Artist Spotlight on MaryKate Maher, ANTE Open Call

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.

“Slump, Lean, Hoist” 2019, wood, aqua resin, concrete, brass, stone
approximately 240 x 72 x 72 in. From the exhibition “When Artists Enter the Factories” (Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn NY 2019 curated by Jia-Jen Lin and Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi) Photo by Kuo-Heng Huang

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.

“Surface: gradients (1)” 2019, Collaged dye sublimation prints on aluminum, wallpaper, resin, gold leaf, hydrocal (30 x 22 in)
“Map for the Temporary Inhabitant” 2013/2015/2018, aqua resin, dye sublimation prints on aluminum, concrete, concrete polymers, salt varying dimensions, largest: 69 x 44 x 24 in. From the exhibition “The Dissappearing Ground” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA, 2018, curated by C.J. Stahl) Photo credit Jaime Alvarez

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.

“Surface (22) version 2” 2020. Archival print, 14 x 11in

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)

Art in the Expanded Field: In Conversation with Tianlan Deng

“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.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

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.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

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.

Alternative concept image, “Live Learning” by Tianlan Deng for Rockaway Park High School Beach Channel Educational Campus

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.

 

– ANTE mag

Embracing Interiority in Magdalena Dukiewicz’ “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space

Encountering “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space, a solo exhibition by Magdalena Dukiewicz  curated 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 will deport 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.
Work by Magdela Dukiewiecz for “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)
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. “
Installation view, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)

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.

Installation views, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)


 

Wavelength Interview for 10xCommunity: “We Are Really in the Moment”

ANTE mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Wavelength was founded in 2015 by Gianluca Bianchino and Jeanne Brasile and serves as a catalyst in the growing conversation between art and science. We touched base with the two curators to learn more about their “Pandemic Projections” initiative in the wake of CoVid-19.

 

(Cover image: Alessandro Brighetti, “Smokeocene” image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art)

Matt Sheridan, “Castles Made of Sand” produced by Tove Langridge with the participation of Queensland Ballet dancers Jack Lister (choreography) with Clare Morehen and Eleanor Freeman, cinematography by Greg Henderson, painting-in-motion animation and composite edit by Matt Sheridan – image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

ANTE mag. For 10xCommunity, ANTE is specifically featuring projects that somehow respond or have shifted in relation to Pandemic Projections – can you share with us how this initiative began and what it was started to address/achieve?

Gianluca Bianchino.  The project began somewhat serendipitously and with modest intentions.  Back in early April, Jeanne, who’s an active curator and gallery director, was compelled to project ambient video of a coral reef onto the 70 foot wide façade of a commercial building across the street from her home. It was merely play by a restless curator without a physical space due to the pandemic. The effect she was hoping to achieve was the transformation of the building into a large aquarium in the middle of a mostly quiet residential neighborhood for the purpose of activating an unusual space for a night or two. She shared an image of her projection with me.  At first I thought it was a good thing to do and there was something visually striking about it.  It seemed to be the perfect time for experimenting anyway.  All alone in my studio in Newark, New Jersey, I enjoyed the result but I didn’t think much of it that night other than the playfulness. In those days, in the midst of all the negative news we were receiving at an alarming rate, I was thinking about my mother in Italy, who’s elderly and living alone in the country hardest hit at that time by the pandemic, and the daunting prospect that the wave was coming our way.  It was disconcerting to know the only help I could lend to her, my family, and my friends in the old world, was a phone call. Suddenly, through social media I saw something really amazing taking place on the balconies of Italian cities, particularly in the south, where ancient forms of folk music have been experiencing revitalization over the past two decades. People were mostly playing hand drums, known as Tammorra, across balconies creating synchronized, spontaneous music. These were real world creative acts that allowed communication – without disrupting social distancing guidelines.  It occurred to me that there was an opportunity with video projection in the real world, and with the assistance of social media, to generate a similar experience here. I proposed to Jeanne a program featuring projections by different artists. The thought had probably already crossed her mind and it instantly became an opportunity for our ongoing curatorial collaboration, Wavelength, to explore curating on the fringes of the art world.  

Jeanne Brasile.  Once the project developed more clearly in our minds, I realized that presenting the screenings on social media via live streaming would exploit the more positive aspects of the platforms. It was also crucial that the tools we needed to present these video screenings publicly, and to a wide audience, were built into the functionality of both Facebook and Instagram. I like the idea of using social media as a curatorial and artistic stage to bring artists, curators and audiences together in a meaningful way that is interactive – like a virtual happening. The participatory aspect of this format is where I discovered the most value in terms of a creative response to social distancing and the isolation I and others felt during this time. There was a need which we addressed with a rapid response in a fun and experimental, yet critical manner that brought people together.  #pandemicprojections is an outgrowth of my interests and experience curating social interventions which I have been doing on and off for roughly 10 years. I was also thinking about space as a curatorial medium and was intrigued by the challenges and potentiality of curating projected digital video, cast onto a built environment in a social media setting.

ANTE mag. What about the projected image compelled you to begin featuring artworks in this format?

GB. A few days later I was personally onsite when we ran a second test projection using one of my own video works, Momento, which features flocks of starlings.  The realization at that moment was that video art would not only look stunning on the building façade, but it could even have the capacity to obliterate the flatness of the wall with an experience of deep space, as if the whole building was now merely the container for immersive virtual dioramas.  There was something metaphysical about the effect and it was confirmed when we started projecting videos from various artists, some of which exhibited landscape features such as horizon lines and perspective. We began documenting the projections from slightly elevated vantage points. The results were always beautiful and surprising. In the case of Alessandro Brighetti’s Smokeoscene it is especially astounding how his image of perspectival plumes of smoke mirrored the dramatic sunset taking place right above the building. 

JB.  Yes, I definitely thought about the idea of the building as a container, which we discussed at length. I was also interested in creating an alternative to a physical exhibition, which was not possible during this time, and bringing art into a more public sphere, both physically and virtually. I like the idea of democratizing the art experience and the attendant potential for unscripted possibilities – with neighbors, the local police department who came by to view the work one evening, and drivers who stopped their cars and treated the street like an impromptu drive-in theatre. I like that our audience participates in a variety of ways that are self-determined and meaningful to them by virtue of their type of participation – whether in the real world or on social media. We’ve had people anticipating the screenings, joining us each time, others happened upon the events by chance. I also really enjoy the way many of the videos interact with the architectural features of the building, which would never be possible or acceptable, in a traditional gallery environment. Many videos take on new meaning in an out-of-doors setting as well as the context of being shown during the pandemic. One of the most unanticipated aspects for me was how the messaging functions on Facebook and Instagram were embraced by our audience members immediately, who built a community by showing up weekly, asking questions of me, Gianluca and the artists, and who began conversing among themselves during the events and beyond. This is extremely gratifying. I feel we have accomplished our goal to overcome social distancing and bring people together.  It all depended on our audience to make it happen and they oblige, very enthusiastically. 

