Interview with Jody Pinto, Artist

Posted June 10, 2011 by Anonymous
Sandra Q. Firmin, Curator, UB Art Gallery
Interview Date: 
Friday, December 11, 2009
Person Interviewed: 
Jody Pinto, Artist
Place of Interview: 
Loft and residence in New York City



The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Jody Pinto on November 12, 2009. This interview was donated by the UB Art Galleries to be presented online by AS-AP in June 2011.





Jody Pinto and Sandra Q. Firmin have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.




SANDRA FIRMIN:  This is Sandra Firmin and I am interviewing Jody Pinto on November 12th, 2009. Can you start by talking me through the back story to the project? How did you become involved in Artpark?



JODY PINTO:  I had been active in the women’s movement and had organized a political group to help rape victims in Philadelphia, where I was living at the time. After working with the organization for about four years, I went back to my own work and realized that working in the studio, after such an experience in the public forum, that working in the studio was just not going to be enough for me. I wanted to continue the thrill, really, of placing myself in situations or a situation where there weren’t guarantees, where there wasn’t, in a sense, the protection and comfort of a known space, which would be the studio. I started making drawings that were an outgrowth of the political energy and anger that started the organization for rape victims, but drawings that were also a reaction to the political times. We were at war in Vietnam, there were riots. At the time the subject of my work was the body, body parts and their relationship to landscape. Often I equated the wounded landscape with the wounded body. Hair bursting from a body part or the landscape represented the power of the body /land to self-heal. About the same time I was making paper works that you could lift and you could hold, that you could take out of doors; that were like small huts, in some cases, like travois, those sled-like apparatuses that were dragged behind horses by the Native Americans. So for a year, I worked on these paper sculptures. And then I thought it was time for me to get some feedback on what I was doing. And I heard Rafael Ferrer was teaching in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia School of the Arts. And so I just— I took myself over and interrupted one of his classes and asked him if he would come over and take a look at what I’d been doing. He came to the studio and he liked the work. We looked through the drawings that I was doing for outdoor spaces and he asked me, “Have you ever heard of a place called Artpark?” I told him no and he said, “Well, it’s this organization. I don’t know much about it, but it was organized by friends of Robert Smithson and a guy named Dale McConathy and someone else.” Of course, [I] knew the work of Robert Smithson. I asked Rafael about, you know, what it involved and he said, “Well, they give you some money and materials and you do work out of doors for a month.” So for me, at the time, that was incredible, because I had a part-time job and I was barely making ends meet. So he gave me David Katzive’s name and told me to call him and to tell David that I wasn’t a young kid. I think he did that because he was afraid David would think I was just some fly-by-night graduate school graduate. So I called David and I told him Rafael told me to call. He came down to the loft, which was in the middle of a blasted area that PENN-DOT had torn down for the I-95. David looked at my work and I told him I’d never done anything out of doors— He liked the work and he said, “Well, this is a perfect opportunity. If you’re selected we’ll give you three hundred dollars a week,” or a month; I think it may have been a month. “We’ll put you up and we’ll pay for your materials. The idea is that you don’t have to have a fixed project in mind, but you do have to develop a project.” The idea being that Artpark was a place that was to be treated like a laboratory. So I was very excited. David said, “I’ll call you in two weeks and let you know.” So two weeks went by and I, you know, was biting [my] fingernails. I went off to see a film by Fassbinder with some friends one night, called Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. We all came back to my loft and were taking about the film, which was extraordinary, and the phone rings. And it’s David and he says, “Jody, I have good news for you. Pack your bags.” I think I may have burst into tears. He said, “Pack your bags, you’re going to Artpark.” And I said to David, “This is one of the most wonderful nights of my life, because I’ve seen one of the most extraordinary films—you’ve got to go see it at the Ritz—and now you’re telling me that I’m going to Artpark.” So I went to Artpark and I ordered my materials. I gave them a list, which is what you were supposed to do, and they had the materials ready for you. And for me, the materials were what I had been using in the loft, which was paper, heavy, heavy industrial brown paper; and I asked for wooden poles, twelve feet high; and string, hay, and a few other things.


FIRMIN:  How did you respond to the site when you first got there?


