Bringing it All Together: Collage Artist Kelly Dabbah Exhibiting at Miami Art Week

With collage techniques, many moving parts can become one. Nowhere is this more clear than in the work of Swiss-born artist Kelly Dabbah. She has a lot going on and it is clear that this why collage has become her preferred method of art-making. “I am quite precise, which is why I like the possibilities of editing and flexibility that collage has to offer,” she remarked in our phone conversation.

Kelly Dabbah photographed by Ian Evan Lam

Digital collage can be employed on many different materials. Most recently, she released a limited edition series of skate decks and bucket hats on NTWRK, both printed with her signature digital collage works. During Miami Art Week she is showing work from her “mirror” series of collage printed on mirrors, and a vintage chair upholstered in a collaged textile that celebrates the bling aesthetics of LA, aptly titled: “You Can Sit On It.”

During this past year, Dabbah spent a sojourn in LA where she was embraced by a group of musicians and producers – including ThunderCat, Anderson Paak, and Derek ‘Mixed by Ali’ who have all commissioned work from the artist. Elements from that LA lifestyle populate her mirrors and especially the textile of the vintage chair. Borrowed from cannabis culture, “pass with care” is a phrase that reoccurs in the artist’s work. Decriminalization and legalization add cause for celebration de-stigmatizing the subculture that has welcomed her since her teens in Geneva and throughout her time in New York and LA. 

You Can Sit On It (Back) (2021) By Kelly Dabbah. Chair and printed textile. Photographed by Dom Stills.

On view in Miami, “My Best Friend, My Worst Enemy” depicts snakes, flowers, palm trees, and the third eye – crying. “Like youth, flowers wilt,” says Dabbah about her incorporation of flowers which are included in much of her work. In “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” a hand steadily holds a needle filled with Botox. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. Miami is a fitting place to showcase Dabbah’s work, because unlike Basel week in Switzerland, emerging artists can make a mark during Miami Art Week. The diverse audience of artists, athletes, musicians, celebrities, the it-crowd, and people looking for a good party are a collecting group attracted to artists who work across disciplines and whose work embodies a millennial and painterly cut and paste aesthetic that is steeped in lifestyle symbology.

Detail, ”Cara Said Bacon!” by Kelly Dabbah (2021.) Collage printed on mirror, 36×50”. Image courtesy the artist.

The ease in which Dabbah works with brands and drops limited editions is a result of her training in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design at the New School. She has painted on leather jackets for American designer Anna Sui for her Fall Season Fashion Week show, worked on a neon collaboration with Yellow Pop, a neon company, and last Halloween, she worked with the Italian notebook manufacturer Moleskine to customize notebooks for in-store shoppers, among others. “Working with an artist allows brands to connect more authentically with their consumers,” says Dabbah. Although she speaks a language that corporate clients understand the artist is not all business; she has the mind of an artist – boundless, experimental, slightly erratic, but deeply visionary. As art, fashion, design, and branding continue to merge we look forward to following Dabbah’s contribution to this growing space. 

Don’t miss Kelly Dabbah’s showcase “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” at Booth C07 at SCOPE Art Show during Miami Art Week 2021. 

Flores de Femicidio: The Persistence of Memory in Natali Bravo-Barbee’s Show at York College Art Gallery

On view at York College Fine Arts Gallery through November 19, 2021

Content warning: This interview discusses femicide, violence against womxn/gender-based violence and rape.

The powerful exhibition “Flores de Femicidio: Femicide Florals” – a solo show and installation by artist Natali Bravo-Barbee curated by Dr. Margaret Rose Vendryes – will remain on view at York College Art Gallery through Nov 19. The exhibit honors the devastating toll that femicides have taken on Argentinian society, the loss of womxn murdered and the devastating impact that this violence has had. Bravo-Barbee’s powerful installation provides an avenue of contemplation to consider global movements against gender-based violence and the #niunamas movement.

According to statistics from the Observation Committee on Equality and Gender from the United Nations, in 2018 Argentina had the third-highest femicide rate reported in the Americas region. Bravo-Barbee took time to speak with ANTE editor-in-chief Audra Lambert on this exhibit, outlining how this project developed and the conversations that have emerged as a result of this meaningful installation.

Installation view, “Flores de Femicidio (Femicide Florals)” at York College Fine Art Gallery. Image courtesy the artist/gallery.

(Interview edited for length and content; all images courtesy the artist and York College Fine Arts Gallery)

Audra Lambert, ANTE mag+platform: Thanks Natali for taking time to speak with us on your powerful project, Flores de Femicidio at York College Art Gallery. Can you tell us more on the genesis of this project?

Natali Bravo-Barbee: I have a friend who is a psychologist from Argentina, and I always read her posts as I appreciate her perspectives. She posted an article in early 2019 about the murder of a woman in Argentina, and the accompanying research showed how this one case fit into overall statistics (of women’s murders in Argentina.) I began to dig into this learning more about the scope of femicides in Argentina, and came to realize through my own research that Argentina doesn’t even have the highest rate (of femicides) in Latin America, so this is how I began my approach when I started this project in January of 2019.

ANTE: And how did this project emerge in partnership with York College Art Gallery?

NB-B: The show with York came about because I had been working on this ongoing project for so long. I continued working on it throughout the pandemic and it became closer to being done. I’d shown one month of flowers (January) in four locations, but no one had ever seen entire collection. Dr Vendryes reached out to me after I’d been posting about them and she mentioned that York has a summer residency program, working in the space and culminating in a show, but that due to Covid this residency was on hold and this show timeslot was open. She asked if I would be interested in showing the flowers there.

When I talked about the flowers before I finished them, I always said I want them to show together in Queens first – to bring all the pieces together in Queens, and from there I’m happy to show them anywhere, so this worked out great for Flores de Femicidio.

ANTE: And does the diversity of Queens’ residents contribute to this sentiment as well?

