in the short time that i've known artist/writer nicole reber, nicole continues to kill it. we met some months ago over social media when another artist was like, "you two should be friends!" after a few months of stalking nicole and digging her artwork, i asked to interview her for cultureisland. we met up on a sunday: she talked artmaking while we both shared personal learnings, anecdotes and french fries. not only is nicole making really rad art (you can catch her work at two shows -- one in nyc at transmitter gallery while another opens in portland friday) but she is also the co-editor of packet biweekly, an art publication that comes out twice a month. packet is a new cultural partner of nada, an emerging art fair happening this weekend. nicole will be moderating a talk there on friday at 4 pm about the role of performance art in gallery programming so be sure to check it out!
cultureisland: tell us more about you.
nicole reber: i was born in 1989, the daughter of a polish woman who came to the states as a political refugee in her late 20’s, and my dad, a california surfer. i’m pretty much a middle sliver on the venn diagram of these two experiences. i played piano competitively when i was a kid, and my dad played a lot of classic rock in the car. i was obsessed with dave grohl and foo fighters starting in the 4th grade, right after i got over natalie imbruglia. there was a great fan site called fooarchive.com and i would spend hours there reading interviews, learning about nirvana, dc hardcore, a lot of stuff that a 9 year old girl in catholic school wouldn’t normally have been exposed to. i got into emo pretty early because the bassist for the foo fighters was in sunny day real estate. learning about my heroes’ heroes, it was just this clear thing that everyone lived on new york. i was always into writing, but it was always a more structured facility to me– most of my young writing was journalism. but when i would listen to bands, my first focus was the lyrics, probably because that was missing from my the classical spectrum i was more fluent in. i remember around the same time making a comment to my piano teacher that i thought mendelssohn’s “songs without words” was a really depressing title, because i was coming to the point where words were becoming more important to me than sound. sound can reverberate the message of a word, but i need them to live together. so i came to pratt and started studying creative writing which is what i got my bfa in.
cultureisland: tell us more about your sign paintings. how did you start making them?
nicole reber: the sign paintings developed out of several needs. i was writing poetry and also experimenting with other visual art, collage and darkroom photo. i was having a hard time combining language in a way that didn’t feel like a caption or accompaniment to the visual work. i originally bought one of the signs for utility, and used it as a sign for the magazine i help edit, packet, at the ny art book fair. after the fair, it was hanging out in my house, and i started playing around with it. it’s funny, having a sign like that in the room, you inherently feel like you shouldn’t be communicating or using it for anything but business at first. a few days later, i posted one of the first sign pieces online and got a lot of positive feedback, and so i just started going for it.
cultureisland: what is your process for making your work?
nicole reber: the writing on the pieces always comes out of longer poems that i write. i’ll have them printed out and read them outloud to myself before making the work. whatever line really reverberates for me, that’s what i’ll use for a piece. some of the larger pieces that feature multiple pieces of texts have lines from different poems, and i like using that because it can make the piece a little more indirect. using different text sizes, you can read those lines as one voice, the smaller fonts as another. so much of poetry is play, using the space of the page, and the framing of the signs inherently offers a similar restriction that of the page.
cultureisland: what kind of subject matter do you focus on?
nicole reber: the pieces come out of my personal poetry, but i try not to just focus on my experiences and stories in that work. i’ll try different sorts of writing exercises, the famous ones from bernadette mayer, and ones i’ve personally created for myself to help in my writing. to keep the perspective in the language from being too narrow, i’ll write down a situation and then use this chart from this psychologist robert plutchik, to identify 4 emotions that that situation makes me feel. using the emotion charts helps me to digest and expand on themes that i might have written about in a more direct way. youtube, movies, etc, are also helpful for triggering older memories and experiences to write from.
cultureisland: how do you name your artworks?
nicole reber: depending on the piece, the title is either be taken excerpted from a line directly in the piece, or something totally different meant to illuminate the text itself. i made a piece recently that was my first time showing a piece that was entirely not my own text, it was taken from a donald trump speech, so that one obviously needed some context, in case the viewer was familiar with the text beforehand. that one was titled “most presidential nominees speak at a 4th grade level.” other pieces, like “friend” from the sping/break show, need that more direct title from the piece itself to structure a text that might be more experimental or poetic than some of the other pieces.
cultureisland: what inspires you to create your work? where do you find inspiration for these pieces?
nicole reber: time alone, skateboarding, father john misty, a constant need to make my life more difficult than it needs to be, youth. i’m at that age that i’m old enough to want to be young again for the first time in my life, where you start to see your mistakes for the first time, and try to take it back. life is gaining on me, things are messier for myself and the world around me, and i write to try to make sense of it all, to have a fleeting sense of control and happiness.
cultureisland: how has your work evolved overtime?
nicole reber: i write less about myself.
cultureisland: tell us more about packet biweekly. how did the publication come about?
nicole reber: packet was started in 2012 by my friend chris nosenzo, who i’ve collaborated on artist’s books with since college. chris, myself, and the artist anthony cudahy ran a current events tumblr called currently now where we would post current art, events, satire, on there. we had all just graduated college too, and were doing these salons at friend’s houses as way to encourage each other to keep producing work. chris had the idea for packet and brought anthony and i on, and we started it around hurricane sandy that year. the group has grown and shifted throughout the years and now it’s chris, his girlfriend christine zhu, and myself as core members. we have people that live in different parts of the us that are passionate about what we do and reach out to artists on behalf of packet, so that helps us grow our scope. we focus on printing recent work from emerging visual artists and writers, focusing on aspects of their practice that haven’t been published or are more experimental in nature. we put on events, readings, we’ve had a radio show, and we’ll be doing a talk at nada this year, so it’s something that keeps us all really busy, but it’s amazing to watch the community that’s formed out of it.
cultureisland: who are some of your favorite artists?
nicole reber: theo mercier, mark gonzales, pipilotti rist, anne waldman and ed ruscha.
cultureisland: what are you listening to right now?
cultureisland: have you watched anything inspiring lately?
nicole reber: i probably watched the 1969 simon and garfunkel “songs of america” every month in the last year.. it’s a lot of in-studio recording during the “bridge over troubled water” time, and really hones in on their songwriting. also this my morning jacket documentary, about their first tour in holland is awesome. as an artist, things have changed so much with regards to how to get your work out there, etc, that it’s kind of hard to look for role models, so watching movies about the creative process helps me cope.
cultureisland: what are your favorite places to eat, shop, drink coffee in your neighborhood?
nicole reber: i try to keep on a good budget and eat at home when i can. i’m allergic to a lot of coffee (it make me very drowsy) but i have found that grady’s cold brew gives a great buzz, and if your brew it for yourself in their bean bags it can be pretty affordable. i’ve lived in flatbush for a few years, and outside of getting art supplies, i don’t have to go into the city for any general life upkeep, flatbush has an awesome community of local merchants. i get my clothes tailed by bah french tailoring on caton, go to the caton market for custom screenprinting on the spot, get film developed at experts 1 hr, and get exercise rollerskating at the rink across the street from my house. i do occasionally splurge for a cocktail at erv’s which is probably the smallest bar in brooklyn, and not too far from my house.