ANTE mag. How have you found the artists for these projections? 

GB. We began with Jeanne’s idea of reaching out to Kati Vilim, a colleague and friend of ours who we have worked with numerous times. Kati is a geometric abstract painter also working in video and installation. She is also very open to experimentation, so we knew we could rely on her to kick off the series. On the first night of #pandemicprojections we featured a 16 minute video loop of Kati’s images which were generated by an algorithm.  Her work is a fine combination of three-dimensional illusion and flatness. Both these aspects worked great and gave us a sense of the contrast needed in any given video to achieve a satisfactory result. At that point we felt we had enough material to begin properly advertising the program on social media as well as emailing a selection of artists we knew personally whose work might be a good fit. Still, despite the enthusiasm, realistically we thought we might have one or two nights of projections overall.  The response from both our invited artists and open call has been exciting and steady. We are now going on ten iterations, with an average of four featured artists per night. 

JB. We also got lots of referrals from artists on social media, artists that showed their work in #pandemicprojections and a few of my curator friends gave us some leads as well. 

ANTE mag. What type of demand for art do you see this project addressing? 

JB. I see many important needs addressed by #pandemicprojections. First is the need to continue curating and developing exhibitions in a time when all shows and activities were unexpectedly ground to a halt. I wanted to create opportunities for artists and the communities I work with, as well as satisfy my need to actively curate. I had to find a way to bring a community together in ‘real time’ like we are able to do in a gallery, an art opening or similar cultural events where people gather. I also have a desire to push the boundaries of curating, and I am always thinking about ways to advocate for artists while serving community. This project concomitantly satisfied these multivalent needs. With the live streaming, it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and become part of the spectacle by ‘performing’ the screenings with our narration and conversations with the artists and audiences, while allowing me to concomitantly extend my curatorial practice into new, experimental formats that I’d already been interested in. Without the narration and participatory components, the screenings would have been a passive experience which would not have, in my estimation, contributed anything and I really wanted to use this time of crisis to as a challenge to create something unique and meaningful for everyone involved.  

GB. Since the pandemic began institutions have had to reimagine their programming. There have been numerous virtual tours of galleries, collections, and studio visits and presentations via video conference, as well initiatives by groups of artists-supporting-artists on social media. These were all really helpful ways to keep the dialog about art moving forward despite the stagnation. I intended to be a spectator and an occasional participant in the online discussion when invited. However, #pandemicprojections presented a timely opportunity to show art in the real world while holding a forum about the work via social media live feeds. For me, there was something suddenly odd about showing art outside the matrix of the internet. I didn’t know if there was an actual demand for it but we were curious to find out.  In order to comply with social distancing guidelines we have discouraged participating artists and audiences to attend the event in person. However, the fact that it is happening in the physical world requires the viewer to fill in the experience. There’s something phenomenological about the aspect of knowing the screenings are taking place while not being able to witness them in person. It reminds me of astronomers studying black holes. They determine their presence not by the hole itself but by the behavior of everything around it.    

Joe Waks, “Renaissance Américaine,” image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

 

ANTE mag. How do you think the current virus pandemic has affected art production? 

GB. From what I can see through art shared on the internet and discussions I’ve been having with colleagues in the US and abroad, it seems that artists who have had access to their studios, and have been able to float financially one way or another throughout this period, are actually thriving in terms of production, and that has not surprised me. We artists and creative thinkers are for the most part genetically built for this type of seclusion. My impression is that two-dimensional art is really booming at the moment given its natural compatibility with the flat screen from which it is being experienced.  I am curious to see how sculpture will revive itself in the post pandemic era. In a way, I think of #pandemicprojections as a means for creating a three-dimensional experience employing two-dimensional art. If a curator is also an artist in the way they craft an exhibit, then that is the dimension we may have added in bringing all of this work together.

JB. Though artists may have had to adapt due to working at home or losing access to their studios, artists are incredibly resourceful. They will always make art despite creative hardships. I think the real transformation will occur not among artists, but among the sales, consumption and distribution ends of the creative chain. How will galleries, museums, auction houses, collectors and dealers move forward? The idealist in me thinks that perhaps the pandemic will equalize some of the inequities and excesses in the art world. The pragmatic part of my brain argues back that this crisis, like the last economic downturn in 2008, will only further entrench the disparities that exist. I wish I could be more hopeful. 

ANTE mag. As artists, how has this moment affected your own practice?

JB. I was making major progress on my art despite the lack of space since my kitchen was doing triple duty – having been split into a home office, and studio in addition to its usual functions. Fortunately, I have a large kitchen, so it isn’t too chaotic. I finished 2 pieces in the first week or so, and began working on a third. That is a quick pace for me. Once I committed to #pandemicprojections, progress in the studio proper slowed down. That is okay since I am very committed to the project and right now there is more of a need there. People really look forward to the screenings and their social components. Right now, the studio seems insular at a time when I see people craving community. Once we wrap up the screenings, I think I’ll get back some momentum in the studio. I have a lot of pent-up ideas and I’ve been doing lots of day-dreaming, journaling, reading and sketching I can draw from once I get back to art-making.  

GB. I have been an artist for 25 years and I never experienced a creative block. If I were traveling and without a studio for a while, I would make video art.  But I have actually not made much art since the pandemic despite feeling confident about the trajectory I was on with my studio practice. I don’t think of it as a creative block but rather a conscious choice I’ve eased into. And yet, I am lucky to be spending more time in my studio than ever and there are occasional experiments that I undertake. I think #pandemicprojections has occupied my creative space and delivered, so far, great results. What started as play turned quickly into one of the greatest creative responsibilities of my career. And while the curtain is slowly but surely closing on this endeavor we may unveil soon one more final chapter related to this project. 

ANTE mag. How do you see pandemic projections evolving post-CoVid19 pandemic?

