Voices in Unison for “Conversations: Artists in Dialogue” at FIT

Curator Lobsang Tsewang (FIT, Fine Arts Alum ’17) arranged the exhibition “Conversations: Artists in Dialogue” to invite the greater FIT community to come together in solidarity by contributing their unique voices into this group show. Featuring FIT students, alumni, faculty and selected guest artists, the exhibit opens up the conversation around contemporary art that is inclusive of all perspectives in the university community.
Artists on view include students Camelia Giannouklas, Ellen Marszalkowski, Daniel Elias Pascual, Sienna Prater, Matthew Stewart, John Xavier; alumni Dimitri Dimizas, Carly Fitzsimons, Madjeen Isaac, Kathleen Johnson, Claire Jones, Olivia Reckert, Briget Villanueva; faculty and staff N’Ketiah Brakohiapa, Pansum Cheng, Bill Pangburn, Melanie Reim, Jeff Way; and guest artists Meny Beriro, Jay Feigelis, Amanda Guest, Brece Honeycutt, Molly Ann Walker. In light of the current viral pandemic, the exhibition is temporarily closed but will re-open to the public and is still visible for those living nearby who pass by the windows of FIT campus that run along 7th Avenue.
Installation view, “Conversations: Artwork in Dialogue”at FIT’s Art and Design gallery
A mix of material, color and line are interspersed throughout the exhibition space. Form and composition intermingle across sculpture, mixed media works and paintings, with a range of artistic practices on display. The exhibition is a master class in contrasting scale: the volume of space is appropriately used to feature the range of artwork incorporated in this group show.
Standout exhibitors include illustrator Melanie Reim, installation and print artist Bill Pangburn, painter and interdisciplinary artist Jeff Way and mixed media artist Amanda Guest. Associate Dean, School of Art and Design at FIT/ artist Melanie Reim‘s careful linework and intricate detail are a pleasure to study intently in the gallery space, and are carefully arranged in dialogue with nearby artworks. FIT Faculty member Bill Pangburn’s expansive style of abstraction encompass the visitor with a studied calm, blending color and line in careful harmony.
FIT faculty member Jeff Way displays paintings from his recent Eccentric Squares series, which showcases Way’s carefully coordinated sense of depth in the composition constructed through controlled lines delineating the picture plane. Guest artist Amanda Guest displays powerful mixed media work that sparks a dialogue around the visceral aspects of formal composition and texture.
Installation view, “Conversations: Artwork in Dialogue”at FIT’s Art and Design gallery
Installation view, “Conversations: Artwork in Dialogue”at FIT’s Art and Design gallery (Jeff Way painting featured in front left)
Exhibition curator Tsewang notes that his vision for the exhibition is that the exhibition… “enables each voice to be heard in the context of the exchange as a whole.”
Premised in the ability for differing artistic practices, mediums and processes to situate contemporary discourse within a harmonious discussion instead of a cacophony, “Conversations: Artwork in Dialogue” mounts an impressive survey show of artists engaging with FIT’s creative community with something to contribute.
While the exhibition is temporarily closed due to the viral pandemic, stay tuned at the FIT website – here – to learn more about the show hours during Spring/Summer 2020.
Installation view, “Conversations: Artwork in Dialogue”at FIT’s Art and Design gallery

Beyond the Pale: Zac Hacmon at the Border Project Space

by Mariel Tepper

 

Artist Zac Hacmon uses form, space and sound in Beyond the Pale: an immersive and unflinching look at the U.S.-Mexico border crisis located at The Border Project Space. Curated by Eva Mayhabal Davis, this site-specific sculpture installation reflects on the material and conceptual barriers humans create and the devastating, far-reaching consequences of these obstructions.

Artist Zac Hacmon exploring the US/Mexico border (photo credit: Dana Levy)

The installation is centered around two abstract sculptures, Hedgehog 1 and 2. Their militaristic design inspired by Czech hedgehogs, barrier fortifications used for the Czech-German border in World War II. The imposing sculptures create a sense of tension and claustrophobia through hard-edged geometry, while the white ceramic tile surfaces of the sculptures evoke the sterility and asepsis of domestic and interior spaces; bathrooms, kitchens and hospital walls. The sounds of voices and ambient sounds can be heard from vents in the sculptures, creating a collective murmur that recedes and fluctuates in volume, enveloping the listener. With audio consisting of on-site interviews conducted by Hacmon at the Arizona border, the dialogues convey the hardships and human rights atrocities experienced by migrants, Native Americans, asylum seekers and undocumented workers through poems, stories and firsthand accounts. 

