Essay by Taylor Fisch
“The future is a choice between Utopia and Oblivion,” proclaimed the architect, theorist, and futurist, Buckminster Fuller, “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch and go relay race right up to the final moment…Humanity is ‘in final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.” Five decades later, with the world presumably still at its desk, Kevin Clancy has cut these words into reflective acrylic, and invites us to see a future beyond the final moment.
The future is alluring upon arrival. A glow of magenta light emanates from the three second-story windows of 5106 Penn Avenue. Greeted by the slightly eerie, slightly calming electronic soundscape composed by John Also Bennett, we might have just landed at an Apple Store in the Twilight Zone. The domestic interior of the gallery, with its uneven hardwood floors, slices of exposed brick, and fireplace, is now a space that is not entirely in this world or the next.
The gridded walls and built-out bays backlit by LED lighting, mimic commercial displays offering a bevy of plaster cast faces, hands, and phones. A sterile alcove is built into the fireplace, housing a pair of floating hands holding an ironically torched burner phone (2019). Pink and green light blaze through the film-covered windows, engulfing the white washed gallery in gentle hues, while saturated tones and mirrored images bounce off the dichroic film lining the series of plaster cast electronic devices. Neons, visual echoes, and seductive sculptures entice us, but this feels far from a utopia.
Clancy uses low-tech sculptural processes of plaster casting found readymade objects to examine information technologies of today and tomorrow. He delves into the subject of Internet culture without directly engaging with the software that defines it. We are viewing a museum of our technological past from a future moment in time, or a “speculative museum of natural history,” as Clancy states.
He comes at his work as a millennial consumer, not a technologist, programmer, cryptographer, or hacker. This exhibition is for and about the consumer. Those whose phones are the last thing they check before sleep and the first thing they grab when rising. Those who enjoy the benefits of having the Internet in their pocket but are skeptical about its utopic potential. This exhibition is also for those of us in Pittsburgh, a Rust-Belt city turned tech hub. Those who are trying to manage their enthusiasm for the rebirth of a city endowed to another big industry. Will we tour the National Robotics Engineering Center like we now tour Carrie Blast Furnace?
In Clancy’s museum, each of the grids loosely advertises a theme of technological exploration. We have DEAD (2018-2019) where the grid parades skeletal extremities dancing on plaster cast iPads: without their armor the iPads’ fragile bodies would shatter instantly. The assemblage of cast and ready-made devices confuse the eye, creating an uncertainty for what is real and what is a copy, a reference to the world lived both on and offline.
In hollow holo (2019) a grid shows hands attempting to embrace through a screen and hands holding phones of the future. The screens are not black but luminous mirrors; we get caught in the act of looking and become part of the narrative. A “how to” on “how to interact with your phone,” Clancy memorializes the various awkward yet familiar gestures that are so ingrained in our day-to-day. The phone has become an extension of the hand, with the hand now catering to the phones particularities. Clancy continues to ask what the value of increased digital connection is when physical connection is gone.
Plaster cast artifacts preserve the vestiges of the animate and inanimate; flesh and hardware remembered in history as one and the same. What is lost and what remains when we take the digital out of the physical? An object whose lifespan conveniently expires to ensure we have not missed too many of the latest models. Once the technology stops working, the objects are merely ephemera, an artifact of a historical moment. aether net (2019) aestheticizes the seemingly mundane ancillary Ethernet cables, USB cords, and iPhone chargers that Clancy finds on walks across the Bloomfield Bridge and in electronic dumpsters around the city. In this world, they are displayed as coveted heirlooms woven into intricate patterns and sacred knots. Presenting us with monuments of the present that will soon feel outdated, Clancy encourages us to take time to consider the technological moment of today, one that will, left to its own devices, push us into tomorrow.
If this show were produced a decade ago, what would we see? Razrs, Blackberries, Ipods? What about two decades ago? Antennae cell phones, pagers, Walkmen? There was a time before the cloud when information would expire with the device that lodged it. Now, data is accumulated and saved on databases and servers we cannot see and often cannot control. In machine unlearning (2019), Clancy addresses how surveillance has magnified with the advancement of machine learning. The grid exhibits a series of cast faces and hands dotted and lined with markers of facial and fingerprint recognition technology. Neon orange strings form a visual analogue, tracing the geometric points of connection along the corporeal landmarks. The invisible weapons of biometric surveillance are made visible through the glowing green rods and pins that strike the silhouettes.
A hand is clad with SIM cards; a surgical glove is cast into a balloon hand splattered with yellow paint; another hand wears a surgical glove – as smooth and delicate as Renaissance drapery in carved stone. Clancy, here and throughout the show, uses tricks of the eye, dark humor, and deft craft to confront the dystopic realities of technological acceleration. Eventually though, the super-saturation of color and the no-longer-slightly-calming-sound catches up to us, generating a mounting feeling of unease.
Clancy’s thesis, dark web/bright web (2019), presents the most conspicuous juxtaposition between utopia and oblivion. In the dark web hands crush cracking phones, a translucent keyboard protector loses shape, fingers are finally able to break through screens. Two riot handcuffs are fastened into the shape of the command key ⌘ a nod to the protesters calling for an end to the government’s use of surveillance technology. The prosthetic eyeballs affixed to a cast iPhone remind us of our fishbowl existence, watched not just by artificial intelligence, but by the people behind those systems. The cracked, water damaged, and burnt devices signal the Internet as a place of violence, a mechanism of control in the hands of shattered factional interests, overlapping and clawing, with many left to its margins, oppressed and forgotten, but never unseen.
