““What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The rich, fertile soil from which “Everyday Magic: Artistic/Gnostic Impulses,“ on view now at the National Arts Club on the south edge of NYC’s Gramercy Park, all began – as rich soil often does – with the consideration of what has been reclaimed to the earth and how it nourishes what comes after. The result of the combined forces of Rebecca Goyette and Jenny Mushkin Goldman, both of whom have cultivated significant artistic curatorial experience, respectively, in the NYC art world, “Everyday Magic” was given the right nourishment it needed to fully bloom into the rich and multi-layered experience that it embodies, welcoming visitors of all walks of life. On view from March 2- April 27th, 2021, the exhibition accepts guests via timed entry at the above link.
Show organizers Goyette and Mushkin Goldman, excited to embark on this joint quest to present an art exhibit engaging with themes around ‘magic’, envisioned this group show featuring over 20 artists as a platform for exploring aspects of magic and occultism, particularly through the lens of empowerment: seeking ways in which indigenous, femme/non-binary and queer practices in turn rise above and gain agency over colonial, patriarchal and gender-normative narratives. Mushkin Goldman noted this in her observation of how the exhibition has unfolded. “This is a diverse show rooted in many ways in a femme presence, or energy, a story that had to be told which isn’t the hegemonic dominant narrative but is still such a force in itself.”
Echoing the utterances of revered postcolonial critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a woman’s position in society is tenuous at best, and artistic voices of women from the Global South are further suppressed. “For the ‘figure’ of woman, the relationship between woman and silence can be plotted by women themselves,”(1) Spivak notes, revealing the truth that the voices who notice this absence are most acutely those being oppressed, rather than the oppressor. Voices absent from a Western-centric, patriarchal-oriented art history make their presence felt in this powerful exhibition, with something for everyone to connect with especially along the root themes of community, ritual and heritage, nature and the Spiritual. Perhaps what this fully realized show impresses most on the viewer is the power of the unknown, or the unseen, and how this wealth of intuitive ‘seeking’ on the part of the exhibited artists can reveal a wellspring of power, resilience, beauty, understanding, and love.
Two very different aspects of this exhibition make it especially unique: first, the timeline, as the show was intended to open early Summer 2020 and was pushed to this March due to the pandemic. Second, and more importantly, the wealth of this exhibit’s treasures lies in the rich array of cultural forces that propel it forward in the viewer’s imagination, as rituals, traditions, and magical elements span a range of heritage evident on a global scale. “In the exhibition, artists who transmute personal struggles through their art practice are in dialogue with those who have traditional magical and occult practices,” observes Goyette. “Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions, South American traditions, South Asian traditions, Nordic traditions and more are reflected from the artists’ many places of origin.” As Mushkin Goldman reflects, “This show isn’t about one thing, because for every person (who visits) it is their own. We wanted to create (an exhibition that approaches these topics) from as many perspectives as possible.” In this vein, spiritual practitioners of all backgrounds can take away potent reminders of the diversity of occult practices the world over, with a body of evidence laid out in “Everyday Magic” like a cornucopia upon which visitors can feast to their heart’s delight.
Returning to the roots of the exhibition, Goyette remarks upon the artists who spoke to her as her approach to the show became fully realized. “When I saw artist Tamara (Kostianovsky)’s latest series tree trunk sculptures, her work(s) resonated with me because of their sense of ritual and alchemy. The metaphor of the rings visible in the tree trunks is powerful.” Kostianovsky’s practice of adapting her late father’s clothing into art installations provides a nuanced reflection upon her own roots and the tactile presence our loved ones exert even after their departure from our lives. Similarly, Mushkin Goldman encountered the works of artist L, and was mesmerized upon learning that each these jars presented in the artwork she encountered contained a multitude of spells. With themes of transmutation, alchemy, and transformation of trauma and life experiences into whatever meaningful form the artist conceives, the power of “Everyday Magic” lies in the agency exerted by individual – and collective – artists to challenge accepted narratives and subsume existing power structures.
In addition to the power of ritual present throughout the exhibit, the influence exerted by community and, alternately, by nature are both strongly felt presences emanating from the exhibition. Both Goyette and Mushkin Goldman commented on the power of nature’s inclusion in such work as installations by Lina Puerta, Alexis Karl and Elizabeth Insogna as placing nature, and in turn, touch and healing central to the visitor’s encounter when entering the exhibition’s center where these installations are located. In addition, many artists’ practices, either spiritually or artistically, formed nexxus points linking them to other artists exhibiting in “Everyday Magic”: revealing interconnected links between practicing artists who were engaging with spiritual approaches to art-making. Artists such as Jesse Bransford, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Alexis Karl and Courtney Alexander had all encountered one another in various ways prior to the exhibition’s unveiling, while artists such as Elizabeth Insogna and Kay Turner collaborate to produce performance work and art installations. Courtney Alexander’s “Offering to God Herself” presented the opportunity for gallery-goers to encounter her presence, embodying divinity, through a communal offer of deference, love and respect to the Artist.
Artists such as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge are known among audiences for the incisive, bold and alchemical work they created, while other artists bring their own unique perspectives to the ideas of alchemy and transformation to bear. Goyette highlighted the works of Abichandani and Najm as particularly powerful demonstrations of art’s ability to express artistic impulses that transcend societal pressures and expectations. Goyette reflected on the power these artists’ work possesses and how it upends societal norms. “Jaishiri Abichandani’s work alters views of Hindu goddesses by subverting patriarchal structures, incorporating people she knows into sculpture portraits in her depictions of these goddesses, including feminist and LGBTQ+ artists and activists. She also uses self-portraits in her work, as sculpture self-representation. Her work takes a feminist approach, challenging how goddesses are depicted in the canon of Hindu mythology, and how sculptures can be made to play with taboo. Meanwhile, Qinza Najm engages with Muslim traditions of her native Pakistan, particularly how patriarchal ideologies affect women. Her interactive installation, “Pleasure and Veil” utilizes spiritual (hijab/head covering) and sexual (Nara-trouser strings) textiles collected over the past 3 years from Muslim/Jewish communities (women, minorities and LGBTQ+ community) in the U.S. and Pakistan to explore the sacred and forbidden aspects of sexuality. In Pakistan, it is considered shameful for women to show or allow others to touch their Nara. Najm asked women close to her to reveal their Nara, and when she did, the women released shame and personal narratives. She asks viewers to engage with her work, gently touching a chosen Nara from her installation, in magical feminist solidarity to release shame. Both Abichandani and Najm engage ideas of what is taboo in dialogue with religion.”
Mushkin Goldman offered the works of Lina Puerta and Sahana Ramakrishnan as avenues by which visitors can engage with meaning around sexuality, feminism, vulnerability and fertility. “Lina Puerta explores the intersection between synthetic and natural, commenting on both consumerism and life’s fragility. Sahana Ramakrishnan in turn reflects on ideas of fertility as alchemy and means of transformation.” Artists use a range of synthetic and natural materials, of abstract and figurative approaches, to all reach the core of a reality which we can grasp through experience and intuition, rather than research and academia. “Everyday Magic” is an exhibition about the truths we grasp, the experiences we know, and the underlying hidden links that bring us back together as spiritual beings and root us to natural forces who remind us of who we are.
“Everyday Magic:Gnostic/Artistic Impulses” is on view to guests who RSVP via the show’s website through April 27th, 2021. The exhibit is on view at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park S in New York, NY. The show’s organizers Jenny Mushkin Goldman and Rebecca Goyette can be reached for sales inquiries or exhibition specifics via their respective emails, Jenny at email@example.com or Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1898, The National Arts Club is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to stimulate, foster, and promote public interest in the arts and to educate the American people in the fine arts. Annually, the Club offers more than 150 free programs to the public, including exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, lectures and readings, attracting an audience of over 25,000 members and guests. For a full list of events or to learn more, please visit nationalartsclub.org.
Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988.
Since the exhibition has been extended through March 20th, 2021, make sure to set aside time to go check out the space (and check in on their hours via their Instagram – @the_border_project_space on IG.) The exhibit employs some tongue-in-cheek wordplay around the idea of art being incorporated into everyday life – and vice versa – a la the city’s laundromats: a ubiquitous presence around the five boroughs. Sculpture, installations, hybrid ready-mades and more confront the visitor to the puzzling yet provocative exhibit, with its cousin at Lower East Side’s Home Gallery offering its own delightful take on the show’s theme with an “advertisement” complete with faux quotes, faux-n numbers and more delectables.
In the words of Curator and The Border Project Space Director, Jamie Martinez, the exhibition at the Border allows a space to emerge where, “things don’t appear as they seem, but things, once unseen, begin to appear.” This quixotic phrasing makes the most sense when re-read at the doorway of the gallery itself, before engaging with the delightful, if deliciously manic, presentation of human torsos and limbs, clothing fragments, and laundry paraphernalia present within the space. A space for reflection on the types of abstract thoughts one might begin to descend into when waiting for the second round of heavy linens in the dryer, works in “Last Wash at Midnight” confound, delight and exceed expectations upon closer inspection.
Much like the lint that continually clings to a pair of just-dried socks, a strangely comforting smell envelopes the visitor to the space upon encountering the exhibition. If you ask the curator, you’ll find out this is the smell of laundry detergent (is it for sale?) just out of view in the gallery, complementing the show’s sudsy sensibilities. This lingers as a filter just out of reach for gallery guests perusing installations on view in dialogue with one another in multi-sensory and syncretic ways – Nicholas Oh’s floating amalgamation of upturned male human torsos just off center from the gallery’s entrance provides the expected ‘figurative’ element in an oh-so-unexpected way, as the viewer begins to admire the curvature of this installation unfolding toward the floor. Oh’s use of a range of skin tones of each torso becomes readily apparent as the artist draws from his Korean heritage to question cultural values and challenge systemic oppression. Directly opposite, in the line of sight of this composite topsy-turvy figure, a recreation of a washing machine lurks: figurative, yet surreal. Chelsea Nader’s trippy laundry ‘machines’ bring up domestic labor in a exhibit where artists are referred to as “night shift workers” and the curator, as “the manager.” Labor is intrinsic to the art world, with artists and creatives often working overtime to be able to afford the materials and space to create their work. Nader taps into the labor that women, in particular, are expected to perform: her sign/signifier style of presentation only reinforces the existing gulf between unrealistic expectations and reality. Nader’s work centers the space in a poignant alternate reality for the visitor.
