Artist Celeste Martore Explores Fiction and Reality Through Space
This year, Gray Area opened the doors for our first large-scale immersive exhibition entitled, The End Of You, inviting visitors to explore multi-sensory installations that encourage new ways of perceiving the self within the living world. Throughout last fall, artists participating in the Experiential Space Research Lab have been reimagining ways to radically shift perspective through the power of immersive art.
Spatial designer, Celeste Martore, tapped into her experience in art, design and performance to examine levels of morality and the relationships between living organisms during the Research Lab.
Describe your background and your creative journey.
I am an artist, athlete and designer from the East Bay. I hold a BA from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. The design worlds I’ve worked in include performance design, exhibition design, and brand design, in the capacity of set and spatial designer. My designs come from a strong interest in architectural history combined with the ecological awareness of living systems.
What are some themes of your artistic inquiry?
My work is concerned with the validity of reality. So much of our experience of space depends on our eyes, and mostly on our fears to transmit the information around us. My work investigates the many ways we can interpret the spaces we encounter through narrative, and ultimately, what that means for authority and authorship. Through story, I create spurious worlds that critique how we might experience parallel structures in our own lives.
What are obstacles within your work that you’ve faced and possibly overcome?
Honestly, being young. I’ve seen a lot of leadership and personal growth as a result of my working experiences, in which I am always the youngest in the room. I’ve learned so much through observation of others, my own trial and error, and ultimately, what it means to make good art.
What led you to Gray Area’s Experiential Space Research Lab?
The opportunity to create with so many different kinds of artists. The lab is also the first of its kind. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of engagement we can pull off in a conversation about the ego and the environment in a format of interactive design.
What do you hope people gain from interacting with your work?
I hope it inspires a deep rumination on the discarnate rules and structures that govern the Western conception of life on Earth. The boundaries that have been created between ourselves and others are confusing, destructive, and are ultimately not useful. My intention is to start a conversation that holds oppressive humanism, urbanism and technology accountable so that “othering” finds no legs in our quest for planetary health.
Aside from the narrative of the play, what inspired your set design for “Kill Move Paradise”? And how did you leverage your architectural experience to create a space that seems to contradict the conventions and traditions of the discipline itself?
Set design answers to a script. The process and the spaces that result are narrative-driven and expressive — a character unto themselves. As performance unfolds, the interpretation of the space hinges on certain movements, spoken words, and/or subtext. Although literary in conception, my work always contain a spatial and atmospheric component; it’s set design through an architectural understanding. It stitches architectural strategies into the experience of movement and language, focusing more on the atmosphere of the space rather than the space as an object.
Kill Move Paradise is sacred ground. The audience is in the presence of the most divine: four black men who have left their physical bodies, stuck in a holding space before transitioning to the afterlife.
The language of the design — the symmetry, thirds, huge portals for light — is from early basilicas and Christian churches, designed to incite basic associations to the places that represent salvation. The design however, is off-kilter. There are oculi both above and below, dome-like curves under foot, yet expanse overhead. By conflating the direction of up or down, the space inverts assumptions about good/bad duality.
The ramped surfaces were designed to enhance the physical thesis of the story: the repetitive movement of the plight of escape by running up and sliding down an impossible barrier. The ramps did more for the story than flat walls ever could — it offered hope that seemed slightly out of reach, when really, the finality of their death could not be changed.
Traditional architectural practice often excludes the perspectives and subjectivities of the othered. What is your process of designing these new forms and spaces that are made to hold and reflect stories that focus on the experiences of Blackness? Where do your draw your inspiration from?
My designs are the result of observation. I’ve begun to understand the plight of others as a reflection of my story — the story of my people, who, within my short lifetime have seen the composition of our city flip. Outside the purview of infrastructure or language, the recognition of home is the presence of shared values. It is something that exists only in a past iteration of my San Francisco, sold without dividends. My ambition for the spaces I create is really my deeply felt motivation to harness the power and importance of the built environment, and to carry on the work of minority architects before and after me. Our work is the fight for representation, and to use our morals and story to gain authority in the spaces we occupy.
Your work often pulls the audience to the fringes of our reality through layered architectures and nested environments. How will you be approaching your project for the Experiential Space Research Lab? And what form do you think it could take?
The exhibition I’m designing for the Experiential Space Research Lab is mostly cerebral. It presents a dialogue between objects of varying levels of mortality, including ourselves. The work I’ve done in set design has informed the ways in which I am representing and communicating the stories of the individual objects, as well as stories between the objects. The exhibition is not straightforward, and will resonate with individuality.
Inspired by magical realists and architectural studies, Celeste Martore tells spatial stories that exist on the fringes of reality. Her experience in stage production and environmental design has led her to pursue opportunities in the built environment that focus on spatial storytelling.
The End Of You is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Gray Area and Gaian Systems, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to explore the potential of immersive art for social impact through the Experiential Space Research Lab. The open call for participation, Reworlding: The Art of Living Systems, invited artists to propose novel experiences to cultivate planetary thinking. The End Of You was on view at Gray Area from February 7–March 1, 2020.
The Experiential Space Research Lab is an initiative by Gray Area studying how artists can work with immersive environments as critical thinking tools. The Research Lab supports a diverse team of artists exploring the potential of immersive art as sustainable creative practice, and as a tool for engaging with our world. Through research, field surveys, prototyping, and the production of new works, the Experiential Space Research Lab will ultimately develop a playbook for artists interested in creating immersive digital art experiences.
This interview was conducted by Miriam Abraham, Gray Area’s Creative Development Intern. Portrait of Celeste Martore by Hannah Scott.