Last Saturday was Earth Day, and people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the March for Science. This Saturday is the People’s Climate March. Both have been staged to promote environment and climate literacy. There is no better time to do some deep thinking about the state of the earth and climate change then right now. The exhibition ‘River Woman’ at ODETTA Gallery in Bushwick compliments this moment nicely. Curated by artist Ellen Hackl Fagan, the show includes works from artists Nancy Cohen, Ellen Kozak, Fritz Horstman and Kathleen Vance. It closes on April 30th so this is the last weekend to visit the gallery.
‘River Woman’ elemental universal sustaining beautiful dangerous the river and the woman merge and become one entity
Off to each side of Horstman’s installation, hanging on the walls, are two large handmade paper works by Nancy Cohen. One appears to capture debris caught at the river bank. The other, pulls out for an aerial view of a river bend. The undulating surface of the paper evoke the landscape they’re inspired by. It is fun to get up close to these pieces just to let the tactile quality wash over you. There is something ancient and present about their quality.
On the far wall of the first room are paintings by Ellen Kozak. They are expertly produced to create a semi-gloss finish of images that are inspired by natural phenomena, motion and light. Rows of color on one of them feels like ripples in a river. Since 1994, her studio has been perched just above the bank of the Hudson, she says she sees the river in all seasons and the works imbue that sensibility.
Moving towards the back of the gallery gurgling water can be heard. A large sinuous brown mass hugs the corner at torso level. It is a reimagined version of Newtown Creek. Using historical documents, Kathleen Vance traced the tidal flow of the Super Fund creek from its tributaries – Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, and redirects it. This new rendition is healed and unencumbered from the last few hundred years of industrialization. The water seems clean enough to drink, it is serene and peaceful.
In tandem with the show, Fagan, of ODETTA invited Paul Gallay, President of Hudson Riverkeeper to discuss the state of the Hudson River and its related tributaries this past Sunday, April 23rd. Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization committed to safeguarding the drinking water for millions of New Yorkers. This year It is celebrating its 50th anniversary. In January, Riverkeeper signed a landmark agreement with New York State and Entergy, the company that runs the controversial facility, to close Indian Point Nuclear Energy Center by 2021. This is a huge victory for Riverkeepers and the people of New York State.
Joining Gallay was NYC Water Quality Project Coordinator, Chrissy Remein. She shared stories about the many partners that work together to monitor and gather data. She invited attendees to participate in the upcoming visioning meeting for Newtown Creek which will happen in early June. The two took questions, which led to a passionate exchange by those attending. It was an inspiring conversation that connected the long-time efforts to improve the quality of water and environment along the Hudson River, to current struggles on policy and the ‘River Woman’ artwork surrounding us.
Can’t make it to the People’s Climate March in D.C.? Here are two ways you can take action:
1. ODETTA is having a silent online auction to benefit Riverkeeper. The auction is open until midnight April 30, the last day of the exhibition. The works in the gallery and in the flat files are available. All of the proceeds raised above the reserve price go directly to Hudson Riverkeeper. Support the artist while investing in our waterways!
Monica Lorraine Bernal, Heather Merckle and Sabrina Barrios, the three artists featured in Ground Control currently at No. 4 Studio through May 14, draw on physics, cosmology and symbolism to create three distinct bodies of work, which altogether pose engaging questions on the way we perceive reality.
Sabrina Barrios’ outstanding site specific installation “The Earth Experiment” consists of white strings of different thickness which are arranged in a web of geometric patterns, multiply in a mirrored backdrop and glow under ultraviolet light. Once you enter this linear maze, you are locked inside a convincing matrix which alludes to the cosmos and to the collective unconsciousness. Outside of this bubble, and totally out of our reach, floating linear hieroglyphics in a totem shape represent the forces beyond our control which are manipulating our perception. This linear totem may read as power, collective memory, or blind fate among other possible interpretations.
By utilizing relatively simple means like string, fishing wire, mirror, and light, Barrios creates an engaging experience of a parallel universe which is both hermetic and full of possibilities, evoking a Borges parable or Plato’s cave allegory. “I use visually simple symbols (sacred geometry) to tell a story. I like to compare it to a dream, in which you can’t always verbalize your experiences, but you often remember their feeling,” says the Brazilian born, Brooklyn based multimedia artist who moved to NYC eight years ago for an MFA at Pratt. Barrios says that traveling and spending longer periods of time in places like Southeast Asia and Europe inform her work in substantial ways. “I visit places of ancient ruins, pyramids, temples, tribes, to understand the knowledge that is passed from a generation to the next. I combine ancient knowledge with conspiracy theories,” says Barrios. She start her projects with research on quantum physics, mythology, and ancient civilizations like Mayan, Egyptian and Sumerian, along with internet pseudo news, overall aiming to create portals which are open to alternate realities and hidden dimensions.
Heather Merckle, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is also fascinated by the intersection between art and science, posing the question what happens when you give elusive ideas such as black holes, vacuums of space, and quantum fields a physical presence. In “This has no sensible dimensions” installation, a black matte canvas acts as the background for the exploration of multi-dimensional space. Merckle imagines the curvature of space and time, questioning “how it slows and sags, gravity and its presence, black holes and surface tension.” Using materials like polyester ribbon, acrylic cut-outs, foam, and paper, she created an installation that measures hundred forty two inches high, but feels monumental in scale.
On a smaller scale and with a more surreal bent, Monica Lorraine Bernal also references in her drawings cosmology and optics through playful and imaginative forms. Her white abstracted linear marks and abstracted forms on black surface evoke a sense of a microcosmic world with an enigmatic set of rules, vast and confined simultaneously. Bernal, who was born in Bogota, raised in Los Angeles, and moved to NYC in 2009 to earn an MFA from Parsons, explains that in these drawings she envisioned invisible light, referencing our evolutionary inability to see radio, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray. “Here, invisible light and its color spectrum is reinvented and translated into a meditative, yet energetic imagination of an unearthly existence, whether brightening up a parallel universe, teetering on a black hole, or hazily shining through a planet’s moon. And this was a response to Heather’s black holes and Sabrina’s parallel worlds,” says Bernal. Overall, “Ground Control” builds an engaging thematic show which invites the viewer to reflect on the limitation of human perception and the uplifting possibilities in creative imagination.
