Artist Spotlight on MaryKate Maher, ANTE Open Call

MaryKate Maher is one of those conceptual juggernauts whose work you discover and instantly wonder how you haven’t run across it sooner. Her awareness of the nuances of structure and the volume of forms create lyrical and compelling sculptures and installation work. A thoughtful artist with a strong record of exhibitions who also just so happens to be an alumna of both Skowhegan and MacDowell, Maher proves through her practice to create gradual crescendos, impressing her admirers with a criticality and subtlety that holds precious secrets for all who encounter her work. 

We touched base with Maher to gain a more in-depth appreciation of her practice in light of her selection as an Open Call winner, learning about her background in painting, her ruminations on balance and the careful, tenuous relationships binding individual components to the whole.

“Slump, Lean, Hoist” 2019, wood, aqua resin, concrete, brass, stone
approximately 240 x 72 x 72 in. From the exhibition “When Artists Enter the Factories” (Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn NY 2019 curated by Jia-Jen Lin and Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi) Photo by Kuo-Heng Huang

ANTE. Thanks for chatting with us MaryKate. Can you tell us about your practice and specifically the tension between the organic and industrial latent in your work?

MaryKate Maher. I have a background in painting and drawing that has transitioned over time to include sculpture and elements of photography.  They influence each other in ongoing conversation. This dynamic between structure and tonality, color and line serves as a useful aesthetic corollary to the organic/industrial duality. I find industrial landscapes beautiful and sad. In their pristine states, the industrial dominates the organic, cutting through it, confident and domineering. In its dilapidated state, one sees the organic reasserting itself, softening the borders. That juxtaposition interests me. I don’t go out looking specifically for it but it seems to find me, catching my attention when something seems “right”.

For example, one moment I keep trying to recreate occurred about two years ago when I was driving home from my studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was sunset and I was driving near Kingsland Avenue, which is a very industrial route. There is this large white holding tank (oil or fuel). On this particular evening the sunset was reflecting perfectly onto the tank so that both the tank and the sky had the same pink and purple gradients. The industrial was acting as a mirror for the organic. I didn’t have my camera with me and I kept trying to pull over in traffic to either take a picture with my phone or figure out what I wanted from that moment. It was rush hour-hectic and I missed my chance. I drive by there all the time trying to re-catch that experience, but I haven’t seen it again. I’m not sure what I expect from seeing it again but the gradients I saw from the light that day have found their way into my work.

ANTE. You specifically mention cairns as an influence in your practice. Can you speak to the impact that and other natural phenomena have on your work?

MaryKate Maher. Rocks and cairns have been a fixture in my work.  With cairns, you have something very organic with  a touch of the human added. The most basic human gesture. I think about how that gesture would feel to someone wandering alone through the wilderness. Is it reassuring? Is it spooky?  There’s also a sort of game to making rocks, which do not on their own lend themselves to stacking, balance one on top of the other.  In my work, it turns into manipulating weight and balance in ways that emphasize awkward and precarious arrangements. I’m not interested in picture-perfect compilations. I tend to stack and pile using chunks of concrete and other fabricated forms, wedging something into another form. There is a deliberateness to this action which is weird, imperfect, and provisional.  

Nature isn’t pristine. It creates all sorts of bizarre conglomerations like “plastiglomerates’ which are a literal fusing of plastic pollution with organic debris to create a new form of rock – a direct result from human pollution. In my personal collection I have an oyster shell which has fused itself to styrofoam like a barnacle.  Its a perfect riddle:  what is overtaking what?

I also love the tradition of the Scholars’ Rock and Odin stones where natural formations are so thoroughly aesthetified that they come to read as sculpture. Other phenomena like Fata Morgana and mirages, light refracting on the horizon creating interesting effects: all of these influence my work in some way.  When I can travel and explore I collect all these feelings and moments from different places and bring that back into the studio. I love geology and seeing famous collections, like that of Roger Caillois, and Standing Stones in Britain. There is a power to all of these objects and for centuries people have tapped into that.

“Surface: gradients (1)” 2019, Collaged dye sublimation prints on aluminum, wallpaper, resin, gold leaf, hydrocal (30 x 22 in)
“Map for the Temporary Inhabitant” 2013/2015/2018, aqua resin, dye sublimation prints on aluminum, concrete, concrete polymers, salt varying dimensions, largest: 69 x 44 x 24 in. From the exhibition “The Dissappearing Ground” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA, 2018, curated by C.J. Stahl) Photo credit Jaime Alvarez

ANTE. Recently you have shown at venues such as Triangle Arts Association and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You’ve also shown at outdoor sculpture venues. Can you walk us through the positive aspects of both gallery and public/outdoor sculpture exhibitions?

MaryKate Maher. My studio is pretty messy most of the time and venues that are more of a traditional gallery space are ideal for seeing the work in that clean, open space. You can control the presentation, the lighting, all of those things. You can play with scale and formality. There aren’t many “unknowns” thrown into the mix. Outdoor sculpture is usually just one work and it has to stand up to other criteria like weather, scale, and durability in addition to it being a finished work. It’s a fun (and stressful) challenge. It’s like being a director: making sure everything is happening on schedule and organizing all of the components, renting equipment, hiring help, etc. Working outdoors can have perks that can’t really be created indoors, and it’s always a big learning experience. Last year, I was curated into a sculpture exhibition in the Poconos along a local hiking trail. All of the works that were included had to address the natural world and couldn’t interfere with the natural environment there.  It took me a long time to figure out what to create.  It had to stand out against the camouflage of the woods, but also meet my standards of refinement. I had been working on and off with large blocks of livestock salt but had only ever shown the salt works in an indoor setting. I ended up creating a totemic form that stood out against the earth-toned surroundings.  Salt is elementally of the earth, so it’s soft and organic in its own way, but compressed in this form it becomes rigid and structured.  I knew the rain would erode it and that animals might eat it, that it might kill the grass underneath. I envisioned it melting away in this beautiful spire-like form to create an entirely new sculpture (which didn’t happen). As the exhibition progressed over the twelve months of the show an evolution occured: morning dew ensured a permanent wet, sweaty gloss to the salt, rain eroded the edges making it eerie and otherworldly, and deer and racoons came in the night to lick the blocks thereby leaving divets and marks, but the sculpture never changed the way I thought it would. All of the moisture kept eroding my anchors and epoxies and those blocks are so damn dense they take forever to melt. The animals did create an impromptu performative aspect of the work. Eventually it just became a ruin. It was still a cool piece, but there are a lot more “what ifs” with outdoor work. I find that when I’m invited to make outdoor work, I try to go as large as the budget can go and when I’m invited to show in a gallery setting I can scale up or down as needed.

The show at Triangle Arts was a really beautifully curated exhibition by Annesofie Sandal who I had recently met while exhibiting work at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was a nice connection and both of those shows were great to be involved in.

ANTE. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?

MaryKate Maher. The pandemic has really thrown a wrench in things for me.  In February/March 2020, I was in residency at the Wassaic Project.  I was exploring all sorts of new ideas and thoughts, testing out new materials and processes.  Within 5 days of returning to NYC, the city completely shut down. Many of those ideas that would have had the chance to possibly cultivate into something interesting suddenly seemed moot. So they’re all on the back burner for now. My brain – and body – just don’t have the energy at the moment to tackle them. Instead, I’ve been focusing on works on paper and collages. There were too many unknowns and a lingering lack of structure present in my day to day, so I created a project with set parameters. I printed a bunch of images and photographs that I had been working with and cut them all up. My task is to create new collages from the same cut papers by rearranging and reusing the pieces. Then I take a photograph of the ones I like and turn them into a print. There is a nice immediacy about working this way as well as permission to put it all away on the days when it feels frustrating. The completed works are turning out pretty well. The original images included lots of gradients and abstractions of light, and they create these interesting depths and spaces. They are very abstract and surreal, but I’m digging it for now and just rolling with it. There is a lot of repetition because the same forms show up throughout the work, but it’s helping to create this concise series. They’re also helping me think about ways to translate that into sculptural forms.

“Surface (22) version 2” 2020. Archival print, 14 x 11in

ANTE. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?

MaryKate Maher. The collages I’ve made during the quarantine. These branched out from work I was doing right before the pandemic but the previous work wasn’t really there yet and needed to be pushed further. Being stuck in my small apartment, with my family, all of us on top of each other, I would sneak away and sit in my window sill and stare out at the world below. Listening to the intense quiet, watching the sunsets, seeing the birds going about business as usual, spying on neighbors using their roofs for exercise. I thought a lot about light, space and bodies. The colors I was working with were magentas, pinks and reds and they felt bodily and intensely oversaturated. Color has been moving into my work in a way it wasn’t before. My neutral palette is evolving for sure from this recent work. As I start to get back to the studio, I see the work continuing in this direction as I figure out what it means: cut forms, saturated colors and finding new ways to create space through flat planes.

 

(Lead Image: Prussian Blue (head), 2019, resin, concrete, brass, gold leaf, prussian blue flashe, 16 x 12 x 8.5in)

Art in the Expanded Field: In Conversation with Tianlan Deng

“We live in a globalized world now, and I believe this perspective is crucial for career development.”

