ANTE mag is taking the plunge and has created an open call where artists can apply for (3) top prizes that will create a wider audience around their work. Artists can apply via this form, submitting images of their work and providing insights into their practice that can speak to the ANTE mag audience. Winners will take part in ANTE mag’s Instagram Live virtual studio visits featured for ANTE’s audience and receive an interview feature on the magazine with widespread posting through social media – one lucky grand prize winner will also receive a one-week long IG takeover of the ANTE mag profile, posting for the entire week around their studio practice to a wide audience of art lovers in NYC and beyond!
ANTE mag features stories of artists and cultural producers making waves in their communities.
ANTE mag focuses on providing wider exposure for artists, and we will be dedicated to featuring artists whose practice has not received the recognition it has merited. We want to hear your stories and learn how your practice communicates something intrinsic both to your personal experience and related to a wider social concern – tell us about how you started making sculptures in response to healing from a long illness, or when you begin working in watercolor because of limited space when you were working between studios. Share your stories of resilience, determination and personal experience, and foreground that within the effort and dedication you’ve imbued within your artistic practice. Give us your honesty, show us how you’ve grown and give us images that communicate the range of works you create. We are centered on elevating unheard stories, and want to focus on artists who can eloquently express values we should all aspire to!
We look forward to receiving your submissions! For details and to apply, visit this form.
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Assembly Room is a safe space for professional women curators to mount exhibitions and attend programming on the Lower East Side in New York City. We caught up with founders Yulia Topchiy, Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker to learn more about what types of initiative they’ve begun in the wake of CoVid-19.
(Header image credit to Julia Colavita)
ANTE mag. Thank you for chatting with us about your community. What thoughts were in your minds when the pandemic began to affect social movement?
Assembly Room.As Toni Morrison famously said: “What can I do where I am?” So we looked no further than the community we forged over the past year and a half and focused on the importance of connection and empathy. We are aware and most interested in what’s happening in our community in terms of coming together and elevating financial burdens by joining the coalition on freezing commercial rents, raising money for artists through sales and donations, and supporting artists that question the social and economic inequality and push for change with their actions and work.
ANTE mag. As a space and a platform, Assembly Room has grown to play a critical role in supporting women’s cultural producers in NYC and beyond. How did you envision continuing that role during this crisis, and what specifically have you done to keep the work you’ve been so dedicated to since your beginning?
AR.We asked ourselves, how do we stay connected? How do we use our platform and resources to support our curators, promote our artists, and invite new voices and ideas? We shaped our programming based on their feedback. For instance, we moved our monthly networking and professional development meetings to bi-weekly via Zoom; we launched an Insta TV Channel “Curating in the time of Covid-19” and asked curators to create a short video about their experiences, projects, challenges. We are presenting and promoting women artists on our website, social media, and through the sale of their artwork on our Artsy platform. Our network expanded and we had curators join us from the east coast to the west coast, from western to central Europe, and to Canada.
Because we went online, our voices reached even further as we joined others in advocating for equality and worker rights, sharing ideas on how to make the art system more sustainable and democratic, and underscoring the relevance of nurturing culture and art.
ANTE mag. What have the three of you been doing to increase access to resources during this time, and/or what would you like to do or see more of in the art community in the present moment?
AR. The crisis has allowed us to move deeper into community engagement, collaboration, and partnership, as well as reap the benefits of our network and community building over the past two years. We established a simple resource guide and circulated it within our group, inviting them to collaborate, reach out, exchange ideas, and share creative outlets with one another. We have an exciting partnership with curator Kelly Schroer at Artfare to launch a joint platform, “Unrealized Projects,” specifically for curators whose shows closed early or were canceled due to the pandemic. We invited Sarah Murkett, a professional recruiter from the art industry, to guide us through a discussion of the job market and how to turn the current situation into an opportunity to adapt, set new goals, network, and improve skills. Within the art community, we would like to continue the conversation and to keep asking questions. We would like the community to be as generous as possible and offer help and expertise when needed. This is a crucial moment; we need to adapt to the fast-changing online technologies but also invent practices and tools that will allow us to remain active, relevant, and collaborative in the future.
ANTE mag.Can you talk to us about how Assembly Room sees their mission continuing once social life begins to return “to normal”?
AR.We will continue to fulfill our mission through our core programs, professional development of women in the arts, lively public programs, and an array of exhibitions but with a new urgency. Women make up the majority of art workers, and they will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Advocating for better representation and addressing gender imbalance is going to be even more critical in the future. It’s our job to be alert, to look out for each other, and to achieve a “new normal” based on greater equality. We are optimistic because we have a wonderful community of curators, artists, gallerists, nonprofits, and we are excited to continue working on this together.
ANTE mag. How have you each personally been mitigating the effects of this crisis on your individual careers and personal lives?
AR. As you know, Assembly Room is a self-organized and self-funded platform for women to achieve success through the community. We personally contribute to the funding, time, and energy for all the operations, programs, and exhibition space. Our incomes took a dive due to the shutdown, and we are asking ourselves hard questions and making tough decisions. Like everyone else, we lost a lot on a personal and professional level, but in different ways, we are focusing on what is most essential in our lives. We are fortunate to have each other because we are good friends and business partners. We make each other laugh when things get too dangerous, and now is also the best time to practice compassion!
Like everyone, we went through the whole arc of stay at home emotions and activities! We cooked more, we empathize and grieved for lost family and friends, we contributed as much as we could to our friends in the restaurant community, we were up and we were down, we tried new things, we binge watched tv shows, we danced and dreamed, but mostly we showed up.
ANTE mag. How have you engaged with other platforms and creators to expand the dialogue around this moment of crisis?
AR. As we mentioned, we have an exciting partnership with Artfare to create an online presentation of “Unrealized” curatorial projects. We are promoting exclusive Artsy shows of female artists we have worked within the past, and we are constantly updating our fantastic works on paper or Flat Files, both available online via Artsy. We participated in the NADA initiative for the NADA community to support artists by listing the works on Artnet. We also led webinars with fellow curators and arts professionals hosted by ArtTable and POWarts, respectively, sharing our experiences, challenges, resources, and expanding the conversation.
ANTE mag. What actions are you taking in the near future to engage with the broader art community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AR. Professional development and networking are key for us. In addition to the arts, we are thinking of how curators can be useful in fields outside the art world. How can one bring curatorial experience to other industries and sectors where artists are deeply appreciated, but curators are not necessarily approached? Artists are at the heart of our practice, and we are passionate about establishing connections with organizations willing to support curatorial initiatives and contemporary artists question inequality, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others. Whether bearing witness to tragic events, presenting alternative histories, or engaging in activism, such artists use visual art as a means to provoke personal and social transformations, which are much needed at this time. We want to support these artists with the help of organizations who have resources to bring conversations to a wider audience both in physical and digital spaces. ANTE readers can support us by connecting with us on our social networks, repost and sharing our content, purchasing the fantastic, affordable artworks available by emerging, unrepresented, living artists on our Artsy page, by participating in our projects. It’s time to rebuild, let’s do it together.