Ground Control is open April 14th – May 14th at No.4 Studio
Exhibition hours are Friday through Sunday 1-6pm and by appointment
Liz Jaff is a Bushwick based artist who has rigorously explored the structural and aesthetic possibilities in ephemeral materials, specifically paper. AIB interviewed Jaff about her work process, her development as an artist, and the genesis of her current show at Robert Henry Contemporary.
AIB: Tell me about your affiliation to Bushwick.
Liz Jaff: I moved my studio to Bushwick early in 2014. I had been splitting my time between New York City and Southampton, NY and was beginning to prepare for a show with Robert Henry Contemporary. The gallery and I agreed it would work well to be close by. My studio is part of Brooklyn Brush studios, a supportive environment- clean and quiet- with the most exceptional people who run and maintain it.
AIB: “Wallflower”, your current show at Robert Henry Contemporary features a recent body of work. Altogether I see your drawings and installation in the gallery as a meditative space with dark undertones, as if the emotional undercurrents that have always existed in your work are gushing into the surface. This brings to my mind Freudian terms and some political context—are you thinking along these lines? Tell me about the relationship between this body of work and your previous work.
Liz Jaff: When I close the studio door, and am by myself, the freshest, most authentic place to go is inward. I would be happy if some of that feeling of contemplation carries over into how the work exists in the gallery. Most of what I do starts from a deeply personal place. I then set up a physical structure within which my thoughts and ideas can live in a physical one. With the Wallflower works, I have let some of the formality drop away. It was necessary here partially because of the less controlled process of making the Black Magic drawings. In my previous installations, I took my experience from one place and distilled it down to a simple unit or form which can then be repeated, installed, and used to create a new space. It is left to the viewer to interpret; to find their own experience. Having the opportunity to watch people interact with past works, I recognize that the objects or installations find their own unique relationship with the world. With “Wallflower”, I wanted the works to be performers of sorts, and I step away no longer a part of the party, so to speak. Showing the work is an opportunity to be generous and I hope it can offer a moment of reprieve from some of the anxiety and stress of recent events.
AIB: Tell me more about “Wallflower”. I am curious to know more about the dripping ink installation and how it relates to the drawings on the wall.
Liz Jaff: “Wallflower” includes a group of ink drawings called “Black Magic”, and an apparatus/sculptural object called “Heartbreaker”. The Black Magics are an evolution of a practice I have had in my studio for more than fifteen years. A lot of my work is slow and repetitive to make, but the ink on paper is fast and less predictable. The drawings have become larger and more high contrast than in the past and are influenced, among other things, by Flamenco and Butoh performance, which I enjoy quite a bit. The drawings feel as if something is recorded in motion and we do not know at what stage. Time is captured for an instance. Together the group references film strips or photographic contact sheets, and suggests documenting a larger motion or action. I wanted to combine these with something that could happen very slowly in the gallery, bringing together a record of something fast with that of something unraveling in front of you. These two notions of time suggest longing and a desire to remember and sustain certain moments.
AIB: You reference in your work ideas of love and sacrifice, commitment, time and space. Can you elaborate on that?
Liz Jaff: Love is so good. I think we all want to sustain it. Sacrifice and commitment are longer, slower ideas, which require a different kind of patience and time. I think it is important to find visual ways to talk about all of them, give a feeling of their own character and how we experience it. I think I could find a lot of ways to talk about this for a long time.
AIB: You are coming from painting (RISD). How do you see your work in relationship to painting?
Liz Jaff: I liked painting but I do not think I communicated well in paint. When I reached a place where I began to know what was important for me to talk about, I realized the language I was using was not working. So I changed it. When I speak with friends who are painters, there seems to be a relationship to how we talk about space and ideas, but not specifically to medium.
AIB: Where do you see your work in context of minimalists like Sol Lewitt and Agnes Martin?
Liz Jaff: Well, they both have simultaneously underlying and visible structures. For them it may often be a geometric grid. For me it is the circle used in repetition. I see Lewitt as being grounded to the floor and architecture, while Martin found all the spaces in between. I think I am looking for a balance of both. I am acutely aware of many of the lessons from other artists, and often like to reference these quietly in the work.
AIB: It seems that your preferred medium is paper. Tell me about the genesis of that fascination and how do you see it in relation to traditional origami?
Liz Jaff: Using paper came from necessity and realizing that the how and the what of the work needed to be the same. I wanted something that could exist as a two dimensional plane and also be manipulated to define three dimensional spaces. It needed to suggest something ephemeral and basic, or fundamental. Paper has a great range of structural and aesthetic possibilities. My first large scale installations were conceived first in a hotel room and then on a folding table in a small studio apartment. Paper was light weight and the forms could be folded and stored away easily. When some other material speaks more effectively, then I will use it. Origami has its own particular rules and complexities very different from my own. I purposely avoid it as to find my own way into using the materials.
AIB: Tell me about your process. (how do you come up with compositions, are you drawing on narrative-emotion-event, etc. your technique)
Liz Jaff: I often start with a basic feeling or sensation of something – an experience, a place, a person. I think about where it came from. It is pretty simple. This takes me on a daydream of storytelling, creating a kind of personal narrative. I then envision formally what I think would resonate with the viewer physically and visually. There is usually research at this point. The idea takes form and goes on a journey. I like to use fast and slow processes depending on my mindset balancing activities which require more quiet focus with those that are executed more immediately.
AIB: You have the most intriguing titles. I am curious to know if you see the title as a poetic counterpoint to your visual syntax; are they meant to be a challenging clue; or maybe both?