Mixed-media artist and architectural designer Tianlan Deng goes above and beyond when approaching new projects, in both scale and concept. Fearless in probing existing boundaries, Deng draws from his multitudinous skill set, educational background and knowledge of world cultures to bring award-winning concepts to the table for his design projects. Deng has experience working internationally as an architectural designer, professor, and thought leader in design. We became aware of Deng’s most recent proposal, which also caught the eye of the Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability-Beach Channel Educational Campus. Deng’s vision for a bright, revitalized campus blighted by insufficient budgeting and oversight has generally enthused both the educational community benefiting from the project and our team here at ANTE.

Deng himself is thrilled for the positive impact this project will enact on the wider NYC community at large, and the potential it has to serve as a role model for other campuses seeking to engage students at a visceral level. We sat down with Deng to dive into his background and to gain some perspective on what this exciting project means for his career and for the community at Rockaway Park High School.

(Lead image concept, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus Auditorium re-visioning)

ANTE. Thanks for chatting with us Tianlan! Can you start by giving us insight into how you envision your architectural project with Rockaway Park High School will optimize and revitalize this educational community and enhance students’ learning experience?

Tianlan Deng. Thanks for having me here. As you probably know, in New York City, many public schools situated in low-income neighborhoods often face challenges of low funding support and safety concerns. Consequently, these schools feel like a prison, and they often fall into a financial down cycle: poor learning environment, lower graduation rate, dwindling student population, limited finances — leading to the school eventually being shut down. My project “Live Learning” aims to ease the prison-like atmosphere in the school, improving the students’ educational experience and overall quality of life. This will boost the school’s future prospects for securing funding and recruitment.

The struggle of these underfunded public schools is a long-term result of educational inequality in the United States. To remedy this situation, we cannot depend solely upon systemic policy reform, which often falls prey to cumbersome approval processes as well as broader political interests. However, as a discipline, architecture and interior design can be a highly effective alternative tool, because it offers technical & creative solutions without the politics. By adopting a temporary art installation and projected (digital) media, I believe this project can foster a comfortable and uplifting environment, inciting curiosity, passion, and hope in the student body.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

ANTE. You approached this project as your thesis for your Master’s degree at Pratt Institute. Can you discuss the program you recently completed at Pratt and what specifically this project addressed with regard to your aims for that educational program?

TD. It encourages the students to develop a sense of social responsibility. Before entering school, my artwork mostly dealt with the issues in the education realm. Enhanced by Pratt’s ideology, I became more involved in these conversations. Meanwhile, Pratt’s open and skillful platform helped me expand my artistic practice into the realm of architectural and interior design. Consistently, the thesis program at Pratt strongly emphasizes social and environmental issues. Since education always factors into larger socio-economic issues, I discovered an opportunity to develop a long term design project in my new discipline.

The parallel of being a designer for a Public High School and a student at Pratt provides a great reference point for my research and development. Although the differences between a college and a high school are substantial, I still can gather plenty of information by comparison. At Pratt, we have free access to most of the high profile museums in NYC, while the students of underfunded schools may never visit museums during their lifetimes. We use advanced digital fabrication equipment at Pratt, while some public schools use textbooks that are in shambles. From that angle, I witness the vast disparity between the two poles of America’s education system. These vivid contrasts shape and grow my design intention and responsibility.

ANTE. Your career goals seem to intersect both progressive education and experimental architectural/spatial design: what about these dual concerns draw you to working on projects such as this upcoming project with the high school?

TD. My belief in progressive education is rooted in my personal experience. For 20 years, I was suffering from studying under a Chinese education dominated by tests and mechanical learning. In those monotonous Chinese classrooms, teachers force-feed students information while students learn by rote memorization. (The monotonous process along with endless pressure from exams shaped the Chinese school into a symbol of anguish and torture.) After studying in the USA, I was lucky enough to experience progressive learning, which emphasizes growth from real life experience. This is what allowed me to develop my personality, philosophies, and systems of knowledge.

However, I realized that Rockaway Park High School and other underfunded NYC public schools follow the same pattern as the Chinese one. I understand it as a result of limited funding and resources, but in the long term, mechanical learning reduces the quality of the educational experience, which doesn’t benefit the school system or lower-income students. I believe with a modest budget, Experimental Design with technology can shape the public school teaching into a more progressive education system. Creating temporal and flexible structures with projected media can alter perceptions about the educational experience, prompting closer associations with experimental learning rather than behavior-based models. Structured to achieve an open, airy feel, the installation aims to excite and re-energize students, opening up their minds to new possibilities. The flexibility it provides will dissolve the traditional learning model and enhance the public education experience. Like Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned in one of his coronavirus daily briefings: “When we’re reopening schools, let’s open a better school, and let’s open a smarter education system.” I hope my project “Live Learning” for Rockaway Park High School will create an opportunity for underfunded public schools to re-imagine education.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

ANTE. Talk to me about site-specific aspects of this environmental and architectural design project at Rockaway Park HS; how did meeting with the community inform your process as you finalized this proposal?

TD. Before the pandemic, I visited the school and spoke with the administrative staff and students several times. Rockaway Park High School is located at the Beach Channel Educational Campus, which is shared by several other schools. Like many underfunded public schools, Beach Channel Campus has a prison-like atmosphere, defined primarily by the dense security technology and numerous security officers. During our conversations, students told stories of the long security check process. The administrative staff mentioned that conflicts between officers and students were a regular occurrence. I factored these considerations into my design for the entrance of the Beach Channel Educational Campus. I conceptualized new stanchions with increased mobility, and they serve as both partitions to curb the traffic flow, and projection screens for multimedia displays. This will channel a better circulation during the security check, while presenting pleasant visual distractions to ease the atmosphere, and offering more privacy for students during the checking process.

After several visits to the campus, I found many empty spaces in this massive building, including a wide corridor and an extra auditorium with a low usage level. These spaces are wasted resources due to the lack of funding and inefficient spatial recognition. I proposed creating additional temporary installations with digital projections to activate these spaces, converting them into new common areas for students and/or alternative learning spaces. These installations can also become an open platform for the administration to stage temporary events for community-building and school wide activities.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

ANTE. You yourself have worked as an educator, as you were a professor at the University of Kentucky. How did your own role as an educator working with college students inform your design process as relates to education?

TD. My personal experience of switching between student and instructor has a significant influence on my design process. It helped me develop strong empathy during the design process. I have a deeper understanding of both the learning and educational process, and am acutely aware of the challenges, struggles, and problems facing schools today. For example as a student, I remember my own struggle of enduring monotonous lessons in a lifeless classroom. On the other hand as a teacher, I know the difficulties of motivating students and maintaining their focus. This insight inspired my decision to use projected media, which has great flexibility, or presentation format. With various projected media content and forms to interact with students, the installation can enhance the environment while offering additional ways for teachers to communicate and keep students stimulated.

ANTE. You have studied in China, Japan, Denmark, and the United States. Can you elaborate on how these international experiences have shaped your career?

TD. Studying and living in both East and Western countries increased my sensitivity toward social issues, including education. The chance to observe and compare people, systems and cultural norms revealed the differences and difficulties of each society. Being an artist and designer, my career goals, choices, and expectations have become increasingly interrelated with societal issues. Studying and living between China and the United States made me aware of the differences and similarities between the two educational systems. It informs my intention to produce artwork that communicates my wishes and concerns. Traveling to Japan and Northern Europe broadened my spectrum of global education and expanded my knowledge of design’s power. My project “Life Learning” at Rockaway Park High School is a choice shaped by all my international experience. We live in a globalized world now, and I believe this perspective is crucial for career development.

ANTE. Walk us through the career highlights that have marked your exceptional rise as an architectural designer – including your award winning commissions for the Gatton College of Business and Economics in KY (2016) and more recently the Best Team of Wanted Design Competition (2019.) What about your practice, do you feel, leads to your continued success and recognition in the field?

TD. When I primarily focused on painting, my paintings were collected by several well-known hotels in China, such as Fairmont Pace Hotel in Shanghai and Tianjin Crowne Plaza. After coming to the states, I became more involved with installation art. I completed small commissions for site-specific installations, such as the ‘Fence’ I created for the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center — a translucent photo wall that cyclically sculpts sunlight and shadow to create a sensory experience. Winning the glass design competition of Gatton College of Business and Economics was important to me. The project ‘Tally Mark’ is not only an award-winning achievement, but a successful example of how fine art and spatial architectural design can be combined. Tally Mark is an art installation that introduces the ancient Asian counting system into a western financial college. It establishes a diverse cultural atmosphere while serving as a spatial partition to maintain the independence of both private and communal spaces. 

Tally Mark inspired me to continue exploring projects that combine fine art and architectural design. Three years later, I participated in the Wanted Design competition following a similar trajectory. Five designers from different countries spent five days creating a community engagement project. My project ‘This is Not Stair’ is a site-specific installation that alters the walk route to bring enjoyment and engagement to the monotonous pavement walking experience. This project won the competition and was featured in Core77 Magazine.

I wouldn’t say there is one specific aspect of my artistic practice that leads to success or recognition. But maintaining a sense of connection to the world and society is fundamental to my creative process.

