Asia and the Childlike Empress use many different mediums and materials for artistic expression. The Empress is a photographer, musician, filmmaker, cook, writer, and dancer. They also sometimes draw. They considers cartoons and comics as “the foundation of [their] childhood and [their] inspiration to be into art,” something that they shares with Asia. Asia considers herself a comic artist more than anything else, although she also paints and sings and performs. We began talking about all the different mediums Asia and the Empress operate in as artists, which led me to comment:
Anna: I have been having so many more conversations with artists who are just like, I just do everything, and it seems to be more and more the mode these days. I think artists are realizing that one of the ways of resisting capitalism is to just fill needs.
Asia: Recently Steph Neary (IG @rusnearious) made a comment about art being food. And when you look at art as food you don’t hold it as leverage, you give it
Empress: You share it, and you savor it.
Asia: It’s also really difficult in capitalism. It’s also difficult depending on what identity you have, [because] as a black woman in the arts, I’ll talk to... maybe a socialist white man who is anti-capitalist, and they are like, “Why are your prints this much?” And it’s just like, oh! Because I need to live. I’m literally hunted otherwise… Regardless of whether or not I believe in capitalism it’s not going to deconstruct the system and if I don’t participate to some degree I will starve. That’s how it works. If you don’t participate you will be starved.
Anna: And part of the system is convincing people their labor is useless and it should just be taken from them or given away. Like, “this bit of culture is useless so I’m just going to take it from you” and then they’ll just turn around and make millions.
Asia: People think that, being a black woman, our labor is for free, Like, Doot doot dooo… I’ll Just take that. Aren’t you a Marxist? and I’m just like, ‘Boy! If you don’t!
Empress: Dude! Seriously, that’s a big struggle!
Asia: I have literally had people at the zine fair come up to me and - at the zine fair I try to keep them moderately priced - but I had a guy say to me one time, ‘fuck anybody who sell their prints for more than ten dollars.’ (Asia looked at us both incredulously) And I was like, ‘My prints start at fifteen.
Empress: (laughing) Oh so fuck me? So fuck ME then?
Asia: I love this city, I was born in this city, I was mothered by this city, but the kind of isolation and suffocation that it fosters - the kind of instruction that tells you you have to explain yourself for being alive as a black woman - I’ve really experienced this in the arts because there’s a surrounding elitism because of the institutions in this city and the schools. So you have to sit here and pound on your chest and beg to be seen and heard as a human being. You have to plead for your art to be considered art and work.
The Empress sees this as more than just a Pittsburgh problem, but something inherent in the structure of the art industry.
Empress: As someone who is newer to this city and is from New York City, I think that’s an art industry thing. And the beautiful world of creation and of sharing your art becomes - like you said - so suffocating and makes you feel worthless and it’s isolating as fuck.
Asia: One of the biggest capitalist crimes is it’s reach onto the arts, because art is active liberation of the self, and when you capitalize on that, you’re using this structure of liberation to re-oppress. And then you convince people that it’s validation. So then you have these - I’m gonna call them “alleged artists” - buying into these institutions for this illusion of validation and perpetuating this structure of oppression. So it’s like you take the medicine and then you just put micro-doses of poison within it. And then you continue to prescribe it.
This creates an environment in which artistic success is falsely associated with capital success and fame. The results are toxic not only for the artists who achieve that status, but also for other artists who are trying to survive and create and form some sense of stability in an “art career’ and who are comparing themselves to their ‘successful’ peers.
Asia: I feel like, when people want success and notoriety and clout… it’s because they want to extend their influence. They want to have higher visibility so their art can reach more people. [But the issue is that, once you’re at that level,] you’re not thinking about your influence right now because you have not interacted with these people and you have not made a conscious influence in people’s lives… Are you still researching? Are you still discovering? Are you changing, adapting, are you letting yourself fuck up?... Because influence needs change! Influence needs to grow…”
Asia never wants to forget about her own growth of self.
Asia: When you’ve got an artist who, you know their name (she snaps her fingers here to imply instantaneity) you can immediately see their work (snaps) ...I don’t want that for me. If you say my name, I want you to feel me. I want you to be like ‘Asia Bey, yeeaaah! What’s she up to now?’ That’s what I wanna hear: what is she up to now. Cause I’m up to something, and gonna be fresh, and it’s gonna be different. It better be different! And if it’s not, check me. What am I learning? Who am I influencing and how am I influenced?”
Two questions to get to know the Childlike Empress a bit better:
Anna: Who are your favorite subjects to shoot?
Empress: Not to be all Kanye about it, but myself. I love taking pictures of myself. It helps me take pictures of other people and also puts me really deeply in contact with myself. I also can be really triggering to dysmorphia sometimes but it usually alleviates that more than anything. Sometimes, If i’m creating for the sake of social media, which is very much so for the sake of other people approving of you, it feels not so good and not so therapeutic and healing. I critique myself through the eyes of others so I expect other people to see me so that gets really messy and sad sometimes. So I really made it a thing of just like, put on music that is familiar and just do the damn thing and it’s cool... But other than that I really like photographing my friends in non-planned moments.
Anna: What about art makes you want to consume it?
Feeling. The feeling it evokes. It doesn’t have to be a good one; it can make me bawl my fucking eyes out, it can make me super fucking horny, it can make me really happy or make me remember something about myself or my past, just evokes strong feeling. Feeling has been very important to me in everything and I think that’s the whole reason why I wanted to start doing art, was to evoke strong feelings in other people, because I think that feeling is proof that you’re alive.
Art by Asia Lae Bey
Photos by the Childlike Empress
Written and orchestrated by Anna Nelson
Asia Lae Bey
The Childlike Empress
Personal Essay by Caleb Hickerson written in the opening week of Brendon's Untitled solo show at Bunker Projects
This was such a strong and enlightening conversation with November 2018 exhibiting artist, Asia Lae Bey. I think you'll find that listening to this conversation was so much about how art making becomes a space to pursue freedom and power. In this conversation, Asia shared self-affirming insights about her life experiences as a black woman artist making work about cultivating freedom, celebrating sensuality, and an essential, fierce loyalty to caring for one's self.
