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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Learningwas 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.
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 onsocial 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!
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 Archivesfounded 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As usual, a visit to Independent Art Fair in New York doesn’t disappoint. On view this weekend at Spring Studios (50 Varick Street) in Lower Manhattan from 12-7 Sat 3/7 and 12-6 Sunday 3/8, this carefully curated fair is presented with minimal spectacle and maximum impact. Eschewing an the aesthetic of the uncontained, Independent N.Y. allows space for fair goers to step back and digest the diverse palettes presented by exhibitors.
Cannupa Hanksa Luger continues to push the envelope forward with human rights and indigenous visibility with a presentation at Garth Greenan gallery, while Company gallery stuns with a simultaneously personal yet abstracted group presentation. The insurmountable genius of Wolfgang Tillmans emerges at the Maureen Paley gallery presentation. Exhibitors have exhibited the ability to pull inspiration from multiple sources, sensorially and intellectually, without muddying the waters beyond comprehension.
Installation remains a key part of Independent presenters’ motive, with multiple perspectives available for visitors to access. Where the creeping influence of design and interdisciplinary approaches meets a surge in identity politics, the breath of fresh contemporary wonder that is Independent lies at the ready to strike into the heart of visitors’ imaginations.
A wealth of mediums and conceptual rigor greet the fair visitor. Make sure not to miss the chance to step into the refreshing space inhabited by Independent NY in 2020 before it closes this Sunday.
Federico Guarascio is a talented producer of short films and documentaries, whose film “The Fourth Kingdom” stopped us in our tracks. A haunting survey of the communities comprised by various recycling scavengers, diving into the worlds they inhabit and how their lives intersect, the film won the top prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival. This insured it would be sent on for consideration at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.
Guarascio’s dedication to the film directly impacted its success, as with his work on previous films such as 2014 Sundance selection, “Godka Cirka”, and the ambitious, imaginative “Only Solomon Lee.” We were entranced by the blend of projects Guarascio selects to work on, and his superior track record as a film producer, so we sat down for a taste of his process and for an insider’s perspective on working on the cutting-edge of contemporary film.
ANTE Mag – Federico, thanks for taking time to speak with us. It’s so exciting to see “The Fourth Kingdom” win the Brooklyn Film Festival! That must have felt amazing. Can you tell us some of the rewards and a few challenges of working on this most recent award-winning film you produced?
Federico Guarascio: “The Fourth Kingdom” portrays the lives of the inhabitants of ‘Sure We Can”, a recycling center where society’s outcasts can redeem cans for money.
A documentary of this kind deals with delicate issues, and it was therefore necessary to approach the characters and the reality of these lives, investigating the characters with sensitivity. It is very rewarding to see that from this contemplative and observational approach, these characters just open up: revealing their stories and their lives. Our goal was to capture that poetic, emotional, and cinematic essence of this special place and its inhabitants. In that sense I can say that we are very proud of it.
By filming some video pieces to show all the great work that ‘Sure We Can’ is doing and their impact in so many peoples’ lives, we started to get more curious about this special place, our ‘Fourth Kingdom.’ We spent so many hours there that we became invisible to the people working there. At this point, we felt we were able to create a documentary film in the way we like to tell stories so we put together the short film while we keep working on the feature. The response has been awesome.
AM – It’s such an exciting film that sheds light on these important subjects, tackling a range of delicate issues as you mention – such as homelessness, poverty and immigration. As a documentary, the film portrays an incredible cast of real-life characters in their familiar environments. There are so many topics being discussed, can you walk us through how editing played a role in this film to portray such a wide range of people involved in the recycling community?
FG – We intended to show the human part of our subjects, not their misfortunes or their misery. We were interested in delving into the emotional side and learning about their dreams and goals.
Another rule we applied to our concept was not to leave the space while filming. We didn’t want to see these can collectors out on the street, but in their daily life inside this ‘Fourth Kingdom.’
