What Makes a “Keeper”? New Museum Curator Natalie Bell on Collecting as Art

Original article published in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art

The New Museum’s current show The Keeper, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, pushes the boundaries of the definition of art by exploring practices of collecting and preserving objects as the subject of a museum exhibition.

The Keeper features expansive collections of items compiled by artists, scholars, collectors and hoarders over the past century which provide viewers with opportunities to muse on how the things that people amass and safeguard speak to their identities. How does what we decide to keep reflect upon who we are? Themes of memory, struggle, loss, the need for comfort, and the passing of time also pervade the four-story exhibition.

keeper2Installation view of The Keeper, featuring a sculptural installation by Carol Bove and Carlo Scarpa, and paintings by Hilma af Klint

Included are works like Canadian artist-curator Ydessa Hendele’sPartners “The Teddy Bear Project” (2002), which comprises more than 3,000 antique portraits of people and their teddy bears, Shinro Ohtake’s manic collaged scrapbooks (1979-2016), and Susan Hiller’s “The Last Silent Movie” (2007-2008), an audio work sounding the voices of the speakers of twenty-five extinct or dying languages.

While many of the collections of items included in the show are impressive and thought provoking, it’s not difficult, as a viewer, to wonder: Is simply compiling a quantity of something enough to call it art? Jose Falconi, postdoctoral fellow at the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, critiques:

“Some of the pieces, most notably Ydessa Hendeles’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)” are pieces which do not have much more merit than the mere act of collecting itself. An act that is, as we all know, one of the most basic tricks in the artist book: any object starts acquiring new meaning when they are collected — just as any object starts acquiring a new meaning when they are rendered in a different scale (very big, very small). In that way, The Keeper does very little to show that there is anything beyond putting into motion such a trick and conflating many different possible readings of the works gathered in it. What is, for example, the critical difference between hoarding and collecting? Is one simply the result of an impulse gone astray?

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 Installation view of Ydessa Hendele’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)” (2002)

Supposedly the show is about showing that behind such repetitious acts there is something else lurking around, but I didn’t see it; the exhibition almost presents as mere celebration of collecting without any criticality. In other words: it suffers from what it is trying not to show.”

The answer to the question of the validity of collecting or amassing objects as art may certainly be up for debate, but one idea that seems to be paramount in understanding the value of a show like this, according to Writer and former New Museum Technician Matthew Blair, could be considering curating as the art form itself:

The Keeper either raises the status of curating to a form of art-making, or blurs the lines between collecting and creating; between curating and art-making. The curators at The New Museum have always had an interest in mounting shows that tend to [utilize] more than just content and juxtaposition. They organize shows that put more of the onus on the curators — changing the role of curating to being the dominant mode of exhibiting.”

Therefore, in part, it could be said that it is The New Museum’s commitment to allowing for experimental curatorial practices that is one of the elements most on display in The Keeper, more so than any individual work.

keeper4Shinro Ohtake, “Scrapbooks” (1979-2016)

keeper5Reproduction of drawing from “The Sketchbook from Auschwitz” (original drawing included in the collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum), (ca. 1943) 

In the following interview, New Museum Assistant Curator Natalie Bell, who collaborated on The Keeper with Mr. Gioni provides further insight on collecting, identity, and explorations of preserving and protecting as art.

Artifactoid: From your perspective, what do you think are some of the most important things that The Keeper reveals in regards to how collecting objects relates to our identity? Are there any works that you think make some of the biggest statements? Which ones and why?

Natalie Bell: Well, almost by definition, any collection is going to reflect its collector, whether it’s merely a matter of taste or representative of a unique philosophy or set of beliefs.  In this show, of course we were interested in collections that tell a story about someone’s beliefs, or an unlikely faith that certain objects and images could prove or validate an otherwise irrational or obscure idea, which is not true of everything in the exhibition, but is a significant recurring feature of many of its “keepers.” The first that comes to mind is Roger Caillois, a French theorist who collected rare stones because he believed they could reveal a shared cosmic history — which is not such a far-fetched thought if you think about the cosmic scope of geological formations. Or Wilson Bentley, who pioneered microphotography and amassed over five thousand negatives of snowflakes to prove his hypothesis that no two snowflakes are alike. But these are instances in which collecting relates to identity, if identity is understood as one’s beliefs, which is not always how we think about identity.

keeper6Oil on canvas paintings by Hilma af Klint (1914-1915)

Which works make the biggest statements? An important footnote to Hilma af Klint’s luminous abstract paintings from 1914-15 is that she had stipulated, at the time of her death, that they be withheld from the public, or basically kept secret until twenty years after her death. So essentially she believed that her work, which was not so well received in her lifetime, would only be truly appreciated in the future. But maybe the most powerful work for me is one that combines a belief in a future discovery and an enormous moral imperative to bear witness, which are the drawings from an author known by the initials “MM,” which were found hidden in a bottle in the barracks near the gas chambers at Auschwitz and are among very few images made in Auschwitz that actually depict the atrocities of abuse, torture, and mass extermination. Clearly, the artist who made these knew the severity of punishment he would encounter if he was caught making these images, and he took enormous risk to document what was so impossibly horrific and was otherwise being assiduously hidden by the Nazis.