Shikeith returns to Bunker for third residency. This in conjunction with a solo exhibition at August Wilson center, Idea Furnace at Pittsburgh Glass Center, and funding from Advancing Black Arts Program.
Bunker Projects is thrilled to announce the return of Shikeith (b. 1989, Philadelphia, PA) for his third artist-in-residency this July in conjunction with a solo exhibition to be held at the August Wilson Center this Fall 2018. The opportunity was made in part possible by the support of the Advancing Black Arts Fund which awarded Shikeith $20,000 in grant funding and a partnership with The Pittsburgh Glass Center’s Idea Furnace, a program that connects non-glass artists with glass artists and encourages exploration in other art forms.
“These kinds of long-term relationships between people and artists are so incredibly rich and important,” says Jessica Rommelt, executive director and founder at Bunker Projects. “I feel really fortunate that we were able to weave together Bunker's residency program with the Advancing Black Arts funding stream to create the kind of supportive space that Shikeith has been able to come back to over the last four years.”
Shikeith’s photographs, video, and sculptures capture personal and shared narratives that focus on the metamorphoses of Black manhood. Through shadowy, often dream-like compositions, his subjects, and their stories become polarized, thus making for deeply emotional and vulnerable works.
“As an artist, I am compelled through my work to cause instability in systematic constructions historically set to destroy the psychic life of black men,” says Shikeith in regards to his practice.
“It was during my first residency with Bunker Projects, that I begin developing a visual language of learning to be, as a black man, within a society that denies us our erotic possibilities. Most importantly, Bunker Projects facilitated the support and backing required to nurture my blossoming voice in visual arts and cinema, encouraging experimentation alongside community engagement, which ultimately became the foundation of my practice.”
Since his residencies in 2014 and 2016, Shikeith has gone on to exhibit at notable institutions such as MoMA, The ICA, and The Seattle Art Museum, in addition to internationally in London, Scotland, Toronto, Poland, and Sweden. His work has been featured in Art in America, NPR, New York Magazine, i-D Magazine, Vice and The Advocate. He received his MFA in Sculpture from the Yale School of Art this year.
About Shikeith (b. 1989, Philadelphia, PA) received his BA from The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA for Integrative Art (2010) and his MFA in Sculpture from The Yale School of Art, New Haven, CT (2018). His work attempts an assemblage of personal truths and wonder that focuses on the metamorphoses of Black men, especially within a society that denies these men their erotic and reconciliatory potential and capital. It is the interior he considers—his own, as well as, other Black men or masculine people through emphasizing portraiture, sculpture, and filmmaking to examine the fantastic as it relates and complicates personal autobiography and self-making.
Surprise! We wanted to let you in on the next batch of artists-in-residence we'll be hosting in 2018! Meet them, follow them and support us and in turn, them by donating this year for Give Big Pittsburgh! Go to Give Big Pittsburgh all day Tuesday, November 28th to donate!
Eric Anthony Berdis is an artist and curator who works in performance and sculpture. Rooted in performance, (live, for the camera and projected), Berdis also incorporates painting, drawing and sewn construction to create costumes and props that serve dual roles that often are subverted when incorporated into their performances. The imagery and forms in Berdis’s work are not only influenced by their personal experiences but also by artists such as Mike Kelly, Leigh Bowery and Janine Antoni and cultural references like children's fairy tales, 90's club kid scene and AIDs culture.
Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, they received their BFA from Slippery Rock University in 2013. In 2016 they completed a post-baccalaureate program in the Fibers & Material Studies department at Tyler. Since Tyler, Eric had a solo show at Syracuse University as well as completed the Post College Apprentice Program at the Fabric Workshop Museum. Interested in supporting DIY culture that bridges theory of Gender and Sexuality, they are currently the Zine Librarian of the artist collective and gallery Little Berlin located in the Kensington area of Philadelphia.
Neck out Installation and performance, 2016
Ben Yacavone’s work centers around the materials of the industrial world - materials that singularly hold little value, but together create the world that surrounds us. The materials are investigated in their most isolated forms, and used to create work that emphasizes the formal properties of each component material, and also calling the viewer to consider their own perception of the industrial world.
Ben is a visual artist living and working on Columbus, OH. He received a BA in Art and Education from Hartwick College in 2014, and his MFA from Columbus College of Art & Design in 2016 with a concentration in sculpture. Ben works primarily in sculpture, using industrial building materials to explore the relationships between material, formalism, and cultural perception of the industrial world.
Curb Appeal (detail) wood mixed media, 2016
Meg Wolensky paints when she’s stressed out. Or when she’s in love. Meg’s work unveils personal truths in artworks based on experiences, memories, and dreams. She translates moments from various source material into investigative paintings and writings that layer cross-sections of personal narrative.
Originally from West Chester, Pennsylvania, Wolensky currently lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She obtained a BFA in Painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2014 and a Master of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University in 2016, working for Mural Arts Philadelphia to make art accessible to incarcerated populations and individuals on high-risk probation.
Eclipse oil, 2017
Damion Dreher was born and raised in the small city of Clairton Pennsylvania, heart of steel country, home of the Bears and the setting for the movie “The Deer Hunter”. Damion became interested in art at a young age but it was after a few college classes that he knew that he wanted to be an artist. Soon after this realization, Damion moved to Brooklyn to further pursue his career as an artist.
Damion’s newest work draws upon the underlying beauty of urban decay. I get inspired when I see things like weathered signs stuck on abandoned buildings, advertisements layered on subway platforms, and graffiti in dive bar bathrooms. With my artwork, I attempt to tell stories through fragmented visual clues. These stories and their subjects are rarely given in their entirety but offer viewers an incomplete narrative through which their own conclusions can be drawn. The layers, although torn, ripped and sometimes almost unintelligible, help to convey a message. That is a message of resilience, of defiance and sometimes, even a message of hope.
