Self described "stereotypical New Yorker", Magali admits that the neurosis and anxiety the city fosters pushes her to make better art. From having a studio space in Bushwhick that forces her to put on pants, to live streaming sunsets from around the world, Magali has turned her dream of becoming a working artist in New York into a reality.
You’re a New Yorker! Where did you grow up?
Queens. My family is spread out between Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. No one really leaves. I grew up in a co-op building, in a tiny New York City apartment. I’m an only child, and my bedroom was the breakfast nook.
The area (Kew Gardens) was really diverse. I went to a public school, and for high school I went to LaGuardia School in Manhattan; it’s the Fame school from the movie. It’s a public high school for arts, but you have to audition to get in. It was great, the idea that you could choose your discipline ... drama, music, arts.
Did you get into art at a young age? Were your parents artists?
My dad was a chef, and my mother is a nurse. But before I was born she had her own jewelry line, which she continued until I was about 6 or 7. She was making a living but not enough to support a little brat. [Laughs]
It’s all your fault!
Actually she’s starting her business up again and I’m going to shoot her look-book, and help get her on the internet. There’s something nice about working with a parent. I think we have a kooky relationship, it’s a little more friend-like, rather than parent/child.
So my mom is artistic and creative, when I showed an interest in art she was really supportive. I did general art as my discipline at LaGuardia, and in my final year I finally got into a photography class. I wouldn’t say it was life changing but it was like “oh yeah, this is what I want to do.”
After high school I wanted to get out of New York, I felt like if didn’t leave for college I would never leave. I knew that I would come back. I had my 18-year-old crisis, thinking “can I really be an artist?” So I applied for schools that had interdisciplinary programs. I ended up going to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, doing a double major in visual culture and fine art, with a concentration on photography.
What was Pittsburgh like?
I hated it when I first got there; I was like “get me back to New York!” Then my classes got a little bit better, and I ended up really loving it.
A lot of Pittsburg feels like Brooklyn, in the sense that if you know where to go it’s awesome. There are a lot of artists and people doing creative work. Unlike Brooklyn it’s really cheap, so people can do more, there’s something really nice about the freedom that a smaller and more affordable city can offer.
I graduated straight into the recession, which was fantastic [laughs]. I decided to stay in Pittsburgh after I graduated. I had looked for work in New York, but nothing was happening.
I worked for a gallery in Pittsburgh, and then ended up taking a job with a design firm. It was a pop-up architecture design studio, with the idea that it would exist for a year, and we would take on random projects and apply for bizarre, out of the box competitions.
At a point though Pittsburgh felt small so I decided to leave, I came back to New York for a while but work wasn’t really happening. The great thing about Pittsburgh is that I was able to save a lot of money, so I just travelled for 5 months.
I went all around the country. During that time I was thinking about where I might want to live, so I went to Chicago and San Francisco and Montreal. I really loved San Francisco, and applied for an artist residency there and got it.
I lived there for two years. The residency was at a space called the Kala Art Institute; it’s primarily for photographers, printmakers and new media artists. You got shared studio space, and access to all this equipment.
It was really great to get that after school, and to be able to figure out that I could do this. I met some really great people that I’m still in touch with, a really nice artist community. It’s been interesting to see where people have spread out.
3 years ago I moved back to New York for grad school at Parsons. I felt very much ready to go to grad school and that I had proved to myself that I could be an artist, and be a working artist.
Then why go to grad school?
I was really interested in teaching, and I felt like I wanted a photographic education that I hadn’t necessarily received in undergrad. I wanted those contacts, and a community. It made a lot of sense to do that in New York, it would give me more opportunities.
Moving back to New York, I didn’t realize how much California had affected my mindset. I was like “Jesus, what is wrong with people in New York?” California is such a slower pace; people are more laid back, a little more accepting.
I once told someone it’s easier to be happy in San Francisco when things are bad than it is in New York. If things aren’t going well in California, you’re still in this amazing place, you can be outside and you can get around.
It’s a much more progressive city so social services are better. You can stay on a pretty even keel.
I don’t want to admit it but I think at heart I’m very much a stereotypical New Yorker, in the sense that I’m very neurotic, I have major anxiety, I work too much.
New York is so conducive to that …
I bitch and moan about it, but I think I make better work here. All of those things that I think are negative are in reverse pretty positive for my work and career.
What are you working on now? What is it to be a working artist?
Well I have a part time job to pay my bills. I work for an artist book production house. We make artist books, and specialize in small runs. We work mainly with artists who are producing photo books, and a bunch of galleries. I’m the studio manager there; I do consultations and am the client face.
I also teach part time, and then I do my personal work. I have a project called “Live Streaming Sunset”. It was just part of a group show in Soho, and I will be restaging it at the end of the year. I got grant funding from the Queen’s council to produce it in Queens. That’s something I’m working on in the sense that it’s being funded. It’s where I can say “yeah I’m a working artist because I’m working on something that’s funded, that has a space, that’s being shown”.
Unfortunately a lot of my time is planning. For this project I’m using Wi-Fi enabled surveillance cameras. I’m sending them out to people in each time zone, and I’m having them set the cameras up and they record the sun setting live. Every hour the stream that’s being projected out into the public is replaced by the next one chronologically.
The sun actually never goes down, it becomes a perpetually setting sun.
So a lot of my current artistic practice feels like I.T.
Logistically, that must be a nightmare …
It is! The first time I showed the piece it was smaller, it was every continental timezone in the United States.
I was working with this space and they had changed some things at the last minute without telling me, I also had some cameras go down two days before the opening. I feel like I’m a producer on this project. I was the artist, and I conceptualized the whole thing, and now I’m production coordination.
I email people and I’m reaching out for sponsorship, and for spaces. I’m developing a network of people to work with who can host cameras.
