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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dedication” 2016,  Mixed Media

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mystic” 2017, Mixed Media

 

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

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

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

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

Consent
“Consent” 2015, Mixed Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shockwaves: SVA Summit Considers Combatting Nationalism in Contemporary Curating

In an era of rising nationalism and public displays of fascism in America, how can the arts unite as a cohesive front to defend its most vulnerable citizens? In a field known for its open approach to free speech topics, how can leaders in the visual arts – museum directors, curators, artists and others – face up to the mounting threats of ultraconservatism and “fake news” as they relate to everyday citizens? What about mounting threats to de-fund and otherwise censor the arts? The School of Visual Arts’ Master’s Program in Curatorial Practice has produced a full day of programming centered around how leaders in the visual arts are working to combat these forces threatening our freedoms. The day-long summit, Curatorial Activism and the Politics of Shock, will take place on Saturday, November 18 from 10 AM – 5 PM. It features a carefully curated cohort of formative curators and arts leaders who will engage in conversation and present topics related to the needs of art leaders to stand up for a free society.

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 7.09.10 PM

Leaders engaged in the discussion include Tensta Konsthall Director Maria Lind, Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic, Director of La Panacée Nicolas Bourriaud, Serpentine Galleries Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist, and many more. The event is formatted as a series of eight minute presentations by clusters of art world thought leaders interspersed with question and answer rounds occur in roughly 90 minute cycles.

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 7.09.20 PM

The event is currently at capacity; however, the entire event will be livestreamed  in its entirety on the MA Curatorial Practice YouTube channel. To learn more about how we can improve cultural initiatives to support a free society, tune in and join the conversation!

A Blade of Grass Celebrates Making Magic for their Night of Alchemy

It’s undeniable: the world is a bit more magical with A Blade of Grass in it.

rasheed phillips abog fellow
A Blade of Grass Fellow for Social Engaged Art, Quantum Black Futurism’s Rasheeda Phillips

A Blade of Grass, with its focus on promoting social change through social engagement and dialogue in contemporary art, is one of a kind. It has continually pushed the envelope by empowering artists through fellowships and providing platforms for dialogue on improving social conditions and inclusivity.

03_Solitary-Gardens_April-20173_jackie_sumell
ABOG Fellow Jackie Sumell’s Solitary Gardens in New Orleans, April 2017

Nowhere will this mission be better celebrated than in the organization’s annual benefit, Night of Alchemy, this November 7, 2017 from 6:30 – 9:30 pm at the Prince George. Honoring renowned artist Ross Bleckner, Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak and Laundromat Project founder Risë Wilson, MC Shaun Leonardo will lead festivities in a night of vibrant festivities. The evening will also include a performance by Dancing Earth’s Rulan Tangen.

Help support A Blade of Grass and their mission to produce demonstrable impact through contemporary art at A Blade of Grass, and learn more about the annual benefit here.  See you there!

Ai Wei Wei’s Public Art Fund sponsored “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” Breaks Down Barriers

October 10, 2017

 

IMG_8379

Ai Wei Wei and Nicholas Baume at Doris C Freedman Plaza for Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (press preview)

It was 9:07 AM, and the artist was discreetly standing to the right of his Gilded Cage sculpture in Doris C. Freedman plaza in Central Park. Ai Wei Wei, artist behind Good Fences Make Good Neighbors  – an immersive public art experience around NYC’s Five Boros – was standing next to the Central Park behemoth which was realized with the support of the Public Art Fund. The Fund is currently celebrating 40 years, with Wei Wei’s project as their central focus celebrating this momentous milestone.  Wei Wei was deep in conversation with a city official when the photographers swarmed him, creating a buzz of activity near a path of curious dog walkers and joggers.

IMG_8384

Wei Wei can similarly expect that his art installations, situated throughout New York City Parks including Central Park, Washington Square Park, and the Unisphere at Corona, Queens, will be swarmed by visitors during its duration from October 12, 2017 through February 11, 2018. Each site-specific work responds to the surrounding architecture, echoing themes of immigration and inclusivity. Wei Wei has planned discreet references to the personal faces of immigration and global migration visible on lampposts throughout the City – including near the Gilded Cage work – featuring documentary portraiture from Wei Wei’s visits to over forty refugee camps in twenty-three countries. Additionally, graphics echoing themes related to the refugee crisis will be installed at bus stations and public sites throughout the City.

IMG_8383

Wei Wei himself was kept under home arrest for years in his native China after a stint living as an artist for twelve years on New York City’s Lower East Side, and this return to NYC is a triumphal return for him as well as a personal tribute to the residents of the City. After recovering his passport in 2015, the artist relocated his studio to Berlin and resumed talks with Public Art Fund’s Nicholas Baume that began in 2011 on a large-scale public art project based in New York City. Baume notes that the various iterations of Ai Wei Wei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors “form different articulations of fences as a motif resonating throughout the City.” By meditating on the different ways we can experience and exercise inclusion within our communities, Wei Wei breaks down perceptions concerning who belongs where, facilitating new environments where people can relate to one another on a personal level.

IMG_8405IMG_8400

Ai Wei Wei’s “Arch” in Washington Square Park, New York City 

Wei Wei himself noted of the project, “We are living in a divided time; I’ve learned so much from [my time in] this City: here, you never feel like you’re a foreigner.” He notes that this feeling of inclusion is crucial to New York City as a global beacon of hope for those who call this city home. By supporting our diverse ecosystem of international communities throughout the five boros, we can better reflect on how to be a good neighbor to those who call on us in a time of need and break apart the stereotypes that stand between us.