Artifactoid: In what ways is the idea of collecting and quantity important in art? When we call a collection of things art, what, in your opinion, are the effects or significances of that?

NB: Personally I don’t think quantity or collecting are virtues in themselves, but one way to think about how collecting or quantity have importance in art is that a dedicated accumulation of anything reflects someone’s passion, and maybe at times, their obsession — and alongside that, we tend to regard an artist’s zealousness or compulsiveness as a creative virtue. In a sense, this exhibition is maybe guilty of exploiting the legacy of romanticism, but the effect is perhaps visitors come away from the show with a new way of thinking about what it means to be creative. But it wasn’t a particular agenda of ours to anoint these bodies of work or collections as “art,” but rather to reflect on what is essential and universal about our emotional attachment to things, and how forming bonds with things helps us cope with our mortality.

keeper762 consecutive annual studio portraits of Ye Jinglu, collected by photography collector Tong Bingxue, (1901-1963)

Artifactoid: When considering the compiling of objects as art (which I was speaking about with Jose Falconi about), are there some important distinctions in your opinion about the practice of collecting versus hoarding?

NB: There are important distinctions, some of them arguable, but first of all I think you could call collecting a practice in the sense that it’s intentional and a collector might have to make decisions about what to acquire and what not to acquire, what’s worth keeping and what’s not worth keeping. Hoarding, on the other hand, is regarded as a pathological condition, and people who hoard have a compulsion to keep everything and suffer enormous anxiety about parting with anything. In other words, it comes down to being judicious about what you surround yourself with and having a capacity to refine one’s collection, rather than just keeping everything.

But in the framework of our thinking about the show, maybe the matter of preserving and protecting opens up something more contentious — which is that people who hoard often believe that they’re preserving the things that they keep for some future opportunity, and that their guardianship is essential. And there’s also maybe a shared psychological impulse in which amassing things can be a way of coping. But the arguable difference in my mind is that if you hoard, you’re constantly compromising your capacity to actually take good care of the things you have. That, and the fact that no one wants to become a hoarder. It’s considered a condition for good reason!

Artifactoid: There was a connection of several of the works to World War II and the Holocaust. Who decided to include multiple of those works, and why do you think that the idea of “collecting” is important related to that period in history?

NB: There are a few works that may stand out because of their relationship to the Holocaust, but I don’t think the idea of “collecting” is more related to that period in history than to others. Of course, it’s interesting generally to think about people’s relationship to material culture vis-a-vis larger historical events. It can manifest as a pragmatic approach, like how many Americans who came of age during the depression and remember the rationing of WWII have a tendency to reuse and salvage things that we might otherwise consider disposable. But this is more a trauma of poverty or scarcity that spurs collecting as a preventative measure. In other words, is my grandpa’s drawer full of golf pencils the product of his emotional attachment to these objects? Not really, considering that he has the same attitude toward saving ketchup packets from fast food restaurants.

keeper8Detail from Henrik Olesen’s “Some Gay-Lesbian Artists and/or Artists relevant to Homo-Social Culture Born between c. 1300–1870″ (2007)

keeper9The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1916-1992), Insurance Clerk from Vienna, preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser (1993-2008)

But, that said, in this exhibition we weren’t so interested in the idea of collecting in a broad sense, but in something quite specific, which is a desire to preserve and protect and care for certain objects and images, so rather looking for instances where there’s a certain desire or love that’s motivating someone to action. This is a very different sort of mandate — and one that’s as subjective as it is emotional. But to return to the parts of the show that touch on the Holocaust, I think that there are potentially a lot of connections to collecting. Obviously, collecting as a form of bearing witness takes on a real urgency when there is a genocide that attempted to leave no evidence of mass exterminations, but on an emotional and psychological level, forging emotional attachments to objects is a common way of coping with the trauma, so it should be no surprise that WWII and the Holocaust stand out as something of a focal point in a show whose historical scope includes the last century.

Floors 1-3 of The Keeper will be on view at The New Museum (235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002) through Sunday, October 2nd, 2016. The fourth floor of the exhibit will be open through Sunday September 25th.

