On view now at The Yard: Flatiron South (234 Fifth Ave) through April 17th, Akeem Duncan’s curatorial magnum opus, “TOGETHER.”, takes center stage, featuring works byMarguerite Wibaux and Dhanashree Gadiyar. The interlocking, tightly executed hybrid of pattern and hue permeate the portraits painted by Wibaux, while Gadiyar’s works on paper astound in complexity and detail. The two artists complement one another in tone, temperament and preciousness. Whether outlining the marvels of the Aurora Borealis or probing the subtle corners of a subject’s smile, these artists focus on wonder, and the connections we seek out that make life meaningful and memorable.
Curator Akeem Duncan (Editor-in-Chief, Quiet Lunch) has come into his own intimate understanding of the space which he is curating, taking time to place paintings in contrast with specific architectural details and with the viewer’s relative position to each artwork in mind. Wibaux’s paintings in particular, with their ornate fabric pattern-inspired swaths directing the viewer’s eye across the canvas, present an interesting opportunity to contrast against white walls and brick in equal measure. Visitors to the exhibition encounter these works, imbued as they are with a playful yet precise air throughout the Yard’s space.
Wibaux’s intimate knowledge of her subject are on display in the captivating in which she paints their emotional state, ranging from anxious to assertive, self-assured to hesitant. The artist’s loose and fluid brushstrokes approximate the subject’s current state, while fabric-inspired patterning flanking each of these portrait subjects brings an alternate reading to the composition. Combined, these two elements create a striking balance in the portrait in an effect that Wibaux notes helps…” to focus on the human figure.” “Generally speaking, my art practice aims to challenge common representations, the way we look at ourselves as a society,” remarks Wibaux. “As an artist I don’t feel I can change the world, but I can help shifting representations. Getting your portrait painted in art history has mostly been a symbol of power. Through my portraits, I want to give power to our young and diverse youth, to give them a voice, to have people really SEE and LISTEN to them.”
Intimate framed paintings by Dhanashree Gadiyar are interspersed throughout the exhibition. Her works frequently depict figures immersed in resplendent landscapes, or brightly colored scenes also capturing bright and undulating patterns. Gadiyar readily reflects on the impact that pattern exerts on her work. “My love for patterning comes from my exposure to the folk art forms of India such as Madhubani, Gond and Patachitra,” explains Gadiyar. “I incorporate these traditional forms of mark-making as well as intuitive and automatic patterning. Also, as a trained embroidery artist, I tend to treat the paper like fabric, filling it in obsessively with my marks.” Also notable is the artist’s use of organic line, curve and color to create rounded and smooth compositions, seemingly expanding off into the distance of the picture plane.
The artist works with watercolor and acrylic on paper, as opposed to canvas, adding a precious quality: a feeling of delicacy. ” I love working on paper,” notes Gadiyar,” since it lets me let go off control and gives me the feeling of freedom.” This freedom is evident in the impression the artist’s works leave on the visitor, who feel emboldened to step into the composition and roam the surroundings themselves.
TOGETHER. is on view at The Yard, Flatiron South by appointment through mid-April. Please email curator Akeem Duncan to schedule a visit: firstname.lastname@example.org
ANTE mag is proud to shine a spotlight on the dedicated artists who are exerting an impact in the art world in 2021. From ongoing or upcoming solo exhibitions, to gaining recognition through artist talks, recognitions, awards and international residencies, these are some of the top artists we have an eye on as we move into the new year.
Below we center on the first 7 of our group of 21 artists selected for 2021. Each artist has images but click through to their websites to view more of their practice and familiarize yourself with your favorites!
Lead image courtesy the artist. Melissa Joseph “That pink van took us a lot of places, but never got us here” (2020) Needle, felted wool, inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk 21 x 27 inches
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about the use of “layering” in your practice and how it applies to all artistic disciplines that you work within?
Cecile Chong. My work is about cultural interaction and interpretation. I layer different materials where they become signifiers representing a place or a culture for me. I was born in Ecuador to Chinese parents and lived in Macau with my grandmother for five years between ages 10 and 15. After that, I returned to Ecuador for high school and then came to New York at age 19 to study art. I came to realize that my early life and cultural experiences were very intense, with the transition from one culture to the other being very abrupt. It was as though I was the character of one story line and was suddenly plucked out of it and placed in another narrative in a different setting, speaking a different language. Those experiences also included different religions, socio-economic statuses and family dynamics. Looking back, sometimes I feel like I grew up in some epic movie. At age 10, I went from spending weekends celebrating indigenous festivals like Inti Raymi near the family hacienda in the Ecuadorian Andes, to spending school vacations in the rural family village in Canton China during the Cultural Revolution. I think that these experiences have giving me a lot of subject matter and insights to work with.
I love finding materials that I can incorporate into my work that have meaning or bring some kind of memory. My paintings have 25 to 30 layers of encaustic (heated beeswax, resin and pigment) and I embed different materials (rice paper, volcanic ash, circuit board materials, figures from different books) within those layers. I usually have other projects going on where I apply a similar layering approach with materials. In my “Strainger” Series I use beads from donated necklaces and accessories that are mostly plastic or glass and combine them with beads from different types of rosaries. I also use natural materials and seeds mainly from the Amazon forest like acai, tagua, pambil and huayruro. In my tapestries beside the conventional yarn and ribbon, I’ve also been finding meaning in different materials that I include like utility cords, tassels, feathers, LED lights, metal charms, pom poms, which makes me think of things like colonialism, natural environment and indigenous communities, current technologies, colonialism, industrialization, labor, women’s issues, rebellious teenage years, etc. In 2019, I started working with stop motion animation and began layering languages that I grew up with at home (Spanish, Cantonese, Hakka and English).
ANTE mag.Your practice is influenced by such a range of issues, including economic factors, environmentalism and culture. How do you balance this wide range of influences in your practice?
CC. I react to different issues that resonate with my personal experience. I work intuitively. Some issues bother me, then nag me until they come out in my work.
I started EL DORADO – The New Forty Niners in 2017. It was a result of the president’s hostility towards immigrants. I was also a public middle school art teacher for many years in Sunset Park. In 2016, I saw how the president’s politics and words were affecting my students, their families and, I’m sure, thousands and millions of immigrants in this country and beyond. The atmosphere in my classroom was somber and tense with students being fearful of family members being deported. I then read that 49% of NYC households speak a language other than English. I held on to that number and developed 100 colored “guagua” (Quechua for baby) sculptures. I painted 49 of them gold to honor that 49%. EL DORADO (The Golden) – The New Forty Niners became a public art installation traveling to each of the five boroughs of New York City, one borough per year, and presented as a contemporary archaeological site. The installation has been installed in four boroughs of NYC. It is now installed at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor on Staten Island until March 28. Towards the end of this year, it will be installed in Manhattan as its final borough.
In 2018, I created a series of paintings addressing the cruelty and absurdity of the family separation policy at the US and Mexico border, which is driven by underlying racism towards people from Central and South America. This policy is a manifestation of the xenophobia and the general opposition to non-white immigration. The titles of my paintings such as DNA Matching, Bully, Border Crossing, Caged In, Nearly Full Capacity, Not Summer Camp, Day in Court, all came from reading about this issue and feeling frustrated and shocked about the cruelty being perpetrated. Unfortunately, as we know, up until last month, the parents of at least 628 migrant children still have not been located.
I have also been creating large scale installations. I have always used nature as a setting for my paintings. Earlier in my practice, I created installations with the idea of the viewers becoming the figures in my compositions. In 2019, I was spending part of my summer visiting my mom in Quito when the fires in the Amazon forest were everywhere in the news. Being one country away from the epicenter, I was devastated and numb. I thought about how we treat nature as though we are not part of it. We destroy, burn, divide the land and we treat mother nature as the other. For the title of the installation I took the “m” out of “mother nature” and created “_other Nature” at Smack Mellon at the beginning of last year. _other Nature was a room-size installation with a fence dividing the room with one side lush and thriving and the other side stunted after human intervention.
I think that “balancing” the influences in my practice happens when I confront what bothers me. It is that “nagging” feeling that happens and that tension that needs to be released that makes me address different issues through my work.
ANTE mag. Can you speak more on how your background as an immigrant artist impacts your work?
CC. The migration experience of my family and my own experience has allowed me to have multiple viewpoints and an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps “fresh eyes,” to look for clues and inspiration in the materials, history and people of a place, physical or spiritual, and to draw insight about its core essence. In the many places I have lived, I think I have been seen by most as somewhat of an outsider. In Ecuador I was “la china”. In China I was a “ghost girl” (foreigner). In the US, I’m an Asian woman with a Spanish accent. I’m okay with that. I look at my life’s travels as a gift. As a result, I feel very connected to my community. I just define my community maybe in larger terms than most. I think when people arrive at a new place we try to find similarities between our old and new environment to anchor ourselves. I think when you spend enough time doing this you come to the realization that we’re all more similar than different. In my work, I do want to depict those commonalities that we all share as humanity.
Nature is very important in my work. Culturally the move to Asia from South America was extremely abrupt and disorienting for a 10 year old. I struggled to look for clues to my previous life in Ecuador. Initially it was difficult finding a common thread in food, language or people, but it was easy finding the connection that I was looking for in nature, in grass, flowers, plants, rocks, clouds, the sky, the sun and moon. That finding was extremely comforting and reassuring. Living in a city (Quito, Macau, New York), many of these natural elements could be found in the cities’ green spaces . My own experience of relocating makes me wonder how newcomers benefit from city parks, and how city parks evolve and feed off of the arrival of these different immigrant communities. I’m excited that this year I will be participating in the Urban Field Station Artist Residency program to research the connection between city parks and their surrounding immigrant communities. This project somehow feels like an extension of EL DORADO to me.
Outside my studio I also want to collaborate and create opportunities for others and help recent immigrant artists navigate the NYC arts scene. Last year I participated as a mentor in NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program and loved it. I feel at this point that I have a lot to contribute as an immigrant artist, but also as a mentor to immigrant artists.
ANTE mag.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
CC. I look forward to be working and expanding on my “(in Blue) series” which is based on Blue and White ware, and its role throughout history in transmitting ideas and imagery across cultures. I love how it traces a global journey of migration and cultural exchange. I’m excited to be doing formal research on Blue and White ware through a fellowship which will complement the work I’ll be doing in my studio.
Lives and works San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York City
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about your practice and how it evolved as a result of global forces (pandemic, travel bans, etc) during 2020?
