Wave Forms: Interview with Artist Tina Seligman

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Wave Forms
“Wave Forms” is a new exhibition at The Garage Art Center in New York that showcases the work of artist, writer, composer and curator Tina Seligman.



“Wave Forms” is a new exhibition at The Garage Art Center in Bayside, New York that showcases the work of artist, writer, composer and curator Tina Seligman.  After earning a BA in Art from Queens College, she went on to study music and dance.  In 2018, her series inspired by solar, lunar, and tidal cycles was exhibited at Flushing Town Hall where she is also a Teaching Artist-in-Residence. In 2016, an experimental short film she co-created with Dan Rubin was screened at the New York Independent Film Festival.

Her current project “Wave Forms” is inspired by water and the way it connects people.  The underlying message is awareness through nature and the exhibit also features poetry, photography and video by other artists.

Tina recently discussed her art and career via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist and how did you break into the industry?

Tina Seligman (TS): Since childhood I’ve been drawing and making things. I was extremely fortunate because my parents encouraged me. They brought me to museums, galleries, theater, dance, French films. When I was 14, my school didn’t have art, so they sent me to the Art Students League every summer until I entered Queens College where I became an art major. I also studied theatrical design, which opened me to explore non-traditional materials. In 1994 I became a member of Flushing Town Hall and met many wonderful artists.  Patrick Symes, who had transformed his apartment into a gallery, invited me to exhibit and also to create projects for community shop windows which was really fun. Through the years I met other artists, writers, musicians and dancers. I was introduced to publishers of art magazines and given the opportunity to write articles. While writing about one exhibit, I met a curator who had been thinking of opening her own gallery and asked me to work for her as an assistant. I had been a secretary for many years before teaching art, so it brought together several aspects of my background. I really enjoyed working at Cheryl McGinnis Gallery and learned so much from that experience. She also introduced me to the joy of collecting art and I still collect work from artist friends. I look at every piece each day and it always changes me.

MM: How did you find your medium and style and why do you focus so much on nature?

TS: I’m drawn to a variety of mediums and art forms. The projects develop out of a curiosity about a subject. I often do quite a bit of research and the visual work becomes my way of communicating what I learned. Sometimes images pop into my head. Set design taught me to come up with a concept and choose whatever material(s) make it work. That can change, though, once I start. For example, to express the audio wave forms for this exhibit I originally planned to draw the shapes with colored pencils and markers. I was working with a hot glue gun for a sculptural piece and discovered that the drippings were really interesting. I could draw with the glue on a silicone surface and pull it off intact. When I painted the pieces from behind with blue acrylic, the glue took on the appearance of water in movement.

Wave Forms
“Wave Forms” is on view courtesy of a New York City gallery.

We are all part of nature — that’s what unites us as humans and also to the world. Sometimes it’s easy to forget in an urban setting.  We often think of nature as ornamental or a separate “place” to spend a relaxing day off.  Cycles of water nurture us. In addition to providing food, plants and trees are replenishing the oxygen we inhale and our exhalations of carbon dioxide feed the trees. As life forms, we are part of that continuum. This became even more meaningful with recent events and I hope that the Wave Forms project will offer healing, peace and a feeling of how connected we really are.  We need to care for each other and for the planet. An interdisciplinary project I did in 2018 was inspired by patterns from cycles of the sun and moon. Again, something we all share regardless of geography, culture, economic status, beliefs. Everyone can see the sun and moon and their cycles affect our bodies. They are ancient and contemporary. While studying these cycles, I created visual representations which I then transcribed into music.  It was a curiosity to hear how those rhythms would sound. Like many people, I collect stones and shells that have been reshaped by movements of waves. Each natural sculpture is so unique, changing colors when wet or dry. I wanted to display them as part of the Wave Forms installation so people could appreciate their individual beauty. I arranged them in what seemed like musical phrases and created a key to transcribe it into music.  As a reminder of how ancient the oceans are, I used sea fossils that are over 400 million years old for H20.

MM: You are also an experimental film maker, so how did you get into that field and what was it like to have your work presented in festivals?

TS: My father had his own film editing studio for live action and cel animation. I had the privilege of working for him when I was in my 20s and learned about storytelling, sound, and timing from him. He worked mostly on commercials to make a living, but during the 1950s, he and his best friend who was an artist and cameraman made several short experimental films which were a great influence on me. A few of their visual narratives were from wild footage edited to music. I started with Dan Rubin’s photographs, asking for seemingly unrelated images as jpegs that I combined with live video and music. I found that the most exciting clips were of unexpected moments – shadows, an insect, a reflection. I’m constantly learning and playing with new editing techniques using Premiere Pro. It was very exciting to have one of the films in a festival and that gave me the confidence to incorporate them into my art installations.

MM: You also compose music, so what genre do you typically work within?

Wave Forms
Tina’s art is very inspired by nature.

TS: I’m fascinated with transcribing visual patterns into music by assigning pitch, note duration, register and dynamics to colors, shapes, scale, instrumental timbre. Dan calls it algorithmic. It’s really my way of trying to understand music as a language. That was inspired by Douglas R. Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Escher, Bach, in which he wrote dialogs in musical forms such as canons and fugues. He also introduced the idea of mapping different disciplines. This was life-changing for me. I began to study music theory and eventually viola and violin, but I’m not a natural musician at all. When I started composing using these techniques back in the 1980s, there was no internet, but in recent years I discovered other artists and musicians employing similar processes, although each unique in approach.

