Underdonk, A Community Fixture

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.

Onion by the Ocean, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Onion by the Ocean, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Sophie Grant and Jenna Westra, Right of Window, Installation image, 2015
Sophie Grant and Jenna Westra, Right of Window, Installation image, 2015

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

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.

 Patrice Renee Washington, "Rags and Rinds", Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Patrice Renee Washington, “Rags and Rinds”, Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016

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.

Underdonk at ESX LA, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2015

Underdonk at ESX LA, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2015 Underdonk artists: Aleta LanierAshley GarrettChris BertholfDanielle OrchardElisa SolivenEssye KlempnerGeorgia ElrodJJ ManfordLaura FrantzTryn CollinsNicholas Cueva

1329 Willoughby Ave #211
Brooklyn, NY 11237
L train to Jefferson St

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BOS Studio Visit: Petros Chrisostomou

by Nicole Durbin

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the impressive spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during the 2014 BOS weekend.

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[AiB] Can you tell me a little about your process?

[PC] I’m interested in sculpture. I studied sculpture originally, and when I would make large-scale installations, a lot of the time the sculptures would only exist through documentation. That’s also very true of famous artworks that we know—we live in an age now where images are very prevalent.

Even if you go to a museum and you see a piece of artwork, you might buy a postcard of it.  And if you don’t, if you have a beautiful experience then the image of that artwork lives on as a memory, which is kind of like an image beyond the physical experience that you had, if you’re thinking of it two or three weeks after that moment. So that’s the concept of my work, the idea of documenting the work and the document being the actual work.

[AiB] When you show your work, do you show the sculptures themselves or do you show photographs of them?

[PC] I show the photographs, but for the purpose of Bushwick Open Studios it’s kind of nice that people can come in here and see the process.

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[AiB] How would you say your work has evolved over time?

[PC] I think what I do is I build a history for myself, by building these environments. So as I continue to live, the different places that I live in, these pieces sort of evolve and are constructed through those scenarios that I find myself in. You can see a development.

[AiB] Could you tell me about a recent piece?

[PC] I’m working on this laundromat here. You can see that it’s in some very early stages. A laundromat is a very New York thing, I guess. So it probably references my time here, because I’m from London and it’s kind of a different culture I suppose. So, I’m interested to see how that goes.

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[AiB] When you start a new piece, how much is planned out in advance versus evolving organically?

[PC] I think it just depends on what I’m working on. Sometimes I have a very clear-cut idea of what I’m going to do, and I go through the motions and I make it. Other times I could be making something and I stop because I realize I’m not interested anymore, and then I just make something else, more organically.

[AiB] When you’re working on something, how do you know when you’re done?

[PC] I get it to a point when instinctually I feel comfortable enough to let it go. And then I know it’s time to photograph it.

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To see more work by Petros Chrisostomou, visit his website

BOS Studio Visit: Nancy Baker

by Nicole Durbin

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[AiB] It’s Bushwick Open Studios, and lots of people have been going in and out of your studio space. How do you introduce your work and its themes to a neophyte?

[NB] I use a lot of words in these pieces, and the words reflect things I hear on the street, on the trains. They’re common phrases that people use, and so I try and interject the conceptual meaning and the formal nature of the piece of the same time.

I try to underplay [my process], but people nevertheless really want to know. They’re digital prints that are made with archival pigment print. There are also painted pieces and textured pieces – it’s a combination of mixed media, so I cut up small pieces and I individually put them together to make a larger whole. Sometimes I put them together to make a large installation – room sized – and then there are the times they’re smaller discrete objects. I think of them as modules, so that I can reestablish and reframe them in different situations, different contexts.

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[AiB] How long have you been doing this kind of work?

[NB] I’m actually trained as an oil painter, so this is pretty new. I moved from somewhere that was beautiful and bucolic, and I came to New York my practice changed completely. So I’ve been doing this work, I guess about 3 years.

[AiB] Over those 3 years, how would you say this work has evolved?

[NB] Oh, it’s been really painful! I’ve been doing this for a really long time, so it’s difficult to have to grapple with the fact that some of the experiments fail and are really bad. So it’s been a march forward, dealing with a lot of things that didn’t work. It’s still an ongoing process of change.