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Vanitas and Explorations of Eroticism in Consumer Culture: In Conversation with David Baskin

The art scene in Bushwick is of the most thriving in New York, and it attracts artists that span the spectrum of early-career through well-established. David Baskin is an artist of the latter category. He is a conceptual sculptor who has exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, Sculpture Center, and NYC’s Grace Building lobby (commissioned by Arts Brookfield), among other recognized institutions both in the US and internationally. While Baskin’s sculptures range from structures as ornate as antique chandeliers to hyper-simplified monochromatic mold-like forms, they all share the common thread of being comprised of recognizable everyday objects.

Following a v cool studio visit to Baskin’s Bushwick creative space, Artifactoid sits down with the artist to discuss his work in connection with the 17th century Dutch artistic traditions that inspired it, as well as its relevance in contemporary society, problematizing the relationship between human beings and material possessions throughout the ages.

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What inspired you to work with the art historical idea of vanitas?

The Vanitas project began with the idea of using art historical models to address contemporary issues, specifically consumerism. Many of the Dutch vanitas paintings were made during the Dutch Golden Age, roughly spanning the 17th century. I saw a relevant connection between this period and our present day culture. The Dutch created the first modern market economy, which can be seen as a model for our capitalistic system. The East India Company was the first multinational corporation and was financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. To finance the growth of trade and the economy, the Bank of Amsterdam was established, a forerunner to the modern central bank.

Obviously, every work of art is a product of the time period in which it was created and I see the Vanitas paintings as having a particularly unique connection with the socio-economic climate of the Dutch Golden Age.

An abundance of commodities based on mercantile trade comprised much of the objects on display in these paintings. I saw this as having a direct relationship to our current consumer culture. One of the Flemish painters who exemplified this connection the most was Adriaen van Utrecht. His work depicted a sumptuous and abundant display of objects, ranging from exotic fruits, flowers, dead animals, glassware and foreign and local luxury items that were available in the 17th century Antwerp markets. These paintings, depicting a range of “consumer goods,” brought to mind retail stores and malls where a seemingly endless amount of products are on display to entice consumer desire. Clearly these historic works can be seen in a contemporary consumerist light.

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(Above: Still Life with Bouquet and Skull by Adriaen van Utrecht)

Describe the connection between consumerism and vanitas present in your work– ideas of vanitas in our contemporary culture. How did the intersection of these concepts lead you to develop your different series of works, including your still life pieces and fountain?

I initially became interested in the notion of the “still life” through my interest in consumer culture and retail display strategies. Abundance is a central theme to the historical still life and it seemed to me that the notion of the contemporary “still life” was more relevant in a retail context than solely in an art historical context.

I also saw the 17th Century Calvinistic message to renounce earthly possessions as a kind of early consumer critique. The historical vanitas paintings represented a moral lesson that would have been understood by early Dutch viewers. The message had religious overtones that emphasized the transience of life and the need for moderation and temperance, particularly when it came to amassing wealth and possessions. The irony here was that many of the paintings were commissioned by the merchant class and became commodified and highly prized as valuable possessions in themselves. A kind of meta-fetishization occurred, reinforcing the idea that an artwork isn’t separate from a market economy.

The “still life” sculptures that I make incorporate these ideas by bridging the historic model with our contemporary consumer culture. All of the objects in the sculptures were store bought and my active role, on one level, is as a consumer. I selected chromed objects to emphasis a false sense of desire and value, most items arranged in the sculptures are kitsch and ersatz products that are ubiquitous throughout the retail landscape.

The fountain sculpture is also an extension of the Vanitas project. Instead of chromed metal, all the objects on display are made of glass and crystal. I was thinking about the original purpose and function of a fountain as a source of drinking water for residents of villages and how now it can be seen as a symbol of personal and corporate wealth, power and excess.

fountain 2

What is your selection process like for the different items/elements that go into each of your still lives?

Some items directly reference objects and symbols that one would find in the historical work… a skull, flowers, and animals. But mostly, I was looking for a cross section of consumer goods that everybody could identify and relate to. Some items create vignettes within the larger group of objects and all were made either in China, Mexico, South East Asia and India, reflecting the current international manufacturing hubs based on globalization and free trade policies.

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What led you to create the works, “Still Life (Cosmetic Bottles),” and “Dove Bottles?” What did you learn about consumer culture from creating this project, and in which ways was the result of the piece either different from or similar to your original imagining of the work?

The sculpture “Still Life”(Cosmetic Bottles) was the first work of art I made that addressed the still life as subject. It comprises a selection of store bought cosmetic bottles that were cast in pigmented urethane rubber. A mold was made directly off of the original manufactured forms. By re-contextualizing the products in a fleshy colored rubber and by stripping them of their brand recognition, logos, or semiotic labeling, one begins to see the high aesthetic quality of these objects and what was once a latent eroticism now becomes quite overt. By revealing the “naked” forms of the bottles one can see the strategies and narratives designers incorporate to sell products and act upon the subconscious desires of consumers.