GB. Like any creative person experiencing the making of good work, the work itself takes you by the hand and leads you to uncharted territory. Any artists aware of such a seductive lack of control will tell you they can merely nudge the work in a certain direction but the wave that sweeps you is beyond you. #pandemicprojections has been somewhat like that despite the added responsibility of interpreting a collection of works by other artists. We have been recently approached by an arts organization to take the project to a drive-in format for a one night collaborative event in which we’ll aim to feature all the participating artists – while welcoming a physical, albeit socially-distanced, audience. We had a promising meeting and only a set of practical or legal logistics beyond our control could prevent the event from happening at this stage. It would be a fantastic way to conclude our program.  Fingers crossed!  As for the post Covid 19 era it is difficult to say. The project will cease soon and will be reconsidered in the eventuality of a second wave of the pandemic later this year, but for the most part we are really in the moment. 

JB. #pandemicprojections needs to culminate in a public screening which Gianluca mentioned. We’ve created a community and there is a demand to be together in real time and space that cannot be denied. I can’t wait to be able to host a screening with a live audience, showing all the videos in one night. Though we won’t be able to join in a large group, I think the physical proximity and aspects of a ‘drive-in’ format will assuage some of the pent-up longing to be together. I envisioned this to be a finite project from the beginning – meant to address a specific need.  When the world opens up again, the need will presumably no longer be there. Then we’re off to the next project…

Kati Vilim, “Phases” Image courtesy the artist and Wavelength Art.

On Thursday, June 11th, the final installment of Pandemic Projections will be live from 9 pm EST on the Instagram accounts of Jeanne Brasile and Gianluca Bianchino will be hosting this last event, featuring artists:

Angeles Cossio

Eric Valosin

Lori Field

Teresa Braun

Alinta Krauth

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

 

 

About Wavelength

Wavelength is a curatorial collaborative founded in 2015 by Gianluca Bianchino, an artist/curator, and Jeanne Brasile, a curator/artist. Their projects explore the relationship between art and science via immersive exhibitions, interviews with artists/scientists/curators, artists talks, critical writing and symposia.  Wavelength takes part in the growing conversation between art and science, particularly in the realms of physics and astronomy.  Wavelength’s curatorial practice considers phenomenological art informed by scientific principles – concerned more with manifestation than representation.

Interview with Eileen O’Kane Kornreich: “Emotionally Charged Color is My Grammar”

An Interview between Audra Lambert and Eileen O’Kane Kornreich

Our current dual American crises of pandemic outbreak and social inequality are both eerily present in this visceral body of work I encountered by artist Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, “Mortality Path.” The series is open to viewer interpretation as the artist depicts the site of Washington Square Park, a space that has served various functions over the years: a place for organized protest, leisurely strolls, farmland, and a burial ground. Kornreich presents scenes from this locale not with realistic details but charged with facets of the various histories that compose the elements of the site itself.

I first became aware of this series a few months ago, when I met with the artist after encountering her current body of work, “Creatures,” which explores concepts related to the “Gilgamesh” epic. The artist’s powerful dual approaches contrasting the historical realm of Myth against the personal myths we build around our own lives intrigued me, enticing me to learn more about her past body of work. Encountering “Mortality Path,” it became clear that Kornreich invested significant time in researching the purpose of this site throughout New York City’s nearly 400-year history, particularly as it relates to the settlement of Manhattan as it spanned northward from its origins in the current Financial District. The artist charts her engagement with the site from a personal level as someone who frequented the park, diving into its secrets and hidden history in the wake of poignant personal grief she was experiencing during the time period that this series emerged. Kornreich observes rather than comments: she views the psychological aspects of the park’s trajectory, tracing the multi-layered history informing the experience of walking paths along the northwest corner of the park. I sat down with Kornreich for this somber and reflective journey through grief, contemplation, and the intractable pall that past histories indelibly cast on our experience of the present moment.

(Above–>Below) Before Rose, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Her Park Path No Memory, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path 7, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. Walk us through the origin of “Mortality Path” and your early foray into capturing the vistas of Washington Square Park, how did this space first attract your attention and inspire you to begin work on this series?

Eileen O’Kane Kornreich. After my husband died early 2015, I had been thinking of our mortality and how we humans manipulate the natural world and ritualize our deaths. Death of a beloved brings one down memory lane, and I found myself digging out work from forty years earlier. In the late 1970’s I went through several years of painting landscapes. I was charmed by one oil of the trees out of my studio window. Everything I loved and lived with during those years are dead: the dog, the boyfriend. Everything gone – but not the trees. I drove to see them, still outside that window, the dog buried not more than twenty feet away. I thought of trees and burials, like burials in Indonesia where they inter dead babies in a ritual where they and their spirits are absorbed by nature, which I believe is lovely. I thought of all the markers for our dead, all the bodies moved into catacombs, then I reminded myself of potters’ fields. There are thousands of dumping grounds for human remains; we walk on them daily and are unaware. Washington Square Park’s northwest corner is something I am very aware of and that is so centric to our city and country’s history, yet there are no markers for all those people.

ANTE mag. The theme of this work is site-specific, dwelling on a certain location: The Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Are you drawn to working with spaces and their layered histories? Why or why not?

EO’KK. This was a first [for me to use a particular site.] This is so specific a site: fifty to two hundred feet of a site. It was not a conscience decision to use a small-scale location. It was a conscience decision to use a mammoth atrocity to over tens of thousands of people, acknowledged. These bodies that were dumped, hidden, ignored, and historically expunged and that one American Elm onsite who saw it all and is still alive. That’s the story.

 

(Above–>Below) See Through to the Piers, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Park Path Dapple Light, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path Blue, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. You note that in this body of work that you build… “from society’s constructed beauty that masks atrocities below.” What about this contrast compelled you to create these artworks?

EO’KK. There are several written histories of the what and why of the potter’s field in and around what is now known as Washington Square Park. New York City has records of purchasing sections of the eastern side of the park for a potter’s field in 1790s. At that time, this land was already used by several African churches located near that same land when this area was farmland owned by freed slaves. The city has notes of the bodies dumped in the north west corned on the banks of the Minetta Creek: this was an area, again, long in use by the native population. This undesirable area was partitioned off to native peoples, freed slaves and rogue New Yorkers, The English and Dutch, then reclaimed as a potter’s field – can you imagine? I imagined then and still to this day, all the bodies laid or splayed, then topped with fill for years as the pandemic raged during humid summers or a citizen was murderer. A few decades after the last of the stink and vermin had died off, only then a military square is constructed for pageantry around the square mansions that have since been constructed. Imagine bunting and flags and shots of rifles children playing in and around where just a generation ago lay the bodies of a putrid death, some named some not, thrown into a ditch. We have a similar situation to this now at the area near World Trade Center: different, clearly, in terms of intent, but so many go about their day and eat lunches over the bodies of those killed in 9/11. Across the street is an African burial site that just received its historical plaque. And so, it goes, it’s all around us.

