Encoach @ Springsteen Gallery (Dickie/Varadi)

Kodi Fabricant

Install view

“Art is a terrible risk, and no one would do it if they didn’t believe in themselves. I’m not sure if I buy it, but the idea has been floated that we, who do this shit, hope that through this work we can maybe escape. Even if you have to hand in your meatsack at some point, your work will stand in for you later. It’s the deposit you put down. Pay the meat price and get in the art tube.” In Steve Kado’s short story accompanying Encoach, a two-person show featuring works by Keith J. Varadi and Georgia Dickie, he skeptically addresses motives for art making. Specifically, escapism and self-preservation become central themes.

A bird’s “hand” in the work, even hypothetically, is critical in creating meaningful dialogue around motive. The presence of bird labor displaces motive from self-aware artist to non-self-aware animal performing the same work. I am using this information to decode the significance of color-sorted pellets by canary and I think it’s safe to use the canary as a stand in for any bird or non-self-aware animal. Male bowerbirds build complex structures of various found objects and sticks, usually grouping disparate objects of like colors together in an effort to attract a mate.

Birds preserve their identity through population, while artists preserve identity through objectified perception (i.e. art). This interpretation poses new questions surrounding an artist’s motives, like “Who/What are they trying to attract through their work?” making attractiveness a key component on the path to self-preservation. For me, this is a much more interesting read than plain old bricolage. The canary is the strongest component of Dickie’s work, and I wish it were more explicit.

Steve Kado’s writing contains clues for decoding the work as well and clearly states his intentions for writing in the last couple lines, “Believe it or not, this piece started out as a reflection on the way primary accumulation and risk were interrelated. It was based very strongly on some ideas detected in the work. JSYK.” Just so you know: A casual way of presenting integral information.

Keith Varadi
Keith Varadi

Oh, Hell; Past Gone; Grim Ripper; First Sight of Water; Regal Funk; Steal Those Cuts; Menagerie, PST; Foie Gras; World Truth; Live Like This; Maiden Man; Self-Help Writ Wrong. These phrases decorate 5×7 cloth panels by Varadi. An insider told me they are all titles of his poems, a detail that is not explicit, although it may be assumed or known by the artist’s friends. I almost expected full poems to be shown, considering Varadi’s reputation as a poet. The pieces mimic hardbound book covers, and are of varying cloth and ink color combinations. The colors are similarly rich, vibrant, and seductive, willing a longer pause from the viewer. The selection of this swatch of colors reminds me of Jenny Holzer’s Inflammatory Essays (1979-82) in which Holzer uses backgrounds of varying colors with black text, creating a visually stimulating support system for her provocative content. Varadi’s titles range from provocative (Self-Help Writ Wrong) to dramatized romantic (First Sight of Water), to absurd (World Truth).

Dickie’s work is less literal. Near the back wall of the gallery, Pisetions (binders) stands displaying storage unit, metal, coral, wax, binders, rubber, and various found objects including some sort of midi splitter and chair parts. Not birdbrain bricolage, but regular. Objects are spatially redefined, perhaps for therapeutic purposes, but definitely not for attractiveness. Liminality exists between binder spiral spine and what looks like the molted shell of a 7 in. plasma ball. This piece did not captivate me in the same way as others by Dickie. The placement of the objects is too normalized, on display and restricted to even-numbered shelves. I over think the term “binder” in effort to read the piece. The shelving unit becomes a binder of objects, hollow glass balls become binders of air, electronic equipment becomes binder of signals, rubber becomes binder of tension, so on and so forth.

Georgia Dickie
Georgia Dickie

Adjacent is Declaration, a piece by Varadi, consisting of a narrow plinth covered in adhesive vinyl photographs, with a small bottle of crude oil placed on top, enclosed within an overturned pint glass. The photographs adhered to the plinth are snapshots reminiscent of nostalgic point-and-shoot collections. Most notably for me is an image of the word “PIG” with an X through it against a yellow wall. This type of image seems familiar, like I’ve seen this wall before or one like it, which I’m sure there are hundreds. The images seem to capture pauses in daily routine, and contain the motion found in street photography. There is an element of humor specific to the photographer, something that made them pause to chuckle to themselves. I read this as “Moments of Amusement decorate the sides of the structural support to the Eternal Rose of Industry.” Escapist antics are called out simply due to the fact that cars require gasoline to move. To get in your car and just go still requires a trip to Sunoco.

Turning to the wall we see Oasis, a Nevada license plate in a holder with state promotional text “I’d Rather Be Gambling In Las Vegas.” Through the lens of contemporary social media culture, this is a passé bottom-text meme. Again, escapism is on display.

A recurring vibe in both Varadi and Dickie’s work is a sentimental recognition of a fragmented object or place. This is clear in the centrally placed work Today Was a Rare Day (Many Minutes of Fun) by Dickie. Materials include metal birdcage perches, swing, blood, auxiliary cables, photographs, discarded canary feathers, doorknob, resurrection plant, and a disposable coffee cup. I research “resurrection plant” and find it resembles a brittle bird’s nest when dehydrated, but comes to life as a green fern when placed in water. Work that requires research creates an aura of depth both captivating and alienating. It attracts a type of viewer who is eager and has access to resources outside the gallery. The other kind of viewer dismisses the work as difficult or not of their taste.

Keith Varadi
Keith Varadi

After the opening, an artist friend of mine revealed her momentary panic when she thought she had absentmindedly rested her own coffee cup on top of the sculpture. I’m unsure how to appropriately define that sensation, but I believe it’s related to what Kado approaches when he writes, “So we aren’t changing individual identities in different contexts, but those contexts themselves define sets of behaviors and attitudes that are exchanged within, and all of those relationships are trans-individual.” Whose coffee cup is resting on the artwork? Is it the artworks? Does it belong to the artist who made the work? Or does it belong to the artist who left her studio to attend an art opening? Is it the gallerist’s? Did someone leave it there during the install, and it just stuck? Once again, Dickie makes us question possession.

springsteen-install-encoach

Investigating self-preservation and escapism as motives for making art leads to some tricky conclusions. One idea is that artists preserve their identities post-mortem through work that is attractive enough to be cared for long term, that is, work attractive on multiple dimensions (visually, conceptually, socially, etc.) But being able to escape the normalities of daily routine enough to feel inspired involves an element of risk taking, which is contrary to self-preservation. Is it possible for an artist to create work that does not require an ounce of risk-taking, although the creation of art in itself is a risk?

Encoach is a great show for a viewer who likes to dig. The work can speak for itself, but it speaks tangentially. It lingers and leaves you asking questions with no discernible answers. One question I can’t seem to shake is “What happened to the canary?”

Encoach ran from September 10 through October 8, 2016 at Springsteen Gallery, 502 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD. Images courtesy of Springsteen.

Ginevra Shay of Rose Arcade

Colin Klockner

Ginevra Shay is a Baltimore based artist. In June 2016, she founded the nomadic curatorial project Rose Arcade. She’s also Artistic Director of The Contemporary.