A devastating and visceral poem on the death of a newborn baby on the Arizona roadside, NO ANSWERS–NOW OR EVER by Marie Vogl Gery, is read by Gali Kocourek, a member of Tucson Samaritans. In another interview, Sarah M. Reed, Program Coordinator at Casa Alitas Program – Aid for Migrant Families, describes the trauma experienced by asylum seekers coming from Central America and southern Mexico to the U.S. to flee gang and drug related violence. If captured by border patrol, migrants face inhumane conditions in detention centers, where they are cramped in tight cells, deprived of sleep and adequate food, all their possessions forcibly taken. 

Interspersed with the interview snippets are the sounds of field recordings, rustles of footsteps on migrant trails in the Sonoran Desert during a water run. The crisp, caustic sounds remind the listener of the long, harrowing journeys migrants take, trudging through miles of unforgiving desert heat on rough ground, all in the hopes of achieving a better life. 

“Beyond the Pale” in situ at the Border Project Space (photo credit: Etienne Frossard)

Making the connection between borders and environmental devastation, Jose Rivera, Director of Tohono O’odham Culture Center and Museum, describes how the U.S. border wall physically disrupts local wildlife by preventing animals from moving freely between nesting and feeding areas. It’s clear that imposing arbitrary physical barriers on land disrupts not only the flow of people, but the flows and processes of the natural world. In an age of climate refugees and ecological collapse, the negative implications of border walls and the bigoted, non holistic ideologies (nationalism, xenophobia) fueling them are even more apparent. Zac Hacmon’s prescient and thought-provoking Beyond the Pale installation confronts the divisive and brutal reality of man-made borders. Shining a light on the cycle of pain, fear, violence and devastation that occurs when we deny the humanity of others.

I See You: TAFA + Tomo Mori At Home in ChaShama’s 64th Street Location

by Mariel Tepper

 

A nine-year friendship between Ghanaian-native artist TAFA and Japanese-native artist Tomo Mori forms the heart of I See You, now on view at ChaShama’s 340 E. 64th space until March 8th. As Mori notes, “I feel Tafa and I share a deeply human connection. He knows my work since I stared showing in 2011, when I didn’t know anything or anybody in the art community. I always admired his work and I am extremely honored to do this project together.”

 

“We Got You” Tomo Mori. Woven ropes made with discard T-shirts, on view in I See You

Tomo Mori’s fluid, organic fiber art sculptures are comprised of handmade ropes made from discarded and upcycled fabrics given to her by family and friends. Shown alongside  these works are TAFA’s figurative oil paintings are informed by Ghana’s sporting events, public demonstrations and musical performances. Representing the rich diversity and international voices within the New York City arts scene, TAFA and Tomo Mori draw upon distinct imagery and materials imbued with symbolic, cultural and personal meaning, as well as their shared experience as first-generation immigrants: while both of their practices focus on their homeland, they equally embrace their new role as artists residing within the United States.

Personal history and intimate familial connections through material are tenderly woven throughout Tomo Mori’s work. Ropes of discarded baby blankets join together in the artwork Eve to form a loose, heart-like or cradle-like formation, evoking the tender embrace of a mother and newborn child. The prompt, “What do you build when you are given power?” accompanies an all-ages interactive installation of fabric-covered blocks, using social consciousness and inclusivity to shift our cultural narratives about power from division to empowerment. Sanctuary, a dazzling, optically exhilarating patchwork of fabrics, incorporates a vintage kimono, highlighting the comfort, beauty and solace Mori finds within Japanese culture.

“Eve” Tomo Mori. Ropes made with discard fabrics, wire – artwork for I See You

Alongside Tomo Mori’s materiality and indirect allusions to place and cultural symbolism, TAFA’s work keeps an eye towards the ephemeral struggles and achievements that mark the human condition. Each painting appears to be in flux, undergoing a state of change, conveyed by thick, rapid brush marks across the surface and expressive, gestural figures with contorted faces in intensely physical acts. From huddled masses gathered around a football stadium to masses in silent protest, the imagery within these artworks underscores the importance of shared social traditions to unify our collective culture in moments of crisis and uncertainty. Where Mori’s works connects in physical space, TAFA’s work unite the excitement of crowds at sporting events in a shared, communal energy. His exuberant painting style captures the enthusiasm and shared sentiments among large crowds. His work shows us an artistic expression of unity. 

