‘River Woman’ Celebrates the Intersection Between Art and the Environment

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

At the center of the first room sits a large wooden formwork by Fritz Horstman. The gray cavity of the structure makes up the shape of the East River. Roosevelt Island stands out to help the viewer render the entirety of this salt-water tidal estuary, giving the body of water focused prominence. Also featured are two of his videos created from conversations and interactions done with river communities abroad.

Formwork East River
Image: Fritz Horstman, Formwork for the East River, 2017, plywood, wood, hardware, 36 x 216 x 84 inches

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 Using historical documents, Kathleen Vance traced the tidal flow of the Super Fund creek from its tributaries – Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek and English Kills, and redirects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.

Blue North Painting
Ellen Kozak, Blue North, 2015, oil on panel, 27 x 30.5 x 2

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.

People gather to listen to Paul Gallay, President of Hudson Riverkeeper

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!

2. The 6th Annual Riverkeeper Sweep will be happening on May 6th. You can register to volunteer at one of over 90 Sweep projects across the Hudson Valley and New York City.  Learn more: https://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/events/rvk-events/save-the-date-6th-annual-riverkeeper-sweep/


ODETTA
229 Cook Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn
Hours: Friday thru Sunday 1-6 pm, and by appointment.
“River Woman’ Is up until April 30th.
Website

 

Whether We Dance or Not

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.

Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses, 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses, 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff

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.

Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses (detail), 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Plugs and Fuses (detail), 3rd Iteration at Montserrat College of Art, Photo Courtesy Liz Jaff
Liz Jaff , Wallflower, detail of Heartbreaker, ink, plastic bottles and tubing, Aquasol, dimensions variable, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower, detail of Heartbreaker, ink, plastic bottles and tubing, Aquasol, dimensions variable, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view with Black Magic drawings, ink on paper, 84” x 45” each, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view with Black Magic drawings, ink on paper, 84” x 45” each, 2017, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi

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.

Liz Jaff , Snitch, (exhibited at Volta NY), hand cut paper, 19 ½” x 12 ½”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Snitch, (exhibited at Volta NY), hand cut paper, 19 ½” x 12 ½”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Big Black Venus, (exhibited at Volta NY), ink on hand cut paper, 87” x 46”, 2016, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff: artwork photographed at her studio in Bushwick.

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.

Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi
Liz Jaff , Wallflower Installation view, Photo Courtesy Paul Takeuchi

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

 

Second Round of applause at Trans-Cen-Der

All images courtesy of the presenting artists

Trans-Cen-Der Art Group  hosted its second round of artists’ presentations at the  Temporary Storage Gallery space inside Brooklyn Fireproof. Led by Meer Musa, the presentations were engaging, and the overall atmosphere was supportive and friendly. Presenting artists: Mary DeVincentis HerzogSeth Ruggles HilerSusan Carr, Kurt Steger, Brent OwensDan RomerThomas Burr Dodd & Heidi King.
Co-hosts Tim Gowan and Sharilyn Neidhardt.
Trans-Cen-Der next event is on Tuesday, March 28th hosted by Tim Gowan.

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.

 Mary DeVincentis Herzog, Spiral Safety Dance, oil on found wood, 12" x 19", 2016

Mary DeVincentis Herzog, Spiral Safety Dance, oil on found wood, 12″ x 19″, 2016

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. “

Kurt Steger, Urban Stupa #3
Kurt Steger, Urban Stupa #3

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.

Susan Carr, Indagadadavidapleideas
Susan Carr, Indagadadavidapleideas

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.

Seth Ruggles Hiler, Hanging in Ascension, oil on canvas 70 x 48 in

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.

Brent Owens, Waving Through the Flames, 2014, wood, wire, acrylic lacquer, plug, 41″h x 20″w x 1.5″d

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.

Dan Romer, Crispy Bacon, mixed media w/foil work on paper. 19" x 24"
Dan Romer, Crispy Bacon, mixed media w/foil work on paper. 19″ x 24″

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.

Thomas “Burr” Dodd , Down But Not Out, 2016, digital drawing.
Thomas “Burr” Dodd , Down But Not Out, 2016, digital drawing.

Trans-Cen-Der  Temporary Storage Gallery space inside Brooklyn Fireproof 119 Ingraham Street Brooklyn, NY 11237

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.

 

Trans-cen-der, a Salubrious Push in Bushwick

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.

