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WPA's newsletter, Projector, provides information to our members and the greater DC region's arts community. The bi-weekly electronic publication brings all the latest about WPA, its member artists, and the opportunities available to artists in the DC region straight to your inbox.

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May 31, 2012

Balci AFO ]

Selin Balci on Success with ArtFile Online

Artists often use their work as a vehicle for exploring conflicts, both internal and external. But for WPA member artist Selin Balci, art is about conflict at a microscopic level. Balci, a Hamiltonian Fellow who is receiving her MFA from University of Maryland this year, composes her work using bacteria, fungi, and mold, creating artificial constructs in which the natural behaviors of these microorganisms leave behind tangible images. Balci uses her knowledge of microbiology to manipulate the tiny life forms to create the desired structures, a kind of “painting” with living organisms.

“Bacteria and other microorganisms are fascinating because they demonstrate many of the same actions in human society – they communicate, they cooperate, they conflict. I harness that activity in my work, to explore the process of life.  I am the impresario and my players are hostile microorganisms,” Balci says.

As an emerging artist, Balci has accumulated an array of shows, including a two-person show at District of Columbia Arts Center (Organic Plasticity with Natalie Cheung, curated by Metasebia Yoseph), a group show earlier this year at VisArts (Field Work, curated by Susan Main), and participated in the MIND THE GAP project, which coincided with the Istanbul Biennial. Balci has worked hard for her visibility, but credits WPA’s ArtFile Online for some of her success.

“I gained a tremendous community because of WPA’s Artfile Online,” Balci says. “Last September, I was invited to participate in the show at the District of Columbia Arts Center. Metasebia Yoseph, curator of the show, found out about my work through ArtFile Online. In March, Susan Main reached me through ArtFile and asked me if I could participate in her show at VisArts. As a recent MFA graduate and an emerging artist, these invitations are invaluable for promoting my work in DC. I’ve also had inquires from art management and consulting services as well.”

Balci came to WPA via the Hamiltonian Fellowship program. “Hamiltonian provides 2 years of membership to WPA for its fellows. When I got my membership 2 years ago I immediately became active in the program and created a portfolio on ArtFile Online,” she says.

“At Hamiltonian Artists, it’s important that we provide our Fellows with partnerships and professional development resources outside of their fellowship. For many DC artists, the WPA membership has been extremely helpful in gaining additional exhibition and acquisition opportunities throughout the city. ArtFile Online has especially leveraged the work of our Fellows by providing exposure to important curators, collectors and art consultants.” says Angie Goerner, Hamiltonian’s Development Director.

Balci’s advice to emerging artists and new WPA members is fairly simple – get a profile and keep it updated. “After becoming a member, I immediately created a portfolio and I am updating it regularly,” She says. “ArtFile is a very dynamic web page, but I update my profile every 6 months, sometimes more frequently when I have new works. This is important because it shows visitors the progress you make and enables them to feel invested in your work.”

Liz Georges, WPA’s Membership Director, agrees. “ArtFile Online is a very powerful tool for artists, and works in tandem with an artist’s website to help an artist promote his or her work,” she says. “An artist can build a beautiful website, but the trick is getting people to look at it. That’s what ArtFile Online provides – a web-based platform with a built-in audience of curators, collectors, and gallerists, so that artists can build awareness of their work with key audiences.”

“I’ve made lots of connections with curators, gallery owners and art consultants through WPA,” Balci adds. “As an emerging artist this is the most difficult thing to achieve. ArtFile Online definitely provides you the necessary platform to promote your work.”

For more infomration about WPA Membership and ArtFile Online, contact WPA Membership Director, Liz Georges, at lgeorges@wpadc.org

 

May 17, 2012

Mei Mei at Countdown
Artist Mei Mei Chang in her installation at Countdown Artspace, Destruction of Fantasy. Photo by John Wang.


Jackie Hoysted and Countdown Temporary Artspace
by Liz Georges

Of the myriad decisions that a property owner must make when tearing down an old house to build a new one, deciding which artists to show in your pop up home-turned-temporary-gallery-space project doesn’t typically make the list. Unless, of course, you’re WPA artist member Jackie Hoysted, creator of Countdown Temporary Artspace, a project that for the past six months has resided in her soon-to-be destroyed home in Bethesda, Maryland.

“When we originally bought the house,” explains Hoysted, “I had this vision of doing the art walk on First Friday and going to Fraser Gallery and all those great galleries. And we lost those galleries. So we had the building there, idle while we were waiting to build the new house, and we thought let’s make good use of it and turn it into a temporary art space.”

Indeed, the creation of Countdown seems born of a confluence of inspirations and serendipity. “I was inspired by other pop up galleries. You had Morton Fine Art, which I think was the first pop up in the area,” Hoysted explains. “Then Mariah Johnson had started Porch Projects.” With working examples of both temporary art spaces and the capacity to turn a domestic space into a gallery space, Hoysted decided to mount a series of shows in the vacant house.

Hoysted then turned to the task of curating, dividing the remaining time prior to demolition into four distinct shows. Hoysted admittedly chose an unusual route for artist selection. “Some were my friends and their work I was already familiar with,” she explains. “All of the artists were people whose work I had seen, but some of them had work that I’d seen on Facebook and admired. I reached out to them via Facebook and asked them what they’d be willing to contribute.”

The shows Hoysted mounted have each thematically covered an aspect of the journey Hoysted experienced in deciding to tear down and reconstruct her house. “Our first show was called Presence. We bought the house about a year ago, but we got caught up in the economy and couldn’t move forward and so Presence was indicative of finally moving forward and doing something with the house,” Hoysted explains. Presence featured WPA members Jack McTiernan and Lisa Rosenstein.

“The next one was [dis]Figure and the context for that was we were trying to be green-conscious, and we had a hard time deciding to knock the house down as opposed to building an extension. We finally decided we were actually going to demolish the house, but it was a hard decision,” says Hoysted. [dis]Figure featured artist Jessika Denee Tarr and WPA member artist Yar Korporulin.

“The third one, we called it Exquisite: It’s the Nature of Things. We had decided to build a modern house. Most of the houses in the area are arts and crafts and pseudo arts and crafts architecture, but we decided we wanted something more contemporary,” Hoysted explains. WPA members Rebecca Clark and Pam Rogers, along with Megan Peritore, were featured in this show.

The final show, Construct::Destruct, opened March 9, 2012 and features WPA member artists Thomas Drymon, Jessica van Brakle, and Mei Mei Chang, along with Scottie Fleming, all of whom created site-specific installations for the show that are going to be demolished with the building when it is finally torn down.

Just as Hoysted has used Countdown’s shows as a means of establishing an artistic dialogue around the tearing down and rebuilding of her home, the shows themselves have influenced how she sees her soon to be demolished home. “I think about the artwork a lot. We had such a hard time deciding to demolish the house. And now we have this artwork there and it’s wonderful and it doesn’t seem right that we should demolish the artwork with the house, but that was the rule so we’re going to stick with it,” she says. “It was amazing how each month the whole house would be totally transformed with the artwork and I want to post some pictures of what the house looked like before and what it looked like with the artwork because it was an amazing transformation -- a great selling point for what art can do for a space.”

Countdown Temporary Artspace’s demolition date has not been set, but Hoysted doesn’t expect it will be much more than a month or so. Hoysted has not ruled out the possibility of finding another space to continue the project, as a sort of “ephemeral space.” That said, there are for certain a number of things Hoysted will take with her even as this current incarnation of Countdown implodes.

“Probably one of the most rewarding experiences for me was working with the other artists. It has broadened my circle of friends in the art community. But I wouldn’t want four shows like that back to back again. It was a lot of work, “ she says.

“I have a new respect for gallery owners,” Hoysted continues. “I wasn’t even running a full blown gallery where you’re really promoting the artists. I’m sure I didn’t send out half the press releases that a gallery would have, so I have a new level of respect for the work that goes into that. It’s great fun though.”

“I think the biggest takeaway was that you can create your own opportunities, Hoysted says towards the end of the conversation. “It was terribly lucky we had an empty house. But as artists we are often looking for opportunities as opposed to creating opportunities. This experience made me look at things differently. You don’t always have to look for the next Call for Entry. Maybe you can think outside the box and do something different, try something new. Obviously [Countdown] could have been a big flop, but lucky for me it worked out very well, I think. It was a win-win situation for everyone.”

Construct::Destruct may still be seen on an appointment only basis until demolition. Individuals wishing to see the show should email Jackie Hoysted at jackiehoysted@aol.com. Jackie’s own work may be see on ArtFile Online.

May 3, 2012

spaceblimp
HacDC's Spaceblimp 5 was launched on July 9, 2011 and reached a maximum height of 118,533 feet (36 km or 22.45 miles), about where this photo was taken.

HacDC: Technology for Everyone
by Liz Georges

“It’s kind of a loaded term….the ‘H’ word, ‘hacker’ has provoked different reactions amongst different people. For a lot of people it’s a negative connotation,” says Tim Slagle, an electronics engineer whose spare time is occupied as Treasurer of HacDC, DC’s local outpost of the global “hackerspace” movement.

To focus too much on the preconceptions derived from bad movies and sensationalist news reports, however, would miss the point. “The original sense of the word ‘hacker’ was somebody who likes the details of technology, who wants to dive in and learn as much as they can and do things with technology that maybe weren’t originally intended or you need a lot of cleverness to do,” Slagle continues.

HacDC’s President, Bradford Barr, sees the idea of “hacking” in even broader terms. “I think hacking is just trying to tackle a difficult problem with a playful attitude. It doesn’t mean that you have to be using technology to be a hacker. If you’re a cook and you’re doing something weird with raw food or a jazz musician or anything in between you can be a hacker,” he says.

However you want to conceptualize the activity of hacking, Slagle explains HacDC this way: “It’s basically a club of people who like technology and different aspects of technology. There’s people who are software oriented and computer oriented, computer security oriented, and there’s people who like making things with welders, metal things and woodshop things. It’s a place where everybody can get together, find each other and also have a space for working on that sort of stuff.”

“We do everything from group projects with our members to community outreach,” explains Barr. “We teach classes in many subject areas from fine art to basic electronics and everything in between. If you were to show up on a Monday night you'd find a bunch of people hacking 3D printers and quadcopters. On Thursdays a bunch of people will be talking about programming and security and other things dealing with computers. New folks just stop by with a project in mind, and we help them get started, and teach them to program.”

HacDC also has a few ongoing programs. The most storied of their projects is the Spaceblimp, a high altitude balloon launch that has reached 118,000 feet above the earth. “The balloon is basically a lunchbox with a bunch of custom electronics in it and we launch it up in the air,” Barr explains. “It’s got a radio in it so it can speak to us, much like a cellphone would, and it has two GPS modules. We like the redundancy because our first launch the GPS failed and we lost the payload for six months and then some random farmer called us and that’s how we got it back. “

“We recently helped some high school students do a science fair project with it. We helped them do a launch and recover the payload. All of our radio enthusiasts were out there with their ham radios trying to figure out where it went. It’s a really good time.”

Another project, Byzantium, has a more serious bent. Slagle explains: “There’s another project called Byzantium that is focused on networking. It was sort of inspired by recent events in other countries where as the populace was getting restless, and the government shut down the communication infrastructure. It got people thinking about what it would take to set up an internet-like data communication infrastructure out of consumer class hardware that anyone might be able to buy. The goal is to have a CD that you can pop into your computer equipment and turn it into a node on a wireless mesh that if enough people used would be its own communication network.”

