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!

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Alone for the Holidays? Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz has a Remedy for That

Sometimes when you walk into an art gallery opening, there’s a lot of craziness. The space can be packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people sipping booze and chatting loudly, and it can be difficult to actually get a good idea of the art you’re looking at through the sea of bright red lips and thick-rimmed glasses. While these aren’t ideal conditions for someone aiming to write an article about the art (like myself), having a glowing room of excited and supportive patrons is both a great sign for the artist showing her work, and fun!

The aforementioned describes the scene where I met Conceptual Artist Suzanne Heintz: the bustling opening night of her show “Playing House” in Chelsea at the JoAnne Artman Gallery. While I couldn’t get a thorough grasp of the story behind her work at the opening, the striking, absurd, brightly colored photographs depicting Heintz with her husband and daughter in Paris, among other settings, stuck with me. This is because I learned that unlike my family and most likely yours, Heintz’s husband and daughter are actually life-sized fiberglass mannequins, or as she lovingly dubs them, “familyquins.”

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With this in mind I decided to dive further into researching Heintz and her work, and what I found was, unexpectedly, a perfect story for the holidays — a time when for some singles, it can feel like there is added pressure from either society, family or self to be in a relationship.

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Heintz, a conceptual artist, 20-year veteran art director at Starz, and self-proclaimed spinster among other things, recalls sitting around with her mom one day having a conversation that, per Heintz’s entry in the Huffington Post Blog, went along the lines of: “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.” [Heintz] snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!”

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Then, one day shortly following this conversation, Heintz was walking around and passed by a shop that happened to have a “family” of mannequins for sale in the window. She had an “aha!” moment, and decided to literally “buy” herself a family: a husband, who she calls Chauncey, and an “eight year old” daughter, who she named Mary Margaret. Starting at that moment, Heintz set out on a fourteen year journey carrying Chauncey and Mary Margaret around to various locations, filled with countless family photo and video ops including holidays, European vacations and even a wedding.

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Heintz does an incredible job of adding a dose of smart humor (plus what is now likely upwards of a decade and a half of mind blowing dedication) to her critical examination of an important topic. On one hand, with this project Heintz comments on normative role expectations for women, encouraging them to embrace their lives regardless of whether or not they have an “Mrs., PhD, or Esq. attached to their name.” On another, according to the JoAnne Artman Gallery, Heintz also comments on “The American Dream and the pressure to conform.” To note, I found the tie to The American Dream interesting because in 2015, that phrase, in its original sense, can seem antiquated. Stemming off of that, I think it could be an interesting follow-up study to examine Heintz’s work in the context of other artists who work with the idea of The American Dream, both currently and throughout art history.

Finally, Heintz’s work is really interesting to look at within the context of today’s era of social media (especially since Heintz began her “family life” with Chauncey and Mary Margaret before social networks really took off in a mainstream way). Specifically, people frequently post photos across various social channels that seem to demonstrate that they are fulfilling ideals of happiness, but for all anyone really knows, they may as well be posing with mannequins. Per the JoAnne Artman Gallery, Heintz’s use of “radioactive color and expressionless characters hint at the darker side of conformity, namely what is lost when the image, or illusion, of happiness is confused with happiness itself.”

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Suzanne Heintz’s “Playing House” is showing at the JoAnne Artman Gallery through December 31st, 2015. Check it out in person if you’re in Chelsea this holiday season, and feel free to bring along your significant other. All shapes, sizes and materials are welocme.

Jung Uk Yang, DOOSAN Gallery

One of the things I love most about going to art galleries without knowing what’s showing is that it feels like I’m on a treasure hunt: behind any gallery door, there is the possibility of finding unique creative treasures that carry inspiration and ideas.

Recently in Chelsea, I found one of these treasures. I was walking down West 25th street on a sunny Friday afternoon and popped into the DOOSAN gallery. The second I walked through the door, I was confronted by a dark, frantic, monotonous, anxious, yet simultaneously quirky and upbeat, piece of mechanical art installed directly on the gallery wall.

The work was created by Korean artist Jung Uk Yang as a part of the exhibition “A Man Without Words,” which was on view from July 9th through August 27th 2015. Per the gallery’s description, “A Man Without Words” encompassed Jung Uk’s reflections upon the everyday, simple things that would occur in both his life and the lives of the individuals around him who seemed to lead monotonous, repetitive lives.

For example, the piece, “A Fatigue Always Comes with a Dream,” (featured above and below) was created as a metaphor for the lives of apartment security guards in South Korea, who, “must stay awake until dawn while most people are asleep.” Jung Uk’s work is independently visually powerful, but the unusual story behind it makes it even more provocative than the visuals alone.  junguk3

Through his work, Jung Uk provided me with an experience that ruptured the monotony of my life that day. He piqued my curiosity about DOOSAN, an incredible art space, as well. The DOOSAN Gallery New York is dedicated to the discovery of and support for young and emerging Korean artists. It also has a residency program. Its mission is to serve as a gateway to significant exposure and opportunities for the artists by nurturing their creativity and helping them share their work with a broader audience.

Learning about the South Korea-headquartered DOOSAN gallery and its mission in support of Korean creativity led me to think about it in contrast to a recent Huffington Post article I came across on my twitter feed titled, “North Korea’s Art Scene is Just as Mysterious as the Nation Itself.” In the article, writer Sara Boboltz notes that North Korea’s largest art institute, Mansudae, is government-run and is used “primarily to churn out work extolling the state’s leaders.” She concludes that, “For all the impressive skill of its talented pool of artists, artistic freedom in North Korea might only be an optimistic myth.”

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It would be interesting to know what the DOOSAN gallery opines about this issue, especially within the context of the gallery’s mission to nurture the growth of Korean contemporary art. While Jung Uk Yang’s work is no longer currently on view at DOOSAN’s Chelsea space, I invite you to check out their current exhibition, Revelation, an equally inspiring solo installation featuring the work of artist Jungki Beak.