The bright web is only a bit brighter. There is homage to Fuller’s geodesic dome, geometrically akin to the facial recognition patterns lining the face casts and the laser etched acrylic spider webs. In it, the argument for utopia reads as intentionally weak. Broken and dismembered fingers and casts of babies’ hands rest on top of phones – a hand too young to feed itself let alone navigate technology. Children born into a world where opting out is not an option. The narrative of the Internet as a democratic tool that could lead to cyber-libertarian utopias has come and gone. We are too aware, yet too complacent, of how our privacy rights are compromised by the tracking device glued to our hands and the digital footprint always lingering behind us.
Still, amongst the manufactured grids, found electronics, and cast relics, nuances of humanity seep in. With close inspection one observes a cast swirl of hair caught in a facial mask, and fingerprints and palm creases marking the cast hands. Some hands adorn rings, others have chipped nails – slight details emerge from the artificial cloak of anonymity to reveal layers of accountability. Through the flashes of individuality – both within the people who lend their hands and the artist who lends this imaginative world, comes the slightest beacon of hope that Utopia or simply “continuance in Universe,” can endure.
And we are back to the choice: Utopia or Oblivion. As the exam clock ticks on, we may lift our heads and choose to see the exhibition as a cautionary tale, a tale of the passive consumer who can only view this moment from a museum in a dystopic future. We are presented with the opportunity to observe this moment in the moment, and take with that what we will.
Taylor Fisch (b. 1992, New York City) is currently living in Pittsburgh and working as the Project Curatorial Assistant for the third iteration of the Hillman Photography Initiative at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
CREDITS | Art work by Kevin Clancy, Essay by Taylor Fisch, Photos by David Bernabo, Copy Editing by Lindsey Dill, Published by Jessie Rommelt |
Writing and photographs by J Houston
Mark Zubrovich (b.1992) is a New York based artist born on Long Island. He graduated with his BFA from SUNY Purchase in 2015. He shows with Deli Grocery Gallery in Queens NY, and has recently shown at Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Agency Gallery in Brooklyn, Abrams Art Center in Manhattan, and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson VT. He is the current artist in residence at Bunker Projects in Pittsburgh, PA, and will be the artist in residence at the James Black Gallery in Vancouver, BC later this summer. He doesn’t own any dogs of his own, but dearly misses his cat Skittles.
Website : markzubrovich.com
Paul Peng (b. 1994) is an artist currently living in Pittsburgh. Working from both Cy Twombly’s mark-making legacy and those kids you know from high school who keep drawing pictures of themselves as Sonic the Hedgehog characters, Pau’s drawings wrap around the furry-figured dream boys of his teenage DeviantArt upbringing with airy, light-filled linework, carved-out objects and spaces of domestic desire, and lush, goopy sprawls of shadings and masses. Paul equates the punch of a cartoon face with the concrete power of a single formal mark, rendering his dream boys not as dreams but instead as fully embodied boys in their own right. Everything Paul draws is real and exists in real life.
Adam Linn (b. 1995 Pittsburgh, PA) is an artist based in Pittsburgh, PA working in drawing and print media. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017 with a BFA in Printmaking and moved back home to continue his practice. Since returning, Adam has joined the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Print Group. He actively participates in shows for both organizations. Adam will be participating in the Distillery Residency at the Brewhouse Association for the year 2019-2020. There he will work towards larger shaped pieces, installation based drawings and prints and the fabrication of small sculptures.
Instagram drawing account: @subtle_bits
Image description: painting in airbrush and pastel featuring a pink dog looking left holding a bat. Dog is attempting to hide "Goodboys" tank top, with a "Mutt" chest tattoo visible underneath.
Image description: ink drawing with sparse, expressive lines, sun-like face in bottom left corner with wide-eyed character with a black dot for a nose looking at a small object with scalloped edges and holes.
Image description: Pink anthropomorphic feline with curly blonde hair wearing a green gown exits limo onto red carpet, the gown slipping to reveal blue panty buldge, long legs with defined calves, and red heels. The feline uses the index finger of their left hand to wipe water droplets from the vehicle window.
Play - my work, (drawings) range from prototyping sketches to observational studies, to expressive, repetitive compositions with absurd or vibrating color - sometimes form life, other times meditative compositional studies. With ceramics my work swing from functional objects to more sculptural, but my forms gravitate toward a friendly, cartoonish quality, even the ones that are more visibly hand made - toylike.
My making, although it’s typically about the most mundane observations or nothing at all, is still very emotional for me. I create joyful objects and images, amplifying the things that bring my aesthetic of perceptual happiness (I’m like an intentional or rational optimist) by translating them through my brain and onto paper or into a vessel or object. With ceramics sometimes it is less consciously emotional, more like- “I want to make a mug!” But every mug I make I hope makes someone smile when they use it. And I find a lot of meditative joy in simply having clay in my hands. So, yeah, definitely closely related to emotion and created in the hopes that it could trigger a smile in someone.
How does your background in industrial design influence your mindset, skills, or goals in your work?
