Art Seen


A Conversation with Artist PAULA HAYES

By Lori Zimmer

Winter 2014-2015

Paula Hayes’ “Gazing Globes” has taken over Madison Square Park, turning the quiet enclave in the middle of Flatiron into a fantastical scene until mid-April. Known for her work creating lush worlds inside of Victorian terrariums, Hayes has reached a new level with this project, by giving the public access to her interactive exhibition during their daily commute.

Eighteen crystalline orbs are arranged around the park, inviting visitors to peer inside to contemplate their messages. Rather than live plants, which were seen during her lobby exhibition at MoMA, Hayes are turned her attention toward another now-familiar facet of the environment, technological waste. In lieu of plants, recycling has become an underlying theme throughout “Gazing Globes,” offering a message of hope along with science-fiction style scenes–all portraying fragments of contemporary culture.

We sat down with Hayes to find out the inspiration for trading plants for obsolete elements of our technology obsession.

Lori Zimmer: Nocturne of the Limax maximus brought living plants into the artscape of the Museum of Modern Art. To me, the terrarium capsules felt like a science fiction snippet of a futuristic world–am I totally off in reading them that way?

Paula Hayes: The forms I work with evoke pods or capsules. Growing plants in something out of the ground under artificial light evokes a world where people perhaps must sustain themselves in tandem with technology rather than in relationship to natural forces alone. This is the stuff of science fiction, or is it contemporary life now? We are all concerned on some level I feel, that we are disappearing into a flat world, losing ourselves, from how we have understood nature or a concept of nature that we are hard wired with.

LZ: How has working with living plants changed your own views on contemporary art?

PH: Being in relationship with the work I have made that has living plants involved keeps me connected to them in a very literal sense. I must water them, make sure they exist in the right temperature and have light and darkness. I have stayed devoted to some of these artworks on a daily or weekly basis for over a decade, if they are in my care. That has given me a kind of requirement for a physical and emotional relationship that I wonder about it in other artist’s work. What is the deep bond all artist’s forge with their work in a world that is increasing in speed and demands of all kinds?

LZ: You are both an artist and a landscape designer. Do these two fields always bleed into each other with your work, or do you find you sometimes separate the two?

PH: They are becoming more separate now because I am not as involved with many designed landscapes now. I only work on a few currently. I have a burning desire to work on new works that are now coming in to focus for me and it takes almost all of my time.

LZ: Your latest exhibition brings your work unavoidably into the public realm. How did the Madison Square Park project come about?

PH: I was asked to make many terrariums in the park but it evolved in to something else.

LZ: In the past you’ve worked with plants and terrariums. Instead of mosses and plants, your “Gazing Globes” house fragments of man-made materials. Where did you source the contents in this body of work? How do they differ from your past work with living plants?

PH: “Gazing Globes,” like terrariums, are historically equated with the Victorian era, the Industrial Era. Since Madison Square Park is a living horticultural system, with a Victorian style set beautifully and classically surrounded by or having views to some great NYC architecture such as the Flatiron Building, the Empire State Building, NY Life Building, among others, I inverted the terrarium and utilized the reflective surface of the optically clear polycarbonate globe to bring the city and park-scape in to the orb along with its industrial materials. The industrial materials I chose flow with natural forces and architectural forms. I tried for an alchemical fusion of those two.

LZ: Has creating a body of work that will be displayed outside been any different than your other projects?

PH: Absolutely. The public, the wild extremes of temperatures and the way people of all walks of life interact with the work is completely different. I did though want the work to retain its delicate nature and exhibit its birthing process along with its incredible strength. They are also illuminated, so all of the materials love light and change in appearance at night. NYC aims to dazzle so I flowed with this. NYC is vulnerable and delicate as well…it is very much a reflection of its site, on every level. This is the emotional connection I require in my art work.

LZ: Who are some of your favorite artists and inspirations?

PH: Constantin Brancusi, Louise Bourgeois, sunrise.

LZ: What do you personally collect?

PH: Odd things.

LZ: Is there a dream project or material you have yet to work in?

PH: Museum retrospective. A feature film.

Paula Hayes is an American visual artist and designer who works with sculpture, drawing, installation art, botany, and landscape design.


Paula Hayes” Official Website

Written by Lori Zimmer

Art by Paula Hayes & Photography Courtesy of Paula Hayes / Rubenstein PR

Design by Mina Darius


Art by Paula Hayes & Photography Courtesy of Paula Hayes / Rubenstein PR


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