Wheelbarrow Jimmy collage, 2016
Stephanie Kantor explores the paradoxical aspects of culture, both expansive and local through her work. Kantor makes large scale, sculptural ceramic pots and places them within created environments, transporting the viewer to an alternate reality. She utilizes ornamentation and decoration to create a facade of culture, where her objects speak to multiplicity, cultural diversity, and artifice.
Stephanie Kantor (b. 1985, Pittsburgh, PA, USA) lives and works in Denver, CO. She received her MFA in Ceramics from University of Colorado Boulder (2015) and BFA from Penn State University (2009). Kantor has shown nationally at Patterson Gallery (PA), Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (KS), Paragraph Gallery (MO), Belger Crane Yard Studios (MO), Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (CO), and Sala Diaz (TX).
Mock Pavilion site-specific ceramic installation, 2015
Hannah Gaskill is interested in duality; ecstasy and misery, the self and the other, seriousness and absurdity, and the marriage of all of these things. Hannah aims to create simulations of past experiences, as well as visions of external perception: ghosts of what was there and the shells of what is left behind; the outward perception of a body that is femme versus inward interpretations of the self.
Through her work, she attempts to invoke a sense of discomfort and unintentional voyeurism through the manipulation of the human form, odd camera perspectives, and faint wrinkles. “I’m curious about works involving a state of active non-knowing. What I hope to do most through my work is to lay my experiences, memories, and vulnerabilities at your feet and give you the opportunity to try them on if you’re so inclined. I want you to see what you aren’t supposed to, in a way that is both hyper-serious and not serious at all.”
Essay + Interview: Hanski and Cory in the Abyss blur truth and myth in "As The Fidget Spinner Turns"
In Epstein's case, all humor points us toward our ultimate demise. "The magic of humor is that it doesn't take anything seriously, allowing an audience to fully embrace the knowledge of death." In one of Epstein's rug-hooked memes a figure wearing a Star of David necklace and yarmulke smiling in the first frame with the text "when you are super proud of your Jewish heritage"... "then somebody brings up Palestine" with the figure covering their necklace. Humor as well as knowledge of death coexist in this piece, but its reluctance to do anything with that knowledge, or move beyond it (the figure in the final frame is suspended in a moment of inability to speak) that reinforces a cycle of death.
When asked, "What is your fav thing to watch on TV?" Epstein answers, "That TV Guide channel. It's all of the options and none of the commitment." I want to scream, "fake!" One would almost have to force oneself to watch that. So why does Epstein want to point us to this moment of "all of the options and none of the commitment." Am I falling for poetic language? Or does it not seems a dizzying symptom of our times? Endless choices at our fingertips, from commodities to companions.
In the front room an Epstein installation takes up the largest wall and the entire vertical space of the gallery. On the wall, a table (whose legs went down to touch the gallery floor) and on top of this table a monitor filled with layers of neon yarn, strands of which extended out to the ceiling. My eyes trace the lines and I don't know if I'm being drawn in, if it's coming for me, or if we both just want to reach out and touch each other. The fidget spinner spins on.
I think humor does a concise job of exposing contradictory human behaviors. The laughter is just one sensory component to that “alchemical” process. It’s the sirens of us unpacking those contradictions. -Jenson Leonard
The other night I was reading about the Yes Men in Maggie Nelson's "The Art of Cruelty" and thinking about how some of Leonard's pieces in As The Fidget Spinner Turns use a similar type of hoax. Take for example the Yes Men’s prank in New Orleans back in 2006. On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a member of the Yes Men posed as someone from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and promised displaced people from New Orleans that they will be able to move back into their homes in addition to oil companies offering compensation to restore the coastline. Then, before the actual HUD could issue an apology and point a finger at the Yes Men, the group did it themselves and made it look as though the HUD had painted them undeservedly cruel (note: it appears obvious now that the Yes Men must have felt very entitled in thinking they could speak for or act on behalf of communities from which they did not come, without anyone asking them to).
A lot of the visual humor in Leonard's pieces (and in the work of many other meme-makers) comes from how he borrows elements from pop culture, branding and advertising. The modified CD and DVD cases are imposters, luring us in by promising to be JAY-Z's 4:44 or a Madea film. Assumed authentic until closer examination, "Madea's Proletariat Uprising" us becomes readable to those who, well, actually take the time to read it.
This, to me, is a less preach-ey version of the hoax because it's a poetic. It’s happening in the written language, not a broadcasted public appearance in which someone who appears to have the power to turn words into action is speaking. With written text, the viewer can choose whether or not to engage. So, where the Yes Men publicly embarrassed responsible parties and poked holes through their smooth rhetoric (they were effective, if problematic), Leonard's work also points fingers at very real cracks in our society, by giving you a gift of being able to imagine for yourself what a righting of injustice would look like.
Corneezy, Cory in the Abyss
What is YOUR plot line for this film? What does the world around these objects look like? By rendering these objects (tshirts with bell hooks, Judith butler, Noam Chomsky, and others, with declarations like "the world is your strap on" (with a triumphant Bulter); a towel with a smiling white family and the text "the floor is white supremacy"; newspaper with all the text replaced with "Diarrhea!"; a pedestal-height stack of pizza boxes with the "Dominoes" text in the logo replaced with "dominant narrative") Jenson brings us closer to an alternate dimension in which this shit is actually talked about in mainstream media (as more than a knock-off regurgitated by a capitalist engine) and for a brief, lucid moment these universes are touching.
And, with the sale of a Noam Chomsky "Shit's Fucked" shirt, there's some definite overlap.
When I asked Leonard where he wants his art ideally he said, "on the internet, free and unsullied by the art world." And while I don't think the art world is a good fit either, I love the idea that that shirt is going to go places outside this gallery and start conversations that will exist outside of a gallery walls or instagram feeds.