Because I have to exert creative energy and draw (much differently) at work, I feel like I gravitate towards looser or more spontaneous and meditative making with my art. That being said, my understanding of form, and the way I consider color and shape, and even the way I observe the world, is heavily influenced by my training as an industrial designer. I also think a big part of being a designer is considering how other people experience objects, images, and spaces, so I think when I make things, although most of the time they are for me, I do consider how they will be perceived by others - what emotions they trigger, what relationships they have to other things, and even what stories they could be telling. Also, studying ID taught me how to draw like an industrial designer, but studying perception and sensation in college taught me to see, which drives many of my drawings. Often thinking about how my brain is making me understand things aesthetically gets translated into my drawings. Optical illusions, how colors and shadows react, how our brains organize and fill in gaps of information - gestalt psychology - my awareness of these principles are translated from my observations and into my drawings - sometimes into my ceramics as well.
Ceramics wise - slipcasting is very ID, it’s how many commercial ceramic manufacturers produce their objects, and I like having an understanding of these principles and processes. I was into clay before I was into design, and when I realized that designers work for ceramics companies my mind kind of exploded ! I interned at a ceramic manufacturing company in Cincinnati (rookwood) and I still freelance for them from time to time, making functional housewares in 3D software for them to manufacture.
What is your studio practice like? Where/when does a piece begin and when is it finished?
My studio practice is still in search of some routine - ceramics wise I’ve jumped around so much in the past five years - I’m very excited that I just signed my lease to stay in my home for another year so I can continue to develop my home studio practice - it’s taken some time. I have worked in like six + different ceramics studios for varying periods of time - trying to find what processes are best suited for my home studio. Drawing was something I started doing pretty consistently probably like five years ago now - I started with colored pencils and a small water color set that traveled well - I would keep all of that and a little jar for water in my backpack so I was always able to draw. I liked having something portable that could travel with me - it still does. My dad bought me colored pencils, which has become a meditative hobby at the end of the day, color studies mostly. Sometimes drawing from life. Now I almost always have some combination of my sketchbook, colored pencils, and my tempera sticks with me at all times in my backpack so I can draw with downtime or when I have the urge. Drawings are really spontaneous mostly - a lot of times they start by me seeing something in the world and I'll write a note or make an ugly sketch, take a photo or just try to remember that thing. Then later I explore that thought for a drawing or two or more - sometimes it evolves from there -other times I just scribble down ideas I have or I draw directly from life. Sometimes my drawing are more like a industrial design sketchbook or even a journal.
Ceramics often stay in sketchbook form for a long time until they become a reality - depending on what I have access to. Like the red-striped bowls - they’ve lived on paper for a while now. But when I do make, it often starts as a sketch of a form that is appealing or simply a goal of making mugs.
A lot of my work has been in my house for a long time (or in storage before then) or some with friends. Pieces start and end pretty quickly generally speaking, but they live with me a long time so they evolve as I use them or live with them. They pair with other things in my home or other things I make and take on new feelings or visual relationships. Functionality brings new life and story to objects - I often draw my vases when they have flowers in them, or my objects become a part of my still lives or the shapes that appear in my drawings repetitively. Part of the intention of this show was to recreate the way the objects and drawings work off of each other in my home in a new space, opening it up for others.
Objects are like gifts.
Making and experiencing art serves different purposes for different people. For me, it is something that keeps me mentally grounded, so it is important and intentional but it is fully play. Play is such an important human behavior that we don’t have integrated into our lives as commonly any more (everyone drives for productivity, less about experimenting and playing for the sake of playing). When I'm making I often end up laughing at my work. Art making for me is playing with the perceptions in my brain and the tools in my toolbox to create little impressions of my reality. They’re all little experiments in play.
What sort of things do you notice in the world in your everyday life?
Flowers, plants, architectural details and objects found around people’s homes, interior spaces, recently I’ve been paying more attention to cars, juxtapositions, shapes against the sky, stripes, shadows, mysterious industrial objects, tiny useful objects, bright colors, clothing...
You use some ceramic techniques that are less familiar to people like 3D modeling and slipcasting. Can you talk about what that involves and also how you juggle the different ways of producing objects in this medium?
The most concrete connections between my art making and my work as a designer are 3D modeling and slipcasting. For creating and designing my forms I primarily use a software called Fusion360. Fusion360 is free for hobbyists, and it's super intuitive and flexible. You can create very detailed and technical forms, but at the same time you can sculpt things that are cartoonish and bubbly like the little hands I make. From a digital 3D model, I then have to create a prototype, that happens in many ways, milling out a high density foam, 3D printing in resin or plastic, or even making it by hand out of plaster or clay - sometimes I just use 3D to get a sense of the forms I want to make by hand. From your prototype you make a plaster mold. In order to slipcast, you pour liquid clay (slip) into the mold. As the water is sucked out of the clay and into the plaster, an even wall thickness of solid clay forms around the interior shape of the mold. Once you have the desired thickness, you pour out the excess slip and leave your mold to dry. Eventually you can remove your casted form and clean up any part lines if desired. From here you can fire and glaze these pieces as if they were a typical clay built form. For me this process is more in my comfort zone of making because it’s essentially a manufacturing method. It is harder for me to create looser pieces when slip-casting, but it makes it possible to create repetitive forms, which is super appealing for production or play.
