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