With this film, we also wanted to address another point of view engaging with what we can call progress on our modern society. Plastics have forever changed our lives and our world. Waste, pollution, and recycling are new realities, and this kingdom portrays side effects of that evolution: the other side of the dream of progress.
Editing as always in documentaries is one of the most crucial parts. It’s not just about delivering a sequence of scenes already decided at the start: rather, it concerns creating a singular language and defining poetic choices. As a producer,I had the honor of supervising post production and therefore helped to define the final form of the film.
AM – This is not your first time working with Alex Lora. You also served as producer on the films “Godka Cirka” and “Only Solomon Lee”: the former was a Sundance selection which also showed at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Are there common themes or similarities in how you encountered the subject of each film? Did your role evolve from these first two films with Lora to your work as a producer on “The Fourth Kingdom?”
FG – Totally, my personal path is defined by thematic recurrences that have evolved over the years in a manner consistent with my dual professional and human growth. And I must say that I was lucky to have ever found such a prolific partner as Alex, with whom I share most of the thematic and moral choices – this underlies the work we have done together.
AM – “Godka Cirka” centered around the daily life of Alfa, a young woman based in windswept Somaliland. What were some of the challenges working on this set in a foreign country miles from home? What were some of the rewards for working on this project?
FG – “Godka Circa” is definitely one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career.
It started with many logistical and financial difficulties and ended with a work of high poetic and human value which I am immensely proud of.
Certainly filming in Somaliland was another great challenge from a production point of view, because the permits were difficult to find and because of the topic we addressed. The women in the film live in a country where women’s rights are almost nonexistent; therefore, we had political impediments from the local government. But in the end we brought home an excellent result.
AM – So many of your films have seen success on the festival circuit, from “Godka Cirka” to “The Fourth Kingdom”. Have you found some plan for success that you follow? Do you have tips for other film producers seeking similar success?
FG – I like to define myself as man with his feet resting firmly on the clouds. Meaning that I can work only on projects that I really like and I consider appropriate to my spirit: projects that sync with my moral outlook. Once I have ascertained this aspect, I try to understand the economic potential that the project can have and how I can raise the funds necessary to produce it.
In general I would say, after you refine your craft, go for what you like. Do not accept any compromise. Be brave and unscrupulous too: all or nothing. As went the British Air Force motto of the Second World War: “Who dares, wins”.
AM – Can you give us 2 or 3 highlights from your nearly 10-year career as a producer working on films in partnership with crews based in the United States?
FG – One of the best experiences I have had here has been working with Academy Award-winner Ellen Goosenberg Kent for her latest documentary now on HBO, “Torn Apart,” which was a real gem, and gave me a concrete example of the efficiency of high-level American productions. I was lucky enough to work from Italy in partnership with US-based crews, then relocated to the US from late 2018, joining my colleagues in the US that Fall to work hands-on on this and similar projects. Being in step with the US film crews opened my eyes to how incredible working in film in the United States could be professionally.
AM – Through your career working on over 20 films, what are a few films you have worked on that have really stood out to you in forming your career and your mindset as a producer?
FG – “Odysseus Gambit” was certainly the first job that made me understand the rules of the game and showed me my potential as a film producer. We had started the project without a budget and arrived at Sundance. A great success that I still remember with pride!
AM – What projects do you have in the works now, and what do you hope to work on in the near future?
FG – With Alex we are thinking of transforming “The Fourth Kingdom” into a narrative work. I am already seeking funding for this next step in Italy; stay tuned..!
This is the beginning of a new column, “All’s Fair”, in which writers recount major art exhibits, festivals, biennials and, especially, art fairs through a personal lens. Recounted below is Editor-in-Chief Audra Lambert’s whirlwind Tues-Sat tour of Miami Art Week 2019. Opinions below reflect Lambert’s views only.
Dear, dear readers.
Well, a week is enough time for reflection. And what do we have – one banana eaten, one sold and the last one spoiled – or was that the entire fair?
