Adriana Atema

Adriana Atema

ADRIANA ATEMA: Bliss & Chaos

Adriana Atema is a multi-disciplinary creative.

As a painterperformance/installation artist, and musician, Adriana explores interconnectivity, contagious behaviour, perception and story. While she is based in New York, Adriana has been exhibiting her work across the USA since 1999, creating and sharing her intense, engaging projects with a wide audience.


Interview by Will Kitson


Tell us about your first creative impulse:

when I was a seed in another life

i prayed

before i was a tree i knew a thousand lives

into the future

and i saw this one

here typing now

by the window

the seed felt a pain

the pain of love invited the seed

the brilliant colors of the shining sun

twinkling squinting in the morning light

seasons passing growing

sun moon sun moon

in forever time leaves and branches

would become the hands and arms of this lady here


i am a tree that once was a knowing seed

as a lady now typing with a burning heart

like a fire that all the time must be cooled

by the water, blue and breeze


Landscape, acrylic on wood, 4/6 ft. 2013

Landscape, acrylic on wood, 4/6 ft. 2013

You describe Paintings and Installations as ‘maps concerned with people awakening to their relationship with each other, the earth and the universe.’ Could you expand upon this?

we walk the earth with our outside feet

and we walk the inside of our feet with our conciousness

a self is in the middle

outside is the weather

water sunsteams into the sky

gathering in clouds

falling cold on our heads, into our mouths and all around

slipping back into the flesh of the earth mother

until the sun sucks her blood back out

her spinning centrifugal dance implores the rain down

and again up again down

again the water rushes down hillsides, past cow hooves heavy in the earth, nourishing trees plants grasses

through sips of tea it moves its rivers through my typing fingers now also in this moment

flowing within the leather container of my skin shape

penetrating the winding avenues and cities of my brain

longings neurosis survival love loss surrender and stories

season the vessel that season the water

from within the body to the outside ocean space

stacking stories of sight sound smell touch taste and intuition

forming maps of perception and individuation moving between the inside and outside selves

these words you read here now are word maps reaching from the glowing screen into your reading mind. helo

the “Color Medicine” paintings are visual maps explaining the alchemy and relationships of the synesthetic journey of color functioning as mood and message, universally and individually within consciousness and the unconscious.

Yawning Booth, Art Music Tea Party Soma Arts, San Francisco, CA © Adriana Atema

Yawning Booth, Art Music Tea Party – Soma Arts, San Francisco, CA

Tell us about your Yawning Booth Project:

The “Yawning Booth” installation is an audio visual sensory experience illustrating interconnectivity and exploring mirror neurons in the brain as the yawn is passed from one body to another.

It is a cozy little booth that people go to yawn in.

Inside the booth soft sounds of me continuously yawning are heard.

The yawning track was made by recording the sound of my yawn, then listening back to the yawn. By the time i was done hearing the last one, i would feel compelled to yawn again and record the next one. It goes on for many minutes.

So, the yawns that were captured from my body via recording device enters the visitor’s ears in the booth, is absorbed into his or her body via audio vibrations and then, reflected back out through the yawning body into the eye of a live camera facing the guest. Elsewhere in the gallery the visitor’s yawn is live-video-projected into the eyes of an observer who can catch the yawn visually. The “Yawning Booth” changes the shape of this ‘thing’ the yawn from audio to visual; within the body of the visitor and within the body of the sensory input/output altering of the “Yawning Booth” itself. The yawn becomes a tool of separating awareness using the sensory tools of awareness itself, to discover new perspectives of understanding existence and interconnectivity of all beings. humans, dogs, cats, elephants, even fish pass around this thing yawn.

Your ‘Color Medicine’ Paintings explore the relationship between color and shape, and the conscious and unconscious. How do you think this dynamic affects your own creative process?

The colors themselves, in all their hues and variety are my visual companions.

Exploring the contents of the earth with my senses, i am forming relationships with all of these ingredients.

To continue with the previous example, a yawn is an individual action and it is also a thing that one passes like a ball in a game of catch. It is absorbed from the exterior environment, caught within the body and tossed back, just like a ball is caught in the hands of the body and tossed back away. I wonder how deeply does an object need to move into the body, and through which sensory map being drawn in the mind, to cease being other.

Wildway-acrylic, wood, 41.5"/60.5" -2011 © Adrian Atema

Wildway-acrylic, wood, 41.5″/60.5″ -2011
© Adrian Atema

Sometimes it feels like senses desire to know themselves, compelled to explore where the line is between the body and the environment. The body needs a place to be. Perhaps place is the body, as the body continues to become a mirror of the external environment. science studies show that much of sight is habitual assumption, a story of an expectation projected from the mind onto the outside world. varying amounts of what we see is our expectation of what it will be. Not only that, but for as many beings with eyes that are on this earth, so are there that amount of interpretations of color reflecting the external environment into their minds through the mirror doorway of their eyes. Whether color exists in the eyes of the see-er or outside everywhere begins a long philosophical conversation about subjective and objective reality. my belief is that the two exist together within the realm of our perception; to what extent is constantly shifting. Within this swinging pendulum, life offers various keys to read the ever unfolding story of life. some in the form of words, some in the form of food and medicine, in the form of touch, sound, smells, dreams. The “Color Medicine” paintings are called medicine because every ingredient of sensory experience is medicine. All food, drugs, sounds, sights, and thoughts, even body movement; all is medicine moving into the body. “Color Medicine” paintings explore colors in relationship to each other as an unravelling story. The viewer’s vast well of individual, cultural and universal color associations become the form of the stories they depict.