If it sounds like an esoteric venture aimed only at experienced programmers with engineering and computer science backgrounds, you’d be wrong. “It’s true most of our members are professional technologists,” says Barr, “but the people who come to HacDC aren’t necessarily that. We’ve had an influx of artists coming to our space recently who need help with their electronics for their installation pieces, which has been really cool.”

Artist-composer-programmer (and member of HacDC) Alberto Gaitán agrees. “For artists who aren't afraid of saying, ‘I don't know this stuff but I want to learn,’ organizations like HacDC, where creative engineers and technically-inclined artists can cross-pollinate, offer the best place to help diversify your studio practice,” he says.

“An artist will show up in our space and have a project idea and just bounce it off the membership,” says Barr. “They might need help with programming the electronics for their pieces and we help them figure out the supplies that they need and even provide the spare parts if we have them available. We help them learn how to program things, by pointing them to tutorials or actually sitting down and teaching them how to program things.”

Teaching artists how to program things is exactly what will be happening starting May 5th at Artisphere, when Tim Slagle and Bradford Barr will be teaching a series of workshops aimed at introducing artists to the use of microcontrollers in their work using the Arduino platform, an open source electronics prototyping platform geared towards artists and others without a technology background. These workshops are being presented through Washington Project for the Arts as part of Experimental Media 2012.

“Our workshop is designed to teach some electronics basics, just what the parts are and what they do and how to put some things together,” explains Slagle. “I will be teaching the intro to electronics and soldering and the kit build and Bradford Barr is going to teach the programming of both the microcontroller board that will serve as the control panel and the rest of the software that is running on a computer. People will learn how to combine all this technology into a project and inspire people.”

“You do have to understand a language that the computer can also speak,” says Barr. “Arduino uses a language that is much like C++, but they’ve abstracted all the hard bits away so you don’t necessarily need to know them. They did a really good job of lowering the barrier to entry to these things. The chip on the Arduino is two dollars, which is really cool. So after you learn how to use the Arduino well, you can take your knowledge and program the chip itself and really reduce the cost on each of these projects you’re trying to make.”

Indeed, groups like HacDC are able to teach artists not only how to access the knowledge to use technology, but how to do so affordably. “Artists currently working with micro-electronic circuits are doing so at an optimal time,” Alberto Gaitán explains. “We are able to cannibalize several generations' worth of electronic junk with tools that cost pennies on the dollar compared to their ancestors and which wield hundreds of times the power of their legacy counterparts at a fraction the size. At the same time, there are hacker spaces and a growing ‘maker’ movement to leverage.”

And indeed, the hackerspaces are eager to work with artists to realize their vision. Barr says, “I love working with artists, they really don’t know what they can’t do, which presents a unique and interesting challenge for us as technologists in order to try and achieve those goals that might be difficult and innovative in some way.”

HacDC’s workspace is located on the third floor of the St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton St. NW, at the intersection of 16th and Newton Streets, NW in the Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights area of Washington, DC. HacDC is conducting workshops in the use of Arduino microprocessors as part of WPA’s “Experimental Media 2012” at Artisphere, located at 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA, on May 5, 6, 13 and 20. For more information about the workshops, click here.

 

April 19, 2012

Dawnrogala
Paintings conservator Dawn Rogala examining works by Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Conversation with a Conservator: Dawn Rogala
by Liz Georges

Typically one associates a conservator with the meticulous preservation of the distant past. The bookish figure poring over a canvas by a long-dead master with a magnifying glass and a cotton swab can seem irrelevant to the contemporary artist whose practice is focused on making work in the here and now. Contemporary paintings conservator Dawn Rogala disagrees. In her experience, which includes research at the Smithsonian Institution and her current dissertation work on Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, everything has a lifespan, and sometimes it’s shorter than you think.

“I’m not talking about a hundred years. I’m talking about five years,” Rogala says. “If used improperly, there are materials that can become brittle or discolored in a very short period of time. You want the people who are collecting your work and the galleries that represent you, you want them to know that your work is going to be around and that it’s not going to self-destruct.”

“A conservator’s goal is to preserve material culture, to extend the amount of time that people are able to experience an artwork” Rogala explains. “I don’t want to discourage artists from any process or material that they want to use, but when I look at an artwork, from any time period, my objective is to keep the dialogue between audience and artwork alive for the longest possible time.”

What’s her biggest piece of advice for contemporary artists? Know your materials. In the course of her research, she’s seen first-hand the disastrous consequences of inappropriate material selection. “Modern materials are engineered for very specific uses.” she explains. “For example, my recent research [at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden] involved looking at Abstract Expressionist paintings. We’ve all heard that a lot of these artists were using house paint, and in this case, the artists I was studying used a very particular type of house paint as a ground layer. They were trying it out. And there was a particular formulation of white house paint available during that just that time period that had problems, and was not strong enough to be a proper foundation layer for those heavy Abstract Expressionist compositions, and it caused problems down the road. It was bad luck on the part of those artists that they happened to be using house paint at the particular time when that faulty paint was available.” In this case, the problem was both with the material, and with the fact that the material was used as the primary support for the artwork. “If the ground layer fails, the whole foundation of the painting could be compromised. And you might not see that kind of structural problem in a painting until it gets shipped off in a truck to a show somewhere., and it arrives at the other side with whole sections of the painting falling off.”

And because modern materials are so carefully formulated, adding to that mix can have unexpected results over time. “Artists may want to experiment with that process first before using home-made combinations of materials in a final artwork,” says Rogala. “Unsurprising combinations can sometimes have very surprising consequences.”

Materials are also vulnerable to changes in their environment. “A lot of people paint on wood. Perfectly fine, but plywood, for example, can be very responsive to changes in humidity. If plywood paintings are stored in areas with wide fluctuations in humidity, the wood will expand and warp in a way the paint layer can’t. This causes the paint to crack and curl up and causes serious problems. It is vitally important that artists educate themselves about their materials, about what they were formulated to do. This will help you understand how they are going to behave in your artwork. Because they are going to behave the way they want to behave regardless of whether they are in artwork, or on a house wall or on a sidewalk or whatever. I’m not saying to change your practice.; the intended function of your materials is already there for you as a guide, as a key to what kind of behavior you can expect from them in the long run.”

There are also online resources that artists can consult to learn about their materials. “There are some really wonderful websites, such as the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art – North America, and the Art Materials Information and Education Network,” says Rogala. “And many manufacturers also post research and resource information on their websites.”

“There is a lot of interest right now in the conservation community about the behavior of modern art materials,” she continues, “such as industrial coatings, time-based media, and the long-term behavior of artworks made from plastic. ‘The Age of Plastic,’ for example, is an ongoing collaboration between scientists, curators, and conservators from the Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Conservation Institute, and George Washington University. Part of their upcoming symposium in DC this June will look at the use of plastic in art and the challenges of its long-term preservation.”

But what if your practice includes materials that degrade, as an intentional part of your work? What if you’ve used materials in an experimental way and the consequences over time are simply unpredictable? “Josef Albers would write on the backs of his paintings what paint he used, what color it was, and how it was mixed,” says Rogala. “Documentation of materials and artist’s intent is becoming an important part of contemporary artwork. Many museums now interview artists when their works enter the museum collection, and ask questions about the material, or for their opinion about the use of conservation over the lifetime of the artwork. Some artists will say ‘Oh no, I want it to fade!’ And that becomes an important part of the piece.”

If the artist is still living, will a museum ask them to retouch their own artwork? “That can be tricky,” says Rogala. “The decision differs from artwork to artwork, and takes in account the relationship of the artist with the collector or museum, and the particular problem with the artwork that needs attention.”

“Conserving an artwork is not like creating an artwork. I’m trained to be invisible,” she explains. “to mimic the artist’s hand at the particular moment in time that a work was made. Since the artist’s hand can change over time, it is often a collaboration of artist and conservator that works in the best interests of a contemporary artwork.”

“I feel so lucky to be able to have this kind of dialogue with artists about their work,” says Rogala, “to help preserve the voice of contemporary artists for future generations. There’s a long history of artists --like Georgia O’Keeffe and Matthew Barney -- working with conservators to ensure the stability of their materials. Artists can check the website for the American Institute for Conservation if they have questions for a conservator.”

Dawn Rogala will be participating as a panelist in WPA’s “No Artist Left Behind” program, “Protecting the Value” on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at the Gateway Arts Center, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, MD. Helena Lai, an Account Executive in the Fine Arts division of AON/Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, will also be on the panel, which will be moderated by WPA Executive Director, Lisa Gold.

April 5, 2012

Experimental Media 2012: D.O.L.L.
by Liz Georges

It’s an honest enough question when you see the alphabet soup that comprises the title of WPA’s Experimental Media 2012 Exhibition – what does D.O.L.L.: DIWO OPNSRC LMFAO LHOOQ actually mean, anyway?

Max Kazemzadeh, one of the curators, explains, “DIWO is ‘Do It With Others,’ taking on this notion of DIY – tinker, hack, investigate -- and then do it with others collaboratively, get other people involved, maybe from different disciplines, and come together and build something. The second, ‘O,’ is for open source. All this stuff is open source because when you’re hacking something are you developing it for commercial use? Not so much.”

In explaining why he included LMFAO, Kazemzadah says, “It about young people. They really need to get into this now, and they’re really creating a new language on some level. It also connotes a certain irreverence.”

As for LHOOQ, the reference to Marcel Duchamp’s iconic “readymade” work consisting of a postcard of the Mona Lisa defaced with a moustache and goatee, Kazemzadeh sees Duchamp as a seminal figure in the development of works like those in the exhibition. “I think that he represents a playful culture hacker, but also someone who was really integrated multidisciplinarially into the systems of math, science, and art. I really believe a lot of those things have to be inside of the mind of the artist who’s working with technology and experimental media,” he says.

But as is often true, there’s an even deeper layer of meaning. “We had all these acronyms,” says Kazemzadeh, “and I thought it would be really funny if we fit it all into an acronym. D.O.L.L. refers back to Mona Lisa, but also to the fact that a lot of these things that we’re building have intelligences of their own, and we want to interact with them the same way a child plays with a doll and interacts with a doll as a friend. They play and they move them and sit them down and drink tea with them.”

Jonah Brucker-Cohen, a fellow veteran of the burgeoning art and technology community, and Kazemzadeh’s co-curator for this project, takes a simpler tack in explaining the show. “It’s mainly just about looking at how technology has evolved, where we see it going, how artists are using technology to challenge media and reality in general,” he says. “I want people to think about design and creative production. I want them seeing the world through technology, through a different manifestation and creative angle. Looking at how to challenge and assumptions about the real world through technology. The projects give you a look at what’s happening now, but also a glimpse of what might be possible in the future. This is not the end all and be all of technology and art shows, but it’s a good collection, and it will make people discover what the potential of technology is.”

“This isn’t a thrill ride,” says Kazemzadeh of the exhibition. “There aren’t any activist projects. These are individuals that may be working collaboratively, but the iconography -- it’s a more personal experience. This one is a little bit more abstract. I feel like it’s a really exciting grouping of work.” And indeed two of the works that will be shown have a very human component to them – Michelle Lisa Herman’s The Social Network (which was originally shown as part of WPA’s Coup d’Espace program) and Patrick Resing’s Hugg #1, a hugging robot.

Indeed, it is the interactivity of the exhibition that most excites Kazemzadeh. “Experimental media, it’s about hardware, software, installation, interactivity, thinking about interactivity, thinking about an immersive experience. The piece does something, and then you do something, and together you create something new,” he says. “The reason that I became interested in technology, I felt like I didn’t like things that were dead. I didn’t like relicizing things.”