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[AiB] My sense is that your work is very well-received now…

[NB] Ehhh, yes and no. Some people would say that it’s fussy. I always think of work as being somewhat reliant on specific styles and fashions that are going on. Sometimes you might be in sync with it and other times you may not. I’m sort of off-sync right now with the Bushwick style.

[AiB] I was at the BOS auction and I remember that your piece was one of the first to go.

[NB] It’s ironic, isn’t it! I think it’s a very competitive art world, but you know what I really love about Bushwick? There are so many wonderful people here, that are so willing to engage in conversation and the struggle.. it’s remarkable, and this Bushwick Open Studios is a remarkable extension of that.

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[AiB] Can you talk a little more about your experiences in Bushwick?

[NB] I grew up in New York, and then I went away for a long time. When I heard that people were moving to Bushwick I thought, really? As a kid we would never drive through this neighborhood. You just didn’t.  It was a really economically depressed neighborhood – downright dangerous. And now I have a lot of conflicting feeling about gentrification. In one way it makes this better for the people that live in the neighborhood because it’s safer. But at the same time it’s the “SoHo-ization” of a neighborhood that’s really tough.

But this is so far away from Manhattan I don’t think that’s going to happen here. You’re not going to have Prada, but you will have very expensive living. But so far, I think it’s a historic event that so many artists are together in the same place.

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Nancy Baker’s studio is located at Brooklyn Fire Proof. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the wild spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during BOS’14.

BOS Studio Visit: Laina Terpstra

by Nicole Durbin

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[AiB] I just wandered in for Bushwick Open Studios 2014, and I’d love to hear how you introduce your work to a new audience.

[LT] I graduated from Sarah Lawrence a year ago, and I’ve been painting my whole life, practically. Recently I’ve been doing a series working from old masters, where I’ve been abstracting them to a really fundamental movement and kinesthetic response, based on light and movement. I have a dance background as well, so I think that feeds the work a lot.

[AiB] When you’re working from the old masters, how do you decide which elements to retain?

[LT] Usually I start with the background which is more geometric and just lay in the forms. Then I’ll go over it with one sweeping stroke, which represents the organic figurative element. I usually work them for a long time. Do one, then erase it. Do it again, then erase it. It’s a process of getting to know the image really deeply. I just see it as a contemporary take, almost objectifying [the original works] as a pure visual and sensual experience.

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Left: Painting by Terpstra. Right: Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.

[AiB] I would love it if you could pick one of these pieces and talk me through your process working on it.

[LT] Sure. This [pictured top of article] is probably my favorite piece, and it’s one of my newest works. It’s on canvas paper, and I work on my table, flat, and like I said I start with the background, the deep geometric space. This one is from a Rembrandt. I’m looking at the photo and I go over it, and over it again, and erase completely what I’ve done, and do it again until I get into this zone where I can really feel the image, and then it almost feels like I’m so in touch with what I’m looking at that I’m not even really thinking. It just comes through, almost in one stroke. And then I just know when it’s right.

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Laina Terpstra’s studio is located at 1013 Grand St. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the wild spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during BOS’14.

Breaking Up Words: BOS Studio Visit with Jared Flaming

by Nicole Durbin

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[AiB] I’m a person off the street who doesn’t know anything about your work. How would you give me an introduction to what you’re doing here?

[JF] My previous body of work and the newer ones here both began with photo collages on the computer, which I then recreate by hand and oil paint on a large scale. Most of the elements I toy around with involve studying a lot of semiotics in college, and messing around with the notion of signs, origins of meaning, and how you actually come to some sort of derived meaning from viewing a painting.

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[JF] All of these paintings have these wet, juicy brushstrokes in them, [which I] recreated on a much larger scale than they could possibly be. So you have what is, to some, the ultimate sign of authenticity and presence of the artist, like de Kooning moving around his canvas. The gestures of him moving in space are recorded in paint, and it’s supposed to be like a connection to him. I’m subverting that by recreating [the brushstrokes] so they’re all facsimiles in a way, or forgeries of what should be a direct linkage to authenticity of presence of the author of the work. Most of the elements in the final product are supposed to carry with them a sort of “suspect” manipulation or mediation to call into question what sort of meaning they’re usually used to signify.