ANTE mag. These works feature emotionally charged colors, and the strong use of perspective in these works creates a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. What are some of the emotions present in these works and why?

EO’KK. Emotionally charged color is my grammar, the construction of my visual language. While making these drawings, I am aware that I’m in a graveyard, that there is death beneath my feet – it brings to mind my husband’s graveyard in Valhalla, NY, which is gorgeous and shows diversity across its many sections, yet beneath these graves are even older burial sites of native peoples, settlers, anicent beasts….these layers of history continue endlessly. With Washington Square Park, that one particular corner has never had a plaque until they put a plaque at the arch noting that in the 19th century, ten African wooden caskets were placed at this site in 1850. But that begs the question of why these freed men and women of color were in this site, which at that time was still relatively undeveloped? Early settlers had no qualms about using free slaves as a buffer from native people’s attacks on first the Dutch, then the English took over. This is a part of our history we can find if we dig through the layers.  There are many perspectives in the park, off in one area you can even watch the light bouncing off the distant Hudson River, even noting a small square where you can see New Jersey. These photos were taken during walks in the winter and there is refracted light, light shining on in the darkness. This is my contemplation on color and perspective: how it’s read or absorbed by the viewer is for them to tell that story, I’ve told mine.

ANTE mag. The presence of trees is palpable in these works: what meaning do these park trees have for you, metaphorically, in this series?

EO’KK. The four-hundred-year-old American Elm in the Northwest corner of the park is a monument we locals call the Hanging Tree. That is my leading lady. If she could talk, she would set me straight. She would tell the burden of the dead and dying, and hangmen alike. The other trees, the recent plantings by our wealthy society, those represent the frivolous, the pageantry, the amnesia of a city wanting to not remember or know what they did, what happened in the past. 

ANTE mag. Can you explain your process in creating these compositions? For example, did you photograph the site from different angles then draw those with pencil on paper? Did you create these works en plein air?

EO’KK. While in the park, I photograph a path, a tree. I take upwards of three hundred shots with my camera and print what is valid to my eye. From these I construct a photo-collage of multiple perspectives, giving me a 360-degree view of a tree, shadow or path. It is a very cubist drawing which arises from the collage. I create the base drawing in pencil. From the base drawing, I work with acrylic, conte crayon, pastel, crayon and graphite to build the finished work. 

ANTE mag. You reference that these works recall “mysterious dreamscapes of nature.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment in relation to this body of work?

EO’KK. Once I start layering color with crayon and pastel the hard cubist edges are removed, and the multi-perspectives become one trippy, mysterious landscape.

What happens when we die? Every person who has lived during the age of reason has thought of the why’s and where’s of the afterlife. Does the answer lie with a god or gods, or spirits, or is it science? Why are some deaths celebrated and interred in strong, elaborate shrines while others are burned on a river or dumped in a marsh that becomes a celebrated park a few decades later? That’s just luck. My deeper thoughts are what happens after our internal light is out.

Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation | The 8th Floor Interview for 10xCommunity: “By Addressing Real Life in our Work, There is More Potential for Change”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Shelly & Donald Rubin Foundation, The 8th Floor is a platform for socially engaged exhibitions and programs featuring artists of diverse backgrounds involving communities in dialogues around a range of social issues. ANTE contributor Mariel Tepper touched base with Executive/Artistic Direction at The 8th Floor, Sara Reisman, in order learn more about what types of initiatives they are enacting and following during CoVid-19.

(Lead image credits: Jane Benson. A Place for Infinite Tuning, 2014. Plywood, steel, mirrored plexiglass, wooden vase, latex paint, hand-cut artificial flowers, hand-cut oud and viola Photograph by Matthew Johnson, courtesy of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.)

 

ANTE mag. How did The Rubin Foundation’s The 8th Floor get its start? What was the initial vision for how The 8th Floor could explore the intersection of art and social justice?

Sara Reisman. The 8th Floor was founded in 2010 by Shelley and Donald Rubin to showcase their private art collection, which, at the time, was focused on contemporary Cuban art. When I started at the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, as Artistic Director, in 2014, part of my charge was to help refine the mission of the Foundation, which was founded in the mid-1990s. The Foundation had supported arts and cultural organizations – ranging from visual arts presenters in New York City, to Himalayan art projects – as well as social justice organizations advocating for freedom of expression, gun control, and access to health care. In the process of identifying that the mission could be more precise in its support of organizations in New York City that were bringing art and social justice together, we determined that The 8th Floor could become a platform for art and dialogue around social justice themes. Initially, I thought there would be a few shows to articulate the Foundation’s interests. The first show I curated at The 8th Floor in 2015 was Mobility and Its Discontents, which included artists Jane Benson, Ángel Delgado, Lan Tuazon, and Javier Téllez, whose projects expressed the impacts of borders and strategies for transcending them. As we – my colleagues George Bolster, Anjuli Nanda Diamond, and I – continued to develop ideas for exhibitions, it became clear a series of shows on social justice themes, building upon one another, could be ongoing. In addition to the exhibitions, public programs and workshops are integral to providing audiences and the communities we serve with a discursive environment that is both communal and supportive of free expression. Without public programming, I think the effect of the exhibitions would be very different, less engaged. 

ANTE mag. The COVID-19 crisis has deeply impacted our society and the art world in unprecedented ways. What are some ways that the Rubin Foundation will stay connected and active in the arts community during this time?

SR. We recently launched a virtual series called Performance-in-Place, which we thought of as a way to engage with artists, providing them with support and a platform, to present new performances generated by the new social distancing measures (whatever that might mean for each of them.) Performance-in-Place will happen every third Tuesday evening (times depending on where the artists are located), our first event was led by Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo, in the Bronx, with two collaborators Anna Recasens, and Laia Solé, who are based in different parts of Spain. Their conversation, On Art and Friendship, also showed excerpts from a new video piece they began working on in February to document the aspects of art praxis, that are often not shown in art spaces. For our team, it was moving to see how the three artists facilitated a discussion of sharing and connecting with a group largely consisting of individuals who are often in attendance at The 8th Floor. Forthcoming performances include presentations by Alice Sheppard with Kinetic Light (June 9), From the Collection of Eileen Myles (June 30,) Maria Hupfield (July 11,) a new piece titled Hotline by Aliza Shvarts (September 1,) and Latasha N. Nevada Diggs (September 22.) To complement the performance series, we are hosting monthly talks online as well. On May 28, I will moderate Places of Isolation and Healing, a conversation between Edgar Heap of Birds and Douglas Miles, and on June 18, I’ll be in conversation with artist and activist Carmen Papalia on facilitating accessibility in virtual spaces. 