Liz Jaff: Language is a remarkable thing both visually and verbally. I like to play with the interaction of the two and titles are a great way to do this. Poets are so good at this. I like words with multiple meanings, which suggest an action or motion. Some titles are quite literal to my experience, while some are more encoded and less obvious. It is important to me to leave space for the viewer’s own interpretation. Titles are often a great opportunity for humor.
AIB: What are you working on now? Would you like to share upcoming projects?
Liz Jaff: I am in the planning phase of an outdoor project to be done in Boston in the early Fall of this year and will have a solo project in Maine after that. I am thinking about video….and sewing something for my mom.
AIB: Anything else art-related you would like me to ask?
Liz Jaff: You have asked quite a bit. I wish there were space and time for more conversation.
Liz Jaff: Wallflower, through April 9, 2017
Robert Henry Contemporary
56 Bogart St
Brooklyn, NY 11206
Painter Mary DeVincentis Herzog employs in her imaginative paintings a deeply personal iconography to investigate the dilemmas and mysteries of existence. She is currently working on “Dark Matters”, a series of paintings exploring the shadow side of human experience and Sin Eaters, a series which depicts society’s saints, martyrs, scapegoats and outcasts.
Kurt Steger’s sculpture series “Urban Structures” addresses the loss that cultures or communities experience from the destruction in this era of massive urban expansion. Steger uses this cycle of destruction as a literal foundation; each sculpture features a found piece of Bushwick concrete rubble as a base upon which he creates form-fitting abstract shapes, overall designed as a type of a sacred space that honors the memory of its foundation’s past. Although in most of the works, the structures contain an object or material, such as earth from Tibet, white sage, seeds, or notes composed as prayers, the overall spiritual aspect remains largely open to interpretation. Steger says, “All of my work is designed to provoke contemplation about space, time, community, and man’s responsibilities to the environment. “
Susan Carr‘s favorite two words are “what if”, as they keep her practice fresh and push her ideas forward. This painter and mixed media artist is currently sculpting. She sees her three dimensional artworks as” deconstructed paintings”, since their nexus was the frame. Her playful and highly tactile sculptures include oil paint, wood, found objects, and clay. Susan is also making cartoonish drawings as a reaction to the ongoing political climate, as drawing consistently functions as the backbone of her practice.
Seth Ruggles Hiler is most influenced by the communities and geography of his surroundings, creating and recording connections to people and place through painting and drawing. Trained at the New York Academy of Art, Hiler fuses a sensibility for classical painting with a contemporary take on color and composition. He says that he strives to go beyond creating likeness or surface description by expressing a momentary relationship to the subject or place, ultimately aiming to share an intimate exchange between artist, subject, viewer and community.
Brent Owens’ work, primarily sculptural and largely based in woodworking, fuses two disparate strains of Americana – workmanship and a thirst for novelty. Owen’s playful and seamless combination of materials, such as wood and neon for example, results in a particular strand of pop production that reads as both artificial and organic, altogether bordering on the surreal.
Dan Romer says he is fearless when he is doing his art. He is not looking to record what he sees, but rather what he feels; “life is not static, and neither is my work.” he says.
Thomas Burr Dodd admits that he suffers from anxiety over his artistic abilities, yet has a very base desire to communicate this way. Sometimes at odds with this desire, Burr is also a businessman who prides himself on adding value to the world. He has developed an art-making process that allows him to leave behind the day-to-day stresses of business and embrace his creative side. He starts with a deep mindful meditation, then draws blind while concentrating on an imagery based on deeply intimate experiences. He has benefited from being tapped into the incredible creative energies swirling around him, and is proud to be a part of the Bushwick creative community.
Trans-Cen-Der Temporary Storage Gallery space inside Brooklyn Fireproof 119 Ingraham Street Brooklyn, NY 11237
Jen Hitchings is a painter and curator who has been increasingly involved in the Bushwick art scene since she has moved to the neighborhood. She is currently a curatorial member of Transmitter. AIB interviewed Hitchings about her art, current curatorial project at Transmitter, and future plans.
AIB: How long have you been in Bushwick and how have you been associated with the art scene here?
Jen Hitchings: I moved to Bushwick in 2011, and curated my first show in a basement space at 56 Bogart a few months after. I had a studio in Bushwick for a few years, opened and co-directed the galleries WEEKNIGHTS and Associated, volunteered for a few Bushwick Open Studios benefit exhibitions, and currently I’m a curatorial member of Transmitter.
AIB: Tell me about Transmitter. I understand that there are several curators in the gallery–how does that work, do you share an aesthetic vision?
Jen Hitchings: Transmitter is made up of 6 curatorial members. Each member curates one exhibition per year, and there are 3 exhibitions that are co-curated annually. Though we don’t necessarily define any aesthetic vision, I think the reason we all came to work together is based on some shared aesthetic preferences. We’re all artists and have varying practices, so we each bring different kinds of shows to the table, yet we also do our best to maintain a diverse range of exhibitions throughout the year, and we aim to exhibit artists that aren’t necessarily already part of the local Bushwick art scene.
AIB:Tell me about the current two person show you curated at Transmitter. What is the genesis, premise, curatorial process?
Jen Hitchings:Remainders is a two-person show featuring drawings and sculptures by Colette Robbins, and drawings and a large-scale lightbox piece by Justin Amrhein. I’ve known both artists personally for several years – Justin and I worked together at Pierogi gallery for 5 years – and I think their work fits together for several reasons. Formally, they both make primarily black and white work. Colette’s work is highly process-oriented and comes from interests lying in psychology and personal history, while Justin’s work is very labor intensive and pragmatic yet also has a post-apocalyptic undertone to it. He creates schematic drawings of complex engines and mechanical “replacement trees” but the physical object he’s depicting never exists. Colette’s work takes form in a somewhat opposite way – she takes inherently meaningless Rorschach inkblot drawings that she makes, and then scans them, digitally manipulates them, puts them in a 3-D rendering program and 3-D prints them, then does some surface treatment to give them an archaic look. I sort of liked how the two bodies of work also allude to false truths, which is of course relevant to where we are politically right now.
