Going About her Own Way at Transmitter

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.

Colette Robbins
Barnum Effect, 2016
PLA polymer, acrylic, and graphite powder
21.5 x 3.63 x 4.13 inches
Justin Amrhein Political Engine - Version II 2009-17 Dura trans print, back-lit light- box 55 x 152 inches. Ed. of 5
Justin Amrhein
Political Engine – Version II 2009-17
Dura trans print, back-lit light- box
55 x 152 inches. Ed. of 5

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.

Justin Amrhein
Political Engine – Version II (detail)
Colette Robbins
Hypothalumus, 2014
Graphite on paper
41 x 39 inches

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.

 

Curation Transformation: Challenging Art-World Hierarchies

Cura (Tangled Hierarchy) accompanying essay by Stephan Faught
Cura (Tangled Hierarchy) accompanying essay by Stephan Faught

 

The artist-curator has become a more present staple in the contemporary art landscape, yet the categorical divide remains. It is this divide that Cura (Tangled Hierarchy) seeks to address. Over tea, artist and curator Sessa Englund explained the premise of this new endeavor. The project is tagged as “a semi-annual exhibition that will examine the position of artists that curate” and aims to address the relatively recent advent of the dual profession of creator and organizer. By providing the space for artists to engage in the act of curation while creating a dialogue around the subject of art making and exhibiting, Cura seeks to explore the status quo that exists in and beyond the hierarchies of the art world. The concept will be executed in a series of exhibitions, accompanying articles, and a retrospective that will span the next three years. The first rendition ran for two days at Firework Gallery and featured the work of Lucia Love, Jen Hitchings, and Sessa Englund, along with the writing of Stephan Faught.

Exhibition overview of Cura
Exhibition overview of Cura


In his encompassing essay, Faught outlines the state of the contemporary artist for whom fluidity is the norm. Drawing attention to a shift away from the traditional hierarchy of artistic production, a structure that previously made its way from the artist to the curator to the gallery to the museum, Faught points out that these are not particularly new ideas. Instead, the current system provides more potential for them to be explored. Particularly among young artists who, whether out of necessity or interest, have begun curating, there is a need to engage more closely with the work of fellow artists. “The title of this show comes from the Latin root of the word curate: cura, to care for. This involves solidarity, caring for each other’s work, as well as a concern for the audience,” reads Faught’s essay. Seeing her peers do interesting things, yet lacking the space for them to show their work, Englund began curating.

Lucia Love’s installation with Sessa Englund’s work in the background
Lucia Love’s installation with Sessa Englund’s work in the background

 

Beginning their collaboration this past summer, Love, Hitchings, and Englund set the criteria for the project, including (1) participants must be under 31 years of age; (2) they must be engaged in the practice of art making as well as curating; (3) the show must have an accompanying essay; and (4) the artists must embrace the idea of doing, making, and collaborating outside of their traditional practice. The project found a home for its inaugural event at Firework Gallery whose owners offered time and collaboration as well as a physical space. In addition to providing a platform where artists can push boundaries and consider new ideas, the project is envisioned as creating an environment where marginalized art, such as net art, can be explored.

Jen Hitchings’ photobooth with Sessa Englund’s work in the background
Jen Hitchings’ photobooth with Sessa Englund’s work in the background

 

Jen Hitchings, who typically works from Facebook images, installed a photobooth to source new material for her paintings. Lucia Love is a multimedia artist working between painting, video, and performance, yet this project was directly interactive. Rather than embodying the aloof artist, she engaged with the visitor, enthusiastically welcoming their discarded objects and turning them into found-object artworks. With a background in design, Englund’s work is often concerned with modes of production. For this project, Englund experimented with the idea of labor through a repetitive process of making.

Detail of Sessa Englund’s work
Detail of Sessa Englund’s work

 

An insensitivity lies in the intrinsic intrusiveness to the way in which curators operate. Their job is to enter a creative space and understand, yet judge, the objects to select the apparently good from the bad. Working with an artist as an artist is a democratic act. Here, curation is not about increasing the galleries ability to sell art, but rather about incorporating the ideas of curation into those of practice. On the surface, the show is about curation, but peel back a layer and revealed is the act of curating and how it functions and transforms when incorporated into an artistic practice.

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Cura (Tangled Hierarchy) was on view October 18-19, 2014, at Firework Gallery located at 146 Berry Street

Associated Artists – curators Trio: Jen Hitchings Theresa Daddezio Julian Jimarez-Howard Will Show You

by Etty Yaniv

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(Left to right) Jen Hitchings, Julian Jimarez-Howard, Theresa Daddezio “Hot Mamas” group exhibition, Courtesy Associated

Art making and curating coalesce seamlessly in the daily lives of the three dynamic Associated founders. Sharing an easygoing and unpretentious demeanor, Jen Hitchings, Theresa Daddezio and Julian Jimarez-Howard, the young and energetic force behind this upcoming art venue in Bushwick, convey a winning combination of informality, thoughtfulness, professionalism and ambition. Like an adventurous jazz trio with an experimental impulse and endless stamina, they create their own tune by using improvisation and continuous interaction with natural coolness. They work together in the “way that friends hang out and sometimes dive into intellectual conversations,” Hitchings observes. Aside from Associated business, they regularly meet socially, and when meetings are called, ideas and potential new artists to exhibit are exchanged casually. Hitchings explains that, like the name, they typically compile “associated” people and ideas in order to make shows, which are presented to everyone else that they are “associated with.”

