CURATOR’S CORNER: Interstitial
A Conversation with Elizabeth Spavento & Julia Greenway
Julia Greenway, the curatorial director of Interstitial has brought on co-curator Elizabeth Spavento, known for her curatorial project ALL RISE a temporary art installation project at the Denny substation in Seattle to discuss their programming this year. Julia will also be spending a month-long term of research and network building in Hong Kong thanks to the New Foundation New Fellows Grant she received for this spring.
Enjoy their conversation below!
Elizabeth Spavento – I was wondering if you wanted to do some kind of live chat thing?
Julia Greenway – Rad, into it.
ES : Okay cool. I figured it’s more conversational and less like a novel, which is where I tend to go when given a blank page.
JG : I think if we can just hash out some information/get something in writing, that will be a good start.
ES : Okay cool! I was also thinking we could incorporate some of those links in our drive folder, too.
JG : Totes
ES : Awesome.
JG : I have been pulling images too.
ES : Ooooohhh! Nice
Would you like to start?
JG : Okay….
I was thinking we would touch briefly on individual exhibitions, and then talk about our goals for the overall concept of the year. Does that sounds good?
ES : Yeah, that’s perfect.
JG : Alright cool, I’ll talk about Nichole van Beek then, our current exhibition:
ES : Oh wait!
JG What do you got?
ES : I wonder if we need to establish context for why I am in the conversation… Or, people just know already?
JG : Good call.
ES : Sorry just thinking out loud, didn’t meant to disrupt the flow.
JG : No, that’s good.
We should probably talk about what Interstitial is because ppl may not know.
ES : Okay, great. Let’s start there: Interstitial, guest curator, Nichole’s show, Mario’s show, wrap up with theme for 2016.
JG : Rad. Perf.
Okay, so Interstitial is a contemporary space in Seattle that supports the exhibition of artists working with ideas related to the consumption of new media. Our Georgetown gallery is our first brick and mortar space, that has been facilitating solo exhibitions since opening in 2015.
Let me just say also, that I love that little gallery and it has been such an incredible experience for me to have a consistent space to program. For better for worse. It’s a ton of work, but I really believe in the conversation that are being facilitated there.
That’s really what it has always been about: facilitating conversation around how we are interacting with media, how we are being impacted by it, and how art practices are evolving because of the accessibility of media.
Adam Ferriss, Unsupervised Learning Pete Fleming, Dispersal Patterns
ES : Definitely! I feel like Seattle needs more independent spaces like Interstitial. In my opinion, that’s typically where the best art is because there’s more freedom to experiment, take bigger risks and provide emerging and established artists a unique opportunity that loses its edge when it becomes institutionalized.
JG : Totally.
ES : Not to mention the fact that Interstitial is dedicated to exploring practices in new media. I think you’re creating space for voices that usually get drowned out. And, I’m excited to be a part of it!
JG : My curatorial practice and by default Interstitial’s programming has been very much about engaging with video, new media, and tech based art. As of recently, I have been working on reevaluating my relationship with this medium and its value and conversation within contemporary art. Which is why it is great to bring in new curators and artists into the conversation.
ES : Can you tell me more about that? What is it that you’re reevaluating?
JG : Yeah….
I am reevaluating the why. Why new media, why do I find this medium valuable? With those questions in the last year, my aesthetic really evolved and I started to bring in artists the weren’t actually working in video or tech based art, but developing craft, social practice, prints, installations, even paintings to build on the concepts of new media consumption.
It wasn’t about the medium for me anymore but the concepts related to the medium.
I have also been noticing within our community that we really don’t how to talk about and experience new media art.
ES : Exactly. Why limit yourself? I think you begin to see the places where definitions like “new media” begin to change or shift when you open it up, which creates a more interesting dialogue and inspires new perspectives in my opinion
Nat Evans, Mutual Therapy
JG : Absolutely, that’s why we do what we do and hopefully find way of improving our practice.
ES : I would agree. Many people can recognize new media work when they see it but can’t move beyond that point. How do we incorporate these new technologies and retrain ourselves to experience it in an “art” context?
JG : That needs to happen on a conceptual level.
I believe in facilitating accessibility to the work first and foremost. Allowing the work to be visually stimulating and hopefully creating a space where a viewer can enter and have an emotional or physical response to the work.
The conceptual investigations come from supportive texts, conversations, artist talks. I also recognize that not every patron is seeking a conceptual investigations from an art experience.
ES : Yes! Can you describe how some of these things played out in the exhibition you curated with Nichole van Beek?
JG : Yeah, totally.
That exhibition is a great example.
“On Indigo Echo” was a great opportunity for me to have a different conversation about tech based art. Rather, a different avenue in talking about the role that craft and medium play in developing concepts.
Nichole van Beek is a craft based artist, and when I initially approached her about showing with Interstitial, she couldn’t see the connection.