Still life-CosmeticBottles

Similarly, the Dove Bottle piece follows the same strategies as “Still Life” (Cosmetic Bottles). A variety of colored cast resin Dove bottles were installed in the window of the gallery, Carriage Trade, NY, NY, for the exhibition: Market Forces, Consumer Confidence. As with retail shelving and window displays, the objects on view were meant to engage the viewer on a purely visual level. Referencing planned obsolescence and the endless quantity of consumer products the bottles also become stand-ins for minimalist sculptural strategies. The window installation inside the gallery intentionally set up a dialog with the external retail environment in Soho, once the center of New York City’s art world.

dove bottles 1

How did you decide to show your works inside display cases? How does this decision affect the experience of the work?

Once I began making the sculpture I was confronted with the issue of presentation. The objects in a traditional still life were always on a table or some sort of substrate and there was a great deal of attention paid to the arrangement and relationship between each item on display. It was a type of stage setting, a mise-en-scene that created a space of intentionality. I brought these ideas into my sculptures and decided a vitrine would be the best framing and display device. On one level, the pieces are a kind of Wunderkrammer or Cabinet of Curiosities. The vitrine creates a literal and conceptual border for the objects and artifacts. I also was very much aware of the role of the vitrine in institutional museum display and it’s relationship to retail window display. Each serve to heighten the intrinsic or aesthetic value of the object and can be seen to have a direct relationship to the shop window in the rise of commodity culture going as far back as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace and the Parisian Arcades in Walter Benjamin’s theoretical writings.

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If you are in the US, see Baskin’s work this fall in Brooklyn at Smack Mellon, “20yrs,” from November 12 -December 31, 2016, and if you are in Europe, at the MU Museum, “For Play,” from October 7th – November 30th in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

About David Baskin:

David Baskin received a BFA from The Cooper Union in 1987. Solo exhibitions include Arts Brookfield, Grace Building Lobby, NYC,  Freight+Volume Gallery, NY, NY; Sculpture Center, NY, NY; Ingalls & Assoc., Miami, Fl and Black and White Gallery,  Brooklyn, NY. Selected group exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; Marianne Boesky Gallery, NY; Carolina Nitsch, NY, NY; Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NY,NY; Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, NY; Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy; Musée de Design et d’arts Appliqués Contemporains, Lausanne, Switzerland; Carriage Trade, NY, NY; Galerie Erna Hecey; Brussels, Belgium; Lesile Heller Gallery, NY, NY; Rudolf Budja Gallery, Vienna, Austria; Flag Art Foundation, NY, NY. Honors and awards include McDowell Fellowship, NH; Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Yaddo Fellowship, NY; Commission through Brookfield Properties for a lobby installation at the Grace Building, NY, NY. He has taught at the Cooper Union School of Art, New York Institute of Technology and was a visiting critic at the School of Visual and Arts, NY, NY; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, and the University of Buffalo, NY. David Baskin was one of the original members of the Brooklyn based non-profit art organization Smack Mellon and he lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Marks of Permanence on Paper and Skin: In Conversation with David Sena

In NYC’s Little Italy, nestled into the west side of Centre Street near Grand Street, you’ll find one of the neighborhood’s cultural gems: David Sena’s tattoo parlor and art gallery, Senaspace. Sena, a world famous tattoo artist and fine artist known for using pyrotechnic techniques to create large-scale wall pieces, recently invited Artifactoid to his workshop at Brooklyn Art Studios to catch a glimpse of some of his latest projects and techniques. Check out our Q&A with exclusive video footage below, and stop by Senaspace for the latest show or some fresh ink.
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Artifactoid: Tell me about your background using pyrotechnic techniques in your art. How did they evolve and lead to “Colored Smoke?”

DS: I began using the pyrotechnic techniques in my art work about 20 years ago… I was in art school at The Cooper Union and one day was at a gallery in SoHo where I saw an artist that had done some “paintings” or drawings on canvas with candle soot.  For one of my 2D Design assignments we were to do a self portrait using the grid system to breakdown the image into small squares and then assign a value to each square. Then, the portrait was made with the collection of values in the grid, similar to a Chuck Close painting.  Remembering the candle soot drawings, I thought to use a lighter to burn in different values from light to dark on the grid layout.  This was my first experience using fire to make art.
 Sena3

The following year I was in a drawing course, and was looking for new ways to make marks on paper.  Traditional mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and ink weren’t giving me the look or aesthetic I was looking for and my thoughts went back the lighter portrait.  As a child I had a big fascination with fire and always loved lighting off fireworks.  I remembered from experiences how the fireworks would sometimes leave behind burnt marks on the concrete or wooden surfaces I would light them off on.  So I had an idea to get some fireworks, light them off on a sheet of paper and see what happened.  I acquired some fireworks in Chinatown, did some experiments, and right away had found what I was looking for.  Since then I have built a large selection of techniques using fireworks and other volatile materials to make my art.

