AOT Project Salon Interview for 10xCommunity: “The Arts are Vital to Individual and Community Empowerment”

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 Salon is 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.

 

Artist Courtney Alexander in front of her collaborative project sponsored by the Lower East Side Girls Club presentation, Art on Paper 2020 – coordinated by AOT Project Salon
 
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.
AOT Project Salon loft space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
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.
In conversation at AOT Project Salon, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
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.

Space and Body Merge in Julia Betts’ “Ruptured Holding” at GRIDSPACE

December 15th marks the debut show at GRIDSPACE for artist Julia Betts, a sculptor based in PA. An MFA, Sculpture graduate of RISD, Betts brings her striking juxtaposition of body and material to this architecturally-driven space. This solo exhibit at GRIDSPACE, titled ruptured holding, presents an interdisciplinary window into the artist’s practice. Betts’ work relies on the contrast between the instability and unpredictability of materials presented to the public at this space, precipitously cast on the rapidly changing neighborhood of northern Crown Heights. The erasure and reclamation of identity present in works such as “Detritus” find their home within the context of a Crown Heights that even ten years ago counted very few art spaces among its residents.

From 4-6 pm on Sunday, December 15, GRIDSPACE will host a reception for Betts open to the public. Drawing from her undergraduate degree in studio art from the University of Pittsburgh toward her more recent MFA in Sculpture from RISD, the artist has a firm and mature approach to materiality and concept. In discussing the objects she employs in her practice, Betts explains her aim to destabilize existing frameworks, noting that “my work…. create(s) a uniquely precarious situation whose exact results are ambiguous and actually lead to disruption and upheaval.”

“Detritus” Julia Betts (10’x10′) 2015, ground self-images

In Betts work, the material holds as much weight conceptually as the object they comprise, daring the viewer to consider the implications of the final artwork confronting them. Mining from the same veins as pivotal artists such as Ana Mendieta, Do Huh Suh and Isa Genzken, Betts’ work advances installation farther into our current moment and inviting us to question what is presented to us for consideration. The works seem to mesmerize by their very undefinability, forming a hold on one’s psyche and creating an opening for more inquisitive looks into the very fabric of reality that surrounds us in everyday life.

 

Works such as “Accretion” reveal Betts’ engagement with pushing material to the breaking point, engaging with the adhesive, industrial material of masking tape to reveal the limits of the body. Implied motion and abstracted form combine to create the sensation of an unknown woman’s body traversing space. The labor-intensive practice also implicates the artist’s own bodily limitations in the work.

With inclusion in multiple group exhibitions in New York City such as at Re:Art Show, Microscope Gallery, and Flux Factory, Julia Betts has made her mark on the NYC art scene. She has also exhibited nationally in numerous solo shows such as at Unsmoke Systems (Pittsburgh, PA) and Bunker Projects (Pittsburgh, PA). Betts has also completed artist-in-residence programs at Millay Colony for the Arts and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

GRIDSPACE is an art space that serves as an architecturally specific outlet for experimentation engaging the rapidly changing neighborhood of northern Crown Heights. Located at 112 Rogers Avenue in North Crown Heights, the closest subway to the space is the 2,3,4,5 to Franklin or the S to Park Place. For any inquiries about the space, please contact  cg@cgwk.net

On the Road Series Debut Stuns at Jenkins Johnson Gallery

Vertiginous folds of fabric climb in an ambitious ascent, weaving the identity of its creator into every stitch. Basil Kincaid’s voluminous “Love As Patient As the Hillside” (2018) anchors Jenkins Johnson’s spacious first-floor gallery space for “On the Road: Caroline Kent, Basil Kincaid and Esau McGhee”. Curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah, this exhibition, on view through Jan 12, marks the first installment in the exhibition series by the curator. Referencing Jack Kerouac’s influential On the Road, Ossei-Mensah applies the concept of documenting a cross-country journey toward charting the contemporary African-American experience – beginning here with a specific lens on the Midwest. The cohort of artists on view in Jenkins Johnson’s debut “On the Road” work in St. Louis and Chicago, and have lived in and worked throughout the region.

Works by Basil Kincaid including “Love As Patient As the Hillside” (2018) (on right) Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

“Approaching Kerouac’s On the Road, on this cross-country art journey I found myself asking: where are the black and brown bodies?” Ossei-Mensah, Senior Curator at Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit (MOCAD), reflects on his curatorial approach leading up to “On The Road”. In introducing the exhibit and its artists, he mentions being inspired by works by Derrick Adams and Ebony G. Patterson who exalt black bodies, portraying these figures in states of leisure and celebration. These scenes recurred to the curator as he initially viewed works by St. Louis-based Basil Kincaid. Standing in front of Kincaid’s portraits of a picnic, family members relaxing on the grass in the sun on the same quilt on view in “On the Road”, Ossei-Mensah recounts Kincaid’s emphasis on incorporating his family’s history and his own personal memories into these quilted works. This soft sculpture anchors the space, the folds of the fabric softly outlining an absent human figure, anticipating the edges of a subtle form. Kincaid’s works both reveal and conceal the human form and memories, his own and those in his immediate social circle. “Kincaid creates quilted works as portraits of his own family and markers of memory, and his collages and drawings taken in consideration alongside these quilted works express a variety of modalities. It’s important for audiences to be exposed to the breadth of his practice,” Ossei-Mensah elaborates.

