Carol Oster is a Brooklyn born artist who has lived and worked in Arizona and Washington State. She received her BFA from the University of Arizona and MFA from the School of Visual Arts. Ms. Oster is a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellow in Architecture.
Ms. Oster currently lives in NYC and works in her studio in Bushwick.
This body of work explores the notions of permanence/impermanence, materials/memories, and deterioration/resurrection. Material remains gleaned from cupboards, drawers and memory. This work embodies these vestiges, selected material survivors, from events, some of great importance in their time, others with little import. The materials and their memory DNA exist in this work side by side, overlapped, intertwined, and preserved. The leavings, remnants, ashes, wreckage, bones, DNA, physical evidence that continues on in their existence in various stages of recognition, disconnected from their original purposes. The materials that have been excavated are the remains of things that are no longer in use, threads from a child's blanket, well-worn favorite t-shirts, photos, rubbings, book pages, charred 4th of July sparklers, letters sent from a war, marriage and birth certificates, all physical reminders preserved. Items that are the survivors of stories and places, some buried, some found and buried again this time in plaster, gesso or hidden in the wrapped cloth of another survivor. These are the physical vestiges gleaned to be reimagined in sculptural form referencing the artist as a child growing up with a prisoner of war.
Growing up in a railroad apt where one room was a pathway to another room, finding a private place was a challenge. Every loose floorboard and tile a hidden space to harbor scribbled secrets and drawings. Knowing that they existed where others walked unaware of their existence, bestowed a power in a child’s world where there is none. Hiding objects in plaster, wood or twine remains a way to commit an act of creation as well as sharing the discovery.
Between The Floorboards
Ves-tige/ a trace of something that is disappearing or no longer exists
War was all around me as a child, it inhabited the walls of our tiny railroad apartment. It was on the faces of the shopkeepers, as evidenced by the tattooed numbers on outreached arms that handed me the baked goods. It was just shy of a decade after WWII. I shared my home with a P.O.W. and remnants of war were embedded structurally and spatially as well as psychologically all around me. Through their trauma and PTSD, my family and neighbors were existing in a different time and location than I was. This collapse of space lived on in my father, and although I was unable to process these profound experiences, I sensed sadness, danger, and anger. As a child seeking refuge, both mental and figurative spaces were hard to come by. I found them in play, art-making, and between the loose floorboards. The autonomy I had over my own space existed only in secrecy as I discovered and hid away wishes and drawings inserted in these small crevices. I bestowed upon them magical powers to keep the inhabitants who walked unknowingly over them, safe.
As soon as I was old enough, I moved to the most expansive space I could imagine; the Arizona desert. In this vast, boundless landscape, I addressed in my practice the known entities of inhabitable space, the room. Large site-specific installations that always included a secret portal hidden beneath floors or walls. When I eventually returned to New York, I was forced to not only readdress the shift in scale but also to confront the relationship to the space that I occupied as a child and its proximity to war.
Contemplation of scale and space, both internal and physical, led me to the decision to use materials that I found or already had. These vestiges, material survivors, all excavated from drawers, suitcases, and boxes; dried wedding flowers, Vmail, a threadbare blanket, an apron that I imagine still carries the flour wiped from my grandmother's hands. Physical manifestations existing now in this work side by side, overlapped, intertwined, and preserved.
'Between the Floorboards' reference my childhood practice of hiding objects, notes, little secrets under the loose floorboards in my family apartment thereby bestowing upon the objects, the power of protection from things that haunt child and adult alike. ‘Incident Wall” an ongoing investigation.
Working Through Covid
“The silence on the floor of my house is all the questions and all the answers that have been known in
the world…” Agnes Martin
My studio was an L train ride away, 10 stops to where my work lived, materials in all of their states of
being waited and the space where when I closed the door behind me, the very air inside provided a
sustenance unlike any other. I worked most of my life to find a balance that allowed me this room of my
own and then the L train was closed to only essential workers. My work was essential to me but not to
the world that desperately needed to safely transport healthcare workers to care for those afflicted by
the monster that had entered lungs and brought with it death and misery.
I remember after 9/11 the same sense of “what am I doing here?” gluing and arranging and hammering.
My grandmother taught me to take care of the circle of folks in one’s orbit, which includes for me,
family, my elderly neighbors, those without enough food in my community and working in adult
education to ensure HS diplomas for those who need them. Artmaking is for me, my oxygen, the making
that nourishes and keeps me whole.
I kept thinking about the Agnes Martin quote and wondered if I would come to such an understanding. I
was disoriented and adrift but slowly I began to work at home, the materials gleaned from my
belongings, multigenerational vestiges, material survivors stuffed in boxes and drawers and closets. The
post minimalist aesthetic that was my creed was being infiltrated by photos, rubbings, children’s books,
apron scraps. I remembered as a child growing up in a railroad flat seeking privacy, that I knew every
loose floorboard and that is where my poems and drawings would live until I was ready to unearth
It was through the materials that I found my thread, the artistic path was visible just enough. I worked
on a series called Between the Floorboards. I was hiding objects so they were seen as much as I was
willing to have them be seen. With materials as personal as these, I had entered a new and
uncomfortable space in my work. But it was work and work leads to more work. I became interested in
the old children’s books I had and their wonderful drawings and I read the fables with the eyes of an
adult. I revisited the prisoner of war photo when my father was captured and the map of his escape,
woven into sculptures living side by side with the remnants of my children’s’ broken toy pieces. All
became fodder for the work. Between the Floorboards, Child’s Play, and Broomsticks are the culmination
of work made during the pandemic. I didn’t find all of the questions or answers on the floor of my house
but I did find the sustenance, the air to continue my practice, literal and metaphoric threads, the hidden
and the exposed.