“March, Placard and a Song” TAFA. Oil on canvas – artwork for I See You

TAFA and Tomo Mori both approach their work with deep-rooted and complex associations on topics of heritage, history and social structures, stemming from their own experiences as immigrants in America looking back towards the culture of their homeland. I See You encourages active observation, prompting viewers to look closer at their own surroundings and form deeper connections between place and identity. 

Supported by ChaShama, the exhibition fulfills ChaShama’s promise to give artists space to present their work while fostering community development through the arts. More information on ChaShama can be found on their website. 

The following programs will continue through the exhibition until it closes on March 8th:

Artist Talk: Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 to 8:30pm

Closing Reception, Saturday, March 7, 4 to 6pm

SAT 2/22   Fabric collage workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: tomotion@gmail.com

SAT 2/29   Rope making workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: tomotion@gmail.com

SUN 3/1    Kora/Djembe Performance by West African musician, Sunday, March 1, 2-4pm

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All events are free and open to the public. Location: Chashama Space to Present at 340 E 64th St. New York, New York 10065 (ground floor)

​Regular Gallery Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11:30am to 6:30pm
Please see the exhibition website in orde to schedule an appointment to visitoutside of these hours:  https://www.tomomoriart.com/i-see-you

Memory and Myth in Brian Whiteley’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer: a Mid-Career Retrospective”

by Mark Eisendrath

 

Putin’s steely stare gazes over Trump’s legacy in this mid-career retrospective from artist Brian Andrew Whiteley: yet, the focus tends inward. Whiteley’s discursive mid-career retrospective traces the twin psychological pathways of nostalgia and mythology that chart our paths ahead in life. Clown fetish and a reference to the artist’s childhood home sit alongside the artist’s more explosive political commentary, allowing visitors to examine what forms their basis of their respective worldviews.

Installation views,”I Know What You Did Last Summer” mid-career retrospective for Brian Andrew Whiteley

This nostalgia is noted by Jennifer Rizzo, Director at Hashimoto Contemporary, who observes that “the exhibition will be presented in a wood paneled installation, reminiscent of the suburban basement in Whiteley’s parents home, where he spent a majority of his formative years.” The exhibition does mark the artist’s shift toward anti-fascism and questioning patriotism in its dual presentation  of different perspectives on Putin and Trump: on view, of course, is the artist’s vital Trump tombstone speculating on what legacy the President will leave to the world: a modern-day memento mori, expeditiously 3D printed.


Taken in relation with the artist’s former work with clowns and clowning, the Trump-Putin relationship is framed within an extended metaphor that is both rewarding and serendipitous. Visitors are invited to sit and observe the exhibition in casual lounge-style chairs again referring back to the artist’s childhood, remarking on a wide timeline and an even wilder career trajectory. The artist has explored performance art, installation and painting along with provocative public demonstrations and the founding of Satellite Art Fair: a democratic and accessible space for experimentation.

Installation view, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” mid-career retrospective for Brian Andrew Whiteley

 

Don’t miss your final opportunity to experience Whiteley’s stunning revelations in this cleverly curated retrospective, closing Feb 1, 2020.

Spiritual Awakenings: Langdon Graves’ “Month’s Mind” at Victori+Mo

In Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” the story’s protagonist, Mrs. Alving, is a woman driven nearly mad by the profligities of a husband since deceased. Her suspicions, agonies and fears manifest into lingering presences that she summarily labels as ‘ghosts’. “I am inclined to believe that we are all ghosts,” she mutters to a family confidant. While for Ibsen these ‘ghosts’ allude to one man’s sins, ghosts have remained a frequent reference point in literature throughout the centuries, as ghosts and hauntings have persistently crept into society’s consciousness. Every culture has held onto their own form of ghost stories. Yet, can ghosts remain congruent to our present reality in which data and security camera leave little room for subjectivity and conjecture?