CA: Tell me about Rose Arcade.

GS: The aim was to create a curatorial project that was as close to my art practice as possible. In its initial inception, I thought of Rose Arcade as a sweet and small gesture; that a sincere work can be a radical act.

I’m really inspired by Jacques Tati. In an interview about his 1958 film “Mon Oncle,” a comedy about the human struggles against modernity and consumerism within a cityscape, Tati talks about this moment where Monsieur Hulot (played by Tati) opens a window in his rambling old-world Parisian apartment building to reflect a light on his neighbor’s yellow parakeet, causing it to sing. It’s a fleeting thing, but it’s also a moment that you can internalize and carry with you.

Dogs running around is a theme of nomadism in this movie, which is a point of inspiration for Rose Arcade — this freedom to act. For Tati, the dogs are able to pass through that threshold effortlessly, which is this symbolic and literal barrier between the modern world and the old world; one in which the ultimate stratification brought about by capitalism is beginning to take hold, and one that’s far smoother and more flexibly navigable. Hulot and the dogs succeed in their urban nomadism; Hulot participates in both contexts; at home in the old, and by manipulating the modern with an unwitting disavowal of its laws.

I’m drawn to the consideration for artist, site, and facilitator, that each aspect has real specificity to it. How do you find the weight of each exhibition balances artists’ works and place? Does either end up foregrounding or is the balance equal?

I don’t know that anything is ever balanced, I see it more as a concern of multiplicity, and developing a conversation between the work and the place. The things that are important to the fabric of a cityscape (like heterogeneity, multiplicity, simultaneity) also fold into the considerations of the art and the site.

Allie Linn
Allie Linn

For the first Rose Arcade show, Clam in the Wild, these ideas came into play. After years of walking past this arcade in my neighborhood it became a concise symbol of the area. It’s now empty, distinct, small storefronts inside a covered walkway. Outside the arcade you find rampant vacancy, crumbling infrastructure, the struggle of being a merchant in Downtown West made physical — all from poorly planned development and disinvestment in the city center. So, how do you find agency, a means to act within a place, when this is the environment you’re faced with? Is it possible to be liberated in this structure, to have a sense of the self as “wild,” while remaining grounded and connected?

I thought of Allie Linn and Margo Malter; two artists who lived in the neighborhood. This was important for the first show; while I didn’t directly articulate it to them, it seemed that both artists could address their immediate surroundings. Allie’s work addresses the relationship between history, materiality, and absence, and Margo’s work touches on the absurdity of the body, consumerism, and textiles.

Allie Linn

Can you talk a little bit about the following show, Occhio Pavone, as well? Did that show have a similar development, or did the logistics of bringing the show to Italy change the way you were able to manage the artist pairings?

This process was a little different than Clam In The Wild. For Occhio Pavone, the title, and the writing came at the end like before. This show was still informed by conversations with the artists and considerations for the space, but the work was already made and I had no idea what the space was going to be! Hahaha. I knew I was going to Florence and that I wanted to bring some work over for a show, but I didn’t know where I was staying, what kind of space I would have access to, or even what artists I would meet upon arriving.

Theresa Chromati, María Tinaut, and June Culp

So when I got there, I ended up staying in this lady’s tapestry repair shop. There was a tiny, one room apartment in the back and her studio/workshop was in the front. The studio had tons of beautiful, draped threads hanging from the walls and I was immediately drawn to her space as the site. Tying the art to the tapestry repair studio was a challenge but was resolved through the writing. Occhio Pavone translates to “peacock eye” in english, and is also a type of terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo was created in Tuscany centuries ago by laborers salvaging scraps of marble to be formed into a speckled, cost-effective flooring. It’s something I see all over Baltimore as special and beautiful and it fit right into the show’s theme. Everyone gave me small works that were ideas in progress, or editions, things that were perhaps less precious to them. In the context of this tapestry repair studio, the show became about how we observe and connect things, how things become worked, finished, repaired, and abandoned. Also, the ways in which we are or are not able to see, “A beautiful unseeing eye living only to be observed.”

Theresa Chromati
Theresa Chromati

There were two works in the show of masked figures, one by James Bouché and one by Luigi Presicce and two works of nude women of color, made by women of color, gazing away from the viewer. In bringing over work by Theresa Chromati and June Culp, I wondered how often nude paintings, sexualized paintings, by women of color had been shown in Florence.

María Tinaut who is from Valencia, Spain often makes work using an archive of her grandfather’s family photos. For Occhio Pavone she showed a piece comprised of six black and white photos that read like stills from a film. They show her grandfather diving into the sea, or more precisely toward the sea; and in the images he is suspended in his dive, never reaching the water. There was also one of Alexander Iezzi’s “ROSE” wax bricks in the show. For Alex, the bricks function as a funeral effigy of a New York brick manufacturing company. They’re made to be donated as “A rose for ____”; a city or a person, a memory, a time. So at the end of the show, Alex and María’s works were brought to the Arno, Alex’s brick installed in the river’s bank and María’s diver finally making it into the water.

The show sounds amazing, I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures. Are there any threads that tie the two shows together so far?

I think so: an investment in beauty, loss, and empathy. I think, beauty and death could be considered closely related because of the inherent deindividuation that both participate in. Empathy is created in giving part of oneself up, even in a small way, and this is an act of beauty.

James Bouché
James Bouché

I’m curious how your role as Artistic Director at the much larger nomadic institution, The Contemporary, colors your experience in this project. I guess I’m wondering, do you operate with the same sort of mantras (“Audience is Everywhere, Artist’s Matter, Collaboration is Key”) that that institution does?

Yes, definitely.

For The Contemporary, there’s a lot more for me to manage beyond finding a site and conversations with artists; it’s so much more than curating. There’s a large budget that has to be meticulously tracked and managed, a lot of historical research, fundraising, partnerships, managing crews, material orders, housing. Its a really big production every time we do a project with a lot of people and countless moving parts. I’ve found that there are so many sites I’m interested in that don’t really fit for The Contemporary because they’re too small or can’t be utilized for more than a few hours, and I love curating so I felt this need to keep going.

What projects are you hoping to facilitate in the future with Rose Arcade?

The next Rose Arcade show is a work by Malcolm Peacock at Druid Hill Park called Let The Sun Set On You. It’s an action that will take place at Memorial Pool and the neighboring tennis courts. Memorial Pool, originally called “Pool No. 2,” was the first municipal pool for Black folks in the United States. Pool No. 2 opened in 1921 and closed in 1956. In 1953, Thomas Cummings a 13 year old boy drowned in the Patapsco. Pool No. 2 was too crowded and he couldn’t access Pool No. 1, the whites only pool. His death led to the integration of the pools and eventually Pool No. 2 was memorialized by artist Joyce J. Scott in 1999 as “Memorial Pool”, though it remains unknown to many residents of the city.