AIB: You show quite a wide variety of art. How do you reach and select the artists?
Jen Hitchings: Everyone in the group goes about it their own way, but from my perspective, I generally have shown artists whose work I had already known about usually from seeing it in person in another show, or from a magazine (for example I came to Katie Bell’s work through Maake Magazine which a friend of mine publishes) and I try to focus on showing artists who I consider to be underrepresented.
AIB: Do you encourage artists to submit their work and if so, what is the best way?
Jen Hitchings: Though one of our members does look at submissions that are emailed to us, we don’t really have an open submission policy. I always advocate for just becoming friendly with curators/gallery staff if you think your work would really fit in with their aesthetic, and hopefully a natural progression will lead to a studio visit.
AIB:You are a painter as well. Tell me about your work and how do you prioritize your practice as artist and curator.
Jen Hitchings: I’ve been making paintings primarily of psychedelic camping scenes with distorted perspectives and acidic color palettes. A lot of my work is about escapism, social relationships, and my experience growing up in a suburban working class neighborhood. A few years ago I decided to stop curating and focus more on my work, but after a year or two of that, I really missed curating, and luckily I was asked to join Transmitter around then. Both practices are very important to me and fulfill my desire to be part of a highly supportive, creative network of artists.
AIB: What can you share about your curatorial plans for 2017 (or beyond)?
Jen Hitchings: Well, I don’t have any other shows planned at the moment, though there is always that list of ‘shows to curate’ that I look back into saved on my phone periodically.
AIB:Are you / Transmitter planning any curatorial response to the political mayhem we are in these days?
Jen Hitchings: We haven’t really talked about changing our exhibition aesthetics due to it, but speaking for myself, I’ve sort of noticed a gravitation towards more politically-engaged work. At the same rate, almost all artwork can be seen as political in some sense. I curated Josh Liebowitz’ solo show at Transmitter in December, and between the time that I asked him to be in the show and the actual show, the election happened, so a lot of the work in the show evolved in response to that. And, with the current show, Justin Amrhein had made his large-scale Political Engine drawing (which is displayed as a lightbox) in 2009 after Obama’s inauguration, and since Trump’s election, he decided to go back into that drawing and add about another third to it, which is his way of visualizing the progression of political leaders in America. The last ‘part’ that is labeled in the drawing is the ‘Trump Shit Extruder.’
AIB:What are your concerns and hopes for Bushwick art scene in the upcoming year/s?
Jen Hitchings: I hope the neighborhood continues to grow and that the
energy keeps going. I hope more artists in Bushwick are discovered by galleries that can manage to financially support their careers. I hope more patrons of the arts make their way out to see the shows being mounted. I hope here is more collaboration between artists and Bushwick natives. And like everyone else, I’m concerned about the rising rents and gentrification, and I really hope that starts to correct itself, because it’s pretty unbelievable how many people have already been priced out.
Ellen Hackl Fagan, the artist, gallerist and curator who runs ODETTA, is having a show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT. It is curated by David Borawski, and runs till Feb 19th. AIB interviewed her by email about her diverse roles, exhibitions, and overall vision.
AIB: How long have you been associated with Bushwick and in what forms?
EHF: I’ve been working in Bushwick since late May 2014. Prior to that I had my studio in Harlem, mainly in the barrio. From the moment I registered for Bushwick Open Studios, other artist/curator/gallerists have invited me to work with them, and we exchange opportunities often. There’s a strong sense of community here, about raising the quality of our galleries by supporting one another.
AIB: Tell me about the genesis of ODETTA.
EHF: I’ve been organizing, hanging, creating exhibitions of art since 1982. I’d been looking for the right space to both live and work, for several years. I wanted a gallery space where people could see the work from the street and then walk right in. Also, I was looking for a space that could handle exhibiting large-scale sculpture and painting. Finding that combined use space proved impossible in my price range. When I decided to look at leasing strictly commercial spaces instead, I walked into this building the very first day. My landlord loves the arts and had put in the glass front, hoping to attract a gallerist tenant. So I can’t live here, but it’s definitely where I’m getting some good work done.
3 ½ weeks after signing the lease, I designed and built out the space, incorporating my studio into the back of the gallery space, and opened ODETTA the day Bushwick Open Studios_2014 weekend started with a four-person show titled Opening Day. This featured the work of artist/gallerists Joe Amrhein, Rob de Oude, Enrico Gomez, and artist Marcus Linnenbrink. The place sang with color and artists and the culmination of 30 + years of art and practice was launched in its new home. That was one of the most fun evenings of my life. The neighborhood welcomed me completely.
AIB: You are an artist, gallerist, curator. How do these roles inform each other and how do you prioritize?
EHF: I think it’s difficult to prioritize, but these sides all support each other. I’d like to believe I’m an interesting curator because I see things from an artist’s perspective. If I’m working for myself, rather than the gallery, I try to give that some attention mid-week every week. Multiple roles have all always been a part of my overall practice. I’m one of 8 children, and married into a family of 12 kids, so I’m used to chaos.
AIB: You are having now a big exhibition in CT at Real Art Ways. What can you tell me about it ?
EHF: Since mid-November, Into the Blue Again, curated by artist David Borawski, has been running concurrently with Kurt Steger’s solo exhibition, Scribing the Void. Real Art Ways www.realartways.org, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. They’re a remarkable institution. Paving the way for interdisciplinary arts as early pioneers in experimental music and film, along with solo exhibitions of some of our best contemporary artists. David placed my works in a solo exhibition in one of their longer, narrow gallery spaces. My 9’ tall blue painting found its home on a singular wall that soars 18’ x 14 ‘ wide. I have experimented with the orientation of my blue paintings, sculpting them while drying in order to amplify their dynamic patterns and to create a humming sort of tension with them just lifted off the ground. Along with large works on paper, the viewer is immersed in this blue environment, creating a joyful space to connect in a full body experience with this gorgeous blue.
