Claudia Mastrobuono turns tension into art

By Brittany Erwin

Photo: ‘Nest/chandelier’ piece from a previous installation by Claudia Mastrobuono

If you are like me, you often conceptualize a work of art separately from its setting. Yet, for many installation artists, like Claudia Mastrobuono, their work is contextualized by and in conversation with the venue where it’s shown. Mastrobuono, the daughter of a jeweler, “grew up making,” and continues that hands-on approach to the world with an undergraduate degree in industrial design followed by a graduate degree in studio art after a stint in teaching. Having thus spent a lifetime “making,” her art is still informed and shaped by—quite literally—its surroundings. On her eponymous website, she refers to this process as “decorating the ordinary.”

Utilizing clay and fiber as her preferred media, Mastrobuono’s work explores the literal tensions of the materials used, as well as the figurative tensions she struggles with herself. Recurring themes of imminent failure and ambivalence about domesticity and settling down versus artistic ambition abound. Some of these tensions arose from her self-described “vagabond” years of traveling from place to place, mostly for work.

“My anxiety in moving around, I just couldn’t do that,” she explains. “You lose those little comfy things that make you feel like you’re at home. So, I felt like I was in this mad race to settle down by buying a place and unpacking these boxes I have been hauling around for four years.” Yet, settling down has spurred other doubts. “Now,” she muses, “I have purchased a home and plan to live here for at least a year, and now I have anxiety—am I missing opportunities by staying in one space?”

Her upcoming installation, the chaos of comfort: relatively small works, at the Blue House Gallery opening Nov. 12, will highlight these anxieties and tensions in one way or another. Mastrobuono elaborates, “I actually haven’t been [to the gallery], but I’ve seen pictures, and I have all these measurements. When you ask me what it’s going to be, I don’t know. I’m making work to take there, I’ll bring thread and extra hanging mechanisms and then figure out, ‘Where is this gonna go?’” Considering the Blue House Gallery is smaller in scale than where she typically shows, this is an important factor. It is also part of the inspiration behind the all-lowercase title and cheeky, meta subtitle. For Mastrobuono, these works are relatively small and meant to be informally approached.

“It’s art—it’s not on this pedestal,” she says. Thus, formalized capital letters and a too-serious title-subtitle combination would not do.

All of this affords viewers the opportunity to approach the work comfortably, but also thoughtfully—the same way Mastrobuono creates. Discussing her preferred media of clay and string, she reveals, “It’s the slow build of those materials, and it allows me to think while I work. And, it’s hands-on. That contemplative studio process is what I enjoy about working with those materials.” This is art created with intention. Mastrobuono’s finished installations carry the echoes of her introspective process and invite viewers to contemplate their shared anxieties with her.

Though her work is venue-specific, she has begun constructing elements of her installation. When asked what viewers can expect to see, she says, “[A] net piece hung up that’s like a chandelier…I keep coming back to this idea of these eggs and a nest. I’m working on a piece I imagine being on the floor with some tension to the wall, but not sure if that’s going to work. I have some porcelain orbs that I made that are in my studio,” but emphasizes, “I won’t know that until I show up, and I can make and react to the space.” After a pause, she continues, “They can expect to be surprised by the use of materials, the way I use materials. I feel like a lot of people ask me technical questions when they see my work, like ‘Did you dye that yourself? How did you get the strings to attach to the wall?’ I feel like there’s a bit of illusion to my work, and I like that. People can be, hopefully, stumped and question what they think things are.”

Though Mastrobuono’s installations are inventive and tend toward the abstract, the materials utilized and the themes of tension, anxiety, and failure are accessible. Even if we are not sure what we are seeing, we experience it and connect on a deeper level. Mastrobuono ruminates, “I think it’s relatable for a lot of people. I think some of my work seems more obvious than other parts of my work. I think it’s important for my work to be accessible. That’s another reason I use clay and fiber—those are familiar materials. Those ideas of anxiety, tensions, fear of failure, a lot of people can relate to.”

Mastrobuono knows this to be true because she herself still struggles with these feelings. She is especially subject to an impending sense of failure: “Looming, imminent failure is this overarching thing of you’re constantly climbing and reaching and wondering if these efforts are going to pay off, or is all of this time and money you spent building to nothing?” If her upcoming installation conveys these themes to viewers as successfully as her previous installations have, she will have thwarted failure once again. Either way, viewers will delight in the fruits of her efforts.

Claudia Mastrobuono’s ‘the chaos of comfort’ opens Saturday, Nov. 12, from 6–9 p.m. and runs through Dec. 3 at the Blue House Gallery, 3325 Catalpa Dr. in Dayton. For more information, please visit ClaudiaMastrobuono.com and TheBlueHouseArts.com.

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Brittany Erwin
Reach DCP freelance writer Brittany Erwin at BrittanyErwin@DaytonCityPaper.om

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