Staging Ground Interviews Deborah Simon

Ursus arctos horribilius
polymer clay, faux fur, linen, embroidery floss, acrylic paint, glass, wire and foam
26”H x 22”D x 22”W, 2013

SG: What is it about animals that draws you to use them as your artistic subject?

DS: I’ve been drawing animals since I was about four, and, except for a brief stint as an undergrad, I’ve pretty much always used them as an subject. I don’t really have a good answer for this question – why do we love what we love? I could say that I like animals more than people, that I enjoy the mystery of them, that I like the fact that I will never know what they are thinking, but none of that really sums up why a fleeting glance of a wild animal is more exciting to me than seeing a human.

SG:Your sculptures exist at the intersection of the real and irreal. The viewer first mistakes them for a real (and presumably taxidermied) animal. But then, on closer inspection, they reveal themselves to be art. How would you situate the realism of the bears in relation to figurative art, tromp l’oeil, and/or hyperrealism?

DS: I never set out to be a realist artist. It’s just the way I’m bent. I’ve tried to work abstractly, but I always find a shape that resembles something – a scottie dog, an eagle, whatever – and tease it out until I have a realistic representation. I don’t think about the bears in terms of tromp l’oeil or hyperrealism. If anything I’m constantly fighting my need to be absolutely accurate and allow the pieces to drift into their own being. I like to walk the line between taxidermy, toy, and sculpture, and I like the tension this creates.

SG: The “natural” question to ask concerns the relationship between art and the environment, or the status of “environmental art.” Do you feel that you are an environmental artist? What, if any, environmental message do you hope your art conveys?

DS: I don’t think of myself as an environmental artist and generally don’t use environmental issues as a starting point for my work. I usually start with the image fully formed in my head without really understanding what it means. If the idea sticks around for several months, I know it has the staying power to keep me interested through the months and months it will take to make it.

By the very nature of using animals as a subject, people read environmental issues into the work. My husband interpreted the circulatory system on the polar bear as a reference to changing ocean currents and the warming of the arctic waters, which had never entered my mind.

I am very careful not to venture into wildlife art – images of charging buffalo and majestic lions surveying the savannah – that treat animals as odalisques there for our enjoyment and control. I want my animals to challenge the viewer and how they think about animals. I see it more of a psychological challenge than an environmental statement.

SG’s emotional reaction to your bears runs along these lines: an affective leap that makes us sympathetic followed by a sort of horror, or jarring fear. How, if at all, do you think these sculptures are tragic?

The emotional starting point for me with these pieces was vulnerability. I was thinking about how bears were both the iconic hunting trophies and are still childhood toys, and how opposed these two roles are. The taxidermy focuses on the power and violence, while the toy is a safely defanged and declawed companion for children. The toy becomes a special friend to help keep the vulnerability of childhood at bay, which in my sculpture, became a toy-size realistic bear that was flayed and exposed. The polar bear evolved on its own based on a strong image in my head, but with other bears I became more purposeful about which organ system and body language I chose. Black bears always struck me as nervous and fearful despite their size and strength. So I chose the nervous system and a defensive but frightened body language.

I usually need to connect emotionally with the piece, even if it’s not what I planned or I don’t understand the emotion. Once the emotion of the animal is set, the rest of the piece falls into place.

SG: What is your ideal context for viewing these sculptures? How does that context contribute to a viewer’s perception of the bears as artificial or realistic?

DS: I didn’t have any idea how to show these pieces. I hate pedestals, but as the bears needed to be seen from all side, they made the most sense. Pedestals, unfortunately, are around for a reason. I have been playing around with showing them on a long thin table, like a scientific exam table, and that is almost working. I’m still looking for the ideal way to show them.

SG: Without describing your entire process, can you tell us which part of making these bears was the most challenging for you, either due to the material in question or otherwise?

Figuring out the relationship of the colors of the linen, fur and embroidery has been the biggest challenge. Unless I want to start dying my own linen, I’m limited to the colors I can find in the Garment District. The textures of the fur and linen also present a challenge. Once the colors, fabrics, and embroidery are figured out through painted sketches and embroidered samples, my process switches to the relatively easier task of making everything and putting it together.

Deborah Simon
Packer Schopf Gallery

Issue 2 Launch Party


We’re very pleased to announce the release of Staging Ground Issue 2.
We’d like to invite you (and all of your friends) to our Launch Party.
Poetry by Marcella Durand, E Tracy Grinnell, Lucy Ives, Paolo Javier, and Stephen Motika.
Works in translation by Lucy McNair and Jen Zoble.
Music by Rue.
Drinks by Jeff.
Magazines and good company.

WHEN: Sunday, November 10th at 4:30pm

WHERE: Bar Reis in Park Slope – 375 5th Ave Brooklyn, NY

“Staging Ground Issue 2 is made possible with public funds from the Decentralization Program of the New York State Council on the Arts, administered in Kings County by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).”

Jarnot on Kurland

Bruce Kurland was born in 1938 and grew up on Long Island, studying at the Art Students League in Manhattan in the 1950s. His paintings span five decades, with an evolution out of the influence of traditional Dutch still life toward allegiances with contemporary artists such as Francis Bacon and Joel Peter Witkin. While the transience of organic matter is a theme of his field, Kurland plays with that classical concern and spins it out of the pastoral and into the everyday, urban, late 20th century world.


The viewer is confronted with the continuum of life that includes all the other creatures that trouble us with their teeth and claws, delight us with their flash of color, eat us, and are eaten by us.


BOOG City 2013


Staging Ground is heading to BOOG City, 2013. Featuring a reading by Paolo Javier (at 12:30pm on Saturday, August 3rd) and a new limited edition pamphlet publication.