NB-B: Yes, and the number of Argentinian residents we have in Queens in particular, and the ability to open this conversation with students, some of whom deal with these topics at home such as domestic violence. Often universities and educational institutions don’t discuss these topics in depth. So showing at this university made this exhibition that much more special.

Installation view, “Flores de Femicidio (Femicide Florals)” at York College Fine Art Gallery. Image courtesy the artist/gallery.

ANTE: So you mentioned to me previously that every flower takes up to 10 hours to complete – can you tell us more about this process?

NB-B: Every flower is different – there is no cookie cutter size. Every flower had to be cut out and hand drawn on the petals, and each had to have a number system since no two are identical. Each was numbered since they had to have individually labeled petals. I then had to sort these out, coat them and expose them, develop them, shape them, assemble them, create a tag for each woman who the flower is for – some of these flowers are embellished with crystals and glitter as well, requiring extra work.

Each flower has anywhere from 6-30 petals and there are varying designs of flowers, so in order to keep track of them, I had to come up with a numbering system to be able to sort them and build them. The building process for each individual flower required more cutting, shaping and gluing of the petals. Once the petals were done, the flower could be assembled. Each flower has a backing where the petals were glued onto, and they also have a wire hanger in the back so each flower could be hung. I built all the flowers first, and then assigned a name to each flower at the end. Each flower has a cyanotype name tag on it to represent each femicide victim.

There’s also a calendar aspect to this exhibition. The show also acts as a giant calendar, and there are cyanotype plaques in Spanish and English along the wall toward the floor outlining the months. These signs are not immediately visible, so as you walk around and begin encountering the flowers you start to realize gradual details: each individual month relates to these flowers, the women they are named for, and the use of Spanish reminds visitors that this is in relationship with Argentina, in dialogue with the scope of this project.

ANTE: I feel that sometimes specificity – in this case, showing the amount of femicides in Argentina over the course of a specific year (2019) – is able to reach a wider group of people because of the level of detail. It’s specific as opposed to being vague, demonstrating focus and intention.

NB-B: While documenting the show at York, I met a woman who worked with the Haitian embassy here in New York. She started a conversation with me about violence against women in Haiti. This is such an important topic, she noted, and she said she wanted to reflect on Haiti, the residents there and how women there experience violence often overlooked by the government.

ANTE: How did you research this project given the many barriers around finding out information on femicides in the Americas (lack of government diligence on this topic, etc.)?

NB-B: In the beginning of 2019 the number of femicides had started increasing so there was widespread coverage then, but throughout the year this coverage started to dwindle. There was less and less information over time. I saved everything I would read; I had a folder and would save everything and go back to the info I had found. There’s also feminist publication, Clarín, in Argentina that in the middle of 2020 published an enormous obituary of all femicide cases from 2019 to mid-2020 with victims’ names, ages and a brief sentence of how they were killed. The publication was digital and every rectangle published in this report represented a femicide victim. They stepped in to document when mass media had stopped widely reporting. In many cases, I was able to get to know each woman through their online presence, through their name and the online research I did to get to know them. Early on in my research, in newspapers, you would get first and last name, but over time it became first name and last initial, or even no name: just a documentation of the violence. there eventually would be no resources: no further info on who did this, etc. throughout this project over time there were many flowers that unfortunately have no names.

Accompanying binder and show cards for “Flores de Femicidio (Femicide Florals)” at York College Fine Art Gallery

ANTE: Can you talk more about the process of cyantopying and the iconography of the flower as the focus of this project?

NB-B: Sure. One of the most popular things associated with cyanotyping is botanicals: flowers are popular, but I didn’t make them early on because it just didn’t call out to me as a subject matter unless it was in dialogue with something else. When I started with the concept of the project, I knew it had to do it with flowers because flowers for me have always symbolized death. From a young age, since my grandfather passed, I would always bring flowers to his grave with my family. It’s also a sign of honor: honoring someone’s life after their passing. I started off making regular flowers without cyanotype, in dialogue with a long tradition fo women making paper flowers. I wanted to play with the fine line between craft and Fine Art and explore how to bring craft into Fine Art, and throughout this process I realized no one has ever made a cyanotype flower sculpture. So then I thought: I’ll be the first one to make it.

I immediately went and made a prototype, not included in this show – it’s my artist proof. No name is attached to it. I realized: this is possible, I can make this. But I knew from the very beginning it was going to be labor intensive. So many other factors were things I didn’t know were coming in my life: new pregnancy, the pandemic. This project was hard but it is manageable, I thought and I’d spend my nights planning out petals, cutting them out. This process was so labor intensive, but I began to create a method around making these sculptures, and over time began to follow a rhythm and figure out how each flower would live as its own unique sculpture. Weekends, nights: all my free time was absorbed by this project, month after month.

So the process started with drawing out the petals from templates, and in these I numbered each petal with a code so I could keep track of the number of flowers I had drawn out. I had assistants help me cut out the petals. So I would drop off a batch that had been drawn out for cutting, and while those were getting cut out I would continue drawing out more until all were drawn and cut. Then I had to sort them out and put them in bags so I could separate them and prepare them for coating. My attic was set up as a darkroom where no sunlight came in and was safe for the petals to be coated in the cyanotype chemicals. Cyanotypes are exposed using UV light, so it was crucial that not outside light would enter the room. With a tarp on the floor, about 30 cyanotypes flowers could be coated at a time. Then once the emulsion was dry, I would bag them all up all again and bring them downstairs to prepare for exposures. 

The exposure time depended on what I was using for a negative to make the photogram print. Dried flowers required a 15-30 minute exposure (depending on the flower) and lace required 30-40 minutes depending on the thickness of the flower or lace. The larger the flower size, the more exposures it took to expose all the petals for one flower. I should mention that I could expose between 10-15 petals on average, more if the flower was smaller, but some flowers were so large that it took 5 sessions to expose all the petals in just one flower. After exposing the petals had to be developed in a tray with water and then placed on blotter paper to dry, then sorted back into bags so they can be built. It truly was labor intensive, what you see when you enter Flores de Femicidio, and I’m happy to discuss the conceptual and formal aspects of this work with visitors.