While discerning dealers put forth their obscura and identity-driven inventory (a pantheon of which lovingly graced the main fair of Art Basel Miami Beach, curated by the Mexico City-based Magalí Arriola – titled the Meridianssection), other galleries employed the go-big-or-go-home Instagram strategy (Urs Fischer @ The Modern Institute, Austin Lee @ Peres Projects and -of course- the slippery stylings of Maurizio Cattelan, which was absent on Sunday due to the haphazard work necessary to properly guard the installation.)
Spoiler alert: shock art a la fruit baskets seems more suited to our soundbite culture than the lyrical reflections of artists such as Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien and Flavior Garciandía.
Art Basel wasn’t the only fair employing the stop-in-your-tracks Instagram mentality, with Art Miami presenting a monumental Yves Klein-blue installation by artist Jason Martin at the main entrance (other sculptures placed around the periphery was sadly rendered nearly invisible during the later hours of the fair + the VIP opening). Even UNTITLED got in the game with a Facebook-produced interactive installation (umm…) and some choice offerings of installations both inside and out by Antonia Wright + Ruben Millares, Coral Projects and EXILE x CENTER FOR SUBTROPICAL AFFAIRS. Even the Betsy Hotel’s inimitable egg sculpture featured some slides of works in partnership with For Freedoms.
Fairgoers got in on the Instagram-able fun, while serious collectors buzzed about from booth to booth checking on sales status of works at Lehmann Maupin, Jack Shainman, and PACE. Some heavy-hitting artists with solo exhibits occurring around this time of year got in on the act, including Nevelson (ICA Miami), Teresita Fernandez (PAMM) – similarly, Elmgreen + Dragset could be spotted at Victoria Miro, featured in works which echoed their nearby Pride Park installation.
There was much to see and do, and much hype to struggle through, so below we’ve summed up – in the broad over-generalizations that our detail-oriented art critical brains love so much – the takeaways from this years Miami art week presentations.
Public Installations / Projects – What a year for public art in Miami & Miami Beach! From the get-go installations by the likes of Leandro Ulrich on the beach side stole the show. Unmissable performances and installations over the course of the week included “After the Fracture” at PAMM featuring duo Marvin Fabien and Nyugen Smith. Joiri Minaya stunned with installation art in partnership with Miami-based Fringe Projects. UNTITLED’s Monuments section featured the truly stunning Antonia Wright + Ruben Millares installation. Passing the beach at night it was even possible to watch the incandescent works of Pablo Valbuena’s WAVE light up the nearby shoreline. An effort was made to create high quality public art offerings and it showed.
Oh, and also there was a Fernando Botero show on Lincoln road but that doesn’t belong in this highlight…
Meridians @ ABMB – Meridians (see above note) was both an art critic’s dream as well as an Instagrammers’ – that rare combination of critical rigor and visuals-driven approach that will stand out for years to come. Featuring a great mix of local and emerging versus global and firmly established artists, Meridians at the main fair featured standout work by Oscar Tuazon, Fred Wilson, Isaac Julien, Portia Munson, Woody de Otello and more. A real crowd pleaser and rightly so… but it is a fair ten minute walk away and upstairs from the main fair exhibitors. Maybe set up a golf cart service? I don’t mind the walk but it’s key to remain mindful of the mobility of your guests…excuse me, your collectors.
UNTITLED – Did anyone have something bad to say about UNTITLED? Queer art, artists of color, feminists, environmentalists, art criticizing religion, outsider artists – everyone was welcomed with open arms (and strong sales, from what I’ve gathered) at this prestigious showing of UNTITLED. You could also just as easily ignore the cultural underpinnings of some such work (ahem, as some collectors will) and relish the fine skills and inquiring minds that were behind the artworks on view at the fair. With incredible works on view by Damien Davis of LatchKey Gallery, Leah Guagdanoli at Hollis Taggart, Remy Jungerman and Nate Lewis at Fridman Gallery, Jenna Gribbon at Fredericks & Freiser, and more, visitors could really come away with a sense that the art on view at UNTITLED was fearless and provocative, with something to say in addition to its value as fine art.