Lionel Cruet. Surely, my studio space has evolved this past year 2020; and it has got completely reduced to the essential, more than before. I have focused more on visibility and communication using social media. I noticed that this year allowed me to communicate with my audience about nuances of my practice in a more effective way. In regards to the practice I have done much more research than before and I have managed the ways to use and language and communicate the ideas of my artworks effectively. I will say that after all it has been productive. Traveling has been a bit stressful and risky but I have to say that getting all the correct information has been the key.
ANTE mag. Your exhibition at Yi Gallery, Dusk/Daybreak, in 2020 was immersive, forcing the visitor to focus and slowing their gaze. Can you expand on how encouraging the viewer to encounter your work in a specific manner is important to you? Is it critical to slow the gaze when encountering your most recent body of work?
LC. When I was thinking about the exhibition there was a constant thought on making it immersive – as all other projects that I have created before – but this one was crucial to have an ambiance with a tinted red light as it made reference to multiple experiences. Most, importantly I wanted the audience to readjust their gaze and enter into an overarching visual and environmental effect. Recently there has been studies that state that the use of red light in coastal spaces helps to keep a balance and protect species like sea turtles that come out to land at night to nest. These red lights have been installed in some areas and I see it as a way to negotiate the spaces that these animals inhabit as well as different communities. Since the body of work references these alternative views of the coastal spaces, and the effects of natural and artificial light as well the relationships that happen in these areas, I thought it was necessary to flood the exhibition space with a red light.
ANTE. How has your ongoing work as a teacher impacted your artistic practice and vice-versa?
LC. I have to be super honest, I see both of them integrated. In my practice as an artist as well as an educator I perform lots of research, including social interaction and community building dynamics. In one way or another they feed each other. For the past year all academic activities have moved online and I think this is a positive new challenge to overcome. I have to bring all these dynamics into the virtual space and being in the academic practice as well in the arts for a decade now, moments like this make me rethink what I do, reduce and be more pragmatic and effective.
ANTE.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LC. Wow, I’m actually grateful to say that there’s much I’m looking forward to in 2021, starting now with the release of this interview with you for ANTE mag. I’m also creating an installation art project at the Center for Contemporary Art in Quito that is inspired by the entangled memories of mangroves. Additionally, I’m participating in a residency program in Quito, titled Ventisca, organized by La Planta. I will be focusing on subjects of ecological awareness and alternative forms of education. I’m also part of an upcoming exhibition Seascape Poetics curated by Bettina Pérez-Martínez at the 4th Space Gallery in Concordia University in Montréal. Last but not least, I will be participating in an upcoming online event titled Charla Fun from a microgrant project by the USLAF U.S. Latinx Art Forum. Stay tuned on my social media – including Instagram @lionelcruet @lionelcruetstudio – for updates.
ANTE.Tell us more about your journey as an artist: how did you get your start in your practice as a sculptor working primarily in wood?
Mark Eisendrath. I was working in paper and the things I was making were getting perilously close to falling apart due to the volume of texture, collage, and other media I was applying to the works.I was also using fire in my pieces to get the effects I wanted. So I needed a more substantial material.
ANTE.During your virtual studio visit with Pelham Art Center, which I enjoyed greatly, you spoke to the conceptual approaches you mount in your sculptures, both free-standing and wall mounted, and I wanted to hear more about what you are considering in terms of philosophy and the other influences that impact your work.
ME. What grabs me and pulls me into the shop is my materials. Not what they are but what they can be. I get an idea, I sketch it out, and sketch it again, and again. If it becomes an interesting drawing then I know it’s worth considering bringing it into the physical world as an object. But I have to be careful- sometimes the drawings become so enticing that I try to make the sculpture exactly like that – and that’s not enjoyable.
ANTE.We’ve spoken in the past about your narrow escapes from death and resulting impact on your everyday life in terms of visual impairment: in what ways do you think coping with the effects of your injuries have positively impacted your work?
ME. I don’t see the world in stereo – I see it in mono, which makes certain things pop out to me; while others are unavailable. This is a gift. I am drawn to flat picture planes- sidewalks, building facades, the earth at my feet, the end-grain face of cut firewood. All of these contain their scars and imperfections which is more than likely why I work with wood the way I do. I am stimulated by what I see, my injury causes me to miss some things, but I ‘see’ so much more.
ANTE. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ME. I love how I feel after a day in the studio – I am physically and mentally taxed. It’s a beautiful thing to have your work be a workout. I look forward to what’s possible. Specifically, I am looking forward to making a series of prints from both my raw materials and sculpture created specifically for this printing process. There is also a series of pieces in my sketchbook that are hungry to see the light of day.
ANTE. You participated in the Smack Mellon exhibition “Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment.” Can you shed insights on your contribution to this exhibition?
GOODW.Y.N. Performing Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Kingston Legacy II at Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment revealed to me how much of women’s history in the country is tied together in an entanglement of destiny. The struggle for freedom from oppression, the necessity to carve out our own futures, both with and outside the hands of men really made me think about my female/fem ancestors who were trying to create a place for themselves in this world free of bigotry. Our voices are imperative and our presence is needed. I push for that to be seen in my work.
ANTE mag.This past year you produced several iterations of your performance series, “Ain’t I A Woman” across New York City. How did you choose the sites for this performance and how did you consider it as site-responsive in these multiple contexts?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to choosing sites for Ain’t I a Woman (?/!) I lean on historical, political and/or personal intricacies behind the “life” of each site. For example Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Black August was a response to the history of Black August and its celebration of Black radical leaders, and how that is tying into the BLM movement and murals in New York City now. When I did Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): HOMEBound, HOMEComing however, I was performing and crafting from a personal, internal place and time within the history of my life and I connected that to the ancestors who were resilient enough to survive slavery in the United States. I don’t truly know if the site is responsive or not until I am performing on it. Every place has its own spirit, its own energy signature and I like to tap into that onsite.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us how your practice is developing/has developed as part of your MFA education at DIAP at City College (Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice)?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to my practice I’ve learned to lean on my words a lot more than I have in the past 6 years. The portraits I paint studying digital arts, and combining that with my other passions (body-performance, poetry) gives my work a unique flavor, a richness that never resided in it before. I am learning more and more about how I wish to tell stories, whether it be my own or someone else’s.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
GOODW.Y.N. We’re remodelling the home studio to include these classic posters around the walls, I really love the new energy that is coming to me from these posters! I think that they will inspire me to create new works that center around the state of affairs today and what tomorrow may look like.
ANTE mag. Can you introduce our audience to your practice and the type of mediums you work within?
Melissa Joseph. Hi Everyone! Thanks for taking time to get to know a little more about my practice. I am a visual artist and I work with fibers, found objects, my family photo archive, ink, watercolors, and collage. Most recently I have been exploring different types of felting with wool as a way to paint. I am also making an experimental video, my first video project, as part of a residency at BRIC. My entire practice is an endless investigation of how different bodies are permitted to occupy space.
ANTE mag. During our discussions on your work, it’s become evident that you’re very dedicated to perfecting your methods working with fiber art. To this end you’ve completed a residency with the Textile Arts Center among other residencies you’ve completed. Can you tell us how you’ve arrived on the methods you use in your fiber art work in particular and the type of content you feature in these series?
MJ. I am a material artist, so connecting to an object’s presence is important to my process. In my 20s I was trained as a textile designer, which has broad applications, but was a language that felt natural to a childhood found object maker like me. Humans’ connection to textiles and the relationship textiles have to body and memory are so compelling. Fabrics hold the form of the body long after being removed. They become emotional and political spaces, which is content that I could mine forever. In my work, I often start with Indian silk that is part of my material memory of my childhood and of my late father. He wore this material often. I print photographs from my family archive onto the silk, and then use needle and wet felting to create interventions or distortions to the imagery so that it more accurately reflects my lived experiences and memory.
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how your work as a curator feeds your practice as an artist, and vice versa?
MJ. I love this question! Seeing art feeds my soul, and by extension feeds my practice. I often stop to think about how, as artists, we all make such oddly specific work. I never get tired of looking, connecting and discovering new art. Curating provides the space to analyze, celebrate and share artists and work that I love. Some I love because it feels familiar, some I love because I think the message is important, some I love because I find it beautiful, some I love because it is technically mesmerizing– the reasons to love artwork are endless. When this enthusiasm meets the evolutionary tendency to sort and categorize things, magical things happen, like curation. Curating also gives me a chance to zoom in on particular artists and artworks in a way that I might not get to do otherwise. It is a way of discovering relationships between people, ideas, and conversations that are happening across disciplines and content. I have a habit of obsessively sharing work with others if I think they might like it. Sometimes I even send images of art to strangers I follow on instagram if I think they might relate to it.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
MJ. I am looking forward to my upcoming Workspace Residency at DieuDonne! Tatiana and Amy are so generous with their mastery of paper making, and I can’t wait to see what is possible and how I might incorporate it into my practice.
ANTE. Can you introduce your practice to ANTE readers, starting with your “Chapters” series?
Elaine T. Nguyen.Chapters is a reflective body of work addressing my lived experiences without the nostalgia that memory can bring. It is a recap of the significant moments in my life where my perspective and world shifted. The series is colorful and honest, each painting a new chapter with a cast, theme, or symbolic meaning described in words or displayed through imagery. With descriptions setting a scene or time such as “I Pepper Sprayed my Ass in the Anzo Borrego Desert” or “The Summer of Snark, Playlists, and Chocolate Chip Waffles @ Midnight”. It is a visual story and one that is less emotionally driven than previous works.
As part of my studio practice, I keep monthly sketchbooks, a process that dates back to 2015. It was through these books that I found myself in a reflective mood and one insistent on honest self-evaluation and growth. Chapters started out as a summary of different segments of life and that was made purely for me to reflect on and not something that was ever intended to become paintings. It was upon rereading those words that I realized how easily it could be transitioned into paintings with imagery and more importantly, how much I wanted this to exist not just as words in my journals. I created a ton of sketches of all these moments and the colors came easily, more about the feeling of certain colors than the colors in real life. It was the desire to have these be colorful that led me to the traditional stretched canvas and paint. I work on multiple paintings at the same time which allows me to continue making as one piece is drying and it also supports my color palette and how that can be seen across different paintings pulling them closer together. I go back and forth from painting to painting to sketching out new ideas and flipping through old sketchbooks when I am a bit stuck on a shape and sometimes even color combinations I created previously and never used.