Paintings become symbolic evidence of much of the commentary that the interactive experiential installations communicate. The painting’s process is not incidental to their existence. Most of my paintings are created with my left and right hand at the same time.

With a brush in either hand i am forced to look at everything at once. The hemispheres of the brain and the arms and hands functioning in accordance with 2 simultaneous commands at the same time. I made movies of the paintings being created, wearing the camera like a necklace. The paintings come into existence before the eyes of the viewer as a non-verbal bridge to understanding the simultaneous left and right hand process. Sometimes i draw two different profiles gazing at each other at once. As i am drawing, i have 2 thoughts occupied, and the space in-between thinking two thoughts is like a hard-to-imagine third presence. The space between that consciousness is filled with this chance or chaos that i cant control, and it is there that i find a sublime unknowable seed place, awareness that the space of chance is co-creator of the figures or shapes.

The Red Room ©Adriana Atema

The Red Room ©Adriana Atema

Many of your projects are interactive, engaging your audience.  How do you feel this relationship influences the results of your work? 

I build interactive installations inviting exploration through the various isolated or exaggerated realms of the senses into the presence of one’s own awareness of a highly awake seed place from which every breath is a creation.

In the “Red Room”, for instance, people would come into the space. All was red. Red clothes. My skin was red. I allowed people to have their own experience of what was happening. Visitors interacted with me. It became immediately apparent that chit chat got in the way of people’s ability to be present with what was happening. So i decided to be silent and speak with facial expressions or speak a language of sound and intention only. The sounds that we were making and the way we were interacting shed the language. Another self emerged. There was another self behind the language that people were able to be present with. Many visitors wept, laughed, expressed themselves in all sorts of surprising ways. During a lull in visitors, one woman found herself alone with us there and asked, “do you mind?” and whipped her shirt off and shook out her hair. She felt so free and wild there. Each person was so different from the next. After time with me, the guest would be passed along to my red helpers who painted eye-like white leaf shapes on their cheeks and forehead, marking that they had been to this under realm of red, undergone this change, and then carried that with them on their faces to be recognized or puzzled by others when they left the room into the crowd. The “Red Room” was an intense environment intensified by human presence and activated through interaction. Dropping into a red place where the mind’s reaction to the color and space combined with the intimacy of human contact within, was like visiting with others inside our own bodies, or visiting the very physicality of an element in all its potency and power.

The various “Universe” installations have influenced audiences similarly. It is quite extraordinary moving into a place of blackness and quiet. I installed a dim constellation across the infinite sky space for navigation through the blackness, but many people didn’t even see it, they never looked up because it was just so overwhelming to be in the blackness.

The “Sound Universe” was slightly different in that it felt as if the people in the Tea House were inside of you, in you, echoing through you. When visitors from the “Musical Tea House” explored the “Sound Universe”, they realized that for the beings in a far away galaxy across the hall, they were all powerful masters of reality. In the Universe, every chit chat, story, song, expression and breath of sound from the “Musical Tea House” was being magnified and experienced in a most sensitive place of infinite blackness with the rainbow colors from the mind tripping out in a state of light deprivation. A heightened awareness of perception and existence followed the sounds of people in a far off tea house; sipping tea, talking, screaming, giggling, whispering, singing. The Universe could not control, it could just witness. A deep sense of helplessness, liberation and loss of body occurred. Bliss and chaos were both magnified.

"Sequence of Waves"- music for the Universe- Instruments were bottles, glasses, cups, teapots, spoons, voices and pocket change at the Convent, Brooklyn, NY

“Sequence of Waves”- Music for the Universe- Instruments were bottles, glasses, cups, teapots, spoons, voices and pocket change at the Convent, Brooklyn, NY

You also create what you call ‘Art Music’. Tell us about this. How important is it for you to engage with multiple disciplines? 

my main musical project is Wild Life Free Way

song names tell of their tales: fox, flea, tree, mountain, cold ocean, family…

i write, sing, guitar, piano, harmonica, kalimba, clarinet…

continually exploring different ways of sharing the sounds.

i was a secret musician until the music was ready.

the outside world knew me as a painter, a fabricator of physical objects and environments.

only a few close friends, forest falcons and faithful furry companions knew of the secret songs

painting and music live in utterly different neighborhoods in my mind.

and to some extent in the outside world too.

my life balance is these two opposites.

while painting i become paralyzingly non-verbal.

the singing heart exists in another climate.

sometimes i try to distance them from each other

so the pendulum can swing as far as it can into either one completely.

the painting, songs, installations, writing, movement, sharing:

it is all a compulsion.

i am up with the sun, commuted and in the studio working by 9 and into the night

building bridges in the form of color, form and sound.

the bridge leads to a door.

the door leads to the awakening of the ever passing presence of the moment by examining the nature of our senses, with and through the senses.

for the last decade i have been hosting Art Music Tea Party events all over the country: brooklyn, new orleans, oakland, l.a., S.f., charlottesville..
it is a night of sharings, showings, tellings, tea and revelry.
the intimacy of these events create nights of unique expressions and one time performances across disciplines.

What’s your current obsession? 

organic assam

c.jung’s red book

dark pu err (tea)

singing songs

sumi brushes

brussel sprouts

ted hughes

raw honey


black gesso

beings of the sea

all the beings





Tell us a secret …

cant just now think of a secret for you all

perhaps if i think of one i will postscript

be well all




All images © Adriana Atema

Published: November 26th, 2013

Previous in this series:

JEREMIE DHJAN: Parisian Prophet

One Comment

  1. Cynthia wrote:

    So fascinating to read about where your creative life has lead you! You inspire me to find my
    painter self again
    Much love –
    ps I always wanted you to have that butterscotch teacup!

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