L.A. Habitat is a weekly series that visits with 16 artists in their workspaces around the city.
This week’s studio: Amanda Ross-Ho; Skid Row, Los Angeles.
“L.A. is one of the most fraught, anxious places that I’ve ever spent time in,” Amanda Ross-Ho told me recently. “But that motivates me.”
We were strolling through her Skid Row studio, near Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles. Ross-Ho’s workspace is located in a large former warehouse on a relatively empty street, but the Skid Row neighborhood is home to thousands of people, many of whom are homeless or living in shelters.
“We’ve been watching that community get pushed out of this area while things are being pushed in from the east side. A lot of former industrial buildings are being turned into lofts. The stratification is a little stressful,” Ross-Ho told me. Before inhabiting her current studio, which she moved into eight years ago, she shared a space with ten other artists in East Los Angeles. Ross-Ho now splits her Skid Row studio with only one other artist—her partner, Eric Frydenborg.
Originally from Chicago, Ross-Ho moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, where she graduated with an M.F.A. in 2006. Since then, her relationship with Los Angeles has been in flux. “I hated L.A. for a long time. I couldn’t navigate; I was literally lost all the time,” she said. “It was pre-smartphone, so everything was stressful.” She noted that the city’s fraught nature is part of the reason it feels right for her, though. “There’s a sense of urgency and wanting to ask questions that are rigorous and inevitably lead you into murky territory that is not always about the pleasure of beauty. It leads you into places that are problematic and complicated, and this place is complicated. At least, it has been in the past,” she said, adding that she’s noticed L.A. residents becoming more self-aware in recent years.
Ross-Ho told me that her creative process involves navigating what it means to understand something, which requires a process of deconstruction and a careful examination of myriad complexities. To her, a studio atmosphere that feels “readily unresolved” is the perfect setting in which to make art. “There’s something actually productive about being uncomfortable,” she said. “You can’t be passive—you have to be really intentional about everything.” Ross-Ho will have solo exhibitions at the Pit II in Glendale, California, in June, De Vleeshal in Middleburg, the Netherlands, in September 2016, and Bonner Kunstverein in Bonn, Germany, next February.
Below, a look around Ross-Ho’s Skid Row studio.
ALL PHOTOS: KATHERINE MCMAHON
Ross-Ho in her studio. "The first part of the day is admin and emails and stuff like that, and then I get a surge of energy at this weird point in the afternoon. Night is when I am particularly productive," she said. She keeps active while she waits for a second wind. "There's a lot of shuffling that happens around the studio. I move things, organize, or clean, which often ends up being super useful."
Ross-Ho's studio space in downtown Los Angeles is located in a former retail distribution warehouse just off of Skid Row. Her first shared studio space was situated in a former rubber factory in the City Terrace neighborhood. "It dissolved for a number of reasons, but that was our initial workspace right out of school. It was a different time in L.A."
Ross-Ho with an in-process Black Glove wall piece constructed from stretch cotton, sateen, acrylic paint, cotton piping, and armature wire. "These are based on the idea that a glove usually comes in pairs; there's a presumed activity between two hands. Instead, these are made forensically. Their appearance begins to distort. At some point, you may not even see the glove anymore."
"These are the fingertips of the gloves. Sometimes I'll pull the glove off and the tip will come off, so I made these isolated fingers. I want to try to incorporate them into some other projects as well."
Latex-glove source material for some of Ross-Ho's larger scale works. She incorporates things in and around her studio as part of her work. "I started to become interested in the value of chance and authentic marks when I started working in a studio. It's this peripheral space where things are made, but I also realized, 'What would happen if I recreated those accidental marks through an authentic process?' They become fictional props of the actual space," she said. "Would they have the same energy if they happened accidentally?"
More works in the studio. Recently, Ross-Ho has been listening to podcasts like Serial and Undisclosed, both of which, in many ways, play into her practice. "I have a high tolerance for that kind of banter. I'm mostly interested in how they parse through things. Something about that is related to the insanity of what you're doing in the studio, the extremity of focusing so intently on detail. The extremity of bringing something into the world, something that you insist needs to exist, requires precision."
Ross-Ho looks at several sculptures in the studio. "I'm the maker and the observer at the same time," she said. "Everything is intentional, even if something is a random mark that happened accidentally. I take it and carefully recreate it using both intuition and chance. The immediacy is vital to the process of creation."