ANTE mag. “Chapters” marks a departure in many senses from your 2017 series I admire, “I Can’t Wait to Remember This,” although they share a sense of bright colors and memory-making. How does memory play in impact in your paintings?
ETN. What I find interesting about memory is every time you remember something it becomes less and less accurate. That’s what started my series I Can’t Wait to Remember This, this need to remember these glorious moments and more importantly how it made me feel. That’s where the color came in, the vibrance and playful nature of mixed media with sparkles and tinsel, and a blend of colors is a reminder of how saturated these moments were with childlike joy.
This series, Chapters, was not so much about remembering or processing but about being honestly reflective of past events, the factual moments rather than the romantic nostalgia of memory. I didn’t draw inspiration from the most beautiful moments in life but the most impactful, the times where my life and my perspective has shifted. Each painting is a new chapter, there is an element of growth and difference with these. Though my past events are memories, the focus here is on a larger idea of collective storytelling piecing together a visual book of sorts and an ode to all of the impactful things that shape who I am currently.
ANTE mag. During our conversation as part of your recognition in the ANTE mag 2020 open call win, we discussed your text-based works on fabric. Can you speak with us about the beginnings and evolution of this body of work?
ETN.Blue Talks, the text-based works we had previously spoken about, invited audiences in to discuss, the work not necessarily about me, but the experiences that I share with a marginalized group of people. The transition between Chapters and Blue Talks began with a creative break. During this time I read books and I also reread my old sketchbooks, all 60 of them. I went through years of my life finding connections, observing common themes and ideas, seeing my younger self grow. It got me thinking about how I would section my life: the conflicts, the friendships, the moments and places of significance. What started out looking like an outline to a book became intertwined with imagery, paintings easily coming to mind representing each new chapter of growth. Chapters is an autobiography, or rather, a memoir due to its selective memory and fluctuation in the timeline. The color choices are always based on how that memory feels, occasionally pulling from the actual colors of objects but it does lean more towards the colors that excite me, the ones that feel more accurate based on emotion. The beginning works of this series are paint based, but as I continue I find myself incorporating mediums I previously used such as cyanotype, fabric, and embroidery. I have become more invested in breaking out of the frame and being intentional with the display.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ETN. As my work evolves, medium-wise, I find myself delving back into the draped fabric and a combination of that with stretched canvases. I am also finding myself incorporating the embroidery that I was doing but on sturdier surfaces and on top of the paint. Conceptually, I am moving away from real lived experiences towards making up memories that don’t yet exist. I’m interested in this modern concept of “manifesting’ our own realities and have been focusing on dreaming up my own future. There is so much unknown currently in the world but there is a lot personally known of where I would like to be and the memories that I want to eventually make. I am looking forward to manifesting my goals, envisioning trips and friendships, and also writing and painting my own future chapters. I’m looking forward to this body of work is the culmination of work I’ve made so far, one that you can observe and say it all speaks to each other in a fluid way rather than a part of a progression.
ANTE mag. You have an ongoing exhibition on view through February 18th in NYC and an upcoming show in Singapore. Can you talk to us about each show, and what work you have included in each?
ZW. I’m showing my most recent project Where Did Macy Go? in both shows. The show in New York includes the main video and a large print (video still). The upcoming show in Singapore (My first solo exhibition in Asia) will include a large projection of the main video, 5 prints (video still) on aluminum, and a giant inflatable of the protagonist Macy (18 x 7 feet).
Where Did Macy Go?is an 11-episode animated video told through a series of reports of Macy’s encounter with the epidemic, life during the quarantine, search for his grandfather’s farm and his revival. The video discusses the collapse of old community structures, the emergence of a new community after decollectivization, Confucian obedience vs. social obedience, as well as the new tele-republic of home, “mask politics” and social justice under the pandemic. Originally posted on TikTok to challenge the possibility of online exhibitions, the work is a response to this era of volatility, complexity and confusion.
Heavily inspired by Homi Bhabha’s The Third Space theory, my project often includes setting up a multi-layered system to trigger the collision of various conflicting or seemingly unrelated elements and topics from different social and cultural backgrounds. Due to Covid-19, it’s the first time we seen so many thinkers from all over the world writing about the same issue at the same time, from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agemben’s techno-totalitarism, to the argument between Slovenian philosopher Zizek and Korean-born German philosopher Han Byung-Chul: The re-invention of communism vs. the vigorous restoration of global capitalism, to French philosopher Bruno Latour and French writer François Gemenne’s argument on COVID’s influence on climate change, to Paul B. Preciado’s Pharmacopornography and Tele-Republic of Home. By juxtaposing all the complex and even conflicting arguments above, I was able to examine the “in-between” space of different social and political ideologies using COVID-19 as context.
ANTE mag. As an extension of your practice you’ve been creating AR filters which are regularly becoming wildly popular across social media. Can you talk to how these filters expand your practice outside of perhaps a narrower view of what constitutes Fine Art studies at the university level for example?
ZW. Similar to posting the videos on TikTok, these AR effects and Instagram filters, which is a part of the project Where Did Macy Go?, are also my response to the current time where many exhibitions were trying to recreate an IRL experience on their own websites, while I prefer to take advantage of what Internet and social media does the best: sharing and redistributing. So far these AR effects have been shown over 100,000 times on Instagram.
I think they opened up some new possibilities for my work. For example, when using the Macy (Split Face) filter, every user becomes a version of Macy. When thousands of users post their own version of Macy, the dimension of this project are widely expanded (both conceptually and geologically), which is very important to the in-between space I was seeking to achieve. Additionally, when using the Macy (Playboy) application, for example, dozens of characters’ faces in the scene are replaced by the user’s face, which creates a new possibility for a collective narrative. It could also be seen/used as a new tool for performance works.
This mode of exploration and experimentation exists in all my works: They often start from an event, a moment, an emotion, or a stimulation that I have strong feelings about. I will then start my research including studying the related philosophy and history, collecting archives and data, and finding the most appropriate medium to realize the project, which often includes learning a new technique or collaborating with professionals in the related field. It is very important to examine what each medium is best at, and be able to choose the right medium that could convey your concept the most successfully and efficiently. Especially, each medium and genre have their own established ways of experiencing the works. When we utilize a particular medium, we already have a long history in its own field that serves as the context of experiencing the work, which could be either taken advantage of, and/or be used to challenge and subvert.
ANTE mag. Speaking of academia, you are also busy working as an instructor at SVA and ITP. How do you find that teaching impacts your practice in the studio and vice versa?
ZW. As a visual artist, I have always believed that my responsibility and function (or what artists are best at) is to ask questions by constructing a visual experience, instead of solving problems (For example, activists, scientists and politicians are so much better at solving problems than artists).
What teaching brought me, is the notion of solving problems through education, and achieving something through a collective manner, especially in today’s unique context. I have been making a few collaborative projects in the past few years, and I’m hoping to do more in the future.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ZW. I’m currently working on a project titled Networked Ecosystem (in collaboration with artist Mark Ramos) – A live-simulation project that presents an ecosystem built of a variety of AI senses. Commissioned by NEW INC, Rhizome and Nokia Bell Labs, Networked Ecosystem takes LIDAR (location and distance), GECKO (temperature, humidity, air pressure and gas density) and other robotic vision and sensing data collected by Bell Labs’ experimental robots and sensors over the past few decades, re-purposing it to drive a 3D environmental simulation that viewers explore and interact with the simulated world and each other in an ever-changing environment. In particular, the simulation will present AI’s past, current (Covid-19), and future encounter and experience of climate change based on the massive collected climate related data, to contemplate questions about human’s sensory relationships with robot and AI, and how they survive in the chaotic world we’ve created.
We spoke with artist Zac Hacmon to mark the occasion of his solo show, Dispositif, at SLAG Galleryin Chelsea during the Fall of 2020. Our discussion ranged from discourse around boundaries – their formation and documentation – and the use of scale to elicit responses from the visitor. As we toured the show we naturally discussed the non-neutrality of architecture and industrial design, and how abstracted forms can still recall the lingering effects of these intentions. The interaction of these works with one another, their industrial appearance contrasted with the aesthetic approach of the artist to the materials at hand, and the expectation and denial of utility in these works composed of ceramic tile all call to mind the readymade and found object in art-making. We plunged into the show and questioned Hacmon on some of the perspectives he has adopted over the course of his practice, inquiring as to how these viewpoints have impacted his work and, particularly, this suite of sculptures on view at SLAG through Oct 18, 2020.
ANTE Mag. Thanks, Zac, for walking us through your exhibition. We discussed the concept of “profanation” as it relates to your work; could you elaborate a bit on that concept and how it informs your practice?
Zac Hacmon. The concept of “profanation” is based on my recent research which follows the structureof religion and its apparatus. If we talk about the “profane” we must define the sacred first, for something to be sacred it means it was removed from free use of men and from the sphere of human law. Therefore to profane means to return things to their free use and to their pure state. Following this hypothesis, in my work I wish to profane our socio-political structures and the way they form in our built environment.
ANTE Mag. I see. During our conversation I was also struck by your remark “to play is almost a political act”: would you elaborate on that and how it affects your approach to your work?
ZH. It is based on a recent text I started to work with by Georgio Agamben. The text describes the act of play as a political task and it continues the discussion we had before, about the “profane” and sacred. If play breaks up the unity of the myth and rite of which the sacred is powered by then the myth disappears but the rite stays. Same can be addressed with my sculptures in this “Dispositif” show at the Slag Gallery. There is an element of failure in the sculptures, they lost their original function as an architectural structure but they also got a playful element to them that can be activated by touch and movement almost like a toy.
ANTE Mag. I would like to hear your views on the formal qualities of your sculpture as relates to space for inclusion and exclusion – could you provide some context for how sculptures on view at SLAG Gallery relates to boundaries or thresholds?
ZH. The industrial materials I use for my work range from private spaces, domestic and home to the public realm and institutions, by doing that I try to create a hybrid of one over the other and question their coexistence. I use the grab bars in my work in order to create potential for individual access and also to call attention to aspects of regulation mediated through contemporary architecture. The sculptures can be conceived as ruins all together but the ruin is being commoditized and repurposed.
ANTE Mag. Elaborating on the above question, can you provide some context for how your ideas around public versus private space is reflected in your practice?
ZH. Privacy is the higher form of intelligence as we wish to cultivate the self and the being. In contemporary society privacy is long gone, as we live in such a technologically advanced system that we are not even aware of our privacy being gone and violated. In relation to my work, I try to employ this conflict and the duality that I see in our structures, conflicts between function and dysfunction, between public and private.