AIB: ODETTA is remarkable for incorporating poetry, performance and dance in dialogue with the visual art exhibitions. What is your vision for that in future programming?
EHF: I plan to continue introducing the community to innovative artists who want to share their talents with our enthusiastic audience. Expanding the programming into other genres builds the gallery’s audience. Coming up: Creative Tech Week in May brings the tech world into the gallery setting, integrated into an exhibition about healing systems created by Nature to restore and regenerate itself in the wake of human intervention.
AIB: What is your vision for the art exhibitions in 2017-18?
EHF: I plan to have some exhibitions revolve around major themes in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake like our next show, River Woman, featuring works by Nancy Cohen, Fritz Horstman, Ellen Kozak, and Kathleen Vance. A special guest event will an introduction/reception to Riverkeeper. Future exhibitions this year are mainly focused on healing. I feel we’re all in need of that. 2018 is the Year of Color for ODETTA. Programming is going to be all about my favorite topic, color.
AIB: Can you give an insight on how you pick the artists?
EHF: I think, in many ways, the artists pick me. Through studio visits and regular interactions, I get to know their work. If I see a high degree of craftsmanship and intention, and they seem easy to work with, then it’s a matter of how to fit their work into the puzzle. Right now, I’m still in the introductory phase of getting to know artists. I’m looking for quality, a subtle humor and intelligence, compassion, and beauty.
AIB: How does the change in the neighborhood affect the art scene and can you share any concerns and hopes for the near future?
EHF: I see the neighborhood as prime for becoming another extension of Williamsburg. As in other areas, artists and galleries will get pushed out ultimately to luxury brand stores. But artists have always challenged the wisdom of a business model in favor of experimentation. So, a constant migration to affordable space is part of the process. ODETTA is a project that can move around if necessary, and I will continue to develop satellite opportunities for artists’ works to be seen by wider audiences.
AIB: The country has gone through a political quake. Will that affect your art program or your own artwork?
EHF: For our current show, the elegant black works of Thomas Lendvai, Janet Passehl, and Esther Podemski transmit a funereal hush to the exhibition. Our upcoming show River Woman has a strong message of healing the earth and one another. As we continue through 2017, every exhibition is directly offering messages of hope and loss as the artists themselves experience the ramifications of this new administration’s tactics.
AIB: Where can we see your work next?
EHF: I will be showing my work at A.I.R. in an exhibition titled Space Craft, curated by Liz Surbeck Biddle, featuring works by Tomoko Abe, Liz Surbeck Biddle, Ellen Hackl Fagan, and Jackie Welsh. Opening reception Friday March 17, 6-8 pm. This exhibition runs thru April 16, 2017.
April 4- June 29, 2017, What Does Blue Sound Like?, solo exhibition featuring my web based phone app, The Reverse Color Organ, at the New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Library Windows. Artist dialogue with guest artists Joseph Celli and Hap Tivey, April 29, 2017 fromj 2:30-4:30 pm.
On Tuesday, January 31st, on a cold winter evening, the Temporary Storage Gallery space in Brooklyn Fireproof was heated up by a lively dialogue about art. Trans-cen-der Art Group launched their first meeting, featuring six speakers: Sharilyn Neidhardt, Christopher Stout, Cibele Vieira, Tim Gowan, Luis Martin, and Meer Musa. The second meeting will take place on Feb 28th at 7PM, featuring artists including Mary DeVincentis, Thomas Burr Dodd, Heidi King, Kurt Steger, Dan Romer, Susan Carr, among others.
AIB interviewed by email the three founders of this initiative: Meer Musa, Sharilyn Neidhardt, and Tim Gowan.
AIB: What is the genesis of Trans-cen-der Art Group?
SHARILYN: Christopher Stout ran a very similar group for three years called Bushwick Arts Critique Group. The three of us all attended and/or presented at some point and found it extremely enriching. When Christopher decided to focus on running a gallery, Bushwick Arts Critique Group stopped meeting. I started bugging Christopher about re-starting the group, and eventually he relented, so long as we called it something completely different. Christopher was ridiculously supportive in putting everything together. I quickly realized that I’d need help, and Christopher put me in touch with Meer and Tim, who had also asked about getting the group going again. I had met both Meer Musa and Tim Gowan before, through Arts in Bushwick and other arts-related events. We started meeting in November for a January launch.
TIM: I received an email from Christopher Stout announcing that he was turning over the reins of BACG to Sharilyn, and extended an invitation to me to be a part this great program. What I loved about BACG is that it a community event bringing artists and other like-minded people together.
AIB: How long have you been in Bushwick / or associated with the neighborhood?
MEER: I have been living in Bushwick since 2010 and I have started to participate as soon as I was aware of the Bushwick Art Scene, which was the following summer during Bushwick Open Studios. My main medium is painting. I have shown my paintings in Storefront Ten Eyck, David and Schweitzer Contemporary, Studio 10 and, Parenthesis Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
SHARILYN: I’ve lived in East Williamsburg since 2008 and have had a studio (with Cibele Vieira) at Brooklyn Fireproof since 2015. I participated in Bushwick Open Studios from 2011 and served on the Arts in Bushwick core committee in 2016. I’m a painter who has shown with David & Schweitzer, Friday Studio Gallery, and Parenthesis, among others.
TIM: I was born in Queens, grew up on Long Island. In 1999 I decided to move within the City with the intention of moving to Astoria (affordable at one time). But, as things should turn out, I unexpectedly moved to Ridgewood.
AIB: What are you aiming to achieve in these events ?
MEER: We are aiming to have artists share their work with other artists and curators, and speak about their works in front of a supporting crowd. It is a great opportunity for artists to expose their art work to a room full of audience, build an artist community, and support one another.