ES : Yeah, how did you two get there?
JG : Her paintings look and feel so digital to me.
I encouraged her to use our space as an opportunity to develop an installation.
Instead of working on individual objects, she incorporated a quilting of her textile work, learned to macarame, and listened to the Voyager Golden Record during the development of this exhibition, which we ultimately ended up including as part of the installation.
ES : The work looked great in the space, too! At least, from all the photos I saw. I wish I could have been there!!
JG : Thank you! It’s gorgeous work.
I love the ground-ness of craft practices in relation to the unearthly space elements. During the opening the artist was passing out wearable space blankets, we were all dancing around and taking selfies. Amazing.
With the wearable blankets, the viewer becomes the link between space-faring technology and the human-scaled activity of textile making. The connections that she is making are so on point. For me anyways, and my curatorial objective.
Nichole van Beek, On Indigo Echo
ES : Yeah diggin it! F’reals.
JG : Do you ever worry that you are geeking out all on your own, maybe even more then the artist?!?
ES : Ummm all the time.
JG : That’s such a funny thing about curating. When you are able to facilitate these connections, and your so stoked that the artist made these little choices that allowing you to go down a wormhole of radness. I can’t even tell how many Carl Sagan videos I watched when writing the essay for Nichole’s exhibition.
ES : Ha ha ha ha I totally relate.
JG : Fuck yeah.
Tell me what you are geeking out over lately?
ES : When you asked me to guest curate for Interstitial I immediately started going down these internet K-holes on issues of race and gender identity politics and new media works. I found so many cool links (did I mention the art bras??), inspired work and was challenged to think differently about certain assumptions I had going into it. I like these kind of self-led educational field trips because I think it makes ME better, which ultimately makes the work that I’m doing better.
JG : Tell me more about that–the links you were finding that allowed you to approach the medium differently.
ES : SO many things. I started re-reading essays by bell hooks, who was one of my favorite philosophers in undergrad, which led me to all of these heady texts on the rhetorics of race and how visual culture studies–particularly as it pertains to the internet–incorporates racial bias.
JG : Whoa. Amazing.
ES : I guess the one thing that stood out in particular that challenged me was in this essay that hooks writes about how blackness is perceived in white consciousness.
JG : Tell me more about that.
ES : I am utopian and overwhelmingly optimistic in my general outlook on life. I would argue that my interest in gender and racial equality stems from a deep-seeded belief in human rights as it pertains to ALL people. You know, one love. (Here’s where my hippie-dom becomes apparent)
Hooks argues that racism won’t go away if people viewed each other as “human” rather than through the lens of “race.” Racism is a system based on power and domination, the politics of which have created a black reality which is completely distinct from a white reality, and is why, in her opinion, one can identify a “black culture” to begin with.
The task is not to see everyone as the same but to identify that there is a difference, first, and to create spaces where the expression of that difference is accepted without it being categorized as “different” or “other.”
JG : That completely makes sense.
ES : It really made me stop to think about how in an effort to see everyone as the same, I was limiting my acceptance of all the beautiful ways we express difference. I was still obeying some kind of power structure while thinking I was dismantling it at the same time.
JG : That’s incredibly valuable.
How do we anticipate these conversation evolving or being presented? How do we implement or spread the knowledge about these ideas related to acceptance, while honoring our diversity.
ES : Well, hooks urges her reader to practice “self-love as a revolutionary intervention” since that undermines practices of domination. What she’s writing about is still totally in alignment with how I feel and think on a fundamental level as a hippie, but also completely revolutionary, particularly in light of movements like Black Lives Matter and the formation of black and white identities in the states. The crazy thing is that she was writing this in 1992!!
JG : To me this feels achievable through art. Do you agree?
ES : Yes, definitely. I think art has been historically been a place where conversations like these play out and continues to be.
JG : Exactly.
I feel like we have a bigger responsibility with this year of programming.
ES : Yes! That’s why I’m so excited about the work that Mario Lemafa is doing and why he was instantly my first choice when you approached me about curating a show for Interstitial. I’m amazed at how tapped in he always seems to be–he access ideas and thoughts that I’ve had trouble articulating with precocious clarity, particularly his work around (racial and gendered) identity, which he often posts on social media.
JG : Can you talk more specifically about how he is doing this?
What the results are?
ES : Sure! There was one project that he did for The TK Lofts where he took a bunch of clothing that had Hawaiian prints on them and used bleach to make them whiter. There’s something in that simple gesture that touches on issues of (post-)colonialism, ideas of whiteness (specifically how white has become synonymous with “better”), issues of cultural appropriation, dominance. The work asks us to consider the extent to which we wear our whiteness and whether or not we are asked to code switch given different contexts. We transition through these different aspects of identity as easily as we change clothes for different events. The first time I saw them was on his Instagram and on Facebook feeds. I was totally blown away.
