Iren Tete Interview - The Hopper Prize

Iren Tete

Iren Tete on being both a creator and discoverer, her love for Brutalist architecture, approaching materials with optimism & the synergistic relationship between language and objects

How did you get into making art?

This is always a difficult question for me to answer. I grew up in Bulgaria collecting things that were not readily available at the time. I had a pen collection, a napkin collection, and a rock collection. I spent a lot of time observing and curating these objects. As a little girl I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I now get to be that except I am both creator and discoverer of various artifacts.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

I am fascinated by the synergistic relationship between language and objects. This has manifested in writing short poems from which I source the title of each sculpture. Utilizing materials such as clay, paper, and wire, this body of work gives physical presence to words that are merely suggestive and welcome possibility – words such as maybe, almost, and if. The tenuous nature of the “in between” is intriguing because of its universal relatability and implication of time, space, and relationship. I am a function of this state of being. My name is neither Bulgarian nor American. It is in between. My dreams are neither in Bulgarian nor in English. They are in between. I am seen as neither fully Bulgarian nor fully American. I am somewhere in between. I see beauty in this state of uncertainty, or what I consider to be a state of possibility.

I am fascinated by the synergistic relationship between language and objects.

Iren Tete

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

It’s more a continuation. I don’t want to restrict myself, which is why I welcome new questions and problems into my studio. Each sculpture leads to more questions, and therefore more sculptures. My practice is process-based and it is my curiosities that help with the constant evolution of the work. Nothing is constant and I certainly don’t want my work to be constant. I embrace uncertainty and utilize it to push my work and ideas.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

It’s my preference to spend a solid 6-8 hour chunk of time in the studio. Sometimes I am able to steal only a few hours and other days I can spend 10 hours. I am definitely not a morning person so my studio day ideally start starts at 10 am. I always start by cleaning and preparing a clean, open space. This helps me orient myself and enter a creative headspace. If I am still trying to understand where I piece will go, I cannot listen to music or have any other distractions. I just need a quiet space. If I have already started on a sculpture and know exactly how it will look when finished, I listen to podcasts. I’ll usually work on one large sculpture or two smaller ones at a time. I don’t want to be rushed into finishing a sculpture. Slow and steady is my approach to making.

Who are your favorite artists?

I spend time reading the words of poets such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Ada Limón as well as listening to the spoken word of Paul Morley. I love the work of Vincent Fecteau, Michel François, Agnes Martin, and Isamu Noguchi. I grew up surrounded by Brutalist architecture and am in awe of architects Luis Barragán and Luis Kahn. I am probably forgetting many but this list is always changing.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

One of my favorite activities is browsing the art, poetry, and architecture sections at university libraries. I go in with no specific goal except to discover new makers and thinkers. I also love meet young, exciting artists through traveling, residencies, and conferences.

Iren Tete is an artist based in Gainesville who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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