Initially, I felt that the pressure to generate programs for virtual experiences was uninspiring. But two months into this, I’m realizing there is great potential to connect people internationally, across geographies. Of course, more than ever,  the notion of the digital divide is an issue, but I can see that as we learn to operate virtually, there is an opportunity to approach accessibility in new ways, online and eventually as we make the shift back to doing programs in person.

Mobility and Its Discontents, installation view at The 8th Floor From left to right, works by Alberto Borea, Jorge Wellesley, Lan Tuazon, Jane Benson Photograph by Matthew Johnson, courtesy of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation

 

ANTE mag. Your organization’s past exhibitions explore pressing social issues and concepts, from healthcare to mass surveillance to “different modes of resistance” in the series Revolutionary Cycles. Why is art and culture necessary in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

SR. Revolutionary Cycles was conceived as a series of six exhibitions to examine the instruments of social and political transformation. In the first exhibition Revolution from Without…, which opened in January 2019, artists featured in the show – Chto Delat, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Dread Scott, and others – expressed how change often comes from those on the margins of the polity, and the condition of being without – without rights, without representation, and without capital. It’s clear to me that in the current climate, a crisis of a failing health care system, capitalism run rampant, and rights being stripped away in the name of national security, art is essential for its capacity to communicate conditions that would otherwise be obscured. I also believe that even as the decision to make art is perceived by many to be one of privilege, being an artist is a precarious existence, and yet, artists constantly take risks in representing unpopular ideas, that question authority, that challenge the status quo. The next exhibition in the Revolutionary Cycles series, To Cast Too Bold a Shadow (originally scheduled to open on May 14 and postponed until at least the fall) is focused on entrenched forms of misogyny in our culture, and will feature works by Betty Tompkins, Joiri Minaya, Yoko Ono, Tracey Emin, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and Aliza Shvarts, among others. With support from the Italian Council (a funding body of the Italian government) we are commissioning Maria D. Rapicavoli to make a new film, The Other: A Familiar Story, about immigration based on the life of a close relative. The project charts the oppression of a woman who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, forced to leave her children behind, surviving an abusive relationship in the process. A Familiar Story becomes more timely given the immigration crisis we’ve been witnessing over the last decade, and now with the pandemic in which domestic abuse is compounded by quarantine. The logic behind Rapicavoli’s film demonstrates how artists are often thinking about what is below the surface.

ANTE mag. What have been some of your organization’s narrative goals with past exhibitions and programming, and how might those narratives come into play after this crisis?

SR. We obviously have no real idea what the outcome and conclusion of the pandemic will be, but our exhibitions together present a narrative in which questions of equity and human rights – whether they be LGBTQi rights, disability rights, or to do with reparations – are at the forefront. Regardless of what happens after this crisis (if there is a distinct ‘after’), I hope politically engaged art discourse can continue to be more grounded – as I feel we have been since the pandemic took hold –  in the realities we face as cultures, as communities, as a country. And to understand that reality is not always pleasant, or fair, or aesthetically digestible – but that by addressing real life in our work, there is more potential for change.

Betty Tompkins Apologia (Caravaggio #1), 2018 Courtesy of Betty Tompkins and P·P·O·W, New York

ANTE mag. Public events and programs are a vital aspect of The 8th Floor, with frequent artist talks accompanying exhibitions. During this time is your organization considering any alternative types of programming such as virtual talks or exhibitions?

SR. As I mentioned, last week (on May 19) we launched Performance-in-Place as a virtual series, and monthly talks, which right now feel like a good alternative to the fact that we can’t gather people in real time and space. With that in mind, if the pandemic means we can’t return to doing in-person programming in the fall, or by the end of the year, we will have learned how to conduct virtual programs. We are taking the time to do certain projects that are less immediately visible. For the last year we’ve been hosting a series of closed conversations called Access Check: Mapping Accessibility 2.0, which actually started with a public program last July at The 8th Floor. Organized in collaboration with choreographer and artist Jerron Herman, the talk brought together a group of artists, activists, and educators who have consistently advocated for disability rights and access in the cultural sector. We quickly realized there was a need to continue the discussion, and now we’re in the process of finalizing a survey for the field, split into two tracks: one for artists with disabilities about what is needed from institutions in terms of accessible and equitable programming; and another geared towards organizations and institutions, to understand what their capacity is in terms of facilitating accessible cultural programs. We hope the survey raises awareness about what institutions can do to become more accessible, while helping to formulate tools and language for artists with disabilities to advocate for what they need, similar to the way in which WAGE guidelines provide artists with talking points about payment for their work.

ANTE mag. Are there any current projects, funds or resources you would like to promote for artists or fellow organizations who have been impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns? 

SR. There are so many incredible efforts that have emerged in response to the pandemic. Here are a few that have impressed me in their concern for vulnerable communities:

  • COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund – Linked here.
  • Tri-State Relief Fund to Support Non-Salaried Workers in the Visual Arts – Linked here.  
  • Artist Relief – Linked here. 
  • The Crip Fund – Linked here. 

I’m also impressed by mutual aid efforts that have emerged. The Sunview Luncheonette set up a fund for workers at the Met foodmarket in Greenpoint – Linked here. 

ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your recent initiatives and what projects may be in store for the future of The Rubin Foundation?

SR.  After To Cast Too Bold a Shadow, we will stage the fifth exhibition in the series, titled In Kinship. The show will look at alternate family structures over the last 30 years, expanding the notion of family beyond heteronormative, nuclear, or government mandate, in the contexts of queer culture and immigrant communities. The sixth and final show of Revolutionary Cycles is After the Fall, which will reflect on the political moment to consider methods for the societal change needed to move beyond the political binaries that currently shape U.S. culture. The exhibition is conceived to anticipate various outcomes in our collective political future as articulated by artists and cultural producers, while simultaneously recognizing the need for spiritual transformation in times of crisis. Originally, After the Fall was meant to open around the time of the next presidential inauguration, with ‘the fall’ being open to interpretation. It makes me think of one of Dread Scott’s artworks featured in Revolution from Without…, titled Overthrow Dictators, which was made as part of the J20 inauguration protest in 2017. It’s a stencil with the phrase: by reading this, you agree to overthrow dictators.