Malcolm Peacock

The neighboring tennis courts were the site of the 1948 integrated tennis match protest that led to arrests and a greater push for racial equality. The courts were also the home of the first American Tennis Association national championships, where both Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe played. Unfortunately, this historically Black area of Druid Hill Park remains without lighting at night, forcing attendees to end their evenings early. This piece is rooted in creating a space for empathy. Malcolm is looking at what this space has meant historically, what it means in our current climate, and what it could come to mean for individuals in Baltimore.

As a curator, for this project specifically, I’m interested in the ways Malcolm makes work that doesn’t aestheticize history, work that includes a public but is not performative or theatrical. I wonder can (art) actions push policy change, bring signage and markers to historical sites, and needed public facilities? These are the questions I’m curious about and I’m hopeful that Malcolm’s work can bring us towards some answers.

Without giving much more away about what the action will be, I can share this quote that resonates with Malcolm by Ava DeVernay, “I wonder if by slowing the narrative down, and making it so that every second doesn’t have something to react to, could it illicit a different collective reaction? I just want to get across the whole idea of people sinking into this. That’s the only way it’s going to work is if you stop, take a moment and watch it and sink into it.”

 

Let The Sun Set On You will take place on Monday, October 3rd at 6pm in Druid Hill Park (starting at the junction of Swann Drive and Beechwood Drive). Top photo in the article shows work by Margo Malter and Allie Linn.

Pinpointing Metaphor: The Squinter’s Watch @ Springsteen Gallery

Bailey Sheehan

To point is to leap from one thing to an unrelated other.

In Modern Athens, the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To go to work or come home, one takes a “metaphor”— a bus or a train.

The gesture of “pointing,” similar to the metaphor, is manipulative; a tool used most by memesters who post captioned/captionless imagery (that I am supposed to ‘get’). The highlighting of the rift between thing and expectation is, for some, a method to be utilized for subversion—a simultaneous appeal to and embarrassing of a mass-subjectivity we often confuse as ‘the personal’. The contemporary artist points in a similar way. Or, in the exact same way (Puppies Puppies, Scariest Bug Ever, Goth Shakira).

Colin Foster presents a body of work at Springsteen Gallery on West Franklin Street; the exhibition attempts to point toward some thing as well. The objects, however, exhibit surreality because of the ignorance they express toward their own trajectories as affect-producing things. With this, while the work exhibits interesting manipulation of materials and showcases Foster’s mastery as a maker, I am going to focus on the conceptual backing of the exhibition and some of its possible shortcomings.

The “point” is a formula for art showing where its efficacy is evident, though still holed—work that is supposedly visceral, or based in the presence of a conceptual spectre that is somehow inarticulable though is cogent enough to be modularly not only understood but praised by a group of likeminded people. Take for example, a piece entitled “The Self-Aware Slug” consisting of a linux computer, custom software (a computer repeatedly beating solitaire), and vinyl: there I experience a rift between what has been denoted as “the idea” and what the object is actually doing (or the acknowledged awareness that the object will do something). Here the artwork is first a conceptual poem, and second an object.

THE SELF AWARE SLUG, COLIN FOSTER

The “point” becomes worrisome when, within the rift between the expected and the actual, a recognition of something that would otherwise compromise the idea is displaced by that same idea. Perhaps it is a matter of not being given enough information, however, when I say that this exhibition is about a ‘thing,’ it is because, for me to go ahead and then guess or assume what this thing may be would further regulate that which I am suggesting this exhibition is abusing. And that is something a viewer may need to question more, to which role am I fulfilling? Am I a decider or a regulator?

Adrian Piper in “The Logic of Modernism” wrote about the malleability of the “aberration” that was Greenbergian formalism similarly.

Relative to these lines of continuity, the peculiarly American variety of modernism known as Greenbergian formalism is an aberration. Characterized by its repudiation of content in general and explicitly political subject matter in particular, Greenbergian formalism gained currency as an opportunistic ideological evasion of the threat of cold war McCarthyite censorship and red-baiting in the fifties.

This work is manipulative and can be manipulated because it is evading the responsibility of being a producer and is instead reliant on a conceptual spectre of sorts. It is evasive in its withholding of information that would otherwise allow a viewer to discern if the work is engaging in responsible production. Responsible production is a method of art showing or viewing that is aware, though not in full knowing, of an object’s trajectory as a producer. As the object is shown and seen it is multiplied and reproduced the same as a meme, each time altered, each recreation with its own condition of existence. The responsibly produced artwork does not have to be explicitly based in and around political subject matter, rather, there is a certain political action that accompanies this responsibility taken by both artist and viewer.

The sensual object and I cannot meet inside of me. Instead, our encounter occurs on the interior of the relation between me and the real tree (which must be indirect, but there is no need to complicate things here). When the tree and I somehow form a link, we become a new object; every relation forms a new real object. (Graham Harman)

With the initial object’s relational reproduction alongside a conversation being had by Graham Harman or even Tristan Garcia, it would not be so bizarre to talk about these sculptures similar to the way someone like Hito Steyerl or Steven Shaviro would discuss media or film. Film and music videos, like other media works, are also machines for generating affect, and for capitalising upon, or extracting value from, this affect. Would it follow if we take a text such as Steyerl’s In Defense of the Poor Image and switch out “poor image” with “sculpture featured on art viewer?”

The sculpture featured on art viewer is no longer about the real thing—the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities. It is about defiance and appropriation just as it is about conformism and exploitation.

I bring this all up, because at The Squinter’s Watch, it is clear that the work is about this one thing, a notion that is ideally inarticulable, though still maintains a modular registration transpersonally, defended only by a few encapsulating words I wish not name but will (hiking, gaming, solemnity). The work may in actuality be evasive; the work may in fact be displacing some other thing behind a screen of familiarities, (modular hanging of wall-based works, an interesting manipulation of material, depictions of a feeling or lifestyle). This is most likely not an intention of the work, however, it evidences the fragility, or weak integrity of a bridge (or “point”). A lack of any supplemental artist statement and or formal press release only helps to create a conceptual shroud. The work may then be mutated somewhere in the process of reproduction and dissemination (being featured on art viewer, being posted to instagram, a promotion on facebook, a rearticulation of the exhibition with a friend over coffee, maybe possibly even seeing the work in situ), which in turn would, in a worst case scenario allow, the possible continued fetishization of blue-collar aesthetics or, say a weird strain of heteronormativity at the fault of the originary original. Even though the work may not be necessarily about that, that same fetishization then is further co-opted into a contemporary arts canon.

Daniel Penny in a New Inquiry essay entitled The Irrelevant and the Contemporary: Why is Poetry #Trending in Contemporary Art penned: To go the way of the Bernadette Corporation and attempt to make poetry more commodified, more in line with contemporary art’s market logic and formalist preoccupations is a mistake. Poetry’s slowness, difficulty, irrelevance — these qualities must be made into virtues. If we circle back to Agamben, poets who are out of step with the time are the most contemporary of all.