Jamie Martinez, the night shift “Manager” exhibition curator and exhibiting artist, presents “Metamorphosing into an Owl”: the owl serves as a harbinger of death, being the first to notice death’s approach in Native American traditions, and Martinez is reflecting on this journey through the underworld, with a plea to native spirits he trusts to guide him on his journey after death. Martinez’ careful treatment of his material and attention to detail heighten the sense of psychological weight approached in these themes.
Finally, Jaejoon Jang’s works on view in both exhibits are both immediate and subtle. Material lends itself toward veiled references while the subject matter is straightforward, questioning reality and the limits of our understanding of what surrounds us. His subversive works are both humorous and nuanced, forcing a reconsideration of what we take for granted. Finally, Home Gallery presents a suite of works by these artists, curated and presented by Jamie Martinez in partnership with Home gallery’s Director William Chan, in dialogue with appearances – and how they can be deceiving, and/or invite further reflection. Chan notes of Home gallery’s unique street-facing presence that, “in a normal week, the window attracts hundreds of unique interactions among the thousands of passersby. I often have people come up to me and tell me how excited they were when a new exhibition comes out. People who wouldn’t go to museums or galleries. I hope to see more window galleries, especially after the pandemic, and more of these conversations.” A faux advertisment for a real show is certainly a compelling reason to reconsider where, and how, the boundary lines of art are drawn and how challenging – and rewarding – art can be when society is re-imagining new futures for a vibrant culture.
Don’t miss your chance to see “Last Wash at Midnight” at The Border Project Space, 56 Bogart Street, up through March 20th. The Lower East Side “Advertisement” portion of exhibit will remain on view at Home Gallery, 291 Grand Street through Sunday, March 14th – and hey, if you can’t make that, photographer/ videographer Andrew Littlefield made this dope video experience of encountering “Last Wash at Midnight” on its opening night at Home gallery.
ANTE is excited to be partnering on this International Woman’s Day with PARADICE PALASE: a women-run platform providing artists, creatives and patrons in the emerging art space room to connect.
As a long-standing fan of what PARADICE PALASE has been doing, we are excited to launch a week-long takeover of the ANTE mag Instagram account by the initiative. ANTE has also selected an Edit of 10 artists on the platform that really caught our eye.
Below, our Editor-in-Chief Audra Lambert’s wide-ranging chat with PARADICE PALASE founding members Kat Ryals and Lauren Hirshfield, who began the platform as a curatorial initiative back in 2017 focused on raising awareness of amazing contemporary artists through community-building.
ANTE mag. Hi Kat, Hi Lauren! So, can you talk to us about the genesis of PARADICE PALASE? How did your team identify a need and seek to address it with the platform’s founding?
PP. PARADICE PALASE started as a project space with a simple goal – to get artists paid.
We met in the fall of 2016 and after only a couple encounters realized we had a lot of similar opinions about the contemporary art world and the art market at large. We planned a meet up for drinks and after 2 hours of constant brainstorming we immediately decided to work together on this project. The frustration we both kept circling back to was the normalization of the “starving artist” – that most working artists had to give so much unpaid and underpaid labor toward their careers, work multiple jobs often in industries or sectors unrelated to their practices. We were exhausted by the lack of transparency around these conversations. Especially for emerging and underrepresented artists, the lack of stable infrastructure surrounding their burgeoning careers was and still is troubling and we sought to solve it through the unique model we developed.
Our project space opened in June of 2017 in the basement of Kat’s apartment after the successful funding of a Kickstarter campaign launched in April. Our model was inspired by the power of crowdfunding, a notion rooted in Renaissance-era arts patronage (for context, Google the Medici family – Ed.). We invited the artists in our exhibition to also produce small original works or reproductions (along with PP branded in-house collectibles) at a price scale reasonable for the everyday patron to collect, and shared transparent costs related to production of each exhibition in the space that included a fair artist stipend for participation.
The goal was to encourage the public en masse to be directly involved in the success of an exhibition, receive a token of their support, and get every party paid for their time and labor involved. For us this model felt like the beginning of a new era for arts patronage and artist sustainability. Regardless of whether the works in the exhibition sold, artists were able to receive an even, fair wage for their labor surrounding participation.
ANTE mag. Can you walk us through the ways in which artists can be involved with the Paradice Palase organization as part of a community?
PP. Yes! Artists can be involved as part of our public facing community through our programs and events, as well as by joining our members network. This content comes in the form of public programming (often virtual), engagement on social media, and in person exhibitions. Our private members community works as a symbiotic relationship – artists and art lovers join at any of our 3 levels to receive perks, networking, and creative opportunities. Some of those benefits include monthly round ups of artist opportunities, connection to a network of peers online and in person, exclusive access to partner rewards and discounts, and exhibiting their work IRL at our annual members exhibition. Our monthly membership fees are low ($5-$15/mo) and allows for both accessible arts patronage as well as affordable professional career support.
We invite a mix of both member artists and non-members artists to collaborate with our platform’s curatorial content – whether it’s including their work in our online collections, designing apparel editions with them, inviting them as guests on our programming, or simply posting about their work online. The benefit of being a member is that you’re often receiving both sides of our community building – internal and external.
We’ve also been working towards creating not just a digital community but also a physical one with our storefront space in Brooklyn that supports 10 artist studios, an exhibition space, and the brick-and-mortar version of our marketplace. We’ve developed our platform in this way because we understand that community building, as well as access to resources, are some of the most important factors in contemporary artist careers. We want to support our Brooklyn community, and we also want to reach artists and art lovers outside of the NY (art world-Ed.) bubble too.
ANTE mag. When did you found your Brooklyn storefront and how does it (multi-) function?
PP. We signed the lease on our current storefront location over Labor Day 2019. It was a whirlwind day for us because the process of finding, touring, and applying for approval happened over the course of only 5 weeks. We had been discussing the options and possibilities with a commercial space as at the time all of the ideas we had surrounding programming expansion were beginning to outgrow our basement location. The incredible benefit with operating in Kat’s apartment was we never factored her rent into operating expenses, so the idea of taking on a commercial lease was as daunting as it was exciting. However, we knew we were ready to take the plunge and expand our blueprint.
We settled on a fairly common footprint of sharing the exhibition space with studio space. Our storefront is 1900 sqft. housing a front-facing gallery, a feature wall for the latest apparel editions and in-house goods, 10 semi-private studios, a common lounge area, and lofted artwork storage.
We are incredibly proud of the small community we’ve built in our Oasis Studios program and are grateful everyday for the artists that work there. With our mission of expanding our emerging artist community ever present, the bulk of our gallery programming are exhibitions from each of the artists in our Oasis Studios program. Our starting calendar also mapped room for 2-3 internally curated exhibitions, but as we’re sure you’ve gathered from the timeline, soon after moving in we had to shut the doors for the pandemic. This rapid and heavy blow to our operations gave way to a lot of soul-searching about how PARADICE PALASE would move forward strategically, succinctly, and still in consideration of everything we built before that moment.
ANTE mag. How do you plan your exhibitions and programs, both in-person and online in the virtual arts programming you produce?
PP. We thrive off spreadsheets, extensive note taking, and long hours surfing the web! Our model first began with curating group exhibitions, usually 4-6 artists per show. We wanted to work with and support as many artists as we could and not be limited to an exclusive group (side effect of being truly passionate about contemporary art!) We would research artists on Instagram, we’d attend lots of local shows and art fairs, Kat would meet artists at residencies, etc. We look mostly for emerging and underrepresented artists to work with, as we want to help nurture budding careers.
More recently after the pandemic hit in 2020, we really started reevaluating our operations and ultimately decided that with everything we were beginning to grow online, it was time to close the chapter on curating in-person group shows. Our storefront gallery calendar now consists of our studio member exhibitions (10 per year), our annual Open Call show, our annual Members’ show, and a handful of invited pop ups organized by external curators or groups. We focus our internal curatorial efforts now 100% online, curating collections of original works under $800, art objects, and artist designed apparel editions. This move online brings a new level of visibility to the artists we work with, and our focus on affordable art helps us further drive sales and expand our market reach. Our in-person shows are now more collaborative with lots of people involved, which helps foster community engagement within our physical space.
When selecting artists for exhibitions and programming, we tend to pull from both our internal pool of talent within our membership program and our own “wish list” of artists who we are fans of. We both keep running lists of artists we’d like to invite to participate in specific types of opportunities, whether it’s consigning artwork from them, or inviting them to be part of our Virtual Visit series. Different artists we come across might be good for one opportunity but not another, depending on what type of work they are making, and we keep notes about this and discuss during curatorial meetings. Our curatorial taste I would say is best described as “bold” and we typically curate new collections and do guest outreach for programs every few months. We now split up our labor, and Lauren largely handles curating and outreach for online collections while Kat manages and plans exhibitions in person.
ANTE mag.Can you talk to us about the ways in which you make art sales more feasible, and collectible art more affordable, for consumers (your recent Limited Edition mask artworks come to mind)?
PP. This is pretty much all we talk about now, haha, so we love this question! Our favorite part of our journey is the aha moment last year when we realized we’ve been dancing around the same goal since day one. When we began planning our line of apparel editions we drew on our first crowdfunding campaigns for inspiration, recognising the sales success of artist prints and collectibles from our brand.
A lot of galleries and arts organizations open with a clear vision of how they will grow on a road they rarely stray from. When PARADICE PALASE launched we had so much passion: a high stakes mission, but little else. Our goal all along was to make art collecting more accessible, and to create a sustainable revenue model for both artists and art organizations in the emerging art sector. Our passion and drive encouraged us to explore the dirt paths off the main road, but our mission to expand artist visibility and arts patronage has been there since the beginning and our current curated programming drives home all of the above.
So when we moved our curatorial programming online this year, we also narrowed in on selections of original works priced $800 and below as a way to remove stigma around artists producing work at accessible price points, and to lower the barrier to entry for novice collectors or general art lovers who want to get in the game. Through our collaboratively produced apparel editions, we are meeting those same intersections at an even more feasible scale of $55.95. We definitely see our apparel editions as a version of flat files programs, except wearable! And keeping the editions at a small production availability creates added value to their exclusive design.
