Terri studied architecture, and Adam art. How did Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao turn into Chiaozza? Tell us about the moment in which you realized that you could work together.
We met by chance at a karaoke bar in 2011. Adam joined in on a song that Terri was singing with a friend, and by the end of the night we were chatting on the sidewalk. As we got to know each other, we often played drawing games or played with food by making cooking experiments together. This casual way of visual and tactile experimentation probably helped pave the way for other creative practices together, such as painted paper and paper pulp sculptures, geometric wooden works, collaborative collages, home improvements in the form of spatial design and furniture design, etc.
One day, Terri was working on a project for a website called Parallelograms. She was building a model of a “treehouse” that she wanted to fill with scale models of houseplants and asked Adam if he would like to help. He immediately sat down and started painting two sides of small sheets of paper in different colors, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cutting tiny paper plants to put inside of the treehouse model. We became enamored with the plants as sculptures and photographed them each individually on our camera phones on a tiny seamless paper on the kitchen table. When we saw the sculptures in the scaleless space of photography, we realized that we may have stumbled upon something we could explore endlessly in many different iterations, materials, and scales.
Chiaozza is based in New York, how does the urban context influence your way of working?
Do you think that globalization, intended as indifference to the place where is produced and exhibited, will apply to art as well?
One of the best things about working in New York is the incredible community all around us. We have been lucky to meet and become friends with so many brilliant and wonderful people over our combined 29 years living in the city – fellow artists and designers, curators and art advisors, fabricators and vendors, supporters and clients, restauranteurs and bar owners, shop owners and neighbors, friends from earlier eras of life that are like family. There is a certain straight-talking in New York that we appreciate, a directness, thoughtfulness, and kindness – even from strangers – that is palpable.
The urban context has its limits as well – we are certainly limited in scale and scope of our work by the size and accessibility of our studio, and by the resources that are more limited here due to the higher cost of living. We are lovers of nature and the outdoors, and that is obviously a different experience here as well.
What’s your favorite movie on New York?
It never gets old watching movies about New York! A few that come to mind are: Working Girl, The Fisher King, Do The Right Thing, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (minus the racist portrayal of an Asian landlord!)
One of your first works was Pancake prints. What’s your relationship with food and is there a connection with your artistic research?
Our creative collaboration together probably emerged from a mutual willingness to play and explore new ideas. Many of our first times hanging out together were spent cooking meals in each others’ homes. There is a comfort and playfulness with certain materials, textures, colors, smells, tastes, processes, and experiences that are connected to planning, preparing and sharing meals. When we make something new in the kitchen, we are experimenting. When we make something familiar, we are honing our skills. The balance between play and rigor is at the core of our creative practice.
What’s your favorite recipe?
One of our favorite meals is broiled whole fish and vegetables in a cast iron. During quarantine, we have been making focaccia once a week and freezing it for lunch sandwiches with anchovies and celery leaves throughout the week. We have been using this recipe. It feels very special to have a little focaccia sandwich in the middle of the day.
Lately we (and our 2-year-old daughter Tove) have also been enjoying dark chocolate-covered frozen bananas: Slice 3-4 medium bananas and freeze them on a parchment-lined plate or tray for at least 30 minutes. Melt 1 cup of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a double-boiler. Using a toothpick, fork, spoon, or other utensil, dip the frozen bananas in the chocolate mixture, and place back on the lined plate. Freeze again for 30 minutes and enjoy. They will keep for weeks in a sealed container in the freezer. In the summer time, frozen grapes are also a staple.
How does your creative process work? Do you work together on the same idea from start to the end, or you have different role in the realization?
Our process varies wildly from project to project. Our projects often begin with dialogue together, where we discuss ideas, thoughts, materials, etc, that we want to explore. In the case of specific projects, we try to discuss elemental ideas at the root of a project prompt. We sketch, we talk, we work through ideas, we model with paper, clay, and sometimes digitally. The ideas that we both feel connected to in an elemental way tend to be the clearest, most direct, and most fun projects. Once we have the basic concept design, we begin the making process, the person that is “feeling” that part of the process the most will often take the helm in that phase. With sculptural projects, there can be many phases: building (which might involve drawing detailed measurements, making armatures, creating the base forms with paper, foam, clay or wood), paper pulping (for pulp-based projects), painting, and finishing (such as any external elements like sprouts or gold-leafing).