ANTE: Throughout the course of this project, did you see anything in this process as transfomative given the research and time involved, and the stories of these women you were then transforming into beautiful objects?

NB-B: I would often just need to take time away after researching, I would have to take a break after reading about a murder of a child and that child’s mother – I would read this and just take a moment to go into the other room. I would think of my son asleep in the next room and just reflect on how unimaginable was this violence, this story. And then the story of the mother, of this woman and her life – I wanted to make these flowers to bring something beautiful to her name. I was resolved the last thing associated to this woman wouldn’t just be this violence, this tragedy. Here is going to be this beautiful object that I’ve made in this person’s honor. I think in terms of transformation also from 2D to 3D, thinking about this story that’s just a story that then becomes an object – something I just read that turns into something tangible: something that exists in real life – even beyond life.

I’ve heard people say, “Oh I thought this project was so beautiful until I realized what this show is about and now it’s just so sad.” But I think about beauty, and how women are expected to be beautiful. Our lives can be sad too; not everything about our lives is beautiful. There are more dimensions to who we are. There are people who don’t speak on domestic violence because it’s not pretty – they don’t know how people around them will react to this news.

ANTE: Also, horrifically, the only person who feels the effects of this violence are the women: the men aren’t shunned for this violence. Women hold the shame of these violent acts.

NB-B: As part of the show for the York College Art Gallery, I created a binder containing dried flower petals, negatives with name tag information, stories from these women – the murder information – translated from Spanish to English – and even have photos of the women included. With this binder you can go find the individual’s flower on the wall, read these notes and sketches and further engage with this project. I’ve also added a trigger warning to give people the choice to engage with these stories as that’s critical as well. It’s a heavy thing having to translate these stories, seeing these truths live in two languages, making these stories more tangible to a wider audience.

Individual cyanotype flower, “Dayana Moyano” by Natali Bravo-Barbee in “Flores de Femicidio” York College Art Gallery.

ANTE: When you’re talking about beauty I think of the beauty pageant system and of pageants as an institution in Louisiana where I’m from; is this something that is relevant to Argentinian society as well? That beauty is the expected dimension for women to inhabit socially?

NB-B: I definitely see this as being relevant to majority of women living in Argentina, who are meant to look pretty, who should have children but not look like they’ve had them- keep their beauty and make everything look easy. Then there are so many other underlying topics with colorism, socio-economic background, even religious faith. Something interesting to note about this topic is that the government uses the term femicide – the WHO has ‘violence against women’ with related numbers to the Argentinian count of ‘femicidios.’ Over time I noticed the numbers didn’t add up and it’s because in Argentina the governement didn’t count Trans women’s murders. Also if two women, such as a mother and daughter, were murdered in the same act, it was only counted as a single femicide.

ANTE: That certainly needs to change. Thinking about changes in society recently, I’m ruminating about the evolution of the #metoo movement. How do you see this topic being treated now, is there a resurgence of attention now? Was it just in that one moment from your research?

NB-B: That movement definitely impacted it – the hashtag in Spanish is #niunamenos meaning we don’t want one less woman. There was also #niunamas – I think in 2018/19 when you looked at the jump in femicide numbers that occurred, there were numbers that had risen and feminists in Argentina were fighting for femicides to be recognized and for the government to do something about it. The numbers continued to go up but in spite of that there was less media coverage over time. I don’t see that this is a topic that’s been fixed or that we can stop talking about it, it still continues. In conversation with femicides, honor killings come up often. In different parts of the world this phenomenon is called different things – but there’s no honor in killing a woman, this is not the right term. My days are filled of reading stories of femicides from all over the world, not just Argentina.

ANTE: I think of a recent encounter I had the memorial to the #niunamas monument in Mexico City, and cases abroad such as Noor Mukadam in Pakistan and Sarah Everard in the UK. There seems to be a hesitancy built in socially against upending the establishment. Are societies built on violence? I hope not, but we need to be willing to change, pursue and implement laws against femicides.

NB-B: Speaking to this, in Argentina there are laws against femicides but most of the time those who are responsible either aren’t caught or the police don’t pursue leads related to the femicides. If this continues then how are the aggressors being found? They’re not. They aren’t finding them and then nothing can be done. What’s the point to having a law then, if nothing is being done to enforce it? They’ll argue there’s not enough funding for these investigations. It’s ridiculous when you read the justifications for these investigations not happening. Looking to Gabby Petito’s case, it didn’t take too long to find her remains. Imagine if every femicide had that level of attention: everyone sharing leads, video captures, information and coming together to solve the case, imagine if that happened for every femicide. We’d see results. People would be more afraid. The perpetrator would start to think whoa, people are paying attention, I might get caught and maybe just wouldn’t do it.

Installation view showing individually-created hand-made cyanotype flowers, “Flores de Femicidio” solo show, Natali Bravo-Barbee.

ANTE: Yes, it’s very clear that not every case is treated the same. Trans women, Indigenous women – not every case of femicide is treated with the same amount of scrutiny. You can feel that there should be more to prevent violence against all of these women, there’s so much more than can be done. I think of this poem from the Second wave Feminist publication Heresies’ Issue #6: On Women and Violence by Elaine McCarthy that reflects on a woman reporting her rape, and the police essentially make fun of her, telling her that they need all of the details and insinuating that the case won’t be solved.

NB-B: Dr. Diana Russell was active in the 1970s as well – she passed on in 2020, but she popularized the term femicide although it has existed since the 1800s. If we labeled every single femicide that occured with that term then we’d notice it happening all around us all the time. They happen so often, they often go unpunished, and people don’t want to see it. It’s a truth that people don’t want to admit, as a society, we’ve decided no – it’s too ugly.

