Born in Canada, Amy Brener studied art at the University of British Columbia before completing her master’s degree at Hunter College in New York City in 2010. Since then, she has made a name for herself as a sculptor of intriguing freestanding monoliths, created by capturing objects she’s collected in layers of poured resin. Brener lives and works in New York City.
How did you arrive at the idea of using resin in this way?
Amy Brener: The initial spark was the desire to create an object that could seem bigger than its physical size and could occupy space in a more complex way. In graduate school, I made a large sculpture out of glass tabletops, and I was interested in the way that it seemed to transcend its materiality when properly lit. This led me towards translucent materials. I also became intrigued by the idea of building a sculpture from scratch. Casting is the ultimate making-from-scratch practice, since you are taking liquid and transforming it into a solid mass. Apart from glass, resin is pretty much the only translucent casting material, so it became the obvious choice.
What else is appealing about resin as a material?
Since my earliest attempts at sculpture, I’ve felt compelled to combine highly synthetic materials with earthy, organic ones. Resin can resemble geological forms yet remain recognizable as plastic. It is also acts as a miracle glue, and can encapsulate almost any object. Like natural resin, synthetic resin acts as a protective membrane that can potentially preserve things for the future.
What inspires the forms that the sculptures take?
Before the resin works, I had been making sculptures that loosely resembled vehicles or machines. I wanted to imply utility, without defining it. My earliest resin sculpture is titled Switchboard (2011) and looks like a surfboard leaning against the wall. On the underside is a composition of knobs and buttons – the elaborate control panels featured in science-fiction movies fascinate me.
My subsequent sculptures are more abstract in silhouette. I search for forms that seem vaguely familiar yet can't be identified as specific things. I like to contrast rough, broken edges with intricately cut-out ones. Hints of technology and function remain as patterns of keys, buttons and other textures.
Tell us about your technique.
I build a framework out of plywood and two-by-fours and pour pigmented resin into it in many layers. Each layer is slightly different, as is evident in the striation of colours running along the side of the finished sculpture. Once the pouring is done, I remove the sculpture from its mould – often a rather violent procedure – and chisel its surface until it pleases me.
How do you choose the found objects that you incorporate into your sculptures?
My studio contains an arsenal of objects and materials: bounty from the street, the beach, thrift stores, dollar stores and eBay. I’m constantly collecting; it’s a bit of a problem. The process of selecting objects and arranging them in the sculptures is a matter of composition and of studying how forms interact.
How would you like your current sculptures to be regarded in the future?
I like the idea of art works as cultural artefacts. If my sculptures stick around, I hope they will embody something specific to this time that can’t quite be put into words.
Your father, Roland Brener, was also a sculptor. Was it easy following in his footsteps?
I knew I was suited to the creative arts, but I was first drawn to poetry and music. After making my way through a few different departments in college, I eventually wound up in visual arts. As I was working on my first sculpture assignment, something clicked. This was only a year or so before my father died, but I’m thankful that we managed to have some great conversations about making art.
Do you think you can keep developing this technique?
It’s healthy for artists to go through phases of exploration and development. I’m in an explorative period right now, and the sculptures I’m making are quite different from my previous work. I'm excited to see how they will progress.
Portraits Andrew Boyle
The work of Amy Brener appears in Postdigital Artisans. This book focuses on a return to tactility, featuring the work of 60 contemporary artisans who craft objects by hand whilst embracing the digital age. Click here for more information and to purchase your copy.