Artist Spotlight on MaryKate Maher, ANTE Open Call

MaryKate Maher is one of those conceptual juggernauts whose work you discover and instantly wonder how you haven’t run across it sooner. Her awareness of the nuances of structure and the volume of forms create lyrical and compelling sculptures and installation work. A thoughtful artist with a strong record of exhibitions who also just so happens to be an alumna of both Skowhegan and MacDowell, Maher proves through her practice to create gradual crescendos, impressing her admirers with a criticality and subtlety that holds precious secrets for all who encounter her work. 

We touched base with Maher to gain a more in-depth appreciation of her practice in light of her selection as an Open Call winner, learning about her background in painting, her ruminations on balance and the careful, tenuous relationships binding individual components to the whole.

“Slump, Lean, Hoist” 2019, wood, aqua resin, concrete, brass, stone
approximately 240 x 72 x 72 in. From the exhibition “When Artists Enter the Factories” (Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn NY 2019 curated by Jia-Jen Lin and Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi) Photo by Kuo-Heng Huang

ANTE. Thanks for chatting with us MaryKate. Can you tell us about your practice and specifically the tension between the organic and industrial latent in your work?

MaryKate Maher. I have a background in painting and drawing that has transitioned over time to include sculpture and elements of photography.  They influence each other in ongoing conversation. This dynamic between structure and tonality, color and line serves as a useful aesthetic corollary to the organic/industrial duality. I find industrial landscapes beautiful and sad. In their pristine states, the industrial dominates the organic, cutting through it, confident and domineering. In its dilapidated state, one sees the organic reasserting itself, softening the borders. That juxtaposition interests me. I don’t go out looking specifically for it but it seems to find me, catching my attention when something seems “right”.

For example, one moment I keep trying to recreate occurred about two years ago when I was driving home from my studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was sunset and I was driving near Kingsland Avenue, which is a very industrial route. There is this large white holding tank (oil or fuel). On this particular evening the sunset was reflecting perfectly onto the tank so that both the tank and the sky had the same pink and purple gradients. The industrial was acting as a mirror for the organic. I didn’t have my camera with me and I kept trying to pull over in traffic to either take a picture with my phone or figure out what I wanted from that moment. It was rush hour-hectic and I missed my chance. I drive by there all the time trying to re-catch that experience, but I haven’t seen it again. I’m not sure what I expect from seeing it again but the gradients I saw from the light that day have found their way into my work.

ANTE. You specifically mention cairns as an influence in your practice. Can you speak to the impact that and other natural phenomena have on your work?

MaryKate Maher. Rocks and cairns have been a fixture in my work.  With cairns, you have something very organic with  a touch of the human added. The most basic human gesture. I think about how that gesture would feel to someone wandering alone through the wilderness. Is it reassuring? Is it spooky?  There’s also a sort of game to making rocks, which do not on their own lend themselves to stacking, balance one on top of the other.  In my work, it turns into manipulating weight and balance in ways that emphasize awkward and precarious arrangements. I’m not interested in picture-perfect compilations. I tend to stack and pile using chunks of concrete and other fabricated forms, wedging something into another form. There is a deliberateness to this action which is weird, imperfect, and provisional.  

Nature isn’t pristine. It creates all sorts of bizarre conglomerations like “plastiglomerates’ which are a literal fusing of plastic pollution with organic debris to create a new form of rock – a direct result from human pollution. In my personal collection I have an oyster shell which has fused itself to styrofoam like a barnacle.  Its a perfect riddle:  what is overtaking what?

I also love the tradition of the Scholars’ Rock and Odin stones where natural formations are so thoroughly aesthetified that they come to read as sculpture. Other phenomena like Fata Morgana and mirages, light refracting on the horizon creating interesting effects: all of these influence my work in some way.  When I can travel and explore I collect all these feelings and moments from different places and bring that back into the studio. I love geology and seeing famous collections, like that of Roger Caillois, and Standing Stones in Britain. There is a power to all of these objects and for centuries people have tapped into that.

“Surface: gradients (1)” 2019, Collaged dye sublimation prints on aluminum, wallpaper, resin, gold leaf, hydrocal (30 x 22 in)
“Map for the Temporary Inhabitant” 2013/2015/2018, aqua resin, dye sublimation prints on aluminum, concrete, concrete polymers, salt varying dimensions, largest: 69 x 44 x 24 in. From the exhibition “The Dissappearing Ground” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA, 2018, curated by C.J. Stahl) Photo credit Jaime Alvarez

ANTE. Recently you have shown at venues such as Triangle Arts Association and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You’ve also shown at outdoor sculpture venues. Can you walk us through the positive aspects of both gallery and public/outdoor sculpture exhibitions?