Art Miami + CONTEXT – Close to a museum, check.
Featuring old to new to back again, check.
Engaging visitors in conversation, check.
Art Miami still manages to drive the conversation around what is possible for art dealers who are willing (or are happier) to exhibit outside of the Art Basel stable. With similar offerings to the main fair, while maintaining a diverse selection in its own right, both art Miami and context offer an alternative to the globe-trotting – and often unaffordable- trappings of ABMB. Sure they could use more programming, but they’ve remained sustainable – more than ABMB parent company can say (allegedly) at this point…
PAMM – How does the Pérez Art Museum Miami just keep getting better and better? This Franklin Sirmans-led institution has not only featured the meticulous and fantastically spoken hometown (now NYC-based) Teresita Fernandez, their programming for art week – including aforementioned After the Fracture and the phenomenal art Miami VIP event – only served to highlight how they manage that precarious balance of serving the community while welcoming visitors to indulge in the concepts and curatorial vision that puts the museum – and Miami- onto the art world map.
Bonus: The New Rubell Museum
Ok, I admit it. I didn’t make the trek out to the new Rubell museum. I know – stop reading now. Seriously though, other than some mild criticism about the very “New MoMA”-esque organization of their collection, how rewarding is it to see the greatest hits of the monumental Rubell collection in its new museum home? Yes, it’s not close. Yes, it was basically (likely) created for a better tax cut. But, as the kids say, I ain’t mad at it.
NADA – Man, poor NADA just can’t catch a break. While “resting on its laurels” might seem like a strong statement, Schachter was onto something when he flippantly observed “UNTITLED is the new NADA”. The energy does seem to have shifted beach side, as ever since NADA has left its admittedly funky haunt over at the now-defunct Deauville hotel, the ice palace just hasn’t quite filled the same carpeted and low-ceilinged hole in fairgoers’ hearts. The public projects as usual made an impression and showings were strong, but it would be a far cry to say that everyone who went down for the fairs made it over to NADA….more brunches in their programming, perhaps?
Pulse – Pulse, oh, pulse pulse pulse. What happened? Did you spend all the efforts you used for past iterations in vetting appealing art gallerists toward a chic, undiscoverable Wellness section instead? New leadership still finding its feet, perhaps, but alongside Pulse stalwarts guests found just an uncomfortably few too many offerings that would’ve been equally at home at Scope. This is a fair seeking its identity somewhere between copy and paste imitation art and genuine emerging artists with a practice based in Concepts.
Art Critics – “It’s so nice to meet a writer here.” A non-East coast gallerist’s lamentations hit me where it hurt. Where were the critics? Other than those of us dispatched over to the main fair for market coverage, there was a woeful lack of critical engagement with art presented at this year’s fairs according to conversations with various gallerists around the fairs. UNTITLED is commendable for employing a writer-in-residence for this year’s edition; here’s to hoping the next one around is a woman or gender non-conforming colleague.
Nightlife – maybe it was just me, but the late night offerings seemed a bit low-key or retail market-driven this year (Desigual at the Temple House, anyone?) Aside from the fabulous Rashaad Newsome x Swizz Beatz Annual King of Arms Art Ball, a strong VIP party for art Miami a handful of beachside parties, offerings during the week were rather time. Surprisingly, the brunches were where it was at this year. While Pulse brunch was a hot mess this year, anyone who made it over to fête the collection or museum brunches came away feeling the better for meeting their alarm clocks halfway and trekking over to these chic morning affairs.
Streets – the traffic, am I right? Between construction on the mainland-to-beach side exits to disoriented Lyft drivers totally out of their element trying to navigate the nooks and crannies that are downtown Miami, the streets – and those who used them – were just plain out of luck for Miami art week.