PINTO:  Okay. Well, so I arrive at Artpark. And at the time, it was a very rough space, but extraordinarily beautiful. There was a trailer, there may have been two trailers, that were used by Rae [Tyson] and George [MacDonald], who were the managers, the on-site managers for Artpark. The  trailers were the communications center. But what was incredible, the town of Lewiston is right next to the site. And you walked on to this site which, was a landfill and had been an industrial— it was an industrial landfill. So we were also told, God knows what this landfill is covering. Most likely, it’s all sorts of toxins, but who knew? This was the seventies. And what was funny at the time, the work that I was doing had to do with the relationship between the body and the land, and actually equivocating damage done to the body physically and the damage that we were doing to the landscape, and the land in general. Anyway, you walked on to this site and it was kind of hilly.  Any of the plants that were growing were the plants that had been— the seed had been blown into the site. And there in front of you, was the Niagara River in this gorge, tumbling along, at parts of it calm. We were told to just sort of explore the site. Some sites had already been taken by artists. So I walked out along the Gorge path with George and Rae. I walked along the— There was this sort of safe—by safe I mean much more public area—just before you started to walk out along the gorge. I really wasn’t interested in a flat public area, that involved everything from a parking lot to just open space. I wanted to walk along the gorge, because to me that was the reason for wanting to be there. So George and Rae and I walked out. We walked out all the way along the edge of the gorge, as it got narrower and narrower, to where the bridge connecting Canada and The United States was overhead. And that site, because of the bridge structure, the connection between Canada and the States, the gorge itself, the palisades rising right up from that narrow trail, and then the river becoming much more active at that site—that’s what I chose. It was a confluence, to me, of the wildest part of the site.


FIRMIN:  Did you have much interaction with the public then?


PINTO:  Okay, that’s another— I am so glad that I was invited the second year Artpark happened, because I knew some people who had been there the first year. I didn’t know them because they were at Artpark, because I hadn’t heard of Artpark. But it was wild still. There were no go-karts taking people around to the different sites. There was no—Nothing was organized. Even the theatre, only occasionally, at that point, was putting on productions. It still almost felt like, in a way, a wilder version of the empty lots and abandoned buildings around my loft in Philadelphia. It really felt as though you had found a site that no one had been to before. And in fact, that was true of the site that I chose. Nobody had worked at that site before. And everything was totally unorganized. Do you want me to tell you a quick story?


FIRMIN:  Yeah.


PINTO:  Okay. It was so unorganized that when we arrived—and I’m saying this, wonderfully so unorganized—it was so unorganized that they really didn’t have a place for the artists to stay. So for the first couple of weeks, I was put up at this wonderful woman’s house who was, I think, on the local board for Artpark. I had a bedroom to myself on the second floor. And she took care of me. She was like a mother. She would give me tomatoes and peaches every day to take out for lunch, because where I was working was a real hike from the control area. After staying with her for two weeks, they put us up at the University of Buffalo. The second week that I was there, the Joffrey Ballet arrived, and was going to put on a performance. So also staying at the University of Buffalo were the Buffalo Bills, the football team. The Buffalo Bills had several floors. The Joffrey Ballet had another floor, and the artists had another floor. Now, in the morning, we would all come down for breakfast. So you can’t see this on your tape, but first to come in would be the Buffalo Bills. And I’m telling you, these guys— I had never in my life seen anything like them.  And you actually have to talk about these guys in terms of scale. They filled entire doorways. They had to duck as they came through. They’d go to the counter and get two boxes of cereal, cornflakes, whatever, two orange juices, two milks, two bowls of fruit and sit down. Then the Joffrey would come in, beautifully erect, fabulous posture, in their multicolored outfits. They’d prance up to the counter and get fruit and orange juice and, you know, some bread and they’d go to their tables. Then the artists would come in slouching, horrible posture, all of us smoking, scruffy beards, ratty hair, all kinds of costumes and work clothes. They’d slog up to the counter, fried eggs, bacon, you know, tons of toast, butter, and coffee.  Then the buses would come to take us to Artpark. As we’d leave, you’d see the Bills doing these incredible exercises, jumping jacks, whatever. We’d come back in the evening. And I remember doors opening on the wrong floor and hearing [wheezes], and there in the hallway is the Joffrey in everything from bikinis to little briefs, doing yoga.  It was the most incredible layering of—


FIRMIN:  Personalities?


PINTO:  Personalities, professions, artistic sensibilities—it was wonderful. In the evening we had dances, and everyone would get together including the Joffrey. Not the Bills, but the Joffrey and the artists and we’d have dances.


FIRMIN:  That’s lovely.


PINTO:  So it was— It was a wonderful, crazy, unorganized adventure.


FIRMIN:  So how did you, as far as, like the public, did you not want to work with the public?


PINTO:  Because things at that point were not really organized, in terms of taking groups through. Occasionally, there would be public, who would come through, but they would have to hike out to my site. And then at the time, I think it was only on weekends.