I feel almost as though Penny’s accusation and rightful assertion that the Bernadette Corporation’s poetry is “more in line with contemporary art’s market logic,” is somehow skewed by the same idealism that conceptually sponsors this show. The dichotomization between the work and that which may compromise it is clear in art that decides it would rather discuss things supposedly beyond the cusp of any articulation (viscerality, the spectre, etc), or beyond the commensurability of an economic sphere. Although ‘‘the essence of culture is discrimination,’’ as Igor Kopytoff has put it, the market turns art into a homogeneous commodity whose value is in no sense unique. (Olav Velthuis “The Symbolic Meaning of Prices Constructing the Value of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam and New York Galleries”.) The work in this show seems to be instituting this same dichotomization, or at the very least it is trying to sweep some of the contextual parameters that may compromise the work, under the rug. The term post-object (seemingly endorsed by Penny) here only sounds to me as an evasive maneuver as to avoid responsibility for any ‘negative production’ of the sculpture as object. Or, it is to convince me that that aspect of the work simply does not matter.

Maybe the work needs to be contaminated in order to allow for the safer dispersing and fracturing of the art. The Bernadette Corporation, Christopher Ho, Nandi Loaf, or even Puppies Puppies are all great examples of artists who allow the contamination of their own work. Further, if the work allows itself to be contaminated or compromised, it will also gift a viewer with the ability to place more trust in the hands of the artist himself. With this in mind, if, while the work is dispersing (not only digitally, but through the subsequent reproduction of relation), the work is manipulated to be a propagator of something bad, it is not the responsibility of the author himself.

Images courtesy of Springsteen Gallery. The Squinter’s Watch is on view from July 9 through August 13, 2016.

 

Persona As Readymade, Self As Religious Artifact: The Group Show @ Rope

Colin Klockner

The Group Show features new paintings by Sarah Hai Edwards operating under the guise of three personas, each with their own respective studio practice. The work is displayed mostly on the floor and other surfaces of Rope, leaned against an arrangement of chairs with varying amounts of room for viewing. The arrangement is casual and awkward. I imagine a Free School setting up for a workshop with a similar level of care.

Edwards’ personas cover three semi-distinct fields of work: Nooks Sez operates in the language of traditionalist abstract-expressionist mark making, Sarah Edwards works in a casual “Sunday painter” observational landscape style, and Sarah Hai mainly works in anime-style cartooning. This information was received verbally in a friendly setting — at the opening, the gallery directors maintained a continuous conversation over casual air, according to co-director Seán Boylan, “speaking about the show and Edwards’ work to people who attended and wanted to engage in discussion.” According to Boylan, the gallery originally received submission from one of Edwards’ personas, and later discovered another persona independently. After connecting all three projects, the directors proposed the opportunity of showing each body of work together in one show.

There are two aspects of this show I want to address specifically because of those aspects’ failure to reconcile with each other: the show’s efforts as an exhibition of deskilled painting and the show’s efforts to showcase a conceptual curatorial project.

In the former, the topic of deskilled art practice has been worked to death. When reading about the aspect of Manet and Courbet being “castigated for what was taken to be their formal inchoateness, and lack of technique or facilite,” there’s a haunted aura in the air; we all know where these histories take us, who is remembered, etc. 1 The topic in contemporary art 1970—> has primarily covered post-studio, hands-off practices (despite an excited lurch on Summer 2009 hands-on provisionality in abstract painting), but the conversations of primitivism and insider/outsider feel outdated and problematic.

I bring the topic up because the paintings are bad and are similar to work I see produced in high school art programs: frantic, ambitious, direct, angsty. Deskilled in every sense, though not so much in the way I identify other hands-on provisionalist, primitivist, folk, or outsider practices, where value might be found in material integrity, rawness of form, discipline of labor/conviction, or innovative use of obvious/accessible materials. Studio work that might be considered more elegantly handled in comparison brings to mind Judith Bernstein, Trevor Shimizu, Quintessa Matranga [who has contributed to this journal], and Rafael Delacruz — explicitly non-virtuosic line work but, rather, hard-headed practices that manage to evoke a sense of resolution.

Historically, a push towards deskilling (and valuing the deskilled) often came with political implications. It pushed the artist’s identification with the laborer by demoting the perceived agency and by including the laborer in the artist’s methods. 2 This is worth noting at a time when the field seems to have twisted that ideal of deskilling by developing a combination of hands-off deskilled practice, outsourced (skilled) labor, and, somehow, the promoted agency of the artist. In the field of practices of the above mentioned artists, both canonized and contemporary work might find potency in the development of the non-professionalized object, something that seems integral at time when deskilling seems to have lost much of its embedded politics. I do, however, want to acknowledge that those mentioned hard-headed practices appear to contain complexities within them that are absent in Sarah Edwards’ practice. The line between deskilled practice and amateur practice is almost too blurry to mention, but it seems to play a role here.

The impulse to make medium-specific pieces with heavy hand, with clumsy representation is at odds with the solutions some post-studio or post-net practices settle on: the hands-off fabrication of fetishized value object. 3 This method seems to be employed at times in order to subsidize a much more complex, immaterial practice. At other times, it appears to be for the sake of trend research and procuring various forms of capital. And while a hands-on deskilling impulse might combat issues that arise in both of those production schemes, it could reveal something else entirely: who is able to leverage a half-assed practice into gallery space, critical coverage, and audience? Perhaps the practice becomes the hustle and the social circle in that scenario. I’m reminded of one myth for the name origins of “Dada:” a simple Romanian translation from “yes, yes.” That would be reciprocal positive feedback within an avant garde social circle, but I’m curious who is saying “yes, yes” now. This brings us back to that question of deskilled vs. amateur practice: deskilled artists have the agency to choose whereas amateur artists have to rely on the grace of curatorial interest.

The quality of work in the paintings is an important starting point before discussing the curatorial aspect simply because of its nature as a foundation to the show. Within the curation, the audience is presented a group show between three constructed personas, which umbrella each body of work. This functions so that the audience is presented with a balance between bad, sincere painting and a conceptual curatorial project about split identities. The solution of displaying work and chairs in the gallery feels satisfying, but the agendas conflict, each operating at odds with the other in a way that denies coexistence.

Placing the malleability of identity at the forefront of a practice has a long history — Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, Stephen Kaltenbach as Clyde Dillon, Adrian Piper as Mythic Being, Amalia Ulman as Amalia Ulman — and it’s important to not understate the potential of such projects. Here it feels forced and partially flattened through the immediate display of such personas as pinned down butterflies to observe. The curators place the burden of that content onto an artist who is, possibly, using the personas as trial and error to unearth a practice she can believe in. That weight hedges the bets placed on both ideas; the paintings feel like placeholders for ideas, and the curation feels like an afterthought.