I say, embrace the dirt that happens to a piece over time because context and viewership changes and the object d'art is only useful so long as it serves to mediate conversation and idea sharing. Some of these other objects in the gallery might be more powerful encountered, say, in a record store or in someone's living room or a library. --Anna Nelson
I only asked Jenson Leonard and Hannah Epstein four questions via a google doc back when we were planning As The Fidget Spinner Turns in July. However, their work has prompted many more before and after the opening of their exhibition.
When, where and how does something become “art”? Does the vibrant fibers and “hobby-esque” techniques Epstein weaves together validate or negate their existence confined within a gallery setting? Does a stack of pizza boxes subvertly referencing the cold and ominous sculptural pedestal exist as a joke or a political statement? We’ve all seen a fidget spinner on someone’s Story of Facebook feed but have you ever actually spun one? These questions are rhetorical. The following aren’t. --Fred Blauth
What do you think you’re both doing similarly?
Jenson Leonard: Hannah and I are on a pretty similar wavelength, which helps locate our work aesthetically and politically. I think we view the world from a similar enough lens to find the humor in things where most people might have an impairment in finding it. Our identities are different, but we both read America pretty similarly. Me as a black man and her as a Canadian Jew, there is an ideological overlap in the way we dissect and identify the lunacies of American life. And we’re both huge Tyler, The Creator fans. I think those elements are the main uniting threads of our work. As a digital media artist first, i admire the actual physical labor that goes into her installations and rug hooks, and it’s cool to be apart of that.
Hannah Epstein: I think that it’s important to state that Jenson and I are friends first and as friends, we are always making each other laugh. If our work shares any similarities I think they are in the sense of humour.
I can definitely say that knowing Jenson has had an influence on the content of my work, it’s pushed me to play with meme images and language in a direct manner. I see him making work from the @coryintheabyss handle and I it pushes me to make work with a similar tone, but different in subject matter. On one level, our work shares a similar reference point of Internet memes, but it also shares an approach to them that emerges from our hanging out and bantering about culture in general.
How does turning digital work into physical affect viewers perception and vice versa?
JL: I’m getting a kick out of the conversion. Trotting this line, as Hannah pointed out to me, between art objects and retail product, as a lot of my memes replicate the iconography of advertisement. It will be satisfying to see a real life reaction as opposed to a “like” or “share”. I’m hoping people are a little gobsmacked. The work will be way more interactive on the grounds of it materiality. And therefore, should leave a stronger, more lasting impression.
HE: Personally, I have found the physical presentation of Internet memes to be much more impressive and impactful then I would have ever previously believed possible. I think that when dealing with digital images, which we see all the time, there is such a specific texture and quality to their appearance and dissemination that you quickly become numb to what they are truly representing.
This has lead to the creation of works that are emerging directly from the digital medium itself, images which may have never been possible without it. And that’s exciting on its own. The stunning effect of translating of digital images into the physical is a testament to the impact of digital images created online. We are so inundated with them, sometimes it takes seeing them in a new context to realize how radical and powerful they truly are.
Cory's Abyss, Hannah Epstein
Both of you come from practices that could be considered traditional to some (rug hooking, studying folklore...poetry). Why are you drawn to these ideas and how are you remixing them?
JL: There is some kind of false notion or conceit that poetry isn’t relevant anymore because it exist behind some kind of hierarchical wall of intellectual elitism. I think the reality is that poetry exists in all artistic expressions but its the academic institutions that have lagged behind in its movement. Humankind is the most textual it’s ever been. We are reading more than ever. Now, the quality of those texts is a different matter. But poetry has just changed. Evolved. And now we have all kinds of “texts”. People, poets, are still ascertaining what those texts look like.
HE: I like that connection, like we’re actually these romantic era artists who’ve somehow turned up in the year 2017 and they have to make their artistic disciplines edgier for the new audiences. It feels like the plot of a bad teen movie. For me, folklore and the folk art of rug hooking have always felt like these badass, underground, off-grid places where stories are told that reflect daily realities, in their brutality and complexities, but are also couched in fascinating metaphor. In very basic terms, folk and folk practices exist outside mainstream, indoctrinated languages and I find that’s where the art I most appreciate, and find the most interesting, comes from.
Personally, I have found the physical presentation of Internet memes to be much more impressive and impactful then I would have ever previously believed possible. I think that when dealing with digital images, which we see all the time, there is such a specific texture and quality to their appearance and dissemination that you quickly become numb to what they are truly representing. -Hannah Epstein
Memes are the new_______?
JL: Chemtrails. There’s tons of speculation about them, if you look for them, they’re there, omnipresent. But people don’t quite know what to do about them.
HE: Jetlag. I don’t know what this means, I just wanted to treat the question like a Mad Lib.
As The Fidget Spinner Turns is on view until August 28th, 2017. Please contact us directly to schedule a visit and/or click here to view the price list from the exhibition.
by Tara Fay
In a new series, we've invited local creatives to guide us through our current exhibition. First up, Tara Fay takes a closer look at More Delicate Things curated by Anna Nelson and Meg Wolensky. Tara is a new board member at BP, mother, feminist, . She is also a store manager and independent curator, who has exhibited at Bunker Projects and Most Wanted Fine Art. Her work is centered around feminism and women's issues.
Having seen snippets of work from each artist prior to the opening of More Delicate Things in no way diluted the experience of viewing it in its completion. A collaborative effort curated by Pittsburgh’s Anna Nelson, and Philadelphia based artist, Meg Wolensky, it is an entirely mixed-media exhibition. With everything from video installations from Lauren Valley, to an interactive photography collage by Madison Carroll, the show is as diverse as its roster of artists. There’s even a huge hand sewn fabric salad you can play with! The diversity of the show is very specific to the concept; each medium represents a traditionally female form of artistic labor, e.g. the giant salad, called “Pittsburgh Salad”, pieced together by Anna herself. It’s reminiscent of the feminist artists of the 1960’s who aimed to use decorative art and “women’s crafts” as means to represent the female experience.
