Film Producer Federico Guarascio on Changing the Game in Contemporary Filmmaking

Federico Guarascio is a talented producer of short films and documentaries, whose film “The Fourth Kingdom” stopped us in our tracks. A haunting survey of the communities comprised by various recycling scavengers, diving into the worlds they inhabit and how their lives intersect, the film won the top prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival. This insured it would be sent on for consideration at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.

Guarascio’s dedication to the film directly impacted its success, as with his work on previous films such as 2014 Sundance selection, “Godka Cirka”, and the ambitious, imaginative “Only Solomon Lee.” We were entranced by the blend of projects Guarascio selects to work on, and his superior track record as a film producer, so we sat down for a taste of his process and for an insider’s perspective on working on the cutting-edge of contemporary film.

ANTE Mag – Federico, thanks for taking time to speak with us. It’s so exciting to see “The Fourth Kingdom” win the Brooklyn Film Festival! That must have felt amazing. Can you tell us some of the rewards and a few challenges of working on this most recent award-winning film you produced?

Federico Guarascio: “The Fourth Kingdom” portrays the lives of the inhabitants of ‘Sure We Can”, a recycling center where society’s outcasts can redeem cans for money.

A documentary of this kind deals with delicate issues, and it was therefore necessary to approach the characters and the reality of these lives, investigating the characters with sensitivity. It is very rewarding to see that from this contemplative and observational approach, these characters just open up: revealing their stories and their lives. Our goal was to capture that poetic, emotional, and cinematic essence of this special place and its inhabitants. In that sense I can say that we are very proud of it.

By filming some video pieces to show all the great work that ‘Sure We Can’ is doing and their impact in so many peoples’ lives, we started to get more curious about this special place, our ‘Fourth Kingdom.’ We spent so many hours there that we became invisible to the people working there. At this point, we felt we were able to create a documentary film in the way we like to tell stories so we put together the short film while we keep working in the feature. The response has been awesome.

AM – It’s such an exciting film that sheds light on these important subjects, tackling a range of delicate issues as you mention – such as homelessness, poverty and immigration. As a documentary, the film portrays an incredible cast of real-life characters in their familiar environments. There are so many topics being discussed, can you walk us through how editing played a role in this film to portray such a wide range of people involved in the recycling community?

FG – We intended to show the human part of our subjects, not their misfortunes or their misery. We were interested in delving into the emotional side  and learning about their dreams and goals.

Another rule we applied to our concept was not to leave the space while filming. We didn’t want to see these can collectors out on the street, but in their daily life inside this ‘Fourth Kingdom.’

With this film, we also wanted to address another point of view engaging with what we can call progress on our modern society. Plastics have forever changed our lives and our world. Waste, pollution, and recycling are new realities, and this kingdom portrays side effects of that evolution: the other side of the dream of progress.

Editing as always in documentaries is one of the most crucial parts. It’s not just about delivering a sequence of scenes already decided at the start: rather, it concerns creating a singular language and defining poetic choices. As a producer,  I had the honor of supervising post production and therefore helped to define the final form of the film.

AM – This is not your first time working with Alex Lora. You also served as producer on the films “Godka Cirka” and “Only Solomon Lee”: the former was a Sundance selection which also showed at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Are there common themes or similarities in how you encountered the subject of each film? Did your role evolve from these first two films with Lora to your work as a producer on “The Fourth Kingdom?”

FG – Totally, my personal path is defined by thematic recurrences that have evolved over the years in a manner consistent with my dual professional and human growth. And I must say that I was lucky to have ever found such a prolific partner as Alex, with whom I share most of the thematic and moral choices – this underlies the work we have done together.

AM – “Godka Cirka” centered around the daily life of Alfa, a young woman based in windswept Somaliland. What were some of the challenges working on this set in a foreign country miles from home? What were some of the rewards for working on this project?

FG – “Godka Circa” is definitely one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career.

It started with many logistical and financial difficulties and ended with a work of high poetic and human value which I am immensely proud of.