Although previously a showcase of video works, this year WPA has expanded the Experimental Media series with an exhibition at Artisphere and a series of workshops by HacDC. The three platforms work together as an exploration of the impact of technology on our culture and ourselves.

“It’s going to be a quite diverse array of experiences,” says Kazemzadeh. “The title of the D.O.L.L. show refers to different ways that things can be encoded. In the same way you have the video screening, which is a different experience from the exhibition. It’s passive. You sit. It’s cinematic, you’re watching, it’s linear. And then you have the really hands on workshops, where you absorb, and go home with information, new perspective, and a tool to be able to build.”

Though this is Kazemzadeh’s and Brucker-Cohen’s first formal collaboration together as curators, the two have, in fact, been moving in the same circles for years, both paralleling and intersecting at odd points. Both men first became interested in the application of computer technology to art late in their college days. Both did their graduate studies in New York – Brucker-Cohen at NYU, Kazemzadeh at Parsons. Brucker-Cohen blogged about one of Kazemzadeh’s projects, sun.dial. Kazemzadeh curated Brucker-Cohen into an art and technology conference in Texas. Ironically, the men hadn’t actually met until six months ago. “I have the most respect for Jonah and I feel really lucky to have him co-curate the show. I’ve always been a fan of his work,” says Kazemzadeh.

Brucker-Cohen is equally enthusiastic about his experience. “This is one of the first major shows that I’ve curated. I’ve curated a bunch of other smaller, mainly video shows, and some installation. I’m from Washington , so it’s kind of exciting to be involved in something here. I grew up in Dupont Circle.”

Kazemzadeh, too, is eager to see the impact of the show. “I think the practice of art in general, especially when it comes from a non-commercial context, like WPA, is focused towards humanitarian pursuits. You come away with the aura of share, care, lift up, participate, join your community, socialize, love your neighbor, connect,” he says. “it’s probably one of the best curating things that I’ve ever been involved in, in my opinion.”

The Experimental Media 2012 Exhibition, “D.O.L.L.: DIWO OPNSRC LMFAO LHOOQ,” opens at Artisphere at 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA on April 12, 2012 with an opening reception from 7-10pm. The exhibition will be free to the public during Artisphere’s regular business hours through May 20. The Experimental Media 2012 video screenings will be on April 26, 2012 at 6:30pm at The Phillips Collection and May 10, 2012 at 6:30pm at Artisphere. Workshops organized in partnership with HacDC will be held May 5, 6, 13, and 20 at Artisphere. For more information about the Experiemental Media Series 2012, click here.


March 22, 2012

PRHG Photo

A Monument to the Un-Monumental: 5 x 5 Arrives
by Liz Georges

When local independent curator Laura Roulet was applying to participate in the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ The 5 x 5 Project, she wanted to make sure that her focus was on local artists. “I’m based in Washington,” she says. “I’ve been here about 15 years, so I know a lot of talented local artists and I wanted to put together a proposal that would include them. I ended up as the only local curator.”

She also wanted to use her project, entitled Activate ==> Participate to challenge the traditional “dead generals on horseback cast in bronze” approach to public art that is so pervasive in the District. “I think all of the 5 x 5 projects are breaking out of conventional notions of what public sculpture is. Washington has plenty of monuments already so it’s ‘un-monumental,’” she explains.

And all of the five projects in Laura Roulet’s presentation for The 5 x 5 Project, like all of the projects created by the five curators, challenge the notion of permanent, fixed, object-based artwork. Roulet’s fascination is with participation – all of the works, from Ben Ashworth’s Finding a Line (which will transform a highway underpass into a skateboard park next to Garfield Park), to Wilmer Wilson’s performance piece Henry ‘Box’ Brown: FOREVER (in which Wilson will cover himself in postage stamps and attempt to mail himself to freedom), to The Floating Lab Collective’s ReMuseum (which explores ideas about the collection, valuation, and display of objects from the inside of a retrofitted taco truck), to Charles Juhasz-Alvarado’s The Cherry Blossom Cloud (a temporary sound sculpture that can be played like a xylophone) require community involvement in order to be fully realized.

But if your objective is to take a contrasting approach to a three-ton bronze statue mounted on a block of granite, there is probably no more radical way to do that than creating a public art project out of piles of small, brightly painted rocks. And when Laura Roulet selected local artist Patrick McDonough to be one of her five artists, that is exactly what he proposed, titling his project Painted Rock Hunt Game. “It is a riff on scavenger hunts and geocaching, and as someone pointed out during this time of year, Easter-egg hunts,” says McDonough. “I am putting a pile of painted rocks in eight sites in the city, one in each Ward. And on the bottom of each rock will be a letter, number or special character.”

Looking around his studio in Northeast DC at the piles of rocks, one has to admit that the comparison to Easter eggs is apt. “If you stumble upon a pile and you’re playing or even if you are simply intrigued by these lime green rocks on the side of the road or wherever they may be, you can take one,” he continues. “And ideally people will play the full game by collecting a rock from all eight piles, in which case you will get a password with all eight characters and then on the website, (www.prhg.net) there will be a prompt for this password, which if entered correctly results in my sending you a prize.”

His intent, he explains, was to turn the entire District, all eight wards, into a giant game that could be “played” by residents and tourists alike. “The password is a way to incentivize people to go to all eight places and so it’s a way of ‘game-i-fying’ the city basically, and hopefully moving people around to places that they wouldn’t ordinarily go. And because you don’t know where the painted rocks are, they could be anywhere, so it really colors the day to day moving through the city.”

“There’s an element of ‘kid-like-ness,’” McDonough explains. “Painting a rock is on its face, a pretty ridiculous thing for a practicing artist to do, but I like that. I like that sort of freedom. I like the phrase ‘free time’ because it encapsulates play and leisure and recreation but it’s also the word ‘free’ – it’s adults behaving like kids and that is something that is really interesting to me. Sending adults on a scavenger hunt for free painted rocks is pretty silly, but in a really good way.”

But the candy-colored, childlike exterior of the game carries within it interesting meditations concerning who can play the game, how they play, and who will ultimately be successful at it. “We think of public space as being the outside and the exterior, but the Internet is pretty public,” McDonough continues. “And that’s where I think some of the decisions for this project came from. How does the Internet and its way of communicating start to interlace with the physical manifestation?”

And even though McDonough included an Internet component to this game, he is acutely aware of the divide (often based on economic means) between the “wired” world and the “unwired” world. “That’s where the SMS came in, because my first meeting with my web designer we decided let’s write this for smartphones, because even if you don’t have the Internet at home, it’s pretty likely that you have it on your phone, but even if you don’t have Internet on your phone, you can still play this game via SMS.”

Even McDonough concedes, however, that a line must be drawn, and maybe that’s the point. “Not everyone can play the game, but you can’t possibly make something for absolutely everyone.” he admits. “I hope that the fact that there are relatively legible limits actually becomes a way to talk about access and who art is for, even if it’s public art.” There is also the fact that the game challenges individuals to travel throughout the whole city, instead of limiting their movement only to those neighborhoods and areas where they feel comfortable, adding a necessity for not only access, but effort by the participant in order to “win.”

Although not everyone can play Painted Rock Hunt Game, the fact that its interactivity extends in so many different directions is part of why Roulet was so attracted to it. “I think of the Washington public as different circles that don’t always overlap, so I hope that this will work as a sort of Venn diagram bringing some of those circles together. A piece like Patrick’s, which is a geocaching project, reaches out to two different communities – people who do geogcaching, and the art community, which includes people who are aware of him as an important local artist,” Roulet says. “I’m hoping that people will really engage with all the pieces and it will really take them to a place they’ve never been.”

When you’re talking about a public art endeavor like The 5 x 5 Project, that is largely based on temporal and ephemeral projects, it is only natural to begin wondering what, if anything, will remain when it’s over. “I hope that the DC Commission will continue to approach public art in a similar way. It can be something very ephemeral, and to look more to new media instead of in terms of just creating an object,” Roulet says.

As far as advice to other artists who want to take up a public art practice? “Well, you can always just do it,” says McDonough. “You can make something and put it outside, and I know in DC there’s this sort of cloud of bureaucracy and security, but that seems in my mind almost exclusive to Capitol Hill and Northwest (DC). I could put something in that lot behind my studio and no one would care for months. Or you could put it outside for an hour, and see what happened.”

“I know what they say, you can’t get an opportunity until you have the experience but you can’t get the experience until you have the opportunity,” McDonough continues. “I think it depends on what sort of public art you’re interested in. Because maybe you can’t put a ten ton bronze somewhere without having made a ten ton bronze before, but if that’s not what you want to do, there’s lots of other ways to wiggle your way in.”

As for the future of public art in DC, Ms. Roulet already has plans underway for that, in the form of being the curator for the third Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Show, which has been titled Sculpting Outside the Lines. The show, which opens April 21st and runs until October, will again push the boundaries of conventional outdoor sculpture, including a projection piece by Jefferson Pinder, a mobile garden by Lina Vargas De La Hoz, and large scale works by both Dalya Luttwak and Barbara Liotta that will hang from a building. “I’m including some conventional sculptures, but I also wanted work that’s kind of hidden, that you would have to seek out and that isn’t necessarily in the front yard, but might be attached to the roof or on the façade,” explains Roulet. Roulet is also hoping to include pieces from Dan Steinhilber’s Cast Angels project, which he created while a resident in WPA’s PAR program, which allows a DC artist to have a public art residency at Socrates Sculpture Park.

McDonough, also a veteran of WPA’s PAR program, hopes that more artists will start seeing themselves as public artists. “Why does art continue to perpetuate itself? That line of thinking has always made me challenge myself in terms of casting a wide net in terms of what I’m up to. So at some point I became interested in working outside the gallery space as well. But it also became necessary to what my whole practice is about or a lot of what I think about. I don’t want to say every artist should work in the public realm, but it seems pretty necessary in 2012 to think about why you wouldn’t.”

Patrick McDonough’s “Painted Rock Hunt Game” may be played by visiting www.prhg.net. More information about “The 5x5 Project” is available at www.the5x5project.com. Beginning April 21, 2012, the “Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit” can be seen in the yards of homes and businesses between 24th and 26th streets NW and H and K streets. 


March 8, 2012

Shooting Straight with Greg Staley
by Liz Georges

Sometimes the detour becomes the primary route. At least, that’s how Greg Staley became one of DC’s best photographers of art objects. “I went to Pratt Institute for a couple years and started shooting work for students there as a favor almost. And I got pretty good at it. And then I moved back to Washington, and when I started a business, I found that this was the bulk of the work I was doing. It took a while, but I shot for museums and artists and galleries. There was much more of a demand for it at the time because it was pre-digital, so people needed film reproduction,” he says.

Now that many, if not most, photos done of artwork are digital, Greg Staley is still shooting fine art and jewelry for clients like the National Gallery of Art, The Phillips Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as for auction houses, galleries, collectors and artists. Even with the greater ease afforded by digital files, shooting artwork can still be a challenge. “I remember shooting several pieces that were basically made of a couple hundred razor blades,” He says. “I remember having to lift them on and off the wall, and I cut myself. The images were excellent but I really wished I’d had some gloves available.”

Although Staley’s business is built on shooting artwork, he understands that often artists either don’t have the time or the money to pay for professionally done photos of their work, and are often in the position of having to shoot their work themselves.

