Edible teeth, bones and syringes? An edible housing ghetto made from gingerbread? Yup, these things exist! Bowie Zunino has created them amongst other things as part of her output as an artist. She also co-founded the Wassaic Festival and Project in New York State. Read all about her artistic work and creative process in our interview!
Please tell the community a little bit about yourself, what you do for fun, what you do for a living.
I grew up in New York, with an ingrained sense of service. I went to Williams College with the intention of becoming a public school teacher, but a reoccurring disease (thyroid cancer) shifted my career path and let me to focus on my art. I ended up getting my Masters in Fine Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Sculpture and it was there that I started the Wassaic Project Summer Festival, met my husband, and found my practice of integrating community organizing, activity facilitating, and art. In 2009 my husband, Jeff Barnett-Winsby and I moved full time to the hamlet of Wassaic, and along with Eve Biddle we started the Wassaic Artist Residency. A year ago we had a daughter named Gilvey, so I spend my time running the Wassaic Project, chasing after Gilvey, and hiking or running in the woods around Wassaic.
How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?
I had never really made any art before I went to college and ended up in a drawing class my freshman year. For the first half of the semester I think I was pretty consistently getting Cs until one project struck a chord with me and I realized that I could let concept drive a piece and my lack of experience would matter less. This realization gave me the confidence to pursue making work.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Wassaic Project? It seems to be very ambitious and eclectic.
Wassaic is a tiny hamlet in the northeast corner of Dutchess County in NY. It’s a very rural, working class, community. The Wassaic Project occupies two historic agriculture buildings, a seven story grain elevator and a livestock auction barn. The project started as free weekend long festival in 2008 and has since grown to include a residency, an education program, and community development strategies. Since the first festival, we have worked with over 500 emerging artist in the fields of visual and performing art, music, film, and dance and draw over 4,000 people to our festival each year.
The Wassaic Project organizes a festival every year. What was the idea behind that and how has the festival been received?
The idea for the festival came from our love of festivals and the pop-up communities that they create. We were interested in creating a community based on generosity and exchange that did not revolve around hippie music, but serious emerging art and unique historic architecture. It has been very well received by both our local community and by visitors, and we are very exciting to keep pushing ourselves to make the festival more exciting, diverse and accessible.
What is your advice for someone starting a similar project in their town?
I think humility, patience, and inclusiveness are good starting points. If someone is truly interested they should drop us a line, we are very excited by the prospect of this model being used elsewhere.
With your partner Eve Biddle you create edible works of art. That may seem like a very far out idea to many. How did you get the idea for that and what are the challenges when creating something like that?
We have both dealt with significant health issues either personally or in our immediate family and we wanted to find a way to talk about it. Initially we thought about the things that surround you when you are sick. These are tools, and other ephemera that have such loaded histories that they can inspire all kinds of emotions. We decided we wanted to deconstruct some of these feelings through play. We took something everyone loves, candy, and decided to make that our medium. We made thermometers, teeth, and other medical implements that our viewers could literally consume. As for challenges, sugar is not terribly stable so we initially had to address this if we wanted to sell somewhat archival works. Also getting someone to bite something that looks like glass or teeth is a challenge too!
Please share a trick of yours that you might use to get your creative juices flowing and to inspire your work.
I love collaboration. It is at the core of Eve and my practice as well as the Wassaic Project. Walks or dinner parties with my friends inevitably produce new ideas that we all want to work on.
Lastly, do you have any new projects coming up? Anything we should watch out for?
I have been collaborating a lot with fellow Wassic-er Breanne Trammell and we are beginning work on a community cookbook, as well as a zine of things we love in and around Wassaic.
You want to hear more from professional photographers? Check out the other interviews in our Meet the Pros series.