‘Red, Gold, and You’ is Art that Invites Community to Contribute

Rosario Varela in her studio.

By Annette Hinkle

This Friday, Guild Hall opens “Red, Gold, and You” an outdoor installation by Amagansett artist Rosario Varela that will be on view in the Minikes Garden for two weekends. The work is composed of red paper and gold tape that will weave through the trees and shrubbery of the garden. But the piece is also designed to be interactive and impermanent, and a team of minders (aka members of Guild Hall’s Teen Arts Council) will be on site to redrape and gradually redesign the piece at the direction of visitors who offer suggestions for how it should change and morph into something else.

Since the start of the pandemic, Guild Hall’s artist-in-residence program, which invites artists from beyond the East End to live and work on-site communally for a period of time, has been temporarily suspended. So instead, Guild Hall has brought in four regional artists, including Varela, to serve as inaugural community artists-in-residence as they can live and work at home. While the pandemic has upended everything in the art world, including art residencies, in many ways it also served as the impetus for the creation of “Red, Gold, and You.”

Varela, a native of Argentina, works primarily in ceramics and painting, and, truth be told, as an artist, she wasn’t particularly inspired in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. This was back during the spring lockdown when shows were first canceled and museums and galleries started closing and artists were forced to look within themselves, dig deep and find motivation and inspiration in their solitude.

Then in June, the roadsides of East Hampton came alive in Art Apart, an uncurated, roadside exhibition highlighting the creative talent of the town’s artists who were invited to share work in front of their homes or studios that they had completed during the lockdown. While Varela was among those who participated, she admits that initially, she was less than inspired by the challenge.

Rosaria Varela’s paper sculpture. Courtesy Guild Hall.

“Art Apart asked, ‘What have you been doing during the lockdown?’ My immediate thought was ‘I can’t do it, because I hadn’t been working very heavily,’” admitted Varela. “The other thing is, the work I did have I didn’t think it was conducive to show in my driveway. I live on Montauk Highway and I wanted to stick to the premise and not show old work.”

But Varela felt she needed to join the drive-by art exhibition, not just because of the pandemic, but because of the need she felt to connect with community, especially after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis in May.

“I had participated in some of the marches and I felt I didn’t want to sit out Art Apart, but I wasn’t gonna hang some old ceramics on a privet,” she said.

So Varela became introspective. She began doing more yoga, and then went into the studio and got the creative juices flowing.

“When I thought, ‘How can I participate in Art Apart?’ I thought, ‘What if I use some of my old drawings that are decaying in my garage?’” asked Varela. “I have works in progress but never finished them. I thought I’d use them to make some kind of web or something.”

But because she knew herself, Varela was reluctant to open up the older drawings and start considering them, knowing how the process of sifting through old papers inevitably leads down a rabbit hole. Instead, she grabbed a role of red signage paper that she found and went in a new direction.

“I thought, why not just work with this? I envisioned creating a web, like human tissue … like our innards, and stretch that along the trees by the sidewalk,” she said. “I started making a web of different links — various sizes and densities — and connected them to one another.”

Enlisting the assistance of her son, Varela hung the paper links in the trees in front of her home, tying them to one another, anchoring some to the ground and that effort became her entry for Art Apart.

More recently, as part of her Guild Hall artist-in-residency, Varela proposed expanding on the idea by creating “Red, Gold, and You,” a larger version of her Art Apart paper sculpture with an added audience participation component included.

“My idea was to have people get in a contemplative state of mind and modify it — rip it, tie it to another piece,” explained Varela. “At the end of it, it will look different.”

That’s the plan, and Varela explains during the installation of “Red, Gold, and You,” there will be some prompts for visitors to considering in deciding how to alter the piece, while Guild Hall’s arts education director, Anthony Madonna, and members of the Teen Arts Council will be on hand to move the taped links of paper as directed.

At the end of two weeks, “Red, Gold, and You” will be an entirely different piece than it was initially.

“It has to do with becoming a little more friendly with each other,” Varela said of the inspiration behind the work, “taking some risks and coming out of our comfort zone. It’s symbolic to how one small move by an individual can multiply over time when many make changes.”

Rosario Varela at her home with the paper sculpture. Courtesy of the artist.

This is an outdoor installation, and when asked if she’s at all concerned about how a paper sculpture will hold up after being exposed to the elements for a couple weeks, Varela responds, “I wouldn’t mind at all if it decays from the elements. It’s pretty resilient.”
Not unlike a lot of Americans these days.

“Red, Gold, and You” will be on view at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, from Friday, October 16, to Monday, October 26. In tandem with the installation, Guild Hall will host a blood drive in partnership with the New York Blood Center (NYBC) on October 23, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Reservations are recommended for both the installation and blood drive with a suggested donation via the Guild Hall website at guildhall.org.