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Inside/Out: Diana Jean Puglisi

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After hiatus, Big Red & Shiny is pleased to continue Inside/Out, our artist-in-residence series. Inside/Out last ran during 2012 through 2013, and offered a space in which artists could discuss their studio practice and work. In this new iteration, a guest artist in residence is invited to write about their ideas, research, and challenges, and publish their inspirations, obsessions, creative experiences, and insights. Unlike an 'Open Studio' format, which is often predicated on potential sales, BR&S wants to provide the artist-in-residence with an outlet to place their practice in a more public realm, offering an expanded look at the creative process and placing emphasis on the time ideas and works take to mature. It is not expected that the artist produces anything finished or specific to BR&S in this time, only that they candidly share their explorations. 

Diana Jean Puglisi works with textiles like velvet, tulle and lace to create wall-mounted "paintings" and site-specific installations. Both delicate and raw, these sculptural forms explore themes of memory, the human body and the space between our mental and physical selves. She received her MFA from MassArt this past spring, where she studied 2D art. Her work has been included in exhibitions at New Art CenterMills Gallery at Boston Center for the Arts and §üb∫amsøn. Puglisi will be spending the month of August as an artist in residence at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnston, VT, using Inside/Out as a platform to reflect on her time there. —Scout Hutchinson


Diana Puglisi, installation view of "the fragment of one, the other," 2016. Tulle acrylic and thread (135 pieces), dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

Diana Jean Puglisi, installation view of "the fragment of one, the other," 2016. Tulle, acrylic and thread (135 pieces), dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

I like to think that the reason I became an artist is because my grandmothers’ creativity was passed to me. In their own way, they were artists: one was a lacemaker in 1940s Croatia and the other (who passed before I was born) was a seamstress in Brooklyn, New York. As my career has progressed, I’ve found myself gravitating toward adding sewing into my practice. I took some pattern making classes in high school and was always genuinely interested in fabrics. I find sewing to be meditative. Though I don’t engage in the activity in a utilitarian sense as my grandmothers once had to, sewing has become a sculptural tool for me, a conceptual action, and an invaluable connection to my personal history.

After completing undergrad in 2011, I distanced myself from traditional modes of painting and turned inward in search of a more stimulating medium for my ideas. I moved down to Richmond, Virginia, for a Post-Bacc at Virginia Commonwealth University where I studied under Nigel Rolfe, who was extremely influential and helped change the way I thought about my work. While in Richmond I began performing, taking photographs, making large-scale drawings directly on walls, filming video projections, and creating installations. These works revolved around my grandmother’s illness, Alzheimer's disease, and her hand-made Croatian lace, which still drives my laser cut drawings. It was during this time that it dawned on me: an artist does not need to be put into a discipline category. Such labels can be hindrances.

I graduated from the graduate program at Massachusetts College of Art and Design this past May.  For my thesis, I created a body of work made mainly of tulle and thread. I carefully chose these materials because of their cultural associations and materiality. My research for the works included domestic female rituals, the body, cultural constructs, pathology of memory, the history of sewing, and the phenomenology of space. I am interested in the sensate body and the in-between of life and death. The concept of being somewhere physically but not mentally—or, conversely, spiritually elsewhere—is strangely fascinating.

Diana Puglisi, installation view of "the soul selects her own," 2016. Air-brushed tulle, cotton tatting thread and thread. Image courtesy of the artist.

Diana Jean Puglisi, installation view of "the soul selects her own," 2016. Air-brushed tulle, cotton tatting thread and thread. Image courtesy of the artist.

Currently, I am making drawings that imagine what a soul may look like in preparation for installations and sculptures I plan to make during my residency at Vermont Studio Center (VSC) in August. These works are expanding on a part of my thesis I was calling “tulle energies,” which are geometric translucent forms that shift in shape as your body moves around them. I am playing with new materials such as velvet, chiffon, and painted canvas.  

While I work, I read. I felt it necessary to reread On Longing by Susan Stewart particularly because of the way Stewart speaks about the body to scale in the chapter “The Imaginary Body.” I also love the Documents of Contemporary Art series published by Whitechapel and MIT Press. I pull different excerpts out of the books and go on footnote journeys for new texts. I am currently reading The Object, edited by Antony Hudek, and Memory, edited by Ian Farr in this series. These books are pushing and inspiring my thinking for my current projects.

This past month, Lucy Wood Baird, Loretta Park, Rachel Morrissey, Brittany Marcoux, and I launched Pink Box Collective, an artist collective which is focused on showing the works of emerging female artists on the web and in exhibitions. We have an open call right now for GIFs called The Summer GIF exhibition on our website. I also work collaboratively with Brittany Marcoux on a project called Out of Context, which are diptychs (photograph and embroidered text) that bear similarities between children’s stories and illustrations or scriptures on miniature folk paintings. These works began because of our shared interest in the fallacy of memory and remembering. We plan to continue this series in a new form when we both settle down. I am excited for my upcoming residency at VSC and sharing the progression of my work, ideas, and experience with you all while I am there!

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About Author

Diana Jean Puglisi was born in Brooklyn, NY and works in Boston and New Jersey. She received an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2016 and was a Beker Family Scholar. In 2011, she received a BFA from William Paterson University and a Post-Baccalaureate from Virginia Commonwealth University. Diana was a 2015 Artist-in-Residence at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, MA, and this summer she will be an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT.

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