‘In Between the City and Your Body’: An Interview with Liene Bosquê

The sculptor searches through old notebooks and observes the cyclical nature of ideas. 

Sarah Gerard is the author of the essay collection Sunshine State, a New York Times...

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I met the Brazilian sculptor Liene Bosquê in her Long Island City studio a few days after she moved in. She was still unpacking and commented on the difficulty sculptors in New York City face finding spaces large enough in which to work. “When you make sculpture, it starts to become a problem,” she said. “You try to compact things.” She moved a box off a chair to sit down on it and invited me to sit on another across from her, next to a stack of her notebooks. The newest had cork covers and toothy paper—she explained she was craving more natural materials when she selected it, like the ones she’s often drawn to in her pieces. Her studio is smallish and full of tall racks holding Bosquê’s finished sculptures, and some unfinished attempts, as well as a large, assembled drafting table under a window framing an enviable view of the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. “I have to sketch more,” she joked, gesturing toward the city. “It’s something that I really miss, drawing.”

The view is perfect for Bosquê, whose work explores themes of urban preservation and history. But her drawings now are mostly plans for three-dimensional sculptures, molds, and installations. I first saw her work in the MoMA PS1 show Greater New York, where she was showing a piece called “Recollection”, comprised of dozens of hand-sized souvenirs from her travels, laid out on a plain, wooden table in a grid pattern resembling Manhattan’s. Though the souvenirs are found objects, she also uses them to make molds for other small sculptures in clay or plastic. With a background in architecture and an interest in history’s relationship to memory, Bosquê gives equal consideration to mathematical precision and sensory stimulation in her pieces—she has a rule that all of the souvenirs she uses in her work must be hand-sized, small enough to carry in her pocket as she picked them up on her travels over fifteen years. “Something that’s close to you,” she explains, as if keeping the memories of her travels close to her, too.

Bosquê is interested in the intersection of individual memory and collective memory—souvenirs are widely recognizable symbols of places even for people who have never visited them, and stand as fixed representations of those places even as the places themselves may be changing. Souvenirs also represent much more intimate and tactile memories for people who have been to those places, and whose memories are “fixed” in their personal histories. I asked Bosquê how she felt about taking souvenirs out of her private collection and placing them in public, in “Recollection”. She laughed. “In the beginning I was like, I’d never sell this! These are mine! Later, I decided I would have to have an agreement where I can say, It’s yours but you’ll need to lend them to me to do molds and other things.”

I asked her if she feels like her notebooks are souvenirs of a sort, as well. “They become this archive of ideas,” she said. She had been flipping through them earlier that day, in preparation for my visit, and opened one up from 2011 to show me a page. At that time, she had just moved to New York but was doing exhibitions in Chicago and Sao Paolo, where she’s from. It was her first time working with the souvenirs, and in her sketches, she’s attempting to figure out the best way of transporting them, and whether she’d rather present them on a solid table or sawhorses. She turned to another page. “I was thinking I should go back and see which ideas came through, ideas that I didn’t realize then, that I couldn’t make happen,” she said. She noticed ideas that appeared earlier in her work coming back later on. “I don’t know if it’s progress, but at least it’s like I’m building something,” she said.

She showed her work often in 2014 and 2015, so many of her entries from those years were plans for installations, some of them site-specific, like her first U.S. solo show Suspended Memories at Point of Contact gallery, in Syracuse. She spent time in the archives of the City of Syracuse in preparation for the show, developing pieces that explored its unique history and architecture. One such piece is “Amez Church”, comprised of three person-sized latex impressions of the brick walls of the city’s oldest standing African American church, suspended from wooden dowels. Though taken from the same structure, each impression is vastly different, emphasizing the variety in the story of a single building, as if the structure itself were alive. The latex is painted over, highlighting its texture and dimension. It’s not unusual for gallery-goers to try to touch the pieces in “Amez Church”.

Bosquê deliberately arouses multiple senses in her work, invoking materiality as a way of better imprinting it on viewers’ memories. In City Souvenirs, a collaboration with the artist Nicole Seisler, Bosquê and Seisler led tours around New York and Chicago and had participants take impressions of the surfaces of the cities with bricks of wet porcelain. She picked up an example from the shelf behind her and handed it to me. One side of the brick bore an imprint of the presser’s hand, the other an impression of the pentagonal valve of a fire hydrant. “The clay becomes this in-between, the city and your body,” she explained. “It’s kind of filling the empty space.” It also encourages participants to see the city in a different way, looking closely at its details, its dimensions that typically go unnoticed.

While living in Chicago, Bosquê began researching the architect Louis Sullivan and became interested in his idea of the ornament not as a superficial feature of architecture, but as something central to its function. “Most of the time you have this structure and then the ornament is the last thing, another layer,” she said. She found a way to combine the structure and the ornament in her piece Stockade, taking silicone impressions of tin ceiling tiles in a Syracuse building and using them to make molds for plaster bricks, with the ornamentation embossed on one side. After reading about the indigenous people of the area, she decided to assemble the bricks in a waist-high hexagonal structure evoking the stockade built by the Onondaga tribe to protect their village. The embossed sides face inward, each pattern slightly different from the one next to it but hidden from the outside. “It was kind of a way of looking to different times in history and trying to combine them,” Bosquê said.

She showed me a plan she’s working on in her current notebook, of a roughly nine-inch-wide replica of the Mỹ Sơn temple in Vietnam, set in the center of a two-foot table. She’s drawn it many times, from multiple angles. The length of each side of the bases of the temple and table are labeled, and on another page, there appears a Fibonacci spiral, also labeled with measurements. Above the spiral is written Bosquê’s name and the name of a collaborator. Beneath it, the words “spiritual polarities” and “polarity of forces” appear beside a column of words in binary relationship to one another. “The notebook just helps me organize my thoughts,” she said.


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