ZH. The use of readymade is very critical to our time even more than it was 100 years ago when it was presented by Marcel Duchamp. These days, we’ve already crossed the line of no return in terms of the global effects of pollution. Before my Fine Art studies I attended a product design and industrial design degree but in my fourth year I decided to quit when they asked me to design a remote control for air conditioner or a cellular phone, as I didn’t want to be part of the waste industry. I think that through my use and manipulationof the readymade I create an antithesis approach which profanes our acceptance of consumption.
ANTE Mag.Can you discuss the role of the readymade and your work? Is the use of industrial materials in any way political, and why or why not?
ANTE Mag.Finally, can you share some of your upcoming projects with us?
ZH. I am currently working on building Capsule no 4 and Capsule no 5 at my LMCC studio. The “Capsules” are part of an ongoing project of creating alternate, autonomous and inaccessible spaces that invade and penetrate the white cube. The “Capsules” will be part of a group show at the Cathouse Proper Gallery which will take place in November 2020. This work will be site-specific installation for the entrance of the gallery; you will encounter these portals right before you enter the exhibition space. For 2021, I am working on a collaboration with the RDJ Refugee Shelter, in West Harlem (which is a shelter for refugees experiencing homelessness in NYC.) For this project I plan to work together with the shelter residents to create an installation at the shelter space for Fall of 2021.
My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.”
Multi-disciplinary Xicana artist and activist Alicia Smith is the featured winner of our open call, and it is with great satisfaction that we are featuring her in a weeklong Instagram takeover she’s spearheading this week (if you haven’t seen her videos you’re missing out!) and in this special interview with the artist. The artist holds her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and was featured at the art fair UNTITLED in San Francisco in Fall 2019.
Smith’s work spans video, performance, printmaking and sculpture to bring awareness to the existing, inaccurately romanticized tropes that deny indigenous women their individual complexity, simultaneously demonstrating their beauty and strength. We learned more from Smith’s perspective on the implications her practice has on the greater art world, as well as the lessons that she has learned from her ancestors and from the wider diaspora of indigenous nations that have informed her practice as an artist and activist.
(Featured Image: “Erendira”, image courtesy the artist.)
ANTE mag. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Alicia! We recently learned about an artwork that you donated to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter, can you tell us more about how this came about?
Alicia Smith. Thank you! That piece is “Molotov Hare,” and it was created really with Black and Brown solidarity in mind. A marriage of indigenous archetypes and anarchist imagery.
There are many indigenous traditions that involve the rabbit as a symbol of rights of passage for young warriors. The Aztecs had their Eagle Warriors walk through underground caves and emerge, ready to defend their tribe. There are jade sculptures depicting rabbits protecting men wearing eagle headdresses to illustrate this ceremony. Black Elk once said: “For the rabbit represents humility, because he is quiet and soft and not self asserting – a quality which we must all possess when we go to the center of the world.” The rabbit is also a trickster. The Anishinaabe’s Nanabozho in the North and Cherokee and Black communities in the South. Many stories of Br’er rabbit are in fact adaptions of West African tales of Anansi the spider. The trickster felt important in the piece because of his ceremonial role. He forces us to re-evaluate where we delineate societal rules and agreements. He does this through perpetually undermining them.
The image is about duty to your people, and that to change the rules you first have to break them. It felt extremely urgent: I cut the block in a day and started taking orders and I did use the piece to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter OKC and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. I’m really proud of this work and [proud] that people have been using that image when they protest police brutality.
ANTE mag. As a Xicana artist and activist, your work embraces themes such as decolonization, the Americas’ native nations and knowledge of the natural world such as plant life and medicinal practices. Can you tell us more about the origin of this journey for you as an artist to research and integrate the crucial, yet still too often overlooked, history of indigenous peoples in your work?
Alicia Smith. I feel like I didn’t have a choice, haha… when the ancestors come knocking you better stand at attention and that is sort of what began this path for me. I had always been a pretty feral child, bringing wild animals inside of the house, and I always had a real lust for knowledge, especially in the way of ecology. I feel like re-examining those complex relationships through that cultural lens has taught me more than anything else. My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.” I know doing that kind of work might dissuade people from wanting to look at my art but I hope given the political climate at large that those same folks are at least taking a moment of pause as to why they don’t want to learn indigenous history of the land they are on. But above all else, if it isn’t for them – it’s not for them, and that’s fine too. I love encountering first-generation kids, folks who went through a diaspora, who immediately connect and resonate with the work. At the end of the day if all I did was preserve one inch of sacred knowledge in a piece, then I’ve done my job of being a good ancestor for those who come after me with questions.
ANTE mag. To expand on the above question, can you delve into the range of your practice – spanning video, installation, mixed-media – as relates to the themes such as native culture and traditions and decolonization in your work?
Alicia Smith. By foundation I am a printmaker. So all my work often starts as a relief print before it goes into the world of durational art. I like the idea of being a Tlacuilo: a scribe or codex painter, someone who is recording history, ceremony, etc. So I think my 2-dimensional work acts as a kind of codex and my performances and video are the ceremonies themselves.
I call my work “Secondhand Ceremonies,” inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer, because these are partial reconstructions and partial innovations. When you are descended from people who survived genocide it means necessarily reconstructing the old with new innovations: Adaptations.
ANTE mag. You reflect on the words of Anishinaabe cultural ecologist Melissa K. Nelson in your description of your work, “Teomama.” Nelson remarked, “the Native Woman’s body [in so] many stories acts as a kind of meeting place.” Can you expand on how this reflection impacted the development of your work?
Alicia Smith. It’s cosmogeneology. In science it’s just evolutionary biology. The most seemingly innocuous Ant has been on this earth for 120 million years. And in indigenous ways of knowing we don’t look at the ecosystem from this sort of colonial scientific gaze. These beings are our siblings. Plants, animals, insects, fungi, they’re our older brothers. And to explain that ethic of kinship, rather than talking about primordial soup, we do it through these eco-erotic stories, where women are often at the intersection. In the Popol Vuh a woman becomes pregnant eating fruit from a tree. There are stories of women marrying stars, bears, becoming pregnant by the wind and on and on. It establishes an ethic of kinship. When I do these performances with Hawks, Wolves, Deer, Horses, Rivers, and so on, its so important to me to convey the medicines of these beings and their teachings as well as the metaphors I imbue them with in the work.
ANTE mag. How has the uncertainty of 2020 impacted your practice, and what current body of work are you focused on?
Alicia Smith. I am very fortunate because I have a government job where we were put on admin leave. I’m also very fortunate that I have been given some room to do what I love to do and share stories from my home, for the museum that I work for. This time at home has been really beneficial for my practice. Unfortunately people who are privileged who dont have to work a 9 to 5 job are usually the ones who can devote more time to their practices and end up rising in their art careers. But this time has allowed me to be so much more productive and to do what I really want to do which is engage with my community and in social justice causes.
Multi-disciplinary artist Sun Young Kang’s multitudinous, scholarly practice mines art historical precedent and a range of scales and materials. This 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (which is NEA-funded) has exhibited in multiple solo and group shows both in the US and abroad, and she is currently based in New York State. Her work has received multiple accolades and recognitions, and her practice manifests the conceptual across various sites and installations.
We chatted with Kang to gain insight into her practice, including aspects of art historical precedent that have informed her practice, her philosophical outlook and the trajectory in which her work is headed.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your practice, specifically in relationship to repetition and the Korean concept of Yeo-baek and the influence of the Dansaekhwa school on your work as referenced in your statement?
Sun Young Kang. My interest is in exploring the duality fundamental to human existence: different realities or worlds both in space and time and the tension between them, the co-existence of antithetical ideas. I reside in between two different cultures. My feeling of marginality makes me wonder about the concept of boundaries, the space or time in between, as well as the interrelation of, different ideas or entities. My focus on this also comes from my background—Korean Painting and its key aesthetic and philosophy of “Yeo-Baek.”
Yeo-Baek is the physical empty space in a painting that the brush hasn’t touched and remains as openness. This untouched part of painting is considered as important as the part filled with images. Visually, Yeo-Baek creates the balance of positive and negative space in a painting. Conceptually, this negative space stimulates the viewer’s imagination about what is not there and invites them into the artwork. This quiet blankness makes the artwork interactive by requiring the presence of the audience.
This contemplative yet interactive aspect of Yeo-Baek is also an important aesthetic of most of Dansaekhwa art. When I was in school majoring Korean Painting in mid to late 1990s, I don’t recall hearing the name “Dansaekhwa.” But many of the students were inspired by the aesthetic of several Korean artists who are now spoken of as the pioneers of the “Dansaekhwa movement.” It is obvious to me that my practice also reflects the influence of the aesthetic of Yeo-Baek and Dansaekhwa.
The most obvious connections to Yeo-Baek in my work are the physical empty space as a key element both conceptually and aesthetically and the audience’s presence in activating and completing the piece, whether it be as a reader of my book or as a physical part of the installation space. The minimal or limited amount of techniques and materials in each project and the repetition in the process of making and in the resulting texture and visuality evoke characteristics of Dansaekhwa art. Rather than specific images or colors, my practice focuses on the material itself: the lightness and delicacy of paper and other soft materials, such as thread, hair, and powder, and light and shadow effects. Each material has metaphoric meaning intrinsic to the theme or concept of my work. I routinely use simple but obsessively repetitive processes in the making, such as cutting out or burning paper or printing repetitively, casting objects, stitching or hanging hundreds or thousands of threads in a space. The meditative aspect of a repetitive working process is also present in the Dansaekhwa artists’ practice. The repetition in my work visualizes time-passing and symbolizes time made spatial, reflecting the passage in between or across boundaries, and the repetitive use of a technique and minimal materials creates a tactility, a visual obsessiveness, that brings the audience close to my work.
ANTE mag.Your practice moves between book art and installation to 2-D work and works on paper, can you walk us through the evolution of your practice as a multi-disciplinary artist working across multiple mediums?
SYK. In Korea, before I joined the Book Arts/ Printmaking program, I worked strictly on 2-dimensional paper canvas, but the transition from painting to book was not as radical is it sounds. The most common material for a book is paper, as it is for Korean painting. The intimacy and the quiet interaction that a book can offer its readers was for me very much like the interactivity of Yeo-baek. Also, in a book form, 2-dimensional paper turns to 3-dimensional space as the pages are stacked, folded or bound together, and that structure offers a sense of narrative and time passing. An intimate and portable book can contain the idea of space and time that through the viewer’s imagination is unlimited.