Cibele Vieira, part of the series "The Thread Has a Finger" , exhibits at "We need to talk.." at Petzel gallery until February 11
Cibele Vieira, part of the series “The Thread Has a Finger” , exhibits at “We need to talk..” at Petzel gallery until February 11

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.

Christopher Stout, upcoming solo at Lichtundfire Gallery in the Lower East Side April 2017
Christopher Stout, upcoming solo at Lichtundfire Gallery in the Lower East Side April 2017
Luis Martin, America Is My Sister, Collage 14 x 17 inches, 2016
Luis Martin, America Is My Sister, Collage 14 x 17 inches, 2016

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: transcenderartgroup@gmail.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.

Meer Musa, ‘Indian Eyes’
Sharilyn Neidhardt ‘I Hit a Wall (Milwaukee)’ 2016, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in
Tim Gowan (Untitled installation view)

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.

Trans-cen-der Art Group

Temporary Storage Gallery space in Brooklyn Fireproof,  119 Ingraham Street Brooklyn, NY 11237

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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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‘Cracking Up, Breaking Down’ Alludes to Angst, Excess and Emptiness

Cracking Up, Breaking Down (December 11, 2016 through January 08, 2017) was a group show at The Parlour Bushwick located in south Bushwick on the border of Bedstuy. Featuring New York-based artists Ben Pederson, Jack Henry, Nicholas Cueva, and Alex Yudzon, this body of work alluded to themes of angst, excess and emptiness. The show, recently closed, was curated by Rachel Phillips and Janice Sloane, both of whom are artists. Phillips works in a Surrealistic style, allowing the unconscious to guide her practice. The shapes in her drawings and paintings oscillate between abstract and recognizable forms. Sloane utilizes photography, painting and found objects to construct works of art that suggests themes of aging, sexuality, and healing. 

Cozy couches lined a thoughtful selection of eccentric work dynamically arranged in two rooms on the first floor of a townhouse on Bushwick Avenue. Mirrors decorated the walls, and beautiful crown molding adorned the doorways, arches, and ceilings. This setting created an intimate and endearing atmosphere. Using diverse materials and divergent techniques, this body of work suggested a precariousness and unease that reflects the collective state of mind of our generation.

Ben Pederson’s colorful sculptures exude a frenetic quality because of his use of overlapping, bright and contrasting colors, the irrational placement of tiny dots, and the inclusion of uneven, tilted elements. When these elements are combined, they invoke the sensation of being on a precipice. Hollywood Nights is composed of cardboard, plaster gauze, and Epoxy clay. Pederson uses acrylic and vinyl paint to create the brightly colored base, which has solid black triangular structures that jut out from it. In Both Times at Once, it appears the sculpture is trapped inside another work. The surrounding bars are painted black at the bottom and vibrantly colored at the top. This work is more suggestive of architectural elements than of an otherworldly form, contrasting to Hollywood Nights. As viewers walk around these works, colors shift and forms re-shape as if they have caught them in a state of transformation or transition. Is it growing or shrinking, contracting or pulsating, transmuting or putrefying? The sculptures suggest organic and synthetic elements, something of this world yet far beyond it.

Ben Pederson, Junkfood Trees, 2015

Also on view by Pederson are tiny bronzes, dubbed Junkfood Trees. They have hand-painted pieces of food at the edges like pizza, chicken wings, ice cream and other fatty foods. These works suggest the success of the fast food market and the excessiveness in which we consume and unconsciously waste.

 

 

These themes also could be discerned in Jack Henry’s sculptures, column-like structures composed of rebar, Hydrocal, ink, and found objects. A contemporary scavenger, he collects items that are man-made from buildings, ripped billboards, and the side of the road. He collects cultural debris from the places on the peripheral—the places people see but never truly look at. By utilizing the discarded and banal, Henry’s work suggest issues of mass consumption and Post-Industrial America.

Jack Henry, Untitled, 2016

Henry’s sculptures appear to be in a state of deterioration akin to a dilapidated or abandoned building. For the works in this show, the artist assembled dried flowers, straw, plastic tarp, and other pieces of detritus to construct human-size monuments reminiscent of tombstones. The shape alludes to ancient Roman and Mesopotamian burial shrines, calling attention to how the past informs the present and how objects come to stand in for memories. The sculptures are described in Henry’s artist statement as “monuments or memorials to cultural disaffection.” A sublime beauty is found in the castaway, things that no longer serve a purpose but have a past akin to people.