ANTE

Uprooted: An Interview with Artist Bianca Abdi-Boragi

Interview with Show + Telephone’s Madeline Walker, Edited by Audra Lambert

Madeline Walker. Can you share with us – what about the theme of the open call caught your attention in relation to your practice as an artist?

Bianca Abdi-Boragi. Since I’ve been producing ephemeral works with earth, the title (“Earthly Delights”) caught my attention. My practice has been influenced by Land Art and Arte Povera, both. I’ve been making pieces with high grass, petals, feathers, lost bread in works like Traveling Plant, Epiphany, Drift, The Heel of the Loaf to formally engage with ideas of trajectory, subsistence and fulfillment. My art is also inspired a lot from my family’s history of migration from Algeria to France to flee the war and personal experiences, conveyed in a form that addresses a collective experience, addressing timeless questions such as war, displacement, freedom, gender roles. Being uprooted from a country or a culture is a major theme in my work. I want to grasp life with the beauty, fragility and nostalgia of ephemera.

MW. Conflict and disparity between classes is something you mention in your statement about The Heel of the Loaf which feels especially poignant during the pandemic. When you mentioned fragile structures I can’t help but think about your experience working with bread and bread crumbs, walking in the space and generally the sensory experience. But also the proportions of the center point to the rest. Can you talk more about what it represents to you?

BAB. For my solo show last Fall, The Heel of the Loaf, I collected discarded bread from shops and bakeries here in Bushwick and Ridgewood. I collect materials outside the studio and then re-imagine and revisit places and residual materials from my surroundings, responding to the moment I find myself in–personal, local, or national. In this piece, the six sided dice had only one “6” side, face down, and five sides of “1”; this large scale sculptural installation was a meditation on fragile structures, sacred subsistence, and capitalism, where the odds of winning are against a majority of people.

Most of my works reflect on class, labor, subsistence, and the consequences of post colonial economic structures. My pieces obey the logic dictated by their concept, material, and process. In the making of a piece, I use all the forms that the material evolves. By the end, there is no waste, because the protocol is endless. I want to turn chaos into a glimpse of the infinite. 

An alternate view of “The Heel of the Loaf” by Bianca Abdi-Boragi

The Heel of the Loaf was all about how you felt walking into it, sticking your head inside it and being surprised by it. I’d hoped to make the viewer question their own body and presence in front of the work. It was a multi-sensory experience, a manifestation that connected directly to the viewer’s senses. The audience performed simply by walking into the gallery stepping on old loaves covering the floor into crumbs so thin it looked like sand. Through sculptural installation I hope to appeal to the viewer’s senses to trigger a thoughtful and meditative dialogue. 

“The Heel of the Loaf” Bianca Abdi-Boragi

MW. Can you tell us more about the genesis of The Heel of the Loaf?

BAB. For this piece, I was focused on the revelation of the fragile economic structures in the US which were crumbling at the start of the pandemic. I wanted visitors to be taken off guard: to be directly impacted by the piece. I want my work to be physical at some level, or a disruption of reality – to disrupt some type of normalcy, conventions, boundaries or challenge the rules, questioning structures or addressing existential questions, to be thought-provoking, a little bit strange, just on the other side.

“Hybrid Buffet” by Bianca Abdi-Boragi

MW. What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?

BAB. I’m excited to show a new painting in August 2021 for the group exhibition Staying Inn at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Currently I’m in the midst of making two chairs to complete my new sculpture Hybrid Buffet, which was showcased last June at the Flux Factory for Din Din, an art food outdoor series of events. Hybrid Buffet is a table mosaic made of discarded bread fully coated with matte varnish inspired from the front of Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers, which was destroyed turned into a church under the French then turned into a mosque, addressing labor but also the hybridization of culture, architectonic narratives, mechanism of assimilation, colonization, war but most importantly pacifism, and the act of breaking bread together.

I’m also preparing an experimental film for an upcoming art fair, and working on the pre-production of my second solo show which will be based in sculpture and video art. I am also working on the production of a new piece involving two fabric sculptures and a documentary video about the French flea market. I have a long list of artworks I need to produce, which will keep me busy for many years if not a lifetime. I’m overwhelmed but it’s only good stress so I’m happy! 

Finally, I’m also an independent art writer/curator and founder of Gallery Perchée, an online art gallery specializing in leading emerging artists. I have a few upcoming curatorial projects for 2021-2022 in NY and Chicago that I’m very excited about with wonderful artists. Architecture of Elsewhere now on view virtually at Gallery Perchée during the Summer of 2021. My other upcoming show Vector will open in Sept 2022 at Heaven Gallery Chicago, amidst other NY projects cooking for 2021 and 2022.

“Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery a Delectable Treat

“You cut a hole in the building and people can look inside and see the way other people really lived… it’s making space without building it.” – Gordon Matta-Clark

Industrial materials and a delightful array of dimensions provide new angles on urbanity in “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich,” on view now at Amos Eno Gallery at 56 Bogart St through Sunday, July 18th.

Installation image, “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.

Esposito is a Queens-based artist. A born and bred New Yorker, the artist’s familiarity with the city permeates every aspect of the exhibition. Construction is one constant traversing the city’s streets, and familiar sights such as dangling shoes and lath wood, metal and cement confront urban residents at every twist and turn of the city’s winding streets. Eroding painted signage from days gone by are visible on the sides of buildings from overpasses and aboveground subway lines throughout the city, revealing varying degrees of erasure as they play out across the skyline. Fences separating properties across the city’s five boroughs range from elaborate, pointed arches to brushed chrome. All of these experiences and more infuse “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” with a potent representation of how residents and visitors interact with spaces surrounding them in urban landscapes.