Artist Laura Kimpton can be best described as an interdisciplinary artist who is not likely to sit still. Her artistic practice spans sculpture and installation art along with wearable art, mixed media and painting. A stalwart for decades on The Playa at Burning Man, Kimpton is no stranger to bringing her monumental sculptures to a wide audience of admirers. Previously exhibiting inspirational messages such as “BELIEVE” at larger-than-life scales as interactive installation artworks, Kimpton brings her creative forces to bear as a power for the greater good, sharing her inspiration and ingenuity with all who encounter them.
During the current pandemic, Kimpton has taken that impulse for public engagement one step further through a partnership with Reno, NV’s Artown and Renown Health Foundation to bring “LOVE” – a monumental sculpture conceived of by Kimpton and produced in collaboration with artist Jeff Schomberg – to prominence on the campus of Renown’s hospital in the city. The work is imprinted with the artist’s signature uplifting bird motif throughout, evoking an inspiring and enduring message of love, reminding us that love conquers all, the sculpture will be on display from April 16-July 16 at Renown’s Regional Medical Center, located at 1155 Mill Street, Reno. Visitors driving by or entering the hospital to visit loved ones can take comfort in knowing that love is always there for them to access in times of need, bringing to bear the message that art is here for us to bring us comfort and clarity in times of upheaval.
“I hope that this sculpture will bring a sense of meaning and mindfulness,” reflects Kimpton, “to all who encounter it. I hope it gives a sense of calm to the Healthcare workers onsite, along with medical patients and their families, who view it from above or as they approach the hospital.” Kimpton’s work has always embedded a sense of mindful meditation and peace, and nowhere is this more needed than during today’s uncertainty amid a global pandemic. The sculpture beckons, a beacon of light among the sagebrushed hills, reminding all who come into contact with it that all is not lost. Kimpton herself has endured life’s ebbs and flows, and emphasizes the peace and comfort she aspires to bring to viewers of her work, particularly “LOVE” on view at Renown Health in Reno. The artist has worked with the community to make sure the sculpture brings a sense of local pride to the hospital and to residents and visitors alike in Reno.
The sculpture provides a message of support for Reno’s front line workers at its current location. The installation was made possible by a collaboration between Reno’s own Artown initiative, bringing Reno’s art industries and civic identities together to create a stronger community, and by Renown Health Foundation, a locally owned and governed not-for-profit integrate healthcare network serving Reno and the surrounding areas. With an eye toward bringing a powerful message of hope to the wider community, both organizations are thrilled to be collaborating with Kimpton on the installation.
Kimpton herself views this joint effort as all about enriching the lives of the local community through the power of inspiration and solidarity. The artist has been staying busy, not only with her monumental sculptures and upcoming exhibitions, but with communicating with her wide network of fans and supporters through daily social media posts offering smaller works at attainable prices for her collectors. The new initiative, @apeaceofkimpton, continues the message that we can come together and support the arts while connecting with one another and making strides to build sustainability in the arts. Kimpton looks to innovative and meditative artists in her practice, including American artist Joseph Cornell and German artist Kurt Schwitters. Viewing their use of eclectic materials and aim toward a higher power of abstraction and even meditation in their work, Kimpton seeks to create art that will unite, inspire, and bring unique messages of hope to all who encounter it. She notes that though her world sculptures can… “have strong meanings,… to everyone it may be different. I love that about them.” From her large scale sculptures and handmade collages and everything in between, Kimpton’s practice speaks to everyone, bringing unity and comfort to all who encounter her creations. To everyone it may be different, but to many, her work both inspires and brings solace in a time when art brings out what is human in us all.
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. We here at ANTE have long been fans of Culture Push, a New York City-based nonprofit that unites art and social justice through its programs, including fellowships, an online journal, exhibitions and much more. Below we caught up with Artist, Professor and Culture Push Co-Founder Clarinda Mac Low for insights into the current events and initiatives Culture Push is moving ahead with in the time of CoVid-19.
ANTE: So tell us what inspired the creation of Culture Push, and how did you envision this organization as a way to foster artistic initiatives through public participation?
Culture Push: Dreaming up Culture Push was always a collective endeavor, because everything good, for me, happens in conversation. When the first glimmerings of Culture Push started, in 2008, I had been in conversation with many different people about the lack of space for hybrid artforms. At the time I was mostly situated in the dance and performance world, but not really fitting in there anymore (if I ever did) and talking to other people who felt the same way. I wanted to create a home for ideas that didn’t fit anywhere else. The name “Culture Push” came to me after a few conversations I had with Alejandra Martorell and Paul Benney, my partners in the collective TRYST. Culture Push was a name that left room for interpretation, but conveyed a sense of urgency. Then, after a series of conversations with Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich, recent graduates of my alma mater, Wesleyan University, the first form of Culture Push was born. All three of us, though we were from different generations, had expertise both in dance and performance and in other disciplines and sectors, and an abiding interest in how art practice could function beyond the black box and the white cube. We could see how, by creating an entity, we could make a home for hybridity by creating an institution that was expansive in intent and encouraged cross-sector, public-facing conversation.
We saw the institution itself as the art material, so, when we began, we didn’t actually know exactly what our focus would be. We were performance-makers, so we decided that the form of the organization would rise from experimentation and trial and error–our first step was just to create the institution–the entity–and then the form would emerge from action. So, in 2009, with the help of our amazing initial Board, we incorporated as a non-profit, and because of our Board member Michael Yi it went quite smoothly.
As movement artists we were committed to corporeal practice and knowledge, and we began with a set of broad principles–our programs would bring together different sectors, would involve “hands-on” public participation and horizontal knowledge share, and would allow for collaboration. The first programs that we devised proceeded from these principles, and from our desire to nurture a fluid culture where the lines between art, politics, daily life, and social experiment could blur, and where challenging the lines between disciplines leads to challenging the form of society.
ANTE: During this difficult time of the COVID-19 crisis, what are some ways that your organization plans to continue its mission in helping artists and communities affected by the pandemic?
CP:We currently have two major programs–The Fellowship for Utopian Practice (our bedrock) and the newer Associated Artists program. All of the artists we serve are in precarious situations financially and socially. Most of these artists also work as independent contractors, often within an arts context where they are facing cancellations, postponements, and lay-offs, as well as loss of future work. Many of these artists also act as community supporters, and are donating their time and energy to creating space and providing essential services to their fellow New Yorkers.