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[AiB] That’s fascinating. What drew you to working with these topics?

[JF] Visually there are certain artists who drew me to this, like Robert Longo recreating masterworks in graphite in a tiny postcard scale. The way Jeff Koons sometimes recreates found things in a much larger scale. People say what they want about [Koons], but there’s a lot packed in there. Even going back to Warhol… there’s always been something that’s really curious to me about subversion of images. And the stuff I was studying in grad school—a lot of poststructuralist philosophy and semiotics—was really fascinating because they took these notions of authenticity of origins and took them to really extreme philosophical ends. It always seemed boring to just look at a painting, read a little wall thing, and be like “Oh, I get it.” My objective—what I think interests me in other artists—is when you’re forwarded from reaching any sort of stable medium. That’s what’s exciting. That’s what I try to conjure up.

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[AiB] I see you use a lot of language in your work, would you tell me about that?

[JF] You’ll see there are large swaths of white around the whole image, so the white text will bleed into it. It plays with this idea of breaking up words, to the point where sometimes it’s tempting to read them as formal elements rather than literally reading them. So, it’s playing back and forth with the legibility of something and actually meshing with the visual aesthetics of the piece.

The words are also specifically chosen to prick some sort of curious reading of what’s in there. “The Ecstasy of St Theresa” in this piece is an image—albeit a really rationally, realistically carved Renaissance image—which is a depiction of someone losing their mind in the thralls of ecstasy, and it’s paired with the word “rationality,” which is itself broken up and hard to read. I’m picking words that screw around with being able to read the piece literally and conceptually.

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Jared Flaming’s studio is located at 1013 Grand St. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the wild spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during BOS’14.

Breaking Up Words: BOS Studio Visit with Jared Flaming

by Nicole Durbin

image

[AiB] I’m a person off the street who doesn’t know anything about your work. How would you give me an introduction to what you’re doing here?

[JF] My previous body of work and the newer ones here both began with photo collages on the computer, which I then recreate by hand and oil paint on a large scale. Most of the elements I toy around with involve studying a lot of semiotics in college, and messing around with the notion of signs, origins of meaning, and how you actually come to some sort of derived meaning from viewing a painting.

image

[JF] All of these paintings have these wet, juicy brushstrokes in them, [which I] recreated on a much larger scale than they could possibly be. So you have what is, to some, the ultimate sign of authenticity and presence of the artist, like de Kooning moving around his canvas. The gestures of him moving in space are recorded in paint, and it’s supposed to be like a connection to him. I’m subverting that by recreating [the brushstrokes] so they’re all facsimiles in a way, or forgeries of what should be a direct linkage to authenticity of presence of the author of the work. Most of the elements in the final product are supposed to carry with them a sort of “suspect” manipulation or mediation to call into question what sort of meaning they’re usually used to signify.

image

[AiB] That’s fascinating. What drew you to working with these topics?

[JF] Visually there are certain artists who drew me to this, like Robert Longo recreating masterworks in graphite in a tiny postcard scale. The way Jeff Koons sometimes recreates found things in a much larger scale. People say what they want about [Koons], but there’s a lot packed in there. Even going back to Warhol… there’s always been something that’s really curious to me about subversion of images. And the stuff I was studying in grad school—a lot of poststructuralist philosophy and semiotics—was really fascinating because they took these notions of authenticity of origins and took them to really extreme philosophical ends. It always seemed boring to just look at a painting, read a little wall thing, and be like “Oh, I get it.” My objective—what I think interests me in other artists—is when you’re forwarded from reaching any sort of stable medium. That’s what’s exciting. That’s what I try to conjure up.

image

[AiB] I see you use a lot of language in your work, would you tell me about that?

[JF] You’ll see there are large swaths of white around the whole image, so the white text will bleed into it. It plays with this idea of breaking up words, to the point where sometimes it’s tempting to read them as formal elements rather than literally reading them. So, it’s playing back and forth with the legibility of something and actually meshing with the visual aesthetics of the piece.