SHARILYN: It’s so easy for artists to get isolated, alone in a studio setting for hours at a time. My work transformed from an engrossing hobby to a serious practice once I started painting at Brooklyn Fireproof. Suddenly there were other artists in my space looking at my work, involving me in their projects, asking for my feedback. Feeling part of a community was not only healthier for me, but moved my work forward immeasurably. Now I just want to grow and enrich that community in any way I can, hopefully providing a similar salubrious push for other artists.
TIM: Community, community, community. There’s nothing worse than walking into a gallery opening or social event where it appears that everyone knows each other except me…painfully awkward. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s ever felt that way. So with Trans-cen-der, we want to foster community and create an environment that encourages social connection. For example, at the end of the evening, we all go out to dinner and EVERYONE is not only welcome, but encouraged to join us.
AIB: Are you scheduling ahead?
MEER: The next slide presentation / Art Talk will take place on Tuesday, February 28th.
SHARILYN: Current plan is to meet the last Tuesday of the month for the foreseeable future. We are taking turns putting each evening together. In addition, we will be hosting smaller side-projects. I am hosting an informal chat session for artists who want to discuss the materials and techniques they use in their art practice, it’s scheduled for Thurs Feb 16.
TIM: Meer will host this month (February), I will host next month (March), Sharilyn will host April, and then back to Meer for the month of May.
AIB: Can artists apply, is it invitational, or both?
MEER: Artist can apply. At the moment we may have a few space left. It will be eight artists maximum. If the space gets filled, we can keep them in mind for the following event.
SHARILYN: It’s both, and it’s up to the host of the evening to decide who presents.
TIM: We strongly encourage artists to apply, and not only local artist, but artists from all over are welcome to submit their work for consideration.
AIB: What are your criteria for presenters?
MEER: Nine minutes talk and maximum 10 jpg (RGB) images from a series. Images need to be 72 DPI at least 15” to 18” width and however in length. Artists can send JPGS to: email@example.com with WeTransfer or Dropbox storage space art file link.
SHARILYN: Currently we are considering only visual art that can be conveyed in still images. We can’t support video at the moment, but that’s something we are actively looking to change in the future. I don’t want to discourage video artists, but you might have to help us with the technical details!
AIB: I assume you are all artists? Tell me briefly about your own practice and if you are involved in community activity.
MEER: I am a painter, my other practices are drawings and photography. Besides my involvement in Trans-cen-der Art Group I helped out during the Bushwick Open Studio opening events, set up and dismantle benefit art shows.
SHARILYN: I’m a painter and I also dabble in photography and printmaking.
TIM: I’m a painter and I also play with mixed media, street and guerilla art. Over the past three years, I have volunteered for numerous events associated with Arts In Bushwick, which includes Community Day, Open Studios, and other events where I am needed.
AIB: Tell me about the first presenters: how did you put these artists together.
SHARILYN: I thought it would be easier to curate and invite other artists if we put ourselves through the process first. It became a way to practice putting the evening together and to focus our message. We included Christopher as the creative progenitor of Trans-cen-der, and he helped us get many details in place. Cibele Vieira and Luis Martin are supportive fellow travelers well-versed in creating and maintaining art communities.
MEER: Our first presenters included the team that started Trans-Cen-Der art group. We included Christopher Stout, who started Bushwick Art Crit, Sharilyn invited her studio mate Cibele Vieira, and I invited artist Luis Martin.
AIB: Anything I did not ask and you would love to share?
MEER: My sub group for “Artists who meditate” will soon have a place to meet and speak about how their practice helps them stay centered in order to make time for creativity.
SHARILYN: Our first night of presentations was an overwhelming success! I was excited by all the people who showed up not only to be supportive on a cold winter Tuesday, but also asked pointed questions, and were eager to participate. I’d also like to mention that we are indebted to Thomas Burr Dodd and Hazel Lee Santino of Brooklyn Fireproof for not only providing a space for us, but also for guiding our organizational process. We definitely could not be without their enthusiastic support.
TIM: I also want to thank Christopher Stout, Thomas Burr Dodd, and Hazel Lee Santino for their support.
Underdonk started in 2013 as a small experimental project space and later evolved into a vibrant artist-run gallery located at 1329 Willoughby. Underdonk’s eleven members operate an ambitious exhibition program such as the notable 2015 exhibition “Paul Klee,” which featured work by twenty contemporary artists who referenced the 20th century modernist master. AIB interviewed Underdonk artists via email and they responded as a group:
AIB: How do you know each other?
Underdonk: Some of us are alumni of Hunter College, although at various times; a few of us met at openings or through other art channels.
AIB: How did you form the group?
Underdonk: Underdonk was founded in 2013 as a means to focus our separate curatorial interests into one sustainable project. Some of us were relatively fresh from graduate school and the gallery felt like a way to stay connected to the artistic community we had established there. Some of us have past experience working with artist- run gallery spaces, or have been otherwise involved in the Bushwick art scene. It started in the studios of some of our original Underdonk members at the 17-17 Troutman building as a small experimental project space and then later grew because of the enthusiasm that was started there into our larger space.
AIB: Where did the name come from?
Underdonk: It derives from the street name Onderdonk which is next to the Troutman building where we originated, and means under the hill in the Dutch. It’s catchy, and was the only name that stuck.
AIB: What made you chose Bushwick/Ridgewood as a hub?
Underdonk: Underdonk began at 1717 Troutman, where a few galleries like Regina Rex, and Ortega y Gassett, were also operating. Bushwick was attractive because of its open, industrial architecture, proximity to the L, and affordable rents. The last factor turned out to be unreliable, when in 2015 our landlords at 17-17 Troutman gave the boot to all of the galleries leasing space in the building. We moved to a temporary location in Williamsburg, while hunting for our current home at 1329 Willoughby. We have found a great landlord and are lucky to again be in the vicinity of other artist-run spaces such as Transmitter, TSA, and Microscope.
AIB: Tell me about your organization and mode of operation.
