Curator Dalaeja Foreman’s recent interventions

'Speak Out' -exhibition installation view.

Dalaeja Foreman is a curator, community organizer, first generation Caribbean-American and Brooklyn native. Her curatorial practice seeks to combat misconceptions of oppressed people and resistance through direct action, cultural esteem and the arts. She is a graduate from the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dalaeja is also alumni of No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab 2015. In January-February 2016, she co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for the BronxArtSpace. The exhibition addressed legacies of injustice and practices of institutional racism, offering alternative views and acts of empowerment for the artist in their communities, creating realities that affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for The Bronx Art Space. Could you tell about the roots for establishing that collaboration?

Dalaeja Foreman: That I have! Alongside Linda Cunningham and Eva Mayhabal Davis.

After working with her on a No Longer Empty curatorial fellowship exhibition, Linda (Director of BronxArtSpace) asked me if I would be interested in co-curating an exhibition she was conceptualizing. An exhibition about institutionalized racism, as a white woman, Linda did not feel as though this was an exhibition she should be curating without the voice of a person of color (A decision I respected and cherished deeply, giving me the assurance of her allyship ). After meeting with one another and having a long conversation about the significance of this discourse she told me she would give me curatorial license over the exhibition and asked if I would want to work with anyone. I suggested we work with another No Longer Empty fellow, Eva Mayhabal Davis.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The concept had several outcomes as art works, performances, and community events. Could you tell how it all came together and succeed?

Dalaeja: The exhibition was submission based, inspired by the Respond exhibition at Smack Mellon Gallery. Linda selected a panel of artists (including Eva and I) to review the 80+ submissions. Once we selected the works,  Eva and I thought very thoroughly about the themes and counter themes in each selected work and put them in conversations with one another accordingly. We decided it would be best to give extended labels to the works to give our audience as much contextual knowledge as possible. Since the Mott Haven area of the Bronx is heavily Spanish speaking, we also provided the labels in Spanish.

As a strong believer in activating art spaces for radical acts, I wanted to be sure the exhibition had as many programs that responded to the many intersections of racism in our society as our capacity could handle. These themes varied from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the celebration and use of black love and Black Girl Magic as a radical acts.

'Speak Out' -exhibition poster in Bronx Art Space #blacklivesmatter
Illustration by Rafael Melendez

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How was your experience in Bronx, in comparison to Brooklyn, where you are from?

Dalaeja: Aside from being a Curator and Arts administrator, I am a first generation Caribbean-American, community organizer and Brooklyn Native. As an organizer, I have done a considerable amount of work around the mass-displacement of working-class communities (most often communities of color) in Brooklyn. Sadly, Art has been used as as a catalyst for what I consider the cultural erasure of my native borough.

I see the arts as yet another tool for social change, and art has been used historically to work as ancillary support for communities of color. Whether it be thru healing or practical solutions for community issues. Although this is a truth for Brooklyn’s artistic history, I feel as though this concept has been stronger in Bronx history due to the many ways State and city institutions have historically neglected Bronx county.

Artists can use their talents for exposing truth for the benefit of their communities and this seems to be particularly weaved into the fabric of the artistic history of the Bronx. A history I have incredible respect for, that continues on.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How important was the role of social media in creating networks, and establishing new audiences?

Dalaeja: Eva is more of the social media wiz. I was more concerned about the ways in which we could ensure the community members knew about the exhibition and we’re involved in our programming. This outreach included, working with the BronxArtSpace interns to outreach to local high schools, doing physical flying for the exhibition, dropping flyers off at local bodegas and restaurants. As well as dropping information of at local libraries and speaking/building relationships with community members. Some of whom were artists in the exhibition, which made me soon happy!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your ideal audience for the art?

Dalaeja: Since I truly see art as a tool for inspiring radical action, my ideal audience is always working-class people (some of whom also happen to be artists and art enthusiast). Especially in the case of the ‘Speak Out’ exhibition because, it took place in a working class community. If these spaces aren’t intended for their own communities, why should they exist there? This is a concept Linda truly understands which is yet another reason I LOVE working with her.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in coming to curating arts?

Dalaeja: I began working in the arts as a part-time Gallery Assistant at the Milk Gallery then began working as an exhibition manager for a small gallery that specialized in 20th and 21st century counter-cultural ephemera (say that 10 times fast. bahaha). This experience helped me realize the significance the arts have had on social movements of the past and inspired me to pursue curation.  I began taking online course with Node Center to learn more. After the gallery lost funding and I lost my job I decided to use the little bit of money I had saved to invest in my interest and started applying for fellowship programs. After my incredible experience with the No Longer Empty fellowship, I decided this is surly a way I could use my interest in the arts pragmatically to help plant the psychological seeds for social change. I still have so much to learn to pursue my practice as radically and community-collaboratively as I can, and am currently a Create Change Fellow with the INCREDIBLE Laundromat Project.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you education support your current directions and help you to develop your vision?

Dalaeja: I studied Visual Presentation and Exhibition design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, this experience helped me truly understand my love of space and it’s possibilities. I minored in International politics which further introduced me to the ways in which politics (on a community level) and exhibitions/display can merge. Most of my curatorial focused knowledge has been from lived experience, work experience and continuing education programs. As a lover of knowledge, I am interested in perusing a Masters degree in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Africa and Asia.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop your curatorial concepts, is there a phase of writing or visualizing things in a specific manner, or talking?