Each artist's work is extremely thoughtful and vulnerable; Brittany De Nigris created incredibly fragile hand painted porcelain instillations, which include ‘shelf piece with waves’, an ethereal sculpture/projection. Tabitha Arnold’s knitted textiles are a display of traditional femininity, and photography from the series ‘Film Stills’, by Lora Mathis, emphasizes ‘embracing feelings and the healing process without self-judgement’.
Meg Wolensky contributed work along with her co-curating efforts, including an oil piece titled ‘put a band-aid on it’. Claire Gustavson’s hanging tapestries are soft, in contrast to her keynote presentation about women in the workplace. Anna Shepperson’s display of personalized postcards placed in between flowers in vases gave the space a welcoming feel, inviting dialogue.
by Caitlyn Luce Christensen
When I met up with Natty back in the spring to ask him whether he would be interested in doing a talk on literary hoaxsters in December, I knew that we were scheduling something far out but had no idea how much would change in that time—how much what I thought I believed or knew to be true would come into question. What is real and what is fake? How many alternate realities are we experiencing at any given moment? And when the truth comes to the surface—when monsters we assumed were dead emerge and show themselves to be very much alive—how much of that reality can we stand to see? Is it easier to continue to imagine?
In this time when everything ought to be held up to the light, examined and questioned, I have been thinking a great deal about the caricatures that emerged during this political campaign, figures who were hard to believe were real: people like Milo Yiannopoulis, Breitbart’s “dangerous faggot,” who cloaks himself in cis white queerness to spout messages of white supremacy, misogyny, and hate. His identity is, in part, responsible for his draw—a person who wields their peroxide bleached, aggressively outspoken identity to give voice to the hatred of misogynistic individuals and draw them together under the banner of “free speech.” It’s easy to disavow Milo Yiannoupolis, Donald Trump, CNN, even Hillary Clinton as a bunch of phonies—does taking off make up actually reveal a politician as real?—but that does nothing to dismantle the steadfast power of people who will continue to believe in celebrity, in the system, in the loudest speaker in the room.
If anything is more apparent now, it is that whatever individuals choose to believe is a force that can manifest itself in collective reality. Late last night, I indulged some dark curiosities and scrolled through the Twitter accounts of some people on the #Trumptrain—people who continue to believe in the president-elect, even though he has routinely proven that he is not to be trusted. What I found were individuals in not too dissimilar situations as myself. Poor. Lonely. Single. Sad. Dreaming. And I saw that they had been waiting for someone to bring them out of their loneliness and speak to their dreams. Now their dreams had become real.
Which brings me to Natty’s talk and its relevancy: what can we learn from the tricksters who know how to capitalize upon peoples’ dreams? And how can we use what we learn to manifest the good dreams that need more space in this unaccommodating world, and dismantle the rhetoric that only intends to unleash hate and harm?
I imagined making myself creating my own propaganda campaign—a planted Milo Yiannoupoulis, a #MAGAqueer character who would gain a steady online following tweeting caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, linking to Breitbart articles, spouting, at first, the same messages of anger and hate. She would engage with the isolated, lonely population of Twitter who had been waiting for somebody to come and speak to directly them through the channels leading right into their own living rooms. And when she had their attention, this character would let herself crack. She would dismantle her beliefs and gradually, layer by layer, reveal herself as human. Do you think people would listen? Do you think empathy could infiltrate the political rhetoric this way?
I don’t know whether or not I’ll do it. The project would probably take a long time—maybe even the next four years. And I’ve got a lot more studying to do before I can really get to work. Come and study with me on December 18?
In anticipation for the upcoming Artist Talk + Closing this Friday Oct 28th I had the chance to talk with resident, Nick Sardo about his current solo exhibition titled Future Voicemail which features one of his signature oversized sculptural beings. Resembling a raw humanoid slug (well-equipped with in-set glass lens eyes), you get a looming and conflicted feeling of this thing being somewhere between disgusting and cute. An epic (300lb!) trail of sand connects the sculpture to the mantle where a white mid 2000's mac book sits lit and enshrined. I personally have been thinking about this form as a genie that is perhaps emerging from the lap top--but let's continue of and give you more of glimpse into the mind of the artist. ---Jessie Rommelt, Director, Bunker Projects
JR: How would you describe your artistic style to someone who hasn't seen your work?
NS: I have an unending struggle with that, because each piece I make is so different. I usually go with something like, “giant, vaguely human-like forms interacting in an uncomfortable way with purpose built spaces.”
JR: There's definitely a grotesque and playful gore present in your work...How does that play into your psyche or the method of your style?
NS: I undeniably have a fascination with the revealing of an imaginary body’s inner workings. I think when you present something gory or grotesque in an illustrative instead of realistic style, the effect becomes almost comical and silly. Although I take my work quite seriously, if there were no undercurrent of dark humor or playfulness, I don’t think I could properly enjoy myself.
JR: What feeling or atmosphere do you want to portray to viewers from your work?
NS: I’ve always enjoyed work that has immediately overwhelmed me, and given
me the sensation of being sucked uncontrollably into the artist’s personal
realm. Although I am not always successful, I try to accomplish the same
thing in my own practice.
JR: What is your studio process like? Where/when does a piece begin and when is it finished?
NS: Absolute obsession about minor details for way too long in the planning
stage, followed by manic (and far too compressed) construction periods. I
only know how to function with a singular focus, so I’ve never been one to
play with materials or experiment with smaller work, to then somehow end
up with a final piece. A piece begins when after staring at a wall for hours I
chance across an exact vision of what I need to create. I will do many quick
small sketches to sort out exactly how I plan to visually accomplish the
things I want, and how I can overcome any engineering challenges that come
with making such large work. A piece ends when I can’t look at it any
longer, or when my deadline comes.
JR: Future Voicemail is essentially an installation in and of itself-- Who
or what is the character or being that you have built here?
NS: The being is just that: simply a being. In this case, he exists purely as a stand
in for myself and the audience in the narrative of anticipated nostalgia I’m
attempting to create.