This may partially be due to the utilitarian function of the split identity and the relationship between the curators and those personas (or selves) being displayed as “art objects.” In Boris Groys’ “Curator as Iconoclast,” he explains the historical relationship between curators and religious artifacts in early museums at the turn of the 19th century, “All kinds of ‘beautiful’ functional objects, which had previously been employed for various religious rituals, dressing the rooms of power, or manifesting private wealth were collected and put on display as works of art—that is, as defunctionalized, autonomous objects of pure contemplation. The curators administering these museums ‘created’ art through iconoclastic acts directed against traditional icons of religion or power, by reducing these icons to mere artworks. Art was originally ‘just’ art.” 4

Groys goes on to claim that the difference between the artist and the curator is that the artist doesn’t devalue sacred objects as the curator might, but rather promotes mass-produced objects. “Sacred objects were once devalued [by curators] to produce art; today, in contrast, profane objects are valorized [by artists] to become art.” 5

How do Edwards’ split personas operate within this proposal? Or, are the practices reflecting self or persona here? As identities, they might function similarly to sacred religious objects (that is, tools once intended for personal, private communion turned defunctionalized for contemplation), or rather as profane objects for consumption, perhaps within the tradition of contemporary identity branding, promoted to the level of “art.” But, I don’t want to walk too far with these proposed parallels: there are too many conflicting variables within this metaphor. That said, these relationships maintain some use-value when trying to round up what Rope’s curators are actually doing. By presenting the personas as identity brands, they might be promoting the profane to the level of “art” and, in turn, playing the role of the artist. On the other hand, if the personas act for Edwards as personal tools for self-realization (or, operating in religious terms, “communion” with self), the curators perform the iconoclastic act of demoting the once-charged object. There is conflict in both scenarios.

A malleable/split identity practice holds water, perhaps paradoxically, when it is still functioning and still maintains ambiguity. By placing the works into a single show that relies on “the reveal,” the project is flattened just in time for the audience to see it. Because of this situation, the question of whether or not the paintings are “good” seems besides the point; they might operate within a history of avant-garde deskilling or within a history of “selected” amateur work. Either way, they are placed in a situation where they can’t fully vie for either position.

 

Half Past, Two Rocks Back @ Open Space (Haines/Maher-Tatar)

Matt DeLong

hptrb_install

In Open Space, work populates the wall and the floor. Lucia Maher-Tatar and Christina Haines use language of simplistic measure in the recent show Half Past, Two Rocks Back, denoting time through the physical and, in this case, the rudimentary and sometimes the rudimentary domestic.

Lucia Maher-Tatar’s piece A Rook, A Rock, A Crooked Café is hung on the wall from a rod. It talks like a curtain, but acts more like a tapestry. A conspicuous but complex composition creates a space where time is imprinted into symbolic anecdotes, spilled out, nonlinear and landscape-like. What lay obstructive were moments where the craftsmanship felt filled in, such as a shimmery swatch of black hastily stitched rather than carefully placed, leaving disjunction from the beautiful and the strange— little waves puckering in a brown rectangle, like they would delicately make the sound of a mouth rising out of the water.  

lmh_arook
A ROOK, A ROCK, A CROOKED CAFÉ (MAHER-TATAR)

A ladle made of links/a scythe?
Forceps near a vessel.
Stitches to the left, some careful, some not. Leaving some strips vacant, for rear access, or for economy.
Grommets large and in numbers, that allow dedicated access to the inside of the piece.
Just a big pocket.

The cutting, stitching, and displaying of personal symbols allows the artist’s mind to come through their hand. The work combines the liminal as object and as function. The same could be said about the other Maher-Tatar piece, Untitled, involving brown patchwork terrycloth on the floor of the windowed display areas.

ch_burnout
BURNOUT 3 (HAINES)

Christina Haines’ work includes six rectangular pieces on the wall all titled Burnout 1 through Burnout 6 and a glazed ceramic and rock assemblage titled A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. The Burnout pieces have a luring quality; for me, it could be an attraction to the texture of destruction. These pieces are cracking and reveal sediment, washed over and dried, showing the waistline of a pair of jeans or sweatpants—starting and stopping at the edges of the rectangle, as if I were looking at a thumbnail of a body, buried in the river.

They became landscapes.
Belt loop is a bridge.
A cracked, then peeled opening (the only one) leads to an underbelly. Some pieces have little green dots. A man has a small green tattoo behind his right ear. The pieces themselves have goose bumps.

ch_rocks
A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD. (HAINES)

I found them almost too laconic. The nature of the material blocked off into rectangular shapes was very tidy. Without matching directness in the imagery, they almost meander into dullness.

In the piece A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., the ceramics look like polished stones, perfect objects, revealing layers from formation but with sensually smooth and unassailing surfaces. These ceramics felt texturally uncomfortable stacked, sandwiched between their pre-manicured cousins, as if they might scratch. I have to remind myself I am talking about ceramics and not actual polished stone.

lmh_untitled
UNTITLED (MAHER-TATAR)

The artists as a coupling: Haines let the material speak unhindered, and Maher-Tatar intrudes on the fabric’s material quality, neither insincere, and both intelligent observers of their respective material.    

A friend says, “I keep looking for the rest of the stuff.” and I must agree. There is a craving for more to grasp onto. And I think it has less to do with “stuff” and more to do with striking the senses of the viewer. Give me something to grab, or put me in your place. The style is LARPing, conspicuously mimetic, though there should be a push towards an embedding, which I know they are capable of. My hope is for them to wield their sensibility with a stronger conviction.

Half Past, Two Rocks Back is open on Saturdays through March 26, 2016 at 512 W. Franklin Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.

The Search for the Satisfying Snack

Fiona Sergeant

The Realization of the Search 1

There is a system or cycle of thoughts that exists in this world that I have only recently begun to consider actively and find words for. It is something of a snack cycle that is made up of a continuous flow of small desires and potential small satisfactions. In this cycle there is generally a moment of desire followed by one of three temporary resolutions:

  1. I acknowledge a loose desire for some kind of satisfying snack but am overwhelmed by the options when I press the decision further. I ultimately postpone the search.
  2. I determine a specific snack that I hope will be satisfying, but upon eating it, I decide that it is not quite right and am still left unsatisfied. I might feel a little bit bad about consuming meaningless, unsatisfying calories.
  3. The third (and most rare) situation is that I make a lucky selection and am satisfied by the snack. Even in this best case scenario, the satisfaction that I feel is only moderate, and I generally feel a new craving for the next snack within (at most) a day.

