Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza’s creative partnership began when they first met and has developed into a full-time studio practice, where the pair construct mixed-media objects and installations that are fun, energetic, and full of wonder. Operating together as Chiaozza, the two bring various backgrounds and skills to the table and have mounted their artworks across the globe. Their work explores intersections of the natural and imagined worlds and has a feel of universal connection. Chiaozza is based in Brooklyn, NY.
When did you two realize that there was potential to create together, not just for fun, but as a way to make a living and build a brand?
When we met, part of getting to know each other was through playing drawing games and doing craft projects together. We started to take this play more and more seriously, and realized that there was an audience for what we were doing. One early project was called “Pancake Prints,” where we cooked up a stack of pancakes, rolled black ink on each one, and made monoprints on paper. We started making compositions, we made many sessions, and gave them as gifts to our friends.
We started documenting more of our projects together, writing about them, putting them up on a website, and applying to artist residencies and shows. An early opportunity was to make an immersive installation at Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space, a gallery and garden in the Bronx. This program helped us develop a stronger dialogue together as artist collaborators, and encouraged us to continue on this path.
A year or two later, we received a commission for a public art project at The University of Florida, where Adam went to grad school. We were able to quit our day jobs and focus on developing our practice full-time.
Ultimately, we continue to work together because it’s fun, we love spending time together, and it feels rewarding and meaningful 😉
What were you both doing before forming Chiaozza and how do those experiences lend themselves to what you have created together?
Terri studied architecture and was working as a multi-disciplinary designer on a wide range of projects, from conceptual architecture projects to wallpaper design. Adam studied painting and drawing and was working as a nanny. We were both in a somewhat transitional phase when we met, and we had a lot of time to hang out and explore new ideas together. Within our own disciplines prior to meeting, we each worked in-between form and image, and we were both interested in the intersections of utility and nature, shape and color, playfulness and rigor. The time we had to play together was crucial in developing a collective language that became the foundation for our practice. Our experiences in architecture, design and fine art have helped us navigate both the design world and the art world, building a diverse audience across a range of disciplines and backgrounds.
How do you two work together? Are there certain strong suits that you both bring to the table?
Dialogue is the most important part of working together. We discuss everything from conceptualization of a project to production of the final product and beyond. We are both involved in every part of the process of making, though who is doing what may vary from project to project. For instance, sometimes a project idea emerges out of dialogue together during an adventure out in nature, or perhaps from an idea one of us was exploring independently at a residency. We’ll take the idea back to the studio, and we may sketch through ideas of how to make it, possible variations, etc. Then Terri may make an armature, Adam may sculpt it, and Terri may paint it. Other times the roles may be flipped. We tend to follow the energy of a project and who does what tends to happen somewhat organically. Usually whoever has been visualizing a particular aspect of the project and is more excited about that aspect will carry forward that part of the process.
When working together on different parts of the same project, we have to trust our own and each other’s instincts. Once, we were making guacamole while Terri’s brother was visiting. Adam placed two peeled avocado halves in a large bowl and started to slice the avocado lengthwise, and then cross-wise, directly in the bowl, with a large knife, to dice it into easier-to-mash pieces. Terri’s brother asked, “Why are you doing it that way?” Adam replied, “Because I’m doing it and you’re not.” We think of this story when we are each tasked with different parts of a project – we have to give the other one room to make their own decisions within a bigger picture to help guide a project forward. We feel the best work can be done when someone connects personally to a project and carries it out the way they feel most comfortable, natural, and fun.
Your work has an obvious playful element. Is play something that is important to your practice?
Play is one of the most important foundations of our practice together. Play is a tool for working together within a loosely structured arena. When we play, we enter into a realm that acknowledges reality and knowingly diverts it. Play forces us to constantly shift our perception into a realm that brings to light the wondrous, the magical, and the humorous in the everyday. Play questions what’s possible and explores new potentials. This experimental attitude is what drives new discoveries. We take our play very seriously, and we apply a rigor and a focus to playful ideas that help projects realize a different potential.
What are some of the ongoing themes your work engages?
Our work explores intersections of the natural and imagined worlds. We like to engage color, form, shape, material, and process in direct and immediate ways. For instance, we sometimes work with textured lumpy forms that reference geology, the plant kingdom, fungi, and coral. We like how these forms and textures are both immediately pleasing and uplifting while also being ambiguous and uncomfortable.
A few years ago, we were driving in the desert, and we passed through an area that had been burned by fire. Blackened, charcoaled lumps of cacti and tree stumps were scattered about, dark masses slumped on the white sand. We got out of the car to explore up close, and we discovered that tiny green sprouts were popping out of the charred desert plants, peeking new life from what appeared at first to be completely dead. We love recognizing the moments when nature perseveres and continues to grow in the face of odds. In some ways our work explores this hopeful terrain and aims to inspire a positive perspective on nature and our engagement with it.
What other artists keep you both inspired?
We have a wonderful network of peers who inspire us. Some are artists, some are designers, some work with food or flowers or music or science. We try to dedicate some time to visiting other people’s studios and shows, and exploring what’s happening around the city or wherever we are visiting.
Sometimes we are inspired by an artist’s life. One example is Tove Jansson, who was a Finnish author, illustrator, and artist working from the 1940s to 1990s. Her work is incredibly thoughtful, playful, minimal, poignant, and diverse. She had the ability to connect deeply to a wide audience, from young to old to people all over the world from different cultures. She spent a lot of her life on a little island between Finland and Sweden, and she writes beautifully about these experiences. It’s a good reminder to see humor and beauty in the world around us.
Do you see your work in dialogue with artists who came before you?
We feel very much in dialogue with artists and designers who have explored play and craft across a range of mediums throughout their careers. Some examples include Bruno Munari, Ettore Sottass, Yayoi Kusama, Wharton Esherick, Isamu Noguchi, Florine Stettheimer, Matisse, and Ken Price, to name a few.
Is creating your work as fun as it is to view and experience it?
“Just have fun with it” is a studio mantra. If some part of a process isn’t enjoyable, we try our hardest to make it more fun. We try to use methods and materials that are pleasing to work with throughout the process. We use Japanese hand saws and wood joinery for our painted wood works because it’s more harmonious than using machines and hardware. We love paper pulp because we can sink our hands into the material and sculpt without wearing gloves and masks. Now that we have our young daughter with us in the studio all day, we also have to make sure we are not exposing her nor ourselves to harmful materials.
You have a lot coming up this year – what are you most looking forward to?
All of it! We look forward to realizing some more projects abroad, potentially in China and Europe. We have a rug coming out this Spring with Ikea. We are working towards a solo show of new works this fall. We are working on a public art piece for Cleveland, Ohio; art for a dear collector friend’s new home; some fun group shows around NYC; exploring some new projects around art and food; developing a new book for kids and adults; making some new furniture objects for our home.
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
Ryan Patrick Martin