JG : That’s so smart.
How are the two of you talking about bringing those ideas into the gallery context?
ES : Mario’s work has always had a literary quality to me. There’s poetry in what he does. A while back he made these things that he calls “tab poems” which are screenshots that he snapped on his iphone of different images he was looking at online that had a connective thread running through them. For example, there’s one of a Magic (the gathering) card that says “FISSURE” on it, followed by an image of lightning, a crack in cement, a crack in a wall, a the place where a man’s arm meets the side of his body, and so on. I really encouraged him to keep going along this path and to explore these visual poems.
I love how they appear on the screen since they are easily identified as being taken from an iphone and they have this layered quality. There’s something about how they are simultaneously happening in succession and all at once.
I wanted to incorporate this kind of “iphone art” into the gallery without having there be literal iphones everywhere
I could go on…
JG : Sure, keep going.
ES : I guess I’m reevaluating my relationship to new media work in a similar way. I don’t want to reduce my understanding of it to things you can view on screens–I’m much more interested in the areas that push the boundaries of that definition or demonstrate where general categories dissolve. I’d love there to be a performative piece or, like, a Vaporwave festival. And as much as I am excited about being recognized for my work in dealing with (non-white) identity, I am a bit hesitant to market myself (and interests) as an authority in this area. I care about the work that Mario and artists like him are making and the messy-ness of identity politics. We live in a world where so many things are packaged into these neat, seductive boxes–identity included–but this capitalistic influence is less real than the virtual worlds we have created for ourselves. I guess I’m interested in making a mess at Interstitial 😉
JG : Totally. Obviously, being self aware is important when dealing with these issues. As curators though, we have a responsibility to facilitate those platforms for the artist that we believe in and support.
ES : Yes! that’s so on point. As a curator I think it is our responsibility to be self aware when it comes to organizing exhibitions. I like to think that I get to stoke the fire and get people to think about and respond to difficult questions.
JG : 2016 at Interstitial is very much about that.
Things we’re into:
- This poem by Mark Doty about Tamir Rice: https://aprweb.org/poems/in-two-seconds
- This essay identifying a Radical Queer Tumblr Aesthetic: http://hyperallergic.com/66038/the-teen-girl-tumblr-aesthetic/
- This talk by Martine Syms that asks whether new media provides more outlets for black artists than conventional of distribution: http://martinesyms.com/black-vernacular-reading-new-media/
Queer Resistance, Queer Resilience: The ‘Mo-Wave Art Exhibition
Naomi’s Birthday Song | Leigh Riibe & Lynda Sherman
4 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ | Movable type on doilie,text by Rosie “Awesome Witch of Rad” Melero | 2014
Written by Steven Dolan
The urgency of the current moment pervades seemingly every facet of modern life.
Davora Lindner and Steven Miller aimed to capture this energy in their curation of the forthcoming ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition, now in its third year. The curators cite Okwui Enzewor’s introductory essay for the 56th la Biennale di Venezia as a starting point. In the essay, titled “The State of Things,” Enzewor details the Biennale’s proximity to massive and transformative global events and social movements, acknowledging the necessary presence of art alongside tumult. Lindner and Miller envision their curation as a “graphic and sensual call to action inspired by the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, Transgender Activism and the use of social media in the pursuit of social justice.”
Since its inception in 2013, ‘Mo-Wave, a queer arts and music festival in Seattle, has been about disruption and resisting assimilation. By exhibiting artists that challenge and transcend normative ways of being, the festival has cultivated community that honors a queer heritage and imagines a compassionate, vital queer future.
The exhibition at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, will play close attention to text pieces, as well as “the most constructive forms of human bedrock”: nude bodies, painting, and encampments. The space they will create is inspired in part by another imagined by Benjamin Gazy and Anouk Rawkson, artists and bartenders at the local queer bar Pony, one of few holdouts of what some see as Capitol Hill’s storied past. Reimagining Mortville, the derelict, dystopian fantasy of John Waters’s Desperate Living, Gazy and Rawkson transformed Pony into part gallery, part artist flea market. A banner quoting Waters hung at the bar’s entrance by Grant Rehnberg expressed the unrest felt by many: “ONLY THE RICH SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO LIVE.” In conversation with the changing landscape of the Hill, the neighborhood that Pony occupies, the spirit of Mortville offered a biting critique.
The lineup of artists showing at Vermillion represent a diverse scope of identity and aesthetic sensibilities, connected by their capacities to actively engage in a discourse surrounding queer living in a state of emergency. The following highlights four distinctive voices the exhibition will showcase.
