literal meaning of the words on the page. My aim is for the patterns of the miniature script to lead the viewer into something cryptic and private. The more you try to decipher the text, the less you know how to read.

It seems like you have a pretty wide range to your work. If you could compose some form of music, what genre would it be?
It would need to be a perfect soundtrack. The soundtrack to the film playing in my head and in my dreams. Neil Young’s score for Dead Man. Or anything by Leonard Cohen, Angelo Badalamenti, Ennio Morricone or Nick Cave. Something moody, melancholic, dangerous and haunting.  That’s kind of a genre, isn’t it?