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Artists and curators (left to right): Caroline Falby, Rachel Hayes, Julian Howard-Jimarez, Theresa Daddezio, Jennifer Hitchings, and Sharon Horvath, Photo by Willow Goldstein

A conversation at Hitchings’ and Daddezio’s shared painting studio embodied this spirit of informal communication. Initially, our conversation was halted for a few minutes to welcome with hugs an artist who stopped in to drop off work for “Hot Mamas,” a group show that opened July 20. Multitasking is the name of the game: each member juggles day jobs with making art and sharing a passion for showing other people’s artwork. Hitchings, who works as a manager at Pierogi, says that her gallery job informs her artwork more than her curatorial practice. Constantly consuming art, handling it, and communicating with artists about their process and concepts, inspires her and she feels incredibly lucky for that. “It’s like going to an awesome grad school, but not paying for it rather getting paid,”she said.

Jimarez-Howard, a Brown graduate who earned his masters in art business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art and runs OUTLET Fine Art in addition to his work with Associated, adds that having three or even four jobs is becoming the norm in Bushwick. Daddezio agrees. “You have to, if you want to be able to make it in this area,” she said. In fact, all three of them arrived in Bushwick only about two years ago, evidently equipped with ambition to make it happen.

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Jennifer Hitchings,Theresa Daddezio in their studio

For Hitchings and Daddezio, being pro-active as individuals and as a collaborative team derives from their shared undergraduate school experience at SUNY Purchase in upstate NY. Daddezio recalls that as soon as they arrived in Bushwick straight after graduation , they stuck together. “You want to prove yourself, coming from a small out-of-town state school,” she says with a mischievous grin.  Hitching nods her head in agreement and so does Jimarez-Howard, who moved to Bushwick after staying in Rhode Island briefly after graduation. “School is definitely the bond between them,” he concludes. Hitchings traces her interest in curation and gallery work back to her BFA committee planning role, where she first discovered that she didn’t like the idea of a full time studio work in isolation, but rather preferred to engage in organizing projects which unify people, such as looking and talking about art in public. For Daddezio, on the other hand, painting is a clear priority, and she openly admits that the curatorial work sometimes “hangs out on the sidelines for too long because I am so obsessive about painting.” And indeed, as a painter who is primarily preoccupied with exploring ideas on form, composition and color, Daddezio is also the first to admit that she has an unapologetic bias toward painting in her curatorial practice.

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“Star Gazers,” 60″x70″, oil on canvas, 2013, Courtesy Theresa Daddezio

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“Windows, Variations, Repetions,” 8″x10″x12″ each, oil on canvas, 2011- 2013, courtesy Theresa Daddezio

Filled with canvases, easels and myriad painting paraphernalia, Daddezio’s and Hitchings’ studio space projects the familiar vibes of an active painter’s studio, but despite their affinity for technique and bias toward painting, in their curatorial practice both artists aim to remain open minded. Daddezio hopes not only to show a “wide breadth of work,” but also to make viewers come up with unexpected interpretations. “If it gets people thinking, it is a good thing,” she asserts. Hitching elaborates, “When I think of curating, I think of rearranging and presenting both ideas and visual objects in a way that hasn’t been done before.” Jimarez-Howard makes large conceptual work that evolves from ideas that are overtly related to social and art world contexts, such as raising viewers’ awareness to the invisible labor of art handlers, shippers, and construction workers whose hard work facilitates the art-world glamor. From his perspective as a conceptual artist, he finds it’s not necessary for him to like a piece of art as a curator, yet it is essential that the artwork communicates to viewers a cohesive thought process. That said, for all three of them, constant reinterpretation of their social and art milieu seems to play a central role.