The Contemporary American Snack

It is empirically felt that snack consumption has been on the rise in the United States during the last few decades. Various studies show that there has been a significant increase in both the average number of snacks consumed daily by individuals as well as in the percentage of daily calories that are consumed through snacks. According to Richard D. Mattes, Ph. D., professor of foods and nutrition at Perdue University, “between 1977 and 2006, snacking in the American diet had grown to constitute a ‘full eating event’ or a fourth meal, averaging about 580 calories each day.”2 Another report put together by the NPD group, a market research company, shows that the traditional three meals are getting smaller, often becoming “mini-meals” while snacking is on the rise. The report states that “one out of every five eating occasions in the U.S. is a snack and over half of Americans (53%) are snacking two or three times a day.”3

This data is not surprising for anyone active in the American public sphere. The idea of leading busy, hectic lives has become built-in to the contemporary American Identity. There is a desire to participate in the growth and prosperity of the contemporary world; to experience this directly is to feel overwhelmed and hyper productive. The very existence of on-the-go and convenience-oriented foods may function especially to reinforce the idea of the always-busy, on-the-go American who doesn’t have the time to sit down to a full meal. By choosing the product for the busy individual, the individual tells themselves (and others) that they are busy.

An increase in snacking may also be due to the incredible abundance of snacks available in the contemporary environment. Aside from the overwhelming diversity of snacks one can experience at any local convenience store or supermarket, “Mintel Menu Insights data shows that restaurant menu items incorporating the words “snack,” “snackable” or “snacker” have risen 170 percent since 2007, and further growth is expected as restaurants pile on this new trend.”4

In contemporary culture, food and food marketing have become incredibly developed languages. Food objects and situations have gone beyond acting as passive signs where they are read for their often slowly established, passive, historic and cultural connotations and have now become a language that is heavily written by food marketers attempting to keep up with the contemporary conceptions of reality. It is the aim to both give the people what they want and make them want things they had not expected. One of the key strategies of food marketing presently and historically is to sell people on the new. Because of these marketing efforts, products in the snack, candy, and cereal aisles of any given supermarket seem to mutate like bacteria, there is a line-extension to fit any taste.

There is an inherent lack of limits built into the concept of the snack. Snacks can be any food (or really, any thing); snack-time can be any time (as long as it involves a snack), and the creation of new snack foods embraces the unorthodox. In some ways, snacks and treats function as the fiction and fantasy of food in the same way that America (or the idea of America) functions as the fiction and fantasy of countries. They are both in some ways connected to a history, but that history is defined by youth (that is to say, by a state of freedom from the weight of history) and revered more for its power of influence than any other factor. The more important aspects of these fantasies are tied to the ideas of creation, innovation, and the progress of technology. Both attempt to offer innovative formats for easy, accessible, modern living, and both exist heavily in media [they are heavily mediated].

The 100-Calorie-Snack-Pack

A key period in the recent history of American snacking was the rise and fall of the 100-calorie-snack-pack. In theory, the idea makes sense; if people are simply given smaller bags of snacks and told their caloric worth, individuals will have no problem knowing when to stop. They were marketed as a form of pre-fab portion control. The catch is that these smaller packages tend to cost twenty to thirty percent more than their large-bagged counterparts. For a while, people seemed to be willing to pay the price. They were introduced by Kraft in 2004 with the launch of Oreo Tin Crisps, Wheat Tin Minis, and Nabisco Mixed Berry Fruit Snacks, and in July of 2007 the New York Times reported1 the sales of these 100 calorie snack packs to be past “the $200-million-a year mark.” They quickly fell out of style, however (notably during the onset of the financial crisis), and by June of 2009 were dead enough to warrant the article title “The Demise of the 100 Calorie Pack” on the marketing blog MarketingProfs.6

It is both ironic and telling that as a culture we have arrived at and gotten past the point of pre-portioned 100-calorie-snack-packs of processed foods since it was the discovery of basic cooking, initial forms of food processing, that allowed our ancestors to access and consume the calories necessary to support the cranial development that makes us human was we understand it. The 100-calorie-snack-pack marks the concrete moment when it was literally more valuable to the consumer to have less than to have more. Here, now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is our extreme proficiency at gathering and consolidating calories that has become one of our main cultural epidemics.

Post-Utilitarian Consumption: The Snack

Snack foods, as they exist in America, are made to be fun (60% of Americans report snacking for fun rather than hunger).7 Snacks let you treat yourself and take a break. In kindergarten, snack time is generally built into the schedule. Although there are some diet plans built around having many small meals throughout the day rather than the standard three square meals, generally people don’t eat snacks to survive. In the case of those diets, one eats mini-meals rather than purely snacks. Because snacks are primarily non-utilitarian, they enjoy the most freedom in expression.

When I was a kid, I used to (and still do) take enormous pleasure in trying to think up new snacks and treats. While lying in bed trying to fall asleep or staring out the bus window on the way to school I used to think up fantasy treats; I performed numerous experiments on the textures of various things after being microwaved or frozen (there was an especially in depth series of experiments regarding the achievable textures of marshmallows in the microwave). This kind of experimentation is at the heart of snack culture. Nothing is sacred and everything is at least worth trying. Snacking is a perfect low-risk environment for play and creation. I was not the mother of the house; I did not have to cook and provide for the family. I am the daughter who is free to cook to provide for her own interests and imagination. Because snacks are frivolous, they are free.

Doubt and a Lack of Satisfaction

The grand total of all varieties of snacks available on Walmart.com (including candy, cookies, chips, crackers, nuts and trail mixes, and granola bars) is 4879 options, as of November 2013. When attempting to make the right choice regarding the search for the satisfying snack, this overwhelming number of options is the primary hurdle. I, at least, experience a slight doubt that I’ll choose correctly when the options become too great (this is common, also, at record and thrift stores where most options are probably great, but I have no way of knowing which are the best). Mathematically, the odds of choosing correctly are not in your favor. What ways can one ensure a correct choice? A friend recently told me, “If I only have rice to eat, I will be satisfied with rice.” With this thought, it seems that one way to achieve satisfaction is to deal with the reality of the situation and decide to be satisfied.

But what if there is satisfaction in the lack of satisfaction experienced in the search for the satisfying snack? At our most ancient cultural roots, humans are hunter-gatherers. The acquisition aspect of the utilitarian hunt has become too easy to be totally satisfying. The never ending search for the satisfying snack comes about as a way of staying un-satiated in order to never tire of and never complete the hunt. There is something pleasurable about wanting.

Info-Snacks

Snacking today is not just limited to food-snacks. Rather, snacking has become our primary mode of consumption in most areas. Food, media, relationships, thoughts, even the acquisition of objects. We deal in frequent short bites of varied things; with the advent of the internet and the ever growing global economy, the proliferation of accessible, consumable goods has followed. Snacking is just a way of coping with this information overload, this overload of possibilities as it allows one to make more choices and sample more bites. While the world has always contained more than any one human could comprehend, humans were rarely ever confronted by the whole world all at once. Now, even just one company, Google, can provide access and answers to more inquiries than any individual could ever ask (even if all the questions were asked, there are still the images to browse and the maps to wander).