JR: Do you feel like you are building a world with the forms and
imagery you make? (you also talk about them as each as a stand alone
NS: I do tend to think of each work more as a unique event, because that’s how I
approach the process of making them. However, in my own private narrative
I put onto my practice, I like to imagine that all the beings I produce have
been made somewhere else as an incredibly faulty attempt to create satirical
representations of human beings.
JR: Who are some of your favorite artists?
NS: These are more most influential rather than favorite, but number one is always Tim Hawkinson. I saw his retrospective at LACMA when I was maybe 13, and it completely changed what I thought an artist could be. I also was really into Andy Goldsworthy, and a street artist named BLU. Although all extremely different artists, and perhaps not my absolute favorite aesthetically anymore (except for Hawkinson), I think I was really drawn to anyone doing something completely unique, and doing it well.
JR: You are the youngest Bunker Resident to date!-- what are some of
your future goals and how do you plan on continuing your art practice
outside of a program setting?
NS: Producing the kind of work I enjoy in different environments is a fun
challenge, so I’ll continue to seek out other residencies and living
opportunities to change and evolve my process. Beyond just constantly
finding chances to show and produce my pieces, who knows what will
happen. At this stage, I’m open to everything.
JR: Have you ever gotten really good advice? Would you modify or add
NS: A former professor used to go on lengthy rants about his hatred of fishing
line, due to it often being used to make a piece appear as if it’s floating. The
problem is, you can still see the line, so you know that piece isn’t floating,
but the artist has the audacity to try and convince you that it is. There’s no
illusion in the presentation. Whereas if you can find a way to suggest a
piece’s weightlessness and have that method be hidden, it’s a thousand times
more impressive. At face value this is useful advice, but I also took it as a
broader lesson on how important material choice is when it comes to the
final presentation of a piece. I don’t think I have much to add to that, but I
know that every time for the rest of my life I’m considering using fishing
line, I will hear the words of Joe Mannino echo in my head.
First of all, it's pronounced "sapphire."
BP: What will you be working on during your stay at Bunker?
I’ll be working on several projects while at Bunker. The two projects that I’ll be pursuing primarily are a series of panel paintings using flashe paint, and a series of relief sculptures involving digitally printed silk and batting. I’m interested in windows, reflections, and simulated spaces. While in Pittsburgh I plan to take a lot of photographs - I work from my photography, so I’m always trying to accumulate more imagery (never enough).
What has drawn you to printmaking as a medium?
Printmaking is a medium that I’ve been drawn to since I was a teenager - I loved the process of silk screening from the moment I tried it. I did this weird summer program run by Seth Cameron of Bruce High Quality that was all kids who’d been rejected from the Cooper Union summer program. On the last day, we silk screened some t-shirts, and I was completely hooked.
Aside from my initial magnetism towards the process, as it lies now, what I love about printmaking (specifically silk screen) is the ease with which I can achieve flat transparent color, essentially void of texture. In the past few months I’ve been applying flashe paint with a squeegee, which can simulate the flatness that silk screen lets me achieve, but at a much faster rate, and creating a singular image.
You have concentrated on windows, reflections, and views in your work, taking photographs and turning them into brightly-colored screen prints. With the transformation of the gallery space into a wall that contains these “windows” you give the viewer an imperfect impression of standing in your place, taking in a reflection of the view you might see out the original window. Can you talk about how you use/think about photography when you’re making your work?
I primarily use photography as a means to an end - or a sketch. Photography takes a subjective concept, primarily sight, and objectively mechanizes it. Part of my work is distancing myself from the image’s physical origin. When I begin the process of reassembly and editing the photos, I am already separated on a mechanized level.
Is there any single book/article/artist/album etc. that has had a major impact on your practice and why?
Absolutely - what began this fascination with windows and reflections are the illustrations in Goodnight Moon, the children’s book. The illustrations show the difference between illuminated and darkened spaces with subtle chromatic shifts. Also, I view it as an early introduction to the “architectural uncanny” a concept (and book by Anthony Vidler) that I’m referencing constantly.
What are you most looking forward to about being in Pittsburgh for the next couple months?
I’m looking forward to exploring and meeting the art community here. Additionally, I’m dying to learn as much historical information about production and Pittsburgh as I can. All of the buildings here are made of brick, wrought iron, and glass blocks, all which take an enormous amount of energy (coal) to make. The idea that these houses signify and proudly display the history of production and its culture in Pittsburgh is really intriguing to me, and something I plan to investigate further.
You can browse Emma's work and find out more about her on her website,
Shikeith is our first returning resident at Bunker Projects. I have an even longer history with him since we went to Art school together at Penn State University. We didn't know it at the time but we were asking each other questions that would set the stage for a dynamic working friendship that has not stopped since. It's been really exciting to watch him grow over the years and be a part of his evolution into a focused, passionate artist and advocate. Since he finished his last residency with us two years ago his work has found national exposure through various media channels including NPR's All Things Considered and included in an article by famed art critic Jerry Saltz in his article for New York Magazine titled, How Identity Politics Conquered the Art World.
Shikeith's experimental documentary film, #BlackMenDream, was created while in residence at Bunker and has been critically acclaimed and spread widely into the hearts and minds of both national and international audiences ready to discover and reflect on art work made about pressing issues surrounding black male identity. The work is currently on view at the Seattle Art Museum and forthcoming at the Muzeum Wspolczesne Wroclaw. This time around (as we sometimes say) Shikeith has been experimenting with new materials like ceramic and glass. In addition to his constant practice of film and photography he also worked on special projects at The Pittsburgh Glass Center just down the avenue!
The following is an interview of questions/topics posed by our collaborator Chamese Bennett & Bunker Director, Jessica Rommelt in relation to Shikeith's most recent work:
What are some of your major influences?
My work is primarily influenced by biographical experiences. However, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Pier Pasolini, KiKi Smith, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon and Renee Cox are artists, writers, and theorists who I would I identify as the foundation and predecessors of the work I am creating today.
Current projects? Favorite project?