Yes ! that was nearly 2 years ago now, which is crazy, but that was my first time really focusing on art and art making for an extended period of time. I had a residency in Jingdezhen, China, the porcelain capital of the world, it’s basically a city built around clay (a.k.a. The wizarding world of clay). I learned a lot about the ceramic processes, and it was my first real foray into making non-functional (sculptural) work. I explored translating 2D shapes from Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art into 3D forms, and came to China with prototypes of the forms I wanted to make. The overall experience required a lot of trust - when your work is being pushed on a wooden cart by a person you can’t understand, to be fired in a public kiln, you kind of just have to let go of any sense of control.
We collaborated with local artisans and took workshops to learn about traditional carving and blue china painting techniques. I learned a lot about how routine can shape my making. The woman who worked next to me in our shared studio was making very emotional work about protection, vulnerability, and mental health, I’d often find her close to tears (good tears, but heavy with emotion), and by contrast I was giggling and playing. This contrast was pretty powerful. Jingdezhen was also a place filled with new colors and shapes and forms to find inspiration in - I drew a lot with colored pencils and pens while I was there, and I think that was part of the foundation for my current experience with drawings.
What is your favorite piece in the show and why?
This is hard! I really like the drawing with the two vertical stacks of spheres and cube things? Something about that one is really really good to me. The shape is from a concrete post in front of a house in Sharpsburg, PA. I also really like the series of newsprint collages - I call those “Collages from a Past Life” because they are drawings from my Freshman year of school where we had to learn how to draw like industrial designers, and it was so so so stressful. Cutting them up and was a really therapeutic exercise for me. My favorite sculpture is the pink pedestal cake with the hand and the orange in front of it. The princess pink is so simple and playful; it’s a combination of handbuilt, slip-casted and thrown pieces; and it feels like growth and joy and like throwing your hands up in the air! I have too many favorites, but I also feel like the terracotta smile tile is living its best life.
This is a really hard question so I’m just going to list all the people that come to my brain immediately:
- Jessica Helfand’s book Design: the Invention of Desire was an incredibly formative book for me regarding making objects and experiencing the world
- Betty Woodman’s witty, decorative, and expressive ceramics are absolutely amazing and massive
- I recently saw Lenka Clayton speak at CMU and I’m super inspired by the way she uses humor, language, and documentation to create incredible, experiential work about simple human experiences.
- I saw a Yayoi Kusama retrospective by myself at the Louisiania in Copenhagen and I spent literal hours looking at her paintngs!!!
- Agnes Martin’s meditative / minimal take on abstract expressionism. A lot of her work is about nature and observations. I’m obsessed with stripes so I’m naturally drawn to her work and it’s textural and repetitive qualities.
- Magdalena Frimkess’s ceramics, she had, I think, her first solo show in NYC recently (at age 84!) she draws and paints on ceramic forms. Her lines and surfaces have a folk quality to them that I love and her subject matter is “chosen from whatever happens that day” which I also love. People have called what she does as “daring” which I find funny and amazing because it’s just so playful and punchy yet in the ceramics world, and given the context of where she comes from, it’s seen as daring, which it is I just think that word is a kind of loaded and funny.
What projects are in your mind now, currently or in the near future?
I’ve gotta make more hands - right now I only have a few left so they have a preciousness to me that I don’t want them to have - I want to basically give them away or make them with others. I want to do a “paint your own pottery” experience with them with friends or strangers.
Right before this show I started drawing on colored paper, which sounds like a small shift, but it kind of transforms the colors in my palette when they begin on a colored field instead of stark white. Excited about this.
Also drawing a lot of plants and flowers because it’s Spring / Summer and that’s all I can think about and they make me so so happy. I’m hoping to have a Flower Show! I also would like to find my way to a wheel again, I want to make more mugs and the red striped bowls I’ve been thinking about for forever.
Bunker Projects provides artists with a safe place to explore, create, make, be, sleep, meet, and dine. (Keyword in that last sentence: SAFE.) All of your essentials are covered here. This access that Bunker provides equals freedom, which is not only truly priceless, but also has become a rare commodity these days. We all need a place to call home, and that structure needs land to support it. Their landlord, the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, is responsible for several buildings along Penn Ave in the Arts & Cultural District, and because of their dedication to the neighborhood, young arts groups have been able to blossom along the corridor.