This overwhelming everything has created a new system of self-definition. Rather than being defined so heavily by what you do and where you are, it seems that a lot of how people are defined today is by What They Are Into and How/How Much They Are Into It. With the accessibility of information and quasi-experience available through the internet and other media, there are no longer many limits of what an individual may have been exposed to given their geographic location or social status. Anyone has the ability to have heard of or to be interested in anything. This makes it seemingly all the more important to define and declare oneself. The declaration has become especially image-based rather than action-based due to the rise of screen-based living. Much of life on the internet centers around consuming and producing all of the info-snacks that make up the whole [persona].

As our known universe continues to expand with the progression of history, invention, and discovery, there will continue to be more and more of everything, but the individual will continue to be individual. Individuals may not be able to act of the scale of the universe and take it in all at once, but we can always make the attempt to sample it all and eat on the go. In an article titled, “Snacking Could Be the Future of Eating,” Gary Stibel, executive of New England Consulting Group (whose clients include Frito-Lay) predicts that “You and I will continue to snack more and sit down to meals less.”8

Who knows.

Photo : Dylan Thadani

  1. “I can never not eat the whole bag. Except usually I’ll stop when there are just 5 chips left at the bottom because I know that if I take one more handful I’ll have eaten the whole thing. So I always have a bunch of bags of chips with chip clips on them that have only five chips inside.” -anon.
  2. “Snacking Constitutes 25 Percent of Calories Consumed in U.S.” – IFT.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
  3. “U.S. Consumers Adhere to Tree Meal Times Daily But Define Meals Differently and Snack Often, Reports NPD.” – NPD. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
  4. “Bite Sized Bliss.” Food Processing InPerspective™ by Cargill Salt. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
  5. Peters, Jeremy W. “Fewer Bites. Fewer Calories. Lot More Profit.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 July 2007. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
  6. Mininni, Ted. “MarketingProfs.” MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
  7. Wyatt, Sally L. SNAXPO2013-for-Webinar. N.p.: SymphonyIRI Group, 2013. PDF.
  8. “Food Processing.” Food Trends: Snacking Could Be The Future Of Eating. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.

Visa=Yes : Penthouse Got Lian a Visa

Lian Tsai & Kimi Hanauer

For recently graduated international art students, the OPT (Optional Practical Training) visa presents a challenging way to remain in the United States. The visa offers a year renewal for maintaining a job in the field that you studied, but fails to acknowledge that, in the case of studio (or post-studio) artists, relevant paying positions very well might not exist. The rare administrative position becomes the expectation; actually maintaining one’s practice becomes a naïve dream.

 

Lian Tsai, a Taiwanese national living in the U.S. since 2008, found obtaining even one of these administrative positions next to impossible after graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in May 2015. In September, Tsai moved into the collectively run, live/work project space Penthouse Gallery without plans for how to handle her quickly approaching October 1st deadline.

After a series of conversations between Tsai and Kimi Hanauer (a member of the Penthouse collective), the two settled on a curatorial project that would have Penthouse Gallery hire Tsai as its new Gallery Manager. Hanauer wrote a letter of hire for Tsai’s visa agent and the two quickly received notice that Tsai’s visa had been extended by one full year. As part of the contract the two wrote in this project, one of Tsai’s initial responsibilities was to organize Penthouse’s October opening. “Penthouse Gallery Presents: Lian Tsai,” documented the visa process, celebrated Tsai’s newly acquired OPT visa, and recorded the occasion of her continued residency in the United States through a durational performance performed by Tsai.

According to Hanauer, the performance went like this:

“Audience members walked in and were greeted by artist Marcelline Mandeng, who offered them a cupcake or a beer. Tsai was in the central space. She had coded a program that would translate the tone of her voice into high pitch piano sounds. She paced around the space while talking into the mic, and the program modulated her voice into those piano sounds. On the other side of the room, artist Chris Zickafoose used an actual piano to converse with Lian’s synthetic piano sounds. Lian carried a large inflatable planet on her back. She placed pumps on her hands that could inflate the planet and approached audience members, touching hands and squeezing the pumps throughout the event. This slowly inflated her planet. People sat on couches, drank beer, ate cupcakes, and blew bubbles.”

-Editor

KH: What was your experience leading up to getting the visa?

LT: It was so stressful before I talked to you. Trying to find an arts related job. It felt a lot like this OPT visa was a trap to get free labor in the U.S. for immigrants who are just getting out of college, people that have been living in the U.S. for some time and are desperate to stay. Under this visa, companies that employ us don’t have to pay us, and it’s totally legal. So I was feeling a lot of dark energy around that. When I talked to you and you came up with the idea of hiring me to work for Penthouse Gallery, I didn’t know if it would work…

KH: Honestly, I thought there was no way.

LT: Yeah. It sounded so simple, like, “I’ll just work for my friend. I’ll just make it work.” And I was running out of my grace period. So, I kind of just sent the email to my visa representative not taking it too seriously. And then she replied, said “OK,” and sent the information along. The only thing I had to change was that I had to request more hours to work at the gallery, at least 20. Which is kind of crazy if you think about it: we are legally permitted to be working for 20 hours a week unpaid.

How did you come up with the idea just on the spot?

KH: I thought, why not? I mean, it is legitimate. There is so much work to be done around here. I wish Penthouse could pay people, but that’s not how it is. I didn’t think it would work honestly, I just thought of it as a good gesture we could make, whether it worked or not. But I thought it was worth a shot, that there was a chance it might work.

So much of the artist-run activities that happen here happen without money, nobody gets paid for what they do, but then that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Why should Penthouse not be seen as legitimate? Real things happen here and it takes a ton of invisible work that is constantly being put in for no monetary return.

 

LT: It kind of puts us all on the same plane. Because so many of the artists here are underpaid, I don’t feel like I am being taken advantage of by the system for not getting paid. I mean, I’ve had companies tell me that they just wouldn’t pay me, but that I could work for them. And this makes me feel like I am being taken advantage of.

KH: What’s the difference here then?

LT: I guess because here, everyone is working towards a similar thing and on equal terms, and everyone is putting energy into it. And these companies definitely could pay me, they have enough going on that they could support another person for their work, but they choose not to because they don’t have to and they will have someone else trying to do it if I don’t. While this is more like we are all helping each other out. I’m putting my energy into this and you are holding me up.

KH: Yeah, it’s not a hierarchical and capitalist structure. It’s rhizomatic and none of the artists involved are really making a profit or realizing their dreams at the expense of the exploitation of someone else. This is a collective project, where those involved are mutually invested.

*      *      *

LT: You were talking about how not a lot of people know about what happens here?

KH: I feel like everything that happens here, or maybe just a lot artist-organized activity, is really fleeting, or you know, just not kept track of or documented well. Things just sort of happen and then they go away. And the people who are here for it know about it and experience it, but then nobody else does. And that’s kind of why it’s beautiful, why it is what it is. There is some power in that type of independence and existing outside of a traditional structure or platform.