Certainly filming in Somaliland was another great challenge from a production point of view, because the permits were difficult to find and because of the topic we addressed. The women in the film live in a country where women’s rights are almost nonexistent; therefore, we had political impediments from the local government. But in the end we brought home an excellent result.

AM – So many of your films have seen success on the festival circuit, from “Godka Cirka” to “The Fourth Kingdom”. Have you found some plan for success that you follow? Do you have tips for other film producers seeking similar success?

FG – I like to define myself as man with his feet resting firmly on the clouds. Meaning that I can work only on projects that I really like and I consider appropriate to my spirit: projects that sync with my moral outlook. Once I have ascertained this aspect, I try to understand the economic potential that the project can have and how I can raise the funds necessary to produce it.

In general I would say, after you refine your craft, go for what you like. Do not accept any compromise. Be brave and unscrupulous too: all or nothing. As went the British Air Force motto of the Second World War: “Who dares, wins”.

Film producer Federico Guarascio shares behind-the-scenes insights

AM – Can you give us 2 or 3 highlights from your nearly 10-year career as a producer working on films in partnership with crews based in the United States?

FG – One of the best experiences I have had here has been working with Academy Award-winner Ellen Goosenberg Kent for her latest documentary now on HBO, “Torn Apart,” which was a real gem, and gave me a concrete example of the efficiency of high-level American productions. I was lucky enough to work from Italy in partnership with US-based crews, then relocated to the US from late 2018, joining my colleagues in the US that Fall to work hands-on on this and similar projects. Being in step with the US film crews opened my eyes to how incredible working in film in the United States could be professionally. 

AM – Through your career working on over 20 films, what are a few films you have worked on that have really stood out to you in forming your career and your mindset as a producer?

FG – “Odysseus Gambit” was certainly the first job that made me understand the rules of the game and showed me my potential as a film producer. We had started the project without a budget and arrived at Sundance. A great success that I still remember with pride!

AM – What projects do you have in the works now, and what do you hope to work on in the near future?

FG – With Alex we are thinking of transforming “The Fourth Kingdom” into a narrative work. I am already seeking funding for this next step in Italy; stay tuned..!

All’s Fair: Miami Art Week 2019 Edition

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

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Dear, dear readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featuring old to new to back again, check.

Engaging visitors in conversation, check.

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

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

Teresita Fernandez at the PAMM is prescient, haunting and idyllic

Bonus: The New Rubell Museum

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

Five Losers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akumal Arts Festival Reinvigorates a Vibrant Creative Community

(featured image artwork by Delilah Benitez)

Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico – Sunlight bakes the streets of Akumal Pueblo, suffusing the ground in pale coral. Palm shadows decorate the sides of tents and small food carts, set up in anticipation of the evening’s festivities.  It is 4 PM on Friday November 9th: the opening day of the Akumal Arts Festival (Festival de Arte de Akumal) in Akumal, Mexico. Students are clamoring through the town’s streets, heading home from school with their family, as flags flutter in the breeze with artwork created by the same students. Sharks and skulls, flowers and seaside scenes populate the small scraps of fabrics rippling through the breeze, strung with hanging lights between palm trees on the median between the town’s streets.

Mural by Local Artist @KLONISM (Jake Klone) & Director of Artists, Akumal Arts Festival

Dancers and performers assemble in the town’s central park to prepare for the evening’s festivities, while street artists who have gathered from around the globe in Akumal put finishing touches on their murals in the persistent heat of the Mayan Riviera afternoon. Time ticks on as guests begin assembling in the recreational park, families seating themselves in the town’s stadium, while another set of guests gather nearby. The cackling and barking of blackbirds native to Akumal fills the trees in the median adjacent to the park, rustling and cawing incessantly through the palms. “It’s like this everyday,” my new friend and Akumal resident, Harold, explains. “In the morning and in the late afternoon, here they come, they are very loud like this every day.” Harold and his friends have joined me in assembling alongside these other guests for the festival’s opening ceremony, while four-legged friends get in on the action as well, returning the birds’ greetings. Finally by 5 pm, visitors – avian, canine and human alike – were assembled at the park, awaiting the much anticipated kick-off of the inaugural Akumal Arts Festival.