FIRMIN:  Did that affect your choice? I mean, not wanting maybe as much—maybe wanting more privacy?


PINTO:  At the time, it was both the site and the fact that I’d never done anything like this before. And I wanted the chance to be, I guess, in a way, undisturbed and to just think about what I wanted to do. And like I say, on the weekends, people could come through and look. But we helped each other. That was another thing. You know, the artists were very collaborative.


FIRMIN:  Can you name some examples or elaborate?


PINTO:  Yeah. For instance, Alan Saret did a shingle house, a shingle tepee, and we helped. Some of the other artists made clothing, like Judith Shea. And artists pitched in and helped, sometimes being models. But in general, there was camaraderie between the artists. And in fact, I met people that I’m still friendly with today.


FIRMIN:  Still live in the same building [laughs].


PINTO:  Yes, in fact. Yes,. I live in the same building as Judith Shea, and we became great friends.


FIRMIN:  How did you think about your—


PINTO:  And Michelle Stuart, for instance.


FIRMIN:  Yeah. How did you think about your artwork, your project, in regards to the landscape? Was that a consideration?


PINTO:  Oh yes, yes. As a matter of fact, the project that I first organized, I used materials that I’d used before. And they were coated; the paper was coated so that it would last. But again, it was an experiment. And I built these black oval pockets. They were suspended, like travois, and leaned against the palisades. So in a way, that was a collaboration. I wanted to do something that actually used the support of the landscape, so that they could be vertical. The reason they needed to be vertical was the fact that the openings— I inserted hay into the openings of the oval pockets.  I had seen birds nesting in the area, and I wanted them to use the pockets as nests.  I used cotton, as well. A few birds started to use them, which was wonderful. I mean, this was similar to some of the drawings that I had shown Rafael and David. Some of the drawings involved little huts in trees. Then one day, after— I guess the ovals had been up for about a week or so, I came in to the trailers after a storm and David and George both said, “Jody, you have to go out to your site because the storm was really bad last night and it’s done a lot of damage to your work.” I went out to the site and I was devastated. The storm had just torn the ovals away from their supports. It was completely ruined. And so after I got over seeing that the project had been destroyed, I thought to myself, well, I’m just going to tear it all down and I’ll think of a different project. And I spent the day. And something happened that, for me, I think was a revelation—without getting religious here. But by the end of the day, I thought to myself, I’m not tearing this down. In fact, I’m going to use the supports that I have for the present project. I’m going to extend the project to incorporate twelve pockets that will be suspended, each between two supports, and I’m going to fill the pockets, canvas pockets, with hay and the red earth that surrounded the site. And I’m going to wait for rain. In fact, my idea was that I would use the elements that had destroyed the first project to act almost as a midwife or as a collaborator, to bring the second project to life. And so I built twelve bleed pockets and I waited for rain. And since the storm had left, the skies were still very, very cloudy and so I knew it was going to rain again. And sure enough, within three days, the rain came and the pockets began to bleed. And they bled red and transformed the white canvas red.


FIRMIN:  A couple of things. You touched upon it a little bit, but could you talk a bit more about the forms and what the forms mean to you? And I’m interested in what happened to them afterwards. How long of a life did they have after the rain?


PINTO:  The forms themselves were forms that I had— I had made similar forms. Actually, I had made forms that were close to a body bag form, in my studio. Again, in a response to what was going on politically in the world. And also probably having to do with the political work that I had done in Philadelphia, which was an organization that helped women prosecute the crime of rape, and proceed through all of the institutions that were necessary for her healing.  I had spent a lot of time in emergency rooms in Philadelphia General Hospital. And also my interest in the landscape, the wounded landscape, the wounded body, and the capacity for healing. So the projects that I had done in the studio, some of them horizontal floor pieces, similar to body bags, I would draw on, they were also done out of the same paper. Also the travois-like projects that leaned against the wall of my studio; that had openings, but that also implied vehicles to transport the wounded. In other words, bringing the wounded towards help, towards healing. And so the projects at Artpark, in a way, were a step forward from those indoor projects; while at they same time, they were bringing together the work that I had done with women organized against rape, the work that I had done in the studio; and then for the first time, bringing together the elements and nature in a very real way, together with my projects; actually using nature as a collaborator. And the piece— the last project, the bleed pockets remained and just continued to become redder and redder and redder. And stayed until Artpark took it down for the next season.


FIRMIN:  How much did you know about Artpark’s geological, social history…


PINTO:  Ah yes.