What’s the biggest mistake that artists make when they try to shoot their own work? “Mainly not knowing as much about their own cameras as they should, and because they don’t know enough about it, settling for a file that is too small or isn’t shot correctly, and thinking they can just go into photoshop and solve all the problems,” he says. “Increasing the size when it shouldn’t be increased, and using contrast and color values to correct for bad color that completely blow out the color range.”

“People think they can save money and download images off of a point-and-shoot at 72 dpi, and they end up being disappointed,” he continues. “They’ll have saved a little bit of money but wasted a lot of time and the work ends up not being seen the way it should be seen.”

What can an artist do up front to assure success? According to Staley, it’s less about fancy equipment and professional lighting so much as about making good use of some basic tools. “If you’re going to shoot outdoors, make sure you have a tripod. Make sure you have a decent day to shoot – not a lot of wind. It shouldn’t be a brilliant bright sunny day. A cloudy day is best,” He says. “In a room, if there is a lot of light in a room, get to a place where there is the most even light. And then make sure that you know enough about your camera, read the manual and have the largest file size possible that you can use. If you can get a color checker, which is just a color bar that helps you when you get on the computer screen, put it next to your piece. If you can do all that, and make sure obviously that you focus well, and try to keep everything straight within the frame, you’ll be in good shape.”

Even three dimensional work, which many find challenging to shoot, Is not too difficult if the artist is willing to take the time to set up the work properly to assure success. “For two dimensional you just want a really clean, color correct, sharp image, glare-free. It’s a lot easier to shoot two-dimensional work -- I can control light for that, and can control glare issues. But if you’re going to shoot three-dimensional work, it’s best to use a seamless backdrop,” Staley advises. “It’s easy to buy that at the photo store. You can also buy graded backdrops that aren’t that expensive, just set your piece on top of it on a table and drape it back, behind the piece. You can use available light, too, you don’t need expensive light. It’s just a question of preparing for it. You might want to get a reflector to bounce light on the less lit side. And all of this is available at most photo stores or online.”

Though Staley firmly believes that most artists can shoot their own work with enough proficiency to meet most of their needs, there are some instances where one should just spare the trouble and seek a professional from the outset. “Paintings that are dark and heavily glazed is very difficult work to shoot. I wouldn’t recommend shooting that type work on your own, because you probably won’t be successful,” Staley says. “Some types of ceramics, raku for example, are difficult to shoot, because they have glazes that are very reflective. I would not try to shoot those on your own. If you get a good enough shot you can do something in Photoshop with it but not everyone can do that.”

Over the years Greg has helped dozens of artists use photos to prepare for calls for entry, residency and grant applications, jury shots and other instances where an artist’s work is judged. He’s usually happy to work with artists to help them get the best shot of their work. His advice for artists in this situation is fairly concise. “Make sure the images are readable online. Some objects are stronger in real life than when you see them online. Some work just reads better, the lines, the aesthetics, and composition. And it’s important to know that up front,” He says. “Shoot more than you need to shoot and edit later. Take an extra angle. A lot of it is about editing. But make sure you have something worth editing.”

In the end, however, he shares the opinion of many who offer advice to artists in the application process: “I’d include the best work you have, that’s really the most important thing.”

Greg Staley will be teaching WPA’s “No Artist Left Behind” workshop, “In Your Best Light: How to Photograph Your Work” at Arlington Arts Center on Monday, March 12 from 6:30-8pm. The workshop is currently full. Please contact Greg Staley at grstaley@aol.com for more information about his services.

February 23, 2012

Opening
Photo by Vincent Gallegos

Your Guide to the SELECT Art Auction Gala

Whether it’s your first time attending WPA’s big night, or you’re a regular attendee who’s enjoyed WPA auctions for decades, the SELECT Art Auction Gala on March 3 offers plenty of entertainment, surprises, and the best in contemporary art in the DC region. We’ve been talking a lot about SELECT lately, and here’s everything you need to know:

What is SELECT?

SELECT is WPA’s 31st annual art auction and exhibition. The exhibition opened on February 11 and is open free to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 6pm at our exhibition space at 1800 L Street, NW. SELECT features over 100 works by contemporary artists, mostly from the DC region. The works were chosen by eight curators and the WPA Board of Directors and reflect a wide range of media, artistic practices, and ideas. All of the works in SELECT will be auctioned off at WPA’s SELECT Art Auction Gala which will take place from 6:30pm to midnight on March 3, 2012. This year, we are excited to include a live auction component to the festivities!

Where does the money from SELECT go?

The proceeds from the sale of artwork is shared with the artists contributing that work. The rest of the proceeds from the sale of artwork, the live auction, and ticket sales go to Washington Project for the Arts and provide critical support for WPA’s programs and exhibitions throughout the year. Revenue generated from SELECT makes it possible for WPA to continue to offer professional development workshops, curator and artist talks, networking opportunities, valuable tools like ArtFile Online, and innovative and provocative exhibitions -- all of which serve the DC region’s contemporary arts community, and in particular, artists.

What do I get for my Gala ticket?

Gala tickets start at $300 and entitle you to admission to SELECT at 6:30pm to begin viewing the work that is being auctioned that evening. Gala guests will dine on a “Movable Feast” – hors d’oeuvres, dinner and dessert in small plates -- prepared at the direction of DC native, sustainable seafood advocate, and celebrity chef Barton Seaver. All Gala ticket holders will receive at least Bronze level recognition in SELECT’s signage and literature. And of course, all ticket holders will be entitled to bid on the amazing artwork available that evening.

There are a limited number of party tickets available for $150 per person. These tickets provide admission to the SELECT Gala starting at 8:30pm, silent and live auction bidding, open bar, and dessert.

To purchase Gala tickets or party tickets, click here.

What else is new this year for SELECT?

Not only have we added the participation of celebrity chef Barton Seaver, but this year’s dinner will allow patrons to mingle and socialize more. Patrons will not be assigned to a particular table (unless they purchase a block of ten tickets) rather they can choose to dine at any of the open tables or the lounge area.

Also new this year is a live auction of art adventures. Auctioneer Dr. Martin Gammon of Bonhams will preside over this year’s live auction. Lucky bidders can enjoy exclusive access to art experiences in New York, the splendor of the French countryside, or the satisfaction of becoming a WPA underwriter.

How do I buy the art at SELECT?

All ticket holders receive a bid number when they check in at the registration table. This number is used on the bid forms that are located near the works of art. Each artwork has a posted minimum bid below which no bid will be accepted (this is the Reserve Price). The first listed price indicates the starting bid, and increases are in set increments. Decide which works you want to bid on and enter the fray! Write down your bid number on the bid sheet next to the bid amount you wish to make. If yours is the highest bid when the bidding closes, the work is yours!

What if I can’t be at the Gala? Can I still buy artwork?

Bidders who can’t make it to the Gala can make an Absentee Bid. Simply fill out the Absentee Bid form (available here) and email or fax it to Christopher Cunetto at 202-234-7106 before 5pm on March 1, 2012. Each absentee bid must be secured by a credit card and indicate the maximum bid amount you wish to make for your selected work. Successful bidders will be notified by telephone by Monday, March 5, 2012. If you purchase a work via absentee bid, the work must be removed from 1800 L Street NW by Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

Artwork that does not sell the night of the Gala may be available for purchase through WPA up to a week after the event.

February 9, 2012

SELECT 2012: Taking a Moment to Shine
by Liz Georges

The SELECT: WPA Exhibition & Art Auction Gala, now in its 31st year, is one of WPA’s signature events. Comprising both a large scale exhibition and a festive auction gala, SELECT occupies a unique position in the WPA program schedule.

The participation of esteemed curators is one of the key points that helps sets the SELECT exhibition apart from other art auctions. “We are incredibly fortunate to be able to tap into a pool of wonderful, talented, connected curators who in turn tap into a wonderful, talented pool of amazing artists,” says Lisa Gold. Each year, the SELECT Curatorial Committee extends invitations to a group of well-respected curators whose areas of concentration vary widely, both in terms of geography and medium. This year, we are fortunate to be working with curators from very established institutions as well as more artist-centric organizations, from the National Gallery of Art to Nudashank in Baltimore and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Our curators include Seth Adelsberger, Molly Donovan, Sarah Newman, Dennis O’Neil, Stephen Bennett Phillips, Katy Murnane Reis, Paul Thulin, and Judy Sherman.

We also do our best to present the work in its best light. We hang and light the work and treat it with the respect that should be afforded to artwork featured in any traditional exhibition setting.

The end result is a show with outstanding work by a diverse group of artists representing a myriad of viewpoints and artistic practices. Curator Sarah Newman, like most of the curators in SELECT, recognized the focus on local work as an important aspect of the show, which has no other real thematic ties to bind the curators in their selection process. “I focused on artists from this region or with connections to this region,” she says. “I chose works by some artists who are fairly established, and others who are in the early stages of their careers and may not be familiar to most people who see the show.  Most importantly, I chose what I think are great things.”

The commitment to presenting great things is what ultimately makes SELECT a “must” event for many collectors and art enthusiasts from the DC area and beyond, some of whom used the WPA Auction as their entry point into collecting. “The gala reaches a group of collectors and patrons and art supporters that don’t always come to other WPA events because so many of them are tailored toward artists,” Lisa Gold says. “There’s a long tradition of people who have been coming for years and years and love this event. There are regulars who look forward to the gala and see it as an opportunity to acquire new work and add new names to their collections while supporting the art community as a whole.”

Washington lawyer and WPA Board member Jim Ritter agrees. “For years now, I have looked forward to the annual WPA Auction and Gala as my chance to see a wide range of what artists in DC are working on.”  

Often, interest in the work seen at the SELECT exhibition encourages collectors to reach out to artists and galleries when the auction event is over. “The exhibition certainly generates exposure for the artists and galleries in the community,” Lisa Gold says. “When patrons see work that they are interested in, they may choose to follow that artist, visit their website, seek out their next exhibition. Or, if the artist is represented by a gallery, and particularly if the patron wasn’t able to acquire a specific work at the gala, they will go to that gallery and purchase work.”

“We work very hard to bring people into the SELECT exhibition to acquaint them with the artists, the artwork, and the galleries whose artists are represented in the exhibition,” says Lisa Gold. “We are bringing in collectors and patrons affiliated with our sponsors, like UBS Financial Services. We are inviting other curators, arts administrators, and, of course, artists! We’re constantly trying to connect people interested in learning about artists and the art being created here -- connecting the artists and the gallerists and the collectors.”

“It’s important to recognize that the SELECT Art Auction Gala is a fundraising event that generates critical support for WPA’s operations,” Lisa Gold says. “The funds raised from this single evening help sustain us throughout the year, and enable us to produce the programming, events, and support services that we offer to artists for free.”

Thankfully, the supporters of SELECT fully understand this concept, are happy to help, and are extraordinarily generous.

“I was excited to be one of the curators of the WPA auction for a number of reasons,” says curator Sarah Newman.  “One is that it is a great excuse to go out and look at things—in the course of making my selections, I found out more about the work some artists I already knew quite well, and I got to know the work of others who I had previously only admired from afar.  The other reason is that the WPA does great work in support of the local art community, and I am thrilled to be able to help that mission.”

SELECT: WPA Exhibition & Art Auction Gala will open to the public Saturday, February 11, 2012, from 6-8pm at 1800 L Street, NW. The Exhibition will be open to the public Wednesdays – Saturdays, noon-6pm, from February 15-March 2. The WPA Auction Gala will be held on March 3, from 6:30pm-midnight. Tickets for the Auction Gala may be purchased online at auction.wpadc.org or by phoning Christopher Cunetto at 202-234-7103, x5. WPA would like to thank its event sponsors, patrons, curators, artists, Auction Committee members, its Board and staff for all of their support.