Bonus: Art Pop-up projects – you know they were there. I know there were there. Neither of us went though, right? Right? Even the smattering that existed (yet were impossible to find) on Lincoln Road.
Akumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico – Sunlight bakes the streets of Akumal Pueblo, suffusing the ground in pale coral. Palm shadows decorate the sides of tents and small food carts, set up in anticipation of the evening’s festivities. It is 4 PM on Friday November 9th: the opening day of the Akumal Arts Festival (Festival de Arte de Akumal) in Akumal, Mexico. Students are clamoring through the town’s streets, heading home from school with their family, as flags flutter in the breeze with artwork created by the same students. Sharks and skulls, flowers and seaside scenes populate the small scraps of fabrics rippling through the breeze, strung with hanging lights between palm trees on the median between the town’s streets.
Dancers and performers assemble in the town’s central park to prepare for the evening’s festivities, while street artists who have gathered from around the globe in Akumal put finishing touches on their murals in the persistent heat of the Mayan Riviera afternoon. Time ticks on as guests begin assembling in the recreational park, families seating themselves in the town’s stadium, while another set of guests gather nearby. The cackling and barking of blackbirds native to Akumal fills the trees in the median adjacent to the park, rustling and cawing incessantly through the palms. “It’s like this everyday,” my new friend and Akumal resident, Harold, explains. “In the morning and in the late afternoon, here they come, they are very loud like this every day.” Harold and his friends have joined me in assembling alongside these other guests for the festival’s opening ceremony, while four-legged friends get in on the action as well, returning the birds’ greetings. Finally by 5 pm, visitors – avian, canine and human alike – were assembled at the park, awaiting the much anticipated kick-off of the inaugural Akumal Arts Festival.
Introduced in 2018, Akumal Arts Festival (Festival de Arte de Akumal) is a free art festival open to the public and accessible to visitors walking the streets of Akumal Pueblo. Taking place November 9th through 11th, with artwork lasting at these sites for the foreseeable future, over 70 international urban artists have assembled to create masterworks for both walls dotted through the town’s streets and for the iconic bridge linking the two sides of Akumal: the pueblo (town) and the playa (beach) sides. Featuring the artistic stylings of artists such as Skela, Davel, TooFlyNYC, Funqest, Iena Cruz,Kid Crayon, Ms. Yellow, Nomad Clan, and Nate Dee – among many others – Akumal Arts Festival gave visiting artists the chance to polish the existing shine of Akumal while enriching educational programming in the town with workshops, live painting and more. Guest artists visiting from the US, France, Great Britain, Japan, and Mexico – including several other countries – all descended on Akumal to enliven the town’s many streets with surprising, colorful and vibrant artworks.
The excitement throughout Akumal was palpable, as everyone from town administrators to lifeguards, diving trainers to restaurateurs alike saluted artists visiting the town. Native Akumal residents, adults and children alike, frequently waved to visiting artists, shouting greetings from their bicycles as they passed and offering food and drinks. Some zealous residents approached artists, asking them to paint the gates and walls of their own homes. For the week prior to the opening festival, and continuing throughout the weekend, artists gathered for breakfast at the cafe of festival co-founder, Jennifer Smith (Turtle Bay Bakery & Cafe) for a breakfast gratis before gathering their supplies and protection from the sun to hit the streets and skillfully apply layers of paint to their creations. Murals varying in size from ten feet to forty feet across, and ranging in height from ten feet to forty feet, began emerging across the grid of Akumal town. Artists gamely approached each project, churning out the finished piece with help from festival staff including Smith, Jake Klone (artist director & artist,Klonism) and production staff Rena Gray & Erin Ko, along with several other support staff. Artists all finished their incredible works with help from the crew, and in spite of the burning heat of the Mayan Riviera sun – oh, and the occasional tarantula!