“Month’s Mind” solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view at Victori+Mo (toward the rear of space)

One artist who is convinced they can is artist Langdon Graves, whose formidable solo show “Month’s Mind” remains on view at Victori+Mo through January 18, 2020. The subtlety of this curious exhibit lingers in the mind long after a visitor encounters Graves’ work. The exhibit features seemingly everyday objects often with a peculiar twist: pencils bend around tables, while maggots crawl through lifelike apples and flowers. These works appear in suprising configurations and cavalcades, locked in a frozen procession – a funereal march across a pastel-tinged space. Rooted in a carefully meted blend of autobiography and research-based practice, “Month’s Mind” marks an exhibit that hints at the delicate relationship between macabre and memorial, grief and the occult. The title itself refers to an old English practice of marking the memory of someone one month since deceased, and the contrast between soothing and morbid – a ‘finger’ hangs suspended from six feet below a spray of daisies on one wall of the exhibit – shifts its weight carefully throughout the expanse of space.

Another carefully balanced juxtaposition held firmly in place by Graves’ sure hand is the dissonance separating empricism and the supernatural. While data can indicate correlations, it cannot always explain: Graves knows as much from life experience. Raised with a strong memory of her grandmother, who recalled the artist’s great-grandfather’s mortician vocation and the religious experience of boarding school life at Georgetown Visitation Monastery, the artist recalls her grandmother’s tales of gruesome hauntings. Her earliest memory of her grandmother sharing a haunting occurred at a young age: as she recalls, her grandmother remembers that after a close relative passed on, she fell asleep only to awaken to gloves emerging from a nearby wardrobe. This mysterious tale became lodged firmly within the artist’s consciousness, spurring her onto a greater understanding of death: the attitudes toward it and how grief and trauma are processed.

If one seeks the very core of Graves’ practice, it rests rooted in the ideals we hold about the world around us. “All of my work starts out about belief, ” notes Graves, “I’ll study one subject and it leads into the next thing.” Here, the procession of research that Graves uncovered marches in step much like the ethereal arrangements spanning “Month’s Mind.” Spiritualism and women’s rights hold court alongside floriography, figures of speech and medical protocol. Most notable about the exhibit as a whole is not what is necessarily displayed physically, but how each work holds a palpable psychological presence that presages what is absent. Substance emerges from these objects, yes, but also from the shadows of meaning they cast.

 

“Month’s Mind”: a solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view at Victori+Mo (rear of space)

Another masterstroke of Graves’ exhibition is the seamless connections between seemingly disparate aspects of the works on view: a custom-made, sculpted “pencil” bent around a table’s edge references the Spiritualist movement of the late 1800s and the mediums of Lily Dale, New York. A bar of soap reaching out from the wall toward the viewer in the next room portrays women’s rights icon Susan B. Anthony. These two seemingly disparate objects contain a shared reference point in Lily Dale, New York. The town just one hour south of Buffalo, NY, was a canonic site for Spiritualists of the late 19th century, and a generative, supportive site for the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  Susan B. Anthony herself had close friends and supporters based in Lily Dale: she spoke at the memorial service of a dear friend and fellow activist who passed away in the town in 1890. Graves forms tightly held associations that link together her artworks as surely as we are linked to those who maintain their presence in our lives, yet just as tenuously as we hold onto those connections that fade with time after the passing of the ones we love.

Detail image from “Month’s Mind” : a solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view

“Month’s Mind” is on view at Victori+Mo through January 18, 2020; the gallery is open on Saturdays 10-6 pm and by appointment. This marks Langdon Graves’ second solo exhibition at the gallery. Graves is a visiting professor at Pratt and teaches at Parsons School of Design, and her studio is in Brooklyn, NY. For more information, please visit the gallery’s website.

All’s Fair: Miami Art Week 2019 Edition

This is the beginning of a new column, “All’s Fair”, in which writers recount major art exhibits, festivals, biennials and, especially, art fairs through a personal lens. Recounted below is Editor-in-Chief Audra Lambert’s whirlwind Tues-Sat tour of Miami Art Week 2019. Opinions below reflect Lambert’s views only. 

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Dear, dear readers.

Well, a week is enough time for reflection. And what do we have – one banana eaten, one sold and the last one spoiled – or was that the entire fair?

While discerning dealers put forth their obscura and identity-driven inventory (a pantheon of which lovingly graced the main fair of Art Basel Miami Beach, curated by the Mexico City-based Magalí Arriola – titled the Meridians section), other galleries employed the go-big-or-go-home Instagram strategy (Urs Fischer @ The Modern Institute, Austin Lee @ Peres Projects and -of course- the slippery stylings of Maurizio Cattelan, which was absent on Sunday due to the haphazard work necessary to properly guard the installation.)