Works on view present a study in contrasts, with the artist embracing industrial materials and artistic processes in equal measure, forming a strange yet powerful combination. Works included in this exhibition, such as “Split/Connect” (below image, work on right,) incorporate oil, tar and steel rods, while artistic techniques like painting, collage and assemblage are utilized throughout. Lath wood and bricks form the structure supporting the artist’s large-scale work, “Wall Sandwich,”: the exhibit’s namesake. Notions of the simulacrum pervade the show as well, with paintings of wood boards flanking actual wood structures, such as with “…Only inches away…,” and “Exterior Clapboards: Detroit”, questioning how the structures which we perceive around us in cities can both reveal and occlude vibrant histories.

In revealing the interiors of structures and their intrinsic relationship to exterior walls, Esposito notes that he, “concentrates on the interior and exterior of the walls, the space in between, the endless layers of palimpsest both polished and tarnished. It is a study of the soul of New York City.” Repeating motifs jostle for attention with surprising elements, such as a metal tag hanging off a string from the central board of “Leftovers.” City residents and guests strolling through New York will notice hanging objects proliferate throughout the city, whether it’s a hanging pair of shoes on power lines or a misplaced mitten hanging off a wrought-iron fence on a snowy day. The city gives as it takes away: construction materials throughout the exhibition also allude to real estate development and a city in constant cycles of demolishing and creating new buildings throughout the five boroughs. Visitors can approach these themes embedded within the exhibition in view of their own relationship to these different aspects of city life, finding correlations to their own journeys across, below, and around structures in New York City.

Installation image, “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.

The underlying landscape that supports the city’s infrastructure takes center stage in “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich.” Thanks to the artist’s clever compositions and keen insights, visitors are able pore over contrasting textures and surfaces presented at a range of scales and form connections between the works on view and the city’s many tangible layers of architectural histories.

Artist Chantel Ness on Discovery and Freedom

Earthly Delights winning artist Chantel Ness in conversation with Show & Telephone’s Madeline Walker & Audra Lambert

Thanks Chantel for chatting with us! What about the theme of the open call “Earthly Delights” caught your attention in relation to your artistic practice?

While contemplating the theme of “Earthly Delights”, I was drawn to the notions of clearing and culling to make room for growth and new creation. My artistic practice materialized as a direct result of pandemic isolation. I had been caught in a cycle of overexertion and perpetual burn-out: chasing career achievements for fulfillment. Only once I removed the superficial distractions of my work life was I able to peer inward to discover a well-spring of latent creativity and find my place as an artist. This has been a season to release those patterns and behaviors that once felt so important, but now appear redundant, trivial or even inflammatory.

One of my larger works – “Spring Training: The World Without Us” – was inspired by reading Alan Wesiman’s article “Earth Without People” and his follow-up non-fiction book. His thought-experiment on depopulation prompted me to contemplate the possibility we may never return to the outside world as it was pre-pandemic. This piece imagines an Earth devoid of any future human interference or destruction. Left only with remnants of our infrastructure, the flora and fauna are given space to thrive and evolve into newer, more resilient forms. What could be possible if we surrendered control and let life happen organically? 

In “Conservation of Greatness”, I celebrate “Earthly Delights” through the simple freedom of play outdoors. The purest pleasure can be found in fresh cut grass, a warm breeze and connection to the body in coordinated motion. The fusion of indoor/outdoor spaces suggests a disintegration of confinement. The wistful longing for a return to open-air interactions is a base human compulsion: a prescription for fear and isolation. 

Conservation of Greatness
Chantal Ness
Acrylic on Canvas (16” x 20”) 2021 
Image courtesy the artist.

Can you give us insight into how  your upbringing and experience living in rural areas in Canada influenced your work, for example with Controlled Burn?

I hail from a remote town in Northern Saskatchewan called Meadow Lake. It is known for being a vast and empty space populated only by those tough enough to stand the unforgiving winters by playing hockey. In my upbringing, there was such an emphasis on athletics at the detriment of artistic or cultural pursuits. For a time I grappled with self-pity at my interests being swept aside before ultimately embracing my unique positioning. I had been a spectator for long enough to know the world of sports intimately, but maintain the outsider’s vantage point necessary to expand the discourse of athletics through contemporary art. As a way of entering into dialogue with those around me, I use sport as an accessible medium to approach deeper themes of importance to me. I revel at the chance to take subject matter traditionally perceived as “low-brow” and elevate it to a topic worthy of artistic contemplation.

Controlled Burn
Chantal Ness
Acrylic on Canvas (16” x 20”) 2021
Image Courtesy the Artist.

My piece “Controlled Burn” was motivated by the boreal backdrop of my “wildhood”. Taking the life cycle of the tree as a metaphor for ideation: from germination to maturation, with stages of revision and deconstruction before emerging as a finished article. In wildland management, a controlled burn is essential to maintaining the health of a forest or grassland ecosystem. Whether with the intention to re-wild an area that was once urbanized or as a preventative measure, a prescribed burn can mitigate future hazards. While seemingly a violent and destructive act, the burn reveals the soil’s mineral layer and stimulates seed germination. To me, this serves as a poignant symbol as we set about emerging from our pandemic state. Perhaps without the proverbial heat, we might not have undergone this integral process of examination. The Timbersport depicted in this piece is called a “Spring Chop” – apt for my ruminations on the theme. 

You have mentioned forest fires and your relationship to individuals working in that industry, can you elaborate on how this impacts your work?

In my community, which is predominantly First Nations, there is a tragic lack of economic growth and development. A trend emerged where persons in dire circumstances were inclined to light forest fires simply to be hired on a team paid to extinguish the fires. In the most extreme cases, these infernos would become uncontrolled causing unintended destruction of homes and infrastructure. My father, a Conservation Officer, became an Arson Fire Investigator tasked with discovering the sources of ignition. His involvement with these blazes educated me not only on fire prevention and management but of systemic inequality for Indigenous Peoples. Recently in Kamloops British Columbia, the bodies of 215 First Nations children were found buried on the site of a Catholic Residential School. Weighing heavy on my heart, the stone border painted on “Controlled Burn” contains 215 markers representing each of those victims. Canada has been broken for a very long time and only now are steps being taken toward reconciliation.