Akumal residents were not the only ones thrilled to have artwork integrated into the heart and soul of Akumal – the artists themselves were thrilled to create site-responsive works in such a welcoming environment. With an effusive welcome from Jennifer Smith and festival co-founder Iran Beltran, Delegado Municipal de Akumal, the artists set off to work with a firm understanding of the impact they had on the town’s residents. Artists approached their artworks with care and understanding for the community, making sure their imagery reflected priorities and celebrations integral to the town’s legacy. Artist Ivan Roque, visiting Akumal from Miami, Florida, was quick to point out how he was spurred on to work by the enthusiasm the town extended to his team. “I’ve had three days to make this artwork, and people were surprised over time at how quickly it came together,” Roque shared. “People are honored to have us and appreciate the art being here, I’ve had nothing but total positivity and love from the locals of Akumal.” One reason for this warm welcome is surely the dedication that artists are putting into the local schools: from leading workshops on videography/filmmaking to portraiture and hosting live painting sessions, artists became an intrinsic part of the fabric of the community. For the duration of the festival, artists worked with small groups of Akumal students to help them realize their dreams and paint from their imagination.
Working directly with locals deeply resonated with the artists taking part in the festival, with some artists in particularly seeking to honor the Mayan heritage that existed in the community for millenia, with over innumerable generations of residents calling the Akumal area home. Artist SINNED and collaborator Ria Burns-Wilder noted of their artwork on the Akumal bridge the local ties that the subject of their art held for residents of Akumal. “We’ve been so lucky to speak with locals in Akumal including indigenous Maya residents such as Paschin – a friend we made here,” noted Burns-Wilder. “Communicating in a blend of English and Spanish, Paschin taught us that the Mayan term for this place isn’t Akumal, but “Aak-luu-mil”, or “place of turtles”. We want to honor Mayan culture by adding this name into the mural itself.”
All of this effort and creativity infused the opening festivities with a certain electricity: a presence filling the air with excitement and anticipation. Local municipal leaders, government officials, and festival producers all gave heartfelt reflections to visitors at the park this Friday night. As the sun began to set and the blackbirds cawed on, traditional Mayan dancers exuberantly performed the choreography of their ancestors as indigenous leaders burned incense on a makeshift altar honoring this important occasion. Local students performed dances with renewed vigor, propelled on by the excited shouts of the crowd and hours of practice leading up to the opening ceremony. Visitors stayed on to celebrate late into the night, by the time constellations themselves had delicately begun peeking over at Akumal to watch the ceremony for themselves. The start of Akumal Arts Festival was officially underway, and due to the hard work and exquisite mastery of these dedicated, international artists, it seems that Akumal is no longer home to turtles alone, but to these unique artworks that reinvigorate the spirit of creativity running through the heart and soul of Akumal, Mexico.
Reality, augmented or otherwise, is delightfully stranger than fiction at 01: Never Mind the Bullocks, curated by LatchKey Gallery‘s Founders, Natalie Kates and Amanda Uribe, at Chashama’s One Brooklyn Bridge location. On view through Oct 21st, the exhibit features four contemporary artists working on the boundaries of modern perspectives. Darryl Westly,Inna Babaeva, Steven Fragale and Toby Barnes all create works for the exhibition that obscure and/or redefine reality. From examining absence in figuration to producing new dimensions of representation, the artists on view take expectation and turn it squarely on its head. At first glimpse the four artists seem decidedly divorced from one another’s practice, until further examination reveals that each artist re-examines objects and scenes that the viewer takes for granted, re-contextualizing the known and burying it deep into the crevices of the unknown until it springs anew, a hybrid and resplendent thing.
Darry Westly, born in Chicago and currently based in New York City, is a renowned international painter who creates illusions of flattened planes in otherwise realistic scenes. Frequently alluding to classical art history references, Westly’s unique blend of Pop Art and figuration herald a new manner of representing in the post-photo manipulation era. Soft pastel hues cradle the outlines of missing figures, collapsed planes of a hybrid reality. Westly’s masterful brushstrokes press against the glass of reality, turning perception around on an unsuspecting viewer. His work disorients as it transcends.