The words are also specifically chosen to prick some sort of curious reading of what’s in there. “The Ecstasy of St Theresa” in this piece is an image—albeit a really rationally, realistically carved Renaissance image—which is a depiction of someone losing their mind in the thralls of ecstasy, and it’s paired with the word “rationality,” which is itself broken up and hard to read. I’m picking words that screw around with being able to read the piece literally and conceptually.

###

Jared Flaming’s studio is located at 1013 Grand St. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BOS Studio Visit is an ongoing series that seeks to showcase the wild spectrum of artistic expression on display during Bushwick Open Studios. All interviews were performed during BOS’14.

Beyond Bushwick: Off the Grid with Rachel Malin

by Talia Shulze

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Hi Rachel! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

I’m from Southern California and moved to the east coast 3 years ago. I received my MFA at Rutger’s University. My work incorporates repetition and patterning as a means of exploring the inherent flaws within the systematic processes of these elements. I think the flaws are the best part, where you can find the humor in structure. 

What’s your favorite fast food sandwich?

A bodega sandwich with cheese, pickles, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes 

Bad Boy or Death Row Records? 

Death row (I’m from Long Beach, CA) but really I’m more of a dischord type of gal 😛

What’s your favorite aspect of your studio or workspace? 

It’s really convenient to get to, right off the L. Makes going after work so much easier.

  

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What do you do when you’re not thinking about art / working in your studio?

 I work as the shop assistant at a tattoo shop and I was doing some dye work for a costume company for a bit. Outside of working and my studio, I just hang out with friends. 

Are there other shows this fall that you’re excited to see?

 I’m excited to see the Mike Kelley show.  I really liked the Charline Von Heyl show that was just up. 

Rachel Malin is a Bushwick based artist. She recently completed her MFA at Rutgers University, and will have work in the upcoming show, ‘The Double Down’ at Trestle Gallery in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Come to the opening reception this Friday, October 25, 7-9 pm!

Curated by Trudy Benson & Jason Stopa, The Double Down will also feature the work of Tomer Aluf and Peter Shear

See more of Malin’s work here

Tbilisi to Bushwick: Levan Mindiashvili’s Search for Identity

by Etty Yaniv

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“Imprints (on my wall),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and collage on canvas with 1 channel video projection with sound (loop), 37 inches x 78,7 inches; photo courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

To Levan Mindiashvili, a multi-disciplinary artist born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia,  “identity” is far from a buzz word in a familiar artist statement. When he was a child the Soviet Union collapse ended a seventy-year Communist regime in Georgia, followed by “ten years of darkness,” which were characterized by economic upheaval and tumultuous search for national identity. “Since I was ten, I used to hear about recuperation of the country’s identity from the far historical past, when Georgia was a kingdom and the church played a central role,” says Mindiashvili in an animated tone. The search for national identity has become inseparable from his personal and artistic engagement with notions of privacy. He reflects on his childhood, “I had a huge family and we all lived together. The nuclear family, the society, and the soviet entity were constantly present in my life, there was no escape, but I needed my personal space.” That tension led him to feel like an outsider with an urge to explore other cultures and indeed, in 2008, five years after graduating from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and several successful exhibitions of his work in Germany, he felt it was time to depart. Impressed with the work of Argentinian artists at the Venice Biennale, Mindiashvili moved to Argentina and without speaking a word of Spanish started a postgraduate degree at the National University of Art of Buenos Aires.

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“Identities,” 2011, mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, two panels, overall size 35 inches x 54 inches. (The work was a part of the solo show “Mobile Intimacies”, NES_zona 54 Art Gallery, Buenos Aires), photo courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

 Within a year adjustments to a new place and hardships of visa applications led him to reflect on the meaning of “home” as a physical space in a performance piece called “Transmigrants.”  He vividly remembers a Kafkaesque incident, when for bureaucratic reasons he needed to renew his Argentinian visa in Moscow, but since Russia and Georgia were in hostile political terms, he ended up getting special permission from the Argentinian consulate in Turkey, only to restart the tedious application process upon returning to Argentina. “I was preoccupied with the procedures that third world citizens have to deal with when they visit the first world. You are a passport number, valid or not valid, that’s all,” he shrugs.