To support our artists, we are working with our funders to expand the financial support we offer our current Fellows and Associated Artists, as well as our recent alumni, by offering expanded funding for their ongoing projects and funding for the projects they have begun during this crisis. We also want to offer them opportunities to share work and be in community with each other and with the wider world, and will be brainstorming about how to re-cast their projects for the current time. We are also planning on offering new opportunities, like paying them to give online workshops or presentations, or setting up networking events. The bottom line is to support these important voices in any way we can–they are the voices that will help us remake the world in a better form as this crisis develops and (hopefully!) resolves.
ANTE: Can you talk about how Culture Push has been able to amplify initiatives that have been started by individuals and groups to help artists and others who have been financially impacted by COVID-19?
CP:The people who are connected to Culture Push tend to be self-starters and community responders. In the initial shock of the shutdown, for example, Shawn Escarciga – at the time Assistant Director of Culture Push – reacted as an individual concerned for the impact that the loss of work would have on people who are already living precariously and responded by immediately starting a GoFundMe, theNYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund. He was immediately joined by Nadia Tykulsker, one of the current Culture Push Board members. This was not an initiative begun by Culture Push, but, early in the process Shawn and Nadia reached out to Culture Push staff to talk about fiscal sponsorship for the Fund. I had also been thinking about this, and it was great to come together and offer this fiscal sponsorship to a fund that was addressing such urgent need. The fund has, to date, raised over $150,000.
At Culture Push we often talk about the “performance of institution”: that is, we are very small and barebones with a modest budget, but, because we are in good financial standing and our organizational bona fides are strong, we are able to act as a institutional partner when people require a financial or otherwise established entity to get what they need. So, after the success of the partnership with the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we decided, for now, to expand our fiscal sponsorship program to include emergency funds independently initiated by staff, Fellows, and other artists in our community that serve low-income, BIPOC, and queer artists, and artists and others based in vulnerable New York City neighborhoods. So far, besides the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, we are also acting as a sponsor for the Dance Union’sNYC Dancers Relief Fund (COVID-19), started by J. Bouey and Melanie Greene, and for theNorth Bronx Collective, a group of activists in the Bronx (Alicia Grullòn, a Fellowship alum and current Board member, is a member of the group). By serving as a conduit for higher levels of funding from foundations or individuals, this fiscal sponsorship has so far enabled these emergency funds to greatly expand the financial support they can offer to the people they serve. We don’t take an admin fee, so all funds go directly to the people who need it.
ANTE: In your most recent exhibition, RE-TOOLING, artists developed multidisciplinary “practical tools” for resistance and social change, incorporating dance, performance, installation, and writing. A tool was redefined as a means for “individuals to change their environment (socially, politically, physically) or engage with it in a new way.” Can you speak on the power of creative tools and outlets to help us cope in times of hardship/uncertainty?
CP:Culture Push is grounded in the conviction that having space for imagination is as important to survival as more tangible resources like food and shelter. Indeed, imagination is how we figure out how to gain those resources under difficult circumstances. Imagination allows us to create work-arounds and new situations when a situation is challenging, but also gives us space to be present, or to escape, or to fully realize ourselves as individuals or as members of a group. It allows us to transcend difficulty, to connect to each other and to the other creatures we share space with, to invent new ways of being.
So having access to creativity is imperative for all people, especially people in difficult circumstances. And everybody is creative–whether the results of creative endeavor are recognized as “art” by a mainstream art world is immaterial. Sometimes it takes a nudge here and there for people to find a voice, but it’s always present. The artists in the RE-TOOLING show have developed some nudging tools par excellence, and there are many important voices that are born from their experiments. I’m also reminded of Claudia Prado, who has devised a writing workshop that she runs with working-class Spanish-speaking immigrants (documented and undocumented). The work these people, mostly women, come up with is gorgeous and valuable, from voices we don’t hear often enough. The voices come out easily–they just need the right opportunity and the right catalyst.
ANTE: In addition to physical exhibitions and public projects, Culture Push also features the online journal PUSH/PULL. Can you explain how this publication is integral to the Culture Push mission, and how digital publications/exhibitions could be a way for arts organizations to adapt in the time of social distancing?
CP:This is a great question, and definitely one we have been thinking about a lot. From the beginning we have seen some form of publication as an asset to the Culture Push community. The first version of this was IdeaNEWS, a publication that reflected on the year that had passed through its form rather than its content. IdeaNEWS was active from 2009-2011. Then, in 2015, our then-Assistant Director Madelyn Ringold-Brown, proposed starting an online publication as a supplement to the Fellowship–a place for Fellows to publicly share their process, work with collaborators, develop ancillary philosophies… basically another part of the public square. It’s since evolved to be a venue where our Associated Artists engage as well.
CP artists usually bring together groups of people as an integral part of their projects, but now that physical distancing has become a norm and so much of our lives are happening online, we will need a different venue for gathering and creating community. Since PUSH/PULL is already there, and is already known as a venue for quality content, we plan to expand it as a platform, and bring in as much of our community as possible. It’s an exciting possibility, because, while it has been an effective venue for writing, because it lives mainly online it also has been a repository for video, images, graphics, and other media. We are also exploring how it can be interactive.
ANTE: One of your organization’s early projects, ArtCraftTech, brought together several creative disciplines (artists, scientists, technology experts) to find artistic and practical solutions to short-term problems, like waste management, through collaboration and dialogue. What are some takeaways on how creative, publicly engaged projects like these can help us deal with real-world problems and inspire collective action for change?
CP:When we first established Culture Push, all three co-founders started different programs. ArtCraftTech was my “baby,” so to speak, and the form of the program reflected both my experience in devising collaborative performance and my experience working in microbiology laboratories.
I have a desire to address so-called “real-world” problems directly, but I am also suspicious of the abbreviated process that many cross-sector endeavours seem to engage in. With ArtCraftTech, I gathered people from different professions together and acted as a facilitator as we decided, all together, what problem(s) we wanted to take on. Once we determined that, we decided what questions we wanted to ask, but were not expected to come up with workable solutions–it was clear that solving the problems we were taking on required deep systemic change and far more resources than we had on hand. We did generally end up coming up with some very concrete possibilities for mitigating the problem, but also more subtle approaches, and projects that were provocations as well as “solutions.”