 

January 26, 2012

BrickHaus Art Space: Bootstrapping in Baltimore
by Liz Georges

Like many feats of daring and folly, BrickHaus Art Space was initially conceived during the late night hours on a college campus. WPA Member Artist Ben Graham-Putter and fellow MICA graduate Adam Farkas often found themselves working in MICA’s woodshop late at night back in their college days. “I started thinking, you know, when I get out of school, what am I going to use to make my art? I’d been using this really high-quality, fully equipped woodshop, a similar metal shop and a ceramics studio. What am I going to do without all of this equipment?” Ben explains. “So I made a decision while talking to another friend of mine, that this was something that I, or a group a people, would have to make – a place, where all of this stuff was accessible, in the same building.”

Both Ben and Adam graduated -- Adam completed his degree in 2009, and Ben followed a year later. The reality of life as a couple of recent art school grads in a struggling economy took hold. “I was kind of floating around for a little while. For a few months I worked as a commercial painter, and then through some experience doing aerial theater I found a job at Red Dirt Studios,” Ben says.

Ben reconnected with his friend Adam through his work in aerial theater, and ultimately, brought Adam in to Red Dirt. “I was bouncing around from job to job. I think I had just lost my job at Trader Joe’s when Ben took me down to Red Dirt to help him with a project,” Adam explains.

Back in a workshop together again, Ben and Adam started talking about Ben’s idea of a group space that allowed artists to have access to equipment and studios. “I think part of the impetus to start our own studio for me came from the fact that I had a woodshop in my bedroom, and I stored lumber under my bed. I was very determined to keep making art,” Adam says.

“Just a woodshop wouldn’t have been enough, because I use ceramics and metal. To get all of this equipment together for myself and try to find a space that I could afford all this stuff to go in, would have been impossible,” Ben says. “It started off more about myself and my art. But then as the thinking evolved, it became more about actually helping other people get affordable studio space, and helping other people get into shows, and helping other people get access to the equipment that they need. And it’s become less about my artwork and more about creating a community around the facility.”

BrickHaus finally became a reality in 2011. An old brick warehouse constructed in 1910, the building had enough space to carve out a high-ceilinged woodshop on the top floor, a metal shop in the basement, a number of studios of various sizes on the first and second floors, a gallery and meeting space in the front, and soon, a recording studio. The freight elevator, designed with enough load capacity to lift an automobile, made the space a dream come true. “I found it on Craigslist,” says Ben.

As with most dreams, (and things found on Craigslist) getting what they wanted was only the beginning. The real work has been in making the space usable and keeping it running. And that means making money. “We’ve mainly been bootstrapping the whole thing,” says Ben. “Working just enough to pay the extra bills. Part of it is that we spent a long time really negotiating a good lease that allowed us some flexibility while we were doing the construction to build our organization in the space. But a lot of it has been making sure that we have people in those studios who are paying their rent, which allows us to pay our rent and then all the construction costs. We’re just making as much as we can so that we can buy materials. We’ve been buying things as much on the cheap as possible. Lots of the things that we have are from Craigslist.”

“I think one of the most redeeming qualities of artists is that we will always find a way,” Adam adds. “And that’s true of all the people that have helped us. There are positives and negatives to being in a bad economy. One of the positive things is that we have a lot of people who are idle and want to share their time. A lot of our friends who don’t have jobs have said, hey, I’m tired of sitting around in the house, I want to be doing something productive, can I come help?”

Indeed, people who want in on the project are not in short supply. There is no shortage of artists looking for studio space and a place to show their work. It has been finding the right people that has proven to be the challenge. “It’s finding that balance for us, making it possible for people who want to be involved to be involved by dividing the space up, and finding just the right balance between how big the studios are and how much they cost. Something that is very important to us is the type of people we have in the space and the mindset they have. There are no doors on any of the studios,” Adam says.

“There have been people who have wanted locked doors,” Ben chimes in. “There have been people who have wanted live-in space, and things like that, and we have had to say no to those people. But I think that it’s very important to us to curate in people who will be right for the project. Our dedication to finding those people has placed us occasionally in some slightly trying financial situations. It’s been really rewarding because the people we do find who are right for the project really help to further the community that we set out to create.”

That community Ben and Adam are creating is committed both to the independence of the artist, and to the idea that often one can only get by with a little help from his friends. Adam explains, “I think that the community that has been building at BrickHaus is a bunch of people with their own independent studios that make their own independent work, but everyone helps if someone needs it. When we put up our first show, all of our resident artists were helping build out the space, helping paint.”

Ben envisions a community where collaboration is possible, but where sharing of resources is the norm. “We’re going to be starting a weekly seminar where all the resident artists get together every week and talk about art -- an informal sharing ideas, calls for entry, any shows that are happening that people should see. And anytime anybody needs a sort of a second opinion on something or a second pair of eyes, or even a fifth or sixth pair of eyes on the project that they’re working on, this will be a really great avenue to get that sort of feedback.”

“We’re very intentionally looking for a variety of people and media and a mix of more experienced folks and less experienced folks,” Ben continues. “Some of the people with less experience might have a little bit more energy because they are really new to things and really excited. Some of the people who have a lot more experience have been through some of the mistakes that people make early on in their career and they can help guide people through it, but might benefit from all that excitement going on in the space.”

“Also from a technical standpoint,” adds Adam, “the materials that are available now are completely different from what they were in the 60’s and 70’s, and even the 80’s and 90’s. And I think the younger artists have a lot to share with the older artists in terms of different processes and materials. And the older artists have a lot to share with the younger artists in terms of different methods of construction and plain old experience. So the more diverse the crowd, the more options you have when you’re looking for answers.”

That emphasis on sharing and working together became suddenly necessary as the winter set in late last year. A misunderstanding about whether there had ever been gas lines run to the building left BrickHaus suddenly in the lurch. “What was going to be a $75 installation of a meter is going to be turned into a several thousand dollar installation of a new gas line,” Ben explains. The money wasn’t readily available, and an online fundraising campaign only produced a fraction of the funds needed to solve the problem. “So at the moment we’re installing wood stoves as frantically as possible while still doing it right, and that’s been helping. We’re plastic-ing windows and doing what we can.” Ben is optimistic, and confident that the BrickHaus artists won’t go a second year without heat.

What Ben and Adam have learned from experience is that the only way to achieve feats of daring and folly is to simply not take no for an answer. “There will always be people that tell you no, and you absolutely cannot listen,” says Adam. “Every single thing we’ve done, we’ve been told by at least five people that it’s not possible. A big thing we’ve definitely learned and are getting good at is knowing when to ignore people and when to really listen very closely.”

At bottom, Ben and Adam’s confidence is a product not just of their faith in themselves, but in the community they are building. “The people are more important than the money. Because as long as you have people on your side, they’ll all help you find a way to get the money that you need,” says Ben.

BrickHaus Art Space is located at 2602 Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. BrickHaus’s latest exhibition, “Concrete Poetry,” a solo exhibition by Sean Lundgren, opens Friday, January 27th, from 6-11pm.

 

January 12, 2012

The Right Fit: Caitlin Strokosch on Artist Residencies
by Liz Georges

Given that her work for nearly a decade has been about promoting artist residencies of all kinds, and championing residencies both in the art world and on Capitol Hill, it seems odd to discover that Caitlin Strokosch, Executive Director of the Alliance of Artist Communities, can actually come up with reasons why an artist shouldn’t do a residency.

“I’m not a strong supporter of the idea that you do a residency just because it’s going to look good on your resume,” she says candidly, “not that an artist shouldn’t care about that, but that it shouldn’t be the motivation for pursuing a residency, or a particular residency program because of its name recognition. I feel like it’s a really important gift that an artist is given when they receive a residency, and taking advantage of that opportunity should be the motivation -- that you’re going there to explore your creative practice, to produce work, and to really dig in, in a way that you might not otherwise have a chance to do.”

Strokosch’s concern stems from not just high-mindedness about the place of residencies in the art world, but from more pragmatic concerns regarding the right fit between the artist and the residency. “Part of my concern when I hear artists talking about having something that they can put on their resume is that it can take the place of looking for residencies that are going to be a good match for them, in terms of aesthetic, the style and personality of the place, and the opportunities that artists may find in that particular community. All those sorts of things that make a residency a good match really don’t have anything to do with how famous the place is, and there are so many great residency programs that you’ve never heard of” she says.

In talking about residencies, how to select them, and how to apply for them, this idea of “fit” – that artists should be as selective about which residencies to apply to as residency programs are about which artists are selected – emerges as central in Strokosch’s thinking, not just for artists but also for the residencies themselves. “If given the chance in an application, it’s really important that you show why you’re interested in that particular residency. I think a lot of artists miss an opportunity when they make a very generic statement about wanting time and space to work on a project that could just as easily be copied and pasted from a dozen different residency applications. And the residency directors want to know why the artist is interested in this particular place, whether it’s wanting to be in a certain geographic area, whether it’s a residency program that is focused on the arts and sciences and how that fits in with that person’s creative practice, whatever the reason is – because that’s an indication that this is going to be a good match for the artist and for the residency program. It’s a chance for you to let some of your own personality and interests come through in an artist statement or project proposal. The strength of the artist’s work will always be the most important part of the application, but talking about why this particular residency is compelling can be really critical for getting selected once you get through the work sample review part of the process.”

What does an artist look at in determining whether a residency is the right fit? “It’s kind of like picking a college. You look at the campus, you see who else is there, you read their value statements, you see what they have to offer and you kind of get a feel for what’s right for you,” Strokosch says. As for specifics, once you’ve identified residencies that offer support for your discipline or specific facilities and equipment you need, Strokosch recommends thinking about the reality of the experience itself. “How social is it? Do you want to meet people from different art forms? Are you interested in being in an urban area? How rural the actual site is can be really important. There are a lot of places where it’s hard to even imagine how solitary and remote they actually are. I heard from a New York-based artist who really wanted to get away and be in nature. And then when she went to a very rural residency, she couldn’t believe how loud the birds were and she couldn’t get any work done! I think we all romanticize different kinds of places, but it’s important to be realistic about how well suited we are for some environments over others.”

Apparently, Strokosch learned this lesson from experience in her own career as a musician. “I was in-residence at Ucross years ago, which is in northeastern Wyoming on a 22,000 acre cattle ranch. I didn’t have a car, so just think about what that really means. Not only can I not walk to a coffee shop if I get stuck or frustrated and just need to get out of my studio, but other than dinner with the other artists, there’s nowhere to go and nothing else to do. It was an incredible experience and actually the perfect place for me, but not every artist thrives in that kind of remote setting.”

“It’s important, too, that artists understand what other expectations there are,” Strokosch continues. “No artist should be surprised if they learn that they are asked to give a slide talk or give a reading or teach a workshop or visit a school. For some residencies, it’s very low-key. For example, at Jentel -- another residency program in Wyoming -- they ask their visual artists and writers to give an informal presentation in downtown Sheridan at one point during their 3-week long residency. It’s very casual and low-pressure, but not every artist is interested in doing that, so even a really low key expectation can make it or break it for a lot of artists. It shouldn’t be something you’re dragging your feet through or that you aren’t prepared for, and it’s important that the residency be really clear about what’s expected.”