Bunker, which is nestled on the second- and third floors of the Roboto Building on Penn Ave in the Garfield Neighborhood, has everything that someone these days desires. Within just a few blocks of one another, you have shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, galleries, art event spaces, and other non-profits. Which reminds me, I want to give a shout out to the kids over at Pull Proof Studio, who are right next to Bunker. They run a tight clean ship of a screen-printing studio, and the artists that operate this space are all super talented and very dedicated. If you haven’t visited them on a First Friday, please check them out! As a visitor, having all these amenities accessible at your fingertips is really a luxury. Not having to be dependent on public transportation or driving is truly a beautiful thing. Getting to know a place through the act of walking is an intimate process—as you glide yourself through the urban terrain, looking and processing the details of the architecture and streetscape, while always monitoring your footing, because those sidewalks, especially in the winter, can be treacherous! We all know that not every neighborhood is designed with that much thought and ingenuity. I guess it’s about location, and in Pittsburgh that’s tough because of the geography; it naturally isolates people. If you don’t have a car and you don’t like biking in a challenging city (few bike lanes, narrow roads, and literal mountains), then relying on public transportation can also leave one isolated. Using car services (Lyft/Uber) can definitely take its toll on your bank account, but in special circumstances it’s reassuring to know that it’s an option, because a night out with friends could take you to one of the 90 neighborhoods in the city, and nobody wants to get stranded on a hilltop. I should leave the suspense hanging here, but no, this did not happen to me. I don’t want any weird urban legends being started about me. I just got to thinking about what life must have been like here before the use of cell phones and GPS technology.... Ok, that’s another article, sorry, I will no longer diverge :)
As I was getting to know this rugged terrain of a city, the people are what caught my attention. Those that are doing some exciting things are from Pittsburgh or the region, and of course what they are doing is attracting others to gradually flock here. In 2013, Jessie Rommelt did just that. After she finished her undergraduate studies at Penn State, she moved to Pittsburgh, and with a few other artist friends they started Bunker Projects. From the collective beginnings of scraping together what they each had, borrowing from close friends, and raising matching funds through Kickstarter, together they embarked on a new adventure. From the very raw beginning state, when the space originally had no heat and no electric, they converted it into a living and working home for artists. And when I say “they,” I mean Jessie Rommelt, Cecilia Ebitz, Abbigael Beddal, friends, family, and volunteers put in long hours to get the place up and running. You can still smell their sweat (equity) when you’re in the front gallery space, but that’s mainly because they are still making improvements to the space even years later, because they care. Jessie and her board are committed to the mission of this young non-profit, and provide safe (and affordable) living and working conditions for artists so that they can focus on their practice and enhance their professional growth.
Bunker is one of the many gems in this city. Each one that I’m uncovering is truly unique in their own right, and Bunker is no exception. For a young organization that is poorly funded, they are holding their own weight, plus some. There is a stellar list of artists that have come through the space--The Moon Baby, Shikeith Cathey, Kirstin Lamb, Devan Shimoyama, and Tate Leone, to name a few—and the impact that these artists have made on the community, and their furthering contribution to society at large, is evident. I wish more funders would take greater risks and place more value on how the ripple affects the water over time. Sometimes just making a big splash can lose people’s interest, as it gets boring and mundane quickly. You need to be flexible, agile, and receptive to the changing needs around you, because that is the only thing that is constant: change.
Tina Dillman – Artist
I would like to especially thank Madeline Gent, Executive Director of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, for sponsoring her residency; Jessie Rommelt, Executive Director of Bunker Projects, for hosting; Tara Fay Coleman for suggesting her for the residency; and Dawn Weleski for making the initial introduction. Sometimes the unknown can be scary, but if you can embrace that which you are afraid of, and hear your inner self, your body will speak to you, so be quiet and listen.
XXO to My Community
"Suade" installed in Bunker's gallery
"Suade" - The name is a misspelling of the soft leather (suede) to tie it to the word persuade. The horse collapsing exhausted in the center of the room is a wicker shelf bent over, is a direct relation to Oreen’s own body, is one of the five Arabian mares who, sprinting toward the oasis to quench days of thirst, turned to heed the battle call Mohammad cried out. What are we called to by our bodies? What are we called to do because of our loyalties?
I set out on a journey with Oreen that I had expected to be a simple loop, as her current work seemed to be a return to her roots. I went to undergrad at CMU while Oreen was there for her Masters. I remember her as an incoming student presenting her body of work: large, layered paintings with heavily-worked surfaces, huge sculptures of scrap metal and glass. She described chemical processes and literal dirt she would apply to her paintings, the act of collaging large parts of machines and scraps together digitally and then welding them together to create these enormous amalgamations. During her time at CMU, she was pressured into making work that was more digestible and less unwieldy, and to use “singular materials.” She was convinced she had to give up the personal to create art for the community. Her thesis show was a multi-channel video installation of a performance that involved carrying a coffin of sunflower seeds though Braddock to be laid to rest in a grave. Against the advice of faculty and her peers, she lay a bed of rocks with real sunflowers on the gallery floor, because for her, the work was not complete if it did not have a physical presence. I was so happy to see that she was returning to her older style of using found materials in installation with Suade (and also in her PCCR residency last summer). The reasons she is circling back in this direction are personal and varied.
This return began with large-scale, movement-based charcoal drawings of exhausted and struggling creatures. The process of making them is a kind of therapy or exorcism; something coming out of her from an emotional depth for which she does not yet have words. But there is a direct relationship between Oreen and the figures; they are her and she is them. It is a way of working through trauma and feelings of defeat and resilience. She admits she is not ready to talk about them in great depth because they make her feel too vulnerable, but they are a visual diary from which she can now draw inspiration for sculptures and dioramas. The horse, “Brute Mare,” in the center of Suade’s “diorama,” is lifted from a charcoal drawing.
Portrait of Oreen in front of her installation
photo by Katie Krulock
Currently on view:
"Darkest Dark" - 707 Gallery [May 16th - July 16th]
Event during July 12th Downtown Gallery crawl, 6pm-10pm
Live durational drawing, movement and sound performance with dancer, Gia T. Cacalano, sound artist, Jonathan Hodges (echolightwaveunspeakable), and local punk band SPEED PLANS
“When Artists Enter the Factory” curated by Jia-Jen Lin
Brooklyn Army Terminal
opening October 2019
Website : www.oreencohen.com
It is not an easy task. Stability can seem unattainable and the work never ending. A simple and elegant piece, “Semash,” is set apart from the chaos of the rest of the show, standing to the side on a bed of rag paper. The sculpture is a large, see-sawing candle holder which clasps a horizontally burning candle with a flame at either end. The dripping wax fuels the movement of the piece as it sways side to side. A candle burning at both ends, oscillating until it eventually burns out.