See the full line-up of BOOG readers and events: BOOG CITY 2013



Paolo Javier is the Queens Borough Poet Laureate through 2013. He is the author of several books and chapbooks of poetry including, The Feeling is Actual (Marsh Hawk Press, 2011) and 60 Lv Bo(E)mbs (O Books 2005), as well as the publisher of a Queens-based tiny press, 2nd Avenue Poetry (

Translation Caravanserai

Staging Ground is pleased to introduce Translation Caravanserai, a new web series, featuring pieces by Melina Kamerić translated from the Bosnian by Jennifer Zoble; Edmond Amran El Maleh translated from the French by Lucy R. McNair; Kim Cheom Seon translated from the Korean by Matt Reeck and Angela Choi.

Melina Kameric

Melina Kamerić
from Shoes for Oscar Night

Edmond Amran El Maleh

Edmond Amran El Maleh
A Thousand Years, One Day

Kim Cheom Seon

Kim Cheom Seon
“To Die On The Back Of A Horse”

Two Stories from Shoes for Oscar Night

The Daughter of the Last Mohican

by Melina Kamerić
translated from the Bosnian by Jennifer Zoble

Her mother made candles. And that’s why Davorka always smelled like a strange blend of wax and the powdered sugar her grandma sprinkled on šapice, the little round cookies we lovingly called paws.

Davorka’s grandma made the best šapice in the world.

Every day when the two of us came home from school with our bookbags on our backs, her grandma would give us each a šapica wrapped in a little cloth napkin. It seemed then that all her grandma did was embroider little cloth napkins and bake šapice.


A Thousand Years, One Day

A Thousand Years, One Day

by Edmond Amran El Maleh
translated from the French by Lucy R. McNair

“Paul Celan: no one bears witness for the witness. And yet we always
choose a companion: not for ourselves but for something within us, outside us, that needs us to be
lacking in ourselves in order to cross a line we will not reach. A companion lost in advance,
the very loss that henceforth takes our place. Where do we look for the witness who has no witness?”

Maurice Blanchot, The Last to Speak


The war in Lebanon! June days, summer days under a Parisian sun, hot, torn by violent storms. The war in Lebanon! Was it real?

A man was holding a journal of which we know nothing, nothing but a few fragments, as if, with an incomprehensible gesture, his own hand had torn it up and scattered the pages. Reading at random, decoding absence: an anguished scream fanned out in that space of retreat, powerless before the irreparable, the vanity of speech, the triumph of hatred, an inexorable closure. By sheer coincidence, a mark, a name had escaped from silence and anonymity: Nessim. (more…)

To Die on the Back of a Horse & Ducks

To Die On The Back Of A Horse

by Kim Cheom Seon
translated from the Korean by Matt Reeck

I died on the back of a galloping horse. As a corpse I fell to ground. This happened in my past lives. I died like this not just once but countless times. I died each time before I was twenty. After years of hard training to become a warrior, the very first time I went into battle I would turn in the enemy’s direction and die. This was because I was very brave. I was the type willing to go through hell and high water. Disregarding the flying arrows and spears, I would rush headlong toward the enemy and die. I died like this each time. I never made it to thirty. My soul never knew what it meant to live past twenty. (more…)

Staging Ground Presents 3×30

Three 30 minute performances. Live sound effects. Theatrics. 7 floors of escalators. Architectural
ambiguity. Words. Worlds. Chairs and other potential furniture. Magazines.


Rob Erickson

Rob Erickson
Holding Handles

Dale Perreault

Dale Perreault

Mac Wellman

Mac Wellman
Horrocks (and Toutatis too)









Wednesday 4.17.13
7:30 Performance.
7 Doors.

Maroney Theater
St. Francis College
182 Remsen St., 7th FL
Brooklyn, NY 11201

2345ACFGR train access

View Staging Ground Presents in a larger map


Rob Erickson
Rob Erickson, Holding Handles
full beauty. what else is fully beautiful? i do not know; … (more)

Dale Perreault
Dale Perreault, Sculpitekt
Matt Reeck (Director), Jack Trinco (Mason Decanter), Stephanie Lane (Aether Decanter), Matthew Schechter (Sculpitekt), Cara Maltz (Announcer), Yury Shubov (Band Leader/Violin & Viola), Jeff Hodes (Clarinet), Alexander Rea (Percussion)
Furniture In Ibsen
Hedda Gabler is funny. She is. In the translation I read. On jury duty. The second Bush inaugural… (more)

Mac Wellman
Mac Wellman, Horrocks (and Toutatis too)
Elena Araos (Director), Erin Mallon (Actor)
The most beautiful thing in the world is a random assortment of unrelated objects (Heraclitus).… (more)



Staging Ground Interviews Joanna Sondheim

from Transfer

if spoken open hands of those who are watching

will pass on and therefore remains 

and order actions left behind      enscripted or

piety of mannered love    to be tied    graced upon

bequeath addendum 


SG: Many of your poems are ungrammatical in a traditional sense. How do you conceive of the relationship between grammar and meaning?

JS: For a writer, I think the use of grammar is similar to the way in which any kind of language or syntax choices are made, in that those choices are used to support the work, whether that is done through a more traditional plot structure, or narrative, or through the breaking up or questioning of more standard scaffoldings. In my own writing, I’m often thinking about the ways that stories are re-told or re-remembered and I feel like my use of grammar or language is done with that kind of re-construction in mind. In a very simple way, though, the choices of structure and language come about unconsciously, and while I revisit and edit the writing, often what comes through in the initial process winds up being supported.


SG: One theory goes that a person’s art isn’t an extension of their known personality but a counterpoint or an exploration beyond what life otherwise offers. I.e. a voluble writer is quiet among people, or vice versa. (There are other theories, of course.) What do you see as being the relationship between the phenomenon of personality and the space of a person’s art?