In fact, increased community engagement is one of the trends over the past ten years that Strokosch cites when discussing how the residency community has changed. “There are still lots of places that are based on the private retreat kind of model. But many more places now encourage the artist to engage the community in some way – from developing public art to participating in open studios and festivals to tending bar at events to just encouraging the artists to spend time out and about. The shift in the field has been really interesting because when it first started happening there was a lot of resistance from some residency directors, particularly because some of the motivation was coming from funders who didn’t value the private, ‘no strings attached’ approach from residency programs. But there are so many different residency models these days and I think we’re in a really healthy place right now because many artists have responded to this shift saying, ‘I want to engage the community, I want to meet new people in different cities, or, I have a creative practice that involves the public.’ For artists who want to just hunker down in the studio, there are so many wonderful opportunities for that still. And for artists who want to engage more with the public, there are places for that as well.”

Another important series of trends Strokosch cites surround the issue of fitting a residency into a hectic modern life. “There are a lot of studio-only residencies, particularly in urban areas, that don’t require an artist to go away but still offer local artists a kind of community and facilities and sometimes professional development opportunities, so that local artists can be served in those ways without having to leave home. And there are more and more of those coming online all the time,” Strokosch says.

The most prevalent trend Strokosch notes, however, is shorter-term residencies. “It’s not uncommon for programs that used to average 6 to 8 weeks in duration to now have artists asking for just 2- or 3-week-long residencies. People are just trying to make it fit into vacation time, or whatever time they can squeeze in between other things. It’s the reality for many artists, and there can be really wonderful transformative experiences in a very short time. There are people who have done one-week residencies who still get more done than they would have working for months at home,” she says.

The shorter terms also open up the world of residencies to a broader audience. “I think it’s especially important that there are shorter residencies particularly for artists who have families, so that they don’t get left out of the residency world during the time that their kids are growing up. We’re just beginning to see more flexibility in the residency field to accommodate that, since there are lots of parents who can only consider being away from their families for a week or two at a time. ”

Scheduling a year’s worth of artists is difficult for the residency programs, too. “There’s still a really long lead time from when you apply to when you get in, and that makes it difficult for artists to plan ahead in that way, to know where they’re going to be a year from now or six months from now, or what their job is going to look like. Being flexible on both sides – artists and residency programs – can really be key to making all these things work.”

Aside from the good news that you may be able to have a life and have a residency, Strokosch also has another interesting message for mid-career and established artists. “Only about 10 percent of residencies are specifically for emerging artists. A lot of residency programs actually try to curate a mix of career stages to be in residence at the same time so that there’s an energy around that and an exchange that happens across different professional levels,” she says. “I hear from a lot of mid-career and more established artists that after doing what they’ve been doing for a long time, they need to really refresh their work, or move forward in a very different direction by trying a new discipline or working with materials they haven’t worked with before. Because residencies are kind of safe space for experimentation, artist can find residencies to be a real turning point where they can shift their careers in a new way.”

Although the Alliance of Artists Communities’ primary function is supporting the organizations that offer artist residencies, connecting artists to residencies is an important part of its work as well. “There are several hundred residency programs listed on our website and with a new launch in the coming weeks, there are going to be even more. The online database is free and it allows you to search by discipline, by special equipment and facilities, by location, all kinds of different things. And we’re also starting to document a lot of tips for artists – like applying for residencies, finding funding for residencies -- a lot of that stuff that we have done anecdotally through workshops will be freely available on our website for all artists.”

And what are residencies looking for from artists? “The main thing for every residency program that I’ve ever talked to, and this has been hundreds of them, is that the work samples are the most important thing,” Strokosch says. “So even if a place asks for a resume, an artist statement, statement of intent, recommendation letters, any of that stuff, the most important thing is the work. I think it’s really important to stress this because there’s this perpetual myth that it’s all about who you know or where you’ve shown or who your publisher or your agent is, and that’s how you get into a residency. But it’s really not. It’s really about the quality of the work. I don’t know that we’ll ever fully lay that myth to rest, but I’m working on it.”

Caitlin Strokosch, along with Sarah Workneh, Executive Director of Skowhegan, and artists Victoria Fu and Chrisitan Benefiel, will be participating in a panel discussion hosted by WPA, “Artist Residencies and Retreats: Making it Work for You,” on Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 6:30-8pm at Abramson Family Recital Hall at American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW. To RSVP, email Membership Director Liz Georges at lgeorges@wpadc.org.

Jean-Michel Ross’s Free Pass
By Liz Georges

One of the most common visions conjured up by the phrase “residency” in the art world is that of an artist working in a bucolic setting, the peace and quiet and the distance from the cares of the outside world producing a magically slower pace, allowing the artist time to really reflect on his or her work.

Of course, if you are Jean-Michel Ross, doing your curatorial residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn, you’re only halfway through your three-month residency and you’ve already started two businesses (so much for that “slower pace” thing). In fact, when Jean-Michel visits Washington, DC to participate in Washington Project for the Arts’ InfoEx program on January 5th, the thing he’s looking forward to most is the chance to take a break from the pace of his hectic residency.

“For me what was really exciting about going to Washington, was not only to have portfolio reviews and meet people in another city, but it was also about taking the time to prepare for the talk, and just step back for a second internalize everything that just happened, and to be able to talk about it,” says Jean-Michel.

What has just happened is that Jean-Michel Ross, a Montreal-based curator whose work is currently focused on issues on the intersection of democracy and the visual arts, has started a publishing project, an online magazine called Free Pass. “It’s a web magazine for which I’ll try to have one paper edition a year,” He explains. “Everyone who wants to be part of the editorial staff can ask to be part of it, and then I give to any one of those people a press pass. Since every magazine has the right to print their own press passes, they then have access to all of the museums and galleries, not just here in the United States but around the world.”

“My idea is to really have a reflection on the idea of context, which is something that’s been very important in my previous work, and my previous research. One of the first things that I was interested in was the question of the link between democracy and the idea that everybody has a voice. So if you’re giving everybody a voice, how can you make a context to actually do that?”

For a former assistant editor of ESPACE Sculpture magazine, a magazine, even an online format, has provided a context that was at once familiar and provided opportunity not only to provide access through the actual passes issued, but to explore the ways in which those issued the passes use the tool, the “voice” they are given. “Some of the people have chosen to use their press passes to get access to other artists to do interviews, and that has been interesting.” He notes.

The other business Jean-Michel has managed to start in his first 30 days in New York is a pop-up, for-profit gallery under the auspices of his ISCP residency. “The gallery? That came up the third week I was here. The whole idea for the research I was doing here was to reflect on the problems linked to democracy and the visual arts, so the magazine was one way of doing that. But then I was thinking on the other side there’s also the idea of the actual space, creating an actual context.”

For Jean-Michel, the context of the gallery has become a means to explore more themes in his chosen research field. “There’s a question of access, there’s a question of trying to raise the standard of living of the artist, for their production, their promotion,” Jean-Michel explains. “But I also find it interesting to explore a long term collaboration with different artists that can not only work together but also research and think together: what is this context, how does it actually affect the work that is being shown, what is the discourse, what are the limits? If we’re going towards a private gallery and we’re going toward profit, how does this research actually fit into that?”

“For instance, I have a number of artists who do process art, where it’s not just about the actual object, but it’s the whole ‘how they get there’ that’s important. And of course if you take those objects and you transpose them to a private gallery, it’s much more about the object. So this is a way to go towards those different ideas.“

Many of these questions are raised for him by the distinct difference between the contemporary art institutions in his native Quebec and those in the United States. “I’ve been on the board of one of the oldest non-profit galleries in Canada, Optica Gallery.” Jean Michel says. “There’s a very vibrant not-for-profit scene in Quebec, it’s quite important, much more important than the private galleries actually.” Jean-Michel goes on to describe the network of artist-run nonprofit ventures that sprang up in the 70’s and 80’s, that later became the beneficiary of government subsidies, sometimes up to 90% of their budget being supplied by the Provincial Government.

The level of focus that it takes to accomplish even one project of this depth in barely more than a month is significant. That Jean-Michel has taken on two such endeavors speaks to the level of clarity and commitment he has to his curatorial vision. But when asked what he’s gotten out of his residency at ISCP, the answer is a little surprising. “The most important thing? I would say meeting with artists is the first thing -- being in a building with 34 or 36 artists from all over the world. That’s dynamic, and those exchanges are probably the richest thing that I have gotten up to now. It’s not just thinking about the projects and everything. Those interactions have actually contributed to thinking about those projects and to making them happen.”

Jean-Michel Ross will be speaking as part of WPA’s “InfoEx” program at 6:30pm on January 5, 2012 at UBS Financial Services, 1501 K Street NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC. InfoEx is an informal partnership between Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) and the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn, New York. On Friday, January 6, he will hold one-on-one meetings with WPA member artist, curators, and arts writers. Individuals wishing to attend the talk should RSVP to WPA Program Director Blair Murphy at bmurphy@wpadc.org. This InfoEx program is sponsored by UBS Financial Services.

December 15, 2011

Sonreir Project

WPA Member Gert Barkovic Gives Back
by Liz Georges

It takes a special kind of vision to see what’s not there. Whether you choose to call it imagination, suspension of disbelief, or just plain crazy, it’s not easy to look at a thing and see past what’s there to what could be. It is one of the things, however, at which artists excel.

Which explains why it took an artist, namely WPA artist member Gert Barkovic, to see the necessity of the Sonreir Project (“sonreir” means “to smile” in Spanish). Upon hearing from a maxillofacial surgeon friend (the man who later became her husband) about the medical missions he’d been doing in the Mountains of Honduras through the Barnabas House working with children with cleft palate and other maladies, Barkovic’s curiosity was piqued.

“I had heard about all the children they were able to affect, and I was looking at the before and after which is just so amazing,” she says. “I felt like there was something missing. The parents really had no contact between the medical team and what was going on with their children, and there’s a language barrier, and a lot of the families have never come in contact with a doctor, or a hospital. And the parents are terrified, absolutely terrified because here are these people in white coats from America coming and taking their kids behind this screen, and they hear them crying and it’s just hard.”

No longer merely curious, and seeing a need that she could help meet, Barkovic talked her way onto a medical mission team going to Honduras. “I asked to travel with one of their teams and bring all the loot from my studio that I hadn’t touched or used in years. Just packed them in big midshipman duffles and brought them down.”

The first mission wasn’t easy. The medical staff didn’t understand what she was doing. She was given the recovery and waiting area to set up – a tiny hallway where parents and children wait nervously to have surgery and afterwards to recuperate. It was cramped, the windows were closed and the shades were drawn. The hospital staff recoiled when Barkovic threw open the shades to let in light. The parents were shy, unsure of what Barkovic really wanted from them with her paints, feathers, pipe cleaners and other supplies. She coaxed the parents into coming to the table, and creating while they waited for their children.

Her instincts ultimately paid off. “By the end of the week we determined that it was so beneficial to the parents there,” she says. “It totally changed the realm that they were in, and it became more of a community. A lot of parents in previous missions, they went in and they would stay away from one another, and through this we’ve developed a community.”

Now Barkovic’s art therapy is considered a necessary companion to the work done by the surgeons. Families will come to Barnabas House prior to surgery and create using the donated art supplies Barkovic brings with her, or will participate in sing-a-longs. Families that under other circumstances would be paralyzed with anxiety and anticipation loosen up and begin to form a community. “It’s such a comfort, and it’s not forced upon them. It’s really just out of curiosity. It’s definitely a diversion from the worry, and the stress,” says Barkovic. “We had a young couple, they were 23 years old, and they had three children there in surgery and they were just beside themselves. I think it just provides the ability to create community between the medical team but also between the parents and the mothers, they just became really supportive of one another. ”

Doctors usually known for their detachment from their patients have come to see the value in Barkovic’s work. “The coolest thing is that now the doctors are doing it!” Barkovic exclaims. “They come in so it’s totally wrecked the old system. They’re hanging out with the moms and the dads so there’s this whole other relationship going on that’s totally awesome and they are walking around with the goofy eyeglasses and the noses.”