Some of my early artist books focused on visualizing the invisible space in the structure of the book. I used the repetitive processes of cutting, burning or printing to create tactility as well as to evoke meaning. This has been key to most of my installation projects as well. My interest in the physical, conceptual space of a “book” and its interaction with the viewer led me to create large spaces in which audiences could physically immerse themselves, contemplating time passing and dwelling in uncertainty, as they took part in creating a space that envisioned the boundary between antithetical ideas, ideas often visualized as light and shadows. Below is a description of an installation that I recreated several times, an example of how a sheet of paper became a large space and how an installation evolved from the philosophy of Korean Painting and the concept of the space of a book.
Sometimes I consider my 2-D works as books or my books as works on paper. That depends on each project, on my thoughts as to how an audience would interact with my work, how best to communicate my idea. Without thinking, I move between different mediums.
ANTE mag. Can you reflect on an exhibition, residency or fellowship you’ve had and how that has impacted your practice or provided a turning point?
SYK. Every experience of an exhibition, residency, and fellowship that I have had has been a turning point in some way. I cannot begin to list all the opportunities and support from institutions, organizations, and individuals that have impacted my practice. One particularly important experience was my first oversea residency in 2017.
I was invited to be a resident artist of the Soulangh Artist Village in Tainan, Taiwan, through COPE NYC International Artists in Residence Exchange Program. It required courage from the beginning, as I had to be away from my family and travel to a country I didn’t know. Also, at that time my mother in Korea started to develop Alzheimer’s, which had a powerful effect on me, making me reflect on my past, my home, and human connections encased in memories. The spirituality of the local culture in Tainan and its relation to contemporary life inspired me. There I created my first work without paper at all, using cotton thread and sugar powder.
This was a temporary site-specific installation for which I used locally found materials and which I shared with the local community, all strangers to me, not by any kind of direct communication, but simply through the emotional exchange made possible by the installation itself. I came back home without any physical work, but with incredible memories and friendships and inspiration. This residency led me to think about the temporality of the physical art work into which I put so much energy and time. I came to value more the process of interacting with my surrounding and creating works for a specific place and time than creating physical artifacts that lasted beyond that. I began to feel that the experience of the work, once it came to life, and the memory of that, were enough.
“The Endless Lines” consisted of 3-dimensional structures built by using strings of 1-dimensional thread, my attempt to visualize the invisibility of time passing (the continuous lines being my illusion of flow of time) and the spirituality and beliefs of a culture that could not be grasped by our concept of any dimension. This installation made me think of how we define the passage of time and how time creates memories that connect individuals and the past and future. I started to use in my work the 1-dimensional physicality of thread as a metaphor for connectivity or continuity and my shed hair (also a kind of thread) as a metaphor for the detached self, memory-loss, and disconnection.
Last year I again created a site-specific work, this time in Seoul, Korea, and again came home with empty hands. Traveling to a place far from where I reside limited my materials and techniques. I carried in my suitcase rolls of thread, needles, magnets, and some small pieces of paper and with those created 6973 miles of force in 1cm in Korea, my home country.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward? SYK. My present practice is a continuation of my recent work, but instead of temporary site-specific installations, I have gravitated toward work that I can do alone in my home studio, whether it be a small-scale work or an installation. My practice now involves more planning and designing than being inspired by something unexpected or a new setting.
Currently, I am preparing an upcoming exhibition. I have been invited by the University of Alabama at Huntsville to be the 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) with a solo exhibition and public events. The visit has been postponed from this fall to early next spring due to the pandemic. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to look forward to during this isolation. For this exhibition, I am going to expand and develop my previous paper installation project In Between Presence and Absence. So, I am now back to the cast paper process which I did for many years. I want to accentuate the interactivity of the space given to me for the installation, a space that to me seems quieter than those of my previous installations.
ANTE mag. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work? SYK. Since I cannot travel for a residency or exhibition, I am looking more into myself. These days I think a lot about my home, which seems farther away than ever, and my mother—now in a nursing home and not allowed contact with anyone outside that home—slowly getting close to the end without understanding what is going on in the world around her. These painful thoughts have led me to revisit and rethink my previous work “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence”, which I began at the Vermont Studio Center during a residency a year ago and developed in my home studio at the end of last year.
The two primary materials with which I am working for “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence” are bricks and my shed hair. A brick, broken in half, represents a split self, two identities, the space between the past and the future. Shed hair symbolizes for me the detached self and memory loss, suggesting the weakened connection between my current self and my past self and between me and my home country.
I repeatedly hammer on the brick to create a crack and eventually split it into two pieces. After breaking the brick, I photograph it and, again, in a repetitive movement, embroider on the photograph, with my hair, lines between the two parts of the brick. Those repetitive actions visualize the concept of ourselves as the embodiments of time passing between the past and the future. One cannot connect two heavy objects such as bricks with delicate hair; that is only possible on a two-dimension rendering, a photograph, of the brick pieces. I see my line embroidering as reconnecting, symbolically and impossibly, the gap between past and future, between two identities, reconnecting the two parts of a split self. In reality, the present is continually shifting. The future becomes the past. Establishing an identity and settling into the space between past and future are profoundly difficult. Thus, I explore the concept of time and space through the 4-dimensional process of breaking the bricks and line-stitching the photographs, the 3-dimensional bricks and embroidered hair, and the 2-dimensional photographs.
For the past couple of months, besides working on my upcoming solo exhibition, I have been working on this project, which I have renamed “Impossibly Connected.” Although the theme and concept were established, I didn’t consider the piece complete. My idea was to recreate it by re-photographing the bricks to get more spatial depth in the photos to emphasize the exploration of different dimensions of time and space.
My feeling of being marginal, living between two cultural realities, trying to bridge two identities and wanting to explore themes of time and space and the conflict between past and future seem more pressing to me now than ever. And I sense that other people are feeling the same. My repetitive motion of impossibly connecting the broken bricks in the photo with my shed hair evokes and embodies my constant questioning: What is the reality that we believe is real now? How can we reconnect each other after this? Where can we find the lost time? Completing this project may not be important, but the symbolic movement of connecting the pieces allows me to question and think. I will work on this piece for as long as I feel I need to. I feel this process will take me to a new place, a new direction. What or where I don’t know.
Artist Gabriel J. Shuldiner demands much of his medium. An artist who creates works by building layers of paint and industrial materials in a meticulous manner, his paintings are comprised of sculptural layers constructed in careful relationship with the preceding layer, existing in a unique and original tension indigenous to the particular work itself. His attention to construction –and just as fittingly, deconstruction– becomes apparent in the singular surface of each of his finished artworks.
We touched base with Shuldiner to gain insights into his studio, and as an Open Call winner, to learn how he has perfected his practice.
ANTE Mag. Can you tell us about your practice, specifically within the context of layers upon layers as referenced in your conceptual artist statement?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner.While painting, I gradually build up a work… layers upon layers. It’s primarily all paint, along with some industrial construction materials. Each layer informs the next: how the materials work with and against each other. There is always a sense of surprise, of tension working with the matter, but intent remains, and as layers compound, remnants of previous layers are left over, hidden, revealed, and exposed, becoming layers upon layers of physical matter which mirror the conceptual layers I also attach to the work.
ANTE Mag. You specifically mention three terms, Brute Minimalism, Hybridsculptural painting and Post apocalyptic black – can you explain how each of these terms define your work?
G.J.S. I was looking for a quick way to explain my work in the most concise manner as possible. I like words and word play. I don’t like definitions; having to define things and describe things that should be seen and experienced is something I don’t like, but I understand the necessity. My work is influenced by so many visual genres, and musical genres. Traditionally my work is steeped in the history minimalism and abstraction and conceptualism. But my work is also brutal…brutal in a good sense. It’s delicate and playful, brutal and raw. The term I use is “bruteminimalism”: it just came to me and it sounded right. I’m a painter who creates Hybridsculptural paintings rather than a sculptor who creates painting-like sculptures. Given that my work fluctuates between painting and sculpture, the works I create are literally “hybrid sculptural paintings” As for “postapocalypticblack”, I felt the word appropriately described my own unique variant of black. It also aptly riffs on the age old falsity that “painting is dead”. I heard that term a lot in graduate [art] school and thought it the most ridiculous statement ever. It seems to come along every few years. Apparently painting has been dying ever since the first cave paintings appeared… this term perfectly played on that absurdity. You just can’t kill it. The physicality of the material, the blackness of the material… it is postapocalypticblack. You know it when you see it.
ANTE Mag. Recently you have shown at Monica King Contemporary, how has it been exhibiting your work during the pandemic and how has it been different for you showing work now than pre-COVID?
G.J.S. I had a piece in a benefit auction Monica King Contemporary set up to help raise money for the CoVid cause. I love her gallery and was grateful to be asked to be in it: I had been looking for ways to help during the pandemic. At the time I was offering limited-edition mini-paintings direct via my Instagram and donating 50% to the CoVid-related organization of the buyer’s choice. And then the gallery asked if I would take part in their benefit. A completely virtual online benefit. Of course I said yes.
Showing my work now, during CoVid, I feel I’ve adapted to the current virtual world quite well. I’ve done several Zoom artist talks, a few interviews and have had several group shows. I’ve also sold work! All virtually. Given the physicality of my work and the crucial importance of light as an actual material, a 2D screen doesn’t do my work justice. I think that’s true for all visual arts. But it’s extra true with my work. There is something magical, experiential and spiritual about standing before a painting and looking at it. It’s a personal experience between you and the work. This pause in showing work in the real world is definitely strange. But at the same time, there are so many new outlets to get the work seen, and seen by so many more. The reality is that most people will initially discover my work virtually. That was probably true pre-pandemic, but now and post-pandemic, it will be the primary way people will experience my work, so I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting the way I photograph [the work] and I’m pretty happy with the results.
I see the image as I see my aforementioned descriptive terms: as a quick way to show, explain and attract… with the goal of having that introduction lead to an in person studio visit – which is convenient because my studio is in Chelsea (Manhattan.)
I have several (studio visits) lined up, but I’m not yet ready for in person studio visits, no matter how well-enforced the social distancing and masking.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?
G.J.S. Throughout CoVid, I’ve been lucky enough to really focus on creating a new body of work. I’m really tightening the work up, and I feel I’m actually making my best work now during the pandemic. Every painting I have ever created has gotten me to this point.