In his performance, Mindiashvili wears a hooded sweatshirt, carrying a suitcase and a pile of written visa applications, while walking in circles, throwing the documents while reading them out loud in Georgian, Spanish and English. Next, he places the suitcase in the center of the room, opens it and starts packing his belongings in transparent plastic foils. He then lights candles in front of each package and removes his hoody,  revealing a T-shirt with a Georgian flag. As a final act, he enters the suitcase and closes it behind him. In the background, a sequence of the artist walking in Buenos Aires shifts to a passport-like photo sequence depicting him and his family, each portrait titled “other.”

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Stills from the projection of multimedia performance “transMIGRANTS” presented in Buenos Aires at The 2nd International Forum of Performing Art, 2009    (idea, sound and performance by Levan Mindiashvili | video: Cristian Tonhaiser)  courtesy of Cristian Tonhaiser

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“Warrior (Fetish),” 2009, analog photography painted by hand. Three parts, overall size 40 inches x 60 inches (This photograph formed a part of the installation for the performance “Warrior”, performed at Arcimboldo Art Gallery, Buenos Aires, 2009)    courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

After two intense years of using his body inperformance work, Mindiashvili gravitated back to painting and drawing, his “natural form of expression.“  His performances had led him to question not only how daily objects retain the memory of our bodies, or how public urban spaces affect intimacy, but also the importance of language in cultural contexts. As evident from his first solo show in Buenos Aires, “Mobile Intimacies,” which included a series of mixed media paintings depicting every bed that he had ever slept in, along with a self-portrait, the installation also featured personal items from his daily life: pages from diaries, his bed mounted on the wall, and a book he was reading at the time related to the challenges of self-expression in a second language. He says that for the first time he decided to convey the narrative through his personal experiences. Specifically referring to intimacy in public, he says with a grin, “I was sleeping in this bed the very morning of the opening.”

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“Whispers # 04 (Mobile Intimacies),” 2011 mixed media on canvas, 35,4 inches x 51,1 inches image courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Fundacion Mundo Nuevo

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“Whispers (Mobile Intimacies),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and stitching on canvas, 59 inches x 76,7 inches, courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Fundacion Mundo Nuevo

In his next installation “Imprints on my Wall,”  he displayed a painting of his studio wall layered with drawn portraits of people that were central in his life since his arrival in Buenos Aires. On that image he projected a video of himself performing mundane activities in his studio, thus coalescing moving and static media. Without knowing it then he was ultimately closing his Argentinian chapter, as several months later Mindiashvili would move to NYC and settle in Bushwick. “The first thing I did in NYC was participate in Bushwick Open Studios. I felt that NYC embraced me from the moment I arrived.”

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“Imprints (on my wall),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and collage on canvas with 1 channel video projection with sound (loop), 37 inches x 78,7 inches Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

Since settling in Bushwick, he has been travelling extensively for shows in Europe, including a solo show in Koln, titled “Urban Identities,” where he conveyed his reflections on cities as both public and private meeting points in a series of mixed media paintings and a large wall drawing. Mindiashvili wants to focus closely on how urban architecture has informed his personal experiences living in New York, Buenos Aires and Tbilisi.  He traces his interest in urban architecture back to Buenos Aires, where the “medianera,” typical Buenos Aires side-facades increasingly drew his attention.  Originally designed as functional and unadorned side walls of buildings, they were meant to be hidden by adjacent structures, but in effect, frequently remain exposed and thus gradually change the city’s architecture. Filled with illegal windows of various sizes, these asymmetric wall surfaces, are meant to be intimate parts of buildings, but instead, they unabashedly expose the intimate lives of the inhabitants.

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“Urban Identities 23,” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 6 panels, overall size 56 inches x 92 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany) Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

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Urban Identities 27 (‘medianeras’),” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 2 panels, overall size 24 inches x 40 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany) private collection. courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

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“Urban Identities 28,” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 9 panels, overall size 36 inches x 48 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany). private collection, Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

 These days he is busy preparing for an ambitious large scale exhibition at the Tbilisi National Museum of Art called “Heritage.” Mindiashvili and a few other artists he invited will reflect on how family and social environments inform personal identity. “Georgians refer to the remote past,” he explains, “and I want to trigger a dialogue about recent history.” He aims to foster awareness that personal history is valuable, and that every individual is responsible for the future of the country, concluding, “As far as I go from Georgia, I get closer to myself.”