MaryKate Maher. My studio is pretty messy most of the time and venues that are more of a traditional gallery space are ideal for seeing the work in that clean, open space. You can control the presentation, the lighting, all of those things. You can play with scale and formality. There aren’t many “unknowns” thrown into the mix. Outdoor sculpture is usually just one work and it has to stand up to other criteria like weather, scale, and durability in addition to it being a finished work. It’s a fun (and stressful) challenge. It’s like being a director: making sure everything is happening on schedule and organizing all of the components, renting equipment, hiring help, etc. Working outdoors can have perks that can’t really be created indoors, and it’s always a big learning experience. Last year, I was curated into a sculpture exhibition in the Poconos along a local hiking trail. All of the works that were included had to address the natural world and couldn’t interfere with the natural environment there.  It took me a long time to figure out what to create.  It had to stand out against the camouflage of the woods, but also meet my standards of refinement. I had been working on and off with large blocks of livestock salt but had only ever shown the salt works in an indoor setting. I ended up creating a totemic form that stood out against the earth-toned surroundings.  Salt is elementally of the earth, so it’s soft and organic in its own way, but compressed in this form it becomes rigid and structured.  I knew the rain would erode it and that animals might eat it, that it might kill the grass underneath. I envisioned it melting away in this beautiful spire-like form to create an entirely new sculpture (which didn’t happen). As the exhibition progressed over the twelve months of the show an evolution occured: morning dew ensured a permanent wet, sweaty gloss to the salt, rain eroded the edges making it eerie and otherworldly, and deer and racoons came in the night to lick the blocks thereby leaving divets and marks, but the sculpture never changed the way I thought it would. All of the moisture kept eroding my anchors and epoxies and those blocks are so damn dense they take forever to melt. The animals did create an impromptu performative aspect of the work. Eventually it just became a ruin. It was still a cool piece, but there are a lot more “what ifs” with outdoor work. I find that when I’m invited to make outdoor work, I try to go as large as the budget can go and when I’m invited to show in a gallery setting I can scale up or down as needed.

The show at Triangle Arts was a really beautifully curated exhibition by Annesofie Sandal who I had recently met while exhibiting work at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was a nice connection and both of those shows were great to be involved in.

ANTE. Can you tell us more about what you’re working on recently and what direction your practice is moving toward?

MaryKate Maher. The pandemic has really thrown a wrench in things for me.  In February/March 2020, I was in residency at the Wassaic Project.  I was exploring all sorts of new ideas and thoughts, testing out new materials and processes.  Within 5 days of returning to NYC, the city completely shut down. Many of those ideas that would have had the chance to possibly cultivate into something interesting suddenly seemed moot. So they’re all on the back burner for now. My brain – and body – just don’t have the energy at the moment to tackle them. Instead, I’ve been focusing on works on paper and collages. There were too many unknowns and a lingering lack of structure present in my day to day, so I created a project with set parameters. I printed a bunch of images and photographs that I had been working with and cut them all up. My task is to create new collages from the same cut papers by rearranging and reusing the pieces. Then I take a photograph of the ones I like and turn them into a print. There is a nice immediacy about working this way as well as permission to put it all away on the days when it feels frustrating. The completed works are turning out pretty well. The original images included lots of gradients and abstractions of light, and they create these interesting depths and spaces. They are very abstract and surreal, but I’m digging it for now and just rolling with it. There is a lot of repetition because the same forms show up throughout the work, but it’s helping to create this concise series. They’re also helping me think about ways to translate that into sculptural forms.

“Surface (22) version 2” 2020. Archival print, 14 x 11in

ANTE. What’s one specific work you’ve made in the past three months, and what about it is inspiring you consider new concepts and formal evolutions in your work?

MaryKate Maher. The collages I’ve made during the quarantine. These branched out from work I was doing right before the pandemic but the previous work wasn’t really there yet and needed to be pushed further. Being stuck in my small apartment, with my family, all of us on top of each other, I would sneak away and sit in my window sill and stare out at the world below. Listening to the intense quiet, watching the sunsets, seeing the birds going about business as usual, spying on neighbors using their roofs for exercise. I thought a lot about light, space and bodies. The colors I was working with were magentas, pinks and reds and they felt bodily and intensely oversaturated. Color has been moving into my work in a way it wasn’t before. My neutral palette is evolving for sure from this recent work. As I start to get back to the studio, I see the work continuing in this direction as I figure out what it means: cut forms, saturated colors and finding new ways to create space through flat planes.

 

(Lead Image: Prussian Blue (head), 2019, resin, concrete, brass, gold leaf, prussian blue flashe, 16 x 12 x 8.5in)

Interview with Eileen O’Kane Kornreich: “Emotionally Charged Color is My Grammar”

An Interview between Audra Lambert and Eileen O’Kane Kornreich

Our current dual American crises of pandemic outbreak and social inequality are both eerily present in this visceral body of work I encountered by artist Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, “Mortality Path.” The series is open to viewer interpretation as the artist depicts the site of Washington Square Park, a space that has served various functions over the years: a place for organized protest, leisurely strolls, farmland, and a burial ground. Kornreich presents scenes from this locale not with realistic details but charged with facets of the various histories that compose the elements of the site itself.

