Coop Fund, Amalle Dublon & Constantina Zavitsanos, Devin Kenny,
and John Neff present newly-commissioned and existing artworks that
destabilize conventional approaches to education, economics, and the
labor of artmaking. A series of public programs and workshops provides a
critical component to the exhibition.
Artists Space is an organization whose name discloses its foundational
mission and purpose. The frankness of this nomenclature, however, is
deceivingly complex, as it foregrounds a critical reflexivity within its own
expression of availability. Put simply, there are many different ways of
interpreting how a space for artists should conceive of itself.
The artists in this exhibition blend relations of production and conditions
of presentation, surfacing the structures that frame their work. John
Neff’s Manhattan Project (2016–18) is an hour-long video constructed
around a number of structured interviews conducted with artists, art
teachers, and the curatorial and administrative staff of Artists Space.
These conversations, intermixed with scenes from Neff’s daily life, such
as him drinking alone and with friends, and footage captured during a
break up with a long-term boyfriend, become the work’s primary material.
The Manhattan, a mix of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, becomes
the video’s adversary and obsession, infusing the work with mischievous,
fuzzy logic and loose narrative connections. Neff makes multiple trips
to Manhattan from his home in Chicago: to screen his feature-length
Tony Greene Movie (2014–16), to celebrate his boyfriend’s birthday, and
to visit Artists Space. The Manhattan is enjoyed by conceptual artist
Tom Marioni, whom Neff interviews, and provides the graphic for the
weekly meetings that Marioni hosts in his studio, known as the Society
of Independent Artists. Marioni’s artwork The Act of Drinking Beer With
Friends is the Highest Form of Art (1973–) emerges as a clear influence.
For Neff, and by association his subjects, the social codes of drinking
exist both in opposition to and extension of artistic production in its
professional mode. The artist’s inquisitive, relational approach finds
its antinomic form in Two Comparisons (1998/2018). In this, originally
exhibited at Chicago’s L.A.R.C. in 1998, the gallery’s walls and windows
are treated with different types of commercially available white paint and
window cleaner, which provides a parallel between the artist and the
figure of a contractor, and a nuanced study into neutrality and difference.
Likewise evading a normative approach to object making, Coop Fund
proposes to develop an experimental funding platform that accumulates
financial resources through member subscriptions and redistributes funds
to artists through a cooperative decision-making process. Established this
year, and tracing its origins to a series of discussions held at Artists Space
in early 2017, the organization’s founding members are Emma Hedditch,
Lydia Okrent, and Elsa Brown.
Specifically, Coop Fund encourages needs-based proposals from
individuals who require living costs to support and formalize collaborative
work. It reflects a belief that personal and collective concerns are
interrelated, and that cultural funding should be structured accordingly.
Collaborative work is often inadequately remunerated in the arts, and
collectives are made to compete for fixed sums that must be divided
between multiple members, while the living costs of artists are rarely
accounted for. The members of Coop Fund have produced a booklet,
presented in the gallery, which details information related to the project.
Coop Fund presupposes an innate, tentative friction toward the nonprofit
sector—inclusive of “alternative” entities such as Artists Space. Though
outwardly progressive, these spaces tend to obscure the systemic
tax avoidance that is endemic to the development of the 501(c)(3)
status in the U.S., and justify an absence of public investment in social
infrastructure. Likewise concerned with the movement of resources
away from existing institutional structures and into other areas is Devin
Kenny’s contribution to the exhibition. Provocatively collapsing critiques
of the nonprofit sector with those of the prison-industrial complex, Kenny
utilizes Artists Space as the site for a computer that mines cryptocurrency
to be converted into US dollars and donated to bail funds.
Bail is a system that acutely impacts lower-income communities, and in
so doing highlights stark social inequities across lines of race and class.
New York-based nonprofit publishing platform The New Inquiry launched
the app Bail Bloc in November 2017, to pool the spare processing power
of a network of personal computers to mine cryptocurrency to be passed
on to bail funds through grassroots organizations such as The Bronx
Freedom Fund. Collaborating with the Dark Inquiry collective, the creators
of the app, Kenny has dedicated a Bitmain Antminer S7 computer solely
to this process. Kenny’s work challenges the social function of the
institution, manifesting its potential to intersect with the interests and
needs of a wide range of communities. The amount generated by the
miner, however, can be expected to be far less than, for example, the
exhibition budget itself, manifesting a probing skepticism toward the
reach of social and racial justice work when positioned within the current
economy of artistic production in a city such as New York.