Steven Fragale‘s interactive paintings delight and confound, taking the viewer off the canvas and literally into thin air. Fragale, who lives and works in (and is originally from) New York, takes his work out to the viewer in a custom-built app that accompanies each of his paintings. Extending the composition out into new dimensions using augmented reality, Fragale leaves no stone unturned: examining our reliance on the digital and its intrusion into everyday lived experience.
Toby Barnes is an interdisciplinary artist whose installation and mixed media work collapses what Hito Stereyl aptly termed the “poor” image makes a frequent appearance in the patterns of Barnes’ works, writhing these mobile phone images into dizzying, hypnotic compositions. Born in Miami, and living and working in Amherst, Mass, Barnes has exhibited in an exciting array of venues including PS1, Queens Museum, and NADA among others. Barnes creates symmetric compositions, delineating the lines and populating each section with glimpses of skin, abstracted figure. Abstract and figurative meld into one another, proving impossibly inextricable in the final image. Barnes’ installations and two-dimensional, mixed media works combine the immediacy of Pop with a considered, measured investigation into a thoroughly contemporary view of the image as raw material.
Perhaps most surprising is the inventive work of artist Inna Babaeva, a Ukrainian-American artist based in Long Island City, Queens. Reformatting everyday objects into magnificently mischievous items. Bulbous forms formed in glass break the lines of rows of October magazines and perch saucily on wheels close to the ground. They lie luxuriantly on stacks of paper, sneaking glimpses at passersby from corners of the exhibit. Never has glass possessed such a gestural, anthropomorphic quality. Babaeva’s works re-animate post-industrial materials into new figments of the visitor’s imagination.
01: Never Mind the Bullocks is a fearless investigation into what contemporary art can evolve into, and how it can grow into new forms of inquisition and self-reflexivity. The exhibit is on view at One Brooklyn Bridge (360 Furman Street, Brooklyn) through October 21st, curated by LatchKey Gallery & location courtesy Chashama.
“If you deny people their own voice, you’ll have no idea who they were.” Alice Walker
“invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery”, Shoshanna Weinberger’s solo exhibition at Project for Empty Space in Newark, NJ, employs repetition to dizzying effect. Perhaps not dizzying: mesmerizing.
Women’s bodies are both seen and unseen, presented and contorted into unidentifiable abstractions. Feminine visages, their outlines incorporating distinctly African and Afro-Carribbean hairstyles, are obscured by abstracted nothingness: their identities crushed beneath the weight of visual white noise. Similar to the background choir figures throughout Childish Gambino’s visceral and poignant music video for “This is America”, the multi-dimensional figures presented throughout Weinberger’s exhibition literally outline the trenchant visual narrative of hiding in plain sight. Even in the era of the #metoo movement, women are often excluded: their voices negated in everything from polite conversation to exorbitant wait times for major retrospectives. However, women of color fight an uphill battle not only against patriarchal discrimination but sometimes, even, from their own female allies. Weinberger’s presentations of the female body, ethnic even in their abstracted and distilled outline, elevates the Afro-Carribbean experience even while commenting on the objectification keenly experienced by women of color, in the arts as well as in everyday life.
Weinberger’s installation “A Grove of Invisible Fruit”, situated at the front of the gallery space, provides a hyper-dimensional yet fragmented entry point firmly rooting the artist’s overall exhibition. The “grove” can be viewed as a reflective and dizzying moment of pause – a blinding distraction, yet an inviting and meditative moment of respite anchoring the multiple viewpoints orienting visitors throughout the exhibition. The figures interspersed through “A Grove of Invisible Fruit” are hybrid beings: neither distinctly human nor wholly “other”, creole-ized and hypersexualized figures in high heels supporting a mirrored superstructure. The dual presence and absence of these figures, the lack of distinctive identity, could conceivably be contrasted with the experiences of women migrating to America. How dizzying is the burden of bearing others’ prejudice and preconceived notions? Much like the entrenched stereotypes hearkening back to the age of Chiquita Banana, these conceptions have neither disappeared nor evaded us as we continue to evolve as a society. Weinberger adoitly places these figures within a networked construct: joined together yet alienated, the figures reflect back only what we cast at them. They present to us Plato’s shadows on the walls of the cave.