 

– ANTE mag

Embracing Interiority in Magdalena Dukiewicz’ “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space

Encountering “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space, a solo exhibition by Magdalena Dukiewicz  curated by Jamie Martinez, the materials forming this installation present a dizzying dance on the senses. From the earthy inhalation of sod greeting visitors to the visceral transluncency of the installation, the tent-like structure anchoring the space presents a show that serves as a veritable movable feast for the senses
Artist Magdalena Dukiewicz has presented that rare feat of marrying circumstance and concept: an installation based on the impossibility of permanence placed firmly in dialogue with a time of upheaval. This show arrives in the most ephemeral and mercurial time period in recent memory, when a viral pandemic has uprooted the lives of citizens of the world. Thus, an exhibition reflecting in part on the transient nature of immigration is placed in contrast to a time period holding citizens the world over in a shared uncertainty, yet clearly placing certain immigrants into situations of increased vulnerability (for examples, see increased vulnerability of immigrants held at detention centers in the US, and the recent announcement by the current US President that ICE will deport students who do not attend in-person classes at universities this Fall.) The artist has managed to presciently respond to one of the most dire moments for immigrant rights in recent memory.
Work by Magdela Dukiewiecz for “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)
The artist herself reflects on the domestic and social roles prescribed to her as a child growing up in Poland. She recalls spending time in a temporary play structure she built with her sister when she was young. Dukiewicz notes, “The concept of a house is based on a portable playhouse made of textiles that I had as a child and explores how “playing house” and practicing social roles at an early age has been adapted in my adult life. ” She also reflects on how materiality is embedded, for her, within the conceptual realm they engage in dialogue with. Thus in order to create a conversation around uncertainty, materials like sod were incorporating – even surprising the artist, when seedlings of grass began to appear in the temporary installation structure.”The use of impermanent materials and incorporating and dissolving my DNA with and within them add to the idea of temporality and imperfection,” she reflects. “[Specifically] the house, like the other pieces, will transform, eventually collapse, then disintegrate and disappear, but the process and its traces are my way of leaving an imprint in the world. “
Installation view, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)

The Ph.D.-candidate artist, who holds an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts (Warsaw, PL) and an MFA, Complutense University (Madrid, ES,) produces her works in a site-specific manner, considering how specific spaces and spatio-temporal considerations can demand necessary alterations and adaptations. Within this conceptual framework, the artist was also forced to reconsider the pandemic interrupting access to this solo exhibition. Confronting the pending feeling of hopelessness encountered by us collectively as a society, she provides a space that instigates a moment of rumination—an individual and collective reflection—for the human species to “regroup, rethink and adjust to a new reality.”

Closing on Saturday, July 11 at The Border Project Space in 56 Bogart, Brooklyn in socially-distanced visitation from 5-8 pm, “Elements of Perturbation” mounts a multi-sensorial dialogue around the places we are allowed to enter, inhabit, and exist, and how identity and location continually inhabit a relatioship of tension with one another.

Installation views, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)


 

Wavelength Interview for 10xCommunity: “We Are Really in the Moment”

ANTE mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Wavelength was founded in 2015 by Gianluca Bianchino and Jeanne Brasile and serves as a catalyst in the growing conversation between art and science. We touched base with the two curators to learn more about their “Pandemic Projections” initiative in the wake of CoVid-19.

 

(Cover image: Alessandro Brighetti, “Smokeocene” image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art)

Matt Sheridan, “Castles Made of Sand” produced by Tove Langridge with the participation of Queensland Ballet dancers Jack Lister (choreography) with Clare Morehen and Eleanor Freeman, cinematography by Greg Henderson, painting-in-motion animation and composite edit by Matt Sheridan – image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

ANTE mag. For 10xCommunity, ANTE is specifically featuring projects that somehow respond or have shifted in relation to Pandemic Projections – can you share with us how this initiative began and what it was started to address/achieve?

Gianluca Bianchino.  The project began somewhat serendipitously and with modest intentions.  Back in early April, Jeanne, who’s an active curator and gallery director, was compelled to project ambient video of a coral reef onto the 70 foot wide façade of a commercial building across the street from her home. It was merely play by a restless curator without a physical space due to the pandemic. The effect she was hoping to achieve was the transformation of the building into a large aquarium in the middle of a mostly quiet residential neighborhood for the purpose of activating an unusual space for a night or two. She shared an image of her projection with me.  At first I thought it was a good thing to do and there was something visually striking about it.  It seemed to be the perfect time for experimenting anyway.  All alone in my studio in Newark, New Jersey, I enjoyed the result but I didn’t think much of it that night other than the playfulness. In those days, in the midst of all the negative news we were receiving at an alarming rate, I was thinking about my mother in Italy, who’s elderly and living alone in the country hardest hit at that time by the pandemic, and the daunting prospect that the wave was coming our way.  It was disconcerting to know the only help I could lend to her, my family, and my friends in the old world, was a phone call. Suddenly, through social media I saw something really amazing taking place on the balconies of Italian cities, particularly in the south, where ancient forms of folk music have been experiencing revitalization over the past two decades. People were mostly playing hand drums, known as Tammorra, across balconies creating synchronized, spontaneous music. These were real world creative acts that allowed communication – without disrupting social distancing guidelines.  It occurred to me that there was an opportunity with video projection in the real world, and with the assistance of social media, to generate a similar experience here. I proposed to Jeanne a program featuring projections by different artists. The thought had probably already crossed her mind and it instantly became an opportunity for our ongoing curatorial collaboration, Wavelength, to explore curating on the fringes of the art world.  

Jeanne Brasile.  Once the project developed more clearly in our minds, I realized that presenting the screenings on social media via live streaming would exploit the more positive aspects of the platforms. It was also crucial that the tools we needed to present these video screenings publicly, and to a wide audience, were built into the functionality of both Facebook and Instagram. I like the idea of using social media as a curatorial and artistic stage to bring artists, curators and audiences together in a meaningful way that is interactive – like a virtual happening. The participatory aspect of this format is where I discovered the most value in terms of a creative response to social distancing and the isolation I and others felt during this time. There was a need which we addressed with a rapid response in a fun and experimental, yet critical manner that brought people together.  #pandemicprojections is an outgrowth of my interests and experience curating social interventions which I have been doing on and off for roughly 10 years. I was also thinking about space as a curatorial medium and was intrigued by the challenges and potentiality of curating projected digital video, cast onto a built environment in a social media setting.

ANTE mag. What about the projected image compelled you to begin featuring artworks in this format?

GB. A few days later I was personally onsite when we ran a second test projection using one of my own video works, Momento, which features flocks of starlings.  The realization at that moment was that video art would not only look stunning on the building façade, but it could even have the capacity to obliterate the flatness of the wall with an experience of deep space, as if the whole building was now merely the container for immersive virtual dioramas.  There was something metaphysical about the effect and it was confirmed when we started projecting videos from various artists, some of which exhibited landscape features such as horizon lines and perspective. We began documenting the projections from slightly elevated vantage points. The results were always beautiful and surprising. In the case of Alessandro Brighetti’s Smokeoscene it is especially astounding how his image of perspectival plumes of smoke mirrored the dramatic sunset taking place right above the building. 

JB.  Yes, I definitely thought about the idea of the building as a container, which we discussed at length. I was also interested in creating an alternative to a physical exhibition, which was not possible during this time, and bringing art into a more public sphere, both physically and virtually. I like the idea of democratizing the art experience and the attendant potential for unscripted possibilities – with neighbors, the local police department who came by to view the work one evening, and drivers who stopped their cars and treated the street like an impromptu drive-in theatre. I like that our audience participates in a variety of ways that are self-determined and meaningful to them by virtue of their type of participation – whether in the real world or on social media. We’ve had people anticipating the screenings, joining us each time, others happened upon the events by chance. I also really enjoy the way many of the videos interact with the architectural features of the building, which would never be possible or acceptable, in a traditional gallery environment. Many videos take on new meaning in an out-of-doors setting as well as the context of being shown during the pandemic. One of the most unanticipated aspects for me was how the messaging functions on Facebook and Instagram were embraced by our audience members immediately, who built a community by showing up weekly, asking questions of me, Gianluca and the artists, and who began conversing among themselves during the events and beyond. This is extremely gratifying. I feel we have accomplished our goal to overcome social distancing and bring people together.  It all depended on our audience to make it happen and they oblige, very enthusiastically. 

ANTE mag. How have you found the artists for these projections? 

GB. We began with Jeanne’s idea of reaching out to Kati Vilim, a colleague and friend of ours who we have worked with numerous times. Kati is a geometric abstract painter also working in video and installation. She is also very open to experimentation, so we knew we could rely on her to kick off the series. On the first night of #pandemicprojections we featured a 16 minute video loop of Kati’s images which were generated by an algorithm.  Her work is a fine combination of three-dimensional illusion and flatness. Both these aspects worked great and gave us a sense of the contrast needed in any given video to achieve a satisfactory result. At that point we felt we had enough material to begin properly advertising the program on social media as well as emailing a selection of artists we knew personally whose work might be a good fit. Still, despite the enthusiasm, realistically we thought we might have one or two nights of projections overall.  The response from both our invited artists and open call has been exciting and steady. We are now going on ten iterations, with an average of four featured artists per night. 

JB. We also got lots of referrals from artists on social media, artists that showed their work in #pandemicprojections and a few of my curator friends gave us some leads as well. 

ANTE mag. What type of demand for art do you see this project addressing? 

JB. I see many important needs addressed by #pandemicprojections. First is the need to continue curating and developing exhibitions in a time when all shows and activities were unexpectedly ground to a halt. I wanted to create opportunities for artists and the communities I work with, as well as satisfy my need to actively curate. I had to find a way to bring a community together in ‘real time’ like we are able to do in a gallery, an art opening or similar cultural events where people gather. I also have a desire to push the boundaries of curating, and I am always thinking about ways to advocate for artists while serving community. This project concomitantly satisfied these multivalent needs. With the live streaming, it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and become part of the spectacle by ‘performing’ the screenings with our narration and conversations with the artists and audiences, while allowing me to concomitantly extend my curatorial practice into new, experimental formats that I’d already been interested in. Without the narration and participatory components, the screenings would have been a passive experience which would not have, in my estimation, contributed anything and I really wanted to use this time of crisis to as a challenge to create something unique and meaningful for everyone involved.  

