Mary-Audrey Ramirez on her time in residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program

Six Months, Another Three Days, and Limitless Future in New York

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 10.03.2023

Sitting on a bench in Chinatown’s Columbus Park this past January, I met with Mary-Audrey Ramirez; a casual reunion after her six-month residency in Brooklyn ended. She had returned to Berlin at the end of 2022, and then come back to tie up loose ends, to visit the group show she is in at Margot Samel in TriBeCa, and to pick up some work she’d had produced in the time since leaving. A balmy evening for January, we both had an overlapping free window of time, allowing us exactly one hour to catch up. For better or for worse, time is money in New York, and these two concepts exist in both scare quantities and vast amounts, a contradiction that makes zero sense, but seems to somehow form an ethos of momentum and productivity that pulsates through the city’s veins. Mary’s flight back to Berlin was later that evening, and so we jumped right in to a hyper-focused dialogue on her time in New York how how it had impacted both her perspective and her practice.

In the near-decade that I’ve known Mary and followed her work, I’ve witness it evolve from a kind of encapsulated escapism from this world – her 2015 works Gequetscht/squeezed or a hug, Boxes/Silence and Erinye/Furie wall-mounted, textile covered interactive sculptures that create according to Mary, “a bathroom for mental hygiene”, a space for somatic release when the world becomes too much – to a reification of an otherworldliness, a literal materialization of the limitlessness that exists within ones mind and its transportation potential – her critters and the worldbuilding they do. In this, Ramirez’s opus has shifted from reactionary gestures to the dismal state of the here and now, to a productive, almost sanguine alternative: another world is possible, one simply needs to make it.

The day after our plein-air meeting, I headed over to Margot Samel in the late afternoon. I wanted to be sure I had enough time to sit with her works included in the group show Spikes that Bite, installed alongside pieces by a handful of other female artists, including Narcissister. The show, centered around the subjectivities of sexuality, desire, performative gender and societal perceptions of the female form, features three of Mary’s works: two embroideries, depicting her signature critters engaged in battle within fantasy realms, and a full-form critter, Big Baby Valerie (less expensive, easier to manage), curled up in the fetal position on a velvet throne-like swing, suspended down from the ceiling by metal chain links. The title, Mary says, refers to the economic situation and world-at-large her generation has inherited: having careers and babies and finding stable housing has become so financially precarious and out of reach for millennial artists, that a critter, paired with one’s own imagination, will have to do.

Originally slotted to spend six months at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in 2020 after winning the Edward Steichen Award Luxembourg (ESAL), a biannual art prize awarded to select Luxembourgish and European artists under the age of 35, in 2019, Ramirez’s plans shifted due to the U.S. border being closed for 20 months during the pandemic. Finally able to realize her residency, Mary arrived to New York in the summer of 2022. The ESAL provides its awardees with a studio via the ISCP in Bushwick, Brooklyn, but requires recipients to secure their own housing for the duration of their stay. Mary first landed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, then moved to Manhattan’s Chinatown, and spent her last few months in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Working across AI/digital, sculpture and textile, as well as embroidery in her Bushwick studio, Mary’s work was included in four group shows (True site and The art that be, both at 11Newel Gallery in Brooklyn, Afterglow, installed in a late-80s high-rise apartment in Chelsea, and Spikes that Bite at Margot Samel) and one solo exhibition (Oh no… Not again! at the Luxembourg Institute for Artistic Research in Manhattan).

“When I was in New York, I felt more future-oriented than I’ve ever been in Berlin. And this was positive. In Europe, you’re more pulled back, constantly walking with the past, confronting it, the antiquated architecture, subconsciously holding you back,” Mary told me. And I get it: New York has always been a haven for those willing to work, persistently, on whatever they feel convicted to create. A city of perpetual self-redefining, industrious weirdos, and persistent dreamers, it’s a dense amalgamation of millions of people running around to one of their many jobs, too busy to look up enough to care what anyone else is doing, or where they may be headed. This energetic constellation creates both an anonymity and a freedom, yielding an electric breeding ground for artists within which there are no limitations. In New York, Mary remarked “you can work in an Amazon warehouse and be an artist, and there is nothing and no one who will try to prove you wrong.”

While living across from Columbus Park, where we met, Mary watched Chinese-American elders practice chi gong and tai chi daily, in the public space of the city park, wedged between the densely residential and commercial Chinatown to the north, and the federal courthouse and city clerk’s office to the south: contrasting structures that make up the architectural and societal cacophony that is uniquely New York.

“My favorite thing was the early mornings in the park. It was so refreshing to witness the normalization of this multiculturalism, the intergenerationalism, the public reality of being old in a city. Rather than hide it away and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think we all need to be surrounded by this. All I could think was ‘Yes. I am looking forward to this. To aging. In community. To the future.’”

I sense a pragmatic optimism emerging in Mary, one I look forward to seeing reflected in her forthcoming work — a sentiment that unapologetically declares: Yes to the future. Yes to the brazen unknown that awaits us all.

Much of what Ramirez focused on in the studio at ISCP will be shown in forthcoming solo exhibitions: Forced Amnesia, opens April 15th, 2023 at the Kunsthalle Giessen, and in 2024, she will present work at Casino Luxembourg - forum d’art contemporain

Casey Detrow
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