A flood of her partner’s house in Millvale last year, a fire in her and her partner’s studio which destroyed over $100,000 of equipment as well as her entire library of sourced materials just this month, the utter exhaustion of working as an artist in a city that does not seem to want to support artists... Oreen doesn’t have all of the resources she needs here to be successful, but she is starting to dream of ways to make that happen and move the pieces into a suitable arrangement. She wants to open a collaborative workshop space for artists to work on large-scale sculptures. She is thinking about how to turn her home into an artist residency and will renovate through the summer. And she is working constantly on her own art, with two shows this month (the second being a show of drawings at 707 Gallery downtown), a live performance event to accompany her 707 show on July 12th, and a show of installation art in NYC in the fall for which she is making an enormous rebar sculpture with stained-glass elements.
I heard at the talk last Sunday she spoke about her work being described as “macho”, apparently because she is working with large pieces of metal. It is curious to me that this term gets placed on her work. Her work is doing too much to be classified as proudly masculine. It is too many things relating and too narrative and too nebulous for me to relate this work to the “masculine” qualities of requiring significant brute force and a lack of emphasis on aesthetic beauty. It is not manly because it is made of and with tools. It is work with complicated history and emotional depth and there is something in its resistance to being easily understood, something about the lifespan of the materials being longer than a human life, which speaks to a resistance to being anybody’s knowable, usable object - a very feminist sentiment indeed.
As a queer femme, the extreme lack of portrayal of LGBQT individuals in the media, arts, and entertainment is something I’ve noticed for a great deal of time. I’ve also noticed there is a lack of representation of queer people by queer people. Personally, I am very aware that not every queer person falls under the experience of “always knowing,” but I found that I was acutely aware of my sexuality since the second grade. With time, I grew more and more frustrated not seeing things to validate my identity or to lure me out of the big, bad closet. Fortunately, I had writing. In my youth I was always writing. It was a main escape. I started with short stories and poetry, and then moved toward plays. I found solace in watching films and grew completely infatuated with the art of filmmaking. A good friend of mine said recently that cinema has a very magical way of seeping into the subconscious and sticking there. This is a sentiment I certainly agree with; I wanted to be a part of the magic making. Knowing I was creating queer characters in my early stages of writing lead to my collegiate work as I studied Cinema Arts in college and concentrated in Screenwriting, later picking up a minor in Photography. I was tired of the way women were shown on screen; I was tired of the way black woman were shown on screen. I was feeling an assortment of things: exasperation, passion, creativity, and hunger for validation. I wasn’t necessarily seeing all that I could connect with or thought was necessary on screen, so I sought out to craft it. I wondered how many others felt the same way, and I was hoping I would find others who wanted to build similar structures. A note that this goes for most things: if you don’t feel represented, there is always the option of moving forward to represent yourself and those very similar to you. It’s a portion of a maker’s job to shift and expand consciousness and dissolve boundaries.
As I still battled with being open with my friends and family about my queerness, I wrote a queer love story short film in my freshman year Introduction to Screenwriting course. It got picked up two years later by a younger university classmate (that friend who mentioned the magic of cinema) and put into production. Gratefully and heartwarmingly enough, he thought that it was a story that ought to be shown. For artists, makers, writers, creatives, whomever, it’s imperative to make work that can be accessible and resonate with varying walks of life. We must begin to create stories that cannot exist without diversity. We must start with inclusion and not simply just end with it. That is to say, we mustn’t cram diversity where it does not fit, belong, or is not wanted. Alternatively, we mustn’t tokenize diversity and throw it in for the sake of “Oh, well, we have to have at least one of them in there,” for pacifying sake. Queerness is not a pity party friend to toss into the mix to make yourself look good. It’s an identity. There is more to show than just the overly flamboyant white, cis, gay male, or the extra rough and tough, ex-inmate, butch lesbian with a shoulder tattoo. Even we have long-held stereotypes that need to be dismantled. We are not simply what you think.
To do away with these narratives that are troped, inaccurate, assumed, poorly depicted, or distastefully fetishized or exploited, and, oftentimes, generally boring, we as queer people must be the primary creators of queer content. We will share our lens - not what one might think or imagine it to be - but our lens, our perspectives, our experiences as told by us. If you are not a queer person, you should consider including one in the creation processes. What are you gaining from making art without queer folks involved at all? Share the narratives, but do not misuse and abuse them.