Engaging in this process, which was a series of meetings that took place over several months, really showed us all how a long, slow, thoughtful process of development can illuminate different aspects of a problem, and bring new ideas to the fore that may have been hiding underneath the more obvious solutions. This was reminiscent of (good) laboratory research, where repeated experiments and the data they bring leads you into unexpected territory, and shows you where you need to go. It’s interesting to think about this now, because, when I was working in laboratories, I was working with HIV, and there is a delicate tension, in disease research, between the urgency of cure and the need for caution and careful observation. I think we’re all being gripped in that narrative now–so much desiring a quick fix for this overwhelming pandemic, but in danger of grabbing on to the first dubious solution that comes along…
Anyway, I digress. 🙂 This understanding of the importance of process imbued all of the co-founders’ programs, and it definitely influenced the form for the Fellowship for Utopian Practice. We were clear from the beginning that the Fellowship needed to be at least a year long, and it needed to privilege process over product, or, as I eventually said, “Process is our product.” This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also true–we are advocating for an arts ecosystem that privileges and supports a thoughtful development process as much as if not more than a specific product or object. Only this will truly allow for deep conversation and lasting change.
ANTE: Can you tell us about some of your recent initiatives and where Culture Push headed in the near future?
CP: Currently our big project is Walking the Edge, a project we’re doing in collaboration with Works on Water and the NYC Department of City Planning. The two arts organizations are working with the Waterfront and Open Spaces Division of the NYC DCP to create a durational artwork that invites everybody to walk all 520 miles of New York City’s coastline, to get people involved with thinking about NYC as a city of water, and to gather deep engagement around the DCP’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for 2030. That walk was supposed to start on May 1 (520 in 5/20, get it?) and continue for 24 hours a day until the whole coast was covered. So yeah. We are adjusting. It’s interesting, actually, and not entirely bad, to slow down and reconsider. So, instead of the walk this year, now we are launching prompts and questions and suggestions and performances about our waterfronts, by artists from Culture Push and Works on Water, every Friday at noon on Instagram (at @works_on_water, @culturepusher, and @nycwaterfront).
Also, we have gathered all the materials for a 10th Anniversary publication that featured several Fellows writing about subjects related to the projects they did with CP, and we were planning to publish and print in April and distribute in June of this year. Of course now that timeline has shifted, but we will be making that available soon as a downloadable .pdf
For the future? Interesting question. There was the Plan for the Future Before, and there’s a Plan for the Future Now. We were finally thinking about creating a hub space for Culture Push (we have been an itinerant organization this whole time, with no fixed physical location or office). That’s still our desire, but, because so many things are so up in the air, how that will play out is very much an open question. Regardless, we will continue supporting artists as they collaborate with communities and create spaces for imagination and solidarity.
Nothing can vanquish art and culture, not time, distance, or a viral pandemic. Drive-by-Art is here to prove that culture is enduring and here to stay. For visitors driving on the East End of Long Island Saturday and Sunday May 9th-10th, there is a panoply of options to experience art in a time of social distancing. A myriad of artists, including Clifford Ross, Joan Jonas, Keith Sonnier, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, Jeremy Dennis and more, will be featuring their artistic prowess in outdoor sculpture and installation visible from the roadside. Art lovers can drive right up to the space where these artworks are featured and explore a new form of public art in a time of socially distanced cultural appreciation.
In addition to a recent online talk coordinated by Corinne Erni of the Parrish Art Museum, featuring initiative founder and artist Warren Neidich, Artist and Chair of Fine Arts, SVA Suzanne Anker, Artist and Shinneock Indian Nation member Jeremy Dennis, and Artist Almond Zigmund (found at DrivebyArtOrg.) Featuring artists’ work on view throughout the Hamptons from Southampton out to Montauk, from 12 noon to 5 pm on Sat and Sun May 9-10, the exhibition takes the artwork from the studio out into the environment, with a range of artists bringing something new and innovative to a diverse audience riding through the neighborhood.
Sponsored in part by local iconic institutions Guild Hall and the Parrish Art Museum, Drive-by-Art uplifts the spirits of art lovers across the area, giving artists the chance to feature what they’ve been working on during the pandemic in a socially responsible manner. Make sure to go by and to tag the art you encounter on Facebook and Instagram ( #drivebyart )- and take a peek at the jewels others have uncovered along the way!
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. AOT Project Salonis the brainchild of curator and cultural producer Douglas Turner, a Brooklyn-based arts stalwart. We sat down with Turner for a wider perspective on the projects keeping him busy in these trying times.
ANTE: Thanks Douglas for sitting down with us today to discuss AOT Project Salon! Can you start out by giving us some background on AOT Project Salon and how it got started in 2014?
Douglas Turner: Hello Audra! And thanks so much for featuring AOT Project Salon. From the top, I would like to acknowledge all the people who made AOT possible; this is not something I could have done on my own. AOT is an acronym for the Architecture of Tomorrow and comes from a manifesto I wrote for myself after graduating from the New School back in 2009. From there I decided to focus my sociological writerly intentions on the arts. A retired art critic and I had become friends and he began introducing me to the art world. A few years later, I wanted to put ideas into action. I was sharing a tiny house in Williamsburg with a good friend who totally supported me converting the second floor (which was an open loft bedroom) for exhibitions. I would hide the bed behind an armoire!
ANTE: How has AOT Project Salon evolved since its founding, and what current objectives are part of your mission?
DT: In 2015, I had (curated) something around seven or eight shows, focusing on re-emerging, emerging, and under-represented artists. Did you know that insurance companies google (certain) addresses, and when they find out something is going on in a home besides its intended purpose they get real threatening? This understandably made the landlord uncomfortable, and that’s when I began doing satellite shows in Manhattan, partnering with the Lower East Side Girls Club organization, where I am now on the Art Advisory Board. Partnering with them gave me access to a storefront location on Avenue C. I was able to continue a bi-annual project called Our Elements, a collaborative exhibition of queer and feminist art. During all of this, I had also begun working on arts-in-education projects in Brownsville and Crown Heights. What began as The Equal Education Initiative, I worked with former Senator Jesse Hamilton to bring workshops and summer art programs to children. Currently, the education program is on hiatus while I work in the background on a huge undertaking to fund a mobile art education program (MOart). Imagine a 26-foot box truck, converted into a classroom that can arrive at various locations, like housing projects and other community organizations to provide structured after-school art classes.
ANTE: Incredible.. and so, how exactly has the current pandemic affected your programming and what are you doing to stay resourceful and create impact during this “pause”?
DT: Honestly, I was already on a pause, so I don’t feel AOT Project Salon has been deeply impacted, however, I’d say that organizations like mine that help to provide resources and opportunities (no matter how large or small) for under-represented artists and curators, and extra-curricular services for underserved communities will be in high demand in the coming years due to the fall out of the pandemic. I think it will take a few “Town Halls,” before I know what precise actionable steps I should take.
ANTE: You actively seek ways to stretch far and wide to engage varied members of the community, from your work championing the Lower East Side Girls Club to your online initiative, Wedge Studio. Talk to us about how these challenges feed one another and keep you inspired.