ANTE mag is proud to shine a spotlight on the dedicated artists who are exerting an impact in the art world in 2021. From ongoing or upcoming solo exhibitions, to gaining recognition through artist talks, recognitions, awards and international residencies, these are some of the top artists we have an eye on as we move into the new year.
Below we center on the first 7 of our group of 21 artists selected for 2021. Each artist has images but click through to their websites to view more of their practice and familiarize yourself with your favorites!
Lead image courtesy the artist. Melissa Joseph “That pink van took us a lot of places, but never got us here” (2020) Needle, felted wool, inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk 21 x 27 inches
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about the use of “layering” in your practice and how it applies to all artistic disciplines that you work within?
Cecile Chong. My work is about cultural interaction and interpretation. I layer different materials where they become signifiers representing a place or a culture for me. I was born in Ecuador to Chinese parents and lived in Macau with my grandmother for five years between ages 10 and 15. After that, I returned to Ecuador for high school and then came to New York at age 19 to study art. I came to realize that my early life and cultural experiences were very intense, with the transition from one culture to the other being very abrupt. It was as though I was the character of one story line and was suddenly plucked out of it and placed in another narrative in a different setting, speaking a different language. Those experiences also included different religions, socio-economic statuses and family dynamics. Looking back, sometimes I feel like I grew up in some epic movie. At age 10, I went from spending weekends celebrating indigenous festivals like Inti Raymi near the family hacienda in the Ecuadorian Andes, to spending school vacations in the rural family village in Canton China during the Cultural Revolution. I think that these experiences have giving me a lot of subject matter and insights to work with.
I love finding materials that I can incorporate into my work that have meaning or bring some kind of memory. My paintings have 25 to 30 layers of encaustic (heated beeswax, resin and pigment) and I embed different materials (rice paper, volcanic ash, circuit board materials, figures from different books) within those layers. I usually have other projects going on where I apply a similar layering approach with materials. In my “Strainger” Series I use beads from donated necklaces and accessories that are mostly plastic or glass and combine them with beads from different types of rosaries. I also use natural materials and seeds mainly from the Amazon forest like acai, tagua, pambil and huayruro. In my tapestries beside the conventional yarn and ribbon, I’ve also been finding meaning in different materials that I include like utility cords, tassels, feathers, LED lights, metal charms, pom poms, which makes me think of things like colonialism, natural environment and indigenous communities, current technologies, colonialism, industrialization, labor, women’s issues, rebellious teenage years, etc. In 2019, I started working with stop motion animation and began layering languages that I grew up with at home (Spanish, Cantonese, Hakka and English).
ANTE mag.Your practice is influenced by such a range of issues, including economic factors, environmentalism and culture. How do you balance this wide range of influences in your practice?
CC. I react to different issues that resonate with my personal experience. I work intuitively. Some issues bother me, then nag me until they come out in my work.
I started EL DORADO – The New Forty Niners in 2017. It was a result of the president’s hostility towards immigrants. I was also a public middle school art teacher for many years in Sunset Park. In 2016, I saw how the president’s politics and words were affecting my students, their families and, I’m sure, thousands and millions of immigrants in this country and beyond. The atmosphere in my classroom was somber and tense with students being fearful of family members being deported. I then read that 49% of NYC households speak a language other than English. I held on to that number and developed 100 colored “guagua” (Quechua for baby) sculptures. I painted 49 of them gold to honor that 49%. EL DORADO (The Golden) – The New Forty Niners became a public art installation traveling to each of the five boroughs of New York City, one borough per year, and presented as a contemporary archaeological site. The installation has been installed in four boroughs of NYC. It is now installed at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor on Staten Island until March 28. Towards the end of this year, it will be installed in Manhattan as its final borough.
In 2018, I created a series of paintings addressing the cruelty and absurdity of the family separation policy at the US and Mexico border, which is driven by underlying racism towards people from Central and South America. This policy is a manifestation of the xenophobia and the general opposition to non-white immigration. The titles of my paintings such as DNA Matching, Bully, Border Crossing, Caged In, Nearly Full Capacity, Not Summer Camp, Day in Court, all came from reading about this issue and feeling frustrated and shocked about the cruelty being perpetrated. Unfortunately, as we know, up until last month, the parents of at least 628 migrant children still have not been located.
I have also been creating large scale installations. I have always used nature as a setting for my paintings. Earlier in my practice, I created installations with the idea of the viewers becoming the figures in my compositions. In 2019, I was spending part of my summer visiting my mom in Quito when the fires in the Amazon forest were everywhere in the news. Being one country away from the epicenter, I was devastated and numb. I thought about how we treat nature as though we are not part of it. We destroy, burn, divide the land and we treat mother nature as the other. For the title of the installation I took the “m” out of “mother nature” and created “_other Nature” at Smack Mellon at the beginning of last year. _other Nature was a room-size installation with a fence dividing the room with one side lush and thriving and the other side stunted after human intervention.
I think that “balancing” the influences in my practice happens when I confront what bothers me. It is that “nagging” feeling that happens and that tension that needs to be released that makes me address different issues through my work.
ANTE mag. Can you speak more on how your background as an immigrant artist impacts your work?
CC. The migration experience of my family and my own experience has allowed me to have multiple viewpoints and an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps “fresh eyes,” to look for clues and inspiration in the materials, history and people of a place, physical or spiritual, and to draw insight about its core essence. In the many places I have lived, I think I have been seen by most as somewhat of an outsider. In Ecuador I was “la china”. In China I was a “ghost girl” (foreigner). In the US, I’m an Asian woman with a Spanish accent. I’m okay with that. I look at my life’s travels as a gift. As a result, I feel very connected to my community. I just define my community maybe in larger terms than most. I think when people arrive at a new place we try to find similarities between our old and new environment to anchor ourselves. I think when you spend enough time doing this you come to the realization that we’re all more similar than different. In my work, I do want to depict those commonalities that we all share as humanity.
Nature is very important in my work. Culturally the move to Asia from South America was extremely abrupt and disorienting for a 10 year old. I struggled to look for clues to my previous life in Ecuador. Initially it was difficult finding a common thread in food, language or people, but it was easy finding the connection that I was looking for in nature, in grass, flowers, plants, rocks, clouds, the sky, the sun and moon. That finding was extremely comforting and reassuring. Living in a city (Quito, Macau, New York), many of these natural elements could be found in the cities’ green spaces . My own experience of relocating makes me wonder how newcomers benefit from city parks, and how city parks evolve and feed off of the arrival of these different immigrant communities. I’m excited that this year I will be participating in the Urban Field Station Artist Residency program to research the connection between city parks and their surrounding immigrant communities. This project somehow feels like an extension of EL DORADO to me.
Outside my studio I also want to collaborate and create opportunities for others and help recent immigrant artists navigate the NYC arts scene. Last year I participated as a mentor in NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program and loved it. I feel at this point that I have a lot to contribute as an immigrant artist, but also as a mentor to immigrant artists.
ANTE mag.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
CC. I look forward to be working and expanding on my “(in Blue) series” which is based on Blue and White ware, and its role throughout history in transmitting ideas and imagery across cultures. I love how it traces a global journey of migration and cultural exchange. I’m excited to be doing formal research on Blue and White ware through a fellowship which will complement the work I’ll be doing in my studio.
Lives and works San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York City
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about your practice and how it evolved as a result of global forces (pandemic, travel bans, etc) during 2020?
Lionel Cruet. Surely, my studio space has evolved this past year 2020; and it has got completely reduced to the essential, more than before. I have focused more on visibility and communication using social media. I noticed that this year allowed me to communicate with my audience about nuances of my practice in a more effective way. In regards to the practice I have done much more research than before and I have managed the ways to use and language and communicate the ideas of my artworks effectively. I will say that after all it has been productive. Traveling has been a bit stressful and risky but I have to say that getting all the correct information has been the key.
ANTE mag. Your exhibition at Yi Gallery, Dusk/Daybreak, in 2020 was immersive, forcing the visitor to focus and slowing their gaze. Can you expand on how encouraging the viewer to encounter your work in a specific manner is important to you? Is it critical to slow the gaze when encountering your most recent body of work?
LC. When I was thinking about the exhibition there was a constant thought on making it immersive – as all other projects that I have created before – but this one was crucial to have an ambiance with a tinted red light as it made reference to multiple experiences. Most, importantly I wanted the audience to readjust their gaze and enter into an overarching visual and environmental effect. Recently there has been studies that state that the use of red light in coastal spaces helps to keep a balance and protect species like sea turtles that come out to land at night to nest. These red lights have been installed in some areas and I see it as a way to negotiate the spaces that these animals inhabit as well as different communities. Since the body of work references these alternative views of the coastal spaces, and the effects of natural and artificial light as well the relationships that happen in these areas, I thought it was necessary to flood the exhibition space with a red light.
ANTE. How has your ongoing work as a teacher impacted your artistic practice and vice-versa?
LC. I have to be super honest, I see both of them integrated. In my practice as an artist as well as an educator I perform lots of research, including social interaction and community building dynamics. In one way or another they feed each other. For the past year all academic activities have moved online and I think this is a positive new challenge to overcome. I have to bring all these dynamics into the virtual space and being in the academic practice as well in the arts for a decade now, moments like this make me rethink what I do, reduce and be more pragmatic and effective.
ANTE.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LC. Wow, I’m actually grateful to say that there’s much I’m looking forward to in 2021, starting now with the release of this interview with you for ANTE mag. I’m also creating an installation art project at the Center for Contemporary Art in Quito that is inspired by the entangled memories of mangroves. Additionally, I’m participating in a residency program in Quito, titled Ventisca, organized by La Planta. I will be focusing on subjects of ecological awareness and alternative forms of education. I’m also part of an upcoming exhibition Seascape Poetics curated by Bettina Pérez-Martínez at the 4th Space Gallery in Concordia University in Montréal. Last but not least, I will be participating in an upcoming online event titled Charla Fun from a microgrant project by the USLAF U.S. Latinx Art Forum. Stay tuned on my social media – including Instagram @lionelcruet @lionelcruetstudio – for updates.