Works by Esau McGhee (L and R) flank a work by Basil Kincaid (Center) for “On the Road”, Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

Nearby mixed-media works masterfully contort inside their custom-built frames, wrestling against the weight of anticipated right angles with their calculated curves and bends. Wooden frames and compositions both bear witness the masterful range of Chicago-based Esau McGhee‘s practice. Working from his studio in East Garfield Park, McGhee takes his initial training in photography through the filter of working as a street artist to construct complex compositions, some with a graffiti mark-making tool, in vivid patterns and hues. Applying an intimate repetition of found pattern, McGhee combines a balanced approach to construction and composition to exquisite effect. These collages flatten notions of ownership: referencing found imagery as a diagram of public space, McGhee integrates patterns, colors and printed materials found within the mass-produced and the everyday. McGhee observes, “This collective experience that we all share with public spaces… it’s not my space, it’s not your space, it’s really ours: it’s going through an evolution as dictated by us.”

“Summer Love” (2018) and “Star Gazing” (2018) by Basil Kincaid, Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

Approaching Jenkins Johnson’s lower gallery space, Ossei-Mensah expounds on his initial approach when formulating this inaugural iteration of “On the Road”. “As a curator, it’s key to find ways to challenge myself to not subscribe to a particular style,” reflects Ossei-Mensah. We take a moment to gaze around at the show before he continues, “As a project space and commercial gallery, Jenkins Johnson is the perfect place to mount “On the Road” – I’m thankful that they were willing to take a risk on a show of artists whose work audiences here may have never encountered, providing a platform for these artists in an accessible, domestic space where diverse audiences can feel a sense of belonging.”

Ruminating on the importance of crafting inter-regional dialogues with diverse artists whose work may not (yet) be featured on Artforum or headlining Christie’s auctions, Ossei-Mensah presents a measured viewpoint on why he began this series with Midwestern artists. In addition to his role building a platform for artists from across the region (and the US) at MOCAD in Detroit, he observes the area is full of sometimes overlooked talent. “Artists in the Midwest are making interesting work, and can be diamonds in the rough whose work merits new platforms. These are artists whose work shouldn’t lie undiscovered: there is a narrative guiding each artist’s body of work. These artists are all committed to their practice – what they will produce next will be truly remarkable.”

“To Summon the Objects in the Room, Pt. 2” (2018) and “Alterior Motives” (2018) by Caroline Kent Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

The final gallery yields exquisite works by artist Caroline Kent, whose work spans text and abstraction. Ossei-Mensah identifies what first caught his eye about her abstract works: the forms placed within a black ground. “Using a black ground in these works asserts her position,” notes Ossei-Mensah. Our conversation centers on the relative dearth of black women artists working in abstraction, and how by foregrounding these works within a black space the artist subtly re-orients the context of these compositions. Meanwhile, two text-based pieces nearby include the artist’s own written work, placed in dialogue with monochrome hues of paint created by the artist’s finger marks. Aspects of Kent’s identity intermingle in these works, while her larger abstract compositions evoke disparate actions and forms. Taken comprehensively, Kent’s body of work absorbs a multitude of influences while incorporating her own precise palette: what Ossei-Mensah refers to as a “a pictorial index she sees built into the world of gestures around her.” We stop in front of two works by Kent, “Carmicheal and Eloise” (2016) and “I Would Call…,” (2016), before Ossei-Mensah continues.  “Kent’s work demonstrates her commitment to pushing the limits of abstract language, with her focus on building a syntax and toolbox: a reservoir of forms and colors placed upon a black ground. When taken in context with her text-based works there exists a variety of aspects in her practice, a remarkable plurality.”

Reflecting on Kent’s practice, Ossei-Mensah inadvertently observes the power propelling “On the Road” forward. “This work pushes the visual language to its breaking point,” he observes. Works on view by Kincaid, Kent and McGhee push the envelope, breaking boundaries across mediums in a well-balanced survey of formidable contemporary artists living and working in the Midwest.

 

ZIEMIA Introduces a Whole New World to Greenpoint’s McGorlick Park

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Opening Day of “Ziemia” at McGolrick Park with the artist revealing the sculpture in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (image credit Izabela Gola)

Ziemia has arrived at McGorlick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and with it a world of experiences, memories, dreams and hopes.