DT: Ideas are a natural resource, and I don’t seem to be low on those resources. The Girls Club has my heart. It was founded about 25 years ago by Lyn Pentecost and Jenny Dembrow. They now operate out of a new 25,000 sq. ft. facility on 8th and D. Their positive impact on the community is amazing. It’s an academy for Girls and expanding with services for the entire neighborhood. Serving as an art advisor is an amazing privilege, and amplifies my ability to provide resources to artists. My latest project was working on a residency for Courtney Alexander, a painter and sculptor who also created Dust ll Onyx – a melanated tarot deck. Courtney worked with the girls on a tarot project, which was shown at the Girls Club’s Art on Paper booth this year. Wedge Studio is a for-profit business I launched this year. Being able to play a part in providing the opportunity and exposure for Courtney, was simply a matter of doing the right thing.
ANTE: Arts education is an important subject for you: can you explain why you think it key to connect communities through arts programming?
DT: For me, it comes down to national statistics. When art education is provided in a child’s education there is a direct correlation between academic performance and the likelihood of going on to college. But in a city like New York, the arts have been defunded by 40%, and those impacted the most by these measures are poor and/or members of black and brown communities across the boroughs. The arts are vital to individual and community empowerment. Folks of these communities know this because they see what is missing in their neighborhoods and schools as generational poverty continues. In my experience in Brownsville, I saw not just parents but adults in the community rally behind arts education for children. The arts have the power to rally people, which in turn shows community vibrancy and strength, a great source of pride in where one calls home.
ANTE: What’s one challenge that you see not being addressed or underrated that you want to see more resources diverted to in terms of art and cultural production? And finally, what are your plans to connect the art community once this challenging moment has passed?
DT: A disparaging amount of resources are being funneled upwards. Would that be late-stage capitalism? Think about the troubling levels of access to space and the dizzying pace of real estate. I think that path is suffocating, or cannibalistic, like a snake eating its own tail. It would appear that the focus is on prestige rather than merit, which lends itself to stagnation.
I want to hit the ground running. I have no desire to rush into things while this pandemic continues, but instead be strategic. Be honest, we have no idea what post-pandemic life will be like. The quarantine will end in the summer, but social practices will be greatly affected through 2021. My main focus will most likely be on digital presentations, focusing on online engagement for the benefit of artists. If there is anything I know I can do for the art community, it is to create platforms.
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Social Distanzine is a joint effort by co -editors Allison Remy Hall, a Jersey City-based curator, and Detroit-based artist and illustrator Narciso Espiritu.
The Instagram platform features art created during the Zeitgeist of the CoVid-19 Pandemic. We discussed their initiative to learn more about the ripples it has made in the larger arts community.
ANTE: Allison, Narciso, thank you both for chatting with us about this project – can you start by sharing the genesis of this with our readers?
Allison Remy Hall: Like a lot of people in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, I was following an impulse to start a project that would help to pass the time indoors. For me, the primary joy of curatorial work is that exhibitions are generative of community. I wanted to do something that would manifest virtual elements of those in-person encounters with art and people that we are all missing now. I asked my friend and illustrator @narcisoespiritu if he would come aboard as co-editor, and together with a few other contributors we have set about creating a document of the experiences and work of the global arts community during this time.
Narciso Espiritu: Initially, Allison approached me with a few tentative names for something that would function as a document of this time in the arts, and I quickly embraced the idea. I’ve had experience with art publications of my own, so I felt like I could lend a hand in this effort. Also, we have worked pretty well together on previous projects, so it feels like a smooth collaboration.
ANTE: Social_Distanzine serves as a platform for the wider art community to unify (remotely) in the time of CoVid-19; can you talk to us about what you are hoping to highlight with this initiative?
ARH: I think sharing the work of all mediums that artists are making now, as well as interviews with people across the arts community, is a way to collect and connect subjective experiences and impressions of this moment. This in turn creates a record through which we can consider the whole of this time, and perhaps be reminded of the smallness of our current physical separation from each other. Of course we also want to give artists as much visibility as possible–Times are tough psychically and materially.
NE: This time is important for everyone. It allows for everyone to pause, take note of what they really appreciate, and evaluate what’s broken or doesn’t work quite as well as they want it to. Artists of all disciplines are kind of the arrowhead here. Folks are absorbing what’s going on, and they’re gonna funnel that energy into something. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense now. There has to be a way to express this strange feeling a lot of people are living with.
ANTE: Does the platform have a particular lens on art that engages with the covid-19 pandemic, or merely works made during this time, and why?
ARH: As described, this is kind of an overarching archival or historical approach–we’re doing our best not to exclude any works–Even if they don’t reference covid-19 directly, they are still products of the time. We are really keen to maintain a diverse exhibition in terms of medium, and are hoping to see more performing arts, writing, and musical works in addition to all of the amazing visual arts submissions we’re receiving.
NE: I think we’re all processing the pandemic in our own ways. We could be checking the numbers every day, zoning out to some activity, or actually helping on the front lines– but it doesn’t diminish the importance of it on a granular level. Because we all matter here. Personally, the work I’m making is not reflective of the pandemic. Maybe I’ll make something related to my mental experience during this time later on, but it’s just a lot of information and anxiety that I don’t quite know how to transform.
ANTE: You’ve provided insights through interviews on remote residencies and opportunities available to artists; what about this aspect of engaging the art community is critical to your team?
ARH: The interviews were Narciso’s idea. This is a really tough time for the arts and other related creative industries, and we felt there could be some practical benefit to sharing not only opportunities, but a kind of inside-perspective. We describe these interviews as lo-fi chats with people in the arts community across the world. We hope that adding these voices to the chronicle will lead to a better understanding of what people are doing/dealing with now, and what the arts might look like later. Our first one was with Matt Davis at @perfectlyacceptable, a risograph press and publishing house based in Chicago.
NE: Interviews with creatives and other notable folks in the local Jersey City arts community was something I used to do with a publication I used to run, called Instigatorzine. It was a vehicle for me to meet people and learn about how they got to that point in their lives, but I also just enjoyed the process and results. Sharing the personalities and work of many people with many people fulfilled me in a unique way. Doing the SD Interviews is very special for the moment we’re all in, because we’re delivering this perspective that you won’t likely see in other media. Inviting folks to see and listen to the people behind the artwork is important, especially now.
ANTE: In terms of the submissions you feature on the platform, can you speak to the challenges in presenting certain mediums given the format of the platform (are some projects/works easier to present than others?)
ARH: Totally. We are doing our best to do justice to everything that is submitted. Instagram isn’t ideal for some works, which is why I also set up a webpage for the webzine at nosucharts.com/social_distanzine (a work in progress). We are playing with the idea of creating a print edition, which of course would pose other challenges for our inclusive approach.