Sometimes we work independently on various explorations and then bring them to the collaboration, for instance when we de-collaborate at artist residencies. Many projects have emerged that way.
It is important to work together as well as give ourselves personal creative time in order to keep the work fresh and meaningful.
What’s your favorite song?
Lately we have been very moved by the song “Afro-Blue” by Oscar Brown Jr.
You are from different places. Terri is from Atlanta, Adam from New York. How does your different background blend and how your personal education interact with your profession?
We both like to think in 2D and 3D, in which the graphic image is as important as the sculptural form and structure. This probably facilities a certain fluidity of working together on different aspects of the same project. We introduce each other to different perspectives and references, which helps enrich our work and keeps us learning and growing as artists and as people.
Who is the artist that inspired you the most during your education?
Adam: Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Robert Maplethorpe, Piero Manzoni, Giotto
Terri: Bauhaus, Tadao Ando, Eva Hesse, Atelier Bow-Wow, Kazuyo Sejima
Most of your works seem to be related to primordial elements, they remind me of shapes that could belong to ancient rituals devoted to an imaginary nature. This is evident in your Paper Plants, Stick and Stone, Lump Nubbins. What principles guide you during the elaboration of an idea?
We often think about the universal forms and processes underlying nature: for instance, rocks, coral, plants, trees, buildings and even humans often have a similar language once the forms are abstracted. Processes of growth, decay, reflection, absorption, accretion, and entropy occur all around us. Our work draws inspiration from these observations and seeks to bring to light the wondrous, the magical, and the humorous in the elemental and everyday.
Your favorite book?
Terri: The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson; Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino; Tao Te Ching, by Laozi
Adam: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Frog and Toad (series) by Arnold Lobel.
I read that sometimes you are used to take a break from your duo to develop your personal research through artistic residencies. You have been artists-in-residence at Villa Lena in Tuscany. How was your Italian experience? Are there memories you want to share with us?
We loved our time at Villa Lena. It is such a magical place. We met many wonderful people there, with whom we hope to be lifelong friends, and who we have learned and continue to learn so much from. Our days at Villa Lena were very full – a great combination of productive, luxurious, peaceful, and adventurous. On hot days we swam in the pool three times a day and worked in our studio in bathing suits. Whenever we were uncomfortably hot again, we would go and take another dip and return to work. Some days we went for hikes around the area, including a nearby ghost town occupied by cats.
We made a few small trips to other parts of Italy, including to visit Adam’s Italian relatives in Alatri, where were warmly met by dozens of his extended family who were only recently reconnected to the American side of his family after two generations of lost contact. We also made a trip to visit Adam’s old sculpture professor, Enzo Torcoletti, in Umbria, where he had an outdoor marble and alabaster studio and introduced us to the incredible work of Alberto Burri in an enormous tobacco factory. We found it so inspiring that almost all the work we saw was created in his 60s and 70s. We made a brief trip to Rome and visited Giorgio de Chirico’s home near the Spanish Steps, and we hung out in fountains when we weren’t walking by foot all around the city. We also went to an art festival on the volcanic island Stromboli by invitation of our friends Soft Baroque, who were participating in the festival. We hiked up a volcano at dusk to watch a beautiful performance on the top of the volcano, we swam in the sea, and we spent an afternoon collecting rocks on Lipari. It was glorious.
We hope to spend more time in Italy when it seems a good time to do so, and introduce our daughter Tove to her Italian heritage and family 🙂
What will be your next personal and shared projects?
Currently we are staying at our friends’ apple orchard in Vermont, so we have set up a temporary studio in the Carriage House. We have had to be very resourceful with our materials, and we have some new paper pulp projects that utilize cardboard from delivery boxes, paper pulp made with recycled paper waste, and armatures made from collected rocks, sticks, and other ephemera.
We were also very inspired by the apple trees in the orchard – their stalky shapes and the grafting of one apple species onto another, creating “frankenstein” trees. We’ve started a new series of panel paintings and sculptures called “Gemels,” which refers to when trees grow together to become one. We feel that it is a powerful metaphor for life after COVID-19, when it feels like society will be fundamentally changed and we must grow together to make a more beautiful future for this earth and all of its inhabitants.
Some personal projects include learning as much as we can about the racial injustices in our country and trying to push for positive change, however we can.
… alchemizing the historical idea of an Artist with a contemporary avant-garde.