How do you find people all over the world to set up these cameras?
God bless the Internet! The one thing about grad school … the program I went to is very international. As soon as I graduated there was that moment when I wished it wasn’t like that because all these people were leaving. The majority of people went home. What’s been really amazing is that we’re still friends and colleagues, and so I have people I went to school with running cameras in Iceland and South Korea.
A friend of mine from San Francisco was here two weeks ago, and has been a fan of the project. He worked as a photojournalist for a long time and lived in Africa and the Middle East. He gave me a list of contacts of people he knew in these countries. A lot of it is getting introduced to friends of friends, and sussing out if they’re up for it or not.
The rest of my time is spent doing freelance work, and prepping for exhibitions. I keep two studio days a week. So I’m in here every Tuesday and Thursday, and then I try to come in one day on the weekends.
And that’s just to make sure you get to work on your personal projects?
Yeah. I feel like nobody tells you at school, but you kind of know, 75% of my personal work ends up being administrative. For example, I’m guest blogging for a German magazine right now; I had to do that for a week. I was in here on Sunday and all I did was write all of these posts for this blog. I consider that being part of the work.
The balance is a funny thing. It would be great to have a job with a little more stability, but I have so much flexibility and I’m actually allowed to continue to do my own work. You have to figure out that compromise. Something about having a space legitimized it for me.
That makes so much sense!
I tried to work from home, and there were lots of times where I was like “put on your damn clothes!” You can’t be in your pajamas while you’re doing this.
I work from home once a week for my job, and there are days where it’s 12pm and I haven’t showered.
I work from home and it’s like that. Sometimes I don’t have pants on the whole day. Skype is only waist up! I always wonder how many people I’m talking to who are doing the same thing.
I want to ask about living in Queens, and how you like working in Bushwick?
I like Queens. One, it’s less expensive, two; sometimes it feels more like real life than somewhere like Bushwick does.
I get on the L train and for a section of stops everyone seems to be in their 20s, and on the train at 11.30am on a Monday. I’m like “what are you doing? Don’t you have a job?” I mean I’m on the train too [laughs]. I really like working in Bushwick but I’m not sure I would like living here.
Queens is convenient, it’s a little more laidback, and it’s diverse which I think it’s really fantastic. I’m really proud to be from Queens. It’s one of most diverse places in in America. I think it’s still very much an immigrant and middle class community. There’s a lot going on.
I remember when I was in high school and people started moving to Williamsburg, there was nothing there. It was exciting and cool. The rate of change in 10 years there is mind-blowing. It’s nothing like it was. I like it but at the same time it feels very cookie-cutter. I like it but it doesn’t feel like real life.
But people love it; they act like it’s the best thing on the planet.
It’s cool, it’s great, it’s nice but there are other things. The one thing I felt is that in the past few years a lot of places in Brooklyn are losing something special. Maybe it’s just Williamsburg. It feels like a branded idea of Brooklyn. The idea that Brooklyn is used as a brand, in the same way, maybe Portland has been used. There’s just something very strange about it.
And it’s such a small part of Brooklyn, but when you think of Brooklyn you think of Williamsburg …
Exactly. There is so much more, so much more that is interesting and different. The idea of a borough being branded off one neighborhood is very strange. For me it feels nice to dip into it, and nice to be away.
What area of Queens do you live in?
Jackson Heights. It has a lot of Colombian and Indian influence. Flushing is close by with a lot of Korean places.
There’s the arepa lady, she has a little stand. So good. In Forest Hills there’s a great pizza place called Nick's that’s been around forever, really good brick oven pizza.
In Sunnyside, there’s a great place called Turkish Grill. I’m a little obsessed. I went to Istanbul last summer, and did not want to leave.
You hear nothing but great things about it, you never hear someone say “I went to Istanbul and it was shit”.
I’d love to go back. I was there for a week, which wasn’t enough time. The breakfasts are amazing.
Throwing out there our new question … If you were your own daughter what advice would you give her?
I would tell her/me that confidence is a multi layered, ever changing thing. To not be afraid to doubt yourself, and to admit that you doubt yourself, and to admit that you believe in yourself. It sounds kind of complicated.
Part of being a human is questioning things, why you’re doing things, and if you’re doing it right. If 100% of the time you think that what you’re doing is the best, and you never question anything about yourself, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not being open minded, you’re not weighing options, and you’re not seeing things from different points of view.
I think part of being confident is being able to say that you aren’t sure of something, and that you are maybe afraid of something. If you can admit that then you are confident enough in yourself to admit that. I’ve struggled with that in the past.
I’ve doubted myself and brought it up with someone … I’ve had experiences in the past where it’s backfired. And instead of saying “well, that person doesn’t understand that it’s okay to doubt”, I’ve pushed it back on myself.
As an artist so much of what you do is self-motivated. No one is knocking on your door.
I need your art now!
[Laughs] There is something about being an artist that is inherent to being really confident in yourself and what you’re doing, but having moments where that completely washes away. You ask yourself “what am I doing? Nobody even cares”. But if you can think that and then talk yourself back … you have an opinion and a voice, people will like it and not like it and that’s OK.
What does New York mean to you?
When I think about New York now, I think about all of these quiet little times I’ve had in the city. Once a week I get up crazy early and I take the train into Manhattan and I walk from 63rd St to 14th to go to the gym.
Wait, you walk all that way and then go to the gym?
I really just do some weights and go to the sauna. [Laughs]
I think about mornings in New York. I used to think about work, and this 24/7 feeling of anxiety. Now maybe my idea of the city is changing.
At 7am in Manhattan not many people are out. It’s the one time I can think New York is majestic; those are the moments when I think of New York as a place where you can do whatever you want.
To view Magali's work visit her site magaliduzant.com