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Interview with Artist Lilah Friedland, Founder of Wandwood Stream Artist Retreat
Written by Rachel Wohlander
May 2, 2017

Lilah Friedland is a multi-disciplinary artist who is building the Wandwood Stream artists retreat space in Gallatin, New York. Her creative career spans helping to start Scope art fair and playing in the band Brute Force, to working in such mediums as performance, poetry, sculpture, drawing and letterpress printing. We talked with her about art-making, the power of nature and forging inspiring communities.

Rachel Wohlander: You’ve had a creative practice in many mediums for a long time. You’re basically an Artist-Renaissance-Woman. How did you start out as an artist? How would you track your creative evolution through mediums?

Lilah Friedland: I always remember calling myself an artist and I remember my mother telling me that there was some kind of commitment made if I wanted to call myself that, not to take it lightly. Both parents encouraged me and I felt confident from early on. (Its fun to see that in my son now.)

I knew that I liked to make all kinds of things: plays, sculptures, music, drawings. In college I was making “performance plays” … things with beginnings and endings, and writing poetry. When I graduated I got a job at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Slamming was big so I slammed a bunch of poems and took a workshop with Eileen Myles which turned my shit completely around and educated me in a way I hadn’t been before. After that I got more involved in the art world, got more into making things…polaroids and small life cast sculptures, drawings, monoprints. But always with performance in mind: objects were always an artifact or prop for a performance. But it was kinda different in the 90’s and performance art wasn’t cool again yet. I was making durational work, and  doing sidewalk performance….most of which I refused to document (duh) and video poems.

who are you in the world creating what reality? 👁🌰👁. 🗽🗽🗽🗽 #letterpress

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I got a job working for Tony Oursler in the mid 90’s which I thought of as my Grad School. I learned way more about making art  while working for Tony than I ever did when I eventually did go to Grad School. At the turn of the century I helped start The Scope Art Fair and did a lot of ‘art fair’ performance. Mostly Painful. Occasionally awesome.

Eventually I decided to go to get my MFA in Performance. I think 10 years of art fairs fucked with my experience of making art, and an MFA is something you can go and do when you need ideas. I was lucky to meet great collaborators getting that degree, and did some really awesome performances. We came up with a lot of great ideas. And I got to take a class with Vito Acconci, which was worth the price of admission. For real. But right before I started school, I took a letterpress workshop, and that experience was fundamental. I have been trying to get better at printing ever since, and have been doing mostly that for the past five years. And playing music with my Dad, Brute Force, or solo as Happy Tears.

I wanted communal space and idea sharing. The best art comes from that I think. Eventually I realized I wanted space, lots of it. Some ‘place’ that would be inspiring, and not too hard to get to. I called it Nature Temple in my head, definitely a product of my hippy upbringing. Someplace to hold creativity sacred… communal space and art making space and nature’s private space.

RW: You are in the process of creating a rural retreat space for artists. Tell us about your vision and what inspired you to do this? Why do you think these spaces are necessary?

LF: I started to think about this whole idea about 4 years ago. I was living in Yonkers NY, after a move from Williamsburg Brooklyn, and not loving it. It was middle ground. I had wanted to turn the big house I was living in in Yonkers into an artist community. But I didn’t really want to have a bunch of housemates. I had a few friends as housemates, and that was hard enough.

All the same, I wanted communal space and idea sharing. The best art comes from that I think. Eventually I realized I wanted space, lots of it. Some ‘place’ that would be inspiring, and not too hard to get to. I called it Nature Temple in my head, definitely a product of my hippy upbringing. Someplace to hold creativity sacred… communal space and art making space and nature’s private space.

RW: What about this place makes it conducive to art-making? How do you think the artist’s environment gets incorporated into her work?

LF: I feel inspired here. The land is truly beautiful and wild… and I’m really looking forward to experiencing how this place can be incorporated into the work of artists who come here. There’s a spot that will lend itself to being a small natural  amphitheater. I can imagine traveling performances that float downstream from one part of the land to another.

RW: How are you going about creating this space? What have been some successes and challenges?