GB. Since the pandemic began institutions have had to reimagine their programming. There have been numerous virtual tours of galleries, collections, and studio visits and presentations via video conference, as well initiatives by groups of artists-supporting-artists on social media. These were all really helpful ways to keep the dialog about art moving forward despite the stagnation. I intended to be a spectator and an occasional participant in the online discussion when invited. However, #pandemicprojections presented a timely opportunity to show art in the real world while holding a forum about the work via social media live feeds. For me, there was something suddenly odd about showing art outside the matrix of the internet. I didn’t know if there was an actual demand for it but we were curious to find out.  In order to comply with social distancing guidelines we have discouraged participating artists and audiences to attend the event in person. However, the fact that it is happening in the physical world requires the viewer to fill in the experience. There’s something phenomenological about the aspect of knowing the screenings are taking place while not being able to witness them in person. It reminds me of astronomers studying black holes. They determine their presence not by the hole itself but by the behavior of everything around it.    

Joe Waks, “Renaissance Américaine,” image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

 

ANTE mag. How do you think the current virus pandemic has affected art production? 

GB. From what I can see through art shared on the internet and discussions I’ve been having with colleagues in the US and abroad, it seems that artists who have had access to their studios, and have been able to float financially one way or another throughout this period, are actually thriving in terms of production, and that has not surprised me. We artists and creative thinkers are for the most part genetically built for this type of seclusion. My impression is that two-dimensional art is really booming at the moment given its natural compatibility with the flat screen from which it is being experienced.  I am curious to see how sculpture will revive itself in the post pandemic era. In a way, I think of #pandemicprojections as a means for creating a three-dimensional experience employing two-dimensional art. If a curator is also an artist in the way they craft an exhibit, then that is the dimension we may have added in bringing all of this work together.

JB. Though artists may have had to adapt due to working at home or losing access to their studios, artists are incredibly resourceful. They will always make art despite creative hardships. I think the real transformation will occur not among artists, but among the sales, consumption and distribution ends of the creative chain. How will galleries, museums, auction houses, collectors and dealers move forward? The idealist in me thinks that perhaps the pandemic will equalize some of the inequities and excesses in the art world. The pragmatic part of my brain argues back that this crisis, like the last economic downturn in 2008, will only further entrench the disparities that exist. I wish I could be more hopeful. 

ANTE mag. As artists, how has this moment affected your own practice?

JB. I was making major progress on my art despite the lack of space since my kitchen was doing triple duty – having been split into a home office, and studio in addition to its usual functions. Fortunately, I have a large kitchen, so it isn’t too chaotic. I finished 2 pieces in the first week or so, and began working on a third. That is a quick pace for me. Once I committed to #pandemicprojections, progress in the studio proper slowed down. That is okay since I am very committed to the project and right now there is more of a need there. People really look forward to the screenings and their social components. Right now, the studio seems insular at a time when I see people craving community. Once we wrap up the screenings, I think I’ll get back some momentum in the studio. I have a lot of pent-up ideas and I’ve been doing lots of day-dreaming, journaling, reading and sketching I can draw from once I get back to art-making.  

GB. I have been an artist for 25 years and I never experienced a creative block. If I were traveling and without a studio for a while, I would make video art.  But I have actually not made much art since the pandemic despite feeling confident about the trajectory I was on with my studio practice. I don’t think of it as a creative block but rather a conscious choice I’ve eased into. And yet, I am lucky to be spending more time in my studio than ever and there are occasional experiments that I undertake. I think #pandemicprojections has occupied my creative space and delivered, so far, great results. What started as play turned quickly into one of the greatest creative responsibilities of my career. And while the curtain is slowly but surely closing on this endeavor we may unveil soon one more final chapter related to this project. 

ANTE mag. How do you see pandemic projections evolving post-CoVid19 pandemic?

GB. Like any creative person experiencing the making of good work, the work itself takes you by the hand and leads you to uncharted territory. Any artists aware of such a seductive lack of control will tell you they can merely nudge the work in a certain direction but the wave that sweeps you is beyond you. #pandemicprojections has been somewhat like that despite the added responsibility of interpreting a collection of works by other artists. We have been recently approached by an arts organization to take the project to a drive-in format for a one night collaborative event in which we’ll aim to feature all the participating artists – while welcoming a physical, albeit socially-distanced, audience. We had a promising meeting and only a set of practical or legal logistics beyond our control could prevent the event from happening at this stage. It would be a fantastic way to conclude our program.  Fingers crossed!  As for the post Covid 19 era it is difficult to say. The project will cease soon and will be reconsidered in the eventuality of a second wave of the pandemic later this year, but for the most part we are really in the moment. 

JB. #pandemicprojections needs to culminate in a public screening which Gianluca mentioned. We’ve created a community and there is a demand to be together in real time and space that cannot be denied. I can’t wait to be able to host a screening with a live audience, showing all the videos in one night. Though we won’t be able to join in a large group, I think the physical proximity and aspects of a ‘drive-in’ format will assuage some of the pent-up longing to be together. I envisioned this to be a finite project from the beginning – meant to address a specific need.  When the world opens up again, the need will presumably no longer be there. Then we’re off to the next project…

Kati Vilim, “Phases” Image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

On Thursday, June 11th, the final installment of Pandemic Projections will be live from 9 pm EST on the Instagram accounts of Jeanne Brasile and Gianluca Bianchino will be hosting this last event, featuring artists:

Angeles Cossio

Eric Valosin

Lori Field

Teresa Braun

Alinta Krauth

and Gianluca Bianchino . Tune in for this last chance to explore intervention art in the tri-state area during the CoVid-19 pandemic.

 

 

About Wavelength

Wavelength is a curatorial collaborative founded in 2015 by Gianluca Bianchino, an artist/curator, and Jeanne Brasile, a curator/artist. Their projects explore the relationship between art and science via immersive exhibitions, interviews with artists/scientists/curators, artists talks, critical writing and symposia.  Wavelength takes part in the growing conversation between art and science, particularly in the realms of physics and astronomy.  Wavelength’s curatorial practice considers phenomenological art informed by scientific principles – concerned more with manifestation than representation.

Interview with Eileen O’Kane Kornreich: “Emotionally Charged Color is My Grammar”

An Interview between Audra Lambert and Eileen O’Kane Kornreich

Our current dual American crises of pandemic outbreak and social inequality are both eerily present in this visceral body of work I encountered by artist Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, “Mortality Path.” The series is open to viewer interpretation as the artist depicts the site of Washington Square Park, a space that has served various functions over the years: a place for organized protest, leisurely strolls, farmland, and a burial ground. Kornreich presents scenes from this locale not with realistic details but charged with facets of the various histories that compose the elements of the site itself.

I first became aware of this series a few months ago, when I met with the artist after encountering her current body of work, “Creatures,” which explores concepts related to the “Gilgamesh” epic. The artist’s powerful dual approaches contrasting the historical realm of Myth against the personal myths we build around our own lives intrigued me, enticing me to learn more about her past body of work. Encountering “Mortality Path,” it became clear that Kornreich invested significant time in researching the purpose of this site throughout New York City’s nearly 400-year history, particularly as it relates to the settlement of Manhattan as it spanned northward from its origins in the current Financial District. The artist charts her engagement with the site from a personal level as someone who frequented the park, diving into its secrets and hidden history in the wake of poignant personal grief she was experiencing during the time period that this series emerged. Kornreich observes rather than comments: she views the psychological aspects of the park’s trajectory, tracing the multi-layered history informing the experience of walking paths along the northwest corner of the park. I sat down with Kornreich for this somber and reflective journey through grief, contemplation, and the intractable pall that past histories indelibly cast on our experience of the present moment.

(Above–>Below) Before Rose, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Her Park Path No Memory, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path 7, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. Walk us through the origin of “Mortality Path” and your early foray into capturing the vistas of Washington Square Park, how did this space first attract your attention and inspire you to begin work on this series?

Eileen O’Kane Kornreich. After my husband died early 2015, I had been thinking of our mortality and how we humans manipulate the natural world and ritualize our deaths. Death of a beloved brings one down memory lane, and I found myself digging out work from forty years earlier. In the late 1970’s I went through several years of painting landscapes. I was charmed by one oil of the trees out of my studio window. Everything I loved and lived with during those years are dead: the dog, the boyfriend. Everything gone – but not the trees. I drove to see them, still outside that window, the dog buried not more than twenty feet away. I thought of trees and burials, like burials in Indonesia where they inter dead babies in a ritual where they and their spirits are absorbed by nature, which I believe is lovely. I thought of all the markers for our dead, all the bodies moved into catacombs, then I reminded myself of potters’ fields. There are thousands of dumping grounds for human remains; we walk on them daily and are unaware. Washington Square Park’s northwest corner is something I am very aware of and that is so centric to our city and country’s history, yet there are no markers for all those people.

ANTE mag. The theme of this work is site-specific, dwelling on a certain location: The Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Are you drawn to working with spaces and their layered histories? Why or why not?

