Bella Steele is an interdisciplinary artist from Boston, MA who graduated from Lesley University College of Art + Design in 2018. Bella has shown in various exhibitions, showing both her photography and installation work, most notably at Zone 3, Kathryn Shultz Gallery, Roberts Gallery, and Raizes Gallery. She currently works as a freelance preparator, carpenter and farmer.
Your art crosses many mediums and can often take form through sound. How do you think the use of sound impacts your art?
What’s your favorite sound?
I think sound (particularly communicatively) is really powerful and is an integral part to my work. Sound can transform a space and be an effective way to psychologically/physiologically affect a viewer. I heard once that hearing is our primary warning sense, just like every other animal on the planet. Humans are physically impacted by vibrations traveling through the air, which really excites me.
Separately, my favorite sound is listening straight through Harold Budd’s album Perhaps. I also have been really interested in collective sounds (like clapping) or crowds of people (particularly after seeing two recent works: Assembled Audience by Taryn Simon that is currently at Mass MOCA, and Brittany Smith’s (a common collaborator of mine) Our Sweet Secret Language, a nostalgic conglomeration of audio clips that snakes between different social settings.)
I also have a background as a drummer – which I think is the spine of my auditory interest. I spend a lot of time thinking about smooth rhythms.
You are working as a freelance art handler/installer, carpenter, and farmer. How do you think your art practice comes through in these varying jobs?
How do you define art?
These jobs are definitely all informing my work and studio practice. I spent a few months living and working on a farm this past fall, and became really interested in the natural and necessary rhythms of farming. I liked feeling cosmically tied to the work we were doing/food we were growing/livestock we were caring for, particularly because it was a biodynamic farm. Though biodynamics is one of the most complex systems I have ever tried to understand, to try to put it in a nutshell is that biodynamic farming is a holistic way of farming that works in rhythm with lunar phases and planetary cycles. Biodynamics regards the farm as a living organism.
In regards to carpentry, I definitely still have a lot to learn but I like what it has taught me about precision and the benefits of a clear work space. It has come in handy for when I want something specific for an installation. Recently, I needed a projector shelf for an exhibition that required an adjustable angle, and I was able to build one myself so that it was exactly what I wanted and needed for the space.
Art handling is wild and I really love seeing what goes into the installation of a show. There is a lot of creativity required to be a preparator/installer, and I have admired seeing the production that goes into an exhibition. I most recently worked on the installation of The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson, a 9 channel video installation. Art handling has also taught me about precision, being thorough, problem solving and working well in a crew with a lot of moving parts.
I think art is consistently questioning what is around you, and translating that inquiry into something interesting and accessible.
Are you working on any projects now?
What have you brought into your life that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on a few projects that are at different phases. A friend of mine is organizing a mail art collective, where we each make something easily reproducible. For that I am working on a small photo book that also contains thoughts on the ritual nature of bread making, and my slightly personalized directions on how to make pita bread.
I’ve recently been thinking about a project from a couple of years ago. One semester while in school, I made a sound clock. I created a “formula” that aligned each minute of a 24 hour day to a particular note or combination of notes on a guitar. So, theoretically, if you “knew” the formula, and had really good ear, you could tell the time from this sound clock. For a viewer to be able to audibly “tell the time” is not necessarily my primary goal with how this project could exist, but I do think some of the intricacies of the formula could be smoothed out and it could be a bit more accessible. (An excerpt of this project is on my site.)
The third project I am working on is still at a fairly infant stage and I am thinking and reading on it, but it similarly relates to the passing of time, the grounding of something that I can’t control, and the repetitive inevitability of change.
In regards to new things that I’ve brought into my life – I’ve been really into cooking, and spend a lot of time at home brainstorming unusual food pairings with my girlfriend. The farm similarly got me interested in traditional ways of eating and preparing foods, and eating as seasonally as possible.
I have also been thinking about gestures, attitudes and performance being a platform for an expression of power. I’ve recently been learning about Francoise Delsarte’s “System of Oratory”; a set of “rules” from the late 1800’s (!!) to teach priests, actors, and politicians how to win over their audience. I’ve been interested in how impressionable the public can be, and how there are systems of gestures that have been being perfected for years.