Terri C. Smith of Franklin Street Works in Conversation for 10xCommunity

It is a personal pleasure to feature the incredible work of the versatile and dedicated Terri C. Smith, whose leadership at Franklin Street Works yielded meaningful, community-based exhibitions such as “Otherwise Obscured: Erasure in Body and Text and “Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions and Advocacy in the United States.” A thoughtful curator, and alumna of the prestigious Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Smith dedicates herself toward contextualizing conversations around art and social conditions within spaces ripe for critical inquiry.

We sat down to learn more about her time specifically at Franklin Street Works, and how the organization is dedicating its next chapter to archiving its powerful body of programs, events and exhibitions, contextualizing them for a new audience.

(Below image, Cut Up: Contemporary Collage and Cut-Up Histories through a Feminist Lens curated by Katie Vida, installation view. Foreground: Faith Ringgold. Background (L-R): Meredyth Sparks, Martine Syms, and Lourdes Correa-Carlo. Photo by Object Studies
Lead image, Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman, installation view. Foreground: commissioned site-specific installation by Nontsikelelo Mutiti. Background (L-R): works by Jay Simple and Bryan Keith Thomas. Photo by Object Studies.)

 

ANTE. Thanks, Terri, for sitting down with us! So Franklin Street Works was known as a contemporary art space but during your time working there, it achieved recognition for engaging with social justice as well. Can you elaborate on the founding of the space, its evolution and how social justice aligned with FWS’ mission?

Terri C. Smith. Being the founding creative director of an arts organization is a unique perspective because you are steeped in its institutional history and have a deep on-the-ground understanding of its growth and impact. When I was invited to co-found Franklin Street Works by Stamford lawyer and philanthropist Kathryn Emmett she had the idea of an art space with a cafe. It was up to me to craft the specifics in terms of mission, vision, and programming. I had been in Connecticut working in the arts for a few years and had a sense of that scene. When I began conceptualizing what FSW might look like, I was thinking a lot about NYC alternative art spaces from the 60s and 70s like Artists Space, The Kitchen, and Food and their commitment to emerging artists and grassroots principles. I also had 15 years of experience working in two accredited museums and valued good scholarship and museum best practices. So my thinking was to create a program that included rigorous exhibitions and also integrated values of community inclusion – a discursive, social, and activist community hub with contemporary art at its center.

When we first opened in Stamford, Connecticut, showing conceptual art necessitated a lot of interpretation and direct conversations with visitors. In the beginning, merely showing conceptual art felt like a form of activism! All of our exhibitions were original, thematic group shows curated in house by guest curators or myself. This thematic approach aimed to build an audience beyond arts-interested individuals by drawing connections between contemporary art practices and events in our day-to-day lives.  In other words, if an exhibition included work about the environment, the idea is that it would attract folks who might not be familiar with contemporary art, but, because of their interest in nature, science or conservation they would have a point of entry. It was an individualized approach that aimed at connecting, often challenging, contemporary art to a broader public.

As far as how the social justice trajectory connected to our mission, these key factors spring to mind: our coincidental opening of the space when Occupy Wall Street was encamped in Zuccotti Park; an archive of artist activist collectives we developed for a 2013 exhibition; our exploration of Franklin Street Works’ values with a 2014 strategic plan; and a show on immigration Yaelle Amir curated for us in 2015 (see above, “Acting on Dreams.”) I’ve only recently realized it, but Occupy Wall Street was a profound influence on the formation and direction of FSW. I knew some artists who were involved in the Park – many of them affiliated with Bard MFA. It was intriguing to me how artists brought an unmonumental sculpture/MFA materiality to activism and how an alternative, pop-up social system that shared qualities with social practice projects was being constructed from scratch there. I now understand FSW was influenced by OWS’s materiality and its creation of an inclusive, activist space that interrogated the status quo and posited corrective, world-building scenarios.