ANTE: Can you walk us through the types of responses you hope to inspire in your audience?
ARH: I want people to feel less alone, and have the opportunity to experience a small form of collective engagement aside from our inexorable shared suffering.
NE: I moved to Detroit a few months before COVID got serious in the States. While I’ve been to the city several times over, it’s still new and I have a relatively small social circle compared to when I lived on the East Coast. Working with Allison on SD helps me feel less alone out here. It’s good that the SD audience can experience this unity, too.
ANTE: What are your plans for this platform post-pandemic?
ARH: It is so difficult to think beyond the end of a single day right now. There’s kind of a fog over the future, but we are doing some brainstorming about creating print issues (though that may happen before the end of pandemic?). Who knows!
NE: Honestly, I get kind of upset that I cannot note time passing some days. It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves because of that. I tend to go galaxy-brain on this stuff, so I write things down instead and return to them later. I’ve always believed in printed material, but that’s a bridge I can’t see yet.
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Artfully Learningwas founded by art educator, artist and curator Adam Zucker, and mounts an experiential and critical cross-examination of the fine art world and educational sphere. We caught up with Adam to learn more about how he is adapting his coverage to suit a post-CoVid19 society.
ANTE: Thanks for chatting! So tell us about your community. What urgent need inspired you to begin your work with Artfully Learning?
Adam Zucker: I entered the arena of art education (K-12) coming from a background that was largely in the fine arts field, so I had far less experience and training than many of my fellow students upon entering the Master’s in Art Education program at Brooklyn College. I was a bit apprehensive and timid initially. I felt out of place. However, my professors, Linda Louis and Toby Needler encouraged me to combine my prior knowledge of Art History and my professional experience as a curator and arts writer, with the experiential education I was receiving in art pedagogy. I also took a class on Visual Culture with Dr. Cheri Ehrlich, where we were prompted to create documentation of our journey to become art educators, and that was the birth of Artfully Learning. It was initially about finding my comfort zone to approach topics related to teaching and learning, but it has evolved into a resource that has helped a variety of individuals integrate contemporary art practices into educational frameworks.
AZ: I select material and content that I find interesting and that I am passionate about. Because I believe that learning to create and respond to art is intrinsic with the human experience, I have taken a very constructivist approach to my platform. I present ways that contemporary art can benefit social, emotional and cognitive development, and suggest how works from a wide range of artists might be incorporated into K-12 curricula on a macro and micro scale. I am in full support of art-centered learning throughout the curriculum, which means that the arts are in partnership with the other subjects, not in service to them.
ANTE: Does the platform have a particular lens on engaging the wider community and producing necessary resources during the CoVid-19 pandemic, and how?
AZ: There is a specific page on Artfully Learning onsocial distance learning, where I have been posting my own lesson plans (that can be scaffolded for instruction and realized at home), as well as other resources from the field in response to the sudden transition to remote learning and homeschooling. The page will continue to be updated for as long as educators and students are away from their physical classrooms.
ANTE: Artfully Learning has received incredible critical reception in light of the pandemic – can you tell us about where the platform has been featured and share insights into feedback you’ve received from your audience?
AZ:I am always most grateful and excited when I get feedback from readers of my blog. I speak to my educator friends on almost a weekly basis, and have been so inspired by their devotion and passion for both adapting and pushing the boundaries of the unique situation we’ve been facing. We constantly share ideas and resources. The education community is one of the most selfless and tireless professional communities. As far as where my blog has been featured, I have seen a lot of recent traffic coming from BOMB Magazine, Bushwick Daily, and various University listservs. I feel most rewarded for my work when teachers and school administrators share my writing with their own networks.
ANTE: What urgent need does the community have right now for greater access to art education?
AZ: Education in general needs to be more accessible to reflect the diversity of the community. More resources are needed for students and teachers, so that they’re able to collaboratively learn and thrive in a safe and healthy environment. It is painfully clear how underfunded and unprepared our education systems are to support the most vulnerable students and provide teachers with materials and aid that they need. There is enormous inequity. All students should have access to resources that nourish the mind, body, and spirit. The arts do this by giving students a means for personal expression, and fostering a sense of self and collective values. Everyone has the ability to think and perform in an artful manner, despite their technical skills. The arts strengthen our ability to be flexible and make judgements in the absence of clear cut solutions. In this day and age of unknowns and uncertainties, it is the critical and creative thinking we acquire from art education, which will keep us innovating and responding to problems in an empathetic manner. Just look at how many artists are currently making and donating masks for essential workers.
ANTE:Who do you envision as your audience for the content you share and has that shifted since the pandemic began?
AZ: My audience has always been in flux since day one. When I began, it was mainly my own network from art and art education circles. Later, my writing started to reach the larger arts and education community. It has grown and expanded to where I can’t define any one specific group or groups of readers. I want my content to be accessible and useful to anyone who comes across my blog.
ANTE: What actions are you taking in the near future to contribute to the wider community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AZ: I am going to stick with what I do best, which is to write about the relationship between the arts and our human experiences. What I hope that I can provide is a spark and a thirst for my readers to continue their quest for lifelong learning via the arts. As I mentioned, I’m maintaining a page where I’ll contribute my own original lesson plans and other resources from a variety of sources that focus on creating, viewing, and presenting art remotely. I’d be happy to connect with more people who have similar and different experiences. I’m always looking to expand and diversify the content that I write about. ANTE readers can feel free to make suggestions, share their experiences, and let others know about the blog!
ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews,10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. Waves and Archivesfounded by Manan Ter-Grigoryan, Marianna Kosheleva and Julian Jimarez-Howard in 2018, endorses fashion as an art form across academic, instutional and art world settings. For our very first 10xCommunity interview we sat down to learn more on the Waves & Archives leadership team’s perspectives on fashion as a radical artistic platform.
ANTE: Thanks for chatting! Let’s start with your beginning – was there a specific catalyst that brought Waves and Archives into being? What was your initial vision for how Waves and Archives could change the landscape for fashion-related projects and their presence in the greater art world?
W&A: As it often happens with projects such as this, many stars had to align for things to start coming together in a concrete form of an exhibition and a certain plan for the future of Waves and Archives. For me, Manan Ter-Grigoryan, the motivation for this project was a certain reluctance I faced in graduate school from faculty members who were tacitly implying fashion was not art, and therefore I could not write my thesis on then still alive Alexander McQueen. Things became increasingly concrete when several years ago I got a call from a friend and colleague Julian Jimarez Howard wanting to start a publication that would focus on fashion as a medium of art. But it wasn’t until Marianna Kosheleva joined our trifecta with her strategy and vision that we all got the push we needed to move our project forward. So to answer your question, I think more than any occurrences, PEOPLE are catalysts. The vision for Waves and Archives has always been to promote fashion as a medium of art, and the need to do so in all domains simultaneously with a library, a publication and a gallery seemed like the most organic response.