“The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to [his] adoption of the adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards.” Frantz Fanon’s words in Black Skin, White Masks permeate the pores, the very follicles present in Weinberger’s works. In the artist’s series, “Invisible Invisibility”, she presents monochrome women who are identified by their cosmetics or sexualized poses, often obscured by the backgrounds which seem to “fill” them. Weinberger is presenting women difficult to categorize by societal “norms”: their very outlines prevent them ascending to the reified realm of acceptable “cultural standards.”
Fanon’s words echo throughout the exhibit, where literal “masks” create an entry point for viewers to both engage with these portraits and be denied access to the personal qualities typically found in portraiture. Voices are silenced and features hidden, marking both the uniformity of lived experiences of women of color and a refusal to be sequestered into stereotyped ethnic categories. The artist, herself American, Jewish and Jamaican by heritage, has both denied and overcome identity from “the other” in her figurative works. The portraits themselves seem to emerge from an obfuscation they willingly present to the viewer: by placing a barrier between themselves and the casual observer Weinberger’s creations upend expectations and deny the ubiquitous male gaze.
Weinberger’s exhibition as a whole mines the loaded metrics of repetition and representation. Presenting different variations on repeated themes allows the viewer multiple angles of entry into the series of artworks on view. The series of images in grids, according to Weinberger, represents yearbook photos – indicating variations on the artist’s own American, Jewish and Jamaican identity. The artist is presenting these autobiographical two-dimensional works on paper, presented alongside more sculptural works, literally examine themes present in the artist’s work from multiple angles. The visceral yet limited color scheme creates heightened awareness of the forms in the artist’s compositions. The artworks are tightly framed, implicating the viewer in almost claustrophobic nearness to the figures in the works they encounter. This irony of silenced narratives is reinforced by the presence of one single feature on the faces of the women in the artist’s portrait series: their mouths. Eyes, ears, and noses are left absent: women are expected to observe in real life; here, they are liberated and confined. They can only speak. Evoking the powerful moment of applying lipstick, a visible acceptance of womanhood, these lips are not only ready and able to speak but they are empowered to do so with grace and beauty.
Weinberger tumbles and leaps through a perceptive circus ring of contradictions in “invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery”. She produces one of the best nuanced exhibitions of Pop-infused, graphic style imagery in recent memory. While Pop art can be inherently subversive, Weinberger has managed to tease out intricacies of race, ethnicity and identity that are so often overlooked in contemporary art. Her dedicated exploration of individuality and marginalization has shown its splendor in this solo show at Project for Empty Space.
In a space in the rear of the gallery, the artist points to a sculpture bust, indicating that it is a self-portrait created through the process of 3-D printing. Curled tendrils of hair hug the figures’s face, a cluster of evocative lips the only evident feature. The porcelain-colored whiteness of the bust shimmered in the direct light, giving the visage a sensual luster. Weinberger deftly re-imagines her identity as a literal fabrication, not just of social norms, but of the replicating process inherent to 3-D printing. Her vision of the portrait serves not as an admission, but instead can be perceived as a denial. This playful figuration is a credit to her finely tuned artistic sensibility and a deeper revelation of the ever-evolving social constructs of gender and ethnic identity.
“invisible fruit: stories of camouflage from the periphery” is currently on view at Project for Empty Space, 2 Gateway Center in Newark, NJ, through May 18th. Shoshanna Weinbergeris a currently resident at Project for Empty Space.