Social justice as an exhibition theme was directly addressed for the first time with our 2013 exhibition Working Alternatives: Breaking Bread, Art Broadcasting and Collective Action, co-curated by Mackenzie Schneider, Jess Wilcox and myself. We were thinking about how artists used food, broadcasting, and collective action during the early history of alternative spaces in NYC, and how artists were still using these tactics. Jess explored artists who use food, Mackenzie looked at artists using media like television and newspapers, and our gallery manager, Sandrine Milet, and I explored collective action, sending out an open call for materials from self-described artist/activist collectives. The starting date for our artist/activist collectives was the end date of an existing archive organized by NYC artist/activist collective Political Art Documentation & Distribution (PAD/D), which included socially conscious arts organizations working from 1979–1990. We put a call out to more than 90 collectives and received materials from approximately 30.  While the show was on view, Brooke Singer, a Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase (who was in one of the collectives we exhibited) invited us to take the archive out of its boxes and present it as an exhibition at the College’s Passage gallery later that year. Sandrine and I curated Collective Action Archive with Purchase students Stephen Barakat and Gina Mischianti, writing additional interpretive texts about the collectives and exhibition essays from various points of view. Eventually the materials were accessioned into the SUNY Purchase Library zine archive, making them available to students and scholars.

Nadia Wolff-commissioned performance, A Litany, at the opening reception of Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman. Photo by Terri C Smith.

This year-long immersion into collective action art practices was followed by Franklin Street Works’ 2014 strategic plan, which re-emphasized our commitment to socially conscious art and community engagement. In the strategic plan, we described our core values, “Art is part of a larger social enterprise and thereby serves as a catalyst for social action. Both the individual artist and our communities are vital partners with us. The artist creates new models and impacts our communities. Our communities generate creative conversations within our space and elsewhere about our production.”

The next year, when Yaelle Amir curated Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions, and Advocacy in the United States, FSW’s work in social justice really began to crystallize. I personally had an “ah ha” moment about how actionable elements could become part of an art exhibition when Yaelle asked us to create a resource list of regional immigrant organizations for the catalog. I was energized by how Acting On Dreams was firing on all cylinders. The artworks and commissioned installations were well executed and materially interesting, but it was also exhibition as logistical support, community gathering place, investigative journalism platform, educational venue, and more. From then on, we were off to the races in actively planning exhibitions that addressed social justice issues head on. 

ANTE. The pandemic has affected everyone in the arts, and has required flexibility and resourcefulness. Your team has recognized that the time has come to put future exhibitions in the physical space on hold. What are your goals moving forward in building an archive? In addition, how do you hope this archival project will evolve? What resources in particular are you seeking to help achieve this goal? 

TCS. It is important to me that the legacy of Franklin Street Works lives on through a digital archive that is organized and accessible to anyone interested in contemporary art history or any of our 415 past exhibiting artists and collectives. I’m working with a handful of past board members to map a path forward in creating that. Right now we are exploring the best approaches in applying for archiving grants. I’ve also been talking to other small art spaces that no longer have physical spaces but still have an online presence, and chatting with archivist friends about the best order of operations in getting started. Since the entirety of FSW’s institutional memory is in my brain and my computer (and back up disk, of course!) it is my responsibility to organize the materials in preparation for a professional archivist. In a perfect world, I’d like to have the spirit of FSW live on in a less localized way. It would be exciting to see the archive combine with a national program of grants for emerging artists and to create and/or support commissioned projects.

Love Action Art Lounge curated by Terri C Smith, installation view of Carmelle Safdie’s commissioned, site-specific installation. Photo by Object Studies.

 

 ANTEWhat particular aspect of your tenure do you reflect on with satisfaction?

TCS. There are so many, but two aspects that come to mind immediately.

First, the transformative nature of Franklin Street Works’ educational programming. The physical space of FSW is an intimate repurposed Victorian row house. So when we had tours, talks, and performances, there wasn’t much physical distance between the community and the presenters. I also intentionally set a very welcoming tone that signified there wasn’t much, if any, hierarchical distance between artist and audience either. I think this intimacy and casual, social vibe created a comfortable space for learning, questioning, and authentic connection that was memorable and resonant. There were dozens of times when a past event attendant would volunteer specifics about how it changed their perspective or affected the course of their work or life. 