Art becomes for the parents and the children not merely a means to divert stress, but a means to communicate about themselves. “What’s important to them is the first thing that they create. The first thing is always the church, the Iglesias. They’re a really devout country and that’s pretty prominent. And the other thing is where they live. There’s a level of pride of being able to communicate where their home is, what they love,” says Barkovic. “A lot of the moms will draw pictures of their children and say, ‘my beautiful baby’ and ‘my beautiful son.’”

Barkovic finds inspiration for her own artistic practice in her interactions with the people in Honduras, like the cobbler Marco, one of the parents she met on a recent mission. “I thought he was ungodly talented. I mean the things he was able to create with his hands made me so humble as a maker,” she says. “He was teaching me how to weave, and that was something his village just does because they need a container and it took him no time at all – just to watch his fingers create.” Other artists who have joined Barkovic on her mission – photographer Alisia Packard and conversation artist Chanan Delivuk – have likewise discovered that there is much to be gained from the project, even more than just the satisfaction of helping others.

As the medical mission itself becomes more successful – the doctors now have a permanent hospital facility to work in – Barkovic has plans to grow Sonreir. “I save up and pay a lot of it out of pocket. Some of the medical fraternities at local medical colleges have been very generous. Virginia Tech, exceptional. George Mason has just started donating for the first time this year with their medical fraternity…. Ideally I’d like to make it so that it’s not just me going, but even more artists going, too. We have so many talented people here that have such an intellect and a giving spirit. Ultimately that is my hope.”

Gert will be returning to Honduras in February on another mission and is setting up Sonreir as a nonprofit corporation that will be able to take direct donations soon. Individuals who want to donate supplies or wish to get involved can find out more at http://www.anvilorange.com/www.anvilorange.com/sonreir_project.html.

December 1, 2011

Provisions Library

People of the Book: Don Russell & Provisions
by Liz Georges

Considering that he first rattled into DC as a staffer on the Book Bus in 1978, it is somehow fitting that more than 30 years later, Don Russell, Executive Director of Provisions Learning Project, is still surrounded by books. Nowadays, it’s a concentrated set of bookshelves housed in the core of the new Art and Design Building at George Mason University in Fairfax. Provisions Library, part of this larger project addressing the intersection of arts and social change, has over 6,000 volumes, organized along 36 topics called “Meridians.”

Back then, it was the prospect of creating Bookworks, WPA’s much beloved bookstore, that lured Russell onto the staff at WPA in 1981. “[Then-WPA Director] Al Nodal was very interested in artist books because it was a phenom in the art world in the late seventies…one thing led to another and he asked me to manage a bookstore when they moved to the new space at 7th and D Street,” Russell remembers.

Russell’s experience running the bookstore at WPA, and his later roles as Program Director and Executive Director, contained the seeds of what he is doing today. “I remember there was a wonderful Board member, Herb White, and the bookstore was always struggling to make money, and Herb said, … ‘Don, why don’t you just start a library?’ And I thought at the time, ‘It’s a bookstore, why would we start a library?’ But the idea sort of embedded in my mind.”

Exploring social change via art was also a hallmark of his time at WPA. “Even back in my first stint at WPA, we did work on US intervention in Central America, we did an exhibition called Artists Call. We worked with an the artist Esther Parada from Chicago who did this lengthy elaborarte thing installation about Smedley Butler who was the sort of renegade general who was againstopposed all the foreign intervention. I also organized exhibitions about the AIDS crisis”.

So when Gaylord Neeley of the Gaea Foundation was looking for a way to reconfigure her foundation’s efforts to promote the intersection of art and social change, Don Russell was a natural fit to lead the project. “We developed a sort of collection of knowledge and way of bringing resources forward, alternative resources about a whole range of social change issues – 36 to be exact—and then filtered in all the most pertinent artists books that relate to social change,” Russell explains. “Look, nobody can make money selling books except Amazon, and even they’re going to be hurting at some point. But the idea of a library, especially a very focused, intentional sort of library, not encyclopedic, but you’re trying to make making a point, trying to create a conceptual work of art piece if you will, and that’s what the Provisions Llibrary is. It’s a usable conceptual artwork: an oracle.”

Now relocated to its new home at George Mason University, the choice to house the Provisions Library across from the snack barcafe in the Art & Design Bbuilding with GMU’s art department was deliberate. “I feel like libraries are too monumental. When I go around, I talk to classes a lot and I ask them, do you ever use Fenwick, which is the main library, a perfectly lovely library. Nobody Hardly anybody uses it. It’s very intimidating, I find. The way things are organized, it’s not always clear or intuitive. You almost have to learn how to be a librarian in order to figure things out. And that’s not for everybody,” says Russell. “Every day, people just come in here. They wander in here, they don’t even know they’re going to a library in a way. They’re going because they want to look at and learn from some interesting books.”

Russell’s goal for how students, artists and other visitors will use the library is three-fold: “There’s personal research, people come in here and ask a question and I’ll help them. Then there’s the second level, which I’d say is dialogue. I can have a dialogue with peoplethem. People have a project and they want my help conceptualizing it. … And then the third level would be collaboration. We want to do projects. We want to use the research center to generate projects.”

In many respects, the College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason offers a perfect ecosystem for Provisions to create projects that use art to explore social change – Russell has already worked with the Floating Lab Collective, which is based at Mason, and many longtime friends – Edgar AndresEndress, Tom Ashcraft, Peter Winant and Helen Frederick -- are part of the program. As an “up-and-comer” amongst the halls of higher learning, Mason is less entrenched in its thinking. Provisions is now supported in part by the university, but will remain an independent non-profit, with additional foundation supportThe university has agreed that Provisions will do its own fundraising, but as a part of the GMU community, but, Russell will now has ave the chance to pursue larger institutional grants. “I couldn’t get a National Science Foundation grant on my own, I couldn’t work with the State Department on my own. But I know that there are many ambitious projects we could do under with the imprimatur of the university,” Russell says.

Ultimately, Russell sees his work with Provisions as an opportunity to encourage more dialogue between art and other disciplines and social sectors, which he sees as revitalizing for everyone. “The art world is a subculture -- it protects artists, it protects its interests, it maintains a certain standard of quality most of the time, but I think we’re entering a phase where creativity is needed in a lot of other disciplines -- like engineering, for instance. Teaching people by the book is no longer working. People want the creative. So in a sense I’d like to take the artist out of the art world in some way and move them into other types of careers that are equally creative and satisfying and draw some of the engineers and mathematicians into the arts and make the art world more interesting and more just.”

Provisions Library is located in the Art and Design Building on the George Mason University Campus in Fairfax, Virginia. The Library’s unique collection of books, periodicals, and videos for artists, students or researchers interested in the intersection of arts and social change is open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 11am to 5pm, or by appointment. Visit provisionslibrary.com for more details or email provisionslibrary@gmail.org.

November 17, 2011

MIchelle & Sean

Connecting in the Digital Age: Inter-Net
by Liz Georges

People have worried about the effect of technology on the human spirit for centuries. Michelle Lisa Herman’s Coup d’Espace installation, Inter-Net, takes on the topic with wit and compassion. The three pieces included in the installation, Social Network, Virtual Window and Love Letters (Language is a Virus), each play with the juxtaposition of human and machine, offering a perspective that melds the sinister with the soulful.

Social Network, the centerpiece of the installation, provides the clearest example. The constellation of white orbs is suspended from the ceiling on wires that lead back to a nest of amplifiers and power cords on the wall. The orbs have the cute, vaguely anthropomorphic feel typically reserved for Japanese robotics and aliens on “Doctor Who” episodes. Each orb has, roughly where the ears ought to be, a pair of speakers that broadcast a voice recording.  Each orb has a little motion detector.  Whenever it is triggered, the orb says, “I’m here…are you there?”
 
Trigger a single orb and the question seems forlorn, lonely even.  Set off all the orbs together and the effect is a cacophony.  The whole pack of shiny white orbs asking all together, to everyone and to no one, “I’m here….are you there?”

The vision behind Social Network, though profoundly human at heart, found its genesis in bacteria. “It’s a process called quorum sensing,” Herman explains. “Bacteria send out a signal saying, ‘I’m here’ to announce themselves and to detect for that announcement from others. And so I was thinking about that idea and how a lot of things we do on social networks -- even just every time we post something, or ‘like’ something or blog something -- if you boil that down to its essence it’s sort of announcing to the world, ‘I am here.’ I had this idea to create an interactive audio installation composed of multiple orbs, and as people walk through these orbs that are hanging from the ceiling, a motion detector would be triggered, and audio would be played out of that orb and it would say, ‘I’m here, are you there?’”

The vision was clear. Bringing it to fruition wasn’t so easy. “In my day job I am a tech-savvy person. I’m the digital media manager at the Phillips Collection, and so I’ve always done html, websites and coding. But as far as audio and circuitry, I’m a little clueless,” Herman admits.

Then, in February of this year, WPA hosted its No Artist Left Behind program, The DC Listening Lounge Audio Workshop, in partnership with the DC Listening Lounge. Herman saw an opportunity. “I was really interested because I had this idea of this piece in mind, but it hadn’t been completely developed yet.”

The workshop helped Herman to find a collaborator to help her finish Social Network. “I learned a lot about DC Listening Lounge and their group,” she says. “They meet every month and they’re a bunch of sound lovers and audio engineers… And so I went to the meeting that they had, and just asked everybody for a recommendation of how to do this audio installation I was making. And everybody pointed me to Sean Phillips. He’s an audio engineer at NPR as his day job, and he’s a sound artist at night.”

With Phillips on board, Herman was able to construct her vision almost exactly to her specifications. Add in a well-timed 2011 Young Artists Program Grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and an application to WPA’s Coup d’Espace program, and what previously had been no more than an idea in Herman’s head had an opening date on November 4, 2011. “November just seemed like the perfect time and it just happened to completely coincide with DCWEEK,” says Herman.

In another stroke of impeccable timing and fortuitous connection, Digital Capital Week, or DCWEEK, a festival focusing on digital entrepreneurship organized by iStrategy Labs and Tech Cocktail, was looking for artists to submit projects to be included as part of the technology-oriented calendar of events. “My piece just happened to be perfect,” Herman smiles. As one of the first events on the DCWEEK calendar, the opening for Inter-Net drew many individuals from the technology community to see Herman’s work.

It is no small coincidence that networking has played such a pivotal role in realizing her vision, and Herman credits WPA with many of the opportunities she has had. “They have so many resources,” she says. “In my case I needed audio help and I was able to find it through the Listening Lounge workshop. WPA has the ability to connect you to people, to the tools you need to write grants, get into shows, promote yourself.”

Inter-Net will be at WPA’s Offices at 2023 Massachusetts Ave., NW through November 23, and is open to the public Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm.

November 3, 2011

Furthermore's DC location

Furthermore Takes Printing to the Next Level
by Liz Georges

Artist and curator Jose Ruiz, the founder and principal of Furthermore, was not interested in creating yet another digital print shop. “We had this impression that DC needed a new affordable print shop specifically for artists.”

A year later and Ruiz has produced that print shop on the third floor of 1019 Seventh Street , NW. The space is open, the feel is modern-- like a visit to an artist’s studio, as opposed to a print shop. “The way it had been before, you send a file, come pick it up, and there’s no real discourse in between. That’s something we’ve opened up,” Ruiz says.