But it’s also kind of like – what the fuck? – amazing stuff is happening everywhere and no one has access to it, almost no one can see it! The fact that even though this activity is not visible or accessible in a lot of ways, can get someone a visa, a completely life-changing thing, the fact that you can stay in the United States for another year because of this bullshit we do—it kind of legitimizes what happens here while also playing the system. We were able to use this system, that otherwise seems very oppressive, in order to legitimize work that also exists outside of dominant institutional platforms, such as art venues that exist inside of people’s homes.

LT: Yeah I like how you are talking about how it legitimizes the Copycat venues [live/work warehouse space in Baltimore], it is proof in a way. Like a medal.

KH: Exactly. But why do we have to feel like we’re playing the system? Maybe we’re not? This is a real job. The work is extremely time consuming and makes real things happen… for some reason, in my head I still feel like it’s not legitimate. I still feel like we are getting away with something, when really, “Gallery Manager of Penthouse” is a real job that has to get done. If it doesn’t get done there’d be a major Penthouse void!

LT: Why does it have to feel sort of ‘unreal,’ doing what we do?

KH: I feel so complicated about that, too, because now, I do have an art related job, that actually pays me (!) and it’s not exactly what I do in my art practice, but it is related for sure.

LT: It just makes me question my choices. Like, why didn’t I major in Graphic Design and Sculpture instead of just Sculpture? Something more “practical…”

KH: A degree in Sculpture sometimes can seem pretty useless in the eyes of the capitalist work force and the capitalist business owners when compared to Graphic Design. And why is that? It’s not as if we worked any less hours. If anything I’d say Sculpture majors are some of the hardest working, sharpest students I know.

LT: We learned how to make things happen.

KH: Exactly. But then, how do the skills we learned fit into a capitalist system? As opposed to Graphic Design, where you can just help sell people products. Our work doesn’t always lend itself to that system, and even when it does, I don’t know if we’d want it to. Maybe that’s why so much of what happens here is insular, because it mostly appeals to other artists who do the same weird shit.

*      *      *

LT: I think what makes events at the copycat so magical is that they bring you to another space. That’s what I was thinking when I was performing – transforming this space into a non-space.

KH: Yes, such a migrant theme…

LT: Everywhere could be my home, but nowhere is really my home. But then this place, Penthouse Gallery, lets me not worry about that and lets me create my own space without judgment or anything, it becomes a non-place for me.

KH: So, what makes Penthouse a non-place?

LT: I guess just how open and malleable it is. Its identity was built on by the people who make this place. Instead of trying to mold the artists or the people that are here into a certain ‘cool’ style.

KH: Yeah we hate “cool”!

LT: We just like to play!

KH: Somehow – your visa has legitimized all artist-run activity in Baltimore. We need you to exist now.

LT: It’s almost like a governmental stamp. Saying, “Ok. You guys are legit now.” The Penthouse Gallery is in federal documents now. The government knows. Even though being undocumented gives you a type of freedom, being documented makes it legitimate in a different way. They have my time sheets, my working hours, your name, and Penthouse’s name. If me taking care of Tony [the Penthouse cat – ed.], dying plastic and making patterns for my planets counts as a legitimate job to stay in the United States, then everyone at the Copycat, just living their lives, taking out the trash, doing whatever is legit…it’s a government approved job.

KH: Yes, totally.

*      *      *

LT: Back to my role as Gallery Manager, I have been thinking about how I could use my background to make this gallery more diverse. Sometimes I feel like people see women or non-white people as accessories. I’ve been told to embrace my Asian background more by people, like people want to be able to label me more as an Asian Artist.

 

KH: What happens when you are labeled in that way?

LT: I feel like when I was younger, I was really into calligraphy and other things that related more to my culture, but now that I’m here, when I’m labeled that way it just feels really limiting. It makes me into an exotic object that a white audience can look at, “she is a small Asian girl that does little Asian things.” It feels like I’m made into a fetish.

KH: Yeah I understand. I used to just not tell people I was Israeli, I would just leave it out. But now I’ve sort of started to do the opposite. And it’s not because I’m proud of that place. But I want to embrace that even though I come from this place that does terrible things and where terrible things happen, it doesn’t mean that I do terrible things. Being Israeli can also mean being a pacifist. Not that the prominent perception of Israel is anywhere near the truth, many news platforms seem to completely disregard Israel’s violent and oppressive occupation. Also, I feel like it’s important that as an Israeli, I can also be in a position to be critical of that place.

LT: Yeah I do feel like that’s something that’s easier to do when you are from that place.

KH: But also, as a migrant, when I am critical of Israel, how does that come off to people or my family members who actually live there? It’s like, well “Who are you to say that, you don’t even live here.” But, I wonder, when you are in a position where you have to constantly think about your safety, when you are living within a conflict, how can you also be thinking clearly about the morality of this or that action? In that way, migrants do have a certain special ability to be critical and thoughtful about a place. It’s because we are not really allowed to lay claim to just this or that place, you’re not really from here and you’re not really from there either.

 

Maybe that’s why I love Penthouse so much, it is a non-place, like you said, but its something I can finally lay claim to which also rejects that idea completely (through its non-hierarchical network of collaborators). It’s interesting that many artists take the role of protecting art platforms in general, and sometimes this means their physical manifestations, like protecting Penthouse Gallery. This is similar to my experience of being a migrant, I think. In the sense that you have to prove that this is your place, that you can be here, that what you do and how you think is legitimate, that you are legitimate… Just attempting to own that ground, to keep a space alive, becomes your work and your life. But Penthouse can’t be claimed, and it shouldn’t be—it’s inherently a huge, non-hierarchical collaboration.

LT: Do you feel that towards the United States? About criticizing the United States?

KH: In one sense I feel like, “Wow, this place is amazing.” If I didn’t live here I would’ve just been getting out of the Israeli army. Instead, I just graduated from a world-class art school, have a rad job, and am able to do projects I care about. However, while living in the U.S. has been really great to me, this place is also really terrible to many of its own people. How crazy is it that I, as someone who isn’t even originally from the United States, has had an amazing experience, while so many people who were born here, who grew up here, live in worse conditions than I would ever even experience?

 

LT: I have this intuitive feeling of thankfulness to the country that I struggle with. How do you feel about the thankfulness you have for America? For me, I feel kind of resentful towards it. If I feel too thankful, then I lose my power to America. It’s like they give you just what you need, nothing more, just to keep you working. But at the same time, hearing from what you just said, it is such a great thing that we are here.

KH: I understand what you’re saying, and I do feel really thankful that I live here. My brother pointed out to me recently that maybe we shouldn’t feel thankful for a government or social structure for simply doing the right thing, what they should be doing anyways. Like granting people’s basic freedoms and rights and having a minimum safety-net like a welfare program, and for not making military service mandatory so people aren’t forced to fight in unjustifiable wars. We are allowed to be critical of the country we live in and still appreciate living in that country.

Documents : 

lian tsai emails

letter of offering (k. hanauer)

letter of acceptance (l. tsai)

Time Logs (1, 2, 3, 4)

Photos and documents courtesy of Penthouse and the artist.

Photo credit : Brandon Price.