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Artifactoid: Describe how you created the mechanism you developed to make the “Colored Smoke” pieces. 

DS: The “Colored Smoke” pieces  were created by using a few different tools, i.e, a compass, which the colored smoke bombs can be mounted on, then used to draw lines on the paper with.  The smoke bombs emit colored smoke and saturate the paper when directed at the surface.

Artifactoid: What are some of the biggest challenges that come along with making this type of art, and how did you overcome them?

DS: I would say constantly being cautious and safe with using fire in a controlled environment is one of the biggest challenges.

This is constantly on my mind – to be aware of what I’m doing and not let any particular process or fire get out of hand to where an unwanted fire is started. Fire can obviously be dangerous, so I rigorously remain alert to any prevent any accidents.

Artistically, the challenge is to make art and not wind up with simply a burnt piece of paper. I am exerting different amounts of control over the process but not everything can be foreseen so I have to be open to the marks the fireworks make and use them to best accomplish the desired design and composition.  The process builds upon itself and I am always finding new techniques as I work with different pyrotechnics and tools.

Artifactoid: How does your career as a tattoo artist influence your additional artistic practices?

DS: My career as a tattoo artist has coexisted well with my studio work. I feel they are very similar in their very direct and permanent means of making marks on paper or skin,  just as I cannot erase a tattooed line, I cannot undo a burnt line on paper.  The tattoo imagery I work with has also come to be included in some of the more illustrative subjects of my fire drawings.  Luckily my career as a tattoo artist has provided me with the time and resources to keep making my fine art, all the while keeping my hand and mind in creative practice.

Artifactoid: What are some other ideas and techniques for pyrotechnic art you’re looking forward to testing out in the future?

DS: I would like to start doing larger-scale projects and installations with my pyrotechnic techniques.  I would also like to incorporate light and video projections as I did in some early work.

Tonight, Thursday, July 14th 2015 from 6PM-9PM, is the opening reception for “New Amsterdam, Photographs by Richard Koek” at Senaspace, 229 Centre Street, New York, NY. Look forward to seeing you there!

Interview with Eduardo Navarro: Instructions from the Sky at Frieze New York 2016

This year at Frieze New  York, a select handful of renowned artists executed unique live performances as a part of the fair’s special projects series. One of those artists was Eduardo Navarro, a talent I follow from Buenos Aires, Argentina. You may remember him from the article I wrote in January that explored his work with the Guagua Pichincha volcano in Ecuador.

Returning to work with natural forces, Navarro exhibited a piece at Frieze titled, “Instructions from the Sky,” which focused on the unpredictable movement of clouds. The meditative, eye-opening project featured a troop of dancers dressed in sculptural mirrored discs, enacting choreography that reflected the behavior of the sky floating above Randall’s Island during the fair. In this interview, Artifactoid sits down with Navarro to talk inspiration, vulnerability, and what he liked best at Frieze this year.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to create “Instructions from the Sky?” 

EN: Reading a meteorology book my dad has, called, “Learning to Read Clouds.”

Artifactoid: Does “Instructions from the Sky” relate to any of the other great projects you’ve done that involve nature?

EN: Not really; this work is a mixture of different approaches I’ve had in other projects; it’s between sculpture and performance. It’s about connecting with something much larger than us and not having control.

Artifactoid: How did the way that the sky behaved during Frieze New York affect how these iterations of the performance turned out?

EN: Since the sky was telling us what to do, we had to adjust, and in many cases we were not able to go outside and perform. When it rained, we played and experimented with the reflections of the mirrors inside.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important things that you learned from creating this project?

EN: It was great to delegate control, but it has a price; that price is anxiety. It was great to learn to not pay attention to the anxiety of the audience, and to feel free to improvise. I tricked myself into thinking it was always a rehearsal, and it was somehow.

Artifactoid: What are some of the key differences you’ve noticed between presenting a work at an art fair versus a gallery or museum?

EN: Well, for example, this project was perfect for a fair; if the weather was bad, people still had something to see!

Artifactoid: Aside from your own work of course, what were some highlights of Frieze New York 2016 for you?

EN: I completely fell in love with “Gabriel,” the donkey that performed for Maurizio Cattelan’s work.

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(Above: Eduardo Navarro)

To experience Navarro’s work currently in NYC, head over to P! (334 Broome St.) for their show titled, “For Every Purpose,” which features his project, Títulos (2007-2015), through June 26th, 2016.