ANTE: Can you walk us through your “manifesto” present on your website? How do you envision this Statement of Rights as charting a new course for the relationship between the overlap of Fashion and the Art World?
W&A: For as long as I can remember, I felt that fashion was not only one of art’s media, but that it was a medium most challenging- in terms of curation, complex- in terms of analysis, and profound- in terms of conceptual underpinnings. As fashion started to enter art museums, without the platform of a gallery and without any academic and institutional backing within the art-world proper, it became prescient to create a space for one of the richest forms of artistic production, to flourish without the imposing limitations of its own industry. The manifesto which comes in a form of a statement of rights is there to highlight the injustices and reaffirm the goals. As things change, so will the manifesto, so its date becomes a part of its own archive.
ANTE: Talk to us about Sinead O’Dwyer’s “In Myself”: you note that O’Dwyer’s work”retain(s) a distinctively grounded relationship to the reality of experiences and forms of the persons whose bodies they originally emulate.” Can you elaborate on why O’Dwyer’s works became your first exhibition as an entity?
W&A: Sinéad deals with the question of body politics in a way that not many fashion artists have dealt with before. As fashion has largely responded to this question by blindly promoting arbitrary inclusiveness, and in the process only re-establishing binary dichotomies, such as normal/ alternative, Sinéad does not use the “norm” as a departure point to suggest “the alternative”. She uses each body as its own departure point, thus over and over – whether it be with her silicone pieces or the woven ones – establishing the original body as the authoritative subject. I think this is a very important statement to make in a world where the fashion industry drives women into body dysmorphia, and on a larger scale – archetypes drive people to mental illness.
ANTE: In addition to the Gallery exhibitions, your online presence incorporates an Atlas and a Journal: can you explain how these materials are crucial to the W&A mission?
W&A: As mentioned earlier, it was important for us to suggest a drastic change in the space that fashion is given in institutional, academic or art-world settings, and it was important for us to make that change as organic as possible. It is not simply about giving fashion artists gallery representation, or creating a gallery that has fashion as its focus, but also about creating a space where academic thought on fashion can freely coalesce without having to be confined to either art or fashion publications, and about providing access to the type of knowledge that is made available to many artists working in traditionally accepted art media to artists working in fashion by creating a library. The Atlas is a knowledge visualization map that gives access to the way Western academia studies art criticism to anyone who might be interested to learn. I have spent 3 years researching connections between 150 thinkers who have produced knowledge most central to art (in all its adjacent disciplines: anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, visual studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political studies, etc.) mapping five categories of relationships between those thinkers, and mapping those relationships in a visual atlas. This project that we call Waves and Archives Atlas maps out 12,551 connections, thus sharing a visual key to art criticism as it is today. It is important for us that when we do represent fashion artists, it is not in a vacuum.
ANTE:Art Theory and Semantics are Woven into the mission of W&A as your Instagram and website link to critics such as Adorno and Derrida: what was missing in the art theory/art critical landscape with regards to Fashion’s role in the greater field and how does Waves and Archives fill that role?
W&A: In reality nothing is missing, except assignment. What I mean is that the knowledge that we apply to the study of any form of art is not necessarily produced with that application in mind. Adorno did not write directly about art, Foucault did not write about art and frankly neither did Derrida. We, as art academics, have applied that knowledge to art criticism because art does not exist in a vacuum. Similarly, we ask that the same knowledge is applied to the study of fashion as a medium of art, leveling the playing field of intellectual rigor. To give an example without calling out names, a famous art publication described the MET “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition with the words: “Will make you feel all godly…” – the kind of vocabulary clearly inadmissible in their coverage of any other art exhibitions.
ANTE: How do each of your founding member’s backgrounds inform the mission of W&A?
W&A: Growing up in six countries, in a constant state of embracing and adapting to new cultures while my cultural references kept being re-contextualized, dress and visual culture in general, allowed me (Manan Ter-Grigoryan) to recognize patterns and find my footing before I could gain fluency in languages. I am very academically inclined, and Waves and Archives is my dream and life’s mission, so I am making an effort to ground it in reality.
Marianna Kosheleva who has graduate degrees in Rocket Science and Press Relations, has a healthy distance from the subject of our endeavor, while maintaining a strong passion for the complexity of its realization. I think it is this knack for realizing complex multi-faceted projects that drives Marianna within this project.
Julian Jimarez Howard is a bright gallerist, writer, and a contemporary art curator, with an amazing grasp of a perspective that is not purely Western-centric, a rare understanding of textiles, and a visionary outlook on fashion’s prowess as an art form. He is an awesome partner who can talk to you about Derrida while installing a drywall.
ANTE: Talk us through your recent initiatives and where W&A is headed in the near future?
W&A: Our most recent initiative was the launch of our gallery Waves and Archives with an ambitious solo show of works by Sinéad O’Dwyer. In signing a contract with us, she became the first ever fashion artist to be represented by an art gallery dedicated to showing fashion artists exclusively. We are hoping that our next show (a group show of both emerging and established fashion artists) coincides with the launch of our Waves and Archives journal. Let this serve as a call for papers 🙂 In the meantime, we continue working on the design of our Atlas – the knowledge visualization map and its interactivity.
ANTE – Thanks, Paul, for speaking with us today! Your practice spans Architecture, Design and Art; yet, you’ve noted in past interviews that you work across different disciplines in order to best translate a “concept” into reality. Can you explain more about this philosophy of working to adapt concepts into the real world, and how that has manifested both in artistic projects and commercial projects with clients?
Paul Mok – There are two tricky terms here: concept and disciplines. “Concept” is tricky because it usually means a “clear idea”, and that is precisely what I have gradually walked away from in the past few years as a designer. I was trained to derive iterations of design from a clear concept very early on in my career. However, the more I worked in the design field, the more I have come to realize that concepts are too often just alibis to rhetorically justify certain irrational, personal design decisions. I find the irrationality productive and even necessary, but not the alibis.
To unlearn anything would be a years-long process. I started rejecting my acquired design method, subconsciously at first, then consciously, gradually replacing the void that used to be the “concept” with collections of seemingly unrelated elements – short writings, aimless strokes on paper, gestural forms made of clay and a few other projects – some art installations, some small commercial projects, and some academic works – have been delivered through this process. So, in a way, the concept I am adopting now is precisely the lack of it [the lack of any defined concept]. It is not about bringing a concept into reality. It is about letting reality – a specific set of circumstances – be translated into and – more importantly – addressed through the design process. And because of that, I am skeptical of the confinements implied by the notion of “disciplines”. Architecture, design and art are different only in a practical, circumstantial sense, I think, not in the essence.