I first became aware of this series a few months ago, when I met with the artist after encountering her current body of work, “Creatures,” which explores concepts related to the “Gilgamesh” epic. The artist’s powerful dual approaches contrasting the historical realm of Myth against the personal myths we build around our own lives intrigued me, enticing me to learn more about her past body of work. Encountering “Mortality Path,” it became clear that Kornreich invested significant time in researching the purpose of this site throughout New York City’s nearly 400-year history, particularly as it relates to the settlement of Manhattan as it spanned northward from its origins in the current Financial District. The artist charts her engagement with the site from a personal level as someone who frequented the park, diving into its secrets and hidden history in the wake of poignant personal grief she was experiencing during the time period that this series emerged. Kornreich observes rather than comments: she views the psychological aspects of the park’s trajectory, tracing the multi-layered history informing the experience of walking paths along the northwest corner of the park. I sat down with Kornreich for this somber and reflective journey through grief, contemplation, and the intractable pall that past histories indelibly cast on our experience of the present moment.

(Above–>Below) Before Rose, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Her Park Path No Memory, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path 7, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. Walk us through the origin of “Mortality Path” and your early foray into capturing the vistas of Washington Square Park, how did this space first attract your attention and inspire you to begin work on this series?

Eileen O’Kane Kornreich. After my husband died early 2015, I had been thinking of our mortality and how we humans manipulate the natural world and ritualize our deaths. Death of a beloved brings one down memory lane, and I found myself digging out work from forty years earlier. In the late 1970’s I went through several years of painting landscapes. I was charmed by one oil of the trees out of my studio window. Everything I loved and lived with during those years are dead: the dog, the boyfriend. Everything gone – but not the trees. I drove to see them, still outside that window, the dog buried not more than twenty feet away. I thought of trees and burials, like burials in Indonesia where they inter dead babies in a ritual where they and their spirits are absorbed by nature, which I believe is lovely. I thought of all the markers for our dead, all the bodies moved into catacombs, then I reminded myself of potters’ fields. There are thousands of dumping grounds for human remains; we walk on them daily and are unaware. Washington Square Park’s northwest corner is something I am very aware of and that is so centric to our city and country’s history, yet there are no markers for all those people.

ANTE mag. The theme of this work is site-specific, dwelling on a certain location: The Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Are you drawn to working with spaces and their layered histories? Why or why not?

EO’KK. This was a first [for me to use a particular site.] This is so specific a site: fifty to two hundred feet of a site. It was not a conscience decision to use a small-scale location. It was a conscience decision to use a mammoth atrocity to over tens of thousands of people, acknowledged. These bodies that were dumped, hidden, ignored, and historically expunged and that one American Elm onsite who saw it all and is still alive. That’s the story.

 

(Above–>Below) See Through to the Piers, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″ | Park Path Dapple Light, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

Park Path Blue, Eileen O’Kane Kornreich (2019) Acrylic, pastel, crayon and pencil on paper, 30×44″

ANTE mag. You note that in this body of work that you build… “from society’s constructed beauty that masks atrocities below.” What about this contrast compelled you to create these artworks?

EO’KK. There are several written histories of the what and why of the potter’s field in and around what is now known as Washington Square Park. New York City has records of purchasing sections of the eastern side of the park for a potter’s field in 1790s. At that time, this land was already used by several African churches located near that same land when this area was farmland owned by freed slaves. The city has notes of the bodies dumped in the north west corned on the banks of the Minetta Creek: this was an area, again, long in use by the native population. This undesirable area was partitioned off to native peoples, freed slaves and rogue New Yorkers, The English and Dutch, then reclaimed as a potter’s field – can you imagine? I imagined then and still to this day, all the bodies laid or splayed, then topped with fill for years as the pandemic raged during humid summers or a citizen was murderer. A few decades after the last of the stink and vermin had died off, only then a military square is constructed for pageantry around the square mansions that have since been constructed. Imagine bunting and flags and shots of rifles children playing in and around where just a generation ago lay the bodies of a putrid death, some named some not, thrown into a ditch. We have a similar situation to this now at the area near World Trade Center: different, clearly, in terms of intent, but so many go about their day and eat lunches over the bodies of those killed in 9/11. Across the street is an African burial site that just received its historical plaque. And so, it goes, it’s all around us.

ANTE mag. These works feature emotionally charged colors, and the strong use of perspective in these works creates a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. What are some of the emotions present in these works and why?

EO’KK. Emotionally charged color is my grammar, the construction of my visual language. While making these drawings, I am aware that I’m in a graveyard, that there is death beneath my feet – it brings to mind my husband’s graveyard in Valhalla, NY, which is gorgeous and shows diversity across its many sections, yet beneath these graves are even older burial sites of native peoples, settlers, anicent beasts….these layers of history continue endlessly. With Washington Square Park, that one particular corner has never had a plaque until they put a plaque at the arch noting that in the 19th century, ten African wooden caskets were placed at this site in 1850. But that begs the question of why these freed men and women of color were in this site, which at that time was still relatively undeveloped? Early settlers had no qualms about using free slaves as a buffer from native people’s attacks on first the Dutch, then the English took over. This is a part of our history we can find if we dig through the layers.  There are many perspectives in the park, off in one area you can even watch the light bouncing off the distant Hudson River, even noting a small square where you can see New Jersey. These photos were taken during walks in the winter and there is refracted light, light shining on in the darkness. This is my contemplation on color and perspective: how it’s read or absorbed by the viewer is for them to tell that story, I’ve told mine.