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“Urban Identities,” general view of the exhibition at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne. drawing on the wall and a self portrait “iDentities_02”, 2012. mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, three panels, overall size 27 inches x 59 inches. Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

  

 

Tbilisi to Bushwick: Levan Mindiashvili’s Search for Identity

by Etty Yaniv

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“Imprints (on my wall),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and collage on canvas with 1 channel video projection with sound (loop), 37 inches x 78,7 inches; photo courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

To Levan Mindiashvili, a multi-disciplinary artist born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia,  “identity” is far from a buzz word in a familiar artist statement. When he was a child the Soviet Union collapse ended a seventy-year Communist regime in Georgia, followed by “ten years of darkness,” which were characterized by economic upheaval and tumultuous search for national identity. “Since I was ten, I used to hear about recuperation of the country’s identity from the far historical past, when Georgia was a kingdom and the church played a central role,” says Mindiashvili in an animated tone. The search for national identity has become inseparable from his personal and artistic engagement with notions of privacy. He reflects on his childhood, “I had a huge family and we all lived together. The nuclear family, the society, and the soviet entity were constantly present in my life, there was no escape, but I needed my personal space.” That tension led him to feel like an outsider with an urge to explore other cultures and indeed, in 2008, five years after graduating from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and several successful exhibitions of his work in Germany, he felt it was time to depart. Impressed with the work of Argentinian artists at the Venice Biennale, Mindiashvili moved to Argentina and without speaking a word of Spanish started a postgraduate degree at the National University of Art of Buenos Aires.

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“Identities,” 2011, mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, two panels, overall size 35 inches x 54 inches. (The work was a part of the solo show “Mobile Intimacies”, NES_zona 54 Art Gallery, Buenos Aires), photo courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

 Within a year adjustments to a new place and hardships of visa applications led him to reflect on the meaning of “home” as a physical space in a performance piece called “Transmigrants.”  He vividly remembers a Kafkaesque incident, when for bureaucratic reasons he needed to renew his Argentinian visa in Moscow, but since Russia and Georgia were in hostile political terms, he ended up getting special permission from the Argentinian consulate in Turkey, only to restart the tedious application process upon returning to Argentina. “I was preoccupied with the procedures that third world citizens have to deal with when they visit the first world. You are a passport number, valid or not valid, that’s all,” he shrugs.

In his performance, Mindiashvili wears a hooded sweatshirt, carrying a suitcase and a pile of written visa applications, while walking in circles, throwing the documents while reading them out loud in Georgian, Spanish and English. Next, he places the suitcase in the center of the room, opens it and starts packing his belongings in transparent plastic foils. He then lights candles in front of each package and removes his hoody,  revealing a T-shirt with a Georgian flag. As a final act, he enters the suitcase and closes it behind him. In the background, a sequence of the artist walking in Buenos Aires shifts to a passport-like photo sequence depicting him and his family, each portrait titled “other.”

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Stills from the projection of multimedia performance “transMIGRANTS” presented in Buenos Aires at The 2nd International Forum of Performing Art, 2009    (idea, sound and performance by Levan Mindiashvili | video: Cristian Tonhaiser)  courtesy of Cristian Tonhaiser

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“Warrior (Fetish),” 2009, analog photography painted by hand. Three parts, overall size 40 inches x 60 inches (This photograph formed a part of the installation for the performance “Warrior”, performed at Arcimboldo Art Gallery, Buenos Aires, 2009)    courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

After two intense years of using his body inperformance work, Mindiashvili gravitated back to painting and drawing, his “natural form of expression.“  His performances had led him to question not only how daily objects retain the memory of our bodies, or how public urban spaces affect intimacy, but also the importance of language in cultural contexts. As evident from his first solo show in Buenos Aires, “Mobile Intimacies,” which included a series of mixed media paintings depicting every bed that he had ever slept in, along with a self-portrait, the installation also featured personal items from his daily life: pages from diaries, his bed mounted on the wall, and a book he was reading at the time related to the challenges of self-expression in a second language. He says that for the first time he decided to convey the narrative through his personal experiences. Specifically referring to intimacy in public, he says with a grin, “I was sleeping in this bed the very morning of the opening.”