#Blackmendream , is a social practice project of mine that is expanding into something really beautiful. I am really pushing myself to make sure it continues to manifests in the way I have long envisioned. I am also working on a building a market for emerging black artists ( www.emergingblackart.com )
Favorite quote recently?
“The colonized man is an envious man” - Frantz Fanon
How would you like to look back on your body of work in the future?
I hope to feel that I created all that I could to allow the creatives who I proceed to continue keeping the dream alive. I think that is something most artists hope to accomplish.
What kind of narratives are you interested in?
There are a plethora of experiences that are invisible, never realized through art. Those untold stories, and histories interest me the most. Of what we have - I tend the enjoy the historical, biographical, and experimental.
What pivotal moments do you remember shaping you as a person and as an artist?
Everyday something new happens that motivates my practice, and makes me feel like I am becoming the person I hope to be. My first residency with Bunker Projects in 2014 comes to mind as the moment my life began to shift towards the direction it is in now. That initial support from Bunker Projects, The Heinz Endowments, and The Pittsburgh Foundation changed the trajectory of my life as a creative.
What’s a great piece of advice you have received and how would you add to it?
“Don’t please people. Agitate them” , from my friend Jessica Rommelt. This piece of advice changed the way I digested the very public backlash, my work received from the community I most wanted to engage. It made me understand how significant it was to have your work debated, and questioned.
How did you become interested in art as a career?
It’s kind of an explainable thing, since I was a kid, art has always been an instinctual part of who I am. Honestly, art feels more like my destiny than a career. However, realizing this has not been without challenge, and took many years of self-discovery to come to terms with art being apart of my survival.
What are you most excited about for your studies at Yale?
Possibility is always attractive, and that is what excites me the most. I get butterflies thinking about all the work I could create, the instructors, peers - it is truly an overwhelming feeling to see your hard work pay off.
What does success mean for you?
Success means destiny fulfilled.
I barely interviewed Adam Milner for this article. I tend to believe that most modern interviews also go this way. We corresponded over email five or six times while he was in Florida for this year’s zombie art carnival, Art Basel Miami. Most of my information found on Milner was gleaned from the internet: artist bios, press releases, exhibition reviews, and his banal, yet hilariously thoughtful tumblr page (consisting of screenshots of spam, online surveys, text messages, grindr conversations, and interactions with Siri). This machine-like interaction with Milner ended up being incredibly appropriate in regards to the subject matter of this interview - his most recent exhibition, Talking Paper.
The title for this exhibition came from an interaction with a friend, where she pulled out a piece of paper and began to map out, draw, and take notes on their concurrent conversation. This visualization of conversation on paper became Milner’s inspiration. This woman’s father was where the activity originated; he called it “a piece of talking paper”.
Adam Milner’s background is in drawing, yet this is his first show of all works on paper. Though, his definition of drawing is fluid. It is traces and marks that are accidentally left behind. It is instances of everyday living. “We draw blood, guns, names out of hats. We also draw people near, if we’re lucky.” Drawing is physical. And Talking Paper explores the body and it’s interactions with both public and private spheres.
On the second floor of Bunker Projects, detritus of the body are laid out on thin, wooden tables, made to be the exact width of a standard sheet of printer paper, and the length of four. Hair, piled together on blue rectangles. Nail clippings secured under clear masking tape. Chewed gum catalogued in lines. Milner’s own blood, carefully dotted onto a perfect grid of graphite and a green background. All of these “drawings” are deeply personal reminders of how human Adam is, despite the machine-like patience required for this type of artistic practice. Many of his drawings are both physical and labor intensive, while following a strict set of rules. For one piece, he must trace every single fiber in the paper. For another, he catalogs cut outs of mouths from magazines, but only mouths that are open, showing the top set of teeth prominently, and facing toward the right.
Along with the conversation addressing being human and being machinelike, Milner also explores another juxtaposition of the private and the public moments that went into Talking Paper and how those moments can become blurred. This exhibition “combines a very social practice with a very personal and hermetic one, and it complicates that distinction.” He explains: “I set up a relationship with the periodicals department of a library so I could go through every single magazine they discarded - both a social activity and one of solitude.”
Milner’s collection of drawings and collages is a catalog that is both useless in its literal worth, but displayed as preciously as relics of memories and living. They are synecdoches for moments both private and public, for objects both personal and mass produced.
Adam Milner is an artist who rigorously collects digital and physical detritus left behind as he attempts to connect with other people. He received a BFA in Visual Art and a BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado - Boulder. He is currently an MFA candidate in the Carnegie Mellon School of Art in Pittsburgh.
Writer: Krista Wright
You may have been wondering, "What does a Family Style dinner look like?" Well feast your eyes on a magically condensed version of our first pilot dinner designed and prepared by our prized Board member, Phyllis Kim. 17 guests in total ate together that Sunday night, including both residents Cecilia Ebitz & Ben Quint-Glick (whose show opens May 1) many of whom had never met until that night. That's the thing about sitting down to a table family style-it's so welcoming and it gives you the time that you sometimes don't get buzzing around everyday life. You never know, you may sit down next to a new collaborator, patron or friend.
Family Style dinners take place inside the galleries, and for this one we were dining inside the March Exhibition, Hocus Pocus by Devan Shimoyama. His paintings are vested in exploring the location of the queer black male in contemporary society and in queer politics. He does so usually depicting his own portrait in various different manifestations that for me point toward a sort of divine lore. In every painting, he plays with a seductive color spectrum, fields of paved glitter and well-cats! The show pushed the boundaries of painting through surface material but spoke to our earliest uses of paintings as grand artifacts that are able to carry a potentially shifting story through time with just one still image.
