Still Lives with Step Ladders, 2021. Three cement-filled step ladders, over 800 liquor bottles, landscape barrier fabric, wooden columns, metal palms, rocks, milk crates, baby stroller, and suitcase, 105 x 270 x 675 in. Photo: Joshua White, Courtesy the artist and Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles

Like a Rock: A Conversation with Nari Ward

Nari Ward repurposes found objects and materials, assigning them roles at odds with or radically different from their original intent and function. He has worked with everything from fire hoses, tanning beds, bottles, and discarded clothing to old carpet, shopping carts, baby strollers, and tar, wielding them as elements in an archive that reclaims and affirms Black experience. Because Ward’s work can’t be reduced to a mere collection of materials, he enlists viewers in a process that recharges typical interactions with objects. We see something over and above a process and collection of things—a particular lived history of race, poverty, and consumer culture.

Ward generally presents his work as installation and often uses sound—songs, music, bits of conversation. While he is invested in content, he’s also concerned with how his work affects surrounding space. His objects and installations are both modest and spectacular, intimate and bombastic, factual and abstract, political and personal—each one sustaining a high level of conceptual and emotional intensity.

Kay Whitney: Your objects seem to disappear into your conceptual framework. Is that something
you consciously seek, or do you want them to have a life outside of your concept?

Nari Ward: Ideally, I would like my process of making the work to be totally different than what I expect from the viewer’s interaction. I don’t want people to see my work as a manual of my thoughts . . .

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