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“Adolescence,” 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 18″ x 30″

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“Banana Split,” 2013, oil and acrylic on wood, 27″ x 21″, courtesy Jennifer Hitchings

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“Invisible Labor,” photo from a performance, courtesy Julian Jimarez-Howard

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“Screwdriver,” cold forged steel, plastic, 9″x1″, 2011, courtesy Julian Jimarez-Howard

Jimarez-Howard’s and Hitchings’ artwork clearly convey social themes on different levels. Less directly, Hitchings’ brooding paintings reflect on our indulgent culture in suburban and urban contexts alike. In life, Hitchings evidently sticks to pragmatism. “We are always out at openings,” she says decisively. It is important for her not only to participate in what is happening now but also take an active part in what is going to happen next. Daddezio adds in her frank and earnest manner that as an artist, curating for her is “like an excuse” to have a dialogue with other artists. In fact, they all share the passion to support artists and provide them with additional exposure. “There are so many artists and not enough spaces to show,” Hitchings asserts. Daddezio reinforces, “So many people are not showing their work enough.” From their well-rounded perspective as young art makers and communicators, the Bushwick art scene seems promising. Hitchings describes it with words such as “non-hierarchical” and “camaraderie,“ while Jimarez-Howard says that for the moment, there is a real sense of supportiveness in the community. Referencing again their shared experience as newcomers to Bushwick, Daddezio sums up with a hearty laugh that “by default you fit in because there is so much quirkiness.”

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(artwork): Caroline Falby, “Homestead,” photo by Willow Goldsein

BoS Growth in Visual Form: 2006-2011

With BoS pushing into its seventh year of existence, I decided to create a few drawings documenting the growth of the number of participants since its inception. While a more extensive history of BoS will likely be published in the near future, these drawings serve as a visual cue to how quickly this community-run project has become a staple in the Bushwick summer. With a whole lot of help from the BoS volunteer team, I approximated the number of registered shows for each event in years past. A “show” can be a registered gallery, studio building, or artist studio, so these estimated numbers do not necessarily represent how many individual artists have participated. That number is always significantly higher than what’s listed here.

I should also mention that although 2006 is the earliest year represented in the drawings below, there was an event in 2005 called Bushwick Arts Project (BAP), which was a one-day, fully curated event, included “18+ hours of art installations, electronic music, indie rock, VJs, DJs, video art, film, dance, and street art occurring simultaneously in an industrial park located in Bushwick,” according to the press release. The term Bushwick Open Studios was coined for an event in October of 2006. And here’s a bit of trivia: How many of the BoS events have occurred when the L train was actually running?

2006, approx. 73 shows

2007, approx. 150 shows

2008, approx 200 shows

2009, approx. 250 shows

2010, approx. 325 shows

2011, approx 380 shows

The trivia answer: Half of them.

Studio Visit: Etty Yaniv’s Cellular World

Inside the expansive studio/loft building of 117 Grattan Street in Bushwick is the studio of Etty Yaniv. This is her first year participating in Bushwick Open Studios and she has been in her current, light-flooded studio since October, having obtained her MFA from SUNY Purchase within the last year. Now she spends as much time as she can in her studio and the amount of work pinned to the walls shows it.

First off, what drew you to Bushwick? 

I think the rent being affordable. There’s a big variety of artists, and I know a few people here too.

Do you think there’s a Bushwick aesthetic?

I think there’s a lot of influence of artists on one another here because of the community. There’s a lot of variety… painters, musicians, performers. As far as if there’s a Bushwick aesthetic… (after a long pause) I would say no.

What can you tell me about the current body of work you’re focusing on?

I’m working on a series of drawings based around social networks.

Are you interested in how people interact now because of social networks?

Yeah, and what happens to our self identity within this new environment.

Why drawing rather than any other medium?

I like the idea of hand made marks in response to that thought of digital environment. Rather than go digital or to a meticulous kind of painting that would replicate electronic aesthetics, I really want to do it by hand… it’s like writing kind of.

Are you interested in the physicality of electronics?

Well, visually I deal with the instruments themselves, but I think the work is more about landscapes of what these objects are… and what we are within those landscapes. They are in cellular form. I present them as cells in a series and together they become an installation.

So each piece in the grid is related to the ones that surround it?

Yes, when I make one I keep the rest of the pieces in mind. They all talk to one another. I want to them to create a world of their own when they’re together.

I like the fact that they’re “cellular”. Do you remember how you came to use that term to describe them?

For me the term pertains to the subject. We live in such a cellular environment. You have icons, you have all these instruments that are made of cells and they all link to each other the way that we link to each other.

Now you use text in some of your work. Does it come from a source?

It comes directly from meta-filter. It’s basically a program that tells you anything you want to know about anything. It’s really good for giving me text that goes along with the digital concept.

Now this one, this is like cells within a cell.

Yes exactly. Actually what I have in here are collages from airplane safety booklets. I think of it as an air traffic hub sort of, as a general metaphor. I was going to India and on the way I was looking at the manuals which are in all these different languages, and thinking about the idea of traveling, like planning your trip online, and then actually traveling on the airplane, and how those relate to one another.

Do you envision a space within some of these drawings?

Yes, I think my work is a lot about capturing space. The idea of the cells… within each of them there’s a search and exploration of this fluid space. Talking about social networks, the iPad and iPhone… these are all new spaces that we’re exposed to, and if you think about little kids now, they don’t know know a reality without these networks, it’s so natural to them. I’m exploring how to express those spaces.

Find out more about Etty’s work and check out her studio during BoS!