The Redefined Gallery Opening: There’s No Art on the Walls and Everyone is Staring at their Phones (+ Bonus Interview with a Feminist Sex Worker)

When Artifactoid first launched, I wrote an article about a work of art by artist Joel Holmberg at the New Museum, in which Holmberg worked with the concept of privacy in the digital age. The piece transcribed a telephone conversation between Holmberg (the artist) and a customer service representative, during which Holmberg expressed security concerns related to possibly publicly having overshared (in a published interview) answers to his private security questions that granted access to his bank account. According to the New Museum,

Holmberg’s work questions how we ‘secure’ ourselves amid a proliferation of consumer identities that are subject to collection, monetization, and surveillance by an indiscernible number of forces, from private companies to third-party marketers to the government.”  

While the topic of cybersecurity might be difficult for some to digest as “art,” it makes sense that more and more artists are working with the idea, as it is such an integrated and controversial, growing part of our daily lives. In Chelsea, REVERSE (an experimental gallery run by artist Andrea Wolf) recently opened a unique art show titled, BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, curated by Helena Acosta and Miyö Van Stenis, that takes an original approach to the topic of online privacy. 

Unlike most gallery openings where the art is displayed on the walls (or is at least plainly visible or audible), at BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, I entered the REVERSE space only to see attendees sitting on beanbag chairs or standing around, all staring down at their cell phones, privately absorbed in works of art displayed on their personal screens.

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On one hand, this style of opening seemed like the anti-social dystopia of the future of the digital age that I’m afraid of, and at the same time, it was intriguing, because presenting an art show in this way was a bold choice. All of the artwork in the show lives on five hacked routers, accessible in the gallery space only through viewers’ smart phones or tablets, and all of the artwork is related to the central concept of “The Privacy Paradox.”

If you’re not familiar with The Privacy Paradox, it is the idea that when it comes to privacy in the digital age, internet users’ concerns about privacy don’t reflect their online behavior. For instance, while many people may agree that privacy is important, those same people are over-sharing their data online.

Not only were the artists’ individual works related to this theme, but the art show as a whole embodied the idea of exploring the digital public vs. private by way of hacking the routers: the powerful data sharing devices were transformed (by occupy.here) into limited devices offering private experiences.

The way that the show works is that visitors are able to access the artwork by following a simple list of instructions available at the entrance to the gallery. The instructions essentially boil down to: open your device’s browser and visit the proprietary website designated for the BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX exhibition. Then, in your phone’s wi-fi settings, connect your phone to one of the hacked routers at a time, each named for a specific artist. Then, go back to the website, which changes to feature the artist’s work whose router you’re currently connected to, and offers each viewer a private experience of that artwork.

From bizarre to taboo, featured projects included Electronic Graveyard No. 2 by Carla Gannis, Stranger Visions by Heather Dewey Hagborg, I am a data slave and so are you by Jennifer Lyn Morone, ID by LaTurbo Avedon, and Hooker Meditation Exercise by Annie Rose Malamet.

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I particularly liked the work by Annie Rose Malamet, which examines anonymity, fear, and visibility in relation to sex work. For the project, Annie used her own advertisements, client voicemails, and original footage to create a narrative of her time spent “in exile to the fringes of polite society.” It is a piece about “the anxiety of being discovered and a reflection on [her] own identity as a feminist whore.”

It was a brave project that exposed her a lot. Literally, Annie Rose was wearing sheer lingerie and talking about getting kicked out of her apartment once her roommate found out that she was a sex worker, then moving back into her parents’ house and trying to center herself through her own guided meditation exercise.

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Her original perspective, sense of humor, and unconventional imagery were the perfect recipe for a transfixing piece. I’m excited to share that Ms. Malamet agreed to sit down with me for a brief Q&A about her project and her participation in BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, featured below:

Artifactoid: What do you think of the style of the show and how it affects the way art is experienced?

ARM: I never really understood the gallery format of viewing art as a concept, especially in the context of an exhibition opening. I find it particularly hard to absorb video/new media work in this setting. What I like about the Beautiful Interfaces show is that viewing the work is a private experience that you don’t have to share with other viewers. I’m very greedy and I prefer to look at art by myself through my headphones. This is part of why I make net/video art; it is a democratic art form in that sense that anyone can look at a website or watch a video from the comfort and privacy of their bedroom. I like to imagine people watching my work in bed with their headphones. I have never had a life-changing experience looking at art in a gallery setting. When I saw the Pieta in Rome, I was extremely disappointed because it was jam packed with people and situated in such a way that the intimacy of that sculpture was lost. All of my best viewing experiences have been in my own home. I love that Beautiful Interfaces kind of replicates that by making the experience one you share intimately with your personal device. I think it’s a great format for my piece in particular because the video is all about privacy and isolation. I honestly feel it replicates the existence of being a sex worker; we are in very isolated, controlling, and private relationships with our phones.