Spoiler alert: shock art a la fruit baskets seems more suited to our soundbite culture than the lyrical reflections of artists such as Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien and Flavior Garciandía.

Art Basel wasn’t the only fair employing the stop-in-your-tracks Instagram mentality, with Art Miami presenting a monumental Yves Klein-blue installation by artist Jason Martin at the main entrance (other sculptures placed around the periphery was sadly rendered nearly invisible during the later hours of the fair + the VIP opening). Even UNTITLED got in the game with a Facebook-produced interactive installation (umm…) and some choice offerings of installations both inside and out by Antonia Wright + Ruben Millares, Coral Projects and EXILE x CENTER FOR SUBTROPICAL AFFAIRS. Even the Betsy Hotel’s inimitable egg sculpture featured some slides of works in partnership with For Freedoms. 

Fairgoers got in on the Instagram-able fun, while serious collectors buzzed about from booth to booth checking on sales status of works at Lehmann Maupin, Jack Shainman, and PACE. Some heavy-hitting artists with solo exhibits occurring around this time of year got in on the act, including Nevelson (ICA Miami), Teresita Fernandez (PAMM) – similarly, Elmgreen + Dragset could be spotted at Victoria Miro, featured in works which echoed their nearby Pride Park installation.

There was much to see and do, and much hype to struggle through, so below we’ve summed up – in the broad over-generalizations that our detail-oriented art critical brains love so much – the takeaways from this years Miami art week presentations.

-AL

Elmgreen + Dragset sculpture at Miami Beach, “Pride Park” near Design Miami

Five Winners

Public Installations / Projects – What a year for public art in Miami & Miami Beach! From the get-go installations by the likes of Leandro Ulrich on the beach side stole the show. Unmissable performances and installations over the course of the week included “After the Fracture” at PAMM featuring duo Marvin Fabien and Nyugen Smith. Joiri Minaya stunned with installation art in partnership with Miami-based Fringe Projects. UNTITLED’s Monuments section featured the truly stunning Antonia Wright + Ruben Millares installation. Passing the beach at night it was even possible to watch the incandescent works of Pablo Valbuena’s WAVE light up the nearby shoreline. An effort was made to create high quality public art offerings and it showed.

Oh, and also there was a Fernando Botero show on Lincoln road but that doesn’t belong in this highlight…

Meridians @ ABMB – Meridians (see above note) was both an art critic’s dream as well as an Instagrammers’ – that rare combination of critical rigor and visuals-driven approach that will stand out for years to come. Featuring a great mix of local and emerging versus global and firmly established artists, Meridians at the main fair featured standout work by Oscar Tuazon, Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien, Portia Munson, Woody de Otello and more. A real crowd pleaser and rightly so… but it is a fair ten minute walk away and upstairs from the main fair exhibitors. Maybe set up a golf cart service? I don’t mind the walk but it’s key to remain mindful of the mobility of your guests…excuse me, your collectors.

UNTITLED – Did anyone have something bad to say about UNTITLED? Queer art, artists of color, feminists, environmentalists, art criticizing religion, outsider artists – everyone was welcomed with open arms (and strong sales, from what I’ve gathered) at this prestigious showing of UNTITLED. You could also just as easily ignore the cultural underpinnings of some such work (ahem, as some collectors will) and relish the fine skills and inquiring minds that were behind the artworks on view at the fair. With incredible works on view by Damien Davis of LatchKey Gallery, Leah Guagdanoli at Hollis Taggart, Remy Jungerman and Nate Lewis at Fridman Gallery, Jenna Gribbon at Fredericks & Freiser, and more, visitors could really come away with a sense that the art on view at UNTITLED was fearless and provocative, with something to say in addition to its value as fine art.

EDEL ASSANTI at UNTITLED: Installation by Sheida Soleimani on the main wall flanked by an Oren Pinhassi sculpture

Art Miami + CONTEXT – Close to a museum, check.

Featuring old to new to back again, check.

Engaging visitors in conversation, check.