ANTE mag. The presence of trees is palpable in these works: what meaning do these park trees have for you, metaphorically, in this series?

EO’KK. The four-hundred-year-old American Elm in the Northwest corner of the park is a monument we locals call the Hanging Tree. That is my leading lady. If she could talk, she would set me straight. She would tell the burden of the dead and dying, and hangmen alike. The other trees, the recent plantings by our wealthy society, those represent the frivolous, the pageantry, the amnesia of a city wanting to not remember or know what they did, what happened in the past. 

ANTE mag. Can you explain your process in creating these compositions? For example, did you photograph the site from different angles then draw those with pencil on paper? Did you create these works en plein air?

EO’KK. While in the park, I photograph a path, a tree. I take upwards of three hundred shots with my camera and print what is valid to my eye. From these I construct a photo-collage of multiple perspectives, giving me a 360-degree view of a tree, shadow or path. It is a very cubist drawing which arises from the collage. I create the base drawing in pencil. From the base drawing, I work with acrylic, conte crayon, pastel, crayon and graphite to build the finished work. 

ANTE mag. You reference that these works recall “mysterious dreamscapes of nature.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment in relation to this body of work?

EO’KK. Once I start layering color with crayon and pastel the hard cubist edges are removed, and the multi-perspectives become one trippy, mysterious landscape.

What happens when we die? Every person who has lived during the age of reason has thought of the why’s and where’s of the afterlife. Does the answer lie with a god or gods, or spirits, or is it science? Why are some deaths celebrated and interred in strong, elaborate shrines while others are burned on a river or dumped in a marsh that becomes a celebrated park a few decades later? That’s just luck. My deeper thoughts are what happens after our internal light is out.

Culture Push Interview for 10xCommunity: “Voices that Will Help us Remake the World”

Interview by contributor Mariel Tepper

 

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.

Storm Your Brain—Culture Push Program DOING, by Aki Sasamoto, at the Whitney Museum, 2010. Photo by Arturo Vidich

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, the NYC 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’s NYC Dancers Relief Fund (COVID-19), started by J. Bouey and Melanie Greene, and for the North 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.

ArtCraftTech: Tracing Trash, 2010, at McCarren Park. Photo by Peter Stankiewicz

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.

 

The Essence of Making: An Interview with Designer/Architect Paul Mok

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. 

New York-based Hong Kong architect/designer/artist Paul Mok
Installation image at Gallery GAIA: “The Story of Mundane” a solo exhibition by Paul Mok

 

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.

Project Noctambulism, material study (below) and final outcome (above,) Images courtesy Paul Mok

Komorebi Pavilion, material study (below) and Komorebi Pavilion (above,) Images courtesy of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Images courtesy Paul Mok.

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.

Above and below, alternate images from Thesis: To Play, Images courtesy Paul Mok.
“A Fountain Head”, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
You Killed a Kiwi – A Situation Comedy For Those With Wounded Egos, Image courtesy Paul Mok.
“Out of Thick Air”, Image courtesy Paul Mok
“Gross Grows”, Image courtesy of Paul Mok

 

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.

Erdu Primary School, Image courtesy Paul Mok

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.

Above and below, Views: “Outside In”, Images courtesy Paul Mok

The Fine Palette of New York-Based Artist Petra Nimtz

Artist Petra Nimtz is the first to admit that a career in fine art was about as unfathomable to her twenty years ago as winding up in New York State from her native Germany. The artist has made a path for herself as an abstract painter, following her academic pursuits from country to country and state to state. Currently based both in Hudson Valley and Manhattan, Nimtz carefully pushes her practice forward with a nuanced look at texture and color. She is unafraid to explore alternative processes in her practice as well. ANTE sat down with Nimtz in her Midtown studio to peruse her recent works and pursue the depth of her considerations in art-making.

Petra Nimtz’ painting in situ (image courtesy the artist)

ANTE – Thanks Petra for sitting down with us today! So tell us: How did you get your start as an artist?

Petra Nimtz – I was born in Germany and left in 2002, ending up in Vancouver, BC, Canada. After two years, I began to think I should paint. I took a course at the Emily Carr institute and began sharing a studio, it all came together very naturally…

ANTE – And had you painted at all before that? 

PN – Yes, as a child – as a student in school, but I had never approached it other than as a student…

ANTE  – So not as a vocation?

PN Right, not until I lived in Vancouver. I began to study the basics of painting by starting with acrylics. I began this way, sharing a studio, working in acrylic before moving onto working with oil paints. Once I began working with oil, I was hooked immediately. I then visited NYC and began to study at the Art Students League in New York under Frank O’Kane, I know he’s still teaching – he’s quite a force of nature, and I love his work. I was writing down notes in his classes like a maniac… he mentioned Abstract Expressionists, all this information that was quite new to me – I had never studied art history, had never heard of that. Their work really resonated with me – he told me to study the painters who I liked, and that’s what I started doing and it helped me evolve my practice at my studio back in Canada.

ANTE  – What timeframe was this?