Jack Henry, Sheer 1, 2016

Nicholas Cueva uses a traditional medium to express a contemporary mindset. His oil and acrylic paintings utilize gestural brushstrokes to create playful abstract shapes that contrast to the areas of raw, unpainted canvas. This technique refers to how we create our own narratives about situations and must fill in the gaps when missing information. Cueva often uses still life and portraiture as a departure point. In American Une, some objects can be discerned; for example, a bent hand in the upper left, a green parrot with a gold chain in the upper right and a glass of wine in the bottom right. An eye and a shape of a face appear to be at the center of the canvas, although the artist has scraped oil and acrylic paint off to make a large void at the focal point. It’s as if the face has been effaced by time like a torn advertisement on the street.

Nicholas Cueva, Pick Nick, 2016

The voids are important elements in Cueva’s work and function as psychological and emotionally charged spaces. In Pick Nick, the perimeter has recognizable objects like a bowl of fruit, bananas, glasses, a vase, a table, and the middle has been unpainted or erased. The scattered gaps in form and voids at the center become portals, allowing viewers to navigate through the surface of color. The paintings thus become a vehicle for contemplation. The breakdown of the picture plane into fractured shapes suggest the fragmented nature we perceive reality and recall memories—the splintered way we see the world, ourselves, and how we choose to remember it.

Alex Yudzon’s photographs are meticulously arranged and draw inspiration from Classical compositions by Old Masters. Yudzon studied painting and art history. The latter informed his artistic practice. He was most interested in iconography, 16th and 17th Old Master paintings and still life, particularly the vanitas paintings. The artist explains the genre “combined semi-rotting food with symbolic objects to emphasize the ephemerality of sensual experience.” He often stages fruit and objects, arranging them in front of a backdrop of hand-painted scenes or reproductions of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. He then photographs the installations straight on. This juxtaposition of the present and past show how the two are inexplicably intertwined. Yudzon’s photograph is a contemporary work of art now—but in time they will be viewed as work of the past. His art will be situated within an art historical context and he will become part of a genealogy of artists. Unlike the human body, works of art and artists can be immortalized; they do not ossify and deteriorate with time.

Alex Yudzon, Papaya Mountain, 2016, Edition of 6

Yudzon creates centralized, triangular arrangements of objects in his photographs. In Campfire, burning candles are staged in the front of a woods scene. The dark, smoky background recalls the Renaissance technique of sfumato. In the foreground, the wax has melted into a sticky web that is repulsive yet mesmerizing. In Papaya Mountain, the semi-rotting fruit is arranged in a pile on a plate that sits on a brilliantly patterned cloth. It is displayed in front of a mountainous backdrop and the shape of the fruit mimics the form of the mountains. The vehement pink-orange color of the papaya contrasts to the subtle blues and grays in the background. He typically photographs an excess of objects as exemplified in Papaya Mountain and Campfire. The artist described his work as having “an anxiety of collapse through overabundance.” The excess thus becomes a means to the breakdown. In Cocktail, Yudzon places a lobster arm into a cup. In this work, he chose to focus on a static, singular object, instead of creating a mis-en-scene of objects in a transient state akin to the aforementioned photographs. Light dramatically shines on the lobster vase positioned in front of an endless, faded background. The objects the artist chooses are ephemeral or in a state of decay. The decomposition of the things alludes to the fragility of our body, the entropic nature of life, and the transience of each moment.

Cracking Up, Breaking Down is a stimulating show that touches on contemporary issues and collective anxieties related to an unstable American sociopolitical climate. Several galleries in the area, such as Underdonk’s Sister Outsider or Knockdown Center’s Nasty Women, have had exhibitions of work that directly allude to the uncertainty and vulnerability our community feels after the shock of the 2016 election results. Social trauma lingers–a term coined by Mary Kelly when discussing difficult experiences and feminism during the 1970s-80s; however, she had come to find a rupture in the continuity of feminism and the avant-garde. This chasm correlates to the social division that both Democratic and Republican parties face within their organizations. This show is particularly important because it a poignant reminder that only after things fall apart can we begin to build something new. The fractured pieces of ourselves will not be the same size nor fit in exactly the same place, but it will be come together and be more durable, stronger, and resilient. Some say there is beauty in the breakdown, but, as I see it, there is a greater beauty in what lies ahead—what we cannot foresee or fathom yet, what is just out of sight.