The 2016 film Moonlight was not made by a gay man, but Berry Jenkins, in my opinion, did a fine job at not exploiting queer culture and walked down a good path by working with the original writer, who is a gay man. I believe the story was especially crucial to be told for not only queerness but queerness attached to the black identity as well. Fortunately, this story was brought to life by a black man and not by the grubby fingers of another racist, white, male director in Hollywood. As homophobia is largely present and outwardly vicious in the world as a whole, there is no shortage of it in the black community either. I think the film does a fine job at depicting the secrecy of queerness in the black community and the notion to blend in as much as possible. Within marginalized communities, there is a layer of disgrace, dishonor, and rage for further marginalizing oneself. This was definitely something I experienced and noted in my personal life when I feared being out. Life is already difficult for the black individual to exist, and I feared being further outcast and making my life worse off. For the film to be a blockbuster is transformative and progressive. There’s much more work to be done, but it’s a step in the right direction. I instantly smiled when I read a simple comment made by Jenkins when asked some reasons for wanting to create the film (originally a play by writer Tarell Alvin McCraney): he replied simply that he wanted to see two men cook for each other on screen. He noted that he believes there are simple romances that aren’t being told and that he related to the main character regardless of sexuality. It’s peaceful that such a lovely and raw story was not overly sexualized or filled with rainbow streamers from start to finish. In fact, there was almost an absence of the act of sex altogether.
Queerness does not deserve to be fetishized or stereotyped by a heteronormative lens. Much of mainstream media as a whole is puppeted by the hands of straight, white men who are the ones keeping tropes and stereotypes fueled. This case has always been so. They draw their inspiration from other straight, white men who draw inspiration from the ones before them and keep a cycle flowing. A mechanism for change is for people with access to hire queer writers and makers, actively seek us out, and asking us to share our stories. To curate exhibitions, hold talks, events, screenings, festivals, and panels. To hold space and allow space. To create opportunities that do not yet exist. If you find yourself constantly wondering, where are the lesbians, the bisexuals, the pansexual, transgender people, the genderqueer people, and the gender-fluid people, create the spaces or platforms for them. We’re currently in a collective shift but there is not acceptance and respect across the board; hate and intolerance are very much so around. However, queerness is no longer entirely on the complete hush. We are exposing our light onto a world that previously wanted our beams to be shut in a shoe box in our closets. We’ve had more than enough of all things non-intersectional.
During Bunker Projects' Erotica Night (February 2, 2019), a night of music, art, poetry, performance, joy, and shenanigans, I performed a monologue I wrote titled Queer Fantasies. It was a comedic skit, but as we know, there is a hint of truth behind most jests. I plunged into depth about how representation on screen, on stage, in the universe, etc., would make myself and others feel more comfortable. I joked about how maybe if I wouldn’t have been so closeted growing up if there was more visibility on TV, and how I often imagined myself and other queer women in music videos and everything else I ingested on MTV and beyond. I even discussed, what if we had our own stream entirely, much like an MTV but ran strictly by the gays. Additionally, how great would it be if we lived in a world that was accepting of all genders and gender nonconformity, and all sexualities – a queer utopia, so to speak. I ended with a soft and sensual poem about admiring and falling for a woman from afar followed by a poem about all that should be celebrated about black femmes. Upon reflecting on the night the next day, I realized that ironically enough, the space I was in that night was its own utopia where expression could run free. I was in a wall-to-wall packed independent theater space performing with a lineup that was sprinkled with femmes, queer artists, performers, and makers and with a beaming, respectful audience that gave everyone roaring ovations and the opportunity to share what they wanted, how they wanted. I felt at home and very liberated.
We do not live in a perfect world, but small utopias are possible. If we do indeed live in a world or country with the right to free expression, then isn’t it our duty to express and express freely? If we aren’t allowed a seat at the table, we must craft our own with an entirely different set of chairs. If we do not feel seen, then we amplify our experiences to the point where they simply cannot be ignored. The media can have influence over perception, but they cannot have our bodies. Representation does matter. Not only for us and our souls, but for the rest of the world to consume and digest and be made aware that we are not invisible. For the queer person, regardless of race, in early youth or in old age, to feel seen, warm, safe, validated, depicted, and to feel a bit more at ease in a world that currently isn’t shaped for our survival. I do not believe it is a matter of normalizing queer culture because queer culture is not simply just normal. It is vivacious and extraordinary.
About Corrine Jasmin
Corrine is a writer, artist, and filmmaker currently living in Pittsburgh, Pa using her work as a central tool for healing, loving, and making sense of the world around her no matter how chaotic. Her work frequently touches on her "Trifecta" narrative: being Black, being a woman, and being queer. She most recently released a book of poetry titled “Tread”
Photo by Sean Eaton
Personal Essay by Caleb Hickerson written in the opening week of Brendon's Untitled solo show at Bunker Projects
We Exist!!! The question is how are we existing? As time moves forward, our identity develops. However, science has suggested that we embody multiple identities which develop throughout life. Through his conversation of time, Brendon J Hawkins solo show, “Untitled” attempts to understand how we develop identity: how and why we have reached these categories we identify with and the decision to stay or break away from them.
Some of these categories are built on false principles, such as race and gender. That is not to say that there is no such thing as being black, but I don’t believe you can define that experience as based in color. It just so happens that a mass of people who have been exposed to this experience are of a certain color. But what happens to the young black girl or boy who doesn’t identify with that experience? By understanding how identity develops, we can pick apart what is real and what is not and use our multiple identities as a means of innovating art.
What is real: we live in multiple identities. These Identities differentiate ways of living which allow for an innovation in art and society by seeing a different perspective. And these identities change as time progresses. From the start of birth we are born into a family. I have a mother and father; I am their child. As time goes on we grow into adults, but the kid still exists and presents itself throughout our lives. In Brendon’s piece, “Signs of Streets Approaching”, we can see that the kid is still alive and is using its language to suggest a message about our future.