ANTE.Tell us more about your journey as an artist: how did you get your start in your practice as a sculptor working primarily in wood?
Mark Eisendrath. I was working in paper and the things I was making were getting perilously close to falling apart due to the volume of texture, collage, and other media I was applying to the works.I was also using fire in my pieces to get the effects I wanted. So I needed a more substantial material.
ANTE.During your virtual studio visit with Pelham Art Center, which I enjoyed greatly, you spoke to the conceptual approaches you mount in your sculptures, both free-standing and wall mounted, and I wanted to hear more about what you are considering in terms of philosophy and the other influences that impact your work.
ME. What grabs me and pulls me into the shop is my materials. Not what they are but what they can be. I get an idea, I sketch it out, and sketch it again, and again. If it becomes an interesting drawing then I know it’s worth considering bringing it into the physical world as an object. But I have to be careful- sometimes the drawings become so enticing that I try to make the sculpture exactly like that – and that’s not enjoyable.
ANTE.We’ve spoken in the past about your narrow escapes from death and resulting impact on your everyday life in terms of visual impairment: in what ways do you think coping with the effects of your injuries have positively impacted your work?
ME. I don’t see the world in stereo – I see it in mono, which makes certain things pop out to me; while others are unavailable. This is a gift. I am drawn to flat picture planes- sidewalks, building facades, the earth at my feet, the end-grain face of cut firewood. All of these contain their scars and imperfections which is more than likely why I work with wood the way I do. I am stimulated by what I see, my injury causes me to miss some things, but I ‘see’ so much more.
ANTE. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ME. I love how I feel after a day in the studio – I am physically and mentally taxed. It’s a beautiful thing to have your work be a workout. I look forward to what’s possible. Specifically, I am looking forward to making a series of prints from both my raw materials and sculpture created specifically for this printing process. There is also a series of pieces in my sketchbook that are hungry to see the light of day.
ANTE. You participated in the Smack Mellon exhibition “Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment.” Can you shed insights on your contribution to this exhibition?
GOODW.Y.N. Performing Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Kingston Legacy II at Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment revealed to me how much of women’s history in the country is tied together in an entanglement of destiny. The struggle for freedom from oppression, the necessity to carve out our own futures, both with and outside the hands of men really made me think about my female/fem ancestors who were trying to create a place for themselves in this world free of bigotry. Our voices are imperative and our presence is needed. I push for that to be seen in my work.
ANTE mag.This past year you produced several iterations of your performance series, “Ain’t I A Woman” across New York City. How did you choose the sites for this performance and how did you consider it as site-responsive in these multiple contexts?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to choosing sites for Ain’t I a Woman (?/!) I lean on historical, political and/or personal intricacies behind the “life” of each site. For example Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Black August was a response to the history of Black August and its celebration of Black radical leaders, and how that is tying into the BLM movement and murals in New York City now. When I did Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): HOMEBound, HOMEComing however, I was performing and crafting from a personal, internal place and time within the history of my life and I connected that to the ancestors who were resilient enough to survive slavery in the United States. I don’t truly know if the site is responsive or not until I am performing on it. Every place has its own spirit, its own energy signature and I like to tap into that onsite.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us how your practice is developing/has developed as part of your MFA education at DIAP at City College (Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice)?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to my practice I’ve learned to lean on my words a lot more than I have in the past 6 years. The portraits I paint studying digital arts, and combining that with my other passions (body-performance, poetry) gives my work a unique flavor, a richness that never resided in it before. I am learning more and more about how I wish to tell stories, whether it be my own or someone else’s.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
GOODW.Y.N. We’re remodelling the home studio to include these classic posters around the walls, I really love the new energy that is coming to me from these posters! I think that they will inspire me to create new works that center around the state of affairs today and what tomorrow may look like.
ANTE mag. Can you introduce our audience to your practice and the type of mediums you work within?
Melissa Joseph. Hi Everyone! Thanks for taking time to get to know a little more about my practice. I am a visual artist and I work with fibers, found objects, my family photo archive, ink, watercolors, and collage. Most recently I have been exploring different types of felting with wool as a way to paint. I am also making an experimental video, my first video project, as part of a residency at BRIC. My entire practice is an endless investigation of how different bodies are permitted to occupy space.
ANTE mag. During our discussions on your work, it’s become evident that you’re very dedicated to perfecting your methods working with fiber art. To this end you’ve completed a residency with the Textile Arts Center among other residencies you’ve completed. Can you tell us how you’ve arrived on the methods you use in your fiber art work in particular and the type of content you feature in these series?
MJ. I am a material artist, so connecting to an object’s presence is important to my process. In my 20s I was trained as a textile designer, which has broad applications, but was a language that felt natural to a childhood found object maker like me. Humans’ connection to textiles and the relationship textiles have to body and memory are so compelling. Fabrics hold the form of the body long after being removed. They become emotional and political spaces, which is content that I could mine forever. In my work, I often start with Indian silk that is part of my material memory of my childhood and of my late father. He wore this material often. I print photographs from my family archive onto the silk, and then use needle and wet felting to create interventions or distortions to the imagery so that it more accurately reflects my lived experiences and memory.
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how your work as a curator feeds your practice as an artist, and vice versa?
MJ. I love this question! Seeing art feeds my soul, and by extension feeds my practice. I often stop to think about how, as artists, we all make such oddly specific work. I never get tired of looking, connecting and discovering new art. Curating provides the space to analyze, celebrate and share artists and work that I love. Some I love because it feels familiar, some I love because I think the message is important, some I love because I find it beautiful, some I love because it is technically mesmerizing– the reasons to love artwork are endless. When this enthusiasm meets the evolutionary tendency to sort and categorize things, magical things happen, like curation. Curating also gives me a chance to zoom in on particular artists and artworks in a way that I might not get to do otherwise. It is a way of discovering relationships between people, ideas, and conversations that are happening across disciplines and content. I have a habit of obsessively sharing work with others if I think they might like it. Sometimes I even send images of art to strangers I follow on instagram if I think they might relate to it.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
MJ. I am looking forward to my upcoming Workspace Residency at DieuDonne! Tatiana and Amy are so generous with their mastery of paper making, and I can’t wait to see what is possible and how I might incorporate it into my practice.
ANTE. Can you introduce your practice to ANTE readers, starting with your “Chapters” series?
Elaine T. Nguyen.Chapters is a reflective body of work addressing my lived experiences without the nostalgia that memory can bring. It is a recap of the significant moments in my life where my perspective and world shifted. The series is colorful and honest, each painting a new chapter with a cast, theme, or symbolic meaning described in words or displayed through imagery. With descriptions setting a scene or time such as “I Pepper Sprayed my Ass in the Anzo Borrego Desert” or “The Summer of Snark, Playlists, and Chocolate Chip Waffles @ Midnight”. It is a visual story and one that is less emotionally driven than previous works.
As part of my studio practice, I keep monthly sketchbooks, a process that dates back to 2015. It was through these books that I found myself in a reflective mood and one insistent on honest self-evaluation and growth. Chapters started out as a summary of different segments of life and that was made purely for me to reflect on and not something that was ever intended to become paintings. It was upon rereading those words that I realized how easily it could be transitioned into paintings with imagery and more importantly, how much I wanted this to exist not just as words in my journals. I created a ton of sketches of all these moments and the colors came easily, more about the feeling of certain colors than the colors in real life. It was the desire to have these be colorful that led me to the traditional stretched canvas and paint. I work on multiple paintings at the same time which allows me to continue making as one piece is drying and it also supports my color palette and how that can be seen across different paintings pulling them closer together. I go back and forth from painting to painting to sketching out new ideas and flipping through old sketchbooks when I am a bit stuck on a shape and sometimes even color combinations I created previously and never used.
ANTE mag. “Chapters” marks a departure in many senses from your 2017 series I admire, “I Can’t Wait to Remember This,” although they share a sense of bright colors and memory-making. How does memory play in impact in your paintings?
ETN. What I find interesting about memory is every time you remember something it becomes less and less accurate. That’s what started my series I Can’t Wait to Remember This, this need to remember these glorious moments and more importantly how it made me feel. That’s where the color came in, the vibrance and playful nature of mixed media with sparkles and tinsel, and a blend of colors is a reminder of how saturated these moments were with childlike joy.
This series, Chapters, was not so much about remembering or processing but about being honestly reflective of past events, the factual moments rather than the romantic nostalgia of memory. I didn’t draw inspiration from the most beautiful moments in life but the most impactful, the times where my life and my perspective has shifted. Each painting is a new chapter, there is an element of growth and difference with these. Though my past events are memories, the focus here is on a larger idea of collective storytelling piecing together a visual book of sorts and an ode to all of the impactful things that shape who I am currently.
ANTE mag. During our conversation as part of your recognition in the ANTE mag 2020 open call win, we discussed your text-based works on fabric. Can you speak with us about the beginnings and evolution of this body of work?
ETN.Blue Talks, the text-based works we had previously spoken about, invited audiences in to discuss, the work not necessarily about me, but the experiences that I share with a marginalized group of people. The transition between Chapters and Blue Talks began with a creative break. During this time I read books and I also reread my old sketchbooks, all 60 of them. I went through years of my life finding connections, observing common themes and ideas, seeing my younger self grow. It got me thinking about how I would section my life: the conflicts, the friendships, the moments and places of significance. What started out looking like an outline to a book became intertwined with imagery, paintings easily coming to mind representing each new chapter of growth. Chapters is an autobiography, or rather, a memoir due to its selective memory and fluctuation in the timeline. The color choices are always based on how that memory feels, occasionally pulling from the actual colors of objects but it does lean more towards the colors that excite me, the ones that feel more accurate based on emotion. The beginning works of this series are paint based, but as I continue I find myself incorporating mediums I previously used such as cyanotype, fabric, and embroidery. I have become more invested in breaking out of the frame and being intentional with the display.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ETN. As my work evolves, medium-wise, I find myself delving back into the draped fabric and a combination of that with stretched canvases. I am also finding myself incorporating the embroidery that I was doing but on sturdier surfaces and on top of the paint. Conceptually, I am moving away from real lived experiences towards making up memories that don’t yet exist. I’m interested in this modern concept of “manifesting’ our own realities and have been focusing on dreaming up my own future. There is so much unknown currently in the world but there is a lot personally known of where I would like to be and the memories that I want to eventually make. I am looking forward to manifesting my goals, envisioning trips and friendships, and also writing and painting my own future chapters. I’m looking forward to this body of work is the culmination of work I’ve made so far, one that you can observe and say it all speaks to each other in a fluid way rather than a part of a progression.