I find some topics are too painful to approach directly. I prefer instead to deploy unusual and humorous contexts to make work that toes the line between lighthearted and sincere. Disguised in a visually optimistic language, my work draws on the various tensions in my sphere of consciousness. Finding a way to constructively parse thoughts of racial inequality, gender disparity, extremism, climate crisis and mental health has been vital to my practice. 

Thoughts & Prayers
Chantel Ness
Acrylic on Canvas (24” x 18”) 2021
Image courtesy the artist.

What do you have ongoing and/or upcoming that you can share with us?

Prior to taking up painting, I made a career in Interior Design. I think you can see traces of my former métier bleeding into my compositions. A friend of mine has taken over an iconic Sports Bar in Montreal, I have been joyfully commissioned to provide artwork and imprint my design sensibilities.  Sneak preview: hand-painted wallpaper depicting former Montreal Expos baseball players in PlayGirl poses. I have been delighted how my practice has built a bridge to other humans: both artists and sports fans in equal measure. To have my voice as a female artist represented in a traditionally male-dominated space is supremely satisfying. 

Once COVID restrictions ease, I dream of staging my first solo exhibition “Sports: Illustrated”. Being confined to my loft for the last 16 months has yielded a robust body of work and a yearning to share my work with others in a physical space. Until then, I continue with my self-taught practice, untangling ideas on canvas including some larger-scale pieces currently in progress. 

The artist can be found at her website – Chantel Ness, www.minorleagues.xyz and on Instagram: @minor_leagues. -Ed.s

The Subdued Triumph of “In Longing” at CUE Art Foundation

by Audra Lambert

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke once observed, “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” The fragile yet tenacious victory of In Longing, on view now through July 14 at CUE Art Foundation, articulates the spectacular beauty of thwarted connections. Spanning new media, installation, mixed media and sculpture, works on view by artists Alison Chen, SHAWNÉ MICHAELAIN HOLLOWAY, Raymond Pinto, Marie Ségolène and Xirin probe us to reconsider the ways in which we long and the means by which longing manifests. Curated by Anna Cahn, with support from CUE mentor Legacy Russell, In Longing foregrounds the need for a resolution which is implicitly suggested in the concept of “longing.”

Artists on view create intersectional dialogue around privilege, desire and visibility. As noted in Cahn’s catalog essay, “A central question of the exhibition asks: how is desire affected by the oppressive systems of patriarchy and white supremacy?” Participating artists also present performance around the theme of the exhibition. In Longing has been activated over the course of the exhibition by performances from Xirin and Sebastian Chacon and the debut of a performance film from Marie Ségolène. An upcoming performance entitled “what is left, if i am earth” by artist Raymond Pinto and collaborator Fana Fraser will take place on Wednesday, July 14 at 2 PM, followed by a closing reception with the curator the same day from 5 PM.

Installation shot of “In Longing” at the CUE Art Foundation (Photo Credit: Adam Reich)

One consistent aspect of the exhibition is a denial of the male gaze as the default position of longing. Visitors enter the space to immediately encounter Marie Ségolène’s “Rouge Gorge” video and multi-media installation. The multi-sensory elements present within Ségolène’s work centers a self-longing: a passionate wish to situate one’s own sense of longing and desire within an environment alternately fertile and hostile. Loaded with an introspective and inherently queer sense of self-realization, the artist alludes to the fact that yearnings are self-directed, and can be evoked by a range of sensations which are experienced in unique ways by different bodies. “Rouge Gorge” also references visual and audible repetition, a clever yet potent means of referencing sensual ritual and return. Reading from her poetry in a range of scenes – near water, in the midst of the forest, and other natural settings – Ségolène deftly integrates action and expression.

Installation image, “In and Out”
Alison Chen (2005-ongoing)
2 inkjet prints on paper (Photo courtesy Adam Reich)

Alison Chen and Xirin provide distinct reflections on how longing can be documented or expressed. Chen’s “In and Out” reveals the relative peaks and valleys of a committed relationship, laying bare the honest analytics of emotion and tracking how that looks in objective terms. Chen’s video, “For One Night Only,” authentically, intimately and sometimes humorously lays bare how living together with a romantic partner can manifest in small gestures and interrelated movements. In Xirin’s video, “Hope Eats the Soul,” the artist and her partner re-enact scenes from Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974) in a lofty measure of how intimacy and distance can collapse into one another. With no dialogue, and scored with atmospheric music, the camera pans alternately between the duo while longing glances connect or concentrate on the middle distance between two certain points, seeking resolution. Xirin’s work traces her “undocumented emotional realms”(1) to evince a longing to be fully seen.

Raymond Pinto’s installation “what is left, if i am earth” presents geodes – crystal aggregates that appear on the outside as spherical rocks. This deceptive appearance challenges us to consider how much of what we know is taken for granted. Pinto presents a “Black queer ecology of motion”(2): asking where, and how, restraint and impulse intersect and what the implications of these actions are. The installation seemingly vacillates between presence and absence, embedded with investigations about emotion and longing and about the space allocated for Black queer experiences. Environments and power dynamics infuse SHAWNÉ MICHAELAIN HOLLOWAY’s prescient sculpture “REQUEST–>LURE–>RESPONSE–>REWARD(?) OR A COVERING FOR THE CAGE.” The artist explores a theme she calls “choreographic viewership”(3) in dialogue with BDSM desire while simultaneously questioning which bodies are included or “longed” for.