Phyllis outdid herself with a huge selection of traditional Korean dishes that everyone seemed to really enjoy--even a dish with tiny little salted baby fish + raisins called Myulchi bokkum (that tasted a little bit like one of those salads with ramen noodles in it). A major crowd pleaser was her Ddak Bokkeum which is slow cooked, chicken and potatoes in an amazing brothy chilli sauce. So now you see what it's all about. We hope you will join us for our next Family Style #2 with Andrea Berzinsky when she makes a Slavic meal based off of her Grandmother's cooking. \\\Sunday May 24th///
Cecilia Ebitz’s residency and show,HANDHOLDING, come to an end this weekend. On Sunday, April 26th, the artist invites you to Bunker Projects for a rooftopBBQ and BYOB refreshments, from 5:30-9:30pm. This closing reception is not only a time to celebrate Ceci’s site-specific installations, but also an opportunity to discuss the work with the artist. Arrive promptly at 5:30 to participate in an informal critique and open group dialogue.
When first approaching this work, one might be struck by the use of every objects and the attention to color. “Ready made objects”, as the artist refers to them are a reoccurring medium in Ceci’s work. Objects can be evocative and become archetypal in our lives when imbued with memory and significance from our past experience. Objects can act as surrogates for the self, abstracting the extremely personal into a more universal symbolism, in a similar way to painters choosing a particular color to communicate meaning on their canvas.
The artist works in an intuitive way. When asked about her approach to material sourcing for site-specific works, she begins by thinking about texture and space. Residing at Bunker was beneficial for Ceci to afford her the time to be and think in the exhibition space and early on, the materials, most of which were already on-site, revealed themselves.
Inspired by vintage interior design, each individual installation in this body of work is a composition, a still life: the artist takes a painterly approach to the 3-dimensional, utilizing wall color as a framing mechanism to designate space and delineate between moments. And while all of the works are in dialogue with each other the individual compositions contain their own microcosms of object interactions. The artist works with juxtaposing objects that seem accidental or coincidental to reveal something spectacular.
This body of work is a tangent off of her original proposal for her time at Bunker. It is a riff off of an earlier body of work, largely about trauma, that she hopes to continue exploring further in the future. In her perspective, this series feels like it’s still more of a sketch than a polished, refined, or finished thing. It’ll take some revisiting and contemplation to continue honing down to the desired exploration of concept. And that’s why the artist invites you to share your own thoughts on the work, this Sunday!
Ceci has recently moved from Bunker to sunny Braddock, PA where she is working on various new projects, including a collaborative movement and sound piece…stay tuned at http://www.ceciliaebitz.com.
By Alyssa Kail (board member at Bunker Projects)
Family Style is a new fundraising series that hosts dinner in the Bunker gallery by guest chefs sharing their own family favorites. Each bi-monthly dinner is aimed to inspire conversations and connections with our resident artists, guests and beyond! The series coordinator and chef of Family Style #1, Phyllis Kim will be preparing a Korean dinner for 15 guests. See the menu here! Read more about her background and philosophy on food below!
What's Family Style?
Family Style is my efforts to bring good food to Pittsburgh people and create a platform for others to do the same. My favorite food to eat is my mom's and there just isn't anything quite like it in this fine city. I love having an excuse to gather with friends old and new and cook for them the things I love. I want to find like-minded people who want to share foods they loved to eat growing up and create a meaningful experience through dinner where we can share and talk about food and art.
Koreanify ME/ Based FOB
My parents have tried my whole life to mold me into a respectable Korean lady. Every Saturday was spent at Korean school, every winter I was at Korean ski camp in upstate New York, and winters I was off to Korea to be with my family. Fortunately, their many dollars spent trying to koreanify me only did so much... My penmanship is that of a 6 year old and I get so flustered interacting at Korean restaurants that I often pretend I’m Chinese.
My folks worked long hours operating a restaurant in Jersey, but they always made it a point to have dinner together every night no matter how late it was. Korean food was surely the only menu option. After having established themselves a bit by opening up a restaurant on a main strip in New Jersey, they could finally afford to cook the food they ate growing up. Even if it meant weekly trips to HanaReum an hour away so that my mom could pick up the right radishes to make kimchi and get the right cuts of meat to make bone stew. My sister and I were even allowed to buy all the delicious Korean crackers we wanted which inevitably wouldn’t last the car ride back home.
Men aren’t allowed in the kitchen in the Korea my parents left behind. That’s how things were under the roof of the mini-Korea that was a house in the suburbs of New Jersey. That worked out for me because I got to hang out with my mom and complain dramatically about how torturous high school was. She fried up fish, cooked stews, and made the most delicious white rice that has ever been made, all at the same time. No sweat. To this day, I'm convinced my mother is a sorceress. She’d work from sun up to sun down at the restaurant then come home and cook something fabulous every night. I really felt the love in her cooking. When your mom pours you a bowl of soup and makes sure you get all the delicious tendons the bowl allows- you feel the love. When she delicately places a morsel of fish on your rice bowl before you can even pick up your spoon- you feel the love. Now, whenever I go back home the first question I get asked is what I want to eat and that is the most loving expression to me.
Food as Love
Communicating with my parents has always been a struggle, not only because they’re my parents, but because of the language barrier. No matter how many years of Saturday morning classes I’ve taken or vacant korean dramas I’ve watched, I know I won’t ever be able to express myself in the same way with the same nuances that my parents can with one another. Like most immigrant families, ours uses our own language of mushed up vocabulary that in either language, doesn’t surpass 2nd grade reading level. However, food needs no language. Sharing plates brings about it’s own bond. The Kim fam likes to eat adventurously so eating out is a constant source of dialogue. “This is tasty. This is too salty. This reminds me of grandma’s soup”. The visceral act of sharing food is it’s own form of communication.
This is what I retained from my Korean upbringing. Not the past participles or propositions, but the pickled garlic and red bean soup. My identity is most imbedded in the bento boxes of smelly treats I bring to work for lunch. I’m excited to have a platform to assault people with food the way my mom did to me. I know my experience with food as something more than just sustenance is not unique. Everyone has a dish that they ate growing up that transports them to another place. I want to travel to that place with people and bring them to my mom’s kitchen in Jersey.
Let me feed you.
(Sunday March 29th)
We launched The Bunker Projects Review as a platform to engage in conversations about contemporary art centered on the contributions of our exhibiting & resident artists to the field.