In anticipation of the upcoming solo exhibition debut of multidisciplinary fiber artist, Ophelia Arc with 81 Leonard Gallery in New York, curator Nakai Falcón takes a moment to reflect on questions surrounding the show and the artist’s practice.

In March of 2023 while scrolling through Instagram, I came across these surreally woven sculptures reminiscent of carved meats with rosette palettes. A combination of deteriorative and delectably rich qualities. I’d come to find out the splaying of this body of work was in preparation for an upcoming BFA Degree Exhibition by multidisciplinary fiber artist, Ophelia Arc. I coordinated a visit to catch the work in-person, and after briefly speaking with the artist walking through her “core rot” installation, I knew I had to find an opportunity to collaborate with her.

“we’re just so glad you’re home” opens April 18, running through June 1.

I recently spoke with Arc to share more about the show’s background.

Ophelia Arc, strawberry nutrients
Ophelia Arc, strawberry nutrients, 2023. Graphite, photo, molded strawberry and latex on wood, 8 × 10 in. Photo courtesy of the artist. Right: Detail.
Ophelia Arc, making room for the ontologically parasitic
Ophelia Arc, making room for the ontologically parasitic, 2024. Latex, generic brand bread, corroded miraculous medal, catholic guilt, yarn and string, variable × 1 × 13 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Ophelia, would you be able to just give a bit of background as to who you are and some of the inspirations behind your work?

Ophelia Arc: Yeah, of course. I’m Ophelia and I’m from New York, but am currently residing in Rhode Island as I’m getting my MFA in sculpture at RISD. My work directly pulls from memory and how that memory is regurgitated out, ingested back in and then digested through a feminist psychoanalytic lens. Having my memories serve as the crux of my work as they are of my life has allowed for certain motifs and themes to act as recurring narratives in my practice, like harm and care, guardedness and vulnerability, chaos and control—paradoxes ultimately.

Often your work deals in textile with variations of collage and sculpture. However, with this exhibition, “we’re just so glad you’re home,” we wanted to showcase a new side of your practice with the inclusion of drawing. What were some motivations that pushed you into exploring this medium? Are there any strengths you found within drawing that communicate certain ideas more effectively than textile?

Ophelia Arc: I’ve always drawn. I guess everyone always draws and then just stops drawing at some point, usually at like 10 or something. For me, drawing was at first the main aspect of my art but when the pandemic hit I began to do commissions online to make money. These drawings were mainly digital but the whole experience really soured it for me. It wasn’t till I got to RISD that I began to see the drawing I was doing, at that point only confined to my sketchbook, as something that isn’t just brain seepage. My disdain for digital drawing still remains but I was luckily able to shift my mindset for the whole writing utensil on paper part of it.

Ophelia Arc, estranged and pathetic
Ophelia Arc, estranged and pathetic, 2023. Latex, tulle, hand dyed yarn, ribbon, human hair and oxidized jack chain. 24 × 20 × 75 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Ophelia Arc, it’s my party
Ophelia Arc, gray mold, 2023. Hand dyed yarn, rotten strawberry juice tulle, thread, 10 × 5 × 16 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I don’t see my drawings now as drawings but more so of collages. Everything’s a collage when you really think about it. What I love about my drawing, which I’ll refer to as for the sake of continuity, is how much of myself gets poured in. In the studio, I’m always listening to audiobooks, or lectures or some droning theorist talking about some obscure weird thing I found online.

My Latina identity in my art feels almost baked into the groundwork of anything I do. Crochet would end up leading me to look more into my culture and extended family. I don’t believe in coincidences so maybe that’s how it was meant to be.

When something becomes notable to me, I’m able to just scrawl it down during the process without breaking flow. With my sculptures though, I have to stop the audio or whatever I’m listening to and find my sketchbook and scratch the thought onto there and it just forces me to separate the mind and body in the work. Drawing allows for me to be completely present in a way sculpting doesn’t. That being said, I don’t always wanna be completely present so the mix of the two has greatly benefited my sanity.

Throughout your work, there seem to be several collaborative processes taking place between different parts of yourself. You’re an artist that employs substantial research paired with your own lived experience. Talk to me about this relationship of utilizing research and the inclusion of personal memorabilia in your art.

Ophelia Arc: Oddly enough, I think that dichotomy speaks to my whole artistic being or whatever you want to call it. That paradox between so-called ‘intelligent’ art aka theoretical and conceptual works, and its alleged opposite, ‘craft.’ Even the idea of using cited sources, aka legitimate source material and the lived experience emphasizes this. I love the taut tension that occurs when paradox meets. It feels like sludging and mucking up the boundaries. Erasing hard lines in the sand or what have you.

I’m always mesmerized by the aesthetic in your work that really walks between the cautionary and tender while also situating in appetite. Would you be able to expand on the repeating presence of consumption and nourishment in your practice?