Art Miami still manages to drive the conversation around what is possible for art dealers who are willing (or are happier) to exhibit outside of the Art Basel stable. With similar offerings to the main fair, while maintaining a diverse selection in its own right, both art Miami and context offer an alternative to the globe-trotting – and often unaffordable- trappings of ABMB. Sure they could use more programming, but they’ve remained sustainable – more than ABMB parent company can say (allegedly) at this point…

PAMM – How does the Pérez Art Museum Miami just keep getting better and better? This Franklin Sirmans-led institution has not only featured the meticulous and fantastically spoken hometown (now NYC-based) Teresita Fernandez, their programming for art week – including aforementioned After the Fracture and the phenomenal art Miami VIP event – only served to highlight how they manage that precarious balance of serving the community while welcoming visitors to indulge in the concepts and curatorial vision that puts the museum – and Miami- onto the art world map.

Teresita Fernandez at the PAMM is prescient, haunting and idyllic

Bonus: The New Rubell Museum

Ok, I admit it. I didn’t make the trek out to the new Rubell museum. I know – stop reading now. Seriously though, other than some mild criticism about the very “New MoMA”-esque organization of their collection, how rewarding is it to see the greatest hits of the monumental Rubell collection in its new museum home? Yes, it’s not close. Yes, it was basically (likely) created for a better tax cut. But, as the kids say, I ain’t mad at it.

Five Losers

NADA – Man, poor NADA just can’t catch a break. While “resting on its laurels” might seem like a strong statement, Schachter was onto something when he flippantly observed “UNTITLED is the new NADA”. The energy does seem to have shifted beach side, as ever since NADA has left its admittedly funky haunt over at the now-defunct Deauville hotel, the ice palace just hasn’t quite filled the same carpeted and low-ceilinged hole in fairgoers’ hearts. The public projects as usual made an impression and showings were strong, but it would be a far cry to say that everyone who went down for the fairs made it over to NADA….more brunches in their programming, perhaps?

Pulse – Pulse, oh, pulse pulse pulse. What happened? Did you spend all the efforts you used for past iterations in vetting appealing art gallerists toward a chic, undiscoverable Wellness section instead? New leadership still finding its feet, perhaps, but alongside Pulse stalwarts guests found just an uncomfortably few too many offerings that would’ve been equally at home at Scope. This is a fair seeking its identity somewhere between copy and paste imitation art and genuine emerging artists with a practice based in Concepts.

Art Critics – “It’s so nice to meet a writer here.” A non-East coast gallerist’s lamentations hit me where it hurt. Where were the critics? Other than those of us dispatched over to the main fair for market coverage, there was a woeful lack of critical engagement with art presented at this year’s fairs according to conversations with various gallerists around the fairs. UNTITLED is commendable for employing a writer-in-residence for this year’s edition; here’s to hoping the next one around is a woman or gender non-conforming colleague.

ok, so Idris Elba opening for Diplo @ the EDITION, Miami Beach Basement was dope af

Nightlife – maybe it was just me, but the late night offerings seemed a bit low-key or retail market-driven this year (Desigual at the Temple House, anyone?) Aside from the fabulous Rashaad Newsome x Swizz Beatz Annual King of Arms Art Ball, a strong VIP party for art Miami a handful of beachside parties, offerings during the week were rather time. Surprisingly, the brunches were where it was at this year. While Pulse brunch was a hot mess this year, anyone who made it over to fête the collection or museum brunches came away feeling the better for meeting their alarm clocks halfway and trekking over to these chic morning affairs.

Streets – the traffic, am I right? Between construction on the mainland-to-beach side exits to disoriented Lyft drivers totally out of their element trying to navigate the nooks and crannies that are downtown Miami, the streets – and those who used them – were just plain out of luck for Miami art week.

Bonus: Art Pop-up projects – you know they were there. I know there were there. Neither of us went though, right? Right? Even the smattering that existed (yet were impossible to find) on Lincoln Road.

Phos Hilaron Brings a New Religion to the Heartland

On first impression, Ventiko’s Phos Hilaron: From the Masses Rise the Saints installation transports visitors to an altered state of Indiana. On view at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, 1125 East Brookside Avenue, Indianapolis, IN through November 29, the project draws from religious source imagery to transport viewers to an art experience for the masses. 

Phos Hilaron Altar View: Installation View at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, Indianapolis, IN
Phos Hilaron Altar View: Installation View at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, Indianapolis, IN

Corn hangs suspended from the ceiling, forcing the viewer through – all the while upending expectations the viewer may have of Indiana and its people. Once through the corn, the viewer is confronted with a scene reminiscent of a sacred Roman Catholic grotto. Candles are arranged delicately on an altar, draped with dark velvet and gold trim, and sacred relics used in the photographs on the same candles are displayed alongside them. As Santa Geri Berry, the Patron Saint of Inquiring Minds notes, “transported through the lines upside-down corn stalks and feeling immersed in them reinforced associations with the harvest, suggesting a very different sort of sacred realm, just as the Saints are very different from any usual idea of a Saint and a very different image of people from Indiana. I couldn’t help making a connection with Sukkot; it was like an altar in a Sukkah: a bringing together of a Jewish space with a Catholic type practice.” 