ANTE mag. You have an ongoing exhibition on view through February 18th in NYC and an upcoming show in Singapore. Can you talk to us about each show, and what work you have included in each?
ZW. I’m showing my most recent project Where Did Macy Go? in both shows. The show in New York includes the main video and a large print (video still). The upcoming show in Singapore (My first solo exhibition in Asia) will include a large projection of the main video, 5 prints (video still) on aluminum, and a giant inflatable of the protagonist Macy (18 x 7 feet).
Where Did Macy Go?is an 11-episode animated video told through a series of reports of Macy’s encounter with the epidemic, life during the quarantine, search for his grandfather’s farm and his revival. The video discusses the collapse of old community structures, the emergence of a new community after decollectivization, Confucian obedience vs. social obedience, as well as the new tele-republic of home, “mask politics” and social justice under the pandemic. Originally posted on TikTok to challenge the possibility of online exhibitions, the work is a response to this era of volatility, complexity and confusion.
Heavily inspired by Homi Bhabha’s The Third Space theory, my project often includes setting up a multi-layered system to trigger the collision of various conflicting or seemingly unrelated elements and topics from different social and cultural backgrounds. Due to Covid-19, it’s the first time we seen so many thinkers from all over the world writing about the same issue at the same time, from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agemben’s techno-totalitarism, to the argument between Slovenian philosopher Zizek and Korean-born German philosopher Han Byung-Chul: The re-invention of communism vs. the vigorous restoration of global capitalism, to French philosopher Bruno Latour and French writer François Gemenne’s argument on COVID’s influence on climate change, to Paul B. Preciado’s Pharmacopornography and Tele-Republic of Home. By juxtaposing all the complex and even conflicting arguments above, I was able to examine the “in-between” space of different social and political ideologies using COVID-19 as context.
ANTE mag. As an extension of your practice you’ve been creating AR filters which are regularly becoming wildly popular across social media. Can you talk to how these filters expand your practice outside of perhaps a narrower view of what constitutes Fine Art studies at the university level for example?
ZW. Similar to posting the videos on TikTok, these AR effects and Instagram filters, which is a part of the project Where Did Macy Go?, are also my response to the current time where many exhibitions were trying to recreate an IRL experience on their own websites, while I prefer to take advantage of what Internet and social media does the best: sharing and redistributing. So far these AR effects have been shown over 100,000 times on Instagram.
I think they opened up some new possibilities for my work. For example, when using the Macy (Split Face) filter, every user becomes a version of Macy. When thousands of users post their own version of Macy, the dimension of this project are widely expanded (both conceptually and geologically), which is very important to the in-between space I was seeking to achieve. Additionally, when using the Macy (Playboy) application, for example, dozens of characters’ faces in the scene are replaced by the user’s face, which creates a new possibility for a collective narrative. It could also be seen/used as a new tool for performance works.
This mode of exploration and experimentation exists in all my works: They often start from an event, a moment, an emotion, or a stimulation that I have strong feelings about. I will then start my research including studying the related philosophy and history, collecting archives and data, and finding the most appropriate medium to realize the project, which often includes learning a new technique or collaborating with professionals in the related field. It is very important to examine what each medium is best at, and be able to choose the right medium that could convey your concept the most successfully and efficiently. Especially, each medium and genre have their own established ways of experiencing the works. When we utilize a particular medium, we already have a long history in its own field that serves as the context of experiencing the work, which could be either taken advantage of, and/or be used to challenge and subvert.
ANTE mag. Speaking of academia, you are also busy working as an instructor at SVA and ITP. How do you find that teaching impacts your practice in the studio and vice versa?
ZW. As a visual artist, I have always believed that my responsibility and function (or what artists are best at) is to ask questions by constructing a visual experience, instead of solving problems (For example, activists, scientists and politicians are so much better at solving problems than artists).
What teaching brought me, is the notion of solving problems through education, and achieving something through a collective manner, especially in today’s unique context. I have been making a few collaborative projects in the past few years, and I’m hoping to do more in the future.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ZW. I’m currently working on a project titled Networked Ecosystem (in collaboration with artist Mark Ramos) – A live-simulation project that presents an ecosystem built of a variety of AI senses. Commissioned by NEW INC, Rhizome and Nokia Bell Labs, Networked Ecosystem takes LIDAR (location and distance), GECKO (temperature, humidity, air pressure and gas density) and other robotic vision and sensing data collected by Bell Labs’ experimental robots and sensors over the past few decades, re-purposing it to drive a 3D environmental simulation that viewers explore and interact with the simulated world and each other in an ever-changing environment. In particular, the simulation will present AI’s past, current (Covid-19), and future encounter and experience of climate change based on the massive collected climate related data, to contemplate questions about human’s sensory relationships with robot and AI, and how they survive in the chaotic world we’ve created.
Virtual Exhibition via Davis Editions: Instagram @DavisEditions
solo show of new works by Ann Tarantino
When describing the imagery present in her solo exhibit, Land Lines, with Davis Editions, artist Ann Tarantino recalls her time walking the streets of Kyoto during a trip to Japan. “I just remember power lines criss-crossing above the street while ambling through Kyoto,” the artist reminisces. “Seeing these overlapping lines made such a strong impression on me.” Works on view in the artist’s current solo show with Davis Editions evoke this sense of trajectory and overlap, with lines bisecting her compositions in translucent swaths of color. Slight hints of pattern and color gradients spread across the surface of these works on paper, forming a subtle shift in background that affects the manner in which the viewer absorbs the work. These shifting, nuanced colors muted beneath sharp lines cutting across the surface of these works form a strong contrast. This juxtaposition makes quite the impression, mirroring the artist’s own remarks about power lines crossing the Kyoto sky.
The dizzying dance of lines and colors across the surface of Tarantino’s works are achieved as an effect of her process. The artist works with a CNC machine to etch across the surface of each panel, creating an ethereal effect in the composition as a whole. This process is also a reason why the lines cut so clearly across such a complex background image, leading to the clear outline of specific elements which stand out so clearly against the patterns receding back into the picture plane. Tarantino’s works on view in Land Lines manages to capture clear, linear progressions, even within compositions so saturated with visual texture and such a vibrant range of color hues. Thus, minimal qualities of these works rises to the viewer’s eye first, emerging through the range of elements on view in each print.
With a range of public art projects, installation works and works on paper, Tarantino is an artist whose style is adaptable to multiple formats. Her flexibility and keen eye for composition serve her will in this stunning survey of recent works. Land Lines provides a window into the mind of an artist keenly observing her environment, breaking it down into its concrete components. Tarantino mines the sublime from the natural world, paying careful attention to gradations of light and repeating elements. The patterns crossing through urban cityscapes and the dappled shadows cast by a tree branches both find a home in equal measure in these evocative works Tarantino has produced in the past year. A meditative and rewarding foray into Tarantino’s practice for any who view the exhibition.
Land Lines is on the Davis Editions Artsy page and is visible on their Instagram, up through Nov 25, 2020.
My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.”
Multi-disciplinary Xicana artist and activist Alicia Smith is the featured winner of our open call, and it is with great satisfaction that we are featuring her in a weeklong Instagram takeover she’s spearheading this week (if you haven’t seen her videos you’re missing out!) and in this special interview with the artist. The artist holds her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and was featured at the art fair UNTITLED in San Francisco in Fall 2019.
Smith’s work spans video, performance, printmaking and sculpture to bring awareness to the existing, inaccurately romanticized tropes that deny indigenous women their individual complexity, simultaneously demonstrating their beauty and strength. We learned more from Smith’s perspective on the implications her practice has on the greater art world, as well as the lessons that she has learned from her ancestors and from the wider diaspora of indigenous nations that have informed her practice as an artist and activist.
(Featured Image: “Erendira”, image courtesy the artist.)
ANTE mag. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Alicia! We recently learned about an artwork that you donated to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter, can you tell us more about how this came about?
Alicia Smith. Thank you! That piece is “Molotov Hare,” and it was created really with Black and Brown solidarity in mind. A marriage of indigenous archetypes and anarchist imagery.
There are many indigenous traditions that involve the rabbit as a symbol of rights of passage for young warriors. The Aztecs had their Eagle Warriors walk through underground caves and emerge, ready to defend their tribe. There are jade sculptures depicting rabbits protecting men wearing eagle headdresses to illustrate this ceremony. Black Elk once said: “For the rabbit represents humility, because he is quiet and soft and not self asserting – a quality which we must all possess when we go to the center of the world.” The rabbit is also a trickster. The Anishinaabe’s Nanabozho in the North and Cherokee and Black communities in the South. Many stories of Br’er rabbit are in fact adaptions of West African tales of Anansi the spider. The trickster felt important in the piece because of his ceremonial role. He forces us to re-evaluate where we delineate societal rules and agreements. He does this through perpetually undermining them.
The image is about duty to your people, and that to change the rules you first have to break them. It felt extremely urgent: I cut the block in a day and started taking orders and I did use the piece to raise bail funds for Black Lives Matter OKC and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. I’m really proud of this work and [proud] that people have been using that image when they protest police brutality.
ANTE mag. As a Xicana artist and activist, your work embraces themes such as decolonization, the Americas’ native nations and knowledge of the natural world such as plant life and medicinal practices. Can you tell us more about the origin of this journey for you as an artist to research and integrate the crucial, yet still too often overlooked, history of indigenous peoples in your work?
