Saturday, March 7, 2015

First Friday Highlights, March 2015 (Experiential Collaboration Forever!!!)

I haven't updated about art I've seen in a while, but a couple of the shows I saw last night made a strong enough impression that I feel like remembering them here.

Andrea Morales' exhibition "Public Play" at Practice Gallery spoke to me as an investigation of the complex social dynamics involved in dating--specifically, how we perform personas within varying social contexts.  The premise of the exhibition was Morales having organised a consecutive series of dates through OKCupid and Craigslist, to be carried out within the gallery.  Documentation of her correspondences with her dates were plastered on the walls for viewers to read when they weren't acting as voyeuristic observers of the activities of the dates themselves.  The dates/ exhibition were all documented throughout the night, and the plan is for the edited footage to be exhibited at Practice for the remainder of the month.

There is so much about the concept and the execution of this piece that I love.  I love that the artist is directing and composing these interactions for the express purpose of manifesting this exhibition, while leaving room for risk, chance, play, and vulnerability (to her collaborator and her audience).  I love that live performance, the documentation leading up to the performance, and the documentation of the performance itself are all integral aspects of the piece.  I love the fact that, even though you are in the room with the artist and her dates, observing their interaction and reading their correspondence, there are elements of their conversations that do remain private/ intimate/ just between them.  Sure, you can see their body language, maybe even catch snippets of dialogue, but you remain at a distance, a member of the crowd--you can't see and hear every element of the exchanges that build the date they are on.

I only had the chance to see one of the dates--the third of the night.  When I walked in, the space was illuminated by red lights.  There was music playing, and I could see the artist and her date sitting on a bench behind parted curtains.  They were both hunched over a camera, presumably shuffling through images.  In speaking with one of the members of Practice, I gleaned that this date had actually been photographing the earlier dates, so they were looking through the images he had taken.  I wanted to make it back to the final date of the evening, which was supposed to be with a female partner, and verge on more sexually charged content, but I missed it unfortunately.

I was sorry to miss the rest of "Public Play," but I was so happy I made it out to New Boone for "Forever," a collaborative exhibit featuring paintings by my studio-mate Kim Altomare and audio commentary by Anne Pagana.  If I had to express my overwhelming impression of the exhibit in one adjective, I would use 'refreshing'--everything about the approach felt like a sigh of relief followed by a breath of fresh air.  First and foremost, the experience of seeing Kim's paintings hung and lit within the context of a gallery space was thrilling for me--so much luster and detail that is hard to recognize when they're leaning against a studio wall came suddenly alive.  It felt like the paintings themselves had been energized/ taken on a new life, and I was so filled with joy for them!  The curatorial detailing--the incorporation of a friendship bracelet-making station [they'd run out of string by the time I got there :( ]; the integration of vibrant pom poms, shimmery sequins, tinsel, streamers, and googly eyes; the coordinated vignettes built out of objects contributed by Kim and Anne's artist friends, placed to keep the paintings company; the hand-articulated signage and decorated CD-players with headphones whose color matched the vibrancy carried throughout--all contributed to the overarching spirit of friendship and collaboration coursing throughout the show.  Walking into the space, every aspect seems to squeal, "Hi! We're so glad you're here! Come be our friend! Stay a while! Look and listen and contemplate with us!"  And how can you refuse that?

Which isn't to say that the content of the work presented is necessarily light or superficial--Kim's paintings incorporate symbolic imagery that alludes to death and violence, and Anne's commentary is deeply meditative.  There is an audio track corresponding to each painting.  I didn't listen to all of them, but those I did made it clear to me that Anne's spoken words access avenues of thought that are quite serious, and speak to a genuine desire for mutual understanding within the insular context of a friendship that exists within the broader, but still insular context of art-making.  There is a sensitivity and consideration for the differences and commonalities in hers and Kim's experiences with and approaches to art and life.  There is frustration and confusion, but also serenity to the acknowledgment that not everything can necessarily be fully understood between two people.  I felt honored to be invited to listen to these meditations, and though they were focused on a personal relationship, I felt included because the concepts being considered speak to interpersonal relationships in general, and art-making practices more broadly.  I got the sense that, though these are complex and difficult territories to navigate, underlying currents of hope, togetherness, and fun can carry us through.

Looking at the show through a feminist lens, I was struck by how it sits within the context of art history, which is so frequently dominated by men celebrating, commenting on, responding to, competing with each other, usually in a very egotistical way that has a lot to do with proving who has the most "genius". The mode of collaboration in "Forever" is definitely in dialogue with that tradition, but from a much more authentic, sincere, down-to-earth perspective.   Celebrating each other does not have to be about proving anything--it can be about inviting everyone into this dynamic of mutual consideration and dialogue, of approaching things in a genuine way, together.

I think I responded to strongly to both of these exhibits because I like what they indicate about where art practice and art exhibition is heading.  There is a sense of breaking things down and exploring them from new angles that I find so empowering and exciting.  It makes me feel a sense of freedom, like there is license to explore new territories and just try things to see where they go.  As there should be.  No more musty, tired art shows ever please!

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