#impeachtrump

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LF: #1) I tried to decide where I wanted to go. I was open to anywhere. I knew I wanted at least 20 acres, with some kind of large body of water, or stream. No ponds. Near a cultural hub, no more than 2hrs away from a city. Near public transportation. I looked in California. I was born in Ojai so for a second I looked there, but what I wanted was unaffordable for me in California. Eventually I honed in on Upstate NY. I went to college there, still have friends there, etc.

So…#2) I took a summer fixing up the house I had in Yonkers so I could re-finance it and get a cash-out loan. While I did that I looked for land. I found the land before the loan came in. So, I said I had the cash, and went into contract knowing I probably would not have the cash when I needed it. Then I sent a letter to the sellers telling them how excited I was about the land and my plans to build an artist retreat here. It started to get dicey after the contract expired, and I still didn’t have the dough. I DID have a return letter from the seller, with his phone number, which I called and confessed that I was still waiting for the money from the bank, and that it would be any day. Which thankfully it was. None the less the whole thing was nerve wracking.

The first challenge was getting the tiny summer cottage on the land habitable. I bought the land because I loved it. The tiny house on it was rotted to shit and hard to imagine as the beautiful home it is now. Hindsight cost analysis: we should have torn it down. But thats the difference between being “money long” and paying little by little. I’m happy we fixed it. I learned a lot. And I’m happy its small. The house was built by the father and grandfather of the two sons that sold it. Summer cottage, 1930. Abandoned 10 years before we bought it. We re-built it. Completely gutted it.  Poured a cement slab under it through the front door and  lived in our camper (a 1989 Toyota Sunrader) while doing this. It got to be mid-December and it was too cold for my 5 year old to get out of bed, so then we lived with a friend for a few weeks. Then we got the wood stove hooked up and moved into the house. Hot water came a couple of months later. Thats a story unto itself. Suffice to say I just won in small claims court.

Meanwhile, I put the house in Yonkers up for sale and had some adventures in real estate, selling that old hippopotamus. Last week the house in Yonkers finally sold and i moved all of my belongings into a 40ft shipping container on the land.The house is too small for much for than a dinning room table and a couple of beds and a piano.

In all, the whole shell game took about 3 years.

RW: As you renovate and build and tackle the elements, do you find that any aspects of your creative practice come into play?

LF: Every damn day I’m here I am reminded of how inspiring nature is, and how excited I am to be here. I can observe myself making more work about nature. Especially water, the sacredness of water. I’m not alone there.

Reality is a consensus thing. I just keep telling people what I want to happen, what I see, and move myself in that direction in some way everyday. Even the smallest movement can ripple.

#nodapl #waterislife #fucktrump

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RW: At Terra Cultura, we’re interested in how community is cultivated through a sustainable connection to a place combined with creative pursuits. Have you seen this merging of creativity, cultivation and community in action?

LF:  We had a land warming party last September, and folks brought 16mm films to project and instruments to play and tents to sleep in. It was a great birth. This summer we have a lot of ideas: more art making and more building. The fellow who runs the shop where I print in Brooklyn parked his 1954 Spartanette up here, and that is such a positive beginning. Ideas brewing about what to build next. He’s got ideas. So its real.

RW: Do you have any thoughts about the best way to go about forging these creative connections in sustainable ways?

LF: I think talking to everyone is a good idea. Talking about what you want to do and what your vision is. Obviously that makes it more real for the person doing the talking, but also more real in the collective mind. So important! If you’re pouring milk but nobody believes that your pouring milk, what are you doing?

Reality is a consensus thing. I just keep telling people what I want to happen, what I see, and move myself in that direction in some way everyday. Even the smallest movement can ripple.

RW: Where can people see/hear/experience your work? What is the best way to stay up to date on the progress of your artist retreat space?

LF:
progress: wandwoodstream.com
archive: profailurepress.com

Written by Rachel Wohlander

Rachel Wohlander is a co-founder, and the executive director of culture and education at Terra Cultura. She is an interdisciplinary artist and educator with a background in performing arts and creative writing.

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