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Polish Cultural Institute New York Director Anna Domanska introducing “Ziemia” at McGolrick Park

The project, created by artist Martynka Wawrzyniak in partnership with support from the Polish Cultural Institute New York, is a rounded, organic sculpture incorporating soil samples from across the world in an orb-like shape to represent the multi-dimensional fabric of our human tapestry across the globe. Spanning from the US across Asia and Europe, the artist has spent years creating this project – now on view through June 2019 in Greenpoint’s own McGolrick Park! The first public art project in the park in decades, Ziemia symbolizes hope that we can live side by side as co-stewards of our planet.

In particular, the project embodies dual concepts of migration and establishing new residencies/homes. The soil itself has traversed time zones and latitudes in order to create this pivotal sculpture, which has subsequently made its own home in the meadow of McGolrick Park. Polish Cultural Institute of New York (PCINY) director Anna Domanska notes of the project, “When Martynka Wawrzyniak came to us with her project, we knew it was the best canvas to tell the story of Poland and the Poles, who through the ups and downs of history found their new place on earth in the United States, but in a broader sense, portraying issues shared by many nations and cultures in a global context.”

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“Ziemia”, at McGolrick Park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Photo credit Weronika Kwiatkowska.

Domanska continues, “After all, the idea of the project refers to universal questions of the meaning of emigration, of roots, having a home and losing one, finding one’s identity in new cultural circumstances. This project also symbolically shows the strength of the links between Poland and the United States. The Ziemia Project after all is not only a sculpture, on display since June 9 in McGolrick Park, but also all the collected and documented human stories that demonstrate those links.”

More about the incredibly labor intensive process the artist used to realize the project, with support from PCINY, can be found on the Ziemia project website. Ziemia, the word for “Earth” or “Land” as translated from Polish, is a potent reminder of the common bond we share despite the boundaries that may divide us. The project was realized in partnershp with the New York City Department for Parks & Recreation and will reside in McGolrick park through June 2019.

-1 Below: A Look at Culture in the Outer Boros & NY Metro Area, Jan 29 to Feb 2, 2018

There are countless gallery guides exploring the cultural events happening throughout NYC, but how many can you find within walking distance or bus ride of your nest? How many events happen right down the street that you could swing by after a nice dinner with a friend? Why does every single blog profile seem to profile events happening in the art areas of Chelsea and the Lower East Side?

With these thoughts in mind, here at -1 Below we take a look at cultural events happening around New York City, minus one boro: Manhattan.

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Below we consider upcoming cultural highlights with five not-to-miss events from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx… with some cultural events to entice guests willing to venture farther afield.

Artwork by Katherine Toukhy, PES Grab back artist-in-residence
Artwork by Katherine Toukhy, PES Grab back artist-in-residence (Project for Empty Space, Newark, NJ)
  1. “Night Regulation” Radiator Gallery, 10-61 Jackson Ave, Long Island City feat. artists Loren Britton, Maria Dimanshtein, Nicholas Fraser, JF Lynch and Andrew Prayzner – curated by Patrick Neal. An exhibition touching on the fraught and complex relationship between conceptual and formal elements present in contemporary art. Opening: Feb 2nd from 6-9 pm  
  2. “Incision: Feminist in Residence” Project for Empty Space, 2 Gateway Center, Newark, NJ  (across from Penn station skybridge) feat. artists Chaya Babu, Christen Clifford, Camille Lee and Katherine Toukhy. Profoundly feminist, this exhibition explores the personal and political presence of being a woman artist in a complex, hierarchical art world pantheon.  Opening: Jan 31st from 6-8 pm.
  3. Know Your Mushrooms: Mycology 101” Earth Arts Center, 936 Madison Street, Brooklyn, NY for artists with a taste for the wilder side of nature, this class, led by expert agriculturalist and PDC practitioner Oliver Bolotin, covers key points outlined by Paul Stamets in the tome “Mycelium Running”. This class will cover wild mushrooms as well as growing your own fungi colony at home. Event takes place Sat, Feb 3rd: doors open at 8 pm with discussion beginning at 8:30. 
  4. “Reenactment” gallery talk, BRIC (The Stoop @ BRIC Arts) 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY. Coffee + Conversation discussing current BRIC exhibition “Reenactment” with curator Jenny Gerow and exhibiting artists Maria Hupfield and Farideh Sakhaeifer on how certain histories are privileged, stifled, and/or eventually re-examined. The exhibition features artworks by Ken Gonzalez-Day, Crystal Z. Campbell, Alicia Grullon (pictured in cover image), Hupfield, Sakhaeifer, and Marisa Williamson. Feb 3rd from 12-1 pm.  
  5. “Coming to America” Free Screening @Brooklyn Bazaar, 150 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY. A light-hearted look at America (specifically, Jamaica Queens) through the eyes of a visitor from our current administration’s so-monikered “shithole countries”, come laugh off our current xenophobia with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s devastatingly witty performance, with turns by the commanding James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair in the classic 1988 film directed by John Landis.  No RSVP required, seating first come first serve. Jan 31st from 8-11 pm. 
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“Know Your Mushrooms: Mycology 101” Earth Arts Center