Alicia Smith. I feel like I didn’t have a choice, haha… when the ancestors come knocking you better stand at attention and that is sort of what began this path for me. I had always been a pretty feral child, bringing wild animals inside of the house, and I always had a real lust for knowledge, especially in the way of ecology. I feel like re-examining those complex relationships through that cultural lens has taught me more than anything else. My work gets called “Didactic” a lot, which I learned in grad school is often the white-elitist way of saying “I don’t want to learn history that is not compulsory Euro-centric history.” I know doing that kind of work might dissuade people from wanting to look at my art but I hope given the political climate at large that those same folks are at least taking a moment of pause as to why they don’t want to learn indigenous history of the land they are on. But above all else, if it isn’t for them – it’s not for them, and that’s fine too. I love encountering first-generation kids, folks who went through a diaspora, who immediately connect and resonate with the work. At the end of the day if all I did was preserve one inch of sacred knowledge in a piece, then I’ve done my job of being a good ancestor for those who come after me with questions.
ANTE mag. To expand on the above question, can you delve into the range of your practice – spanning video, installation, mixed-media – as relates to the themes such as native culture and traditions and decolonization in your work?
Alicia Smith. By foundation I am a printmaker. So all my work often starts as a relief print before it goes into the world of durational art. I like the idea of being a Tlacuilo: a scribe or codex painter, someone who is recording history, ceremony, etc. So I think my 2-dimensional work acts as a kind of codex and my performances and video are the ceremonies themselves.
I call my work “Secondhand Ceremonies,” inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer, because these are partial reconstructions and partial innovations. When you are descended from people who survived genocide it means necessarily reconstructing the old with new innovations: Adaptations.
ANTE mag. You reflect on the words of Anishinaabe cultural ecologist Melissa K. Nelson in your description of your work, “Teomama.” Nelson remarked, “the Native Woman’s body [in so] many stories acts as a kind of meeting place.” Can you expand on how this reflection impacted the development of your work?
Alicia Smith. It’s cosmogeneology. In science it’s just evolutionary biology. The most seemingly innocuous Ant has been on this earth for 120 million years. And in indigenous ways of knowing we don’t look at the ecosystem from this sort of colonial scientific gaze. These beings are our siblings. Plants, animals, insects, fungi, they’re our older brothers. And to explain that ethic of kinship, rather than talking about primordial soup, we do it through these eco-erotic stories, where women are often at the intersection. In the Popol Vuh a woman becomes pregnant eating fruit from a tree. There are stories of women marrying stars, bears, becoming pregnant by the wind and on and on. It establishes an ethic of kinship. When I do these performances with Hawks, Wolves, Deer, Horses, Rivers, and so on, its so important to me to convey the medicines of these beings and their teachings as well as the metaphors I imbue them with in the work.
ANTE mag. How has the uncertainty of 2020 impacted your practice, and what current body of work are you focused on?
Alicia Smith. I am very fortunate because I have a government job where we were put on admin leave. I’m also very fortunate that I have been given some room to do what I love to do and share stories from my home, for the museum that I work for. This time at home has been really beneficial for my practice. Unfortunately people who are privileged who dont have to work a 9 to 5 job are usually the ones who can devote more time to their practices and end up rising in their art careers. But this time has allowed me to be so much more productive and to do what I really want to do which is engage with my community and in social justice causes.
On view at Paradice Palase(1260 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY) through Saturday, August 29th, Courtney Dudley’s transcendent “Sudden Relics”makes manifest a new body of work reflecting the natural materials and flashing screens that define our confined yet simplified lifestyle during quarantine. Composed of new works made made with clay and pit-fired in the artist’s own Kingston, NY backyard, these works – and the resulting video “Dig” on display – present this primitive process-as-creatively re-imagined practice.
Works titled “Burial” (and numbered 4-11) on display present a vision of the world through the lens of the artist’s own personal loss during the time of CoVid-19 in addition to the general anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic. The works elevate circumstances of chance and resurrection, borrowing from the sophisticated yet ancient Japanese concept of “Kintsugi”: an elegant means of re-evaluating how broken and re-assembled sculpture can be elevated through the process of applying decorative adhesive to resurrect the final artwork. This theme of resurrection buoys the exhibition, echoing the quarantine optimist’s belief in a better world post-CoVid19 pandemic subsiding.
“Nest,” a sculpture created from dried and twisted vines that are an invasive species in the artist’s local ecosystem, further complicate the concept of what is actually natural. The video documenting the artist’s practice that is mounted on display, titled “Dig,” flanks the “Curios” (1-5) series which consists of shadowboxes containing shards of the pit-fired ceramics that have been gathered and presented as artifacts: relics of a contemporary body of work borrowing an ancient process. This re-imagining of the primitive in the contemporary moment demonstrates the power of Dudley’s vision: by elevating the material and re-contextualizing this practice for a new audience, the artist makes more immediate connections to an abstract, historic process.
The presentation of this dynamic show firmly establishes the connections between the visceral quality of the material and the labor-intensive practice the artist employed to create works for “Sudden Relics.” The homage to those artists who have spent time creating those enigmatic, elegant ceramics and clay artworks of eras past whose names are lost to the sands of time. The artist’s dedication and enthusiasm toward this body of work infuses the exhibition with a timeless spirit that elevates and soars toward a hopeful future.
Multi-disciplinary artist Sun Young Kang’s multitudinous, scholarly practice mines art historical precedent and a range of scales and materials. This 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (which is NEA-funded) has exhibited in multiple solo and group shows both in the US and abroad, and she is currently based in New York State. Her work has received multiple accolades and recognitions, and her practice manifests the conceptual across various sites and installations.
We chatted with Kang to gain insight into her practice, including aspects of art historical precedent that have informed her practice, her philosophical outlook and the trajectory in which her work is headed.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your practice, specifically in relationship to repetition and the Korean concept of Yeo-baek and the influence of the Dansaekhwa school on your work as referenced in your statement?
Sun Young Kang. My interest is in exploring the duality fundamental to human existence: different realities or worlds both in space and time and the tension between them, the co-existence of antithetical ideas. I reside in between two different cultures. My feeling of marginality makes me wonder about the concept of boundaries, the space or time in between, as well as the interrelation of, different ideas or entities. My focus on this also comes from my background—Korean Painting and its key aesthetic and philosophy of “Yeo-Baek.”
Yeo-Baek is the physical empty space in a painting that the brush hasn’t touched and remains as openness. This untouched part of painting is considered as important as the part filled with images. Visually, Yeo-Baek creates the balance of positive and negative space in a painting. Conceptually, this negative space stimulates the viewer’s imagination about what is not there and invites them into the artwork. This quiet blankness makes the artwork interactive by requiring the presence of the audience.
This contemplative yet interactive aspect of Yeo-Baek is also an important aesthetic of most of Dansaekhwa art. When I was in school majoring Korean Painting in mid to late 1990s, I don’t recall hearing the name “Dansaekhwa.” But many of the students were inspired by the aesthetic of several Korean artists who are now spoken of as the pioneers of the “Dansaekhwa movement.” It is obvious to me that my practice also reflects the influence of the aesthetic of Yeo-Baek and Dansaekhwa.
The most obvious connections to Yeo-Baek in my work are the physical empty space as a key element both conceptually and aesthetically and the audience’s presence in activating and completing the piece, whether it be as a reader of my book or as a physical part of the installation space. The minimal or limited amount of techniques and materials in each project and the repetition in the process of making and in the resulting texture and visuality evoke characteristics of Dansaekhwa art. Rather than specific images or colors, my practice focuses on the material itself: the lightness and delicacy of paper and other soft materials, such as thread, hair, and powder, and light and shadow effects. Each material has metaphoric meaning intrinsic to the theme or concept of my work. I routinely use simple but obsessively repetitive processes in the making, such as cutting out or burning paper or printing repetitively, casting objects, stitching or hanging hundreds or thousands of threads in a space. The meditative aspect of a repetitive working process is also present in the Dansaekhwa artists’ practice. The repetition in my work visualizes time-passing and symbolizes time made spatial, reflecting the passage in between or across boundaries, and the repetitive use of a technique and minimal materials creates a tactility, a visual obsessiveness, that brings the audience close to my work.
ANTE mag.Your practice moves between book art and installation to 2-D work and works on paper, can you walk us through the evolution of your practice as a multi-disciplinary artist working across multiple mediums?
SYK. In Korea, before I joined the Book Arts/ Printmaking program, I worked strictly on 2-dimensional paper canvas, but the transition from painting to book was not as radical is it sounds. The most common material for a book is paper, as it is for Korean painting. The intimacy and the quiet interaction that a book can offer its readers was for me very much like the interactivity of Yeo-baek. Also, in a book form, 2-dimensional paper turns to 3-dimensional space as the pages are stacked, folded or bound together, and that structure offers a sense of narrative and time passing. An intimate and portable book can contain the idea of space and time that through the viewer’s imagination is unlimited.
Some of my early artist books focused on visualizing the invisible space in the structure of the book. I used the repetitive processes of cutting, burning or printing to create tactility as well as to evoke meaning. This has been key to most of my installation projects as well. My interest in the physical, conceptual space of a “book” and its interaction with the viewer led me to create large spaces in which audiences could physically immerse themselves, contemplating time passing and dwelling in uncertainty, as they took part in creating a space that envisioned the boundary between antithetical ideas, ideas often visualized as light and shadows. Below is a description of an installation that I recreated several times, an example of how a sheet of paper became a large space and how an installation evolved from the philosophy of Korean Painting and the concept of the space of a book.
Sometimes I consider my 2-D works as books or my books as works on paper. That depends on each project, on my thoughts as to how an audience would interact with my work, how best to communicate my idea. Without thinking, I move between different mediums.
ANTE mag. Can you reflect on an exhibition, residency or fellowship you’ve had and how that has impacted your practice or provided a turning point?
SYK. Every experience of an exhibition, residency, and fellowship that I have had has been a turning point in some way. I cannot begin to list all the opportunities and support from institutions, organizations, and individuals that have impacted my practice. One particularly important experience was my first oversea residency in 2017.
I was invited to be a resident artist of the Soulangh Artist Village in Tainan, Taiwan, through COPE NYC International Artists in Residence Exchange Program. It required courage from the beginning, as I had to be away from my family and travel to a country I didn’t know. Also, at that time my mother in Korea started to develop Alzheimer’s, which had a powerful effect on me, making me reflect on my past, my home, and human connections encased in memories. The spirituality of the local culture in Tainan and its relation to contemporary life inspired me. There I created my first work without paper at all, using cotton thread and sugar powder.