Working without having any deadlines or distractions has been very freeing, and creatively inspiring. But for the most part, my routine hasn’t really changed all that much during Covid. I still paint every single day. Right now I’m working on some larger pieces. That’s where my head is right now. I’m used to having complete control over my work. I like making work that I can handle physically, as I want to be able to move the piece around as it is created. The back becomes the front, and the top becomes the bottom. I want to be able to twist, cut, rip, tear, punch. The deconstruction is just as important as the construction.
The way I work is sorta manic. I work on multiple pieces at once, bouncing ideas off each work. Eventually certain works tighten up and reveal themselves and then I move in to complete them. The way I show my work is the opposite, super minimal: one piece surrounded by nothing. The majority of my current work has been relatively consistent in size and thus easily maneuverable. The direction I’m headed is larger, so I’m figuring out how to navigate the larger works in a similar manner. I want that intimacy to remain. I’ll figure it out.
ANTE mag. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?
G.J.S. I have a complex equation in my mind that has to balance itself out in order for me to consider a work complete, and successful. It’s just a feeling I get. With “zTCTdyH<B\,H3h]_system” for example, I feel I have accomplished that. The way the different materials play off each other makes someone wonder: what is the surface? What is the support? Is it a painting or a sculpture? What is it made of, and how is it made? The interplay of light upon the varying shades of black, creating various areas of white and grey. I can stare off into work I consider successful for hours and it transports me.
Ultimately I am painting primarily just for myself… which is a crucial point. And that’s the test, really, to reach that space: that place [which means for] me, someplace calm amidst such concentrated chaos.
Each work looks so simple. It’s a black painting. But the longer you gaze into it, the more the complexities gradually reveal themselves.
We sat down to learn more about her time specifically at Franklin Street Works, and how the organization is dedicating its next chapter to archiving its powerful body of programs, events and exhibitions, contextualizing them for a new audience.
(Below image, Cut Up: Contemporary Collage and Cut-Up Histories through a Feminist Lens curated by Katie Vida, installation view. Foreground: Faith Ringgold. Background (L-R): Meredyth Sparks, Martine Syms, and Lourdes Correa-Carlo. Photo by Object Studies
Lead image, Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman, installation view. Foreground: commissioned site-specific installation by Nontsikelelo Mutiti. Background (L-R): works by Jay Simple and Bryan Keith Thomas. Photo by Object Studies.)
ANTE. Thanks, Terri, for sitting down with us! So Franklin Street Works was known as a contemporary art space but during your time working there, it achieved recognition for engaging with social justice as well. Can you elaborate on the founding of the space, its evolution and how social justice aligned with FWS’ mission?
Terri C. Smith.Being the founding creative director of an arts organization is a unique perspective because you are steeped in its institutional history and have a deep on-the-ground understanding of its growth and impact. When I was invited to co-found Franklin Street Works by Stamford lawyer and philanthropist Kathryn Emmett she had the idea of an art space with a cafe. It was up to me to craft the specifics in terms of mission, vision, and programming. I had been in Connecticut working in the arts for a few years and had a sense of that scene. When I began conceptualizing what FSW might look like, I was thinking a lot about NYC alternative art spaces from the 60s and 70s like Artists Space, The Kitchen, and Food and their commitment to emerging artists and grassroots principles. I also had 15 years of experience working in two accredited museums and valued good scholarship and museum best practices. So my thinking was to create a program that included rigorous exhibitions and also integrated values of community inclusion – a discursive, social, and activist community hub with contemporary art at its center.
When we first opened in Stamford, Connecticut, showing conceptual art necessitated a lot of interpretation and direct conversations with visitors. In the beginning, merely showing conceptual art felt like a form of activism! All of our exhibitions were original, thematic group shows curated in house by guest curators or myself. This thematic approach aimed to build an audience beyond arts-interested individuals by drawing connections between contemporary art practices and events in our day-to-day lives. In other words, if an exhibition included work about the environment, the idea is that it would attract folks who might not be familiar with contemporary art, but, because of their interest in nature, science or conservation they would have a point of entry. It was an individualized approach that aimed at connecting, often challenging, contemporary art to a broader public.
As far as how the social justice trajectory connected to our mission, these key factors spring to mind: our coincidental opening of the space when Occupy Wall Street was encamped in Zuccotti Park; an archive of artist activist collectives we developed for a 2013 exhibition; our exploration of Franklin Street Works’ values with a 2014 strategic plan; and a show on immigration Yaelle Amir curated for us in 2015 (see above, “Acting on Dreams.”) I’ve only recently realized it, but Occupy Wall Street was a profound influence on the formation and direction of FSW. I knew some artists who were involved in the Park – many of them affiliated with Bard MFA. It was intriguing to me how artists brought an unmonumental sculpture/MFA materiality to activism and how an alternative, pop-up social system that shared qualities with social practice projects was being constructed from scratch there. I now understand FSW was influenced by OWS’s materiality and its creation of an inclusive, activist space that interrogated the status quo and posited corrective, world-building scenarios.
Social justice as an exhibition theme was directly addressed for the first time with our 2013 exhibition Working Alternatives: Breaking Bread, Art Broadcasting and Collective Action, co-curated by Mackenzie Schneider, Jess Wilcox and myself. We were thinking about how artists used food, broadcasting, and collective action during the early history of alternative spaces in NYC, and how artists were still using these tactics. Jess explored artists who use food, Mackenzie looked at artists using media like television and newspapers, and our gallery manager, Sandrine Milet, and I explored collective action, sending out an open call for materials from self-described artist/activist collectives. The starting date for our artist/activist collectives was the end date of an existing archive organized by NYC artist/activist collective Political Art Documentation & Distribution (PAD/D), which included socially conscious arts organizations working from 1979–1990. We put a call out to more than 90 collectives and received materials from approximately 30. While the show was on view, Brooke Singer, a Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase (who was in one of the collectives we exhibited) invited us to take the archive out of its boxes and present it as an exhibition at the College’s Passage gallery later that year. Sandrine and I curated Collective Action Archive with Purchase students Stephen Barakat and Gina Mischianti, writing additional interpretive texts about the collectives and exhibition essays from various points of view. Eventually the materials were accessioned into the SUNY Purchase Library zine archive, making them available to students and scholars.
Nadia Wolff-commissioned performance, A Litany, at the opening reception of Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman. Photo by Terri C Smith.
This year-long immersion into collective action art practices was followed by Franklin Street Works’ 2014 strategic plan, which re-emphasized our commitment to socially conscious art and community engagement. In the strategic plan, we described our core values, “Art is part of a larger social enterprise and thereby serves as a catalyst for social action. Both the individual artist and our communities are vital partners with us. The artist creates new models and impacts our communities. Our communities generate creative conversations within our space and elsewhere about our production.”
The next year, when Yaelle Amir curated Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions, and Advocacy in the United States, FSW’s work in social justice really began to crystallize.I personally had an “ah ha” moment about how actionable elements could become part of an art exhibition when Yaelle asked us to create a resource list of regional immigrant organizations for the catalog. I was energized by how Acting On Dreams was firing on all cylinders. The artworks and commissioned installations were well executed and materially interesting, but it was also exhibition as logistical support, community gathering place, investigative journalism platform, educational venue, and more. From then on, we were off to the races in actively planning exhibitions that addressed social justice issues head on.
ANTE. The pandemic has affected everyone in the arts, and has required flexibility and resourcefulness. Your team has recognized that the time has come to put future exhibitions in the physical space on hold. What are your goals moving forward in building an archive? In addition, how do you hope this archival project will evolve? What resources in particular are you seeking to help achieve this goal?
TCS. It is important to me that the legacy of Franklin Street Works lives on through a digital archive that is organized and accessible to anyone interested in contemporary art history or any of our 415 past exhibiting artists and collectives. I’m working with a handful of past board members to map a path forward in creating that. Right now we are exploring the best approaches in applying for archiving grants. I’ve also been talking to other small art spaces that no longer have physical spaces but still have an online presence, and chatting with archivist friends about the best order of operations in getting started. Since the entirety of FSW’s institutional memory is in my brain and my computer (and back up disk, of course!) it is my responsibility to organize the materials in preparation for a professional archivist. In a perfect world, I’d like to have the spirit of FSW live on in a less localized way. It would be exciting to see the archive combine with a national program of grants for emerging artists and to create and/or support commissioned projects.
Love Action Art Lounge curated by Terri C Smith, installation view of Carmelle Safdie’s commissioned, site-specific installation. Photo by Object Studies.
ANTE. What particular aspect of your tenure do you reflect on with satisfaction?
TCS. There are so many, but two aspects that come to mind immediately.
First, the transformative nature of Franklin Street Works’ educational programming. The physical space of FSW is an intimate repurposed Victorian row house. So when we had tours, talks, and performances, there wasn’t much physical distance between the community and the presenters. I also intentionally set a very welcoming tone that signified there wasn’t much, if any, hierarchical distance between artist and audience either. I think this intimacy and casual, social vibe created a comfortable space for learning, questioning, and authentic connection that was memorable and resonant. There were dozens of times when a past event attendant would volunteer specifics about how it changed their perspective or affected the course of their work or life.
The second aspect is a personal one. I developed so many wonderful relationships with FSW’s artists, curators, staff/board, interns, and contract workers these last nine years. So many of the people we partnered with on projects were collaborative, talented, and conscientious. My life is vastly enriched for having known them. I was 43 when I co-founded FSW. Frequently in middle age we can become set in our ways, but my life was infused with an endless stream of compassionate critique, encouragement, and aspirational thinking. Many of the folks I worked with became my teachers, modeling generosity and inquisitiveness, pointing out when I was being old fashioned or on auto pilot, and perennially challenging me to work toward optimal equity and inclusiveness. As stressful as the labor of running an art space can be, the love, laughs, and learning outshone the fatigue that sometimes accompanies this type of work.
Sherry Millner artist talk on the occasion of In this place where the guest rests, curated by Jacqueline Mabey. Photo by Michael Mandiberg.
ANTE. How have you focused your energy on moving forward during the pandemic as a cultural producer?
TCS. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this is such a universal question right now in the arts and beyond. Right now my energy is focused on staying connected with close friends, taking care of my body with exercise, and connecting to nature (and my dog) with walks and gardening. I’m also doing some freelance grant and copywriting for an Alzheimer’s organization which has me thinking about how the labor of families, especially women’s labor, is literally keeping eldercare afloat in the U.S. I am thinking there is a feminist exhibition on labor, healthcare, and ageism in there somewhere. Things are still fresh with FSW closing, and I lost my mother recently too so there are a lot of new normals to digest, consequently, I am doing a lot of reflection right now, in a good way, I think, I hope..! Haha.