“We’ve created an environment where it’s open and we encourage artists if possible to come in, spend some time, experiment a little,” he adds. Unlike other digital print shops that will wax poetic about the output specs of their equipment and the fast turnaround times and the low prices, Furthermore assumes you know all that already. Rather, Furthermore prides itself on its collaborative nature, its willingness to help artists experiment.

Lately, this has meant elevating the digital edition print, transforming it from a money-saving, shortcut production method into an artistic process in its own right. “The project we’re doing right now [for New York artist Halsey Hathaway] we’re trying to re-imagine the analog process of printing through digital printing. So we’re printing part of the compositions and printing them on top of each other, which normally you wouldn’t do,” Ruiz explains.

Artist Bridget Sue Lambert, who co-founded Furthermore, and is currently a digital printing specialist, explains, “We’re printing it like it was four colors – printing a black layer, then running the paper back through the machine, printing the yellow, then the magenta, then the cyan. . . It’s kind of like going back to traditional printmaking.”

“It’s a good example of an artist who’s engaged and trying to push it. He knows there’s going to be an edition. He could send anything really, but he’s trying to have a similar process to his paintings, and push what he knows of digital printing, and even push us, too, because it would be easier for us to click ‘print’ without having to redo it several times, but that’s not a challenge,” Ruiz finishes. The project is an example of one of many close working relationships that Furthermore has developed with artists and artist groups both here in DC (Flashpoint, Pleasant Plains Workshop and The Studio Visit are recent collaborators) and all over the world.

“I think it’s becoming for us not only necessary, but integral to what we do. Without those collaborations, it’s hard to really move contemporary art forward,” Ruiz says. In the end, Ruiz is not just a businessman running a print shop, but also an artist and a curator, and the multiple roles are what differentiate him. “It’s interesting. I find it inspiring, which is why I choose to do a lot of things, and I kind of see it as an overarching practice. But, for the sake of the print shop, I think it benefits it that we have these practices. If we didn’t, I think it would be any other print shop, you know?”

WPA members wanting to collaborate with Furthermore may do so at a discount. Starting November 1, WPA members receive a 20% discount on their first five visits to Furthermore, applicable to all printing services.


October 20, 2011

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Arlington County, Virginia, Public Art Administrator Angela A. Adams.  Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

Angela Adams: Perspectives on Public Art
by Liz Georges

To the casual observer, the metal rods and concrete spheres that comprise the centerpiece of Nancy Holt’s installation at Dark Star Park seem little more than an odd vignette of fallen stars. But at precisely 9:32 am every August 1st, the shadows cast from this collection of elements aligns perfectly with the corresponding shapes in the ground, as a commemoration of the date in 1860 when Henry Ross acquired the land on which the park sits, in the neighborhood that bears his name. It was the multi-faceted nature of Holt’s installation, as well as the unprecedented level to which the work was integrated into plans for the surrounding buildings, that made Dark Star Park a groundbreaking work in public art, and a fitting choice for Arlington County as its first major public art commission in 1979.

For Angela A. Adams, Arlington County Public Art Administrator, the project remains a benchmark against which other public art projects are evaluated. “It was the guiding spirit in writing the goals of our Public Art Policy, which talks about an integrated approach to public art in terms of our architecture, parks and infrastructure. We continue to aspire to do projects that are of the caliber of Dark Star Park, and it continues to challenge us to work at that level.”

Integration and partnership are recurring themes when Adams talks about the projects she’s working on, and what she hopes they will achieve. Ultimately, she views her role as helping her County colleagues and private developers and other working partners to realize the role public art plays in good civic design and placemaking. “We work closely with planners, engineers, design professionals and project managers to really truly understand what the needs and constraints of the project are, so that our recommendations fit within the tolerances of that project – how fast it needs to be delivered, the budget, and the needs of the community.”

Artists wanting to get involved in public art, according to Adams, face a challenge because of the collaborative nature of the work. “We really need a lot from the artist in terms of previous experience and knowledge working as a member of a design team with other design professionals,” she says. Being able to convey their ideas effectively to project engineers and other design professionals, even the ability to read plans and do computer-assisted drawing are some of the skills artists need to effectively function as part of the team. “We tend to be looking for artists who can bring design problem solving to the table, using their skills as artists.”

Adams refers to the Wave Arbor sculpture by San Francisco artist Doug Hollis recently installed as part of Arlington’s new Long Bridge Park as an example of how an artist’s contribution can really enhance a project. Phase 1 of the park will open to the public on Saturday, November 5th, with a dedication ceremony at 11 am. Long Bridge, when completed, will convert the former industrial area into a park that will feature an aquatic center, playing fields, a water retention rain garden and an esplanade along a portion of Route 1 that has gorgeous views of Washington’s memorials. “We feel that Doug’s contribution in Wave Arbor is a way of making a really nice park design even better. It provides vertical marking to what is largely a horizontal project, and it responds to the site, by capturing the movement of the wind and changes in sunlight. There’s also a solar capturing element that will power LED lights on the sculpture at night,” Adams says. “The artwork adds drama and distinction.”

When it’s working right, the spaces that are created “mark where civic facilities are in a way that makes people feel first of all, oriented, and second of all, proud of where they are,” Adams says. Given that Arlington continues to grow, becoming more densely populated, enhancing that sense of community becomes even more important. “Each of these projects is an opportunity to make our civic places, our streets, buildings, and our infrastructure as enjoyable as possible.”

Come hear Angela A. Adams, as well as art consultant Jean Efron, artist Margaret Boozer and architect Valerie Hassett discuss the making of public art on November 2, 2011 at the Baltimore Convention Center, 2-3pm. “Public Art: Fitting a Team Together” will be presented in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Interior Design Association as part of WPA’s “No Artist Left Behind” program. To attend the panel, please email an RSVP to Liz Georges at lgeorges@wpadc.org.



October 6, 2011

Henry Thaggert and
Corcoran Trustee Henry L.Thaggert, III and 30 Americans artist Nina Chanel Abney.
Photo by Rob Shore

Henry Thaggert on 30 Americans
by Liz Georges

While it may be human nature to categorize things, it is also human to resist labels and the constraints on identity that come with them. Hence why Henry Thaggert, noted DC art collector, confesses, “in a literal sense, I do collect art, but like a lot of younger collectors, I am uncomfortable with the label.” Lately, however, Thaggert has been taking on a different role -- Committee Chair, heading up the group that is organizing programming and outreach in connection with the 30 Americans exhibition, which opened October 1st at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

This question of roles, identity and labels lies at the heart of 30 Americans. The exhibition, drawn from the extensive Rubell Family Collection, is a wide-ranging survey of some of the most important African-American artists of the last three decades, and explores issues of racial, sexual and historical identity in American culture. Yet even the title is a conscious rejection of the idea of labeling the works presented with any specific racial identity. Originally shown in Miami, 30 Americans has been, according to the Corcoran, “reconceived” for its presentation here.

And although Thaggert is quick to remind you that he had little to do with the decision to bring 30 Americans to the Corcoran, he is certainly involved in the “reconception” of the show. “[The Corcoran] thought it would be helpful to have input and advice from a diverse group – not just black people—a diverse group who bring different perspectives to the table about artist outreach, marketing to a broader public, and the sensitive issues that come up when dealing with an exhibition like this.” He says. Heading that committee, he says, ”is a huge honor and a huge challenge.”

It’s important to Thaggert that visitors leave 30 Americans with a new understanding of the artists. “I know nearly all these artists. I know the quality of their work. I hope 30 Americans will pull back the curtain.” He hopes that visitors will question why these artists aren’t being shown on more occasions in Washington and elsewhere. “I hope it’s revolutionary in terms of how the man on the street thinks about the placement of African American art in museums and in collections.”

During its four and a half month stay, the Corcoran’s 30 Americans programming will pay specific attention to the notion of community and its influence in art. WPA will be partnering with the Corcoran to put on Under the Influence on November 17th, a presentation where local artists discuss their own work and how it has been influenced by the work of one of the artists whose work is in the show. An open call for artists’ presentations is available on the WPA website.

And what about Henry Thaggert’s influences? Given how much we’ve been talking about the perils and limitations of labels, it’s natural that he should cite to an exhibition and catalog from the Center for African Art from 1989 called art/Artifact that explores how one labels an object as art. “It was an exhibition and catalog about how westerners transform non western utilitarian objects into art. And [the author] meticulously described and documented how that happens at a place like the Met versus a place like the Museum of Natural History, and how by changing the lighting, the labels, the vitrine you can transform these objects into masterpieces. And it speaks to our intentions as observers. It’s a book that I go back to over and over again. It’s very important.”

 

September 22, 2011

Lisa Gold & Stefanie Fedor

LISA GOLD TALKS OPTIONS

During a week when most of the DC art community is hurriedly putting the final touches on projects for the (e)merge art fair at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, the But Is It Art? Fair, Art All Night: Nuit Blanche DC, and the Submerge Art Fair all happening this weekend, WPA Executive Director Lisa Gold talks about one of the city’s oldest (and continuous) venues for emerging artists: OPTIONS!

OPTIONS 2011 opened last Thursday at 629 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC featuring works by 13 artists and one collaborative. Weeks of work went into building out the raw space donated to WPA by Douglas Development for the run of the exhibition. This 14th incarnation of WPA’s biennial exhibition continues the tradition of the first OPTIONS which presented works by emerging and unrepresented artists and was curated by Gene Davis and Mary Swift.

After 30 years, Gold has no doubt as to what keeps OPTIONS relevant. “It’s the artists and the work. Every two years we’re showing a survey of what’s being produced right now.” And given the process that curator Stefanie Fedor used to select the works featured in the show, a great deal of effort went into finding what was being produced right now. “We put out a call, artists submitted applications, and then Stefanie did a number of visits to MFA shows, to universities, to artists’ studios, to a lot of exhibitions to see what artists were doing at different spaces,” Gold explains.

Gold is rightfully pleased with the outcome. “I think it’s exciting to see new names, new faces, new work. It’s interesting to see what people are experimenting with. We’ve been doing this show for 30 years and there are issues that artists are still wrestling with, and I think it’s interesting to see how that takes shape and form over time.”

The issues that artists struggle with might be universal, but part of Gold’s excitement about OPTIONS comes from seeing artists grow and change after they have been featured in the show. “The first exhibition included works by now established artists Jeff Spaulding and Carol Brown Goldberg. Looking at those paintings that Carol showed in the first OPTIONS, you can see the genesis of what she’s doing now, you can see the evolution of the work. A lot of these artists will continue to produce great work, and you’re seeing them at a very early stage in their development.”

With OPTIONS now open, WPA is now focusing on its presence at the (e)merge art fair at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. “(e)merge is bringing the art community together in a way that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here in DC,” she says. “People are getting excited! There’s a lot of stuff and a lot of energy happening. And it’s nice to see people getting together and being part of a cohesive community that’s really pushing art and artists and creating momentum and making things happen in Washington and showing that off to the rest of the country.”

 

September 8, 2011

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WPA Launches Projector

WPA is proud to announce the relaunch of its bi-weekly newsletter as Projector.  We're hoping that this format will make it easier than ever to access the latest information on WPA and the DC contemporary art scene.

We've also added some new features for your enjoyment.  Every issue will have an article about what's new at WPA or in the DC arts community. We will also feature a "Meet a WPA Member" section where we spotlight a WPA member artist.

Want to be our next featured artist?  Send an email to Membership Director, Liz Georges at lgeorges@wpadc.org. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


 




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