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Whorl, Being-in-Emotion at SRO

SRO GALLERY, a  new exhibition space located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, features works by Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger, two artists with long ties to Bushwick. AIB interviewed the two artists before the upcoming opening of their exhibition.

Zach Seeger, EYE, Oil on canvas, 28" x 36", 2016
Zach Seeger, EYE, Oil on canvas, 28″ x 36″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, PTK, Oil on canvas, 12” x 9”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, PTK, Oil on canvas, 12” x 9”, 2015

AIB: How long have you been working in Bushwick?

Garrett:  I joined Bushwick-based artist-run collective Underdonk in 2014, and I’ve been frequenting Bushwick often for shows and studio visits with Bushwick-based artists since 2013. I had a solo show and group shows around the neighborhood.

Seeger: Although I no longer work in Bushwick, the impetus of the current exhibition at SRO began at 117 Grattan, where I started using the eye motif a year ago. I have participated in shows in Bushwick and for BOS in 2013 I set up work on the street, and in my parked van in front of 117 Grattan. I also hung a fifteen foot un-stretched painting off the roof of the Active Space.  There is a contagious energy for painting in Bushwick and I feel a kinship to many artists there.

AIB: What drew you to Bushwick?

Garrett: Bushwick was the first community of artists I got to know after I moved back to New York; everyone was welcoming and friendly. After graduating from SVA in 2008 I moved upstate, where I rode and trained horses professionally for three years. Bushwick helped orient me to my new situation. It was great to see and meet so many different kinds of artists with serious practices, from a variety of generations. I met there a lot of the friends I have now, and artists I respect.

Seeger: I was first drawn to Bushwick in 2010 when a friend moved to the neighborhood. I started visiting spaces, studios, and people and spent a lot of time at Wayfarers with the group of artists working there. In 2013 I was thrilled to be introduced to the community of artists at Life on Mars Gallery, where I felt an affinity and closeness to the painterly approaches, attitudes, and images.

AIB: What is the genesis of this two person show?

Garrett:  It came out of the studio visits we did and our discussion of the relationship between my ribbon and Zach’s eye series of paintings.  Zach was engaged in a practice of investigating eyes as I was in seeing and articulating the ribbons.  At RISD, Zach installed this show as pairs of ribbons and eyes with lots of space around them. In SRO, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe and Don Doe’s unique space, we installed a kind of swirling constellation.

Seeger: The affinity to one another’s work was instantaneous. We read each other’s work with an intuitive eye, and understood what each other was trying to do in the work. It was a great pairing and we really didn’t need to talk much over; it was an obvious choice.

 Zach Seeger, EYE (turkey), Oil on linen, 20" x 26", 2016

Zach Seeger, EYE (turkey), Oil on linen, 20″ x 26″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Lightfoot, Oil on canvas, 20” x 10”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, Lightfoot, Oil on canvas, 20” x 10”, 2015

 

AIB: In this show each of you presents a distinct body of work which reads to me like a series with an underlying theme. Did you work on them with a mutual theme in mind?

Garrett: This series of paintings is based on ribbons I won at horse shows from when I was eight years old until recently. The ribbons represent judgments made by the world of a particular performance. However, the actual experience is less literal and more complex than the color of the ribbon: sometimes last place is a great accomplishment, while first place can be a disappointment. The ribbon paintings break down traditional understandings of winning and losing to see into the wealth of complex and often contradictory emotions within the specificities of remembering a particular place, time, and what happened there. Each ribbon may be a synecdoche or metaphor for the physical performance and the skill levels demonstrated through the struggle with and against oneself. They represent  anxiety, hope, achievement, recognition, failure, loss, weakness, power, sensitivity, resignation, embarrassment, shame, joy, and love. I am interested in holding the memories of each ride, win and loss, as I make each painting, to see and feel the whole range of experience and being-in-emotion.

Seeger: The series of eyes I have been working on is a formal motif to frame images and forms within a peripheral context. The paintings are intended to be simultaneously read as interior and exterior; of the body and looking out through a body. I think of them as psychic objects clumsily camouflaged with paint.

 Zach Seeger, Cyclops, Acrylic on board, 18" x 18", 2016

Zach Seeger, Cyclops, Acrylic on board, 18″ x 18″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Goblin, Oil on canvas, 14” x 12”, 2015
Ashley Garrett, Goblin, Oil on canvas, 14” x 12”, 2015

AIB: What can you tell me about your thought process when you started working on these series?