Visitors to the exhibition can view the interior of the space where Xirin, Chen, HOLLOWAY and Pinto’s works are situated from a tête-à-tête chair rounded chair able to seat two guests alongside one another, which is part of Xirin’s installation for “Hope Eats the Soul”. A letter written by the artist floats alongside one of two mixed media works Xirin presents in the space, incorporating allusions to the corporeal: scenes from the artist’s past performances are depicted in acrylic, lipstick, egg and coffee applied across canvas, accentuating the flattened presence of the artist’s two-channel video nearby. In tracing the interaction of Chen and Xirin’s video and installation work with Raymond Pinto’s “what is left, if i am earth” and HOLLOWAY’s “REQUEST–>LURE–>RESPONSE–>REWARD(?) OR A COVERING FOR THE CAGE”, a curatorial vision emerges which intertwines attraction and distance, distraction and intimacy. Binaries fold into themselves, merging instead into interrogations that push us to question how we never realized we were this close to begin with, and why it’s impossible to be closer than we even knew we were. -AL

(1) See Anna Cahn’s catalog essay, “In Longing.” (2) and (3): Ibid.

Questions of Scale: Leah Harper’s “Mitosis” A Triumph at Yi Gallery

A visitor can be forgiven for entering Yi Gallery’s current exhibition, “Mitosis“, and wondering whether they’ve been shrunken down into an aesthetically pleasing science lab.

All that’s missing is the petri dish.

This solo show of works by Leah Harper indicates the scope and breadth of the artist’s multi-disciplinary practice in dialogue with the lived environment, particularly with regards to marine life.

“Colony 7” (2021) Glazed Porcelain, by Leah Harper for “Mitosis”.
Image courtesy Yi Gallery.

The abstracted “creatures” that the artist presents assume migratory patterns, frozen in a form of arrested motion. By foregrounding the objects themselves, one is compelled to think to a larger scale – that of the ocean itself. With light-filled sculptures installed in clusters on the floor of the gallery, minute azure-hued clusters of works arranged in meticulous sculptural groupings on one consolidated wall, and one-dimensional representations of these same minuscule “creatures” framed throughout the gallery space, guests are reminded to consider the scale of environments they encounter.

Another consideration is the fragility embodied by the range of “creatures” the artist has created for the exhibition. Whether embracing glazed porcelain, mixed media with resin or working on paper, the works Harper presents in “Mitosis” exude an element of precarity and preciousness. The flattened lines and graceful curves of Harper’s forms give visitors a tabula rasa from which to frame personal reflections on their own encounters with the ocean and its fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs. These careful and clean linear stylings present in “Mitosis” are no accident, and their careful precision offer an homage to the delicate and overwhelming beauty found in nature’s presence.

Installation view of “Mitosis” at Yi Gallery, courtesy the gallery.

Originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida and currently based in close proximity to the Atlantic in New York City, Harper’s work provides a delicately beautiful elegy to the oceanic environments we are ever compelled to preserve, or risk losing forever. Drawing from a rich background spanning fine art, architecture and graphic design, Harper’s perceptive work echoes Heidegger’s concept of the essence of artwork as a means of access to better explore truth and culture. “Mitosis” serves as a springboard to better frame the truth of our lived environments, our responsibilities to them and our ability to perceive the beauty of the living creatures around us in their purest form.

“Mitosis” is on view at Yi Gallery through May 16, 2021, with visiting hours this Saturday, May 15th from 2-6 PM and other times by appointment only: https://calendly.com/yigallery/private-viewing?month=2021-05 .

Tapestries of Memory: the Rich Layers of Deborah Yasinsky’s practice visible at Empty Set Gallery

Deborah Yasinsky creates works that build new realities from a composite of existing ones. Her solo show ”Tapestries of Memory”, on view from Sept 12-Oct 9, 2021 at Empty Set Gallery, presents visitors with an interdisciplinary vision outlining where fiction and fact collide. The exhibit is presented with the support of the NY City Corps artist grant.

Installation view, ”Tapestries of Memory” photo courtesy the artist

Yasinsky’s work on view emphasizes resilience and transformation. A type of alchemy permeates the exhibition. Video projections dance over the surfaces of objects, while nearby paintings show the breadth of Yasinsky’s textured treatment across the surface of these artworks. Abstraction and figuration emerge and conceal themselves again in the picture plane, presenting a tenuous present for the viewer.

Installation view, ”Tapestries of Memory” photo courtesy the artist

Yasinsky’s deft touch and subtle intonations embrace a wealth of material and scale, no small feat given the wealth of works presented in the space. Works reflect the natural world and our place within it, dwelling on our imaginations of mythic creatures and our relationship with the tangible world in equal measure. Yasinsky’s breadth and scope present in these works invite us to delve into our imagination and explore unseen connections that attach us to the world around us in mysterious and surprising ways.

Detail image from ”Tapestries of Memory” solo show of work by Deborah Yasinsky, image courtesy the artist.

Deborah Yasinsky is a Bronx-based artist, curator, and educator. Recent exhibitions include Coral Gables Museum, Paradice Palase, Local Project Art Space, Dominican University, YU Museum Education Department, and Hot Cabinet. Curatorial projects include, Beast Like Me: Feminism and Fantasy and Listen: Artists Respond to Politics at Bronx Art Space. She is currently the Curator of Education at Lehman College Art Gallery and an Adjunct Lecturer at Lehman College, CUNY.


A New Romantic: Pamela Casper’s “Earthscapes” at Reeves-Reed Arboretum (Summit, NJ)

Artist Pamela Casper’s Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, on view now at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ, honors the power that nature has to inspire, to awe, and to overwhelm. Casper is able to capture, ”a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,” in the words of Romantic poet William Blake. In many ways Casper’s solo show, a mini-retrospective for the artist, brilliantly captures that wondrous sense of natural awe redolent of the Romantic movement, with a nuanced portrayal of natural phenomenon at turns imaginative and insightful. Casper’s works on view span mediums ranging from works on paper to mixed media and sculpture, offering visitors a varied means of engaging with the environment.