EO’KK. This was a first [for me to use a particular site.] This is so specific a site: fifty to two hundred feet of a site. It was not a conscience decision to use a small-scale location. It was a conscience decision to use a mammoth atrocity to over tens of thousands of people, acknowledged. These bodies that were dumped, hidden, ignored, and historically expunged and that one American Elm onsite who saw it all and is still alive. That’s the story.

 

(Above–>Below) See Through to the Piers, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Park Path Dapple Light, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path Blue, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. You note that in this body of work that you build… “from society’s constructed beauty that masks atrocities below.” What about this contrast compelled you to create these artworks?

EO’KK. There are several written histories of the what and why of the potter’s field in and around what is now known as Washington Square Park. New York City has records of purchasing sections of the eastern side of the park for a potter’s field in 1790s. At that time, this land was already used by several African churches located near that same land when this area was farmland owned by freed slaves. The city has notes of the bodies dumped in the north west corned on the banks of the Minetta Creek: this was an area, again, long in use by the native population. This undesirable area was partitioned off to native peoples, freed slaves and rogue New Yorkers, The English and Dutch, then reclaimed as a potter’s field – can you imagine? I imagined then and still to this day, all the bodies laid or splayed, then topped with fill for years as the pandemic raged during humid summers or a citizen was murderer. A few decades after the last of the stink and vermin had died off, only then a military square is constructed for pageantry around the square mansions that have since been constructed. Imagine bunting and flags and shots of rifles children playing in and around where just a generation ago lay the bodies of a putrid death, some named some not, thrown into a ditch. We have a similar situation to this now at the area near World Trade Center: different, clearly, in terms of intent, but so many go about their day and eat lunches over the bodies of those killed in 9/11. Across the street is an African burial site that just received its historical plaque. And so, it goes, it’s all around us.

ANTE mag. These works feature emotionally charged colors, and the strong use of perspective in these works creates a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. What are some of the emotions present in these works and why?

EO’KK. Emotionally charged color is my grammar, the construction of my visual language. While making these drawings, I am aware that I’m in a graveyard, that there is death beneath my feet – it brings to mind my husband’s graveyard in Valhalla, NY, which is gorgeous and shows diversity across its many sections, yet beneath these graves are even older burial sites of native peoples, settlers, anicent beasts….these layers of history continue endlessly. With Washington Square Park, that one particular corner has never had a plaque until they put a plaque at the arch noting that in the 19th century, ten African wooden caskets were placed at this site in 1850. But that begs the question of why these freed men and women of color were in this site, which at that time was still relatively undeveloped? Early settlers had no qualms about using free slaves as a buffer from native people’s attacks on first the Dutch, then the English took over. This is a part of our history we can find if we dig through the layers.  There are many perspectives in the park, off in one area you can even watch the light bouncing off the distant Hudson River, even noting a small square where you can see New Jersey. These photos were taken during walks in the winter and there is refracted light, light shining on in the darkness. This is my contemplation on color and perspective: how it’s read or absorbed by the viewer is for them to tell that story, I’ve told mine.

ANTE mag. The presence of trees is palpable in these works: what meaning do these park trees have for you, metaphorically, in this series?

EO’KK. The four-hundred-year-old American Elm in the Northwest corner of the park is a monument we locals call the Hanging Tree. That is my leading lady. If she could talk, she would set me straight. She would tell the burden of the dead and dying, and hangmen alike. The other trees, the recent plantings by our wealthy society, those represent the frivolous, the pageantry, the amnesia of a city wanting to not remember or know what they did, what happened in the past. 

ANTE mag. Can you explain your process in creating these compositions? For example, did you photograph the site from different angles then draw those with pencil on paper? Did you create these works en plein air?

EO’KK. While in the park, I photograph a path, a tree. I take upwards of three hundred shots with my camera and print what is valid to my eye. From these I construct a photo-collage of multiple perspectives, giving me a 360-degree view of a tree, shadow or path. It is a very cubist drawing which arises from the collage. I create the base drawing in pencil. From the base drawing, I work with acrylic, conte crayon, pastel, crayon and graphite to build the finished work. 

ANTE mag. You reference that these works recall “mysterious dreamscapes of nature.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment in relation to this body of work?

EO’KK. Once I start layering color with crayon and pastel the hard cubist edges are removed, and the multi-perspectives become one trippy, mysterious landscape.

What happens when we die? Every person who has lived during the age of reason has thought of the why’s and where’s of the afterlife. Does the answer lie with a god or gods, or spirits, or is it science? Why are some deaths celebrated and interred in strong, elaborate shrines while others are burned on a river or dumped in a marsh that becomes a celebrated park a few decades later? That’s just luck. My deeper thoughts are what happens after our internal light is out.

Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation | The 8th Floor Interview for 10xCommunity: “By Addressing Real Life in our Work, There is More Potential for Change”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Shelly & Donald Rubin Foundation, The 8th Floor is a platform for socially engaged exhibitions and programs featuring artists of diverse backgrounds involving communities in dialogues around a range of social issues. ANTE contributor Mariel Tepper touched base with Executive/Artistic Direction at The 8th Floor, Sara Reisman, in order learn more about what types of initiatives they are enacting and following during CoVid-19.

(Lead image credits: Jane Benson. A Place for Infinite Tuning, 2014. Plywood, steel, mirrored plexiglass, wooden vase, latex paint, hand-cut artificial flowers, hand-cut oud and viola Photograph by Matthew Johnson, courtesy of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.)

 

ANTE mag. How did The Rubin Foundation’s The 8th Floor get its start? What was the initial vision for how The 8th Floor could explore the intersection of art and social justice?

Sara Reisman. The 8th Floor was founded in 2010 by Shelley and Donald Rubin to showcase their private art collection, which, at the time, was focused on contemporary Cuban art. When I started at the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, as Artistic Director, in 2014, part of my charge was to help refine the mission of the Foundation, which was founded in the mid-1990s. The Foundation had supported arts and cultural organizations – ranging from visual arts presenters in New York City, to Himalayan art projects – as well as social justice organizations advocating for freedom of expression, gun control, and access to health care. In the process of identifying that the mission could be more precise in its support of organizations in New York City that were bringing art and social justice together, we determined that The 8th Floor could become a platform for art and dialogue around social justice themes. Initially, I thought there would be a few shows to articulate the Foundation’s interests. The first show I curated at The 8th Floor in 2015 was Mobility and Its Discontents, which included artists Jane Benson, Ángel Delgado, Lan Tuazon, and Javier Téllez, whose projects expressed the impacts of borders and strategies for transcending them. As we – my colleagues George Bolster, Anjuli Nanda Diamond, and I – continued to develop ideas for exhibitions, it became clear a series of shows on social justice themes, building upon one another, could be ongoing. In addition to the exhibitions, public programs and workshops are integral to providing audiences and the communities we serve with a discursive environment that is both communal and supportive of free expression. Without public programming, I think the effect of the exhibitions would be very different, less engaged. 

ANTE mag. The COVID-19 crisis has deeply impacted our society and the art world in unprecedented ways. What are some ways that the Rubin Foundation will stay connected and active in the arts community during this time?

SR. We recently launched a virtual series called Performance-in-Place, which we thought of as a way to engage with artists, providing them with support and a platform, to present new performances generated by the new social distancing measures (whatever that might mean for each of them.) Performance-in-Place will happen every third Tuesday evening (times depending on where the artists are located), our first event was led by Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo, in the Bronx, with two collaborators Anna Recasens, and Laia Solé, who are based in different parts of Spain. Their conversation, On Art and Friendship, also showed excerpts from a new video piece they began working on in February to document the aspects of art praxis, that are often not shown in art spaces. For our team, it was moving to see how the three artists facilitated a discussion of sharing and connecting with a group largely consisting of individuals who are often in attendance at The 8th Floor. Forthcoming performances include presentations by Alice Sheppard with Kinetic Light (June 9), From the Collection of Eileen Myles (June 30,) Maria Hupfield (July 11,) a new piece titled Hotline by Aliza Shvarts (September 1,) and Latasha N. Nevada Diggs (September 22.) To complement the performance series, we are hosting monthly talks online as well. On May 28, I will moderate Places of Isolation and Healing, a conversation between Edgar Heap of Birds and Douglas Miles, and on June 18, I’ll be in conversation with artist and activist Carmen Papalia on facilitating accessibility in virtual spaces. 

Initially, I felt that the pressure to generate programs for virtual experiences was uninspiring. But two months into this, I’m realizing there is great potential to connect people internationally, across geographies. Of course, more than ever,  the notion of the digital divide is an issue, but I can see that as we learn to operate virtually, there is an opportunity to approach accessibility in new ways, online and eventually as we make the shift back to doing programs in person.