This was a temporary site-specific installation for which I used locally found materials and which I shared with the local community, all strangers to me, not by any kind of direct communication, but simply through the emotional exchange made possible by the installation itself. I came back home without any physical work, but with incredible memories and friendships and inspiration. This residency led me to think about the temporality of the physical art work into which I put so much energy and time. I came to value more the process of interacting with my surrounding and creating works for a specific place and time than creating physical artifacts that lasted beyond that. I began to feel that the experience of the work, once it came to life, and the memory of that, were enough.
“The Endless Lines” consisted of 3-dimensional structures built by using strings of 1-dimensional thread, my attempt to visualize the invisibility of time passing (the continuous lines being my illusion of flow of time) and the spirituality and beliefs of a culture that could not be grasped by our concept of any dimension. This installation made me think of how we define the passage of time and how time creates memories that connect individuals and the past and future. I started to use in my work the 1-dimensional physicality of thread as a metaphor for connectivity or continuity and my shed hair (also a kind of thread) as a metaphor for the detached self, memory-loss, and disconnection.
Last year I again created a site-specific work, this time in Seoul, Korea, and again came home with empty hands. Traveling to a place far from where I reside limited my materials and techniques. I carried in my suitcase rolls of thread, needles, magnets, and some small pieces of paper and with those created 6973 miles of force in 1cm in Korea, my home country.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward? SYK. My present practice is a continuation of my recent work, but instead of temporary site-specific installations, I have gravitated toward work that I can do alone in my home studio, whether it be a small-scale work or an installation. My practice now involves more planning and designing than being inspired by something unexpected or a new setting.
Currently, I am preparing an upcoming exhibition. I have been invited by the University of Alabama at Huntsville to be the 2020 UAH Contemporary Art Fellow (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) with a solo exhibition and public events. The visit has been postponed from this fall to early next spring due to the pandemic. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to look forward to during this isolation. For this exhibition, I am going to expand and develop my previous paper installation project In Between Presence and Absence. So, I am now back to the cast paper process which I did for many years. I want to accentuate the interactivity of the space given to me for the installation, a space that to me seems quieter than those of my previous installations.
ANTE mag. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work? SYK. Since I cannot travel for a residency or exhibition, I am looking more into myself. These days I think a lot about my home, which seems farther away than ever, and my mother—now in a nursing home and not allowed contact with anyone outside that home—slowly getting close to the end without understanding what is going on in the world around her. These painful thoughts have led me to revisit and rethink my previous work “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence”, which I began at the Vermont Studio Center during a residency a year ago and developed in my home studio at the end of last year.
The two primary materials with which I am working for “Line-Drawing II: The New Existence” are bricks and my shed hair. A brick, broken in half, represents a split self, two identities, the space between the past and the future. Shed hair symbolizes for me the detached self and memory loss, suggesting the weakened connection between my current self and my past self and between me and my home country.
I repeatedly hammer on the brick to create a crack and eventually split it into two pieces. After breaking the brick, I photograph it and, again, in a repetitive movement, embroider on the photograph, with my hair, lines between the two parts of the brick. Those repetitive actions visualize the concept of ourselves as the embodiments of time passing between the past and the future. One cannot connect two heavy objects such as bricks with delicate hair; that is only possible on a two-dimension rendering, a photograph, of the brick pieces. I see my line embroidering as reconnecting, symbolically and impossibly, the gap between past and future, between two identities, reconnecting the two parts of a split self. In reality, the present is continually shifting. The future becomes the past. Establishing an identity and settling into the space between past and future are profoundly difficult. Thus, I explore the concept of time and space through the 4-dimensional process of breaking the bricks and line-stitching the photographs, the 3-dimensional bricks and embroidered hair, and the 2-dimensional photographs.
For the past couple of months, besides working on my upcoming solo exhibition, I have been working on this project, which I have renamed “Impossibly Connected.” Although the theme and concept were established, I didn’t consider the piece complete. My idea was to recreate it by re-photographing the bricks to get more spatial depth in the photos to emphasize the exploration of different dimensions of time and space.
My feeling of being marginal, living between two cultural realities, trying to bridge two identities and wanting to explore themes of time and space and the conflict between past and future seem more pressing to me now than ever. And I sense that other people are feeling the same. My repetitive motion of impossibly connecting the broken bricks in the photo with my shed hair evokes and embodies my constant questioning: What is the reality that we believe is real now? How can we reconnect each other after this? Where can we find the lost time? Completing this project may not be important, but the symbolic movement of connecting the pieces allows me to question and think. I will work on this piece for as long as I feel I need to. I feel this process will take me to a new place, a new direction. What or where I don’t know.
Artist Gabriel J. Shuldiner demands much of his medium. An artist who creates works by building layers of paint and industrial materials in a meticulous manner, his paintings are comprised of sculptural layers constructed in careful relationship with the preceding layer, existing in a unique and original tension indigenous to the particular work itself. His attention to construction –and just as fittingly, deconstruction– becomes apparent in the singular surface of each of his finished artworks.
We touched base with Shuldiner to gain insights into his studio, and as an Open Call winner, to learn how he has perfected his practice.
ANTE Mag. Can you tell us about your practice, specifically within the context of layers upon layers as referenced in your conceptual artist statement?
Gabriel J. Shuldiner.While painting, I gradually build up a work… layers upon layers. It’s primarily all paint, along with some industrial construction materials. Each layer informs the next: how the materials work with and against each other. There is always a sense of surprise, of tension working with the matter, but intent remains, and as layers compound, remnants of previous layers are left over, hidden, revealed, and exposed, becoming layers upon layers of physical matter which mirror the conceptual layers I also attach to the work.
ANTE Mag. You specifically mention three terms, Brute Minimalism, Hybridsculptural painting and Post apocalyptic black – can you explain how each of these terms define your work?
G.J.S. I was looking for a quick way to explain my work in the most concise manner as possible. I like words and word play. I don’t like definitions; having to define things and describe things that should be seen and experienced is something I don’t like, but I understand the necessity. My work is influenced by so many visual genres, and musical genres. Traditionally my work is steeped in the history minimalism and abstraction and conceptualism. But my work is also brutal…brutal in a good sense. It’s delicate and playful, brutal and raw. The term I use is “bruteminimalism”: it just came to me and it sounded right. I’m a painter who creates Hybridsculptural paintings rather than a sculptor who creates painting-like sculptures. Given that my work fluctuates between painting and sculpture, the works I create are literally “hybrid sculptural paintings” As for “postapocalypticblack”, I felt the word appropriately described my own unique variant of black. It also aptly riffs on the age old falsity that “painting is dead”. I heard that term a lot in graduate [art] school and thought it the most ridiculous statement ever. It seems to come along every few years. Apparently painting has been dying ever since the first cave paintings appeared… this term perfectly played on that absurdity. You just can’t kill it. The physicality of the material, the blackness of the material… it is postapocalypticblack. You know it when you see it.
ANTE Mag. Recently you have shown at Monica King Contemporary, how has it been exhibiting your work during the pandemic and how has it been different for you showing work now than pre-COVID?
G.J.S. I had a piece in a benefit auction Monica King Contemporary set up to help raise money for the CoVid cause. I love her gallery and was grateful to be asked to be in it: I had been looking for ways to help during the pandemic. At the time I was offering limited-edition mini-paintings direct via my Instagram and donating 50% to the CoVid-related organization of the buyer’s choice. And then the gallery asked if I would take part in their benefit. A completely virtual online benefit. Of course I said yes.
Showing my work now, during CoVid, I feel I’ve adapted to the current virtual world quite well. I’ve done several Zoom artist talks, a few interviews and have had several group shows. I’ve also sold work! All virtually. Given the physicality of my work and the crucial importance of light as an actual material, a 2D screen doesn’t do my work justice. I think that’s true for all visual arts. But it’s extra true with my work. There is something magical, experiential and spiritual about standing before a painting and looking at it. It’s a personal experience between you and the work. This pause in showing work in the real world is definitely strange. But at the same time, there are so many new outlets to get the work seen, and seen by so many more. The reality is that most people will initially discover my work virtually. That was probably true pre-pandemic, but now and post-pandemic, it will be the primary way people will experience my work, so I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting the way I photograph [the work] and I’m pretty happy with the results.
I see the image as I see my aforementioned descriptive terms: as a quick way to show, explain and attract… with the goal of having that introduction lead to an in person studio visit – which is convenient because my studio is in Chelsea (Manhattan.)
I have several (studio visits) lined up, but I’m not yet ready for in person studio visits, no matter how well-enforced the social distancing and masking.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?
G.J.S. Throughout CoVid, I’ve been lucky enough to really focus on creating a new body of work. I’m really tightening the work up, and I feel I’m actually making my best work now during the pandemic. Every painting I have ever created has gotten me to this point.
Working without having any deadlines or distractions has been very freeing, and creatively inspiring. But for the most part, my routine hasn’t really changed all that much during Covid. I still paint every single day. Right now I’m working on some larger pieces. That’s where my head is right now. I’m used to having complete control over my work. I like making work that I can handle physically, as I want to be able to move the piece around as it is created. The back becomes the front, and the top becomes the bottom. I want to be able to twist, cut, rip, tear, punch. The deconstruction is just as important as the construction.
The way I work is sorta manic. I work on multiple pieces at once, bouncing ideas off each work. Eventually certain works tighten up and reveal themselves and then I move in to complete them. The way I show my work is the opposite, super minimal: one piece surrounded by nothing. The majority of my current work has been relatively consistent in size and thus easily maneuverable. The direction I’m headed is larger, so I’m figuring out how to navigate the larger works in a similar manner. I want that intimacy to remain. I’ll figure it out.
ANTE mag. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?
G.J.S. I have a complex equation in my mind that has to balance itself out in order for me to consider a work complete, and successful. It’s just a feeling I get. With “zTCTdyH<B\,H3h]_system” for example, I feel I have accomplished that. The way the different materials play off each other makes someone wonder: what is the surface? What is the support? Is it a painting or a sculpture? What is it made of, and how is it made? The interplay of light upon the varying shades of black, creating various areas of white and grey. I can stare off into work I consider successful for hours and it transports me.
