10 Questions with MetroCard Artist Nina Boesch [Interview]
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – particularly in the world of Nina Boesch. While lazy straphangers discard their MTA cards atop turnstiles, swipe machines, and train platforms, she picks them up and turns them into unique New York-inspired collages. She’s been at it for ten years now. The MTA is playing their typical “non-response” card to her art (though we think they should work with her to jazz up the underground). We had a chance to find out more about Nina’s MetroCard makeovers – read on.
Nina Boesch: I moved to the US [from Germany] in 2001 and rode the subway every day. I liked the look and feel of the MetroCard so I never threw one away, and they added up quickly. I didn’t have a purpose for my MetroCard collection until a year later, when I needed a gift for my host-parents (a wonderful couple I lived with in Morristown, NJ at the time). I was on a very tight budget, so turning my MetroCards into an artwork seemed like a good idea for a gift. This first MetroCard collage was a map of the United States, and my host-parents liked it so much, that they motivated me to create more collages.
BB: How do you get enough cards?
NB: My friends and coworkers collect their cards for me. One of my friends collects MetroCards wherever he finds them – sometimes he finds whole piles of cards just sitting on that swiping machine where people check the value of their used MetroCards. My friend never gives the cards to me right away though. I get them once a year in a big box for my birthday. You wouldn’t believe how happy a person can be over a birthday gift that is literally trash and has $0 value.
BB: What do you draw on for inspiration?
NB: I’m inspired by everyday life in New York. A walk down the street triggers enough inspiration for a dozen collages.
BB: What has been your most difficult collage?
NB: It’s a challenge to create portraits of people who I don’t know. I love to work on a Woody Allen or an Audrey Hepburn portrait, but when it comes to strangers that I am just given a photo of, it’s tough. I created a portrait of a close friend’s mother once. She had passed away a year before, so you can imagine the pressure of getting the portrait right, and making her look good. My friend loves the artwork, but I now tend to stay away from this sort of pressure.
BB: How long does each collage take?
NB: Obviously, it depends on the size and complexity of the motif, but generally a letter-sized collage takes between 6 and 10 hours, while a large scale collage measuring 30 x 40 inches can take up to 80 hours.
BB: You’ve been doing this for over ten years, is this your first year exhibiting metro card collages?
NB: Last fall, I had an exhibit in the lobby of 350 Bleecker Street, a residential building in the West Village. It was somewhat of a kick-off for a more professional approach to my hobby of creating collages from MetroCards. Currently I am exhibiting at The Bean, a popular coffee shop on 2nd Ave and 3rd Street. The show will be up until July 31, 2012. I also have a few pieces at House of Art Gallery in Brooklyn, and my larger collages will soon be part of an exhibit at the Nu Hotel, also in Brooklyn.
BB: Have you reached out to the MTA about your project?
NB: Yes, I tried several times to get a licensing deal with the MTA, so that I can put the official seal on the back of my artworks. My goal is to sell my original artworks, postcards and prints at the Transit Museum stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Unfortunately the MTA has had little interest in my art so far. The first time I contacted them by mailing several copies of a small handmade portfolio booklet. Took me forever to make, but they never even responded to me. I had also emailed them but didn’t hear back on that end either. I tried getting their attention again last year when I started having exhibits. This time, there was a brief email exchange, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to a licensing deal either.
BB: Do you have a favorite collage?
NB: I hate pigeons in real life, but as black-and-white MetroCard collages they are somewhat beautiful. I did a really big one, 40 x 30 inches earlier this year. I really like that one a lot.
NB: Nothing noteworthy, but I have a great airplane memory! I was all buckled up on a plane at JFK airport, ready for departure to Brussels, Belgium. Just when we were ready to go, I was escorted out of the plane and questioned by six rather intimidating men in suits. It turns out the TSA had found my art supplies (2,000 old MetroCards) in my checked luggage. They alarmed Homeland Security and held the plane due to the “ongoing investigation.” Thankfully, I was allowed back on the plane, but my luggage wasn’t – that was confiscated.
BB: Any chance of a Bowery Boogie collage in the future?
NB: Wait… Are you commissioning me to do a collage? Hold that thought… let me get my scissors…
For more information, and to check out her other collages, visit Nina’s website MetroCardYourself.
[h/t Apartment Therapy]