ANTE – The value of the projects you’ve worked on is not only respected by clients and your peers, it is also shown by the awards they have received. In 2014, you worked on a project that won the AIA’s Honor Award for Interior – just as you entered Harvard for your Master’s degree in Architecture. Can you tell us about this project? Can you also discuss how this experience informed the beginning of your studies at Harvard?
PM – That [project] was a dining hall renovation that I worked on during my two years as a designer at Index Architecture Ltd.: a small architectural office in Hong Kong led by an AIA architect. We were given an existing space with lots of pipes and ducts that were to remain along the walls, and we proposed to conceal them with some curved panels made of weaved synthetic rattan. We also embedded lighting fixtures and storage spaces within those panels. The project won the AIA International Regional Award, I think, because we managed to resolve almost all the given site conditions and programing requirements with a minimal, singular design gesture. That was one of the last projects I worked on in the office before moving on to grad-school.
In those 2 years of practicing in Hong Kong, I was working full-time in the architecture office and, on the side, working on a house renovation as a personal project, along with a monastery renovation and an idea competition (with Dennis Chau and Florence Lam, which we won third place) all at the same time. My “normal” work day would begin at 9am and end at around 3-4am. I thought the more I worked, the clearer my vision as a designer would be. I recently saw an interview with [recently deceased artist] Ulay in which he described how he tattooed and cut his own skin off as an art project but after all that effort, he said, “it still didn’t deliver the answer”. That was how I felt by the end of the second year practicing in Hong Kong.
Entering grad school gave me the time and space that I didn’t know I needed to explore the more abstract, essential, and fundamental side of design. Instead of what and how to design, I needed to know why I design.
ANTE -Your professionalism and dedication to your studies has earned you multiple scholarships and Dean’s List mentions, both during your architecture studies at the University of Hong Kong, which honored you with a prestigious study abroad exchange semester at Princeton University, and during your Master’s in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Can you talk to us a bit about your dedication to your academic development: what were some of your favorite classes and how have they translated to success as a professional architectural designer?
PM – I was drawn to both the theoretical and the making aspects of design education very early on. At the Harvard GSD, I took an option studio with Ken Smith, a New York-based landscape architect. It was one of the first studios in which I explored a design process driven primarily by the making process. I rhetorically titled the project “Project Noctambulism”, hinting on the idea of taking actions subconsciously. In the same semester, I worked on the Komorebi Pavilion with Professor Mark Mulligan, Japanese engineer Jun Sato, and a team of schoolmates at the GSD. It was a plexiglass pavilion that was weaved together in a somewhat ad-hoc manner.
Both experiences had a significant impact in reinforcing my confidence in the essence of making, which later became a method to address abstract issues, and gradually becoming a core design philosophy.
ANTE – Can you walk us through your Harvard Graduate thesis project and the concept of “play” both as it relates to your studies and your professional projects?
PM – I titled the thesis “To Play”. In developmental psychology, “playing” could mean negotiating the perception of reality through the act of creating.
I began the thesis by asking “how is reality perceived?” I soon came across a demolished social housing, and I found it a perfect architectural anchor point – social housing is the most objective architectural typology, but its demolition made it a highly subjective event.
Through a series of drawings, architecture models and conversations, I reacted to a found Youtube video of the housing recorded by a former tenant of the housing who went back to record it before its eventual demolition. The final outcome was an absurd speculative proposal for a student-housing in LA based on the idiosyncratic personality I deduced from the 12-minute video. Looking back, it wasn’t a thesis that set out to resolve a specific problem, but it demonstrates a crucial self-awareness as a designer that opened up the design process to intuition, personal realities, subconsciousness, and the notion of craftsmanship. And it was from a very similar process that I have designed the installations <A Fountain Head> and <You Killed A Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egoes>, and the two displays – <Gross Grows> and <Out Of Thick Air> – that I made for lifestyle brand WORM NY.
ANTE – Since graduating Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, you have worked as a designer at nARCHITECTS PLLC in New York: this experience comes after you have worked at both Michael Maltzan Architecture in LA, and PARA Project in New York. Can you walk us through some of the key projects you have contributed to during each of these roles in your career?
PM – At Michael Maltzan Architecture, I worked on the schematic design of a student dormitory for Art Center College of Design. At PARA Project, I worked on the schematic design of an artist studio extension in New York.
I have been working as a designer at nARCHITECTS for almost 2 years now. The first project I worked on was a 5-story warehouse renovation project commissioned by the EDC. We were tasked to convert the 200,000-square-feet existing building into a new Made-In-NY campus for the garment industry in New York. I worked through the Schematic Design phase, the Design Development phase, as well as producing the final construction documents. Currently, I am working on the renovation of Ciszek Hall – a dormitory for the Jesuit men-in-formation in the Bronx.
ANTE – Can you walk us through a few recent projects that have demonstrated your achievement and engagement as a leading architect/designer in your field?
PM – Aside from all the professional and conceptual projects I previously mentioned, I have been working on a school design with Joe Qiu, my former classmate at the GSD, since 2015. It is a primary school design that pioneers small-class-teaching in rural China.
The decades-long implementation of one-child policy and rigorous rural-urban migration have led to a significant reduction of students in rural China. Small-class-teaching, as an alternative model of child education, implies a reduction in teacher-student ratio and increasing opportunity of group activities among students.
In terms of layout, we proposed to break down the typical teacher office into smaller “satellite” offices, and pair one with every two classrooms to form the primary module for space planning. We further proposed to reduce classroom sizes from 45 students per class (typical in the city, as recommended by the codes) to 36. The additional floor areas are given to the semi-outdoor “pocket” spaces, distributed along the corridors, where inter-class activities could take place.
The project is near completion and was scheduled to open in September 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the opening date will very likely be delayed.
ANTE – How has building your architectural career in the US contributed to growth in your professional practice?
PM – It’s been almost six years since I moved to the States. So far I find the US – and particularly New York City – a productive context for both my professional and conceptual practice.
I have worked with quite a few collaborators and designers here. When I first moved to the city, for example, I met Isabella Bhoan, the founder of ILF Landscape. Coming from similar professional backgrounds, we saw how each of our specific interests could lead to meaningful collaboration. We worked together on the project Outside In – a speculative design proposal for Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers – before she relocated her practice to London in the end of 2019.
It is also a city where I could find the audience to have productive conversations about my conceptual interests. I have exhibited my works periodically in various venues. The most recent exhibition – The Study on Mundane – is currently on display at Gallery GAIA.