Medusa Head | Andrew Lamb Schultz | Walnut ink on paper | 11 x 14 inches | 2015
Andrew Lamb Schultz’s illustration merges the saccharine with the deadly serious. With an often simple, linear style that reveres the naive and the cute, Lamb engages ideas ranging from the existential to the political. Some of Lamb’s subjects are aesthetic objects, like potted plants, swimming pools, and pink flamingos. These are in fact, not simply objects, but symbols of aesthetic legacies, passages into alternate, created worlds. Other subjects are historical figures that Lamb interrogates and subverts with their playful hand. In classical mythology, Medusa’s hideousness is meant to incite terror. As Lamb renders her, with circles signifying cheeks and a gentle visage, her misogynistic smiting by history melts away. It’s not that she has been drained of her power. She has just been recognized as part of the depraved family. With whimsical irreverence, Lamb rebukes the canonical understanding of “serious work.” It is through this critical tenderness that Lamb liberates.
Another acolyte of tenderness exists in artist Leigh Riibe, who will be showing photography, as well as a text piece. Leigh’s work, which has had incarnations ranging from photography, illustration, and art objects speaks to a certain tangibility and physical relationality. Printed matter and the written word are among the most essential facets of her work. This sensibility has been instilled in mixed media sculpture and art objects, lending a poetic quality to these works. “Resurrection,” a piece composed of an alarm clock with a face that reads “Stop Waiting” in script, speaks to the urgency of living and creation. Riibe often makes grand gestures with text, enacting what some might construe as melodrama. An illustration featuring a nude and the text “Sometimes I Dream You Came Back from the Dead Just to Hang Out With Me” comes to mind. With Riibe’s work, however what may read as hyperbole is exacting expression that shows a vulnerability that people are often too afraid to allow themselves.
The 2012 retrospective exhibition, “Live Through This,” featured photography, handwritten memories mimicking diary entries, mixtapes, and other such personal artifacts. Recalling formative moments of the artist’s past, the exhibition recounted discovery and rebellion against imposing Catholic tradition and patriarchy at large. Tracing a feminist awakening through the music of riot grrrl and shared sisterhood, Riibe does not simply document. Portraits of the artist and those close to her capture the revolutionary act of girl love and the creation of space in time. In the spirit of sharing and information dissemination, much of the work was compiled in a zine by the same name.
Visibility also arises in the work of C. Davida Ingram, an artist whose work spans mediums, but is specific in its attention to the experience of being black in America. A recent photographic work, featured at Out of Sight this summer, placed multiple images of (presumably) the artist’s rear in fluorescent bottoms, accompanied by the title, “WHERE CAN MY BLACK ASS GO TO BE SAFE?” The mind reels, as harrowing news stories abound, detailing police brutality against black women, like Sandra Bland and the student at Spring Valley High School. It is this kind of confrontation, an upending of the gaze traditionally imposed on feminine black bodies, that makes Ingram’s work so vital. Elaborating on the vast reach, even absurdity, of misogynoir, additional text included, “Define: safe. Is this location actual? In this country? In this world? In this universe? This dimension? In my house? Maybe in her autobiography? Or epitaph?” In an interview coinciding with her exhibition “Eyes to Dream: A Project Room,” at the Northwest African American Museum, Ingram discussed marginalized people “being unimaginable to people in power.” With a social practice and love ethic, Ingram asserts her existence and breaks down the walls that make some invisible.
Excerpt from ‘bust. a meditation on freedom‘ | Rafa Esparza | Performance
Answering the call to disrupt the violence of erasure, the artists exhibiting at the ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition incite action and demonstrate the values of communities that an increasingly normative society infringes upon. In the spirit of action and expression, the show runs through December 5th, 2015.
Thursday, November 12th Opening Reception | 6pm to 10pm
Exhibiting Artists :
Andrew Lamb Schultz | C. Davida Ingram | Free Witch Quarterly | Grant Rehnberg | Joey Veltkamp | Leigh Riibe | Liana Kegley | Lynda Sherman | Mario Lemafa | Rafa Esparza | Rio Abundez | Tara Thomas | Topher McCulloch | Storme Webber
Live performances by Mal DeFleur and Storme Webber
DJ Ozma Otacava
Lindsey Apodaca | A Room of One’s Own
Interview by Amanda James Parker | Photographs by Sierra Stinson
If you came of age when I did, visiting Lindsey Apodaca’s studio is like reconnecting with the ephemera of one’s formative years. The things I’ve forgotten are here: Talkboys, sax playing California Raisin, the metallic turtle pencil box where I kept letters from my childhood BFF… I put my face into the tin holding her sticker collection and inhale deeply. The smell transports me.
These carefully curated objects are essential to Apodaca’s artistic practice. They are muse, medium, and message. At first glance it feels like pop art but further examination reveals that in actuality her work is heavily autobiographical. Her lexicon of symbols is at once relatable to a broad audience and a way for her to process life experience that is too personal to share. At present she’s an artist who is coming into her own emotionally and creatively. We sat down in her studio and talked about it.
