Azadeh Shladovsky: Visual Consciousness – TLmagazine

Whether it’s beautifully crafted sculptural furniture, concept art, or film, Azadeh Shladovsky challenges our perceptions and thwarts artifice on social issues such as homelessness, the current state of the “American Dream,” as well as the supposed ideas around language and communication. His use of Braille, textured surfaces or unexpected materials awakens the senses and directly engages the viewer. Shladovsky’s personal approach to creation is also tied to deeper issues of grief, loss and personal connection. In 2021, she created a new studio as a place not just to do work, but to be a space for community and engagement, where artists and others can share ideas, participate in exhibitions, and add to the conversation.

TLmag: Briefly talk about your background and how you first got involved in art and design.

Azadeh Shladovsky: Although my formal contact with the visual arts did not occur until my teenage years, I engaged in creative expression as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil. I arrived in Los Angeles as a very shy 4-year-old with Iranian parents who immigrated in the early 70s, nearly a decade before the mass exodus that resulted from Iran’s political and religious revolution. While my parents’ only goal was to carve out a new life for themselves in a community that didn’t necessarily welcome them, I found myself relying heavily on artistic expression to create a safe space that I could control. Most of the time, I felt like I was observing life more than participating in it (those early years laid the foundation for what I now call visual awareness). While I lacked the skills to thrive socially, I more than made up for it by inventing a fertile inner world rooted in creative expression. Drawing was my first love followed by poetry, but I also loved painting. When I was 11, my family left Los Angeles for Spain under difficult circumstances. It was not until the age of 12, when I was a high school student in Madrid, that I received a more formal artistic education, which challenged me creatively and recognized my abilities. Because I lived in a home where life circumstances prevented my parents from meaningfully engaging me, they had very little to no bandwidth to acknowledge my interest in art or my budding talents. Therefore, the option of pursuing art academically or practically as a career was irrelevant.

Throughout college and the decade that followed, I continued to practice art as a private outlet to deal with whatever I struggled to resolve intellectually or emotionally.
Years later, when my 2 year old daughter lost her sight due to a complication of a brain tumour, I was forced to relearn how to see and my own life took over. She gave me the courage to follow my truth. After losing her to cancer, I knew the only path forward was the one I had charted years earlier, as an artist trying to resolve the pain of human vulnerability while expressing the beauty of everything she had taught me to see again.

TLmag: Your creative practice includes making functional art and design as well as fine art – did one discipline come first for you or did you always move between them as you do now?

AS: Fine art and functional art develop simultaneously as I work on conceptual ideas. All of my work begins in a conceptual framework rooted in questions around sight and visual awareness that manifests in material expression. My process allows the materials to steer the narrative in one direction or another. One of the reasons I love creating functional art is that it allows people to engage with 3D work where touch plays a huge role in the vision of the work and reinforces the view as a as a multisensory experience.

TLmag: Who or what are some of your artistic inspirations?

AS: I struggle with the word inspiration not because it doesn’t exist but because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I see inspiration as a state of mind where I reach maximum flow; This flow or elevated consciousness only occurs when we can access our seen and felt experiences on a deeper level. At this point, these experiences leave us feeling the need for questioning and resolution which is the exact point where the process of artistic expression begins.

TLmag: You bring such compelling textural surfaces into your work – from tufted wool or velvet to steel and mirrors. Tell us about your materials – what appeals to you? How do they act as a kind of language in your work?

AS: Materials provide the ideal sensory language needed to express ideas and concepts rooted in visual awareness. One of the reasons functional art plays such a big role in my practice is that it elevates the haptic experience by allowing full sensory immersion through touch. I love to explore and experiment with all materials, but recently created a functional piece called Under My Skin where I used rooster feathers to have a conversation about the complexity and limits of identity. Feathers symbolize the dichotomy of skin; as the largest organ, the skin receives and processes critical information about the world around us while in turn providing a limited visual/social representation of who we are.

TLmag: Social and humanitarian concerns are integral to your practice, and you are involved in several non-profit community arts programs, including the Prison Arts Collective and Lens on Life. Would you talk about it?

AS: My work explores the human tendency towards “social blindness” and more specifically the process(es) that determine who we choose to see, recognize and engage. The universal human need to be seen is often usurped by socio-cultural norms that dictate who deserves to be seen. This disconnect has always weighed on me and reinforced by my own life experiences. While I use artistic expression to address these issues, engaging my local and global community is equally important in my practice; in this way, life and art become one and the same.

TLmag: Do you think there has been more awareness in recent years by artists and designers about the role they can play in bringing public attention to social issues and the concerns of community ?

AS: I think the socio-political landscape of our times has created an urgency for action that cannot be ignored. Anyone who has a voice should exercise it and use it for good. Fortunately, as artists, it’s our job to have an opinion and to express ourselves. What worries me is when I see the silence and inaction of people who have decided this is not good for their brand. Social capital should not overshadow social equity as we are all vulnerable to the same existential threats.

TLmag: Is there a project you are looking forward to working on this year?

AS: Yes! Very grateful to share that I am working on several projects this year that I am really passionate about. Although I am not able to reveal the details yet, they involve collaborations with new materials.

www.azadehshladovsky.com

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