Interview with Daniele Frazier about her work at the shipyard

Robin van Dijk
April 11, 2024

Daniele Frazier is launching her work 'A Vital Mess' and 'It Takes Two' at the NDSM shipyard this week. These works of art, consisting of so-called “sky dancers”, play with the conflicting connotations of art and commerce. We spoke to Frazier to learn more about her way of working and why the NDSM shipyard is an excellent location for her installations.

Daniele, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I was born in 1985 in San Francisco, California. I moved to New York City to study at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and graduated in 2007. Since then, I've stayed in New York, and I currently live between Manhattan and the rural north of the state. Here I have a studio where I sculpt, draw and write. My work usually deals with the politics inherent to public art itself, within that framework I address topics such as gender inequality, the difference between public and private space, and the definition of ownership.

Can you explain the idea behind the work 'It Takes Two'?

'It Takes Two' is a piece that uses the material language of advertising to address issues of cooperation, miscommunication, the politics of urban development, and the use of public space. As undermines many of my works, 'It Takes Two” familiar images to humorously encourage people to think about complex issues — in this case the relationship between art and gentrification. As the hammer and nail try ceaselessly to carry out their goal (the hammer that hits the nail on the head), their unfortunate movements and repeated failures comically signal to passers-by that on the empty lot they occupy, construction activities are “really coming soon”. Unlike an ad for a car shop or a car wash, these anthropomorphic figures announce the futility of their own message: that change is imminent and there is nothing you can do about it.

'It Takes Two' is now available on NDSM. We found it interesting to exhibit your work in the context of the former shipyard, but also with current housing developments on NDSM-West and the relationship between those two identities with the many artists who now have their studios and maker spaces in this area. But It Takes Two has also been shown at other locations, can you delve deeper into these locations and what they mean in the context of this work?

'It Takes Two' was originally designed specifically to be installed on a vacant lot in Miami, Florida, that was intended to be developed into luxury real estate. While the circumstances of the occasion were unique, the phenomenon of gentrification is universal, contributing to the portable nature of the work. Other locations asked for the work to be shown because the message, while nihilistic, uses humor to appeal to viewers who wouldn't normally think about the politics of empty public space.

The work is an intentional “vulgar extravaganza”

The work has been shown at Socrates Sculpture Park (a former landfill that has now become a public art site), The Oxbow School (an interdisciplinary high school boarding program in the rapidly gentrifying Napa Valley), Central Park (a man-made piece of nature), Sweet Pass Sculpture Park (an artist-run nonprofit site in a vacant lot in Dallas, Texas), and City Hall in Boynton Beach, Florida (not far from affluent West Palm Beach and Mar-a-Lago, areas that are seriously threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change).

You have 'A Vital Mess' created especially for the NDSM context, can you share your ideas behind this work with us?

'“A Vital Knife” is my first text-based work. The title comes from Learning From Last Vegas by Roberts Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, a groundbreaking architectural text that formally explores the postmodern architecture and signage of the Las Vegas comic in the context of the history of architecture in general. Equipment closes'“A Vital Knife” similar to many of my public kinetic and wind-based works because of the convenient ability to reach a monumental physical scale (8 meters high in this case) with hollow volumes such as these. Since my work in the past has undermined the typical associations of the materials I use (plastic-based performance textiles for outdoor use), '“A Vital Knife” also the thing itself: a roadside ad — visual pollution — designed to make people stop and watch. To quote Robert Venturi again: “The play is an intentional 'vulgar extravaganza'”. Instead of criticizing capitalism's visual and material language sideways, this hodgepodge of “sky dancers” loudly proclaim themselves as a monument to the stickiness and tactlessness of contemporary ways of persuasion and seduction. The human-like forms and anthropomorphic movements reflect the viewer; they are a mirror. The culture has been hypnotized by these omnipresent roadside spectacles that look like us, which is why we recognize ourselves in them. We are the ad and the ad is us.

Both works use a medium that is often used for advertising purposes: the “sky dancers”. Why do you specifically use this medium?

What undermines the material and shape of these objects is the text. I specifically chose phrases and words that are vague, philosophical, open and confrontational. The messages on both sides of the sky dancers are contradictory. The entire “system” that dictates the rules of this piece is intended to challenge the principles of advertising but ironically deliver the same in the sense that I propose that the promises of the visual capitalist lexicon are empty. These promise everything and nothing. These types of signs indicate desperate and cheap requests for attention, but what I present are the signs as the destination itself, imploring the viewer to expect one thing from afar, only to see that expectation distorted upon investigation: an 8-meter-long figure adorned with TRUTH, APPEARANCE, SHAPE, CONTENT. I ask the viewer, what is the truth and content of the shape and appearance of our commercial visual landscape?

Then a little bit more about yourself and your approach to work: What do you like/find interesting about making work in public spaces? And how does this relate to other art you make?

Making work in public spaces satisfies my desire to work outside, generate work on a large scale and to make the viewer's creation and reception of work social and egalitarian. Most traditional galleries are inevitably linked to (commercial) market systems and rely on selling works of art to maintain space. I'm drawn to working outside that system, literally and figuratively, in the idealistic hope that art that doesn't depend on ownership will be inherently radical.

I keep notebooks full of fragmented ideas

What are your general thoughts about NDSM, what do you think about the idea of making art for a place like this?

NDSM is a suitable location for my work because of the diverse functions that the warehouses and outdoor spaces have. It's an excellent place for me to address the complexities of art and commercial endeavors, which sometimes share the same physical space.

And finally: which artist (s) inspires you and for what reason (s)?

I can really fill hours so I'll keep it short: here's a short list of artists I appreciate for their humor, criticism, use of materials, and attitude to the culture of the art world: Lawrence Weiner, Mike Kelley, Rosemary Mayer, Ree Morton, Rosemarie Trockel, Robert Smithson, Paul Thek, Hans Haacke, Fred Wilson, Christo & Jeanne Claude, Isa Genzken.


Visuals: Gert Jan van Rooij


Lorem ipsum by sit amet, consecteur adipising elite. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. German course, mi quis vivera ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae rat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus is rutrum lorem imperdit. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.