Grace Roselli is a Brooklyn based visual artist combining performative actions with painting and photography. In her latest project, Pandora’s BoxX, an extensive photography portrait series, Roselli has set out to document a representative group of women who have been working in the fine art field since the 1960’s. The project celebrates and recognizes women’s achievements and cultural contributions in poignant and pivotal ways. To learn more about this work and her tremendous career we had the privilege of sitting down with Ms. Roselli (over Skype):
Nectar News: How long have you been a photographer and what led you to create the Pandora’s BoxX project?
Grace Roselli: I graduated from RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in 1982 with a BFA in painting. I moved to New York City soon after with a sublet, a waitressing job and a studio at an art residency, the Empire State Studio Program. I threw myself into my painting, always with human subjects— the first time I picked up a camera was to make my own references for my work, not rely on someone else’s eye. I was always photographing myself or my immediate family and friends, especially the women. We’d use various props and body paint to explore identities, what it was to be human. It wasn’t until 2013 that I started looking at my photographic work as something that could stand on its own as finished artwork. I had done some commercial photography in the past, headshots for musicians, actors, and models, doing stills for music videos but I didn’t see my personal photos as anything other than studies for paintings.
In 2013 I collaborated with a poet on a published book called “Is the Room” using a surreal set I built in my studio and photographed friends reacting with it. Then in 2014, I did another project called the “Uncanny Lady M”, a feminist revision of Lady Macbeth. It was a mix of paintings, photography, and crazy, prickly wire mesh crowns that I made and convinced my friends to wear. The dealer I was working with at the time set up an exhibition of the works focusing mainly on the photography. We blew them up pretty big and it was the first time I acknowledged that my photo work was strong, and could stand on its own.
2016’s “Naked Bike” was my first series taking place both on the street and studio. I’ve been riding a motorcycle since the 1980’s and rarely saw other women bikers. There are many women riders now but ingrained sexist attitudes towards female riders, women in general, are tough to get rid of. The Naked Bike Project asked my fellow community of female bikers what happens when a woman rider leaves the gender-neutral space of the motorcycle and walks into female.
The resulting images made of their responses were as wild and varied as the individuals themselves! I partnered with MotorGrrl (Val Figarella), a female-owned working motorbike garage in Brooklyn to exhibit the results. The opening event was crazy, the space was packed; bikers, artists, local community—the whole street was lined with motorcycles! The event championed community, adventurous spirits, feminism, female-owned small business, the growing numbers of women in the sport of motorcycling, and most of all, the coming together of the two very different worlds of biking and art.
Wrapping up Naked Bike, I felt that I’d lost touch with my network of women artists. I was visiting the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill and taking pics of the participants attending a friend’s residency studio class. One of them, Anna Ott, mentioned I should do a book—lightbulb moment—yeah, I’ll do a book of women artists! The visiting artist at the residency was painter Brenda Goodman who graciously agreed to be my first subject. So, very spontaneously in September 2018 the Pandora’s BoxX Project began.
Nectar News: Tell me more about what the Pandora’s BoxX Project is and what your process has been.
Grace Roselli: I started contacting all the women in the fine-arts that I knew personally; the artists, writers, curators, gallerists-then every one I had a photo session with recommended other women, many of whom I was unfamiliar with, allowing this process to grow organically. The Pandora’s BoxX Project is unique in this way, a history that we’re living in the middle of. With each portrait, I’m building a mosaic, an artwork that documents in real time a picture of each generation building on top of each other’s experiences—from the generation of artists that emerged in the sixties and seventies with minimal communication or support from the art world, through the growing visibility of each successive generation of artists, coinciding with the increasing strength of a female support system and use of social media.
These incredibly dynamic women gathered together in one place is singular to this time, while cementing a legacy that will impact future generations. Each portrait represents how mutual support, collaboration, courage, commitment and art making over a 60 year span has contributed not only to the expanding story of women in our culture, but the story of all of us! Gender equality is a human issue crucial to our societal and economic well being. Advancing women promotes equality.
As an artist and a woman, this is the community that I’m part of, having seen first hand how gender bias affects how we think, act and live. I want my daughters to have equal access and equitable results with anything they choose to learn and do. I want to grow old in a society that values my life, health and contributions.
The photo sessions take place on location with available light. My process is designed to be very stripped down and performative; camera goes in a box on the motorcycle, I’ll meet up with my subject in a space of their choosing and we talk. These personal unrecorded conversations helps me obtain a sense of the individual, and locate her visually during the photoshoot.
The resulting portraits are activated through a series of individual interviews and round-table sessions, held both on-location and online. Creating the space for these dialogs enables me to share the spirit of the photoshoots along with the untold narratives fueling this artwork.
Inter-generational women from the project interacting with each other and an audience, set up discussions of who we are, what brings us together and what divides us. This is an evolving process of building community, transcending boundaries and advancing inclusion which accesses our common humanity in a manner that goes outside the art world, and beyond a female audience.
The project takes its’ name from the Greek myth about Pandora, a woman given the gift of a box from a god and forbidden to open. Unbeknownst to her it contains the evils of mankind. She opens the box and as the evils escape manages to hold onto hope. The hope that is the Pandora’s BoxX Project celebrates the incredible progress on the social issues of our time, while emphasizing an ongoing battle for visibility, intersectionality, interconnectedness and equality.
NN: Where are you at with your project today?
GR: We live in a world of intensifying economic, cultural and political polarization complicated by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. This underscores that the witnessing inherent to Pandora’s BoxX and the archive it creates needs to happen now. I am committed to including a broad and diverse living record of women currently in the fine-art field; the older women are especially crucial to this vision.
Until there’s a vaccine or evidence of a falling infection rate, I’m afraid some form of social distancing is here to stay. In response, I’ve implemented a number of photo sessions via computer, using whatever platform works: Zoom, Skype, FaceTime. The resulting portraits are quite different from the black and white photographs currently up on the projects’ site-in color, surreal, definitely reflecting this time! It feels strange to be working this way, I’m basically directing someone in another place while standing in my studio and taking pictures of a screen.
I’m currently editing a computer shoot from this past weekend with a curator duo, Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen, founders of the fantastic platform, ’How Can You Think Of Art At A Time Like This?’. They were in two different spaces, different lighting, different quality computer cameras. The shoot was a little crazy, a lot of fun, and I’ll be posting the results on the Pandora’s site soon!
The project as it progresses an be viewed on its site. Ultimately, the complete Pandora’s BoxX Project will be made available via dedicated online content, installation/s and published book form.
To learn more visit: www.pandorasboxxproject.com