Installation view of Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, a solo show of works by Pamela Casper

Works such as ”Roots and Insects,” ”Gothic Underground,” and ”Underground Glow” allow guests to burrow down into the impression the artist has created of roots expanding deep underground. Rich jewel tones and minuscule, detailed lines trace the most powerful and life-sustaining part of a tree: its root system. Casper’s paintings evoke what they don’t show, giving the impression of destiny with lush, painterly brushstrokes hinting at the rich ecosystem lying just out of view of the human eye.

Roots and Insects (2016) Pamela Casper, watercolor on paper, 24×36”

In addition to the artist’s Tornado series (see cover photo) which brings to life the transformative power of nature and calls into question our tenuous relationship as stewards of the environment, the artist also works with reclaimed materials. ”Abandoned Nest” re-imagines barbed wire as a bird’s nest, painting a bleak future for a world in which scant natural materials are available for creatures to depend on. The sharp angles jutting across one another are juxtaposed with a bird’s feather: a reminder of what’s left for us to lose unless we begin reimagining ways to provide for a sustainable environmental future.

Abandoned Nest (2013) Pamela Casper, barbed wire and feather, 18×9”

Pamela Casper’s ”Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World” is on view at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum’s Wisner House in Summit, NJ, until October 31st, 2021. Check the Arboretum’s website for hours and special events before attending: https://www.reeves-reedarboretum.org/visit/ .

“TORQUE” at Peninsula Art Space: Painting from All Angles

On view through July 4th at Peninsula Art Space in Red Hook, Brooklyn, TORQUE brings a heightened attention to surface detail and the painterly gesture. The show’s title notes of torque that it “is the driving force for all human movement,” and paintings on view form a dialogue around how transitions and movement are expressed in painting. Works on view are by artists Craig Taylor, Georgia Elrod, Graham Durward and Allison Evans. From the painterly figurative stylings of Graham Durward to the jagged aggregations of brushstrokes by Craig Taylor, TORQUE offers a survey of painting that intimates and suggests more than it ultimately reveals.

Durward’s compositions contrast figures against seemingly idyllic backdrops, creating ambiguous figures inhabiting unsettling scenes. Off into the distance, a rising plume of smoke draws attention away from this close cadre of figures cavorting together, inserting another narrative into the scene that feels far removed from the vacation vista presented at first glance.

Installation view, “TORQUE” featuring work by Graham Durward at Peninsula Art Space

The scale of works on view also makes a strong impact, with works such as Georgia Elrod’s “Midnight Oils” overwhelming the viewer and beckoning them forward seemingly into a new dimension as they enter the space. The human figure is present throughout the exhibition, but these subjects are seemingly erased from view and/or presented in fragments. Works by Allison Evans form a cheeky commentary by filtering subversive figurative elements through the lens of historical elements such as Grecian urns, painting these in flat yet expressive brushstrokes. Craig Taylor’s works indicates his deft brushwork as a painter, allowing the surface of his paintings to seemingly expand outward through implied movement away from the picture plane.

Installation image, “TORQUE”, featuring work by Craig Taylor at Peninsula Art Space

TORQUE at Peninsula Art Space is open from 12-7 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and is located at 352 Van Brunt Street at Sullivan Street. Check out their website for more details on their exhibits: http://www.peninsulaartspace.com/ .

“BEAVER” Reveals a Range of Fierce Feminist Viewpoints

The performativity of gender and sex positive attitudes emerge at the forefront of Naomi Elena Ramirez’ exhibition-as-book project, Beaver.

Artist Naomi Elena Ramirez leads the charge in Feminist art project “BEAVER”: a book that presents a Feminist exhibition from a range of viewpoints. The publication, which is available via the project’s website, charts a range of perspectives from artists including Keren Moscovitch, Carol-Anne McFarlane, Damali Abrams, Leslie Tucker, Katrina Majkut, Julia Kim Smith, mothertongues, Mirabelle Jones and Ramirez herself, among others. This iteration of “BEAVER” centers intersectional Feminist perspectives on pornography, sexuality and self-expression. Ramirez spent significant time on cultivating and presenting a range of artistic projects intersecting with this powerful theme.

“Beaver” art exhibition as book, image courtesy artist Naomi Elena Ramirez.

“BEAVER” began as an exhibition taking place in 2014 at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, and three subsequent exhibitions and this inaugural publication interrogate media representations of the female body and sexuality. Artists are asked to respond to the following questions put forth by Ramirez, “How do phenomena like “slut-shaming” and the threat of sexual violence delineate, thwart, or promote female sexual self-expression? What are the different ways that racial and sexual identities are culturally inscribed on the female body?” Participating artist Leslie Tucker reflects, ” Naomi’s BEAVER Project examines the constant messaging around women as a class, which pervades my work as well; how women are treated in the media in terms of sexuality, violence, or just micro-aggressions daily in society. I think it’s critical to ascertain not only how these messages are circulated and perpetuated in Western society and media, but also how they are received by individuals – of all backgrounds.” These and other similar responses to Ramirez’ questions provide a pivotal lens by which artists visually explore how women reclaim agency and power with regard to their identity, sexuality and representation in the public eye.

“Beaver” art exhibition as book, image courtesy artist Naomi Elena Ramirez.

Something for everyone greets readers of the publication, as representational painting, photography, performance art, sculpture and a range of other artistic practices form the fertile ground through which artists explore themes related to the “BEAVER” prompt. By subverting patriarchal expectations and mining rich expressions of feminist presentations, artists create powerful responses to society’s sexualized expectations for female-identifying artists.

Editor and artist Naomi Elena Ramirez (b. Hermosillo, Mexico) is a mexican-american multidisciplinary conceptual artist and curator whose work encompasses visual art, video art, and contemporary dance, and the process by which the different mediums can inform each other. Naomi has an MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA in Dramatic Art/Dance from the University of California at Berkeley.  Her work has been exhibited and presented by A.I.R. Gallery, the Institute of (Im)Possible Subjects, Movement Research at the Judson Church, DoublePlus at Gibney Dance, The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, and many others in the US and abroad. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.