Underdonk: In curatorial and administrative matters we pride ourselves on our flexibility. We accommodate and respect one another’s individual interests and scheduling constraints. That said, we meet no less than once a month, and we email all the time. Keeping membership at eleven allows each of us to curate around one show a year, with room for our annual benefit auction. That is happening soon, in late February/early March, via Paddle8. We are also always happy to hear proposals for visiting curator exhibitions, performances, and readings.
AIB: How do you see Underdonk in context of other artist groups in the area?
Underdonk: We feel that professionalism is an important aspect of what we do. For instance, we recently acquired both fine art and liability insurance. We also believe, however, that in certain spaces, like our own, professionalism can be overemphasized, to the detriment of experimentation and openness. We hope to remain broad-minded and open to new ideas, regardless of any shifts in the character of the neighborhood and New York at large.
Osamu Kobayashi, “Woogie”, Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
AIB: Do you share an aesthetic vision for your group and curatorial projects?
Underdonk: No, not officially! Members are unrestrained when it comes to organizing shows. Most of us turn to one another for feedback or suggestions on artists to include, so there ends up being a sense of continuity.
AIB: Do you do collaborative work?
Underdonk: We often co-curate shows, and we have participated in several exchanges with other galleries. We sometimes invite guest curators to put together shows in our space, without the exchange component. Whenever we organize large scale events, such as our annual auction, it is a huge group effort. All of this we consider as collaboration. On an individual level, many of us have collaborated with other artists outside of Underdonk.
AIB: What are your goals for the next few years?
Underdonk: One major goal is to bring more people living in the Bushwick neighborhood into the gallery, as viewers and as participating artists. We would love to be a community fixture, not just an insular art world fixture. We also hope to participate in more gallery exchanges and art fairs.
These discussions took place at David & Schweitzer Contemporary gallery at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn on the afternoon of October 16, 2016 as part of closing night of Arts in Bushwick’s 2016 Seeking Space Exhibition, the official show of Bushwick Open Studios.
The Making of MAKING HISTORY BUSHWICK
Arts in Bushwick collective members Cibele Vieira, Nicole Brydson and Aniela Coveleski, editors of the book MAKING HISTORY BUSHWICK, discuss how the book was published independently by our volunteer arts collective with Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian.
Making History Bushwick is a first-of-its-kind document, presenting a contemporaneous snapshot of a vital and growing arts community in the heart of New York City. With more than 400 artworks, essays by noted writers, critics, community activists and members of the thriving Bushwick scene, the book presents an alternative, inclusive, present-tense model for history making. The handsome full-color hardcover volume is the first publication from Arts in Bushwick, 488 pages with a limited edition of 2000 copies, available on amazon.com.
Making Art History Outside of the Mainstream Art World
Moderated by Lisa Corinne Davis, featuring panelists Deborah Brown, Loren Munk, James Panero, Krista Saunders Scenna, and Cynthia Tobar.
Lisa Corinne Davis has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States and Europe, and are included in many collections: The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Lisa’s work has been reviewed by The New York Times, Art in America and ArtNews. She is the recipient of numerous awards including The Louis Comfort Tiffany grant, a National Endowment for the Arts’ Visual Artist Fellowship, and two New York Foundation for the Arts, Visual Arts Fellowships. In addition, Lisa has taught art for the past twenty five years at Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union School of Art, Yale University, and is currently a Full Professor at Hunter College in New York. She is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery, New York, NY, Zolla/Lieberman, Chicago, IL, Galerie Gris, Hudson, NY and The Mayor Gallery, London. Lisa lives and works in Brooklyn and Hudson NY.
James Panero is the Executive Editor of The New Criterion, where he writes monthly on art and culture and serves as the magazine’s gallery critic. His “Gallery Chronicle” column has been praised by writers, artists, and collectors for its coverage of the outer boroughs of New York and their alternative art scenes. As a curator he has organized several exhibitions, including “The Joe Bonham Project” at Storefront Gallery, “Joe Zucker: Armada” at the National Arts Club, and—in partnership with the photographer Meryl Meisler—”Bushwick Chronicle,” on view at Stout Projects in October 2016.
Cynthia Tobar is a conceptual media artist, oral historian, and archivist interested in documenting and preserving community-based stories of social justice and activism. She uses video to restore voices of collectivity, juxtaposing them to counter an overly individualistic view of history, casting a critical lens on political and societal norms surrounding identity, space, and community. Her latest work includes a community-based storytelling project in my neighborhood of Bushwick, “Cities for People, Not for Profit”: gentrification and housing activism in Bushwick that is capturing artist, activist, and local residents stories of displacement. She is the recipient of the 2016 Create Change Residency from the Laundromat Project and the 2016 Engaging Artists Residency which focuses on housing justice.
Deborah Brown is an artist who works in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She received a B.A. in Art from Yale University, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and an M.F.A. from Indiana University She has had one-person shows at galleries and museums around the country. Her work is represented by Mike Weiss Gallery. Her public art projects include mosaics commissioned by the MTA for the Houston Street subway station in Manhattan and roundels for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Terminal at the Port of Miami for Miami-Dade Art in Public Places. In addition to her practice as an artist, she founded and directed Storefront Gallery from 2010-16, and currently serves on the advisory board of NURTUREArt, the artist advisory board of BRIC and Community Board #4 in Bushwick.
Loren Munk since establishing his studio in New York in 1979, the painter Loren Munk has constantly pursued a commitment to painting and the artistic community. Conceptual street works in the early 1980’s lead to his arrest by the New York City Police Department. The subsequent notoriety contributed to a string of successful exhibitions of paintings in Soho and internationally. His unique and innovative use of materials such as mirror, gold-leaf and glass mosaic affirmed him as a founding force of Kitsch Art and a leading member of New York Neo-Expressionism.
As a means of entering the critical and theoretical discourse, Munk created the persona James Kalm in the mid nineties. Publishing hundreds of essays and reviews under this pseudonym, most notably in the Brooklyn Rail, Munk became fascinated with the history and associations of the New York art world. These developments led to a reassessment and the current series of works, which aestheticize art history and document the local art community. YouTube’s Kalm Report exemplifies Munk’s blurring of criticism, historic documentation, journalism and performance art and began a new mode of art reportage on the internet.
