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Saya Woolfalk

Saya Woolfalk

American, born Japan, 1979

The New York-based artist Saya Woolfalk (she/her/hers) uses science fiction and fantasy to re-imagine the world in multiple dimensions. Her videos, sculptures, and immersive environments have given life to the world of the Empathics, a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. Recently, Woolfalk’s work has been in the group exhibition Born in Flames: Feminist Futures at the The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, NY (2021) and in the solo show Expedition to the ChimaCloud at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO (2019).

See more of Woolfalk's work at her website: sayawoolfalk.com.

Saya Woolfalk (American, born Japan, 1979). Landscape of Anticipation 2.0, 2021. Nine digital videos (color, sound) displayed on monitors and vinyl decals.Dimensions variable; running time: 4 minutes, 40 seconds, looped. Courtesy of the artist and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

Landscape of Anticipation 2.0, 2021

Nine digital videos (color, sound) displayed on monitors; vinyl decals
Running time: 4 minutes, 40 seconds, looped
Courtesy of the artist and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

“I gravitate towards the utopian potentials of digital space (post-race, post-gender, post-human, etc.), but understand that people live in real bodies that experience real consequences based on how they are gendered, sexed, raced, and classed. [. . .] I constantly bring us back to actual bodies in space. . . not just phantoms that exist in digital space.”
—Saya Woolfalk to Connie Picard

With her new video installation Landscape of Anticipation 2.0, 2021, Saya Woolfalk (she/her/hers) anticipates a radical future for technology—and also for identity. The sci-fi figures we meet in this work belong to the artist’s imagined population of Empathics, or chimerical creatures that are fusions of women, animals, and plants. These humanoids appear to defy categorization and embrace the idea of hybridity; one might say that they empathize so much with other organisms that they start to become them. In the tradition of Afrofuturism, Woolfalk’s work helps us see racialized bodies as belonging to the future (not just the past), and as agents (not just the subjects) of technology. In this utopian world of bright colors and soothing ambient sounds, differences between bodies continue to exist, but are not so easily articulated into rigid, easily identifiable categories. Woolfalk’s work therefore allows us to imagine difference without oppression—or amnesia. Art always has helped us imagine possible futures. What landscape could we anticipate more eagerly than this?

What World Do You Want to Live In?

Woolfalk's 2019 talk "What World Do You Want to Live In?" for the TEDx conference Kansas City Women.

I started playing with digital technology early on in my work. I made digital collages with costumed figures using early versions of Photoshop in the 90s. I was trying to use the newly available digital technologies to combine real people and places with new imagined possibilities.

Saya Woolfalk to Caroline Picard

Plant Humans of the Future: An Interview with Saya Woolfalk

By Caroline Picard

"Saya Woolfalk is a New York-based artist who, for the last decade, has been building an elaborate and multi-dimensional narrative about alternate cultures..."

Read the full interview here.

In art installations, futuristic tropes can sometimes appear cold or colorless, but Woolfalk’s sculptures, textiles, paintings, music, and video seemed to vibrate with warmth and pleasure.

Jacquelyn Gleisner, "Saya Woolfalk's Happy People"

Saya Woolfalk’s Happy People

Jacquelyn Gleisner

In July 2015, when I encountered the installation by the New York–based artist Saya Woolfalk in the Disguise: Masks and Global African Art exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, I felt like I’d entered an ecstatic, sci-fi world inhabited by cyborgs and unfathomable technology...

Read the full essay here.

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