Introduced in 2018, Akumal Arts Festival (Festival de Arte de Akumal) is a free art festival open to the public and accessible to visitors walking the streets of Akumal Pueblo. Taking place November 9th through 11th, with artwork lasting at these sites for the foreseeable future, over 70 international urban artists have assembled to create masterworks for both walls dotted through the town’s streets and for the iconic bridge linking the two sides of Akumal: the pueblo (town) and the playa (beach) sides. Featuring the artistic stylings of artists such as Skela, Davel, TooFlyNYC, Funqest, Iena Cruz, Kid Crayon, Ms. Yellow, Nomad Clan, and Nate Dee – among many others – Akumal Arts Festival gave visiting artists the chance to polish the existing shine of Akumal while enriching educational programming in the town with workshops, live painting and more. Guest artists visiting from the US, France, Great Britain, Japan, and Mexico – including several other countries – all descended on Akumal to enliven the town’s many streets with surprising, colorful and vibrant artworks.

artwork for Akumal Arts Festival by DAVEL (IG – @DAVEL_ART) (side murals in progress)

The excitement throughout Akumal was palpable, as everyone from town administrators to lifeguards, diving trainers to restaurateurs alike saluted artists visiting the town. Native Akumal residents, adults and children alike, frequently waved to visiting artists, shouting greetings from their bicycles as they passed and offering food and drinks. Some zealous residents approached artists, asking them to paint the gates and walls of their own homes. For the week prior to the opening festival, and continuing throughout the weekend, artists gathered for breakfast at the cafe of festival co-founder, Jennifer Smith (Turtle Bay Bakery & Cafe) for a breakfast gratis before gathering their supplies and protection from the sun to hit the streets and skillfully apply layers of paint to their creations. Murals varying in size from ten feet to forty feet across, and ranging in height from ten feet to forty feet, began emerging across the grid of Akumal town. Artists gamely approached each project, churning out the finished piece with help from festival staff including Smith, Jake Klone (artist director & artist, Klonism) and production staff Rena Gray & Erin Ko, along with several other support staff. Artists all finished their incredible works with help from the crew, and in spite of the burning heat of the Mayan Riviera sun – oh, and the occasional tarantula!

by Rebeka Skela (IG – @sanguineskills) for Akumal Arts Festival

Akumal residents were not the only ones thrilled to have artwork integrated into the heart and soul of Akumal – the artists themselves were thrilled to create site-responsive works in such a welcoming environment. With an effusive welcome from Jennifer Smith and festival co-founder Iran Beltran, Delegado Municipal de Akumal, the artists set off to work with a firm understanding of the impact they had on the town’s residents. Artists approached their artworks with care and understanding for the community, making sure their imagery reflected priorities and celebrations integral to the town’s legacy. Artist Ivan Roque, visiting Akumal from Miami, Florida, was quick to point out how he was spurred on to work by the enthusiasm the town extended to his team. “I’ve had three days to make this artwork, and people were surprised over time at how quickly it came together,” Roque shared. “People are honored to have us and appreciate the art being here, I’ve had nothing but total positivity and love from the locals of Akumal.” One reason for this warm welcome is surely the dedication that artists are putting into the local schools: from leading workshops on videography/filmmaking to portraiture and hosting live painting sessions, artists became an intrinsic part of the fabric of the community. For the duration of the festival, artists worked with small groups of Akumal students to help them realize their dreams and paint from their imagination.

Working directly with locals deeply resonated with the artists taking part in the festival, with some artists in particularly seeking to honor the Mayan heritage that existed in the community for millenia, with over innumerable generations of residents calling the Akumal area home. Artist SINNED and collaborator Ria Burns-Wilder noted of their artwork on the Akumal bridge the local ties that the subject of their art held for residents of Akumal. “We’ve been so lucky to speak with locals in Akumal including indigenous Maya residents such as Paschin – a friend we made here,” noted Burns-Wilder. “Communicating in a blend of English and Spanish, Paschin taught us that the Mayan term for this place isn’t Akumal, but “Aak-luu-mil”, or “place of turtles”. We want to honor Mayan culture by adding this name into the mural itself.”