Amanda James Parker: What is your favorite part of your workspace?
Lindsey Apodaca: My favorite part is always changing but right now it’s that I’m allowing myself to have one. I used to work on my bed and in my room or just wherever, because I couldn’t afford a separate space and I really like being at home and in my safe space. We just happen to have an extra bedroom and I decided that it was worth it to me to take it over as my studio. So I was able to bring out all my of my stuff and put it up so that I can look at it all at once which helps me make those connections. So my favorite thing is that I’ve valued myself and my art enough to give myself a room of my own to have my thoughts.
AJP: That’s legit. It’s like you’re a real artist now.
LA: (laughs) Yeah! I believe in myself and trust in valuing myself enough.
AJP: It’s a nice gift to give yourself and a commitment to your art. Art is something you’ll do because you’ve made the space for it.
LA: I will call myself an artist now. I never wanted to do that because I felt like it was bragging or thinking a lot of yourself or it was just not a big deal. I don’t like labels in general and then I realized being a person who doesn’t like labels is a label. So I became ok with it.
AJP: I think it’s a hard place for a lot of artists to get to.
AJP: It was hard for me to get to the place where I could be like “I am an artist.”
LA: It’s like as soon as you own it, it takes the scariness away and you realize it’s not actually that big a deal, you were all wrong and then you’re able to be ok with it. Like you’re stronger with it.
A: What inspires you?
LA: Lately… vulnerability. I like to identify with my doom and gloom aspects—like my depression and heartbreak—stuff like that. And coming out of that, I didn’t exactly know how to make art about being a little more balanced. Vulnerability and talking about love, and loving yourself and loving other people has been inspiring. Looking at how other people do that successfully where it’s not just like cheesy, but relatable. That’s inspiring.
AJP: What themes reoccur in your work?
AJP: Are you a nostalgic person?
AJP: Your art has a great deal of nostalgia. That’s what I like about it. Being in your studio makes me feel nostalgic in a good way. It has all the good parts.
LA: When you can use nostalgia in a good way it can be a really positive thing. Because that’s how we learn- all we know is what we’ve experienced. I think that it’s easier for me to dwell on things that are maybe not so positive about nostalgia in order to work through them- like things you’ve lost, or people you’ve lost, or ideas that you’re trying to understand. I think that I’ll always be doing that. As I get older the things that I’m nostalgic about are changing and I’m attracted to the same type of things. I have these certain collections that I think that I’ll be collecting throughout my whole life. Nostalgia is a word that’s not negative or positive; it’s kind of neutral. Depending on where I’m at- it colors how that is. I feel good every time I come in here. Looking at this stuff from my childhood is uplifting.
AJP: These characters that appear in you work, like Garfield, Minnie Mouse, Bart Simpson,
what do they mean? Are they playing themselves or are they representative of other ideas? What are their personalities?
LA: It’s like trying to get to know who you really are or who you really want to be. You have this input into your life from an early age, all the time seeing this character and it becomes an archetype that you could choose to become. No person is as simple as that and yet people do identify with those things or think that they are that type of person. So it’s a way to represent an archetype and also a way to represent either myself or another person. Or like a reflection of yourself- a way to project yourself onto it because that’s easy when they’re these simple characters. And it’s also easy to not take it too seriously. It being of the esthetic of not being super refined or anything like that—it’s like I’m not taking myself too seriously. Like I don’t know all the answers, or everything I want to say, or I don’t think I have the best voice to say it. All those things that I’m trying to get across—these characters are really good at representing that. Like a juvenile attempt at trying to say “I have feelings.”
AJP: In your opinion, what’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
LA: (laughing) Vegan ranch dressing for my vegan friends.
AJP: That’s no small feat.
LA: Yeah, it was really good. But I suppose you’re talking about art.
AJP: A good vegan ranch dressing could be art.
LA: I really liked the melting ice cream that I had at my first Vignettes show. It was just a white pedestal with huge—I don’t even remember how many things of strawberry ice cream it was but it was like 10—and I just piled them into a mound and let it melt throughout the night into a puddle on the floor. It was titled “Public Meltdown”.
AJP: Wow! I had seen photos of the piece online and I assumed it was made of resin or paint. That’s great that it was actually made of strawberry ice cream. It must have had a smell.
LA: It smelled so good!
AJP: Strawberry’s a good flavor.
LA: It was cool. Because it was Vignettes, people were eating it. Because it was a house, people weren’t afraid to touch it. I’m really into people eating food art that I make. So I really liked how the crowd interaction went, not just my part, but how it was received. That was successful. That’s why it’s cool to have these new spaces.
AJP: It becomes far more permeable, that boundary between viewer and maker can be more fluid.