Garrett:  This is a body of work I began in the summer of 2014 in upstate New York.  I was working on a previous body of work of small still life paintings based on Christmas ornaments that I had made as a child and I was looking for another form for that kind of personal object, related to individual qualities and emotions. When I saw these ribbons I had won hanging on the wall, I thought of the memories they evoked, an accumulation of years of practice, time and care. I began by painting the ribbons as objects with the experiences in mind. The more paintings I made, the less I looked at the actual ribbon and the more improvisation happened.  These paintings are my way of exploring a variety of forms, feeling, intuitions, and situations in connection to both still life and landscape.

Seeger: These paintings are indebted to landscape and place. Many of them literally painted en plein air before applying the eye motif over the image. Painting is how I see; it is how I understand things; it is how I look at the world. I’m not sure if my work is evolving but I am constantly working. It’s like a nightmare where I find myself entering an apartment with bloodstains on the wall and a dead body on the floor. I check to see if the person is ok, but I get blood all over me. In a panic I try to distance myself from the body; I’m not guilty of this crime! But my bloody fingerprints are all over the victim, walls, and surfaces of the apartment. I try to clean up the mess thinking the police will think it is me who did this horror. It is a cycle of staining, smearing, smudging and scrubbing-in the end I make the scene presentable enough.

AIB: How do your paintings relate to each other and how do they differ?

Garrett:  They both involve the reversal of inside and outside spaces within a limited range of formal parameters.  Also both bodies of work are about different kinds of seeing coming from different points of view: Zach’s eye imagery is specific to his experience, and my ribbon images represent my memory of specific experiences as a young child up until a few years ago.

Seeger: The paintings relate to one another in scale and presence. They are rooted in looking. They are not intuitive expressions or descriptions of things, but rather bleak records of memory embedded in our own baroque sensitivities to paint and form. They are similar but arrive at their distinctive image by different modes of operation and paint application.

 Zach Seeger, EYE (computer room), Oil on board, 14" x 20", 2016

Zach Seeger, EYE (computer room), Oil on board, 14″ x 20″, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Siren, Oil on canvas, 12” x 10”, 2016
Ashley Garrett, Siren, Oil on canvas, 12” x 10”, 2016

AIB: We live in time of transition-social, political, ecological. Do you relate to that in your paintings, and if so, in what way?

Garrett: I don’t think the political has to have a direct effect on work to have had an impact on an artist. I think a lot of artists are making work or are trying to make work with or in spite of their complex feelings about the drastic political changes ahead and that can express itself in a multitude of ways. Because of my focus on the landscape I have been thinking about landscape as it relates to climate change and how the landscape itself can and will become a kind of hostile actor against us pretty soon, and then our relationship to it will change drastically. I’m interested in how that transformation might express itself in my work as well as the work of other artists.

Seeger: I am not a political artist, but there probably isn’t anything more poignant than the real-time collapse of species and witnessing a complete transformation of the earth.  I can say that I am not an expressionist; I am not reactionary. I am interested in the formal language of paint: recording and painting a formal reality that is my world. In that sense I am sharing, but my work is not about communicating some sort of emotional current. I think painting is a medium that allows a viewer to see the world on human terms through viewing of the work.

Whorl

SRO Gallery 1144 Dean Street, Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY 11216

Ashley Garrett and Zach Seeger

Opening Reception: January 12th, 6-9PM

Jan 12 – Feb 19

 

Precarious Constructs – A Dance with the Maelstrom

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.

Subsequent, artist Uta Bekaia. Photo by JenJoy Roybal

This tension came to mind when I recently attended the second show at Venus Knitting Space titled Precarious Constructs, curated by Levan 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.

Unintended Archeology, artist Levan Mindiashvili. Photo by the artist

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.

Parallel Topography 6, 2013-2016, Artist Etty Yaniv. Photo by JenJoy Roybal

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.

Detail, Parallel Topography 6, 2013-2016, Artist Etty Yaniv. Photo by JenJoy Roybal
Detail of Myofibril IV The Kiss / Qibla, by Alexandra Leyre Min. Photo by Levan Mindiashvili

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.

Untitled works, artist Liz Sweibal. Photo by Levan Mindiashvili
When Businessmen Meet the Conversation Ends in a Conspiracy Against the People, 2010, artist Andrew Cornell Robinson. Photo provided by artist

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.