Artwork by Ms Yellow (IG – @msyellowart ) for Akumal Arts Festival

All of this effort and creativity infused the opening festivities with a certain electricity: a presence filling the air with excitement and anticipation. Local municipal leaders, government officials, and festival producers all gave heartfelt reflections to visitors at the park this Friday night. As the sun began to set and the blackbirds cawed on, traditional Mayan dancers exuberantly performed the choreography of their ancestors as indigenous leaders burned incense on a makeshift altar honoring this important occasion. Local students performed dances with renewed vigor, propelled on by the excited shouts of the crowd and hours of practice leading up to the opening ceremony. Visitors stayed on to celebrate late into the night, by the time constellations themselves had delicately begun peeking over at Akumal to watch the ceremony for themselves. The start of Akumal Arts Festival was officially underway, and due to the hard work and exquisite mastery of these dedicated, international artists, it seems that Akumal is no longer home to turtles alone, but to these unique artworks that reinvigorate the spirit of creativity running through the heart and soul of Akumal, Mexico.

 

 

Fresh Takes at 01: Never Mind the Bullocks, Curated by LatchKey Gallery

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Reality, augmented or otherwise, is delightfully stranger than fiction at 01: Never Mind the Bullocks, curated by LatchKey Gallery‘s Founders, Natalie Kates and Amanda Uribe, at Chashama’s One Brooklyn Bridge location. On view through Oct 21st, the exhibit features four contemporary artists working on the boundaries of modern perspectives. Darryl Westly, Inna Babaeva, Steven Fragale and Toby Barnes all create works for the exhibition that obscure and/or redefine reality. From examining absence in figuration to producing new dimensions of representation, the artists on view take expectation and turn it squarely on its head. At first glimpse the four artists seem decidedly divorced from one another’s practice, until further examination reveals that each artist re-examines objects and scenes that the viewer takes for granted, re-contextualizing the known and burying it deep into the crevices of the unknown until it springs anew, a hybrid and resplendent thing.

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Darry Westly, born in Chicago and currently based in New York City, is a renowned international painter who creates illusions of flattened planes in otherwise realistic scenes. Frequently alluding to classical art history references, Westly’s unique blend of Pop Art and figuration herald a new manner of representing in the post-photo manipulation era. Soft pastel hues cradle the outlines of missing figures, collapsed planes of a hybrid reality. Westly’s masterful brushstrokes press against the glass of reality, turning perception around on an unsuspecting viewer. His work disorients as it transcends.

Steven Fragale‘s interactive paintings delight and confound, taking the viewer off the canvas and literally into thin air. Fragale, who lives and works in (and is originally from) New York, takes his work out to the viewer in a custom-built app that accompanies each of his paintings. Extending the composition out into new dimensions using augmented reality, Fragale leaves no stone unturned: examining our reliance on the digital and its intrusion into everyday lived experience.

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Toby Barnes is an interdisciplinary artist whose installation and mixed media work collapses what Hito Stereyl aptly termed the “poor” image makes a frequent appearance in the patterns of Barnes’ works, writhing these mobile phone images into dizzying, hypnotic compositions. Born in Miami, and living and working in Amherst, Mass, Barnes has exhibited in an exciting array of venues including PS1, Queens Museum, and NADA among others. Barnes creates symmetric compositions, delineating the lines and populating each section with glimpses of skin, abstracted figure. Abstract and figurative meld into one another, proving impossibly inextricable in the final image. Barnes’ installations and two-dimensional, mixed media works combine the immediacy of Pop with a considered, measured investigation into a thoroughly contemporary view of the image as raw material.

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Perhaps most surprising is the inventive work of artist Inna Babaeva, a Ukrainian-American artist based in Long Island City, Queens. Reformatting everyday objects into magnificently mischievous items. Bulbous forms formed in glass break the lines of rows of October magazines and perch saucily on wheels close to the ground. They lie luxuriantly on stacks of paper, sneaking glimpses at passersby from corners of the exhibit. Never has glass possessed such a gestural, anthropomorphic quality. Babaeva’s works re-animate post-industrial materials into new figments of the visitor’s imagination.