Ophelia Arc: Ah yes, the ultimate paradox. The idea of starving something till it eats itself is always somewhere in the background of my work. Metabolically it’s called autophagy. In simplified terms there reaches a point where something is so starved it begins to basically eat itself. In these cases where does the self go? Similarly to nourishment, I think of the idea of too much, overbearingness, suffocation, consumption. Too much protein for example leads to rabbit starvation where the body can no longer process what it’s being given. This has been seen to happen with other food groups as well but pushing something to a brink in which it loops back around. So caring and tender that you kill it. Like kids with beloved toys or stuffed animals. I’m not sure if that answers the question though.

Ophelia Arc, it’s my party
Ophelia Arc, it’s my party, 2024. Crayon, human hair and latex on paper, 12 × 9 in. Photo courtesy of the artist. Right: Detail.

When you revealed its completion, I was thrilled to have the work, “it’s my party” included in the exhibition. There are many visual layers here, and I was hoping you could speak a little to the meaning behind this drawing.

Ophelia Arc: The concept came from this memory I have of my 14th birthday. There was this red velvet cake I got and it was beautiful; my dad knew red velvet was my favorite back then. The weird, or more so sad thing, is that I was the only one that didn’t actually eat the cake. I’m pretty sure I just smeared my slice and sandwiched it between two paper plates, or just completely chucked it. 

I came into crochet in a super backward way. Small-town boredom led me to walk into a yarn shop and I just bought the cheapest yarn and hook and taught myself. My Latina identity in my art feels almost baked into the groundwork of anything I do.

I didn’t eat any of the cakes between ages 11 through 15 or 16. Around that time, I mainly lived off Ensures, and eventually, those would be by force. The cake served as a symbol for normalcy, like seeing that I was “having cake” meant things were normal. Birthday cake as this symbol of “business as usual” or whatever.

Thinking about the presence of lace, the Goya Maria cookies, and the aesthetic nature of your weavings. As someone of Peruvian and Chilean descent, does cultural identity play any role in your work? As an artist exploring concepts tied to beginnings, it resonates with me as a very “otherness” approach because you are dealing with home and memory not necessarily in a commemorative way, but very much subverting the high-spirited and conditional love associated within Latin cultures.

Ophelia Arc: It’s funny because I used to think that it totally didn’t since I wasn’t taught textile art by anyone in my family and my immediate family and I aren’t even in contact anymore. I guess it just kinda seeped through though. Apparently my grandma on my dad’s side (Chilean side) crocheted a lot. 

Also, Peru has a really rich fiber arts culture that I didn’t find out about till later which in hindsight should have been obvious. I came into crochet in a super backward way. Small-town boredom led me to walk into a yarn shop and I just bought the cheapest yarn and hook and taught myself. My Latina identity in my art feels almost baked into the groundwork of anything I do. Crochet would end up leading me to look more into my culture and extended family. I don’t believe in coincidences so maybe that’s how it was meant to be. Yarn serves as this through line that bypasses the blockage of familial estrangement

As for the Goya cookies, they have this very tender quality to them. I grew up being raised by a Salvadoran woman, Nana. She always had Goya products and her husband would bring my brother and me Goya cookies. My grandma would always give us Goya sweets too. It’s like that uniting thing that brings any Latin kid together which I find charming. Also, I love Goya because it reminds me of Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” which I discovered through Tumblr as a kid and always seemed very relatable with my interests in Freud’s concept of the devouring mother.

“we’re just so glad you’re home” will mark your solo exhibition debut. Are there any upcoming projects or challenges you’re looking to tackle in your practice?

Ophelia Arc: I’ll be entering my thesis year so there’s that. I’m also preparing for an upcoming solo show at Lyles & King that will follow my graduation so that’s super exciting. I’m currently parsing through research interests and mulling over the many half-baked ideas I managed to get onto paper. My studio and sketchbook feel as though they’re pulsating, which is my favorite environment to throw myself into and entertain/contain my mania.

“we’re just so glad you’re home,” the first solo exhibition of multidisciplinary artist Ophelia Arc, curated by Nakai Falcón, is presented by 81 Leonard Gallery. The opening reception will be held on Thursday, April 18, 2024 at the gallery, 81 Leonard Street, New York, NY 10013 from 6 to 8 pm.

Ophelia Arc, stomach in knots
Ophelia Arc, stomach in knots, 2024. Crayon, human hair and latex on paper, 12 × 9 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Featured image: Left: Ophelia Arc. Photo courtesy of Liliana Orea. Right: Ophelia Arc, you’re my favorite, 2023. Thread, latex, Arcoroc Canterbury Dinner Plate impression, digitally manipulated photo, photo and acrylic sheet on ink stained frame, 14 × 18 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.