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.

“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/ .