Mobility and Its Discontents, installation view at The 8th Floor From left to right, works by Alberto Borea, Jorge Wellesley, Lan Tuazon, Jane Benson Photograph by Matthew Johnson, courtesy of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation

 

ANTE mag. Your organization’s past exhibitions explore pressing social issues and concepts, from healthcare to mass surveillance to “different modes of resistance” in the series Revolutionary Cycles. Why is art and culture necessary in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

SR. Revolutionary Cycles was conceived as a series of six exhibitions to examine the instruments of social and political transformation. In the first exhibition Revolution from Without…, which opened in January 2019, artists featured in the show – Chto Delat, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Dread Scott, and others – expressed how change often comes from those on the margins of the polity, and the condition of being without – without rights, without representation, and without capital. It’s clear to me that in the current climate, a crisis of a failing health care system, capitalism run rampant, and rights being stripped away in the name of national security, art is essential for its capacity to communicate conditions that would otherwise be obscured. I also believe that even as the decision to make art is perceived by many to be one of privilege, being an artist is a precarious existence, and yet, artists constantly take risks in representing unpopular ideas, that question authority, that challenge the status quo. The next exhibition in the Revolutionary Cycles series, To Cast Too Bold a Shadow (originally scheduled to open on May 14 and postponed until at least the fall) is focused on entrenched forms of misogyny in our culture, and will feature works by Betty Tompkins, Joiri Minaya, Yoko Ono, Tracey Emin, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and Aliza Shvarts, among others. With support from the Italian Council (a funding body of the Italian government) we are commissioning Maria D. Rapicavoli to make a new film, The Other: A Familiar Story, about immigration based on the life of a close relative. The project charts the oppression of a woman who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, forced to leave her children behind, surviving an abusive relationship in the process. A Familiar Story becomes more timely given the immigration crisis we’ve been witnessing over the last decade, and now with the pandemic in which domestic abuse is compounded by quarantine. The logic behind Rapicavoli’s film demonstrates how artists are often thinking about what is below the surface.

ANTE mag. What have been some of your organization’s narrative goals with past exhibitions and programming, and how might those narratives come into play after this crisis?

SR. We obviously have no real idea what the outcome and conclusion of the pandemic will be, but our exhibitions together present a narrative in which questions of equity and human rights – whether they be LGBTQi rights, disability rights, or to do with reparations – are at the forefront. Regardless of what happens after this crisis (if there is a distinct ‘after’), I hope politically engaged art discourse can continue to be more grounded – as I feel we have been since the pandemic took hold –  in the realities we face as cultures, as communities, as a country. And to understand that reality is not always pleasant, or fair, or aesthetically digestible – but that by addressing real life in our work, there is more potential for change.

Betty Tompkins Apologia (Caravaggio #1), 2018 Courtesy of Betty Tompkins and P·P·O·W, New York

ANTE mag. Public events and programs are a vital aspect of The 8th Floor, with frequent artist talks accompanying exhibitions. During this time is your organization considering any alternative types of programming such as virtual talks or exhibitions?

SR. As I mentioned, last week (on May 19) we launched Performance-in-Place as a virtual series, and monthly talks, which right now feel like a good alternative to the fact that we can’t gather people in real time and space. With that in mind, if the pandemic means we can’t return to doing in-person programming in the fall, or by the end of the year, we will have learned how to conduct virtual programs. We are taking the time to do certain projects that are less immediately visible. For the last year we’ve been hosting a series of closed conversations called Access Check: Mapping Accessibility 2.0, which actually started with a public program last July at The 8th Floor. Organized in collaboration with choreographer and artist Jerron Herman, the talk brought together a group of artists, activists, and educators who have consistently advocated for disability rights and access in the cultural sector. We quickly realized there was a need to continue the discussion, and now we’re in the process of finalizing a survey for the field, split into two tracks: one for artists with disabilities about what is needed from institutions in terms of accessible and equitable programming; and another geared towards organizations and institutions, to understand what their capacity is in terms of facilitating accessible cultural programs. We hope the survey raises awareness about what institutions can do to become more accessible, while helping to formulate tools and language for artists with disabilities to advocate for what they need, similar to the way in which WAGE guidelines provide artists with talking points about payment for their work.

ANTE mag. Are there any current projects, funds or resources you would like to promote for artists or fellow organizations who have been impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns? 

SR. There are so many incredible efforts that have emerged in response to the pandemic. Here are a few that have impressed me in their concern for vulnerable communities:

  • COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund – Linked here.
  • Tri-State Relief Fund to Support Non-Salaried Workers in the Visual Arts – Linked here.  
  • Artist Relief – Linked here. 
  • The Crip Fund – Linked here. 

I’m also impressed by mutual aid efforts that have emerged. The Sunview Luncheonette set up a fund for workers at the Met foodmarket in Greenpoint – Linked here. 

ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your recent initiatives and what projects may be in store for the future of The Rubin Foundation?

SR.  After To Cast Too Bold a Shadow, we will stage the fifth exhibition in the series, titled In Kinship. The show will look at alternate family structures over the last 30 years, expanding the notion of family beyond heteronormative, nuclear, or government mandate, in the contexts of queer culture and immigrant communities. The sixth and final show of Revolutionary Cycles is After the Fall, which will reflect on the political moment to consider methods for the societal change needed to move beyond the political binaries that currently shape U.S. culture. The exhibition is conceived to anticipate various outcomes in our collective political future as articulated by artists and cultural producers, while simultaneously recognizing the need for spiritual transformation in times of crisis. Originally, After the Fall was meant to open around the time of the next presidential inauguration, with ‘the fall’ being open to interpretation. It makes me think of one of Dread Scott’s artworks featured in Revolution from Without…, titled Overthrow Dictators, which was made as part of the J20 inauguration protest in 2017. It’s a stencil with the phrase: by reading this, you agree to overthrow dictators.

Chto Delat
To those who (Migrants), 2019. Photograph by Julia Gillard. Courtesy of the artist and the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection.

ANTE Seeks to Feature Artists in New Open Call – Apply before June 26, 2020

ANTE mag is taking the plunge and has created an open call where artists can apply for (3) top prizes that will create a wider audience around their work. Artists can apply via this form, submitting images of their work and providing insights into their practice that can speak to the ANTE mag audience. Winners will take part in ANTE mag’s Instagram Live virtual studio visits featured for ANTE’s audience and receive an interview feature on the magazine with widespread posting through social media – one lucky grand prize winner will also receive a one-week long IG takeover of the ANTE mag profile, posting for the entire week around their studio practice to a wide audience of art lovers in NYC and beyond!

 

 

ANTE mag features stories of artists and cultural producers making waves in their communities.

 

ANTE mag focuses on providing wider exposure for artists, and we will be dedicated to featuring artists whose practice has not received the recognition it has merited. We want to hear your stories and learn how your practice communicates something intrinsic both to your personal experience and related to a wider social concern – tell us about how you started making sculptures in response to healing from a long illness, or when you begin working in watercolor because of limited space when you were working between studios. Share your stories of resilience, determination and personal experience, and foreground that within the effort and dedication you’ve imbued within your artistic practice. Give us your honesty, show us how you’ve grown and give us images that communicate the range of works you create. We are centered on elevating unheard stories, and want to focus on artists who can eloquently express values we should all aspire to!

We look forward to receiving your submissions! For details and to apply, visit this form.

Assembly Room Interview for 10xCommunity: “This is a Crucial Moment; We Need to Adapt”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Assembly Room is a safe space for professional women curators to mount exhibitions and attend programming on the Lower East Side in New York City. We caught up with founders Yulia Topchiy, Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker to learn more about what types of initiative they’ve begun in the wake of CoVid-19.

(Header image credit to Julia Colavita)

ANTE mag. Thank you for chatting with us about your community. What thoughts were in your minds when the pandemic began to affect social movement?
Assembly Room. As Toni Morrison famously said: “What can I do where I am?” So we looked no further than the community we forged over the past year and a half and focused on the importance of connection and empathy. We are aware and most interested in what’s happening in our community in terms of coming together and elevating financial burdens by joining the coalition on freezing commercial rents, raising money for artists through sales and donations, and supporting artists that question the social and economic inequality and push for change with their actions and work.
Works by Rusudan Khizanishvili on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy)

ANTE mag. As a space and a platform, Assembly Room has grown to play a critical role in supporting women’s cultural producers in NYC and beyond. How did you envision continuing that role during this crisis, and what specifically have you done to keep the work you’ve been so dedicated to since your beginning?

