As a child, I squirmed in the plastic-covered seat of a Brooklyn hair salon. I felt that the music playing on the radio, the tug of the woman crafting my cornrows, and the purple paint spread across the surfaces of the room were all secret collaborators. Each element vibrated on a different frequency to the same beat. My motivation to make work comes from this persistent impulse to melt and to clarify.
I make multi-channel video installations and sculptures. The sculptural works become the set and the props in my videos. The surfaces in my studio alternate between the glossy, the immaterial, and the abject. Touch-screens are smeared with fingerprints and resin countertops have food embedded within them. My practice is studio-based, and I think about how the artist’s studio might be analogous to other spaces of creation: the laboratory, the kitchen, the music studio, the stage.
Occasionally I inhabit a character who is part cooking show hostess, part “video vixen,” part carpenter. She is caught on video building the set surrounding her. She seeks to create a cohesive world within which she can melt her own violent or tender experience of content and rhythm. She acts as an alchemist, turning awkward mass into luminous gold. Framed by the angle of her lens, a pile of dough becomes a mountain. With studio lighting, a puddle of latex paint adopts the depth of a lake– or the sheen of a polished marble foyer. A jug of milk slips from her hands and spills. She reaches for it, in a power grab. I am still trying to elucidate the nature of this power. Sometimes it seems contained within the space of the screen, and sometimes it extends into the substance of inarticulate social interaction.
In my recent project, Cooking with the Erotic, I use Audre Lorde’s seminal essay “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” as a point of departure for an imaginary cooking show. I love the way Lorde identifies the erotic as a way of seeing the world; a way of seizing ownership over quotidian or potentially oppressive acts. I have long been interested in the ways the objects we make become proxies for the body. In this project I look at how we make ourselves through our food.
I take Lorde’s (erotic) way of looking as a point of departure for an imaginary cooking show. I wonder, how might a recipe be similar to, or different from, a performance score? I started looking for other sorts of texts that might become the basis for recipes. This process began by attempting to reenact a scenarios found in texts like The Futurist Cookbook or Vibration Cooking: Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. Every time I began shooting, however, my hands and words quickly veered away from the texts that had incited them. The limitations or sensuous surprises of the materials in my studio would take over, and each shot would become as much an exploration of color, form, or decay as it was a response to words.
The work was also a collaboration with my mother. When she read the Lorde text she had a wealth of personal memories of kneading margarine when she was young, and of enjoying it. These sorts of anecdotes would spring up often in response to the materials in my studio, or the recipes we were reading. We had improvisational conversations in front of the camera that we would then reenact again and again before the lens. We liked seeing how the directions we gave off the cuff became simultaneously more familiar and more strained when repeated again and again on video.
We liked disrupting the way commercial cooking shows often seek to build a cohesive world inhabited by the host; one of leisure, health, gluttony, etc. What happens when the chef becomes incoherent, and the inconsistencies of her identity are laid bare? We didn’t simply leave room for error, but instead our “errors” became the paradigm around which the whole cooking show was formed. Each seeming “mistake” we made was repeated several times, finely tuned and described in detail to the camera.
The physical installation of the work becomes an opportunity to see how the sets and tools from my videos might live in the same space as the screens upon which the video is shown. I choose not to display items actually used in the video, because I do not want them to function as artifacts of a past, more “real” event. Instead, I build surfaces and seating that seem like they might have come from the same universe as that of the videos. I treat the physical installation with the same level of importance as the video. Or rather, the two are contingent upon one another to stand firmly in space and time.
2016 MFA in Visual Arts, Columbia University School of the Arts. New York, New York.
2013 BA in Art with distinction, Yale University. New Haven, Connecticut.
2012 Yale Summer School of Art at Norfolk. Norfolk, Connecticut.
“Gut Feelings,” Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw, GA (forthcoming).
“Saint Ann’s School Benefit,” Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York, NY
“In Response: Unorthodox,” The Jewish Museum, New York. NY
“Some of My Best Friends Are Germs,” Le Doc, Paris, France
“2016 Columbia MFA Thesis Exhibition,” Fisher Landau Center for the Arts, Queens, NY
“Finished Goods Warehouse,” Pfizer Warehouse, Brooklyn, NY
“House of Orange,” Kilroy Metal Ceiling, Brooklyn, NY
“BRIC Biennial: Volume II, Bed Stuy/Crown Heights Edition,” BRIC House, Brooklyn, NY (forthcoming)
“Interface,” FJORD, Philadelphia, PA
“Floating Point,” Judith Charles Gallery, New York NY.
“First Year MFA Exhibition,” Wallach Gallery, New York, NY
“MISS: Salon,” 225 Lafayette Street, New York, NY
“Ilana Harris-Babou,” Broad Street Gallery, Hartford, CT (solo exhibition)
“Studio Sounds,” Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (solo exhibition)
“Forced Collaboration II,” Artspace, New Haven, CT
“The Last Brucennial,” 837 Washington Street, New York, NY>
“Practice,” Green Gallery, New Haven, CT
“Contemporary Conceptions of Water,” Maya’s Room, New Haven, CT 2011
“Sagging Spaces,” Joseph R. Slifka Center, New Haven, CT.
“Real Art,” Arena Gallery, Yonkers, NY.
PRIZES & AWARDS
Dean’s Travel Grant, Columbia University School of the Arts
Andrew Fisher Fellowship, Columbia University School of the Arts
Mary Hotchkiss Williams Travel Grant, Yale University Art Gallery
Ellen Battel Stoeckel Fellowship, Yale School of Art at Norfolk
Creative and Performing Arts Award, Yale College Council of Masters
Scholarship for Minorities in the Arts, Siragusa Foundation
Summer Seminar Award, Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation.
RESIDENCIES & FELLOWSHIPS
Fountainhead Fellowship, Virginia Commonwealth University Sculpture + Extended Media
Artist in Residence, BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn, NY.
Artist in Residence, School of Making Thinking, Catskills, NY.
Fifth Year Fellowship, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
Cinqua. “Ilana Harris-Babou, BRIC Artist-in-Residence | BK Stories” BRIC TV.
Rhodes, Jacob. “Ilana Harris-Babou is Making Landscapes and Not” Field Projects Blog December. Nguyen, Rosa. “Ilana Harris-Babou: Paint as Performance” Yale Daily News May.