Onel Naar’s Evocative Works Sustain Morir Soñando at Knockdown Center

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Traversing the trenchant territory between identity, hybridity and ambuity, Morir Soñando marks a cutting-edge look at mixed media in the post-colonial era. Opening Friday, June 22nd from 6-9 pm, the group exhibit features artists Penn Eastburn, Valery Jung EstabrookHein KohJoiri Minaya, Kristianne Molina, Onel Naar, Esther RuizCristina Tufiño, and Woolpunk and is curated by Alex Santana. Referencing the popular yet tricky to create Dominican beverage of the same name, made by meticulously combining milk with orange juice, the exhibit untangles the delicate intricacies binding together artists of mixed heritage working in mixed media. With international roots spanning the Global South and beyond, these artists reclaim the interstitial space between power and vulnerability, belonging and exclusion.

A sneak peek at works on view, such as Onel Naar’s Colgão Diptych (2017) prove the exhibit to allow materials room to breathe and to assume new identities. Deceptively simple organic matter becomes the frame and the image: separated by space yet linked by form. This gentle conceptual investigation of our expectations of fine art with particular attention to the diptych: questioning what constitutes the art object and the auxiliary objects supporting its display. In the artist’s own words, he investigates the concept of diptych in contemporary art to interrogate “the physical and conceptual dualities present.” This duality permeates the crux of the exhibition concept, which probes the notion of seeking strength and liberation through vulnerability.

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On view from June 22-August 19th at the Knockdown Center, Morir Soñando provides space for a wider consideration of the existing cultural framework that contemporary art undermines, supports and even propagates. Where there is space for new materials to infiltrate and expand concepts of contemporary art, there is an expansion of our definition of from where – and for whom – art is created.

Ylenia Mino: A World-Renowned Artist Shares Her Perspective

In our weekly interview with a ground-breaking international artist, this week we chat with Italian artist Ylenia Mino. Benefiting from her multilateral perspective, we are thrilled to learn more about her nuanced artistic practice, international career and how her varied, eclectic artistic training impacts her work today. The artist has a prevalent career abroad, especially in the United States, with an upcoming exhibit from June 2nd at Gallery Sitka (MA), work in the Artist’s Style in Art group exhibition in June (Los Angeles, CA) and a solo show at Hellada Gallery (Long Beach, CA) in July. The artist has recently collaborated with Aquarium of the Pacific this May in Long Beach, California and exhibited at the Red Dot Auction at Chuck Jones Center in Costa Mesa, CA.


ANTE: Thanks for sitting down with us, Ylenia! Many of your artworks seem inspired by your travels. Can you talk about your exhibitions abroad and what motivates you to travel as an artist?

YM: I love traveling and take inspiration from the energy, different cultures, and beautiful places that I see during my travels. I recently took a cross-country road trip from NYC to LA and it was simply wonderful to see the southern part of the United States. So many states and such a big variety of landscapes and wonders.  I think my favorite and the most inspiring to me was exploring a Petrified Forest, a magical and ancient site. What I love to do is to take lots of photos with my camera and in my mind; then, I put these memories on canvas.

YleniaMino Installation in Signal Hill
Mino with her installation in Signal Hill

ANTE: Your works showcase a broad, international influence. Can you explain how pop culture – and American culture specifically – have influenced your practice?

YM: I spent many years in NYC and I definitely absorbed “the melting pot” culture of the Big Apple. You may notice much in my traditional art and landscapes, but it’s evident in the strong energy and vibes you get from my paintings. American culture has impacted both my art and my experiences, but I still consider myself a carrier of European culture and vibes.

ANTE: You are an artist internationally recognized for your artwork, particularly your landscape paintings. Can you talk a bit about painting competitions you’ve won and international exhibitions you’ve participated in?

YM: I’ve taken part in many competitions. Over the years, I had the honor to be included in international exhibitions in London, England; Austria; and also, the Caribbean as well. The last competition I won was in NYC, called “Design is Everything” at Dorma in Bryant Park. My painting, “Journey”, was very successful, and thoroughly appreciated by the jury and the public!