Chto Delat
To those who (Migrants), 2019. Photograph by Julia Gillard. Courtesy of the artist and the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection.

Assembly Room Interview for 10xCommunity: “This is a Crucial Moment; We Need to Adapt”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Assembly Room is a safe space for professional women curators to mount exhibitions and attend programming on the Lower East Side in New York City. We caught up with founders Yulia Topchiy, Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker to learn more about what types of initiative they’ve begun in the wake of CoVid-19.

(Header image credit to Julia Colavita)

ANTE mag. Thank you for chatting with us about your community. What thoughts were in your minds when the pandemic began to affect social movement?
Assembly Room. As Toni Morrison famously said: “What can I do where I am?” So we looked no further than the community we forged over the past year and a half and focused on the importance of connection and empathy. We are aware and most interested in what’s happening in our community in terms of coming together and elevating financial burdens by joining the coalition on freezing commercial rents, raising money for artists through sales and donations, and supporting artists that question the social and economic inequality and push for change with their actions and work.
Works by Rusudan Khizanishvili on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy)

ANTE mag. As a space and a platform, Assembly Room has grown to play a critical role in supporting women’s cultural producers in NYC and beyond. How did you envision continuing that role during this crisis, and what specifically have you done to keep the work you’ve been so dedicated to since your beginning?

AR. We asked ourselves, how do we stay connected? How do we use our platform and resources to support our curators, promote our artists, and invite new voices and ideas? We shaped our programming based on their feedback. For instance, we moved our monthly networking and professional development meetings to bi-weekly via Zoom; we launched an Insta TV Channel “Curating in the time of Covid-19” and asked curators to create a short video about their experiences, projects, challenges. We are presenting and promoting women artists on our website, social media, and through the sale of their artwork on our Artsy platform. Our network expanded and we had curators join us from the east coast to the west coast, from western to central Europe, and to Canada. 
Because we went online, our voices reached even further as we joined others in advocating for equality and worker rights, sharing ideas on how to make the art system more sustainable and democratic, and underscoring the relevance of nurturing culture and art.
ANTE mag. What have the three of you been doing to increase access to resources during this time, and/or what would you like to do or see more of in the art community in the present moment?
AR. The crisis has allowed us to move deeper into community engagement, collaboration, and partnership, as well as reap the benefits of our network and community building over the past two years. We established a simple resource guide and circulated it within our group, inviting them to collaborate, reach out, exchange ideas, and share creative outlets with one another. We have an exciting partnership with curator Kelly Schroer at Artfare to launch a joint platform, “Unrealized Projects,” specifically for curators whose shows closed early or were canceled due to the pandemic. We invited Sarah Murkett, a professional recruiter from the art industry, to guide us through a discussion of the job market and how to turn the current situation into an opportunity to adapt, set new goals, network, and improve skills. Within the art community, we would like to continue the conversation and to keep asking questions. We would like the community to be as generous as possible and offer help and expertise when needed. This is a crucial moment; we need to adapt to the fast-changing online technologies but also invent practices and tools that will allow us to remain active, relevant, and collaborative in the future. 
Works by Nora Riggs on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy )
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how Assembly Room sees their mission continuing once social life begins to return “to normal”? 
AR. We will continue to fulfill our mission through our core programs, professional development of women in the arts, lively public programs, and an array of exhibitions but with a new urgency. Women make up the majority of art workers, and they will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Advocating for better representation and addressing gender imbalance is going to be even more critical in the future. It’s our job to be alert, to look out for each other, and to achieve a “new normal” based on greater equality. We are optimistic because we have a wonderful community of curators, artists, gallerists, nonprofits, and we are excited to continue working on this together. 
ANTE mag. How have you each personally been mitigating the effects of this crisis on your individual careers and personal lives? 
AR. As you know, Assembly Room is a self-organized and self-funded platform for women to achieve success through the community. We personally contribute to the funding, time, and energy for all the operations, programs, and exhibition space. Our incomes took a dive due to the shutdown, and we are asking ourselves hard questions and making tough decisions. Like everyone else, we lost a lot on a personal and professional level, but in different ways, we are focusing on what is most essential in our lives. We are fortunate to have each other because we are good friends and business partners. We make each other laugh when things get too dangerous, and now is also the best time to practice compassion! 
Like everyone, we went through the whole arc of stay at home emotions and activities! We cooked more, we empathize and grieved for lost family and friends, we contributed as much as we could to our friends in the restaurant community, we were up and we were down, we tried new things, we binge watched tv shows, we danced and dreamed, but mostly we showed up.  
Installation view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy) image credit to Julia Colavita
ANTE mag. How have you engaged with other platforms and creators to expand the dialogue around this moment of crisis?
AR. As we mentioned, we have an exciting partnership with Artfare to create an online presentation of “Unrealized” curatorial projects. We are promoting exclusive Artsy shows of female artists we have worked within the past, and we are constantly updating our fantastic works on paper or Flat Files, both available online via Artsy. We participated in the NADA initiative for the NADA community to support artists by listing the works on Artnet. We also led webinars with fellow curators and arts professionals hosted by ArtTable and POWarts, respectively, sharing our experiences, challenges, resources, and expanding the conversation. 
ANTE mag. What actions are you taking in the near future to engage with the broader art community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AR. Professional development and networking are key for us. In addition to the arts, we are thinking of how curators can be useful in fields outside the art world. How can one bring curatorial experience to other industries and sectors where artists are deeply appreciated, but curators are not necessarily approached? Artists are at the heart of our practice, and we are passionate about establishing connections with organizations willing to support curatorial initiatives and contemporary artists question inequality, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others. Whether bearing witness to tragic events, presenting alternative histories, or engaging in activism, such artists use visual art as a means to provoke personal and social transformations, which are much needed at this time. We want to support these artists with the help of organizations who have resources to bring conversations to a wider audience both in physical and digital spaces. ANTE readers can support us by connecting with us on our social networks, repost and sharing our content, purchasing the fantastic, affordable artworks available by emerging, unrepresented, living artists on our Artsy page, by participating in our projects. It’s time to rebuild, let’s do it together.

Artfully Learning Interview for 10xCommunity: “Lifelong Learning via the Arts”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Artfully Learning was founded by art educator, artist and curator Adam Zucker, and mounts an experiential and critical cross-examination of the fine art world and educational sphere. We caught up with Adam to learn more about how he is adapting his coverage to suit a post-CoVid19 society.