01: Never Mind the Bullocks is a fearless investigation into what contemporary art can evolve into, and how it can grow into new forms of inquisition and self-reflexivity. The exhibit is on view at One Brooklyn Bridge (360 Furman Street, Brooklyn) through October 21st, curated by LatchKey Gallery & location courtesy Chashama.

 

Raise Your Voice: In Praise of Artist Shoshanna Weinberger

“If you deny people their own voice, you’ll have no idea who they were.” Alice Walker

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“Excluded Included” 2017-2018 Mixed Media on Panel (Shoshanna Weinberger)

“invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery”, Shoshanna Weinberger’s solo exhibition at Project for Empty Space in Newark, NJ, employs repetition to dizzying effect. Perhaps not dizzying: mesmerizing.

Women’s bodies are both seen and unseen, presented and contorted into unidentifiable abstractions. Feminine visages, their outlines incorporating distinctly African and Afro-Carribbean hairstyles, are obscured by abstracted nothingness: their identities crushed beneath the weight of visual white noise. Similar to the background choir figures throughout Childish Gambino’s visceral and poignant music video for “This is America”, the multi-dimensional figures presented throughout Weinberger’s exhibition literally outline the trenchant visual narrative of hiding in plain sight. Even in the era of the #metoo movement, women are often excluded: their voices negated in everything from polite conversation to exorbitant wait times for major retrospectives. However, women of color fight an uphill battle not only against patriarchal discrimination but sometimes, even, from their own female allies. Weinberger’s presentations of the female body, ethnic even in their abstracted and distilled outline, elevates the Afro-Carribbean experience even while commenting on the objectification keenly experienced by women of color, in the arts as well as in everyday life.

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“A Grove of Invisible Fruit”, Shoshanna Weinberger, 2018 Two Sided Mirrored Acrylic.

Weinberger’s installation “A Grove of Invisible Fruit”, situated at the front of the gallery space, provides a hyper-dimensional yet fragmented entry point firmly rooting the artist’s overall exhibition. The “grove” can be viewed as a reflective and dizzying moment of pause – a blinding distraction, yet an inviting and meditative moment of respite anchoring the multiple viewpoints orienting visitors throughout the exhibition. The figures interspersed through “A Grove of Invisible Fruit” are hybrid beings: neither distinctly human nor wholly “other”, creole-ized and hypersexualized figures in high heels supporting a mirrored superstructure. The dual presence and absence of these figures, the lack of distinctive identity, could conceivably be contrasted with the experiences of women migrating to America. How dizzying is the burden of bearing others’ prejudice and preconceived notions? Much like the entrenched stereotypes hearkening back to the age of Chiquita Banana, these conceptions have neither disappeared nor evaded us as we continue to evolve as a society. Weinberger adoitly places these figures within a networked construct: joined together yet alienated, the figures reflect back only what we cast at them. They present to us Plato’s shadows on the walls of the cave.

“The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to [his] adoption of the adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards.” Frantz Fanon’s words in Black Skin, White Masks permeate the pores, the very follicles present in Weinberger’s works. In the artist’s series, “Invisible Invisibility”, she presents monochrome women who are identified by their cosmetics or sexualized poses, often obscured by the backgrounds which seem to “fill” them. Weinberger is presenting women difficult to categorize by societal “norms”: their very outlines prevent them ascending to the reified realm of acceptable “cultural standards.”

Fanon’s words echo throughout the exhibit, where literal “masks” create an entry point for viewers to both engage with these portraits and be denied access to the personal qualities typically found in portraiture. Voices are silenced and features hidden, marking both the uniformity of lived experiences of women of color and a refusal to be sequestered into stereotyped ethnic categories. The artist, herself American, Jewish and Jamaican by heritage, has both denied and overcome identity from “the other” in her figurative works. The portraits themselves seem to emerge from an obfuscation they willingly present to the viewer: by placing a barrier between themselves and the casual observer Weinberger’s creations upend expectations and deny the ubiquitous male gaze.