As we touched on earlier, I am starting to organize materials for an FSW archive. I am also awkwardly working to shift the Feminisms and the Arts class I teach at UConn-Stamford to distance learning and continuing ask colleagues and friends – especially those whose practices are about creating more equity and inclusiveness in the art world – how I can support them and their work during these difficult times.
In contemplating the last nine years, I’ve realize that curating for me is most rewarding when it’s in collaboration with a community where I feel a significant connection. Ideally, if I were to commit to another full-time position in the visual arts, the community I choose to work with would be as important as the organization. The places that feel like home to me are Bridgeport (where I live) and New Haven (where I have friends and there is a vibrant art scene) as well as my hometown of Nashville, TN. So I hope to stay put in Connecticut or move back to Tennessee. That said, we never know what the future brings, so I’m keeping an open mind at the same time
MaryKate Maher is one of those conceptual juggernauts whose work you discover and instantly wonder how you haven’t run across it sooner. Her awareness of the nuances of structure and the volume of forms create lyrical and compelling sculptures and installation work. A thoughtful artist with a strong record of exhibitions who also just so happens to be an alumna of both Skowhegan and MacDowell, Maher proves through her practice to create gradual crescendos, impressing her admirers with a criticality and subtlety that holds precious secrets for all who encounter her work.
We touched base with Maher to gain a more in-depth appreciation of her practice in light of her selection as an Open Call winner, learning about her background in painting, her ruminations on balance and the careful, tenuous relationships binding individual components to the whole.
ANTE.Thanks for chatting with us MaryKate. Can you tell us about your practice and specifically the tension between the organic and industrial latent in your work?
MaryKate Maher.I have a background in painting and drawing that has transitioned over time to include sculpture and elements of photography. They influence each other in ongoing conversation. This dynamic between structure and tonality, color and line serves as a useful aesthetic corollary to the organic/industrial duality. I find industrial landscapes beautiful and sad. In their pristine states, the industrial dominates the organic, cutting through it, confident and domineering. In its dilapidated state, one sees the organic reasserting itself, softening the borders. That juxtaposition interests me. I don’t go out looking specifically for it but it seems to find me, catching my attention when something seems “right”.
For example, one moment I keep trying to recreate occurred about two years ago when I was driving home from my studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was sunset and I was driving near Kingsland Avenue, which is a very industrial route. There is this large white holding tank (oil or fuel). On this particular evening the sunset was reflecting perfectly onto the tank so that both the tank and the sky had the same pink and purple gradients. The industrial was acting as a mirror for the organic. I didn’t have my camera with me and I kept trying to pull over in traffic to either take a picture with my phone or figure out what I wanted from that moment. It was rush hour-hectic and I missed my chance. I drive by there all the time trying to re-catch that experience, but I haven’t seen it again. I’m not sure what I expect from seeing it again but the gradients I saw from the light that day have found their way into my work.
ANTE.You specifically mention cairns as an influence in your practice. Can you speak to the impact that and other natural phenomena have on your work?
MaryKate Maher. Rocks and cairns have been a fixture in my work. With cairns, you have something very organic with a touch of the human added. The most basic human gesture. I think about how that gesture would feel to someone wandering alone through the wilderness. Is it reassuring? Is it spooky? There’s also a sort of game to making rocks, which do not on their own lend themselves to stacking, balance one on top of the other. In my work, it turns into manipulating weight and balance in ways that emphasize awkward and precarious arrangements. I’m not interested in picture-perfect compilations. I tend to stack and pile using chunks of concrete and other fabricated forms, wedging something into another form. There is a deliberateness to this action which is weird, imperfect, and provisional.
Nature isn’t pristine. It creates all sorts of bizarre conglomerations like “plastiglomerates’ which are a literal fusing of plastic pollution with organic debris to create a new form of rock – a direct result from human pollution. In my personal collection I have an oyster shell which has fused itself to styrofoam like a barnacle. Its a perfect riddle: what is overtaking what?
I also love the tradition of the Scholars’ Rock and Odin stones where natural formations are so thoroughly aesthetified that they come to read as sculpture. Other phenomena like Fata Morgana and mirages, light refracting on the horizon creating interesting effects: all of these influence my work in some way. When I can travel and explore I collect all these feelings and moments from different places and bring that back into the studio. I love geology and seeing famous collections, like that of Roger Caillois, and Standing Stones in Britain. There is a power to all of these objects and for centuries people have tapped into that.
ANTE.Recently you have shown at venues such as Triangle Arts Association and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You’ve also shown at outdoor sculpture venues. Can you walk us through the positive aspects of both gallery and public/outdoor sculpture exhibitions?
MaryKate Maher. My studio is pretty messy most of the time and venues that are more of a traditional gallery space are ideal for seeing the work in that clean, open space. You can control the presentation, the lighting, all of those things. You can play with scale and formality. There aren’t many “unknowns” thrown into the mix. Outdoor sculpture is usually just one work and it has to stand up to other criteria like weather, scale, and durability in addition to it being a finished work. It’s a fun (and stressful) challenge. It’s like being a director: making sure everything is happening on schedule and organizing all of the components, renting equipment, hiring help, etc. Working outdoors can have perks that can’t really be created indoors, and it’s always a big learning experience. Last year, I was curated into a sculpture exhibition in the Poconos along a local hiking trail. All of the works that were included had to address the natural world and couldn’t interfere with the natural environment there. It took me a long time to figure out what to create. It had to stand out against the camouflage of the woods, but also meet my standards of refinement. I had been working on and off with large blocks of livestock salt but had only ever shown the salt works in an indoor setting. I ended up creating a totemic form that stood out against the earth-toned surroundings. Salt is elementally of the earth, so it’s soft and organic in its own way, but compressed in this form it becomes rigid and structured. I knew the rain would erode it and that animals might eat it, that it might kill the grass underneath. I envisioned it melting away in this beautiful spire-like form to create an entirely new sculpture (which didn’t happen). As the exhibition progressed over the twelve months of the show an evolution occured: morning dew ensured a permanent wet, sweaty gloss to the salt, rain eroded the edges making it eerie and otherworldly, and deer and racoons came in the night to lick the blocks thereby leaving divets and marks, but the sculpture never changed the way I thought it would. All of the moisture kept eroding my anchors and epoxies and those blocks are so damn dense they take forever to melt. The animals did create an impromptu performative aspect of the work. Eventually it just became a ruin. It was still a cool piece, but there are a lot more “what ifs” with outdoor work. I find that when I’m invited to make outdoor work, I try to go as large as the budget can go and when I’m invited to show in a gallery setting I can scale up or down as needed.
The show at Triangle Arts was a really beautifully curated exhibition by Annesofie Sandal who I had recently met while exhibiting work at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was a nice connection and both of those shows were great to be involved in.
ANTE.Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?
MaryKate Maher. The pandemic has really thrown a wrench in things for me. In February/March 2020, I was in residency at the Wassaic Project. I was exploring all sorts of new ideas and thoughts, testing out new materials and processes. Within 5 days of returning to NYC, the city completely shut down. Many of those ideas that would have had the chance to possibly cultivate into something interesting suddenly seemed moot. So they’re all on the back burner for now. My brain – and body – just don’t have the energy at the moment to tackle them. Instead, I’ve been focusing on works on paper and collages. There were too many unknowns and a lingering lack of structure present in my day to day, so I created a project with set parameters. I printed a bunch of images and photographs that I had been working with and cut them all up. My task is to create new collages from the same cut papers by rearranging and reusing the pieces. Then I take a photograph of the ones I like and turn them into a print. There is a nice immediacy about working this way as well as permission to put it all away on the days when it feels frustrating. The completed works are turning out pretty well. The original images included lots of gradients and abstractions of light, and they create these interesting depths and spaces. They are very abstract and surreal, but I’m digging it for now and just rolling with it. There is a lot of repetition because the same forms show up throughout the work, but it’s helping to create this concise series. They’re also helping me think about ways to translate that into sculptural forms.
ANTE.What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?
MaryKate Maher. The collages I’ve made during the quarantine. These branched out from work I was doing right before the pandemic but the previous work wasn’t really there yet and needed to be pushed further. Being stuck in my small apartment, with my family, all of us on top of each other, I would sneak away and sit in my window sill and stare out at the world below. Listening to the intense quiet, watching the sunsets, seeing the birds going about business as usual, spying on neighbors using their roofs for exercise. I thought a lot about light, space and bodies. The colors I was working with were magentas, pinks and reds and they felt bodily and intensely oversaturated. Color has been moving into my work in a way it wasn’t before. My neutral palette is evolving for sure from this recent work. As I start to get back to the studio, I see the work continuing in this direction as I figure out what it means: cut forms, saturated colors and finding new ways to create space through flat planes.
(Lead Image: Prussian Blue (head), 2019, resin, concrete, brass, gold leaf, prussian blue flashe, 16 x 12 x 8.5in)
“We live in a globalized world now, and I believe this perspective is crucial for career development.”
Mixed-media artist and architectural designer Tianlan Deng goes above and beyond when approaching new projects, in both scale and concept. Fearless in probing existing boundaries, Deng draws from his multitudinous skill set, educational background and knowledge of world cultures to bring award-winning concepts to the table for his design projects. Deng has experience working internationally as an architectural designer, professor, and thought leader in design. We became aware of Deng’s most recent proposal, which also caught the eye of the Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability-Beach Channel Educational Campus. Deng’s vision for a bright, revitalized campus blighted by insufficient budgeting and oversight has generally enthused both the educational community benefiting from the project and our team here at ANTE.
Deng himself is thrilled for the positive impact this project will enact on the wider NYC community at large, and the potential it has to serve as a role model for other campuses seeking to engage students at a visceral level. We sat down with Deng to dive into his background and to gain some perspective on what this exciting project means for his career and for the community at Rockaway Park High School.
(Lead image concept, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus Auditorium re-visioning)
ANTE. Thanks for chatting with us Tianlan! Can you start by giving us insight into how you envision your architectural project with Rockaway Park High School will optimize and revitalize this educational community and enhance students’ learning experience?
Tianlan Deng. Thanks for having me here. As you probably know, in New York City, many public schools situated in low-income neighborhoods often face challenges of low funding support and safety concerns. Consequently, these schools feel like a prison, and they often fall into a financial down cycle: poor learning environment, lower graduation rate, dwindling student population, limited finances — leading to the school eventually being shut down. My project “Live Learning” aims to ease the prison-like atmosphere in the school, improving the students’ educational experience and overall quality of life. This will boost the school’s future prospects for securing funding and recruitment.