The references are intentional. Ventiko, the artist who organized Phos Hilaron for this Indianapolis iteration of the project, grew up Jewish in Indianapolis and first made a Sukkah out of corn stalks with her temple youth group when she was in high school. Returning to Indianapolis to expand upon Phos Hilaron: From the Masses Rise the Saints, this iteration focuses not just on the beauty of difference and individuality, but emphasizes homogeneity is not harmony: rather, that harmony is respect and inclusion of all. (The first iteration debuted at Chinatown Soup in Manhattan during the first 100 days of the Trump administration and featured a cross section of 100 urban creatives.) Over a four week period Ventiko photographed 59 ‘Saints’ from Indianapolis in intimately customized sets, helping them visualize their ‘Saint’ concept. The entire project was a collaboration between the artist and the Saint. The mythology of the Saint and the vision of the artist culminated in the installation, and also resulted a more intimate piece: a book. Organizing artist Ventiko reflects on her gratitude that so many creatives were excited to participate in this version of the project. “I am grateful to have been blessed by the beauty and power of so many wonderful Saints,” reflects the artist.

 

Artists who participated in the project have expressed the impact of their encounters with the artist as she was setting up the project. Santa Akilah, The Patron Saint of Patience, remarked, “When I first went to the photo shoot I didn’t know what to expect. As soon she started taking pictures I felt so comfortable and safe. She was able to capture my inner goddess in the picture.” Ventiko herself comments on this process of photographing her “Patron Saints”: “I see myself as a catalyst for the exaltation of the beauty of difference and elevation of the preciousness of individuality rather than one constructing or constricting the identity of any ‘Saint’ or person. It is a respect for difference, including freedom of thought, as well as idiosyncrasies that will ultimately lead to the unification of the human race and foster in a time when we all can work towards solving our global crises rather than consistently focusing on pettiness and being manipulated by propaganda.”

The project is successful on many levels, as reflected in these personal and meaningful reflections from participants. By opening up new avenues of communications for creatives in the Heartland, Phos Hilaron functions as a grassroots confirmation of the talent present in the vibrant city of Indianapolis. Bringing community together and thwarting expectations that outsiders may have of the area captures the double success of both re-affirming and introducing local talent to each other and to a wider audience.  “From day one, I knew this cutting edge, contemporary photography installation would take Indianapolis by storm. After hearing the various layers Phos Hilaron presented in NY and adding special dimensions for the Indianapolis chapter, I envisioned a communal based project that would uplift an entire state,” remarks Tony Quintana, The Patron Saint of Growth. Others including curator Maria Behringer have commented on the measure of warmth and acceptance this project has brought into their life. “Ventiko’s concept of community and inclusivity surrounding her Phos Hilaron project is exactly why we wanted to collaborate and bring her exhibition to Indianapolis. Her strong work ethic and creative process can easily be seen through her photography and the final Altar itself. We completely trusted her vision through the entire process. We are extremely grateful to have collaborated with her.”

Patron Saint of Inquiring Minds, Santa Geri Beri, part of Phos Hilaron on view in Indianapolis, IN

To make this project a reality Ventiko collaborated with the Indianapolis-based curators Quintana-Behringer. Ventiko’s studio was in the CCIC building (https://circlecityind.com/), a creative hub in downtown Indianapolis where Quintana-Behringer are located. Santo Aaron, The Patron Saint of Technodeath describes working with Ventiko: “It was serendipity how we met. The chance encounter of coming into a space and meeting another creative that was on the hustle and making something huge and fantastic honestly inspired us at Soundspace to do better. Instead of this being an empty office having Ventiko here made it feel more like a home.” Two weeks into the project Soundspace (https://sndspc.com/) moved in to share the space which is Soundspace Beta and soul connections flourished. Ventiko looks forward to expanding the exhibition to London in 2020 as there are many more Saints to canonize their, bringing the project to a new community ready to embrace their inner Sainthood.