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L–>R, “Rhiannon”, 2017-2018 Mixed Media on Panel and “Emerging from the Periphery Like Mona Lisa”, 2018 Mixed Media on Panel, both by Shoshanna Weinberger

Weinberger’s exhibition as a whole mines the loaded metrics of repetition and representation. Presenting different variations on repeated themes allows the viewer multiple angles of entry into the series of artworks on view. The series of images in grids, according to Weinberger, represents yearbook photos – indicating variations on the artist’s own American, Jewish and Jamaican identity. The artist is presenting these autobiographical two-dimensional works on paper, presented alongside more sculptural works, literally examine themes present in the artist’s work from multiple angles. The visceral yet limited color scheme creates heightened awareness of the forms in the artist’s compositions. The artworks are tightly framed, implicating the viewer in almost claustrophobic nearness to the figures in the works they encounter. This irony of silenced narratives is reinforced by the presence of one single feature on the faces of the women in the artist’s portrait series: their mouths. Eyes, ears, and noses are left absent: women are expected to observe in real life; here, they are liberated and confined. They can only speak. Evoking the powerful moment of applying lipstick, a visible acceptance of womanhood, these lips are not only ready and able to speak but they are empowered to do so with grace and beauty.

Weinberger tumbles and leaps through a perceptive circus ring of contradictions in “invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery”. She produces one of the best nuanced exhibitions of Pop-infused, graphic style imagery in recent memory. While Pop art can be inherently subversive, Weinberger has managed to tease out intricacies of race, ethnicity and identity that are so often overlooked in contemporary art. Her dedicated exploration of individuality and marginalization has shown its splendor in this solo show at Project for Empty Space.

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L–>R: “The Queen of Fruit Walks Hi-Heeled in the Concrete Jungle: Invisible to Some and Obvious to Others”, 2018, Ink on Paper; “Some Fruit Have Legs”, 2018, Ink on paper (far wall); “The Camouflage Gang: Girls, Sisters and Otherness Passing” 2017-2018 (grid) works from the series “Invisible Invisibility” by Shoshanna Weinberger

In a space in the rear of the gallery, the artist points to a sculpture bust, indicating that it is a self-portrait created through the process of 3-D printing. Curled tendrils of hair hug the figures’s face, a cluster of evocative lips the only evident feature. The porcelain-colored whiteness of the bust shimmered in the direct light, giving the visage a sensual luster. Weinberger deftly re-imagines her identity as a literal fabrication, not just of social norms, but of the replicating process inherent to 3-D printing. Her vision of the portrait serves not as an admission, but instead can be perceived as a denial. This playful figuration is a credit to her finely tuned artistic sensibility and a deeper revelation of the ever-evolving social constructs of gender and ethnic identity.

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“A Rapid Prototype of My Doppelgänger”, 2018 3D Print Polymer, Paint, Wood; Shoshanna Weinberger

 

“invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery” is currently on view at Project for Empty Space, 2 Gateway Center in Newark, NJ, through May 18th. Shoshanna Weinberger is a currently resident at Project for Empty Space.

Susie IRL Exhibition @HERE: In Conversation with Susie Mag Founder Olivia Huffman

IT is rare indeed to chance upon that hybrid artist/activist/community organizer: that gem of a person who not only successfully runs their own practice, developing thgeir work as a formidable artist, but also finds time to initiate and organize community meetings and projects on the side, supporting scores of other creative types on the up-and-up in the process. Olivia Huffman is a gem: one of this singular breed of dexterous creative folk.

An artist working across mixed media, performance and new media, Huffman has spearheaded efforts to increase visibility and opportunities for marginalized artists.  In this vein they have led the creation of artist community Art Folx Nation, an intersectional feminist collective engaging with non-binary / women-identifying artists. In addition, they are a co-founder of Susie Mag, presenting cutting-edge interdisciplinary artworks with an eye toward gender equality in the arts.

Susie Mag has partnered with HERE, an arts center in Lower Manhattan, for the exhibition Susie IRL featuring mixed media works created by participating artists from the Susie Mag family. The exhibition, which is free to the public, is on view Jan 25 – Mar 28 with a public opening/artist’s reception on Thursday, February 22nd from 5-7 pm.