Our multiple selves are not only an outcome of biology, but also a product of society. Different professions, movies, books, artist, and celebrities give rise to new identities. The concern with these identifiable categories is that, over time, their meaning is constantly being added to or taken away from. If your are not aware of its changes, you could be identifying with a reduced version. Meaning you have a false sense of identity. To say that you are Punk is identifying with something that doesn’t necessarily exist. The experience does exist, as far as the individuality that comes with the punk mindset, but I’m not so sure that the experience can be summed up by rocking safety pins and bashing our heads together. Brendon tackles this idea through his Diptych “Mirrored Characters: Policed in a Mask & Imploding Self”. His use of historical portraiture, masks, cultural languages, and the black body questions: Who has defined this body, how, and why? Without an understanding of how these identities come into existence, people will continue to wear these mask.
So what is the significance of these identities in relation to art? As artists we must innovate. Artistic individuality is the most crucial aspect of defining what art is and how it functions. Art imitates life, life imitates art, and I can see no difference between the painting of a landscape and the landscape itself. The landscape is a work of art in and of itself, however the artist’s individuality, shown through personal language, transports us into their reality. As a result, the painting is the innovation: a change relying heavily on the Identity and technique of the painter. Now that the landscape is communicated through the Identity of the painter and their language, it can be appreciated by those who could not grasp the beauty of the landscape by itself. However, the painter did not create anything that did not already exist (the painting existed as the inner world of the artist, the landscape existed in the physical world that we all share, the act of painting was an act of communication), so the painter simply showed us the world and how they view it. Too many people are mistaking creation for innovation and have forgotten about trying to say anything at all. So, instead of building off of these so called “art movements”, they practice perfect replication and have turned these innovations into fads.
What happens to fads?
In 2018, we are in the digital age concerned heavily with aesthetics. We are also at a time when people are looking to define their identity. One must focus on artistic individuality instead of aesthetics to create work that is uniquely theirs. All Art needs personal expression otherwise it’s just technique.
The “E” inside of Brendon Hawkin’s paintings gets capitalized because it’s rated E for everyone. Brendon Hawkins is channeling his teen identity, the one who used to play the video games with an “E Rated for Everyone” stamped on the cover. Using language in this way allows time to bridge so that the artist’s conversations can transcend time itself.
As artists, we use individuality communicated through our identities, which have different languages, to innovate techniques of the past and connect them with conversations of today. Pablo Picasso did not create cubism, he simply innovated an assortment of techniques (that are simply innovations on top of innovations) to communicate through different identities and the language of those identities. With someone like George Condo, you can see an influence from Picasso's Cubism. However, his individuality communicated through multiple identities have made Picasso's cubism into something else. Brendon seems to use this technique of “sampling” in his “Hanky Code Playing Cards.” Photos that are reminiscent of Warhol’s Polaroids (which are backed by Brendon’s use of Andy’s silver balloons) also speak the language of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards. Another nod at his youth. Another use of his languages.
I challenge you, as an artist, to recognize that these multiple identities exist and become aware of how they develop. Pick apart what is and isn’t real, to you. Use these multiple identities and their separate languages as an advantage to innovate the state of art and self. Utilize the tools and techniques presented to us all as a means to communicate SELF.
Brendon Hawkins show, “Untitled” is open through January 13th, 2019. Clear your schedule because YOU DO NOT want to miss this. Come to Bunker Projects and allow the Beautiful, Loving, Artistic soul that is Brendon J Hawkins learn you this conversation of time and identity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
“I’m from Pittsburgh, Pa, it’s an uncanny experience.”
Rules are meant to be broken. Caleb Hickerson believes this system was to be constructed, deconstructed, and then reconstructed; a true effort to define our identity. While defining his own Identity, Caleb art operates through this process with his art as well. As a multidisciplinary artist, he integrates the techniques of past influences and different forms of visual arts to challenge how art functions.
You can find Caleb on Instagram: @_yung_cee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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"
Essay by Anna Nelson, interview by Fred Blauth
"Do you consider yourself a comedian?" I asked both Hannah Epstein (aka hanski) and Jenson Leonard (Cory in the Abyss), the two artists behind As the Fidget Spinner Turns. It was a no from both of them.
This was the first of several questions about humor that I posed to the two via email. Now, I'm embarrassed that I did. There's an old saying that there's always an element of truth in every joke. It's the mechanism the joke turns around.
"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,” said Leonard. In paying attention to what brought the two together - humor (which is an aesthetic mechanism) - I had missed the obvious fact that they both use humor to point attention to things that are deadly serious.
Diarrhea, Cory in the Abyss
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Overall, the show clearly conveys themes of vulnerability, and an almost back-to-basics take on feminist art. All of the works are unapologetically gentle, they compel you to view them delicately. Women are oftentimes in a perpetual state of battle, and so we forget to be soft, and delicate, or maybe we feel we aren’t allowed to be. More Delicate Things is a refreshing reminder that its ok to be womanly and soft, and allows us to recognize that in doing so, we are not any less deserving of our efforts being valued.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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'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.
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
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 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
Food as Love
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.
The Review is a collection of work by artists and writers commissioned by Bunker Projects aimed at investigating the vision and significance of art presented and produced at the space.
We seek to situate works in the context of contemporary art, expand upon the vision of artist, provide context to audiences, offer an interpretation, and create space for questions and generate discussions.