The second aspect is a personal one. I developed so many wonderful relationships with FSW’s artists, curators, staff/board, interns, and contract workers these last nine years. So many of the people we partnered with on projects were collaborative, talented, and conscientious. My life is vastly enriched for having known them. I was 43 when I co-founded FSW. Frequently in middle age we can become set in our ways, but my life was infused with an endless stream of compassionate critique, encouragement, and aspirational thinking. Many of the folks I worked with became my teachers, modeling generosity and inquisitiveness, pointing out when I was being old fashioned or on auto pilot, and perennially challenging me to work toward optimal equity and inclusiveness. As stressful as the labor of running an art space can be, the love, laughs, and learning outshone the fatigue that sometimes accompanies this type of work.

Sherry Millner artist talk on the occasion of In this place where the guest rests, curated by Jacqueline Mabey. Photo by Michael Mandiberg.

 

ANTE. How have you focused your energy on moving forward during the pandemic as a cultural producer?

TCS. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this is such a universal question right now in the arts and beyond. Right now my energy is focused on staying connected with close friends, taking care of my body with exercise, and connecting to nature (and my dog) with walks and gardening. I’m also doing some freelance grant and copywriting for an Alzheimer’s organization which has me thinking about how the labor of families, especially women’s labor, is literally keeping eldercare afloat in the U.S. I am thinking there is a feminist exhibition on labor, healthcare, and ageism in there somewhere. Things are still fresh with FSW closing, and I lost my mother recently too so there are a lot of new normals to digest, consequently, I am doing a lot of reflection right now, in a good way, I think, I hope..! Haha.

As we touched on earlier, I am starting to organize materials for an FSW archive. I am also awkwardly working to shift the Feminisms and the Arts class I teach at UConn-Stamford to distance learning and continuing ask colleagues and friends –  especially those whose practices are about creating more equity and inclusiveness in the art world – how I can support them and their work during these difficult times.

In contemplating the last nine years, I’ve realize that curating for me is most rewarding when it’s in collaboration with a community where I feel a significant connection. Ideally, if I were to commit to another full-time position in the visual arts, the community I choose to work with would be as important as the organization. The places that feel like home to me are Bridgeport (where I live) and New Haven (where I have friends and there is a vibrant art scene) as well as my hometown of Nashville, TN. So I hope to stay put in Connecticut or move back to Tennessee. That said, we never know what the future brings, so I’m keeping an open mind at the same time

Embracing Interiority in Magdalena Dukiewicz’ “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space

Encountering “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space, a solo exhibition by Magdalena Dukiewicz  curated by Jamie Martinez, the materials forming this installation present a dizzying dance on the senses. From the earthy inhalation of sod greeting visitors to the visceral transluncency of the installation, the tent-like structure anchoring the space presents a show that serves as a veritable movable feast for the senses
Artist Magdalena Dukiewicz has presented that rare feat of marrying circumstance and concept: an installation based on the impossibility of permanence placed firmly in dialogue with a time of upheaval. This show arrives in the most ephemeral and mercurial time period in recent memory, when a viral pandemic has uprooted the lives of citizens of the world. Thus, an exhibition reflecting in part on the transient nature of immigration is placed in contrast to a time period holding citizens the world over in a shared uncertainty, yet clearly placing certain immigrants into situations of increased vulnerability (for examples, see increased vulnerability of immigrants held at detention centers in the US, and the recent announcement by the current US President that ICE will deport students who do not attend in-person classes at universities this Fall.) The artist has managed to presciently respond to one of the most dire moments for immigrant rights in recent memory.
Work by Magdela Dukiewiecz for “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)
The artist herself reflects on the domestic and social roles prescribed to her as a child growing up in Poland. She recalls spending time in a temporary play structure she built with her sister when she was young. Dukiewicz notes, “The concept of a house is based on a portable playhouse made of textiles that I had as a child and explores how “playing house” and practicing social roles at an early age has been adapted in my adult life. ” She also reflects on how materiality is embedded, for her, within the conceptual realm they engage in dialogue with. Thus in order to create a conversation around uncertainty, materials like sod were incorporating – even surprising the artist, when seedlings of grass began to appear in the temporary installation structure.”The use of impermanent materials and incorporating and dissolving my DNA with and within them add to the idea of temporality and imperfection,” she reflects. “[Specifically] the house, like the other pieces, will transform, eventually collapse, then disintegrate and disappear, but the process and its traces are my way of leaving an imprint in the world. “
Installation view, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)