Artifactoid: What was it like participating in a show like Beautiful Interfaces? 

ARM: Participating in this show was frankly, a scary experience. Being in a room with a large group of people watching a video showing you completely naked and talking about sex work is an indescribable experience. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I was initially quite scared to “come out” in this way, to reveal so much of who I am and how I process the world. Perhaps this is my own anxiety and insecurity, but I could feel people watching the video, eyes falling on me and thinking, “ok that’s the girl who made the video about escorting.” Whenever I come out to someone I can almost hear them wondering how much it costs to spend time with me. I mean, who wouldn’t wonder that? To have that happen on a large scale is overwhelming. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of what I produced and what Helena, Miyo, and Andrea created. I think the concept of this show is genius and premonitory vision of how art will be viewed in the years to come.

Artifactoid: How did you go about creating your project with this unique style in mind?

ARM: I created this video during a period of turmoil in my life. When your life is chaotic and you are struggling, your phone becomes your lifeline. So when I was making the video I was always thinking about what it would look like on my phone. After all, most of it was filmed on my phone. The piece was made with this always in mind. I wanted to create something kind of quiet and intimate that is best experienced through headphones. 

BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX is on view at REVERSE (516 W 25TH Street, Suite #306) through May 14th. It is truly an amazing, original gallery experience that I recommend checking out for yourself! To note, in order to see the work, you’ll need to go to REVERSE on a Tuesday or Thursday, any time between 1PM and 7PM, and bring your own device with headphones.

In addition, today, May 4th, REVERSE will be hosting a panel at Creative Tech Week called, Post Privacy: Is privacy becoming a thing of the past? at 3:45 PM at the Clemente Center (116 Suffolk St, New York, NY). Hope to see you there!

Interview: Founder, Designer, Director and Curator Prem Krishnamurthy

Whenever you go to an art show, it is not only important to consider the art itself, but the space and context within which it is presented. These are all factors that exhibition designers, curators, and artists consider when working to bring an exhibition to life. At a recent, engaging panel at Americas Society, Prem Krishnamurthy and Shannon Harvey of Project Projects shared expert insight on many key elements of putting together an art show from start to finish. In this exclusive interview, Artifactoid sits down with Krishnamurthy, designer and founder of Project Projects, an award-winning graphic design studio, as well as the director and curator of P!, a critically-acclaimed exhibition space in New York’s Chinatown, to chat about curation and exhibition design, his eight-year dedicated study of East German graphic designer Klaus Wittkugel, a new experimental artist residency onboard commercial cargo ships, and more.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important elements of curation and exhibition design to pay attention to when viewing an art show?

PK: I find that the most important thing to consider when viewing an exhibition is: what is the exhibition’s intention? What is it trying to persuade you of? How is it mobilizing the entire exhibition apparatus (or “exhibition prosthetics,” to use artist Joseph Grigely‘s term) starting from the press release (both text and design), checklist, display mechanisms, placement, lighting, contextual information, etc. in order to make a point or sell something? If you can understand the context and polemics of any given exhibition — especially in so-called “white cube” exhibitions, which make a claim to objectivity — then you have a better sense of where you, as the viewer, are being asked to stand.

Artifactoid: At a gallery show, museum exhibit, or art fair, what are the roles of the curator, the exhibition designer, and the artist? How do their roles differ, and on which aspects do they collaborate or exchange/interchange roles?

PK: Typically, these roles are intertwined — and thankfully so. Even though exhibition credits panels like to simplify and separate these roles, in the best exhibitions, there is a healthy overlap and intersect between content, mediation, and display. Not every exhibition has all three roles explicitly, but they are implicit in the work of making exhibitions.

Artifactoid: What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a curator, and how did you overcome them?

PK: I don’t come from a curatorial background; rather, I studied art, focusing on photography and graphic design, and was drawn to organizing exhibitions and programs early on. Although I’ve always had ideas for projects, as I began over the past 8 or so years to focus more rigorously on curating, I discovered I had a lot about the professional practice of the field to figure out. However, I’ve had the great advantage of having worked as a designer with many of the most talented and thoughtful curators and artists in the field, from whom I’ve learned a lot.

Artifactoid: Tell us a bit about some of the unique elements and processes that went into putting together the most recent show that is on display at P!, from a curation/design perspective.

