A familiar name to the New York art scene since late ’90s, Portia Munson is a visual artist who works with a number of different mediums including installation, photography, sculpture and painting. After collecting pink-hued objects aimed for feminine audiences for over 10 years, the artist brought them together under the umbrella of “Pink Project,” a series of installation that comments on the infantalization of women in our day to day lives. We recently had the chance to speak to her about “Pink Project: Mound” (as seen on the pages of our Spring 2012 issue), artful feminism, and the Emmy-nominated TV show, Hoarders.
How did you come up with the idea for your artwork in our Spring issue, ‘Pink Project: Mound’? What was the inspiration behind it?
I had been collecting pink plastic for a very long time and I was trying to figure out the connection of girls or females to this color. When I came up with the title ‘Mound’ I was thinking of various different things, such as ancient burial mounds, trash piles, and the female genitals. I also liked this idea of making a big mound to talk about the quantity of this pink stuff all around us.
About 3 years ago, some parents sued a toy company for sending gender-specific, pink and blue toys to a primary school in Sweden. What do you think the public opinion is like in America?
I have a son and a daughter, and it was such a striking thing for me. When my son was born first, I dressed him in a very neutral way. People would have a hard time addressing him, they wouldn’t know how to, they wouldn’t know what to say. So I did this piece where I dressed him all in blue playing with blue toys, and then on the same day, all in pink, playing with pink toys. Five years later my daughter was born – I saved all that stuff and did the same piece with her. It’s a photographic piece about that idea. Just this past week, I went online to buy a gift for a good friend of mine, who is about to have a baby, and you can only buy pink. It’s kind of amazing that it hasn’t stopped.
There is a feminist angle to ‘Pink Project,’ after which you moved onto the color green and a more environmental focus. How did that paradigm shift happen?
Even from an earlier point, I always felt like a feminist, environmentalist kind of person. But when I first started the ‘Pink Project’ I was a teenager. Then I did so much different pink work that I really understood it. When I got older and I had some children, the environmental issues became so much stronger for me. But the way I see it, pink pieces are very much about identity and femaleness, but they are also a social commentary on the environment.
You often use plastic in your installations. Is there a specific reason behind this choice?
It’s the idea that this ‘stuff’ will last for an incredibly long time. Its usefulness is somewhat ephemeral; it’s a sinister way to sell a lot of stuff quick, cheap, and more.
You also seem to have a fondness for everyday objects. How do you decide what to use for your artwork?
I don’t really have a good intellectual explanation for doing it; it’s more of an emotional connection.
Speaking of collecting objects and emotional connections, what do you think about the show Hoarders?
Even before Hoarders, I have a very good friend who is a psychiatrist – he’s the first person to evaluate people upon complaints of extreme hoarding in New York. I talked to him about my work, and he said to me that I have managed to turn that impulse into art, into making, and commenting. But I think in this culture, we have to constantly fight against being hoarders. I really feel for those people on that show. It’s a mental illness. If you have that inclination it’s hard to avoid that, given our culture. There is so much pressure to buy new stuff. It’s kind of a shame that the whole system works that way. You’re sort of programmed to go and buy more.
What are you currently working on?
I’m making another pink piece and I’m also making these ‘Flower Mandala’ pieces. Right now, I’m actually going to a meeting to approve this big print that’s going into NYU Women’s Health Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I’m finishing up a glass subway piece in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. I’m also making new work for an upcoming solo show at PPOW Gallery in NYC, for Spring 2013. I’m trying to paint in between the various things. I’m sort of a compulsive maker of art.
For more of Portia’s work, visit www.portiamunson.com.
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