The Ph.D.-candidate artist, who holds an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts (Warsaw, PL) and an MFA, Complutense University (Madrid, ES,) produces her works in a site-specific manner, considering how specific spaces and spatio-temporal considerations can demand necessary alterations and adaptations. Within this conceptual framework, the artist was also forced to reconsider the pandemic interrupting access to this solo exhibition. Confronting the pending feeling of hopelessness encountered by us collectively as a society, she provides a space that instigates a moment of rumination—an individual and collective reflection—for the human species to “regroup, rethink and adjust to a new reality.”

Closing on Saturday, July 11 at The Border Project Space in 56 Bogart, Brooklyn in socially-distanced visitation from 5-8 pm, “Elements of Perturbation” mounts a multi-sensorial dialogue around the places we are allowed to enter, inhabit, and exist, and how identity and location continually inhabit a relatioship of tension with one another.

Installation views, “Elements of Perturbation” at The Border Project Space (artwork details on show website)


 

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

IMG_20180609_155243 (2).jpg
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.

IMG_20180609_151604
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.”

DSC_0623
“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.

AIPAD Features Groundbreaking Work by Arlene Rush in Photography Collection of Joe Baio

Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography steals the show at the 2018 iteration of the AIPAD photography show, the renowned annual photography event in New York City housed at Pier 94 in Manhattan and on view April 5-8. Photographic objects from the collection are suspended, salon-style, with a specific view toward the poignant moments of adolescence and childhood memories.

Among these works, on view from the collection for the first time ever, an artwork by artist Arlene Rush emerges from the cusp of the center and left-facing walls, shimmering as visitors approach. This effect, caused by shattered tempered glass carefully arranged over the surface of the photograph, beckons guests closer to examine a seemingly straightforward portrait of two young women holding hands. These teenage girls, blond and smiling, seem charming yet unsettling… until the viewer realizes they are, in fact, identical twins. Rush was born as a twin to her brother, whose bar mitzvah photo this image was derived from. The two figures stand intrinsically linked in this work, Twins: Just a Memory: the scattered glass creating a mirage of imagined histories. This piece is the first from an identically titled series of work the artist produced reflecting on adolescence and sexual identity.

Arlene Rush. Twins: Just a Memory (2001-05)Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Rush’s Twins: Just a Memory series revisits childhood moments in which the artist mines her personal history and growth as a woman and artist to comment on gender roles and societal norms. The artist has taken the image of her and her brother at his bar mitzvah, re-imagining instead what it would be like for her to experience adulthood from the viewpoint of both male and female. She reflects on the use of the family portrait as entry point into this conceptual rigor. “Kitschy and poignant, [the work] speaks about gender equality and expectations [which] religions and society [place] on us growing up.” These expectations find space to dissolve in these atmospheric works, in which identity is present upon close encounter yet obscured from far away. Rush finds solace in examining the elements of surprise and nuance offered by the veil of shattered glass applied atop the portrait. The forms are identifiable, the dress code clear, yet the results manage to be both surprising and surreal.

Twins Just a Memory: The Missing Piece (2012) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Questioning the relevance of coded gender norms today versus the artist’s experience growing up in New York City, Rush has worked as a conceptual artist questioning identity in multiple disciplines. The artist has worked across photography, installation work and sculpture, including welding with steel  – a discipline prominently anchored by male artists in the 1970s and 80s when the artist was beginning to work. Starting to blossom in her practice in an era not far removed from the echoes of the male artist-dominated Cedar Tavern, perhaps the artist’s poignant re-examinations of gender expectations – both in her own life and in society as a whole – stand as a testament to the hopes we hold for women to assume prominent positions both in the arts and in the brave new world ahead.

Twins Just a Memory IX (2013) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

AIPAD is on view from April 5-8 in midtown west, Manhattan, at Pier 94. More information on admission can be found on the show’s website.