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“Whispers # 04 (Mobile Intimacies),” 2011 mixed media on canvas, 35,4 inches x 51,1 inches image courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Fundacion Mundo Nuevo

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“Whispers (Mobile Intimacies),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and stitching on canvas, 59 inches x 76,7 inches, courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Fundacion Mundo Nuevo

In his next installation “Imprints on my Wall,”  he displayed a painting of his studio wall layered with drawn portraits of people that were central in his life since his arrival in Buenos Aires. On that image he projected a video of himself performing mundane activities in his studio, thus coalescing moving and static media. Without knowing it then he was ultimately closing his Argentinian chapter, as several months later Mindiashvili would move to NYC and settle in Bushwick. “The first thing I did in NYC was participate in Bushwick Open Studios. I felt that NYC embraced me from the moment I arrived.”

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“Imprints (on my wall),” 2012 mixed media, rice paper and collage on canvas with 1 channel video projection with sound (loop), 37 inches x 78,7 inches Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili

Since settling in Bushwick, he has been travelling extensively for shows in Europe, including a solo show in Koln, titled “Urban Identities,” where he conveyed his reflections on cities as both public and private meeting points in a series of mixed media paintings and a large wall drawing. Mindiashvili wants to focus closely on how urban architecture has informed his personal experiences living in New York, Buenos Aires and Tbilisi.  He traces his interest in urban architecture back to Buenos Aires, where the “medianera,” typical Buenos Aires side-facades increasingly drew his attention.  Originally designed as functional and unadorned side walls of buildings, they were meant to be hidden by adjacent structures, but in effect, frequently remain exposed and thus gradually change the city’s architecture. Filled with illegal windows of various sizes, these asymmetric wall surfaces, are meant to be intimate parts of buildings, but instead, they unabashedly expose the intimate lives of the inhabitants.

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“Urban Identities 23,” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 6 panels, overall size 56 inches x 92 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany) Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

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Urban Identities 27 (‘medianeras’),” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 2 panels, overall size 24 inches x 40 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany) private collection. courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

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“Urban Identities 28,” 2013 mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, 9 panels, overall size 36 inches x 48 inches. (from the solo show “Urban Identities” at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne, Germany). private collection, Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

 These days he is busy preparing for an ambitious large scale exhibition at the Tbilisi National Museum of Art called “Heritage.” Mindiashvili and a few other artists he invited will reflect on how family and social environments inform personal identity. “Georgians refer to the remote past,” he explains, “and I want to trigger a dialogue about recent history.” He aims to foster awareness that personal history is valuable, and that every individual is responsible for the future of the country, concluding, “As far as I go from Georgia, I get closer to myself.”

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“Urban Identities,” general view of the exhibition at Kunstraub99 Art Gallery, Cologne. drawing on the wall and a self portrait “iDentities_02”, 2012. mixed media and rice paper mounted on canvas, three panels, overall size 27 inches x 59 inches. Courtesy of Levan Mindiashvili and Kunstraub99

  

 

Abroad in Brooklyn: Fanny Allié – From France to Bushwick – Tracing Individual Moments in Public Spaces

by Etty Yaniv

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When Fanny Allié received a polite rejection letter of her public art proposal, she did not despair, instead promptly contacting curator Jennifer Lantzas from NYC Parks & Recreation to find out why. To her surprise, the French born artist, who has been residing in Brooklyn for the past seven years, learned that although her proposal did not fit the requirements this time, the curators not only liked her concept but also were open to discussing other opportunities. Consequently, Allié eventually got an offer to execute her project in a NYC park of her choice. Her decision fell on Tompkins Square Park. A diverse artist with special interest in site-specific public art, Allié says that she chose this location because she was familiar with its intimate scale, visibility from the street, and distinct urban history. “It has a soul,” she explains with a charming French accent and smile.