PN – This was about 2005-06 when I began working as a painter, and showing in local cafes in Vancouver. Living there in Vancouver at the time, the abstract art scene was not very active and I didn’t have much to look at, so in 2010 I moved to upstate New York for three months to rent a place to paint – a live/work space. A friend of mine directed me to Woodstock, so I went and spent three months there painting in a barn and going into New York City often. I then decided to move here – exactly ten years ago.

Petra Nimtz works between her studios in Woodstock and Midtown Manhattan

ANTE  – So then have you primarily been working in abstraction?

PN – Yes, I work in abstraction. I am an abstract artist, and I’m not interested in drawing or painting figuratively, or creating work with the human figure. I don’t want to pursue it. 

ANTE  – At the time you began living in Woodstock, were you working on a larger scale?

PN – The largest at that studio was 6×7’ size artwork, working in that barn. Actually when I began painting I started out smaller, but over the years I have become emboldened to try out larger sizes in my painting. I now like working in a 4×5’ format, it’s comfortable for me. 

ANTE  – Observing a work in progress, I do see some pencil and sketching/drawing, are you working with an oil stick as well?

PN – Yes, all of that – this particular work has so many layers. I work on multiple layers as each is still fresh – the paint is still wet, and for some works I’ll be building up, say, ten layers. I like showing layers and allowing them to shine through, giving them a chance to shine through – suffice it to say that I don’t spend too much time hiding the layers.

ANTE  – Can you talk about the brushstrokes you use in these artworks, particularly works in these smaller sizes? There is an expressive energy…

PN – Yes it’s easier for me to use looser brushstrokes – it’s more animated, what I like to call my “messy” paintings. I can work with a more expressive style in a smaller format, using a palette knife and brushes to create a more dynamic work. 

ANTE  – Do you frequently use a palette knife in your work?

PN – Yes, I use the edge of it: I use it to spread the paint onto the canvas directly. I can make strong and decisive gestures, and the paint can be applied more thickly. It allows me to direct my compositions and make certain areas of a painting stronger. This allows a certain side of the canvas to dominate the overall composition. I have been using the palette knife since I first delved into working with oil on canvas.

ANTE  – What is new to your recent work?

PN – The colors I utilize in my practice always change. The color palette varies organically according to my mood. 

ANTE  – Do you feel influenced by working in Woodstock?

PN  – Yes, it’s very inspiring – I’m surrounded by nature, blues and greens and whites. In nature, I’m inspired to paint using these colors. 

ANTE  – Do you feel that you are inspired by light in your work? 

PN  – I frequently do use white through the layers of my artworks, and I am often influenced by light in my work. While I frequently use white painting in my work, I don’t often work with purple as a color in my compositions. 

ANTE  –  Interesting to know! And do you work on a single painting at a time?

PN  – Oh no, I always work on multiple paintings at a time because I get stuck. I’ll get stuck on a work. I have multiple works in progress hanging on walls – I have quite a large studio space in Woodstock so it’s easier to move from one wall to another to change what I’m working on when I get stuck on a certain artwork. I have never worked on an easel; I always work on the wall. It helps me to work on several pieces at a time – I’ve always worked this way in my process, since I very first started painting.

Work by Petra Nimtz in situ (image courtesy the artist)

 

ANTE  – Tell me about your approach to painting: you already referenced infusing gesture with the palette knife, what other considerations inform your painting?

PN  – I’ve always worked with palette knife and brush, but now I’ve even used my hands or even gloves to directly apply paint to the canvas. I like working with different methods of application – brush, palette knife, hand – in contrast to create tension and create clear gestures in my work. It’s easier to carefully construct a composition borrowing from these different styles of line and gesture in a smaller format works, however. Smaller size works are easier to control this dialogue within. 

ANTE  – So you only work in painting? Not in other mediums?

PN  – I actually have also worked in monoprint, collage and works on paper. I’ll sometimes create a monoprint. I make monoprints in addition to paintings, but I don’t view this as my main style of work. Painting will always be my medium. 

ANTE – In terms of expanded practice: Do you frequently work in collage, or have you worked in other formats than oil on canvas? 

PN  – In 2015-16 I was working in acrylic a bit in addition to my oil painting, and around that time I started making collage a bit. Some of these works I’ve since covered with oil paint – since 2018, I’ve worked almost exclusively with oil paints. I was working with acrylic before, but it dries so fast and you can’t build up layers, so I returned to exclusively working with oil paints so that I could build up layers in my work. Adding a new element to the work with collage is exciting for me – I was happy to paint over my collage works with oil as it added it an exciting texture for me. 

ANTE  – Can you talk to us more about other artists whose work has inspired you?

PN  – I’m really interested in New York City as a moment in the 1950s and 60s and the artists who lived here then – they inspired one another, challenged one another, and built up a camaraderie. Reading about their lives, they were all wild. They were also great artists. Of course many wonderful women artists of this time period – Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell – continue to inspire me. Among contemporary artists, I love Amy Sillman. In addition to her wonderful practice she also has a great sense of humor that has come through when I’ve heard her speak. 

ANTE  – So what are you working on at the moment? Have you worked more in one certain style over, say, the past six months?