FIRMIN:  …before you came up? And did that influence—


PINTO:  Yes, because that was something that I haven’t mentioned, but is a very good point to bring up. I read about Artpark before I came up. I read about the site. And I knew that it was one of the most extraordinary geological sites in North America, and probably in many ways, in the world. And when I went out along the gorge, part of the reason as well, that I chose the site that I did, was because of the palisades and the continual erosion of the palisades, there were these extraordinary hunks that— some of them almost the size of this table, that you could pick up and see fish bones, worm-like forms, leaves. I brought back pieces that— And when my family came up and my partner came up, I gave them pieces of extraordinary fossiled stone. Just unbelievable. An element of that piece that I did, including the first piece, depended on time. But it was nature’s time and nature’s animal and nature’s elements that would work in very protracted period, compared to the geological timeline, in which the projects were sited. So it was as if in a way, once again, there was another collapse of time, in that the site occurred over millions of years; my timepiece, collaborating with the elements and with birds, was given a very short period of time in which to occur. Both my piece and the geological site were still continuing to occur.


FIRMIN:  What, in retrospect, does the piece, the two pieces, represent to you?


PINTO:  For me, as I mentioned before, it was the first opportunity to work in an outdoor site. It was also for me, a beginning, in many ways, on many levels—personally, artistically, and philosophically. I understood for the first time that something destroyed—which seems ironic because of the work that I had done with women in Philadelphia—but I think in a way that contributed to the realization at Artpark, that I would make something out of the element that destroyed the first piece; I would make a new piece with that same occurrence. And that informed my work when I came back from Artpark, because I immediately went out into the empty lots and abandoned buildings in the area where I lived. I started excavating nineteenth century wells and cisterns, leaving bundles and transforming the wells, leaving them for people to see and continue to rearrange, which they did. I built ladders so that they had access into the wells. People actually went down into those wells, rearranged items that I had left and left their own. The same thing happened in the abandoned buildings. And based on those projects that I did for about two years after I returned from Artpark— People heard about the projects. Richard Flood, who at the time, was editor for a magazine in Philadelphia called Philadelphia Exchange, came and interviewed me in my loft, and we walked around the pieces in the landfills. And from there, I was invited by Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art to be in a show called the “Philadelphia Huston Exchange”. As a matter of fact, I did a site work for the ICA that was based on the elements.


FIRMIN:  So how would you describe Artpark and its goals?


PINTO:  Well, in the beginning, I felt that Artpark really was in the spirit of Robert Smithson, that it was truly a laboratory. You were invited to come and experiment. There were no restrictions placed on what you did, except that you were there to experiment and hopefully, a project would evolve out of that; but if it didn’t, that was all right. There were really no expectations placed on the artist. And I felt that that was truly in the spirit of Robert Smithson. You go out to a site and you think and you experience; and out of that, hopefully, you learn and you make something. But what you make can be anything from a poem to an actual physical poem, which might be a project.


FIRMIN:  Great. Well, do you have anything else to add?


PINTO:  The only thing that I would add to that, other than the fact that it was the most extraordinary month of my early art life, was that I met wonderful artists who I’m friendly with today, who I count among my closest friends; and that the opportunity was probably beyond what I could ever have expected; and I’m sure, beyond what any of the organizers of Artpark could have hoped for an artist to experience.


FIRMIN:  Oh, that’s lovely.


PINTO:  It was an awakening. It was really an awakening and a beginning.


FIRMIN:  That’s wonderful. Well, thank you very much.


PINTO:  Thank you, I think it’s great, what you’re doing.


FIRMIN:  Thanks. [end of audio file one of two] Okay, we’re recording again.


PINTO:  Okay. One thing more that you have to know about Artpark, and that’s really important. Well, several things. One, in the first two years, the catalog of the first two years, you really get a sense and an experience that the artists who were going, who were selected, who were there, came with a tremendous excitement. We were all thrilled to be there. We felt we were really privileged. We were thrilled to be there with each other. And for the most part, the artists that were there those first two years, some of them had reputations, some of them had galleries, but some of us didn’t. And it was truly an adventure. We all felt that way. It was as if, you know, we were explorers to an untouched land, an untouched experience. And also, most people don’t realize what the seventies were like. Nobody—nobody—was giving artists, for God’s sake, money to go and experiment, without restrictions, in a fantastic site set aside for that. You have to understand that in the seventies, no one had money. I had a part-time job. To be given $300 and an extraordinary site in which to experiment was absolutely unheard of. There was nothing like it anywhere. And that alone is something that makes Artpark just unique in the world.


FIRMIN:  Thank you.