AR. We asked ourselves, how do we stay connected? How do we use our platform and resources to support our curators, promote our artists, and invite new voices and ideas? We shaped our programming based on their feedback. For instance, we moved our monthly networking and professional development meetings to bi-weekly via Zoom; we launched an Insta TV Channel “Curating in the time of Covid-19” and asked curators to create a short video about their experiences, projects, challenges. We are presenting and promoting women artists on our website, social media, and through the sale of their artwork on our Artsy platform. Our network expanded and we had curators join us from the east coast to the west coast, from western to central Europe, and to Canada. 
Because we went online, our voices reached even further as we joined others in advocating for equality and worker rights, sharing ideas on how to make the art system more sustainable and democratic, and underscoring the relevance of nurturing culture and art.
ANTE mag. What have the three of you been doing to increase access to resources during this time, and/or what would you like to do or see more of in the art community in the present moment?
AR. The crisis has allowed us to move deeper into community engagement, collaboration, and partnership, as well as reap the benefits of our network and community building over the past two years. We established a simple resource guide and circulated it within our group, inviting them to collaborate, reach out, exchange ideas, and share creative outlets with one another. We have an exciting partnership with curator Kelly Schroer at Artfare to launch a joint platform, “Unrealized Projects,” specifically for curators whose shows closed early or were canceled due to the pandemic. We invited Sarah Murkett, a professional recruiter from the art industry, to guide us through a discussion of the job market and how to turn the current situation into an opportunity to adapt, set new goals, network, and improve skills. Within the art community, we would like to continue the conversation and to keep asking questions. We would like the community to be as generous as possible and offer help and expertise when needed. This is a crucial moment; we need to adapt to the fast-changing online technologies but also invent practices and tools that will allow us to remain active, relevant, and collaborative in the future. 
Works by Nora Riggs on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy )
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how Assembly Room sees their mission continuing once social life begins to return “to normal”? 
AR. We will continue to fulfill our mission through our core programs, professional development of women in the arts, lively public programs, and an array of exhibitions but with a new urgency. Women make up the majority of art workers, and they will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Advocating for better representation and addressing gender imbalance is going to be even more critical in the future. It’s our job to be alert, to look out for each other, and to achieve a “new normal” based on greater equality. We are optimistic because we have a wonderful community of curators, artists, gallerists, nonprofits, and we are excited to continue working on this together. 
ANTE mag. How have you each personally been mitigating the effects of this crisis on your individual careers and personal lives? 
AR. As you know, Assembly Room is a self-organized and self-funded platform for women to achieve success through the community. We personally contribute to the funding, time, and energy for all the operations, programs, and exhibition space. Our incomes took a dive due to the shutdown, and we are asking ourselves hard questions and making tough decisions. Like everyone else, we lost a lot on a personal and professional level, but in different ways, we are focusing on what is most essential in our lives. We are fortunate to have each other because we are good friends and business partners. We make each other laugh when things get too dangerous, and now is also the best time to practice compassion! 
Like everyone, we went through the whole arc of stay at home emotions and activities! We cooked more, we empathize and grieved for lost family and friends, we contributed as much as we could to our friends in the restaurant community, we were up and we were down, we tried new things, we binge watched tv shows, we danced and dreamed, but mostly we showed up.  
Installation view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy) image credit to Julia Colavita
ANTE mag. How have you engaged with other platforms and creators to expand the dialogue around this moment of crisis?
AR. As we mentioned, we have an exciting partnership with Artfare to create an online presentation of “Unrealized” curatorial projects. We are promoting exclusive Artsy shows of female artists we have worked within the past, and we are constantly updating our fantastic works on paper or Flat Files, both available online via Artsy. We participated in the NADA initiative for the NADA community to support artists by listing the works on Artnet. We also led webinars with fellow curators and arts professionals hosted by ArtTable and POWarts, respectively, sharing our experiences, challenges, resources, and expanding the conversation. 
ANTE mag. What actions are you taking in the near future to engage with the broader art community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AR. Professional development and networking are key for us. In addition to the arts, we are thinking of how curators can be useful in fields outside the art world. How can one bring curatorial experience to other industries and sectors where artists are deeply appreciated, but curators are not necessarily approached? Artists are at the heart of our practice, and we are passionate about establishing connections with organizations willing to support curatorial initiatives and contemporary artists question inequality, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others. Whether bearing witness to tragic events, presenting alternative histories, or engaging in activism, such artists use visual art as a means to provoke personal and social transformations, which are much needed at this time. We want to support these artists with the help of organizations who have resources to bring conversations to a wider audience both in physical and digital spaces. ANTE readers can support us by connecting with us on our social networks, repost and sharing our content, purchasing the fantastic, affordable artworks available by emerging, unrepresented, living artists on our Artsy page, by participating in our projects. It’s time to rebuild, let’s do it together.

Laura Kimpton Brings LOVE to Renown Health with Artown in Reno

Artist Laura Kimpton can be best described as an interdisciplinary artist who is not likely to sit still. Her artistic practice spans sculpture and installation art along with wearable art, mixed media and painting. A stalwart for decades on The Playa at Burning Man, Kimpton is no stranger to bringing her monumental sculptures to a wide audience of admirers. Previously exhibiting inspirational messages such as “BELIEVE” at larger-than-life scales as interactive installation artworks, Kimpton brings her creative forces to bear as a power for the greater good, sharing her inspiration and ingenuity with all who encounter them.

During the current pandemic, Kimpton has taken that impulse for public engagement one step further through a partnership with Reno, NV’s Artown and Renown Health Foundation to bring “LOVE” – a monumental sculpture conceived of by Kimpton and produced in collaboration with artist Jeff Schomberg – to prominence on the campus of Renown’s hospital in the city. The work is imprinted with the artist’s signature uplifting bird motif throughout, evoking an inspiring and enduring message of love, reminding us that love conquers all, the sculpture will be on display from April 16-July 16 at Renown’s Regional Medical Center, located at 1155 Mill Street, Reno. Visitors driving by or entering the hospital to visit loved ones can take comfort in knowing that love is always there for them to access in times of need, bringing to bear the message that art is here for us to bring us comfort and clarity in times of upheaval.

Laura Kimpton’s “LOVE” sculpture, original public display (Burning Man)

 

“I hope that this sculpture will bring a sense of meaning and mindfulness,” reflects Kimpton, “to all who encounter it. I hope it gives a sense of calm to the Healthcare workers onsite, along with medical patients and their families, who view it from above or as they approach the hospital.” Kimpton’s work has always embedded a sense of mindful meditation and peace, and nowhere is this more needed than during today’s uncertainty amid a global pandemic. The sculpture beckons, a beacon of light among the sagebrushed hills, reminding all who come into contact with it that all is not lost. Kimpton herself has endured life’s ebbs and flows, and emphasizes the peace and comfort she aspires to bring to viewers of her work, particularly “LOVE” on view at Renown Health in Reno. The artist has worked with the community to make sure the sculpture brings a sense of local pride to the hospital and to residents and visitors alike in Reno.

 

“LOVE” at its new home at Renown Health in Reno, NV (pictured onsite with healthcare workers)

The sculpture provides a message of support for Reno’s front line workers at its current location. The installation was made possible by a collaboration between Reno’s own Artown initiative, bringing Reno’s art industries and civic identities together to create a stronger community, and by Renown Health Foundation, a locally owned and governed not-for-profit integrate healthcare network serving Reno and the surrounding areas. With an eye toward bringing a powerful message of hope to the wider community, both organizations are thrilled to be collaborating with Kimpton on the installation.

Kimpton herself views this joint effort as all about enriching the lives of the local community through the power of inspiration and solidarity. The artist has been staying busy, not only with her monumental sculptures and upcoming exhibitions, but with communicating with her wide network of fans and supporters through daily social media posts offering smaller works at attainable prices for her collectors. The new initiative, @apeaceofkimpton, continues the message that we can come together and support the arts while connecting with one another and making strides to build sustainability in the arts. Kimpton looks to innovative and meditative artists in her practice, including American artist Joseph Cornell and German artist Kurt Schwitters. Viewing their use of eclectic materials and aim toward a higher power of abstraction and even meditation in their work, Kimpton seeks to create art that will unite, inspire, and bring unique messages of hope to all who encounter it. She notes that though her world sculptures can… “have strong meanings,… to everyone it may be different. I love that about them.” From her large scale sculptures and handmade collages and everything in between, Kimpton’s practice speaks to everyone, bringing unity and comfort to all who encounter her creations. To everyone it may be different, but to many, her work both inspires and brings solace in a time when art brings out what is human in us all.

Culture Push Interview for 10xCommunity: “Voices that Will Help us Remake the World”

Interview by contributor Mariel Tepper

 

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. We here at ANTE have long been fans of Culture Push, a New York City-based nonprofit that unites art and social justice through its programs, including fellowships, an online journal, exhibitions and much more. Below we caught up with Artist, Professor and Culture Push Co-Founder Clarinda Mac Low for insights into the current events and initiatives Culture Push is moving ahead with in the time of CoVid-19.

ANTE: So tell us what inspired the creation of Culture Push, and how did you envision this organization as a way to foster artistic initiatives through public participation?

Culture Push: Dreaming up Culture Push was always a collective endeavor, because everything good, for me, happens in conversation. When the first glimmerings of Culture Push started, in 2008, I had been in conversation with many different people about the lack of space for hybrid artforms. At the time I was mostly situated in the dance and performance world, but not really fitting in there anymore (if I ever did) and talking to other people who felt the same way. I wanted to create a home for ideas that didn’t fit anywhere else. The name “Culture Push” came to me after a few conversations I had with Alejandra Martorell and Paul Benney, my partners in the collective TRYST. Culture Push was a name that left room for interpretation, but conveyed a sense of urgency. Then, after a series of conversations with Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich, recent graduates of my alma mater, Wesleyan University, the first form of Culture Push was born. All three of us, though we were from different generations, had expertise both in dance and performance and in other disciplines and sectors, and an abiding interest in how art practice could function beyond the black box and the white cube. We could see how, by creating an entity, we could make a home for hybridity by creating an institution that was expansive in intent and encouraged cross-sector, public-facing conversation. 

We saw the institution itself as the art material, so, when we began, we didn’t actually know exactly what our focus would be. We were performance-makers, so we decided that the form of the organization would rise from experimentation and trial and error–our first step was just to create the institution–the entity–and then the form would emerge from action. So, in 2009, with the help of our amazing initial Board, we incorporated as a non-profit, and because of our Board member Michael Yi it went quite smoothly. 

As movement artists we were committed to corporeal practice and knowledge, and we began with a set of broad principles–our programs would bring together different sectors, would involve “hands-on” public participation and horizontal knowledge share, and would allow for collaboration. The first programs that we devised proceeded from these principles, and from our desire to nurture a fluid culture where the lines between art, politics, daily life, and social experiment could blur, and where challenging the lines between disciplines leads to challenging the form of society.   

ANTE: During this difficult time of the COVID-19 crisis, what are some ways that your organization plans to continue its mission in helping artists and communities affected by the pandemic?