MM: How did you find out about Flushing Town Hall and how did you become a Teaching Artist-in-Residence there?

TS: My mom saw a listing in a local paper for a workshop at FTH. My parents and I went together. I was very shy but I met other artists there and started entering the member exhibits. In 2000, one of the artists recommended me as a Teaching Artist-in-Residence. Another life-altering experience. I incorporate social studies, math, and/or science and music related to a theme. Teaching through FTH is one of the greatest joys of my life, especially when I have the opportunity to work with other teaching artists including dancers, musicians, storytellers, theater teachers, and puppeteers, many from different cultures. Our extraordinary Education Director and staff offer professional development workshops for us to share and learn from each other. I feel like we have all become an extended family.

MM: How did you become involved with The Garage Gallery?

TS: I met Stephanie Lee at Flushing Town Hall and was so inspired by her work as artist, curator and educator. When she told me about the Garage Art Center Gallery, I was really excited by her vision of bringing artists together to share with each other and the community in a space that had nothing to do with the commercialism of the art world. Very pure and rare. I love the idea that she transformed her garage into this gorgeous exhibition space.  Again, a reminder that art is part of everyday life. And the idea of including workshops by each artist.  I’ve met such lovely, inspiring creative people through her and I’ve introduced artists I know as well. Another extended family.

MM: Why did you decide to include other artists in this exhibition?

TS: Collaborating with other artists is thrilling because we all bring something different to the conversation and it sparks new ideas. When I saw Dan Rubin’s breathtaking series of photographs of Hawaiian surf in winter, I realized he captured something about water that I couldn’t with my work. The colors, shapes, textures and force of ocean that can’t be seen with the eye because it’s in movement. In addition to the prints, I used his images as part of a short video edited to “Inverno” (Winter), composed by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, recorded by concert pianist David Witten. While working on “1000 Years: Voices of the Sea,” I shared my music transcription from found stones and shells with jazz artist Iga Mrozek. She offered to arrange and produce the sound piece in a way that I could never have done and we really enjoyed the discussions and process which was very organic. I also made a short video with original music composed by Iga. I was introduced to choreographer and filmmaker Hyonok Kim through our mutual friend, Joan Digby, a poet who contributed several haiku. Hyonok’s exquisite short film, “For Sunrise,” adds dance and visual poetry to the project.

MM: Why is poetry such a key feature in the “Wave Forms” exhibition?

Wave Forms
Poetry will be featured in the “Wave Forms” exhibition.

TS: I like to invite viewers to become active participants in each project. Poetry is very sensory, especially haiku. There’s a heightened awareness of sound, fragrance, touch, taste, and movement. And sculpting with words which are also a form of music. When I ask people to write, many say they had never attempted poetry before and didn’t think they could, but I always receive such insightful poems. Since Wave Forms coincided with COVID 19 and George Floyd, I was touched that several expressed universal feelings of grief, confusion, and hope. Another extension of sharing an experience. I hope that anyone who sees the exhibit will be inspired to write poetry and create art.

MM: As a curator, what shows have you hosted and how do you select your themes and venues?

TS: “Vibrations,” a member show in 2004 was the first exhibit I curated. I had a visceral reaction to a previous one where work had been thrown on the wall without any concept or even visual connection. I kept wanting to rearrange everything. It made me acutely aware of how art reacts to other artwork and its surroundings, and that an extraordinary piece could look like junk in the wrong setting. FTH has an entrance hall and two large galleries. I was curious about what it would feel like to have the hall filled with black and white work leading into the next room with muted chromatic greys, and the last room exploding with vibrant color. In each space, the styles and materials remained individual, yet blended to create an environment. The variety of media included painting, drawing, collage, print making, photography, textile, furniture, mixed media and sculptures. I invited viewers to write poetry in response and placed them on the walls as part of the exhibit. Another curating project in 2018 at FTH was inspired by Dan Rubin’s images of Tribal Baroque, a busking performance duo he had been photographing for about eight years at Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace. Aside from the extreme beauty of the work, I was fascinated with his variety of approaches and techniques to express a single subject including, black & white, color, infrared, and Photoshop transformations. And the way he captured expressions, gestures, and moments that could never be experienced in real time with the eye. Tribal Baroque performed live at the opening which added another sensory level to the exhibit.

MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
TS: I have ideas for a series of short videos exploring nature using Dan Rubin’s photographs and live action against a green screen which I’ve never tried before.

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Information about “Wave Forms” by Tina Seligman at the Garage Art Center Gallery can be found here:

http://www.garageartcenter.org/exhibition-single-tina.html

Solar-Lunar Transcriptions can be seen here:

https://www.solarlunarmusic.com/exhibit

Tribal Baroque: Moments and Metamorphoses a series of photographs by Dan Rubin, curated by Tina Seligman, can be seen here:

https://www.tribal-baroque-photographs-by-dan-rubin.com/