 

-ANTE.’s Editors

The Ambivalent Promise of Tomorrow: Delano Dunn in Conversation at Long Gallery

With his measured words and assured demeanor, Delano Dunn’s calm presence stands in contrast with his fiercely vibrant artworks currently on display at Long Gallery. No One Can Be This Tomorrow, Dunn’s current exhibit with the gallery, displays the hope of empowerment embodied by Dunn’s portraits of black women, men, and family depicted upon layers of technicolor mixed media. Recently the artist took time to walk through his exhibit and discuss this series along with influences that have shaped Dunn’s artistic practice.

DD_01.jpg
Sunday Shoes (2016) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board. 

ANTE. Thanks Delano for meeting to discuss your work today. Can you start by giving us an overview on how your career as an artist has developed until now?

Delano Dunn. I’m originally from South Central LA, and lived there through the (Rodney King) riots in the early ‘90s. I came to Pratt in Brooklyn in 1997, studying to become an illustrator. Originally I was influenced by comic books (I started making comic book art when I was young) and went to Pratt with this in mind as a career. Freshman year at Pratt I switched focus to illustration, looking to make a career in editorial illustrations. I began to focus primarily on making art on a regular basis in 2007, working on new works in between other responsibilities. I recently completed my MFA from the School of Visual Arts*, making the switch to becoming a full-time artist. (*Dunn is modest: he completed his MFA with the honor of receiving two awards from SVA, the Edward Zutrau Memorial Award and the Alumni Society Thesis Award. – AP)

ANTE. So attending SVA was a point of entry into the art world full-time?

DD. Actually, I was working at the Whitney Museum of American Art prior to SVA. Working with the museum and becoming familiar with the various materials used throughout the building influenced my practice. That, and seeing my grandfather work.

ANTE.  What did he do?

DD. He’s a jackof-all trades. He always had old tools and equipment lying around, so I got to play with spare parts and electronics.

ANTE. Definitely sounds like a source of inspiration – I had a similar experience with my family having a shop of old equipment, where my folks would weld.

DD. It just opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

ANTE. Can you walk through this series and your recent body of work, In Our Time? What has shifted as you moved into working on No One Can Be This Tomorrow?

DD. Sure – for this series, I started focusing on research at New York Public Libraries, particularly the Schomburg Center, last Summer with production beginning in the Fall. The images included in this series span from drawings from the abolition period on to photographs from the 20th century, including portraits and caricatures. A large focus for this series was making women and girls visible in the work. This is probably a reaction to having a daughter now; that, and I feel I’ve focused substantially on the black male experience in previous work. In the work (need name of superhero work/Genesis) the androgynous figure is a female Tron, subverting expectations placed on the superhero genre.

ANTE. Your works seem to have shifted from the previous series that emphasize autobiographical elements, such as Everyone Digs Delano Dunn, to research-based methods. Was this a conscious shift as a result of your MFA studies, perhaps?

DD. There is some overlap (of these two themes) through my work over time, and in many ways, my older work is in dialogue with autobiographical themes, like growing up in LA and not being black enough, liquor store ads in the community, etc. There has always been research in my work, however; this is something I was already doing when I started pursuing my MFA. These studies allowed me to further broaden this part of my practice, making me willing to go headfirst into the research with renewed vigor.

DD_13 (1).jpg
We Ain’t Even Been To The Ocean (2017) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board.

ANTE. Speaking of influences from your earlier years, you mentioned comic book art. Do you have any notable influences from this genre along with contemporary artists that have informed your practice?

DD. I definitely draw from both worlds. On the comic book side two icons are Greg Capulo, the artist for the Spawn and Batman comics, was an early influence along with Rick Leonardi of Spiderman 2099. Contemporary artists – there are so many it’s hard to name them all… Mickalene Thomas, Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Diebenkorn, to name a few. Also writers are a major influence on my practice, especially Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.

ANTE. Writers, interesting! That speaks to the profound sense of humanism emanating from your work.

DD. Thanks, as much as I enjoy abstract work I feel compelled to be able to relate to the work itself, and feel compassion. This arises in the form of human interaction. Writing has a lot to do with that…I really do want to communicate that to people. Some of that illustration practice still lingers, I guess.

DD_12
Jubilee! (2016) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board.

ANTE. The content of your works makes an impact, and the textures and tones of the materials are equally fascinating. Can you talk about the source of your materials for this series of work, how you select them and their significance?

DD. There’s a real layering of histories and eras inherent to these works. For the wallpaper included in these pieces, this is sourced from a church that historically welcomed refugees in Grand Rapids, MI. This material thus has a loaded history that responds directly to the election. The colors included in many of these works span the rainbow, which is intentional: when you examine a rainbow, it’s meant to stand for acceptance, for hope and diversity, and yet the rainbow itself is an optical illusion. You can’t touch a rainbow. This election, so much positivity, hope for a diverse presidential legacy – potentially going from the first black president in the white house to
the first female president – was stifled. I see this as a real blow to women. We now have an oppressor who’s wiping out the identities and importance of female figureheads, and by depicting these women throughout this series of works I’m hoping to reclaim these identities in a sense.

ANTE. This idea of legacy is interesting to me – do you feel like through history, things haven’t really changed or progressed as much as we believe they have?

DD. I think things haven’t changed, but they have been re-branded, from emancipation through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era…it’s always seemed like things have changed, but they really haven’t. There’s not any less of a problem, just different problems. It’s sad in a way; there’s a feeling that in this time period when we could’ve had real advancement we really haven’t. It’s ridiculously that there hasn’t been a female president. When you look at the space program the USSR helmed they included women and black astronauts before the US did – we don’t live in a post-black or post-gender era, not in the slightest. -ANTE. 
Delano Dunn will be in conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad at Long Gallery from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm on Monday, March 27th produced by Sanaa Contemporary. To attend, please RSVP to: rsvp@sanaa-contemporary.com