LA: When I went to Cornish, I made a piece in my freshman year. It was a white pedestal and I made a pyramid of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On each side of the pyramid there was a letter that I wrote to everyone at Cornish and it said, “Dear Everyone, Take advantage of everything you can. Everything that’s free. Use it up. It’s here for you. Stop at every water fountain and drink. Salt and pepper. Free silverware. Use the restrooms. (laughs) Just take everything you can.” Nobody took sandwiches! There were people stopping and reading the letter but they just walked on past the sandwiches. They didn’t get the connection to “this for you to take”. So I was really glad to be able to do another piece in another place that had people taking their hands putting them in ice cream and eating it. That was really cool. I felt like I was able to finally make peace with that idea and there wasn’t even a letter there.
AJP: That’s really sage advice for college students. I hope that current Cornish students reading this interview take that to heart.
LA: Yeah. I don’t know.
AJP: What does the future hold for you Lindsey?
LA: My art is going to get bigger in scale and… more impact.
AJP: Nice. I approve.
LA: (laughing) Thank you!
AJP: Go big with it! You’ve got a studio now.
LA: Since I’m not limiting myself anymore it’s only going to allow it to grow. I think that it’s really important to think bigger, to allow myself to know that it’s ok to take up more space. Not just in terms of where I make my art but also my art itself can be bigger. I’ve been getting into drawing more instead of sculpture because I don’t have the money yet to have objects that big. I drew this Mustang because I don’t have the money to buy a car and alter it so I have to draw it. But if I had the money to do that it would be an amazing art piece! It would be an amazing show but maybe that’s not the best use of money these days. I have to make sure my vision is going to be beneficial, have a good impact and a good message.
The Gift of Perspective : A Conversation with Matthew Offenbacher & Jennifer Nemhauser
When we received an email announcing Deed of Gift, a collaborative art piece by Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser, we immediately asked them to share with us the story and their perspective of this unique project. It was so moving to us, the way this work is simultaneously an act of subversion, humility, generosity, and kindness. This work moves us and makes us grateful. So thank you, thank you, thank you to Matt and Jennifer for the growth you are creating in this community. We’ll let you take it from here.
Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser
Jennifer Nemhauser: Maybe we should start by describing our project.
Matthew Offenbacher: Right! It’s an art project called Deed of Gift. We took around $20,000 of a generous art award I won two years ago [the Neddy at Cornish], and used it to buy a collection of artwork to give to the Seattle Art Museum for their permanent collection. It’s the first time we’ve “officially” collaborated, even though we’ve been partners for 25 years, and we talk through work things with each other all the time.
J: The artists are Daft Kuntz (which is a collaboration between Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven), Anne Focke, Klara Glosova, Wynne Greenwood, Ann Leda Shapiro and Joey Veltkamp.
M: We worked closely with SAM curators to finds points of common interest to shape this list. It was a long process of conversation that resulted in the work that we bought and SAM took. I’m very proud of the artists and work we came up with. The artists all live in the Seattle area—
J: Do you want to explain why that is significant?
M: I think there’s some aspect of this work that’s arguing for why a kind of “regionalism” makes sense right now—a focus on the specialness of art and the history of art from the perspective of this place. I don’t mean in a folksy kind of way, separate from what’s happening globally, but in the sense that a commitment to our region is a commitment to understanding the world. Like, you know, that Matthew Stadler essay I love so much? Let me find a quote: “The institution and the city are at the center of a connected, dynamic globe, always—never a remote or special space awaiting the arrival of art and insight from distant capitals, always the center of a global discourse that returns and returns, as blood through a heart.”
M: The other thing I wanted to point out is that all the works have feminist and queer themes.
J: We are such children of the 70s!
M: That’s when Ann Leda made her two paintings! Kissing hermaphroditic mer-people and astronauts. So amazing. The astronaut one has little airplanes skywriting “one needs a cock to get by”.
Ann Leda Shapiro, Women Landing on Man in the Moon, 1971, watercolor on paper
J: I love that Ann Leda’s paintings have a history with the Whitney [Two Sides of Self was censored from a show at the Whitney in 1973, and Women Landing on Man in the Moon was made in response], and the Daft Kuntz print has a connection with SAM. As I understand it, “So good it could have been made by a man” was something Vic overheard at the opening of her show at SAM, at the time of the Elles show two years ago. Just goes to show: the more things change….
Daft Kuntz (Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven), So Good It Could Have Been, 2012, silkscreen on paper
M: I like how we ended-up with a group of artists who all do things in our community—as organizers, teachers, activists, community leaders. I’m interested in how this plays out in their work. For example, I think Joey has taken up a form of art that’s associated with family and community and turned it kind-of inside-out—so that the public spaces his quilts end up in are somehow transformed into communal spaces, spaces of shared experience.