We sat down with Huffman to discuss their process as an artist in-depth and to hear more about how their works come to fruition.

AM. Thanks for speaking with us today, Olivia. I’d like to start with themes latent throughout your practice. Your work often incorporates references to the body, though most of your practice isn’t figurative per se. Can you explain why your work incorporates what you refer to as “remains” of the body and mind vis-a-vis “found material” and how this feature is crucial to your practice as a whole?

OH. I collect debris from everyday life. These items share a story about daily rituals, preferences, and aesthetics. To me, referencing the body without figurative elements enables the viewer’s imagination, linking their memories with mine. I use found materials because everyone has a memory tied to a color, texture, or scent. These slight signals trigger subconscious imagery that can connect the viewer to my work on a more personal level. My work focuses on the mystery and varying paths of personal development and growth, not the outward appearance of a person. I have used the figure in the past, but it was always very minimal and abstract.

AM. The artwork you create has a potent sense of materiality tied specifically the lived history embedded within that material. Can you talk about how the lived histories of material are important within the context of individual artworks you create?

OH. In my current series, Domesticity, each piece represents a different facet of household duties.

“Mystic” references gardening and interior decorating. The materials used are embossed wallpaper, a plastic bag handle, and sliced bark adhered to drywall. I collected the wallpaper from my first roommate in New York and I found the bark with one of my dear friends when we went on a road trip to Mystic, Connecticut.

“Consent” references sexual duties of the household. There comes in an entitlement over a woman’s body once they are wed, it wasn’t that long ago that raping your wife was legal. The piece consists of fishnet stockings, silver tacks, and clear buttons on drywall. The buttons fill up the fishnet stockings creating sags and lumps to mimic flesh.

“Dedication” references office work and the surmounting to-do tasks in home/work life. Each post-it note consists of tasks that are coded with shorthand text that without context are nonsensical. This work includes a gratuitous amount of notes, a lock of hair, and faux wood contact paper on drywall.

“Dedication” 2016,  Mixed Media

 

AM. In this series [Domesticity], industrial objects and materials are used to create relatively small works. Can you talk about scale and size in relation to this series, and about how you approach a sense of balance when incorporating disparate elements (tree bark,fabric, fishnets, etc) juxtaposed within these works?

OH. I draw a lot from the minimal abstract movement is the 60’s— inspired greatly by Louise Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Eva Hesse, and Agnes Martin. All of these creatives had specific guidelines pertaining to their material uses and size. Agnes Martin worked in multiples of threes, as do I. In Domesticity I decided to work in small formats, on drywall, and only use three materials (outside of adhesive).

AM. You’ve lived and worked in New York, NY and Las Vegas, NV, where you are from originally. How have these different locations impacted your work? Has your work evolved or new concepts been introduced in your migration east?

OH. Las Vegas is one hell of a city. There is so much going on but you can easily slip into your own bubble (similar to NYC). There are so many great and valuable artists in my hometown who inspire me daily while out here in New York. I think when I lived in Las Vegas I was driven more by my emotions, the industry when I was out there was motivated purely by sexualizing women. Many of my jobs treated me very differently than cis men (wear skirts, make-up, act bubbly). In New York people are more raw: we all know what a pain in the ass it is to get from one place to another, do grocery shopping, or wash your clothes.

I think when I moved here I started working in a way that was more coded — smarter, if you will. My commute to work was roughly an hour each way for three years of my life, which is a lot of time. I used this to analyze my materials, my thoughts about constructing a piece, and deciphered ways to communicate angst, love, or habits in a non-literal form.

I still talk about gender constructs, but I’m less angry and transparent. My connection to feminism has evolved, I came out as Non-Binary while making this series which revealed Domesticity is about deconstructing the confinement of womanhood. I use materials from the home, sometimes my cat even helps me shred fabrics. Although the topics of each piece may not be peaceful, while I am making work it’s about building stability, safety, and love within myself. In Las Vegas, my work more stemmed from anger, resentment, and confusion. There was some love, but I was a very self-destructive being in my late teens and early twenties.