The struggle of these underfunded public schools is a long-term result of educational inequality in the United States. To remedy this situation, we cannot depend solely upon systemic policy reform, which often falls prey to cumbersome approval processes as well as broader political interests. However, as a discipline, architecture and interior design can be a highly effective alternative tool, because it offers technical & creative solutions without the politics. By adopting a temporary art installation and projected (digital) media, I believe this project can foster a comfortable and uplifting environment, inciting curiosity, passion, and hope in the student body.
ANTE. You approached this project as your thesis for your Master’s degree at Pratt Institute. Can you discuss the program you recently completed at Pratt and what specifically this project addressed with regard to your aims for that educational program?
TD.It encourages the students to develop a sense of social responsibility. Before entering school, my artwork mostly dealt with the issues in the education realm. Enhanced by Pratt’s ideology, I became more involved in these conversations. Meanwhile, Pratt’s open and skillful platform helped me expand my artistic practice into the realm of architectural and interior design. Consistently, the thesis program at Pratt strongly emphasizes social and environmental issues. Since education always factors into larger socio-economic issues, I discovered an opportunity to develop a long term design project in my new discipline.
The parallel of being a designer for a Public High School and a student at Pratt provides a great reference point for my research and development. Although the differences between a college and a high school are substantial, I still can gather plenty of information by comparison. At Pratt, we have free access to most of the high profile museums in NYC, while the students of underfunded schools may never visit museums during their lifetimes. We use advanced digital fabrication equipment at Pratt, while some public schools use textbooks that are in shambles. From that angle, I witness the vast disparity between the two poles of America’s education system. These vivid contrasts shape and grow my design intention and responsibility.
ANTE. Your career goals seem to intersect both progressive education and experimental architectural/spatial design: what about these dual concerns draw you to working on projects such as this upcoming project with the high school?
TD. My belief in progressive education is rooted in my personal experience. For 20 years, I was suffering from studying under a Chinese education dominated by tests and mechanical learning. In those monotonous Chinese classrooms, teachers force-feed students information while students learn by rote memorization. (The monotonous process along with endless pressure from exams shaped the Chinese school into a symbol of anguish and torture.) After studying in the USA, I was lucky enough to experience progressive learning, which emphasizes growth from real life experience. This is what allowed me to develop my personality, philosophies, and systems of knowledge.
However, I realized that Rockaway Park High School and other underfunded NYC public schools follow the same pattern as the Chinese one. I understand it as a result of limited funding and resources, but in the long term, mechanical learning reduces the quality of the educational experience, which doesn’t benefit the school system or lower-income students. I believe with a modest budget, Experimental Design with technology can shape the public school teaching into a more progressive education system. Creating temporal and flexible structures with projected media can alter perceptions about the educational experience, prompting closer associations with experimental learning rather than behavior-based models. Structured to achieve an open, airy feel, the installation aims to excite and re-energize students, opening up their minds to new possibilities. The flexibility it provides will dissolve the traditional learning model and enhance the public education experience. Like Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned in one of his coronavirus daily briefings: “When we’re reopening schools, let’s open a better school, and let’s open a smarter education system.” I hope my project “Live Learning” for Rockaway Park High School will create an opportunity for underfunded public schools to re-imagine education.
ANTE. Talk to me about site-specific aspects of this environmental and architectural design project at Rockaway Park HS; how did meeting with the community inform your process as you finalized this proposal?
TD. Before the pandemic, I visited the school and spoke with the administrative staff and students several times. Rockaway Park High School is located at the Beach Channel Educational Campus, which is shared by several other schools. Like many underfunded public schools, Beach Channel Campus has a prison-like atmosphere, defined primarily by the dense security technology and numerous security officers. During our conversations, students told stories of the long security check process. The administrative staff mentioned that conflicts between officers and students were a regular occurrence. I factored these considerations into my design for the entrance of the Beach Channel Educational Campus. I conceptualized new stanchions with increased mobility, and they serve as both partitions to curb the traffic flow, and projection screens for multimedia displays. This will channel a better circulation during the security check, while presenting pleasant visual distractions to ease the atmosphere, and offering more privacy for students during the checking process.
After several visits to the campus, I found many empty spaces in this massive building, including a wide corridor and an extra auditorium with a low usage level. These spaces are wasted resources due to the lack of funding and inefficient spatial recognition. I proposed creating additional temporary installations with digital projections to activate these spaces, converting them into new common areas for students and/or alternative learning spaces. These installations can also become an open platform for the administration to stage temporary events for community-building and school wide activities.
ANTE. You yourself have worked as an educator, as you were a professor at the University of Kentucky. How did your own role as an educator working with college students inform your design process as relates to education?
TD.My personal experience of switching between student and instructor has a significant influence on my design process. It helped me develop strong empathy during the design process. I have a deeper understanding of both the learning and educational process, and am acutely aware of the challenges, struggles, and problems facing schools today. For example as a student, I remember my own struggle of enduring monotonous lessons in a lifeless classroom. On the other hand as a teacher, I know the difficulties of motivating students and maintaining their focus. This insight inspired my decision to use projected media, which has great flexibility, or presentation format. With various projected media content and forms to interact with students, the installation can enhance the environment while offering additional ways for teachers to communicate and keep students stimulated.
ANTE. You have studied in China, Japan, Denmark, and the United States. Can you elaborate on how these international experiences have shaped your career?
TD.Studying and living in both East and Western countries increased my sensitivity toward social issues, including education. The chance to observe and compare people, systems and cultural norms revealed the differences and difficulties of each society. Being an artist and designer, my career goals, choices, and expectations have become increasingly interrelated with societal issues. Studying and living between China and the United States made me aware of the differences and similarities between the two educational systems. It informs my intention to produce artwork that communicates my wishes and concerns. Traveling to Japan and Northern Europe broadened my spectrum of global education and expanded my knowledge of design’s power. My project “Life Learning” at Rockaway Park High School is a choice shaped by all my international experience. We live in a globalized world now, and I believe this perspective is crucial for career development.
ANTE. Walk us through the career highlights that have marked your exceptional rise as an architectural designer – including your award winning commissions for the Gatton College of Business and Economics in KY (2016) and more recently the Best Team of Wanted Design Competition (2019.) What about your practice, do you feel, leads to your continued success and recognition in the field?
TD.When I primarily focused on painting, my paintings were collected by several well-known hotels in China, such as Fairmont Pace Hotel in Shanghai and Tianjin Crowne Plaza. After coming to the states, I became more involved with installation art. I completed small commissions for site-specific installations, such as the ‘Fence’ I created for the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center — a translucent photo wall that cyclically sculpts sunlight and shadow to create a sensory experience. Winning the glass design competition of Gatton College of Business and Economics was important to me. The project ‘Tally Mark’ is not only an award-winning achievement, but a successful example of how fine art and spatial architectural design can be combined. Tally Mark is an art installation that introduces the ancient Asian counting system into a western financial college. It establishes a diverse cultural atmosphere while serving as a spatial partition to maintain the independence of both private and communal spaces.
Tally Mark inspired me to continue exploring projects that combine fine art and architectural design. Three years later, I participated in the Wanted Design competition following a similar trajectory. Five designers from different countries spent five days creating a community engagement project. My project ‘This is Not Stair’ is a site-specific installation that alters the walk route to bring enjoyment and engagement to the monotonous pavement walking experience. This project won the competition and was featured in Core77 Magazine.
I wouldn’t say there is one specific aspect of my artistic practice that leads to success or recognition. But maintaining a sense of connection to the world and society is fundamental to my creative process.
Encountering “Elements of Perturbation” atThe Border Project Space, a solo exhibition by Magdalena Dukiewiczcurated by Jamie Martinez, the materials forming this installation present a dizzying dance on the senses. From the earthy inhalation of sod greeting visitors to the visceral transluncency of the installation, the tent-like structure anchoring the space presents a show that serves as a veritable movable feast for the senses
Artist Magdalena Dukiewicz has presented that rare feat of marrying circumstance and concept: an installation based on the impossibility of permanence placed firmly in dialogue with a time of upheaval. This show arrives in the most ephemeral and mercurial time period in recent memory, when a viral pandemic has uprooted the lives of citizens of the world. Thus, an exhibition reflecting in part on the transient nature of immigration is placed in contrast to a time period holding citizens the world over in a shared uncertainty, yet clearly placing certain immigrants into situations of increased vulnerability (for examples, see increased vulnerability of immigrants held at detention centers in the US, and the recent announcement by the current US President that ICE willdeport students who do not attend in-person classes at universities this Fall.) The artist has managed to presciently respond to one of the most dire moments for immigrant rights in recent memory.
The artist herself reflects on the domestic and social roles prescribed to her as a child growing up in Poland. She recalls spending time in a temporary play structure she built with her sister when she was young. Dukiewicz notes, “The concept of a house is based on a portable playhouse made of textiles that I had as a child and explores how “playing house” and practicing social roles at an early age has been adapted in my adult life. ” She also reflects on how materiality is embedded, for her, within the conceptual realm they engage in dialogue with. Thus in order to create a conversation around uncertainty, materials like sod were incorporating – even surprising the artist, when seedlings of grass began to appear in the temporary installation structure.”The use of impermanent materials and incorporating and dissolving my DNA with and within them add to the idea of temporality and imperfection,” she reflects. “[Specifically] the house, like the other pieces, will transform, eventually collapse, then disintegrate and disappear, but the process and its traces are my way of leaving an imprint in the world. “
The Ph.D.-candidate artist, who holds an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts (Warsaw, PL) and an MFA, Complutense University (Madrid, ES,) produces her works in a site-specific manner, considering how specific spaces and spatio-temporal considerations can demand necessary alterations and adaptations. Within this conceptual framework, the artist was also forced to reconsider the pandemic interrupting access to this solo exhibition. Confronting the pending feeling of hopelessness encountered by us collectively as a society, she provides a space that instigates a moment of rumination—an individual and collective reflection—for the human species to “regroup, rethink and adjust to a new reality.”
Closing on Saturday, July 11 at The Border Project Space in 56 Bogart, Brooklyn in socially-distanced visitation from 5-8 pm, “Elements of Perturbation” mounts a multi-sensorial dialogue around the places we are allowed to enter, inhabit, and exist, and how identity and location continually inhabit a relatioship of tension with one another.