Joey Veltkamp, A-side: G L A C I E R / B-side: Glacier National Park (Pendleton Park Series), 2013, fabric, batting, thread
J: That seems like the opposite mood from Klara’s paintings, where people are in a community, but still feel so isolated.
Klara Glosova, Life on the Sidelines, 2014, watercolor on paper
M: Yeah, that mood of alienation is strong. What about Wynne’s video? Young Women Warrior Prepared for Battle. Community or alienation?
Wynne Greenwood, YOUNG WOMAN WARRIOR PREPARED FOR BATTLE, 2007, single channel DVD
J: Way to put me on the spot! I think the video, like so much of Wynne’s work, is about finding a way through. Hopefully taking advantage of having a community, but also knowing that, ultimately, we are kind of on our own. It’s inspiring and somehow reassuring that it is kind of a mess for everybody, because that video is so messy.
M: For me, it’s also something about power, the power to quite literally paint your own world—but also how fucked-up that can be. That’s kind of the theme of Anne F.’s book too.
Anne Focke, a pragmatic response to real circumstances, 2006, softcover book
J: A pragmatic response to real circumstances—the title kind of says of it all.
M: We should also talk about how many other collections we could have put together in place of this one.
J: Yes. I can say with no hesitation that we could have made a collection of equal quality twenty times over. It would be ridiculously easy to assemble a similarly awesome collection of work by completely different people—not even counting other pieces by these same people. And think of all of the themes we didn’t even touch with this work. Like all that great stuff about loving the monsters we are, scorned for timber, gnarly decomposition as reclaiming that you wrote about in “Green Gothic”.
M: If anyone wants to give us another $20,000 we’re happy to assemble a different awesome collection.
J: Or maybe lots of other people will decide to make their own collections. A big theme of Deed of Gift is that there could be many more people collecting “museum quality” art right here in River City [Jennifer starts singing songs from The Music Man]. We’ve talked a lot about how some people don’t hesitate to spend $1000 on a sofa, but would feel completely decadent spending $1000 on a piece of art.
M: Yeah, why is that?
J: I think it’s something about people not trusting themselves to make good decisions about art. Maybe also because they are objects and people feel like it’s a big commitment. It seems easier to spend money on transient experiences—like dinner out or vacation, or even a concert. I think it would be awesome if more people could feel like it was okay to buy a piece of art, live with it for a few years, and then let it circulate again if they’ve moved on. Or start giving art as gifts—how fun is it to tell someone that you will buy them a piece of art that you pick out together?
M: That would be awesome. You could totally spend a few hundred bucks on something, enjoy having it, it’s not such a big deal. Not thinking “is this a good investment?” or “will I want this in 10 years?” —but more like, “this thing is speaking to me right now and I want to invite it home.”
J: Like in the Sea-Cat video?
M: Yeah! Let’s put a link to it, it’s classic. Collective art collecting!
J: I love the idea that when you buy art from a local artist you are investing in our overall quality of life. It’s kind of like a public radio fundraiser—you can listen for free, but you feel so much better when you make a donation. The tote-bag or whatever is just a bonus.
M: In making Deed of Gift we had a lot of questions about how artists are supported, and how a big part of that support is people who buy art.
J: We’ve talked about it in terms of the metaphor of an ecosystem. Especially in a city that’s changing as fast as Seattle is, you really see the potential for a whole segment of the population to go extinct.
M: I think there’s this misconception of what artists are contributing. Many people seem to have the impression that artists are small-scale business people, producers of things whose value should be judged by the market-share they attract.
J: Totally. When we got a chance to live in Rotterdam for three months last year for your residency, it was a completely different vibe. Artists still saw the importance of circulating work through a market, but there was a strong sense in society of having artists integrated in every community. It was part of a good quality of life, like really great bike paths. It also seemed something baked-in to the education system. It made everyone feel like everyone had something to say about art. It didn’t feel like it was such a precious, elitist activity.
M: One result is that the artists we lived with there seemed so much less stressed out!
J: Yeah. So definitely, getting money directly to more artists, taking award money and distributing to more artists in the community felt great. Getting work into SAM—underlining the idea that museums also have a critical role in the local art ecosystem—also super important. I think like a lot of people, I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle. This project was definitely a way to focus on the love part.
Rafael Soldi | Dark Mirrors
Interview by Adam Boehmer | Photographs by Andrew Waits
We are unsure why the sun is out in late Seattle winter, pouring through Rafael’s kitchen window and onto the photo strips hanging on his refrigerator. Small moments, sequential, black and white; time spent in Capitol Hill bars with friends and lovers. The panes of his vintage windows frame everything in the room similarly in the bright light of late afternoon.
I first met the Seattle-based photographer and artist Rafael Soldi 4 years ago, soon after his rather tumultuous move from New York City. His lover had literally disappeared, walked-out on the relationship, lighting a match and watching everything burn.