“Mystic” 2017, Mixed Media

 

AM. In addition to your 2- and 3-D works you’ve also created performance works, such as Subconscious: The Weapon of Choice. In what ways do you approach performance and sound works the same as your physical artworks and what conceptual overlap do you find between these practices?

OH. Being diagnosed bipolar at 13, I have always worked with psychological elements. There are so many ideas, motives, or actions that happen within ourselves that we aren’t readily privy too. “Subconscious: The Weapon of Choice” explored the three levels of the human psyche; The Physical Self (audience/voyeurs), The Subconscious (attendees who join the performance), and The Imagined Self (performed by me). The performance ended up being a banishment of the ill will that I held against myself and others. I worked in near silence, with little movement, as a helpless confused person that was led into the light of self-acceptance. Towards the end of the performance, a participant cleaned off my nude body and held me in their arms like a newborn. There were participants that whispered encouraging sentiments and really proved to me that I am worth love in a moment in time that I had felt the most unloved in my entire life. But until that performance and those moments, I had no idea that these things were happening inside of me.

In the sound piece, Bedwomb, that I constructed with my partner’s music project, warmcanopy, we wanted to highlight the ignored sounds of the bedroom. In it you’ll hear a cat purring, change being dropped in a piggy bank, coughing, the sound of putting things away. We set aside a time to record ourselves cleaning our room, another domestic task, and submitted it to Yasmina Chavez‘s project, The Helen Keller Experience.

All of my work is cathartic and relates to personal growth and experiences.

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“Consent” 2015, Mixed Media

AM. As Founder of Susie Magazine you’ve put an emphasis on creating a platform for cis women, trans, and non-binary voices. What aspects of Susie do you find particularly exciting, and what does the zine have to share with the world that other mags or outlets just aren’t providing?

OH. Our zine formed in a secret Facebook group. We wanted to curate a platform to highlight and empower voices that aren’t regularly featured in mainstream outlets and turn the focus to the everyday person. Susie strives to be inclusive in print and at events. We are very conscious of curating with a balance of people from many different socio-economic backgrounds and creeds. Our first Issue themed P O W E R, was when Hillary Clinton was running and we were high off of having a non-cis man as a presidential candidate. There is a piece by Tanika Goudeau Hochhauser titled “Today I Vote”, that we placed as the first editorial piece because it pointedly and poetically outlines our country’s history of systemic oppression.  It was interesting to see how the context of the piece changed, as we finished the layout of before the election was finalized.

Our most recent issue, B U I L D, had a very different vibe. It was post-presidential election. It’s after many of us in marginalized communities cried out, some in disbelief and some affirmed of how racist and misogynistic our country still is. This issue is all about building yourself back up. There are stories of heartache, suicide, loving your mother, learning to love yourself, loss of a grandfather, and silly moments of “What are hands for?”

I personally think it is invaluable to have all of these voices and artworks featured under one binding! You giggle, cry, and get a cute playlist to dance around in front of the mirror to. Visitors can check us out at our online shop and on our Instagram.

AM. You’re also a Founder of Art Folx Nation. Can you speak a bit about the aims of that collective as a whole and your progress so far?

OH. Art Folx Nation began in 2014 and was originally titled Lady Art NYC. The group’s focus is to bring together a bunch of non-cis men creatives in an online space so we could share events, ask art questions, and support each other. The group itself is only for cis women, trans, and non-binary people, but our events are gender-expansive. I wanted to cultivate a space free of objectification that thrived on being supportive and safe. When I moved to New York I went to a lot of events thinking I would meet like-minded people, but every time I went to these events people had a buddy or weren’t necessarily open to making a new friend. I was in the big secret feminist Facebook group and realized that we were getting to know details about each other and building really dependable long-term bonds online without having met IRL. I figured that would work just as well in an art-focused space, and it has!

Currently, we have online chapters titled by region; Art Folx NYC, Art Folx Mid West, Art Folx South West,  Art Folx Pacific North West,  Art Folx LA, and Art Folx South East. The idea is that no matter where you move you can join one of these groups and have a supportive environment, know about events happening in your region, and (hopefully) make some friends!