PN  – What I’ve liked recently is that my work has become more gestural, more loose. The style I call “Messy” – I think of Joan Mitchell and her messiness, which I love. I was thrilled to see my style evolve into this messier look – my painting style changes over time without planning out, but the positive feedback I’ve had from others is that while my style changes, it is always recognizable. My changes in style over time do shift, but it remains recognizable and I’m happy to go with the flow.

ANTE  – So a few years ago you mentioned that you had a studio in Bushwick before moving to this Midtown location, can you tell me about your experiences as an artist working in Bushwick?

PN  – Well, Paul D’Agostino who is very knowledgeable came out to visit my studio. He’s lovely and helped me – really became a great resource for me, he’s wonderful. He hosted a few shows at his studios, and suggested my work to other members of the community. I did enjoy being a part of the community as best I could, but I live in Woodstock – I was mostly in Bushwick on the weekends, most studios were closed and most artists were gone when I was working there. Here being based in Manhattan, it’s an easier commute and I can walk to Chelsea galleries and other nearby galleries to go observe the art exhibitions that are on at the moment.

ANTE  – So what exhibitions have you been in recently?

PN  – Well, I participated at a group show in Bushwick, and I’ve also recently shown with Julie Torres in a space just outside of Hudson in Hudson Valley, New York. It’s nice to have a footprint both in Woodstock and in New York City, I can appreciate the benefits of both.

ANTE  – So what exhibitions have you visited in recent days and months that you enjoyed? 

PN  – I finally went to the new MoMA, and enjoyed the Amy Sillman-curated section “The Shape of Shape” that they have on view now. Recently, I went to an interesting show in Chelsea (NYC) at Albertz Benda, “Substrate”. The show was really beautiful. I also did get the chance to witness the show at the Katonah Museum of Art, “Sparkling Amazons.” It was an intriguing show and I had the chance to learn about artists who were not previously known to me. There was also an intriguing show recently featuring artist Cat Balco, “My Exploding Stars,” at Rick Wester Fine Art.

Spiritual Awakenings: Langdon Graves’ “Month’s Mind” at Victori+Mo

In Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” the story’s protagonist, Mrs. Alving, is a woman driven nearly mad by the profligities of a husband since deceased. Her suspicions, agonies and fears manifest into lingering presences that she summarily labels as ‘ghosts’. “I am inclined to believe that we are all ghosts,” she mutters to a family confidant. While for Ibsen these ‘ghosts’ allude to one man’s sins, ghosts have remained a frequent reference point in literature throughout the centuries, as ghosts and hauntings have persistently crept into society’s consciousness. Every culture has held onto their own form of ghost stories. Yet, can ghosts remain congruent to our present reality in which data and security camera leave little room for subjectivity and conjecture?

“Month’s Mind” solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view at Victori+Mo (toward the rear of space)

One artist who is convinced they can is artist Langdon Graves, whose formidable solo show “Month’s Mind” remains on view at Victori+Mo through January 18, 2020. The subtlety of this curious exhibit lingers in the mind long after a visitor encounters Graves’ work. The exhibit features seemingly everyday objects often with a peculiar twist: pencils bend around tables, while maggots crawl through lifelike apples and flowers. These works appear in suprising configurations and cavalcades, locked in a frozen procession – a funereal march across a pastel-tinged space. Rooted in a carefully meted blend of autobiography and research-based practice, “Month’s Mind” marks an exhibit that hints at the delicate relationship between macabre and memorial, grief and the occult. The title itself refers to an old English practice of marking the memory of someone one month since deceased, and the contrast between soothing and morbid – a ‘finger’ hangs suspended from six feet below a spray of daisies on one wall of the exhibit – shifts its weight carefully throughout the expanse of space.

Another carefully balanced juxtaposition held firmly in place by Graves’ sure hand is the dissonance separating empricism and the supernatural. While data can indicate correlations, it cannot always explain: Graves knows as much from life experience. Raised with a strong memory of her grandmother, who recalled the artist’s great-grandfather’s mortician vocation and the religious experience of boarding school life at Georgetown Visitation Monastery, the artist recalls her grandmother’s tales of gruesome hauntings. Her earliest memory of her grandmother sharing a haunting occurred at a young age: as she recalls, her grandmother remembers that after a close relative passed on, she fell asleep only to awaken to gloves emerging from a nearby wardrobe. This mysterious tale became lodged firmly within the artist’s consciousness, spurring her onto a greater understanding of death: the attitudes toward it and how grief and trauma are processed.

If one seeks the very core of Graves’ practice, it rests rooted in the ideals we hold about the world around us. “All of my work starts out about belief, ” notes Graves, “I’ll study one subject and it leads into the next thing.” Here, the procession of research that Graves uncovered marches in step much like the ethereal arrangements spanning “Month’s Mind.” Spiritualism and women’s rights hold court alongside floriography, figures of speech and medical protocol. Most notable about the exhibit as a whole is not what is necessarily displayed physically, but how each work holds a palpable psychological presence that presages what is absent. Substance emerges from these objects, yes, but also from the shadows of meaning they cast.