The full emotional upheaval of this has been encapsulated in his celebrated series “Sentiment”, which showed in its entirety for the first time in Seattle at Greg Kucera gallery as part of the exhibit “In the absence of,” following a solo exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston. In the series, moments out of sequence: Rafael and his lover posing in shadow and light, yellow flowers shrouded in heavy lace curtains, the bravery of a self portrait in this emotional aftermath, a mass of black balloons left as a gift in a sterile apartment hallway. All of it exists as a chosen documentation of intense loss and release.
BOEHMER: How does it feel to finally have Sentiment exhibited fully?
SOLDI: This work was made a long time ago and though I’ve shown parts of it numerous times over the last five years, seeing it all together on the wall for the first time is really exciting and cathartic. It’s been such a long time since the actual events that prompted this work that I have so much perspective and I experience these images on a very different dimension than before. The installation at Greg Kucera Gallery was very satisfying because the size of the room really allowed viewers to step back and see the whole thing, and the work by fellow artists curated around it also informed the piece nicely.
We drink tea and move around his home, which currently doubles as his studio. I watch Rafael shift from gracious host to careful vessel of thought each time I inquire about his process or new work. “For the first time, I couldn’t make pictures of the things I was trying to say,” Rafael tells me, as he explains his interest in removing himself from the narrative and diving into his subconscious for symbolic clues of what to create. The diptych “All Day I Hear The Noise Of Waters” is devoid of any of the color or light or narrative of “Sentiment”. It is a pair of dark and closely-cropped photographs of water that look as though they could have been chiseled out of onyx. The sculptural ripples carry a new energy toward some unseen shore.
BOEHMER: This work stems from the events that spurred the creation of “Sentiment”, yet the finished work is entirely different. Talk with me about your conceptual shift.
SOLDI: That breakup was a life-changing moment for me, beyond heartbreak. It introduced me to adult human emotions like fear, anguish, guilt, panic, and regret. In the years that followed I began to notice an inner selfhood that I couldn’t define. Each of us has a certain resolute innerness, an abstract self that we don’t share with others because we cannot even define it. So while my earlier work was a direct narrative representation of what I was feeling right there and then, this new work is an abstract reflection on the consequences of those events. It investigates the private spaces within me that I shield not from others’ eyes, but from my own. These new works explore my growing awareness of my spiritual subconscious and my fears. For the first time I am taking a conceptual approach, rather than a narrative or representational one.
Rafael spreads some newer work out in his studio for us to peruse, specifically a series called “I Choose to Remember/Forget”. What appears to be a grid of white rectangles lifted just slightly from their backing turns out to be photographs of him and a past lover mounted backwards. They were sent to him in a box from his family, who had been holding onto some of his personal effects while he moved to Seattle. A box of memories he didn’t want to keep, but couldn’t get rid of.
“I like these because they’re orderly, beautiful, sensible…” he says. His apartment reflects this: every object, book and piece of furniture meticulously placed and ordered. The photos indeed look intentional, but also quiet. Their immediate language is limited to the slight shifts in light, texture, and color. Knowing that on the other side of each object is an image, a memory that might not ever be seen again is jarring. “Do you remember which photograph is which?” I ask. “No,” he says. “Not anymore.”
BOEHMER: Memory is such a huge part of your past work, and now you’ve added this new futurity into the mix. How do you feel time is represented in your current work?
SOLDI: I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about memory and the way we process our past, and how we deal with it on a daily basis. Concepts of time, in a variety of ways, show up quite a bit in my new work but usually in a somewhat abstracted way. The new works are meant to be read in more than one way, they are based on my own experiences but they are not explicit, I want viewers to get a sense or a feeling of what they are looking at but fill in the blanks with their own experiences—they are essentially screens. “I Choose To Remember/Forget” definitely deals with memory which is inherently linked to time. Another piece titled “And All of a Sudden You Were Gone” is a grid of photographs that loosely resembles the physical depiction of a timeline. Untitled (XIV) depicts the back of a man’s head looking into a black expanse, which I interpret as looking into the past.
We end our studio visit with a viewing of a concept for a new piece that is a complete departure from photography: a pair of full-scale black facsimiles of Michelangelo’s “David”. They appear to stare into each other’s eyes. Their presence is intense, and I imagine these two dark lovers or twins or brothers caught observing each other’s frozen beauty for eternity. Or maybe their gazes just miss, their only view of each other off-center, forever stuck in each other’s dark periphery.
“I see my work as this long thread that is catching all these experiences”, Rafael tells me. “There’s a soul, a privacy, and an innerness.”
It has grown darker in the apartment and we both take notice. I gather my things and we exchange farewells and part ways. Walking into the early evening, I catch the dark windows of different apartments and houses brighten with lamplight. We are all getting ready for the night.