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She typically approaches public art pieces by first researching the history and characteristics of the site, aiming to connect with people that pass by daily. For this project, she wanted to meet someone who had witnessed the changes in Tompkins Square Park first hand, including its history of violence, homelessness and gentrification. “I was planning on going to the park many times to spot a ‘regular’ but he came to me during my first site visit,” Allié recalls. In fact, just as she was taking a preliminary photo of the location, Christopher, a former homeless man, approached her and a brief conversation with consequent exchange of phone numbers ensued. This resulted in a life size metal silhouette, which depicts Christopher as an everyman, arching backward, face up and hands lifting behind his back like wings. Whether on the verge of flying, or frozen in arrested movement, the man’s lifted face projects an aspiration to reach for something up high.  Her hope is that passersby will stop and look up,  realizing “that there is nothing to see but an elm tree.” Without a hint of sentimentality, “Serendipity,” (2013) as the recently installed piece is called, conjures a dream-like state of here and now with poignant social undercurrents. Allié emphasizes that her consistent interest in temporality is not morose, but rather derives from her reflection on the body as an autonomic entity, separate from the mind.

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photo by Mauro Solmi

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“Serendipity,” 76″ x 24″ x 0.75″, metal, 2013, Tompkins Square Park, NYC, image courtesy the artist

Reflections on temporality and the body as a container are also apparent in the artist’s prolific video work. Allié, who graduated in 2005 with an MFA from Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, in Arles, had been working on video and performance based projects till 2010, when she started focusing more on sculpture and public art installations. Yet the genesis of her later projects can be traced back to her 2008 video “Bamboos,” for which Allié asked a group of ten people to pose for a few still minutes in Greenpoint Park. Standing close to each other in the sun, heads up, eyes closed and arms floating, she captured the way each individual swayed in subtle and meditative movements, which surprisingly cohered into a unified group rhythm, like bamboos in the wind. This image made a lasting impact on the artist and has clearly inspired themes in subsequent projects.

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still from “Bamboos,” video, 5:39, 2008, courtesy the artist

In her solo show several years later at St. Eustache, an iconic Parisian church, Allié not only presented “Bamboos,” but also displayed neon sculptures that traced her parents, sister, husband and herself in vertical postures. She explains that portraying her family members had nothing to do with religion and was instead based on a pragmatic decision. “They were the most convenient models,” Allié admits, nodding her head. Her process is straightforward: based on photos, she outlines the portraits in a computer program and then fabricates them as neon frames.  The reception was mixed but mostly positive, she says with a shrug. Centrally placed in the church, the video and sculptures attracted a wide range of comments, from “spiritual”, to “video and neon do not belong in a church.” C’est la vie.

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“Silhouettes,” height ranging from 5’.4″ to 6’, neon light and metal structure, 2012, St Eustache church, Paris, France , courtesy the artist

The first time Allié conceived a neon figure was for the 2011 onenight event in Greenpoint, Bring to Light. By using an attractive color, sleek material and neon light to fabricate a figure that was attached horizontally on a wooden bench, she reversed the normal reaction of avoidance towards homeless people. “I don’t usually work with material first,” she states contemplatively, “I fit the material to the project.” Moving from Arles to Brooklyn to live with her (then) future husband in 2005 stimulated further experimentation with new forms, influencing her overall practice in subtle ways.

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“The Glowing Homeless,” neon light, 72″x22″x7″, 2011, Greenpoint, NYC, courtesy the artist

For instance, two years after she has arrived in the states, Allié made  From Above,” a 1:33 video with her own text and no sound.  Depicting herself as a floating figure reflecting on an out of body experience corresponded to her challenges as an immigrant, which included struggling with a new language, making friends, art, and finding her place. At that time, she also started exploring 3-D forms in clay, Papier –Mache, neon and metal.

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“Traces (Pillows),” 16.9″ x 15″x 3.5″, fired clay and acrylic paint, 2012, St Eustache church, Paris, France , courtesy the artist

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“Artifacts,” papier-mâché, gesso and fabric, dimensions variable, 2012 courtesy the artist

Regardless of the various media she chooses, her voice comes across as lucid, poetic, and conveys a disquieting sense of urgency. Allié’s impulse as a storyteller along with her inquisitive restlessness drive her to uncover in her work traces of a fleeting moment, an ephemeral existence and most of all, a narrative that links us to each other in our daily life. Who knows what she may come up with next?