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Precarious Constructs
Venus Knitting Art Space
117 Grattan St. Brooklyn, NY 11237
December 9-18, 2016

 

Bauhaus Babies Spin at ODETTA

Sylvia Schwartz at ODETTA, photo courtesy: Jeanette May

The Bauhaus impacted the way we perceive fine art’s relationship to craft, design, architecture, and industrial material. Founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, the Bauhaus’ vision was both radical and utopian: a union of art and design into a single creative expression, creating useful and beautiful objects that fit modern industrial life with particular emphasis on designing for mass production; thus paving the way to later 20th century artists. “Bauhaus Babies” at ODETTA brings together three contemporary artists, whose works relate in some way to the Bauhaus spirit; altogether their work is peppered with a 21st century spin on randomness and chance.

Richard Bottwin’s wall sculptures draw most directly upon Bauhaus architecture and functional objects. His reductive plywood surfaces, laminated or painted with acrylic, are configured to invite the viewer to reinterpret the modernist vocabulary of simple constructions. “Blue Beam,” an elongated narrow sculpture stands out. This predominantly blue structure surprises the viewer with unusual angles and stretched form, on the whole evoking a sense of disorientation, floating, and implied physical gesture.

Richard Bottwin, Blue.Beam, 2016, Maple Veneer On Birch Plywood Acrylic Paint, 48x6x8
Richard Bottwin, Blue.Beam, 2016, Maple Veneer On Birch Plywood Acrylic Paint, 48″x6″x8″

Sylvia Schwartz uses a series of hand-made paper sheets to create a fragile yet bold, large-scale composition with an intense color scheme, predominantly rich in subtle red. Her surfaces create a meditative space which is both tranquil and stirring. Schwartz’s wall installation commands the space and at the same time keeps growing on the viewer the longer they spend time with it. Her process is elaborate. She mixed the red pigments together with the pulp and made paper sheets, then she worked with pigmented cotton and abaca pulp that could be layered into silicone molds she had made from seaweed on the beach over many years in her native Australia.  Her molds cast seaweed and clay, capturing finger prints along the way. These textures and color schemes allude in subtle ways to the Australian landscape, its red clay soil, desert and blue-green ocean. “I wanted the piece to ultimately be itself and not about nature, about the balancing act between life told and life lived,” she concludes.

Sylvia Schwartz, Red Plane. 2016, Hand made paper, cast hand made paper, nails and painted fiber board, 124 "x 230"x 7"
Sylvia Schwartz, Red Plane. 2016, Hand made paper, cast hand made paper, nails and painted fiber board, 124 “x 230″x 7”, photo courtesy: Jeanette May

Ryan Sarah Murphy also aims to stay away from direct narrative content. Her vivid collages form “Pages”, a Jazzy wall installation which suggests fragmented architecture and landscape with distinct rhythmic play between shapes, colors and lines. Marked by a horizon line, each image offers an entry point and a sense of grounding. “What I’m interested in is shifting these constructed forms into more unfamiliar territory, where you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at,” Murphy says. For this ongoing series of collages, from about 2014 to the present, Murphy tore out the front and back pages from her collected used hardcover books and pasted the cut cardboards on top. Her collage process is highly intuitive too but unlike Schwartz’s mixed use of hand-made and found material, Murphy exclusively manipulates found objects.

Ryan Sarah Murphy, Pages Installation photo courtesy: Jeanette May

Ryan Sarah Murphy, Method, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 12.5″ x 9″, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy
Ryan Sarah Murphy, Practice, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 10” x 7.25 “, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy
Ryan Sarah Murphy, Practice, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 10” x 7.25 “, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy

“UTA Bauhaus UTA,” an energetic performance by Uta Bekaia, Uta Brauser, with dancers and music, compliments the exhibition, bringing to life Geometric archetypes through movement , gestures, spins, and poses in wearable sculptures. Costumed in sculptural shapes, the performers animate and merge geometry with the human body, counterpointing female and male energies to express the power of procreation.

Overall, “Bauhaus Babies” lays out an elegant, playful and at times deeply engaging array of artworks and performance, tying this group of contemporary artists to the reductive aesthetics of the Bauhaus with an aim to create new dialogues.

UTA Bauhaus UTA
UTA Bauhaus UTA

Bauhaus Babies, featuring works by Richard Bottwin, Ryan Sarah Murphy and Sylvia Schwartz. @odettagallery