Ultimately I am painting primarily just for myself… which is a crucial point. And that’s the test, really, to reach that space: that place [which means for] me, someplace calm amidst such concentrated chaos.
Each work looks so simple. It’s a black painting. But the longer you gaze into it, the more the complexities gradually reveal themselves.
We sat down to learn more about her time specifically at Franklin Street Works, and how the organization is dedicating its next chapter to archiving its powerful body of programs, events and exhibitions, contextualizing them for a new audience.
(Below image, Cut Up: Contemporary Collage and Cut-Up Histories through a Feminist Lens curated by Katie Vida, installation view. Foreground: Faith Ringgold. Background (L-R): Meredyth Sparks, Martine Syms, and Lourdes Correa-Carlo. Photo by Object Studies
Lead image, Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman, installation view. Foreground: commissioned site-specific installation by Nontsikelelo Mutiti. Background (L-R): works by Jay Simple and Bryan Keith Thomas. Photo by Object Studies.)
ANTE. Thanks, Terri, for sitting down with us! So Franklin Street Works was known as a contemporary art space but during your time working there, it achieved recognition for engaging with social justice as well. Can you elaborate on the founding of the space, its evolution and how social justice aligned with FWS’ mission?
Terri C. Smith.Being the founding creative director of an arts organization is a unique perspective because you are steeped in its institutional history and have a deep on-the-ground understanding of its growth and impact. When I was invited to co-found Franklin Street Works by Stamford lawyer and philanthropist Kathryn Emmett she had the idea of an art space with a cafe. It was up to me to craft the specifics in terms of mission, vision, and programming. I had been in Connecticut working in the arts for a few years and had a sense of that scene. When I began conceptualizing what FSW might look like, I was thinking a lot about NYC alternative art spaces from the 60s and 70s like Artists Space, The Kitchen, and Food and their commitment to emerging artists and grassroots principles. I also had 15 years of experience working in two accredited museums and valued good scholarship and museum best practices. So my thinking was to create a program that included rigorous exhibitions and also integrated values of community inclusion – a discursive, social, and activist community hub with contemporary art at its center.
When we first opened in Stamford, Connecticut, showing conceptual art necessitated a lot of interpretation and direct conversations with visitors. In the beginning, merely showing conceptual art felt like a form of activism! All of our exhibitions were original, thematic group shows curated in house by guest curators or myself. This thematic approach aimed to build an audience beyond arts-interested individuals by drawing connections between contemporary art practices and events in our day-to-day lives. In other words, if an exhibition included work about the environment, the idea is that it would attract folks who might not be familiar with contemporary art, but, because of their interest in nature, science or conservation they would have a point of entry. It was an individualized approach that aimed at connecting, often challenging, contemporary art to a broader public.
As far as how the social justice trajectory connected to our mission, these key factors spring to mind: our coincidental opening of the space when Occupy Wall Street was encamped in Zuccotti Park; an archive of artist activist collectives we developed for a 2013 exhibition; our exploration of Franklin Street Works’ values with a 2014 strategic plan; and a show on immigration Yaelle Amir curated for us in 2015 (see above, “Acting on Dreams.”) I’ve only recently realized it, but Occupy Wall Street was a profound influence on the formation and direction of FSW. I knew some artists who were involved in the Park – many of them affiliated with Bard MFA. It was intriguing to me how artists brought an unmonumental sculpture/MFA materiality to activism and how an alternative, pop-up social system that shared qualities with social practice projects was being constructed from scratch there. I now understand FSW was influenced by OWS’s materiality and its creation of an inclusive, activist space that interrogated the status quo and posited corrective, world-building scenarios.
Social justice as an exhibition theme was directly addressed for the first time with our 2013 exhibition Working Alternatives: Breaking Bread, Art Broadcasting and Collective Action, co-curated by Mackenzie Schneider, Jess Wilcox and myself. We were thinking about how artists used food, broadcasting, and collective action during the early history of alternative spaces in NYC, and how artists were still using these tactics. Jess explored artists who use food, Mackenzie looked at artists using media like television and newspapers, and our gallery manager, Sandrine Milet, and I explored collective action, sending out an open call for materials from self-described artist/activist collectives. The starting date for our artist/activist collectives was the end date of an existing archive organized by NYC artist/activist collective Political Art Documentation & Distribution (PAD/D), which included socially conscious arts organizations working from 1979–1990. We put a call out to more than 90 collectives and received materials from approximately 30. While the show was on view, Brooke Singer, a Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase (who was in one of the collectives we exhibited) invited us to take the archive out of its boxes and present it as an exhibition at the College’s Passage gallery later that year. Sandrine and I curated Collective Action Archive with Purchase students Stephen Barakat and Gina Mischianti, writing additional interpretive texts about the collectives and exhibition essays from various points of view. Eventually the materials were accessioned into the SUNY Purchase Library zine archive, making them available to students and scholars.
Nadia Wolff-commissioned performance, A Litany, at the opening reception of Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman. Photo by Terri C Smith.
This year-long immersion into collective action art practices was followed by Franklin Street Works’ 2014 strategic plan, which re-emphasized our commitment to socially conscious art and community engagement. In the strategic plan, we described our core values, “Art is part of a larger social enterprise and thereby serves as a catalyst for social action. Both the individual artist and our communities are vital partners with us. The artist creates new models and impacts our communities. Our communities generate creative conversations within our space and elsewhere about our production.”
The next year, when Yaelle Amir curated Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions, and Advocacy in the United States, FSW’s work in social justice really began to crystallize.I personally had an “ah ha” moment about how actionable elements could become part of an art exhibition when Yaelle asked us to create a resource list of regional immigrant organizations for the catalog. I was energized by how Acting On Dreams was firing on all cylinders. The artworks and commissioned installations were well executed and materially interesting, but it was also exhibition as logistical support, community gathering place, investigative journalism platform, educational venue, and more. From then on, we were off to the races in actively planning exhibitions that addressed social justice issues head on.
ANTE. The pandemic has affected everyone in the arts, and has required flexibility and resourcefulness. Your team has recognized that the time has come to put future exhibitions in the physical space on hold. What are your goals moving forward in building an archive? In addition, how do you hope this archival project will evolve? What resources in particular are you seeking to help achieve this goal?
TCS. It is important to me that the legacy of Franklin Street Works lives on through a digital archive that is organized and accessible to anyone interested in contemporary art history or any of our 415 past exhibiting artists and collectives. I’m working with a handful of past board members to map a path forward in creating that. Right now we are exploring the best approaches in applying for archiving grants. I’ve also been talking to other small art spaces that no longer have physical spaces but still have an online presence, and chatting with archivist friends about the best order of operations in getting started. Since the entirety of FSW’s institutional memory is in my brain and my computer (and back up disk, of course!) it is my responsibility to organize the materials in preparation for a professional archivist. In a perfect world, I’d like to have the spirit of FSW live on in a less localized way. It would be exciting to see the archive combine with a national program of grants for emerging artists and to create and/or support commissioned projects.
Love Action Art Lounge curated by Terri C Smith, installation view of Carmelle Safdie’s commissioned, site-specific installation. Photo by Object Studies.
ANTE. What particular aspect of your tenure do you reflect on with satisfaction?
TCS. There are so many, but two aspects that come to mind immediately.
First, the transformative nature of Franklin Street Works’ educational programming. The physical space of FSW is an intimate repurposed Victorian row house. So when we had tours, talks, and performances, there wasn’t much physical distance between the community and the presenters. I also intentionally set a very welcoming tone that signified there wasn’t much, if any, hierarchical distance between artist and audience either. I think this intimacy and casual, social vibe created a comfortable space for learning, questioning, and authentic connection that was memorable and resonant. There were dozens of times when a past event attendant would volunteer specifics about how it changed their perspective or affected the course of their work or life.
The second aspect is a personal one. I developed so many wonderful relationships with FSW’s artists, curators, staff/board, interns, and contract workers these last nine years. So many of the people we partnered with on projects were collaborative, talented, and conscientious. My life is vastly enriched for having known them. I was 43 when I co-founded FSW. Frequently in middle age we can become set in our ways, but my life was infused with an endless stream of compassionate critique, encouragement, and aspirational thinking. Many of the folks I worked with became my teachers, modeling generosity and inquisitiveness, pointing out when I was being old fashioned or on auto pilot, and perennially challenging me to work toward optimal equity and inclusiveness. As stressful as the labor of running an art space can be, the love, laughs, and learning outshone the fatigue that sometimes accompanies this type of work.
Sherry Millner artist talk on the occasion of In this place where the guest rests, curated by Jacqueline Mabey. Photo by Michael Mandiberg.
ANTE. How have you focused your energy on moving forward during the pandemic as a cultural producer?
TCS. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this is such a universal question right now in the arts and beyond. Right now my energy is focused on staying connected with close friends, taking care of my body with exercise, and connecting to nature (and my dog) with walks and gardening. I’m also doing some freelance grant and copywriting for an Alzheimer’s organization which has me thinking about how the labor of families, especially women’s labor, is literally keeping eldercare afloat in the U.S. I am thinking there is a feminist exhibition on labor, healthcare, and ageism in there somewhere. Things are still fresh with FSW closing, and I lost my mother recently too so there are a lot of new normals to digest, consequently, I am doing a lot of reflection right now, in a good way, I think, I hope..! Haha.
As we touched on earlier, I am starting to organize materials for an FSW archive. I am also awkwardly working to shift the Feminisms and the Arts class I teach at UConn-Stamford to distance learning and continuing ask colleagues and friends – especially those whose practices are about creating more equity and inclusiveness in the art world – how I can support them and their work during these difficult times.
In contemplating the last nine years, I’ve realize that curating for me is most rewarding when it’s in collaboration with a community where I feel a significant connection. Ideally, if I were to commit to another full-time position in the visual arts, the community I choose to work with would be as important as the organization. The places that feel like home to me are Bridgeport (where I live) and New Haven (where I have friends and there is a vibrant art scene) as well as my hometown of Nashville, TN. So I hope to stay put in Connecticut or move back to Tennessee. That said, we never know what the future brings, so I’m keeping an open mind at the same time