American philosopher Marshall Berman rejected the notion of Postmodernism. He believed that we were still in the grips of an ever-growing capitalist system and its rolling ‘creative destruction’. The threads of what others call postmodern, according to Berman, was still firmly nested in his idea of being modern.
“To be modern, I said, is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom, to find one’s world and oneself in perpetual disintegration and renewal, trouble and anguish, ambiguity and contradiction: to be part of a universe in which all that is solid melts into air… To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.” – Marshall Berman
He critiqued the postmodern framework because he felt it produced a ‘dismal flattening out of social thought’ and suggested that as a result, “serious thinking of modern life was split between two sterile antitheses’: the idolatry of culture – think art star of the later part of the 20th century; or cultural despair, mostly referencing philosophers of the same period – essentially total downers.
The argument of postmodern versus modern is not what I find important here but rather the definition Berman presents. He calls for a kind of subversive festival in response to the tumultuous experience of modern life. It provides a compelling vocabulary to work with for those of us reeling from recent events of a presumably authoritarian regime taking power through unscrupulous means at best. In his book ‘All that is Solid Melts Into Air’ he looks at Paris, Russia and the Bronx as places where people have had to respond to the maelstrom and have done so with surprisingly new-found elation despite the despair. This is the tension Berman was fascinated with and one I am interested in. He saw it as an important way forward because he believed the inherent recursive rolling waves of creative destruction will continue to crash around us.
This tension came to mind when I recently attended the second show at Venus Knitting Space titled Precarious Constructs, curated byLevan Mindiashvili and Etty Yaniv. As I walked into the room the first thing I saw was a women with long, thick, black hair, ripped in two. She wore very practical black walking shoes. Her hair was swirled across the concrete and she stared into the distance. It was disconcerting to say the least. Upon a closer look a rainbow of goo appeared to be pouring out of the torso and seemed suspended in time. The body was in a mid-melting state. The face painted with glittery gold and rainbow hashes; she just left the party. Her expression is as if she hasn’t realized that her body has been ripped apart or if that realization just passed and she’s now in a deep calm. The figure is beautifully ugly and poetic and sometimes stops, ceases to give – but it still stays with you. Subsequent is the creation of artist Uta Bekaia. He explains that it represents that moment when you wake up but you are still caught in a dream and are trying to retain that dream somehow, but it escapes you. For me it embodied the morning-after for pantsuit nation.
The next thing that caught my eye was Levan Mindiashvili’s “Unintended Archeology,” a glowing pink sculpture hanging on the south wall. His constructs are derivatives of places he has lived – echos of the rooms and the structures he has come across. Mindiashvili is an artist that migrated from Georgia to Buenos Aires, and now resides in Brooklyn. In this piece beauty is captured with the pink light that delicately cascades up the side of the white pine rectangle and the concrete casting that sits inside. A black square is embedded in the casting as a placeholder for something yet to come – a window? A picture? a memory? That black square carries over into the composition of “Untitled,” hanging to the right. This one has a veil, a cobalt blue plexiglass that obscures the architectural vignette, embedded in a grey architectural casting, which has been carefully crafted to mimic found concrete. In our discussion something he said stuck with me, “these days the idea of place is more precisely identified as an idea of displacement”. I thought of his journey and of so many others past and present.
The artworks adjacent to Mindiashvili are topographic sculptures made from discarded material by Etty Yaniv. Here we get the chaotic wave that has found some kind of order in a snapshot, or moment in time. Part of the wave has dripped on the floor, scurried to the corner, and up the wall. It is a remnant of a larger body of work that is reminiscent of the plastic patches that are generated in the five gyres found across our oceans. There, large amounts of debris are accumulated through the movements of the currents, they shift and swirl entangling the world’s plastics. From afar they can be grotesquely beautiful, just like these sculptures. However, Yaniv’s work has other hidden treasures. As you get closer there are words and drawings that begin to strike the imagination and evoke narratives and memories from times past. This current whispers to you.
The topographic-like sculptures continues with Alexandra Leyre Mein’s Myofibril IV The Kiss / Qibla. This artwork grows out of a wooden stool like two white stalagmites and is made of Hydrostone, mesh wire, cloth, metal, paint pigments and varnish. These forms take on a more sensual twists. They are hand built by the artist with material that dries quickly. She says she likes this quality of time as it keeps the unconscious forces closer to the surface. Where one would imagine the kiss to take place are two pristine flat surfaces facing each other. The organic sinewy shape falls short of an actual embrace but the romance is still there.
The most precarious of Precarious Structures are Liz Sweibel’s constructions. Her process is most telling: she builds, takes apart and rebuilds – using wooden material she found over fifteen years ago. She composes in situ. Gravity and balance play a role in the compositions. For one, a mysterious gale compresses the elements, and another looks like a makeshift rutter. The structures are dense with energy and pack a punch even in their small size. Sweibel includes drawings of ghostly, red dashed, rectangular boxes layered under mylar. Their silhouettes are inspired by the shipping containers that got thrown across the landscape like pick up sticks by the Tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. The trauma of disaster echoes throughout the select works.
Finally we have ceramic works from Andrew Cornell Robinson. The title of the first one says it all “When Businessmen Meet the Conversation Ends in a Conspiracy Against The People”. Created back in 2010, six black glazed ceramic figures surround a red glazed ceramic pear. Robinson is the anti-hero’s artist. He describes his work as an exploration of the secret lives of impotent radicals, social pariahs, and no-bodies whose stories fall out of the cultural and familial trees unremembered.
A final quote from Marshall Berman, “All form of modern art and thought have a dual character. They are at once expressions of and protest against the process of modernization.” This is no different in this show. We’ve entered into a maelstrom, our modern, our new chaos.
Venus Knitting Art Space
117 Grattan St. Brooklyn, NY 11237
December 9-18, 2016