 

“Month’s Mind”: a solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view at Victori+Mo (rear of space)

Another masterstroke of Graves’ exhibition is the seamless connections between seemingly disparate aspects of the works on view: a custom-made, sculpted “pencil” bent around a table’s edge references the Spiritualist movement of the late 1800s and the mediums of Lily Dale, New York. A bar of soap reaching out from the wall toward the viewer in the next room portrays women’s rights icon Susan B. Anthony. These two seemingly disparate objects contain a shared reference point in Lily Dale, New York. The town just one hour south of Buffalo, NY, was a canonic site for Spiritualists of the late 19th century, and a generative, supportive site for the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  Susan B. Anthony herself had close friends and supporters based in Lily Dale: she spoke at the memorial service of a dear friend and fellow activist who passed away in the town in 1890. Graves forms tightly held associations that link together her artworks as surely as we are linked to those who maintain their presence in our lives, yet just as tenuously as we hold onto those connections that fade with time after the passing of the ones we love.

Detail image from “Month’s Mind” : a solo exhibit of works by Langdon Graves; installation view

“Month’s Mind” is on view at Victori+Mo through January 18, 2020; the gallery is open on Saturdays 10-6 pm and by appointment. This marks Langdon Graves’ second solo exhibition at the gallery. Graves is a visiting professor at Pratt and teaches at Parsons School of Design, and her studio is in Brooklyn, NY. For more information, please visit the gallery’s website.

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

Phos Hilaron Brings a New Religion to the Heartland

On first impression, Ventiko’s Phos Hilaron: From the Masses Rise the Saints installation transports visitors to an altered state of Indiana. On view at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, 1125 East Brookside Avenue, Indianapolis, IN through November 29, the project draws from religious source imagery to transport viewers to an art experience for the masses. 

Phos Hilaron Altar View: Installation View at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, Indianapolis, IN
Phos Hilaron Altar View: Installation View at Schwitzer Gallery, CCIC, Indianapolis, IN

Corn hangs suspended from the ceiling, forcing the viewer through – all the while upending expectations the viewer may have of Indiana and its people. Once through the corn, the viewer is confronted with a scene reminiscent of a sacred Roman Catholic grotto. Candles are arranged delicately on an altar, draped with dark velvet and gold trim, and sacred relics used in the photographs on the same candles are displayed alongside them. As Santa Geri Berry, the Patron Saint of Inquiring Minds notes, “transported through the lines upside-down corn stalks and feeling immersed in them reinforced associations with the harvest, suggesting a very different sort of sacred realm, just as the Saints are very different from any usual idea of a Saint and a very different image of people from Indiana. I couldn’t help making a connection with Sukkot; it was like an altar in a Sukkah: a bringing together of a Jewish space with a Catholic type practice.” 

The references are intentional. Ventiko, the artist who organized Phos Hilaron for this Indianapolis iteration of the project, grew up Jewish in Indianapolis and first made a Sukkah out of corn stalks with her temple youth group when she was in high school. Returning to Indianapolis to expand upon Phos Hilaron: From the Masses Rise the Saints, this iteration focuses not just on the beauty of difference and individuality, but emphasizes homogeneity is not harmony: rather, that harmony is respect and inclusion of all. (The first iteration debuted at Chinatown Soup in Manhattan during the first 100 days of the Trump administration and featured a cross section of 100 urban creatives.) Over a four week period Ventiko photographed 59 ‘Saints’ from Indianapolis in intimately customized sets, helping them visualize their ‘Saint’ concept. The entire project was a collaboration between the artist and the Saint. The mythology of the Saint and the vision of the artist culminated in the installation, and also resulted a more intimate piece: a book. Organizing artist Ventiko reflects on her gratitude that so many creatives were excited to participate in this version of the project. “I am grateful to have been blessed by the beauty and power of so many wonderful Saints,” reflects the artist.

 

Artists who participated in the project have expressed the impact of their encounters with the artist as she was setting up the project. Santa Akilah, The Patron Saint of Patience, remarked, “When I first went to the photo shoot I didn’t know what to expect. As soon she started taking pictures I felt so comfortable and safe. She was able to capture my inner goddess in the picture.” Ventiko herself comments on this process of photographing her “Patron Saints”: “I see myself as a catalyst for the exaltation of the beauty of difference and elevation of the preciousness of individuality rather than one constructing or constricting the identity of any ‘Saint’ or person. It is a respect for difference, including freedom of thought, as well as idiosyncrasies that will ultimately lead to the unification of the human race and foster in a time when we all can work towards solving our global crises rather than consistently focusing on pettiness and being manipulated by propaganda.”

