Interview with Fiber Artist Juli Elin Toro

I met Juli in the Gainesville green of Central Florida back in our college years. I have distinct memories of friendly get-togethers in funky houses and music shows in the heart of downtown Gainesville. The fIrst time I saw Juli’s work was at a local art/living space called The Story House, now called The Church of Holy Colors. They exhibit local artists and put on house shows, creating a community of people who inspire the Gainesville art and music scene. In a town where the central art focus is the Florida landscape - you know, paintings of the beach, photos of the sunset over the prairie, or alligators bathing in the sun - the space offered an alternative perspective - immersive painting exhibitions, colorful amorphous sculptures, sound installations, etc. I’ve since seen Juli's sculptures in person a handful of times, and I’ve always been struck by the tenderness of each piece. They feel like things that exist in a dream world, that can never be successfully described in waking life. I always wanted to take them home with me.

What is your favorite material/process to work with/in?

I get the most excited when I mix natural fibers like wool or plant matter with ultra human-made stuff like synthetic polymers. Layering different substances is really fun, and experimenting and playing are a big part of my process. After enough playing to get things right, I sit down and try to crank out as many of that thing that worked as I can. That's when it feels like work.

A lot of your sculptures feel very tactile, bodily. What inspires you to create, and what kind of headspace are you in when you do create?

There is definitely a lot of tenderness and attention that goes into each piece. I fantasize about transferring my energy into whatever I'm making. I meditate on certain ideas or particular feelings and try to get them wrapped up into the work. I don't know if this concept is even legit, but I like to pretend people can feel whatever magic I tried to imbue in the object. So I guess my headspace is some synthesis of super-focused and dreamy.

Do you have a clear strategy in mind when making a piece?

Most of the time I'll start with an abstract image in my head of what I want the final result to be, which I sometimes draw out/sometimes don't. Then I figure out how to get there and what materials to use.

I'm never satisfied with how far I get, which has a lot to do with deadlines. Like, if I could just keep working on this one thing forever then maybe it would be as big and perfect as I want it to be, but that's probably just my discontent nature.

How do you feel like motherhood has changed your artistic process or concepts you work with?

Oh, God. It's changed the entire structure of how I work. I feel like my work has loosened up since having a kid. I make broader strokes now, less accumulations, less tiny details. That has to do with my time management. I feel like your work should really match your lifestyle if it's going to give you any fulfillment, and I just honestly don't have as much time in the studio anymore. I feel most successful when my kid can create with me or give me ideas, and we can do it together, rather than escaping from him to go "work on my art." I kind of hate that idea. As far as how my concepts have changed; pre-mom life I was obsessed with the idea of mothering and caring for things so I called my sculptures my "babies". That idealization of motherhood flew out the window pretty fast after giving birth. Now, it's more about making my subconscious imagery tangible with zero baby fever.

 

I've noticed you've been making a lot of 2-D collage work of food specifically. Why collage? Why food?  

Yes! That has a lot to do with my space and time situation out on the 40 acre spot. I got into collage because it's a simple and quick way for me to get my ideas out in some form, even though I feel like my core work is my sculptures and installations. The collages have ended up being really satisfying to make, and the images of food are just so visceral and tempting. My favorite images are of meat and sweets - the ultimate in gluttony and decadence. I have to take plenty of snack breaks when I'm cutting up old cookbooks.

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You and your partner have also started a project called Snow-Broth. What’s the lowdown?

Snow-Broth is mainly a cassette label. We've put out three releases so far, some hip-hoppy electronic jams. It's also a place to feature my work and eventually the work of other artists who I love but who don't have a ton of exposure yet. It's a work in progress!

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What female artists do you admire/inspire you?

When I first learned about Louise Bourgeois in undergrad at the University of Florida, I remember so clearly my mind being totally blown. It was a huge and pivotal moment for me. Before that I'm pretty sure I was drawing fairies and boys playing guitars. Eva Hesse and Yayoi Kusama are other big-time ladies that I adore. It's tough because their work is all so inspiring that I worry I might take on too much of those aesthetics and lose myself, but I try really hard not to think about that.

You currently live in the woods, in gold country in California. Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle and how this affects your creative process?  

My family and I have been living off grid on 40 acres in this sweet little cordwood and cedar cabin. It sounds so romantic, but the practical side of finding childcare so that I could get work done just wasn't happening. Isolation is great if you're by yourself and can be in a creative zone constantly, but with a  family it's a lot more challenging. I like using what's around me as my medium, so I had an abundance of natural materials to work with, which was awesome. Just being in that house and on that land got the juices flowing even if I only just wrote ideas down and incubated them. I recently moved to a little place in Grass Valley, where I have a redwood tree in my yard and a big room devoted to all my art-making. I’m still so close to the Yuba river, and when I go there I always remember why I live where I do.

 

Who can you count on to make you laugh?

My son brings out every emotion possible in me, and he will go to great lengths to get a laugh out of people. He does a good job, especially when he dances to dubstep in his ninja costume.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?  

I'm all about it. No one should feel controlled by or limited to their biology. Raising a son really encourages me to show him what a strong female looks like, which is a challenging but important task!

See more of Juli's work in the Gallery.