PK: The most recent show at P!, OST UND oder WEST: Klaus Wittkugel and Anton Stankowski was an unusual show for us on a number of levels: typically, we focus on mixing together different media, approaches, and historical periods, but this exhibition, in contrast, is truly about graphic design. This stems from the fact that I have been researching the subject of the exhibition, East German graphic designer Klaus Wittkugel (1910–1985) for over eight years. So in this case, it’s an exhibition that I have researched, organized, curated, and designed from start to finish. I’ve even acted as collector, since I’ve had to track down his work over the years! This wholesale collapse of roles almost makes it feel more like an artist project than a curatorial one. Yet in this case it’s also quite appropriate, since Wittkugel himself worked in this holistic manner, and sought, within the East German context, to broaden the role and reach of graphic design.

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Artifactoid: Are there any exciting upcoming projects you’re looking forward to executing this year? 

PK: There are so many projects this year! It’s a really exciting time, actually, where it seems like I’ll be able to integrate the work I’m doing in design and curating to an even greater degree. A partial list of projects includes curating and designing an exhibition called Dis-Play/Re-Play at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York in collaboration with curator Walter Seidl; curating, organizing, and designing a new and experimental artist residency onboard commercial cargo ships called Container Artist Residency 01, with project founder and artist Maayan Strauss; a new website for Ballroom Marfa; curatorial consultation and permanent exhibition design for The Bass in Miami Beach; and identity, print, and web design for Zarigüeya, a new contemporary art project in Quito, Ecuador. Plus, I’ve got a whole slew of writing and publishing projects, in addition a full exhibition program at P! — so it should be a productive “Year of the Monkey”!

For more from P!, don’t miss the upcoming show, “Maryam Jafri: Economy Corner,” artist Maryam Jafri‘s first US solo exhibition, opening this Thusrday, February 25th with a reception from 6-8PM.

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Meet the Artist Who is Setting Off Fireworks with Your Tweets at the MET Today for Chinese New Year

It may be Super Bowl weekend, but it’s also Chinese New Year, and contemporary artist ChiKa has something exciting in store for those visiting the MET this Saturday to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. Artifactoid sits down with the Japan-born New York-based talent to talk projection mapping, LED light installations, and the fireworks she is setting off at the MET today with your tweets.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to work with projection mapping and LED light as mediums? How did you get your start with them and what drew you in?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was a natural progression of interest from working with live visuals and VJing; I was working with experimental composers, festivals and clubs. The organic next step for me was projection mapping. I wanted to explore. I got out of doing ordinary projection surfaces in dark spaces (2D screens) and moved toward doing projection mapping onto 3D surfaces and objects. As for how I got my start, I was working as a graphic designer at a big corporation and wanted to do something artsy. So, I started going out to anywhere that would let me perform live visuals and VJ every weekend.

Then, my interest in LED light installation stemmed from the projection mapping. When the software I used for projection mapping, “MadMapper,” released its new feature, MadLight, that allowed me to control LED lights from video content, I decided that I wanted to shift from projection to an LED light installation.The stage set made during Mapping Festival in Geneva also inspired me to get into LED light installations. To get started, a good friend of mine (who is one of the founders of MadMapper) gave me a jump-start technical session. I love to make the geometric structures with led lights!

Artifactoid: What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on with each medium?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was projection mapping in Mexico during MOD Festival, and for LED light installations, it was my first large public installation, SEI02 at the Dumbo Arts Festival 2014.

Artifactoid: What was your most challenging art installation to pull off and how did you do it?

ChiKa: Every installation is a challenge. I think it is a nature of the technology. No matter how much I prepare before the installation, you never know what will happen. Be patient, organized and just clear problems one by one. Always works in the end anyway.

Artifactoid: Who are some other talented artists working  in the spaces of LED and projection mapping who inspire you?

ChiKa: AntiVJ, 1024 Architecture, Nonotak, and James Turrell.

Artifactoid: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career as an artist?

ChiKa: Follow your dream.

Artifactoid: How does teaching projection mapping and theater affect the way you approach your own art?

ChiKa: I can alway learn from my students. I need to be very flexible in order to be able to teach. I also teach differently every time I teach. There is no one way to teach. Art is the same; there is no one way.

Artifactoid: What are your additional artistic influences?

ChiKa: My background: being Japanese. Also, my ethicality. That always shows in my artwork. A third influence of mine is good music.

Artifactoid: Tell me a bit about your exciting project at the MET for Chinese New Year.

ChiKa: For this project, I am working with my partner in crime, Calli Higgins, who I have been working with since graduate school at NYU ITP. We are creating digital fireworks triggered by the Twitter hashtag “#metfest” during the Chinese New Year event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can check it out today, here!

Artifactoid: Anything else you’d like to add?

ChiKa: I’m also installing a new artwork at Ramapo College in NJ right now. The opening is this coming Wednesday, February 10th and the installation will be on view for one month.