Ylenia Mino standing next to one of her paintings
Ylenia Mino displaying her painting

ANTE: Would you explain your background as an artist? Is your education in fine art or art history? Are you self-taught? How has your education impacted your artistic practice?

YM: I started painting when I was a little girl. Every spare moment away from school, I was drawing and getting immersed into my creative and imaginary world. My parents noticed my natural inclination and around the age of 7 they brought me to a private school run by an amazing Egyptian painter, Mohsen. I studied on and off for about 10 years with this Egyptian master.  I then got a diploma degree in classical studies and languages (Latin, Ancient Greek, History of Art, Philosophy, etc). Learning from Mohsen really impacted my art; it was so inspiring to have the opportunity to learn like the old tradition and the greatest artists did, with a student-master relationship. Also, learning History of Arts and Ancient Greek and Latin increased and deepened my passion for culture and the arts.

ANTE: Can you explain how you connect your artistic practice to your support of charities and philanthropic causes worldwide?

YM: I started supporting charities and causes about 7 years ago by donating part of the proceeds from the sales of my paintings. Now, I regularly receive invitations to auctions, galas, benefit dinners, and celebrity events to be a fine artist sponsor at the event.

I believe in helping, encouraging and supporting people, so I support different charities, fundraisers, and causes. I hope my support will help to improve life conditions, give people a chance to develop their full potential and to reach their destiny in their society.

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Mino, Ylenia. “Tropical Paradise”(2017), Oil on Canvas, Triptych

ANTE: You’ve shown internationally in exhibitions and art fairs. What are your most interesting or favorite experiences exhibiting internationally and how have they helped to expand your artistic practice?

YM: I have had so many art shows and exhibitions that it is is hard to decide. They are all in some way my favorite and have contributed unique memories affecting my career as a fine artist, but I can definitely recall the one that marked the beginning of a new chapter in my career and life: International Artexpo New York 2011. It was my first international solo experience, and it opened my mind to a new world. A significant meeting I had during Artexpo was with Craig Kausen, the grandson of the amazing cartoonist and animation director, Chuck Jones, who is famous for creating Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, etc. At the time I was not fluent in English well, but Craig and I had a great conversation about art and my paintings. He inspired me and loved my works. He became fascinated by my passion and the love that I have for doing what I do – a passion that I attribute to my Italian heritage!

Raise Your Voice: In Praise of Artist Shoshanna Weinberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dorit Chrysler & Her Theremins Take Over at Reece School

The Reece School in Upper Manhattan (courtesy Reece School)
The Reece School in Upper Manhattan (courtesy Reece School)

Internationally renowned musical artist Dorit Chrysler is no stranger to making a theremin sing. Theremins, the odd yet aptly tech-friendly device that can be manipulated by movements carefully choreographed around the device (see here a basic guide to handling the theremin), may have existed for ninety years already but that is relatively young in terms of the musical instrument invention timeline (for reference, both the guitar and piano had been in existence for hundreds years before the theremin was patented in 1928 by Leon Theremin.) This relative “youth” and the innovation which inspires players to interact with it allow ample breadth for consistently new discoveries. Austrian-born Chrysler is doing just that, pioneering contemporary theremin playing styles alongside a string of appearances with the likes of The Strokes, Dinosaur Jr., Blonde Redhead, and others. On Thursday, March 26th, Chrysler is staging a private performance alongside her newest international performing troupe: students at the Reece School. 

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Moog Theremini – courtesy Moog Music

Hosted at the educational facility’s Black Box theater, the invite-only event features a series of songs that the students have been trained to perform, along with Chrysler. Generous support by Moog music has allowed this performance, the first in a series of such performances, to take place at the school. The group is styled as Kid Cool Theremin School, and promises to shake things up through this guided, interactive music experience for the school’s students. Reece school’s students, who attend at no cost as the institution is a nonprofit special needs school, are thrilled to take part in the first US-based theremin school for kids. Led by Chrysler, and spearheaded by Reece School music director William Tucci, the Kid Cool Theremin School is only just getting started and will have a lot to offer thanks to its innovative vision and direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dedication” 2016,  Mixed Media

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mystic” 2017, Mixed Media

 

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

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

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

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

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“Consent” 2015, Mixed Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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