ANTE: Thanks for chatting! So tell us about your community. What urgent need inspired you to begin your work with Artfully Learning?
Adam Zucker: I entered the arena of art education (K-12) coming from a background that was largely in the fine arts field, so I had far less experience and training than many of my fellow students upon entering the Master’s in Art Education program at Brooklyn College. I was a bit apprehensive and timid initially. I felt out of place. However, my professors, Linda Louis and Toby Needler encouraged me to combine my prior knowledge of Art History and my professional experience as a curator and arts writer, with the experiential education I was receiving in art pedagogy.  I also took a class on Visual Culture with Dr. Cheri Ehrlich, where we were prompted to create documentation of our journey to become art educators, and that was the birth of Artfully Learning. It was initially about finding my comfort zone to approach topics related to teaching and learning, but it has evolved into a resource that has helped a variety of individuals integrate contemporary art practices into educational frameworks.

 

ANTE: You root the content and resources you provide in critical theory and in vanguard knowledge (such as the Lincoln Center’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning programtalk about your priorities when you are selecting what you include on the platform?

AZ: I select material and content that I find interesting and that I am passionate about. Because I believe that learning to create and respond to art is intrinsic with the human experience, I have taken a very constructivist approach to my platform. I present ways that contemporary art can benefit social, emotional and cognitive development, and suggest how works from a wide range of artists might be incorporated into K-12 curricula on a macro and micro scale. I am in full support of art-centered learning throughout the curriculum, which means that the arts are in partnership with the other subjects, not in service to them.
ANTE:  Does the platform have a particular lens on engaging the wider community and producing necessary resources during the CoVid-19 pandemic, and how?
AZ: There is a specific page on Artfully Learning on social distance learning, where I have been posting my own lesson plans (that can be scaffolded for instruction and realized at home), as well as other resources from the field in response to the sudden transition to remote learning and homeschooling. The page will continue to be updated for as long as educators and students are away from their physical classrooms.
ANTE: Artfully Learning has received incredible critical reception in light of the pandemic – can you tell us about where the platform has been featured and share insights into feedback you’ve received from your audience?
AZ: I am always most grateful and excited when I get feedback from readers of my blog. I speak to my educator friends on almost a weekly basis, and have been so inspired by their devotion and passion for both adapting and pushing the boundaries of the unique situation we’ve been facing. We constantly share ideas and resources. The education community is one of the most selfless and tireless professional communities. As far as where my blog has been featured, I have seen a lot of recent traffic coming from BOMB Magazine, Bushwick Daily, and various University listservs. I feel most rewarded for my work when teachers and school administrators share my writing with their own networks.
ANTE: What urgent need does the community have right now for greater access to art education?
AZ: Education in general needs to be more accessible to reflect the diversity of the community. More resources are needed for students and teachers, so that they’re able to collaboratively learn and thrive in a safe and healthy environment. It is painfully clear how underfunded and unprepared our education systems are to support the most vulnerable students and provide teachers with materials and aid that they need. There is enormous inequity. All students should have access to resources that nourish the mind, body, and spirit. The arts do this by giving students a means for personal expression, and fostering a sense of self and collective values. Everyone has the ability to think and perform in an artful manner, despite their technical skills. The arts strengthen our ability to be flexible and make judgements in the absence of clear cut solutions. In this day and age of unknowns and uncertainties, it is the critical and creative thinking we acquire from art education, which will keep us innovating and responding to problems in an empathetic manner. Just look at how many artists are currently making and donating masks for essential workers.
ANTE: Who do you envision as your audience for the content you share and has that shifted since the pandemic began?
AZ: My audience has always been in flux since day one. When I began, it was mainly my own network from art and art education circles. Later, my writing started to reach the larger arts and education community. It has grown and expanded to where I can’t define any one specific group or groups of readers. I want my content to be accessible and useful to anyone who comes across my blog.
ANTE: What actions are you taking in the near future to contribute to the wider community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AZ: I am going to stick with what I do best, which is to write about the relationship between the arts and our human experiences. What I hope that I can provide is a spark and a thirst for my readers to continue their quest for lifelong learning via the arts. As I mentioned, I’m maintaining a page where I’ll contribute my own original lesson plans and other resources from a variety of sources that focus on creating, viewing, and presenting art remotely. I’d be happy to connect with more people who have similar and different experiences. I’m always looking to expand and diversify the content that I write about. ANTE readers can feel free to make suggestions, share their experiences, and let others know about the blog!

Waves and Archives Interview for 10xCommunity: “Fashion as a Medium of Art”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews,10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Waves and Archives founded by Manan Ter-Grigoryan, Marianna Kosheleva and Julian Jimarez-Howard in 2018, endorses fashion as an art form across academic, instutional and art world settings. For our very first 10xCommunity interview we sat down to learn more on the Waves & Archives leadership team’s perspectives on fashion as a radical artistic platform.

 

ANTE: Thanks for chatting! Let’s start with your beginning – was there a specific catalyst that brought Waves and Archives into being? What was your initial vision for how Waves and Archives could change the landscape for fashion-related projects and their presence in the greater art world?

W&A: As it often happens with projects such as this, many stars had to align for things to start coming together in a concrete form of an exhibition and a certain plan for the future of Waves and Archives. For me, Manan Ter-Grigoryan, the motivation for this project was a certain reluctance I faced in graduate school from faculty members who were tacitly implying fashion was not art, and therefore I could not write my thesis on then still alive Alexander McQueen. Things became increasingly concrete when several years ago I got a call from a friend and colleague Julian Jimarez Howard wanting to start a publication that would focus on fashion as a medium of art. But it wasn’t until Marianna Kosheleva joined our trifecta with her strategy and vision that we all got the push we needed to move our project forward. So to answer your question, I think more than any occurrences, PEOPLE are catalysts. The vision for Waves and Archives has always been to promote fashion as a medium of art, and the need to do so in all domains simultaneously with a library, a publication and a gallery seemed like the most organic response.

 

ANTE: Can you walk us through your “manifesto” present on your website? How do you envision this Statement of Rights as charting a new course for the relationship between the overlap of Fashion and the Art World?

W&A: For as long as I can remember, I felt that fashion was not only one of art’s media, but that it was a medium most challenging- in terms of curation, complex- in terms of analysis, and profound- in terms of conceptual underpinnings. As fashion started to enter art museums, without the platform of a gallery and without any academic and institutional backing within the art-world proper, it became prescient to create a space for one of the richest forms of artistic production, to flourish without the imposing limitations of its own industry. The manifesto which comes in a form of a statement of rights is there to highlight the injustices and reaffirm the goals. As things change, so will the manifesto, so its date becomes a part of its own archive.