The project is successful on many levels, as reflected in these personal and meaningful reflections from participants. By opening up new avenues of communications for creatives in the Heartland, Phos Hilaron functions as a grassroots confirmation of the talent present in the vibrant city of Indianapolis. Bringing community together and thwarting expectations that outsiders may have of the area captures the double success of both re-affirming and introducing local talent to each other and to a wider audience.  “From day one, I knew this cutting edge, contemporary photography installation would take Indianapolis by storm. After hearing the various layers Phos Hilaron presented in NY and adding special dimensions for the Indianapolis chapter, I envisioned a communal based project that would uplift an entire state,” remarks Tony Quintana, The Patron Saint of Growth. Others including curator Maria Behringer have commented on the measure of warmth and acceptance this project has brought into their life. “Ventiko’s concept of community and inclusivity surrounding her Phos Hilaron project is exactly why we wanted to collaborate and bring her exhibition to Indianapolis. Her strong work ethic and creative process can easily be seen through her photography and the final Altar itself. We completely trusted her vision through the entire process. We are extremely grateful to have collaborated with her.”

Patron Saint of Inquiring Minds, Santa Geri Beri, part of Phos Hilaron on view in Indianapolis, IN

To make this project a reality Ventiko collaborated with the Indianapolis-based curators Quintana-Behringer. Ventiko’s studio was in the CCIC building (https://circlecityind.com/), a creative hub in downtown Indianapolis where Quintana-Behringer are located. Santo Aaron, The Patron Saint of Technodeath describes working with Ventiko: “It was serendipity how we met. The chance encounter of coming into a space and meeting another creative that was on the hustle and making something huge and fantastic honestly inspired us at Soundspace to do better. Instead of this being an empty office having Ventiko here made it feel more like a home.” Two weeks into the project Soundspace (https://sndspc.com/) moved in to share the space which is Soundspace Beta and soul connections flourished. Ventiko looks forward to expanding the exhibition to London in 2020 as there are many more Saints to canonize their, bringing the project to a new community ready to embrace their inner Sainthood. 

 

 

 

Word Up! A Standout Moment for Text-Based Art at C24 Gallery


In an era rampant with political protest and 
the multitudinous voices of social media, Word Up!- co-curated by Sharon Louden at C24 Gallery, knows what’s up.

Installation view featuring installation “Moral History” by Karen Finley for C24’s Word Up!

Word Up! marks an exhibition that takes risks and is rewarded with a keen grasp of contemporary self-expression. Considering a contemporary art scene saturated more than ever with sociopolitical viewpoints, the time is more than ripe for this exquisite-and timely-exhibition. Featuring works by Liana Finck, Deborah Kass, Karen Finley, Meg Hitchcock and many more, this exhibit marks fearless departure into the diverse ways in which words infiltrate and emerge in contemporary art.

Spanning interdisciplinary artistic practices, this contemporary survey show featured video, photography, installation, painting and mixed media. Karen Finley’s incisive, provocative and genuinely humorous installation, located on the exhibit’s lower level, provides a stunning focal point from which to consider the contemporary art lexicon engulfing the viewer in Word Up! Comprised of archival materials assembled as a centrepiece – a la Judy Chicago’s Dinner Table, if you will – Finley has annotated the materials she has presented to create a thought-provoking work centered around representation, identity and exclusion. Clever illustrations by renowned artist Liana Finck and the inundating, undulating works by Meg Hitchcock also prove to be standouts in this stunning exhibition. Presentation is key, and visitors are grabbed at the entrance by a video work by artist David Krippendorff, whose work also inhabits space on the lower level near Karen Finley’s installation. Hrag Vartanian  and Deborah Kass, art critic and artist and notable public artist respectively, also have work on view in this carefully curated presentation of works written expressly into the social consciousness that forms the fabric of contemporary text-based artistic practice.

“Persephone” Meg Hitchcock, installation view in “Word Up!”

Word Up! is on view at C24 gallery from 9/26-11/9/2019.

 

 

Neon Love: Indira Cesarine x Le Board curated by Jenny Mushkin Goldman

Valentine’s day promises to bring vivid red and pink hues to the forefront, and nowhere are these bright inviting tones more welcome than at Le Board for the opening reception of works by Indira Cesarine in Indira Cesarine x NEONOpening Thursday, February 14 from 5-8 pm, and on view through April 13 at 800b 5th Avenue, the exhibit presents original neon artworks by Cesarine, and signals the inauguration of Le Board’s artist in residence program in partnership with Untitled Space. Curated by the renowned Jenny Mushkin Goldman, of KIN + GOLD, Indira Cesarine x NEON  features stunning recent neon compositions by the artist. Opening night also includes carefully crafted cocktails by McQueen and The Violet Fog and Mi Campo, and even a surprise experience by Receptra Naturals.

INDIRA CESARINE “lust (violet),” 2018.

 

Displaying Cesarine’s perceptive eye toward feminist topics and witty wordplay, Indira Cesarine x NEON proves to be a formidable survey of contemporary neon installation artworks dealing with activism and social justice. Considering the weight of words both heavy and light, these neon expressions give voice to contemporary issues while engaging directly with contemporary culture. Under the precise eye of Mushkin-Goldman, Indira Cesarine x NEON allows Cesarine’s works to shine and reach a whole new array of visitors.

 

Sponsored by Le Board, a Part French-part Greek, New York living brand founded by John Aghayan and creative directed by Sofia Karvela, this partnership is sure to light up a brand new experience for art lovers and those who live inspired by culture, fashion, and fine art.

 

For more details about the event and to RSVP please visit the event page.