Other works by Kenny in the exhibition include Not This Featuring Brian
Encinia, Betty Shelby, Jason Stockley, Peter Liang and Jeronimo Yanez, a
spectrographic video that features the rap song “Not This” by the artist’s
musical alias Devin KKenny, with production and additional vocals by
Vyle. This serves as a scathing indictment of a legal system that thrives
upon anti-Blackness, and that sees police, such as those named in the
song’s title credits, walk free even after being accused of murdering
Black people. A barbecue—produced by Alabama Joe, who turns oil
drums into grills with which he hosts free cookouts in Brooklyn—has
been reconfigured by the artist into a Faraday cage, a device made of
an electrically conductive material that can block electromagnetic fields
and signals in order to secure drives containing sensitive data. Kenny’s
work arrives through his dexterity with various technical languages,
giving multiple perspectives into the latent social and economic anxieties
of the militarized information age, and foregrounding a Black vernacular
creativity that occurs in jubilant counterpoise to systemic racial inequities.
Many of the exhibition’s works behave as models: in the sense of
material propositions that literalize the mechanism that they illustrate,
and as metaphorical or rhetorical examples of how art can break beyond
normative dynamics of author and interpreter, and of artist and viewer.
Amalle Dublon & Constantina Zavitsanos contribute a series of video and
sound works that are installed alongside a Mach-Zehnder interferometer
they built to demonstrate the Quantum Eraser experiment of 1999.
The outcome of this experiment depends on whether it is measured
or observed (even when the observation occurs after the outcome in
question). This asserts questions of indeterminacy that have resonated
across numerous disciplines. Yet Dublon & Zavitsanos’ work makes
a powerful rejoinder to the epistemological uncertainty that might
follow within a traditional postmodern framework. They suggest that
an idea of dependency is embedded in the concept of entanglement.
This is because, even when they seem spatially dissociated, particles in
quantum entanglement can never be described separately from each
other, and must always be understood to bond as a system. For Dublon &
Zavitsanos, this has important implications upon their ongoing study into
care, debt, and nonlinear temporality.
Dublon & Zavitsanos’ a composition of waters (adjusted to fit) (2018)
depicts the compression of an experiment and a ritual undertaken by the
artists with a ripple tank. Recorded at the artists’ home, this is presented
as a video which has been paused for the duration of the exhibition due
to concerns about access (the video can be viewed upon request). Each
of the artists in the exhibition has in different ways embraced a pluralistic,
process-based approach to artistic production, prompting critically
unresolved questions regarding the aesthetic and social responsibilities of
artist and art institution. Projections occur throughout in a psychological
and material sense, formulating an engagement with the implications of
both presence and shadow. While often making decisive interventions
on the level of system and structure, each artist remains nonetheless
concerned with activating their investigations through methods of
abstraction and play, to obscure processes as much as to reveal them.
This exhibition follows a series of internal conversations and workshops
held between the staff of Artists Space and the five exhibiting artists
in early 2017, at a time when Artists Space was without an Executive
Director. Called Authorization Sessions—the title a reference to live
recording and to psychoanalytical investigation—this work was driven
by the staff’s desire to interrogate the institution’s organizational
arrangements, and to reorient and invent anew its practices. It was
undertaken with the directive for artists to prioritize personal interests
and methodologies as an attempt was made to provide periods of time
where artists could steer the internal organizational and creative working
practices of Artists Space, breaking with assumptions around authority
and authorship. When there is no institutional leader, the authority has
to go somewhere, but where? What ways of working might be opened
up by these conditions? The ambiguity of the initial proposal inevitably
provoked as many problems as advantages, but the work undertaken
created intimate ties between the artists and organization, as well as
between the group of artists themselves. While some of the artists index
their respective contributions to these conversations, this exhibition is
organized as a second, distinct phase of work.
Text via Artists Space