Above: Install view of Sinead O’Dwyer’s solo exhibition, “In Myself” at Waves & Archives; Below: “Lace Up Martina II” (2019) by Sinead O’Dwyer, both views at Waves and Archives for the artist’s solo show “In Myself” (images courtesy of Waves and Archives and the Artist)

ANTE: Talk to us about Sinead O’Dwyer’s “In Myself”: you note that O’Dwyer’s work”retain(s) a distinctively grounded relationship to the reality of experiences and forms of the persons whose bodies they originally emulate.” Can you elaborate on why O’Dwyer’s works became your first exhibition as an entity? 

W&A: Sinéad deals with the question of body politics in a way that not many fashion artists have dealt with before. As fashion has largely responded to this question by blindly promoting arbitrary inclusiveness, and in the process only re-establishing binary dichotomies, such as normal/ alternative, Sinéad does not use the “norm” as a departure point to suggest “the alternative”. She uses each body as its own departure point, thus over and over – whether it be with her silicone pieces or the woven ones – establishing the original body as the authoritative subject. I think this is a very important statement to make in a world where the fashion industry drives women into body dysmorphia, and on a larger scale – archetypes drive people to mental illness.

ANTE: In addition to the Gallery exhibitions, your online presence incorporates an Atlas and a Journal: can you explain how these materials are crucial to the W&A mission? 

W&A: As mentioned earlier, it was important for us to suggest a drastic change in the space that fashion is given in institutional, academic or art-world settings, and it was important for us to make that change as organic as possible. It is not simply about giving fashion artists gallery representation, or creating a gallery that has fashion as its focus, but also about creating a space where academic thought on fashion can freely coalesce without having to be confined to either art or fashion publications, and about providing access to the type of knowledge that is made available to many artists working in traditionally accepted art media to artists working in fashion by creating a library. The Atlas is a knowledge visualization map that gives access to the way Western academia studies art criticism to anyone who might be interested to learn. I have spent 3 years researching connections between 150 thinkers who have produced knowledge most central to art (in all its adjacent disciplines: anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, visual studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political studies, etc.) mapping five categories of relationships between those thinkers, and mapping those relationships in a visual atlas. This project that we call Waves and Archives Atlas maps out 12,551 connections, thus sharing a visual key to art criticism as it is today. It is important for us that when we do represent fashion artists, it is not in a vacuum.

Above: “Frontal Fragment” (2018) by Sinead O’Dwyer, on view at Waves and Archives for the artist’s solo show “In Myself” Below: “Torso Fragment I” (2018) by Sinead O’Dwyer, on view at Waves and Archives for the artist’s solo show “In Myself”(images courtesy Waves and Archives and the Artist)

ANTE: Art Theory and Semantics are Woven into the mission of W&A as your Instagram and website link to critics such as Adorno and Derrida: what was missing in the art theory/art critical landscape with regards to Fashion’s role in the greater field and how does Waves and Archives fill that role?

W&A: In reality nothing is missing, except assignment. What I mean is that the knowledge that we apply to the study of any form of art is not necessarily produced with that application in mind. Adorno did not write directly about art, Foucault did not write about art and frankly neither did Derrida. We, as art academics, have applied that knowledge to art criticism because art does not exist in a vacuum. Similarly, we ask that the same knowledge is applied to the study of fashion as a medium of art, leveling the playing field of intellectual rigor. To give an example without calling out names, a famous art publication described the MET “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition with the words: “Will make you feel all godly…” – the kind of vocabulary clearly inadmissible in their coverage of any other art exhibitions.

 

ANTE: How do each of your founding member’s backgrounds inform the mission of W&A? 

W&A: Growing up in six countries, in a constant state of embracing and adapting to new cultures while my cultural references kept being re-contextualized, dress and visual culture in general, allowed me (Manan Ter-Grigoryan) to recognize patterns and find my footing before I could gain fluency in languages. I am very academically inclined, and Waves and Archives is my dream and life’s mission, so I am making an effort to ground it in reality. 

Marianna Kosheleva who has graduate degrees in Rocket Science and Press Relations, has a healthy distance from the subject of our endeavor, while maintaining a strong passion for the complexity of its realization. I think it is this knack for realizing complex multi-faceted projects that drives Marianna within this project.

Julian Jimarez Howard is a bright gallerist, writer, and a contemporary art curator, with an amazing grasp of a perspective that is not purely Western-centric, a rare understanding of textiles, and a visionary outlook on fashion’s prowess as an art form. He is an awesome partner who can talk to you about Derrida while installing a drywall.

 

Installation view of Sinead O’Dwyer’s solo exhibition, “In Myself” at Waves & Archives (image courtesy of Waves & Archives)

 

ANTE: Talk us through your recent initiatives and where W&A is headed in the near future?

W&A: Our most recent initiative was the launch of our gallery Waves and Archives with an ambitious solo show of works by Sinéad O’Dwyer. In signing a contract with us, she became the first ever fashion artist to be represented by an art gallery dedicated to showing fashion artists exclusively. We are hoping that our next show (a group show of both emerging and established fashion artists) coincides with the launch of our Waves and Archives journal. Let this serve as a call for papers 🙂 In the meantime, we continue working on the design of our Atlas – the knowledge visualization map and its interactivity. 

The Essence of Making: An Interview with Designer/Architect Paul Mok

ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients? 

Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines“Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis. 

To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence. 

New York-based Hong Kong architect/designer/artist Paul Mok
Installation image at Gallery GAIA: “The Story of Mundane” a solo exhibition by Paul Mok

 

ANTE –  The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?

PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school. 

In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.

Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design. 

 

ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?

PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner. 

Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.

Project Noctambulism, material study (below) and final outcome (above,) Images courtesy Paul Mok

Komorebi Pavilion, material study (below) and Komorebi Pavilion (above,) Images courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Images courtesy Paul Mok.

ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?

PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating. 

I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event. 

Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.

Above and below, alternate images from Thesis: To Play, Images courtesy Paul Mok.
“A Fountain Head”, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
You Killed a Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egos, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
“Out of Thick Air”, Image courtesy Paul Mok
“Gross Grows”, Image courtesy of Paul Mok

 

ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?

PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.

I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx. 

 

ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field? 

PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China. 

The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.

In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.

The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.

Erdu Primary School, Image courtesy Paul Mok

ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?

PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.

I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019. 

It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.

Above and below, Views: “Outside In”, Images courtesy Paul Mok