CP: We currently have two major programs–The Fellowship for Utopian Practice (our bedrock) and the newer Associated Artists program. All of the artists we serve are in precarious situations financially and socially. Most of these artists also work as independent contractors, often within an arts context where they are facing cancellations, postponements, and lay-offs, as well as loss of future work. Many of these artists also act as community supporters, and are donating their time and energy to creating space and providing essential services to their fellow New Yorkers. 

To support our artists, we are working with our funders to expand the financial support we offer our current Fellows and Associated Artists, as well as our recent alumni, by offering expanded funding for their ongoing projects and funding for the projects they have begun during this crisis. We also want to offer them opportunities to share work and be in community with each other and with the wider world, and will be brainstorming about how to re-cast their projects for the current time. We are also planning on offering new opportunities, like paying them to give online workshops or presentations, or setting up networking events. The bottom line is to support these important voices in any way we can–they are the voices that will help us remake the world in a better form as this crisis develops and (hopefully!) resolves.

Storm Your Brain—Culture Push Program DOING, by Aki Sasamoto, at the Whitney Museum, 2010. Photo by Arturo Vidich

ANTE: Can you talk about how Culture Push has been able to amplify initiatives that have been started by individuals and groups to help artists and others who have been financially impacted by COVID-19?

CP: The people who are connected to Culture Push tend to be self-starters and community responders. In the initial shock of the shutdown, for example, Shawn Escarciga – at the time Assistant Director of Culture Push – reacted as an individual concerned for the impact that the loss of work would have on people who are already living precariously and responded by immediately starting a GoFundMe, the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund. He was immediately joined by Nadia Tykulsker, one of the current Culture Push Board members. This was not an initiative begun by Culture Push, but, early in the process Shawn and Nadia reached out to Culture Push staff to talk about fiscal sponsorship for the Fund. I had also been thinking about this, and it was great to come together and offer this fiscal sponsorship to a fund that was addressing such urgent need. The fund has, to date, raised over $150,000.

At Culture Push we often talk about the “performance of institution”: that is, we are very small and barebones with a modest budget, but, because we are in good financial standing and our organizational bona fides are strong, we are able to act as a institutional partner when people require a financial or otherwise established entity to get what they need. So, after the success of the partnership with the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we decided, for now, to expand our fiscal sponsorship program to include emergency funds independently initiated by staff, Fellows, and other artists in our community that serve low-income, BIPOC, and queer artists, and artists and others based in vulnerable New York City neighborhoods. So far, besides the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we are also acting as a sponsor for the Dance Union’s NYC Dancers Relief Fund (COVID-19), started by J. Bouey and Melanie Greene, and for the North Bronx Collective, a group of activists in the Bronx (Alicia Grullòn, a Fellowship alum and current Board member, is a member of the group). By serving as a conduit for higher levels of funding from foundations or individuals, this fiscal sponsorship has so far enabled these emergency funds to greatly expand the financial support they can offer to the people they serve. We don’t take an admin fee, so all funds go directly to the people who need it.

ANTE: In your most recent exhibition, RE-TOOLING, artists developed multidisciplinary “practical tools” for resistance and social change, incorporating dance, performance, installation, and writing. A tool was redefined as a means for “individuals to change their environment (socially, politically, physically) or engage with it in a new way.” Can you speak on the power of creative tools and outlets to help us cope in times of hardship/uncertainty?   

CP: Culture Push is grounded in the conviction that having space for imagination is as important to survival as more tangible resources like food and shelter. Indeed, imagination is how we figure out how to gain those resources under difficult circumstances. Imagination allows us to create work-arounds and new situations when a situation is challenging, but also gives us space to be present, or to escape, or to fully realize ourselves as individuals or as members of a group. It allows us to transcend difficulty, to connect to each other and to the other creatures we share space with, to invent new ways of being.

So having access to creativity is imperative for all people, especially people in difficult circumstances. And everybody is creative–whether the results of creative endeavor are recognized as “art” by a mainstream art world is immaterial. Sometimes it takes a nudge here and there for people to find a voice, but it’s always present. The artists in the RE-TOOLING show have developed some nudging tools par excellence, and there are many important voices that are born from their experiments. I’m also reminded of Claudia Prado, who has devised a writing workshop that she runs with working-class Spanish-speaking immigrants (documented and undocumented). The work these people, mostly women, come up with is gorgeous and valuable, from voices we don’t hear often enough. The voices come out easily–they just need the right opportunity and the right catalyst.

ANTE: In addition to physical exhibitions and public projects, Culture Push also features the online journal PUSH/PULL. Can you explain how this publication is integral to the Culture Push mission, and how digital publications/exhibitions could be a way for arts organizations to adapt in the time of social distancing?

CP: This is a great question, and definitely one we have been thinking about a lot. From the beginning we have seen some form of publication as an asset to the Culture Push community. The first version of this was IdeaNEWS, a publication that reflected on the year that had passed through its form rather than its content. IdeaNEWS was active from 2009-2011. Then, in 2015, our then-Assistant Director Madelyn Ringold-Brown, proposed starting an online publication as a supplement to the Fellowship–a place for Fellows to publicly share their process, work with collaborators, develop ancillary philosophies… basically another part of the public square. It’s since evolved to be a venue where our Associated Artists engage as well. 

CP artists usually bring together groups of people as an integral part of their projects, but now that physical distancing has become a norm and so much of our lives are happening online, we will need a different venue for gathering and creating community. Since PUSH/PULL is already there, and is already known as a venue for quality content, we plan to expand it as a platform, and bring in as much of our community as possible. It’s an exciting possibility, because, while it has been an effective venue for writing, because it lives mainly online it also has been a repository for video, images, graphics, and other media. We are also exploring how it can be interactive.

ArtCraftTech: Tracing Trash, 2010, at McCarren Park. Photo by Peter Stankiewicz

ANTE: One of your organization’s early projects, ArtCraftTech, brought together several creative disciplines (artists, scientists, technology experts) to find artistic and practical solutions to short-term problems, like waste management, through collaboration and dialogue. What are some takeaways on how creative, publicly engaged projects like these can help us deal with real-world problems and inspire collective action for change? 

CP: When we first established Culture Push, all three co-founders started different programs. ArtCraftTech was my “baby,” so to speak, and the form of the program reflected both my experience in devising collaborative performance and my experience working in microbiology laboratories. 

I have a desire to address so-called “real-world” problems directly, but I am also suspicious of the abbreviated process that many cross-sector endeavours seem to engage in. With ArtCraftTech, I gathered people from different professions together and acted as a facilitator as we decided, all together, what problem(s) we wanted to take on. Once we determined that, we decided what questions we wanted to ask, but were not expected to come up with workable solutions–it was clear that solving the problems we were taking on required deep systemic change and far more resources than we had on hand. We did generally end up coming up with some very concrete possibilities for mitigating the problem, but also more subtle approaches, and projects that were provocations as well as “solutions.”

 Engaging in this process, which was a series of meetings that took place over several months, really showed us all how a long, slow, thoughtful process of development can illuminate different aspects of a problem, and bring new ideas to the fore that may have been hiding underneath the more obvious solutions. This was reminiscent of (good) laboratory research, where repeated experiments and the data they bring leads you into unexpected territory, and shows you where you need to go. It’s interesting to think about this now, because, when I was working in laboratories, I was working with HIV, and there is a delicate tension, in disease research, between the urgency of cure and the need for caution and careful observation. I think we’re all being gripped in that narrative now–so much desiring a quick fix for this overwhelming pandemic, but in danger of grabbing on to the first dubious solution that comes along…

Anyway, I digress. 🙂  This understanding of the importance of process imbued all of the co-founders’ programs, and it definitely influenced the form for the Fellowship for Utopian Practice. We were clear from the beginning that the Fellowship needed to be at least a year long, and it needed to privilege process over product, or, as I eventually said, “Process is our product.” This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also true–we are advocating for an arts ecosystem that privileges and supports a thoughtful development process as much as if not more than a specific product or object. Only this will truly allow for deep conversation and lasting change.

ANTE: Can you tell us about some of your recent initiatives and where Culture Push headed in the near future?

CP: Currently our big project is Walking the Edge, a project we’re doing in collaboration with Works on Water and the NYC Department of City Planning. The two arts organizations are working with the Waterfront and Open Spaces Division of the NYC DCP to create a durational artwork that invites everybody to walk all 520 miles of New York City’s coastline, to get people involved with thinking about NYC as a city of water, and to gather deep engagement around the DCP’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for 2030. That walk was supposed to start on May 1 (520 in 5/20, get it?) and continue for 24 hours a day until the whole coast was covered. So yeah. We are adjusting. It’s interesting, actually, and not entirely bad, to slow down and reconsider. So, instead of the walk this year, now we are launching prompts and questions and suggestions and performances about our waterfronts, by artists from Culture Push and Works on Water, every Friday at noon on Instagram (at @works_on_water, @culturepusher, and @nycwaterfront).  

Also, we have gathered all the materials for a 10th Anniversary publication that featured several Fellows writing about subjects related to the projects they did with CP, and we were planning to publish and print in April and distribute in June of this year. Of course now that timeline has shifted, but we will be making that available soon as a downloadable .pdf

For the future? Interesting question. There was the Plan for the Future Before, and there’s a Plan for the Future Now. We were finally thinking about creating a hub space for Culture Push (we have been an itinerant organization this whole time, with no fixed physical location or office). That’s still our desire, but, because so many things are so up in the air, how that will play out is very much an open question. Regardless, we will continue supporting artists as they collaborate with communities and create spaces for imagination and solidarity.