Dalaeja: It is a bit of all of those things. I am a ranter by nature so that really helps with getting concepts across that I believe are worth exploring.

Often I am inspired by the political education meetings with the organization I am a part of (The People Power Movement) as well as my friends and family members. Or I may have a design concept in mind that I think is worth collaborating with artists one. BUT most importantly, I am inspired by the Art work and the concepts that artist is exploring.

Dalaeja Foreman at the 'Speak Out' exhibition.
Dalaeja Foreman (right), at the ‘Speak Out’ -exhibition. Photos: Alex Seel. Courtesy of Order Vision Productions for Bronx Art Space.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think is a role of a curator in society in large, in other words, how do you think the micro ideas meet the macro levels?

I believe Curators have a powerful platform, giving us the ability to work with artists and communities to push narratives into the mainstream consciousness. These narratives can help people critically think and sympathize deeply about concepts in which they weren’t even aware of. This is a responsibility of utmost importance, one with the opportunity to empower a community, a people and a generation. -Dalaeja Foreman

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your political activism has a mind of a movement, in which people power takes a different stance. Does New York City represent a special place for activism to you?

Dalaeja: New York City means a great deal to me in regards to activism, but that is because it is the only place I’ve ever known as home. Although a wide array of injustices are happening in my city, they are also happening everywhere in the country. A political revolution could be sparked anywhere at anytime, the important thing is that we support one another’s actions and grow together using people power and a thirst or justice as our binding force toward a political system that works for the majority.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have favorite art forms, or is the medium secondary to other things that matter?

Dalaeja: I do, I love sculpture and painting, textured art objects and photographs. I’m trying to challenge myself to work more with performing artists since it’s not my go-to. However, content that compliments aesthetics and artistic merit (according to my opinion of those concepts) are of most importance.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you identify and experience yourself as a black woman art professional in NYC art community, or does that resonate in a professional level to you personally? 

Dalaeja: My Black woman experience is at the forefront of all of my experiences because it is the only lens in which I can see the world and is often the most determining lens in which the world sees me.  With that being said, as a young arts professional I believe it is my duty to ensure that people who are marginalized (like myself) demand their voices heard in institution that effect our lived experiences. Whether they be our schools, museums or workplaces. And MOST IMPORTANTLY create our own institutions that work for us from conception onward.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your next dream of consciousness, where are you heading to collaborate next?

Dalaeja: As an Art Administrator in the Bronx, I am really excited to learn more about what artists are and have been doing in the borough and figuring out how I can best support them and the communities they collaborate with. As well as, continuing and improving my organizing and hopefully trying to figure out some more schooling while doing all of that (inside and outside the education institutions).

Dalaeja Foreman’s website: http://www.dalaeja.co/

Leah Oates in spotlight: artist, curator, gallerist

A woman to watch now in the art world is an artist with multiple roles. Leah Oates runs her own art gallery Station Independent Projects in New York’s Lower East Side. In the interview she sheds light on how she found her path. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your photography reflects multiple textures, showing light, contrast, opening up to magical worlds, how did you find your own medium?

Leah Oates: I started as a painter and printmaker, and I still see the influence of both in my current work with the layering and density of color and light. The common thread with my past work in other medias was always photography as I painted and printed from photographs but in the past I saw the photos I took at support materials or documentation. At some point I realized that the photography was the main and most continuous thread in my work so transitioned to how I work now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel that memories, or where you come from resonates in your art?  Your works have been also exhibited overseas, how was the experience in China, for instance?

LO: Where I was raised and my specific family definitely connects to my current work. My grandmother is a biologist who studied at Harvard and one of my uncles worked for the Environmental Protection Agency (he is now a private consultant on environmental issues) and another worked for the Army Corp of Engineers. Thus there was a lot of dialogue about the environment, nature, human rights and politics.

My mom, brother and grandmother are painters and my grandfather was a painter and photographer who ran a photo studio when he was young taking family, wedding and baby photos. He later became a real estate lawyer with a big Irish Catholic brood of six kids including my dad Danny who was a writer and carpenter. I have an uncle who is a successful ceramic artist in Maine and an aunt who is a glass artist in Massachusetts.

This mix very much informed my work as well as growing up in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts and in rural town in Sanford, Maine where my family goes back in both states to the 1600s.

Being and working in China was amazing. We all absolutely loved it there from the street culture to the food to the parks to the incredible energy there. It was wonderful to photograph there and yes its polluted and yes it can be messy but the light is wonderful and the people are friendly, sweet and almost old fashioned. We would go back in a heartbeat.

With China I had a lot of reverence for their history beyond Mao and the revolution etc. China is an ancient place and much older than the US or Europe with so much amazing history. China is a work in progress and like all places has things to work on but it’s a really vibrant, alive and interesting place.

My work there dealt with the changes happening in the culture related to climate change, random urban planning that is erasing local culture and customs and how nature reacts to all of this within a rapidly expanding urban setting.

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Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you describe in few words how did your road lead to New York?

LO: My husband Pierre traveled to NYC on a few business trips and instantly loved the NYC. We where living in Chicago at the time and liked it but NYC is closer to both our families in New England and Canada and it has a thriving and large art community so we moved here when I finished up my MFA.  At first I was not sure about living in NYC for that long but gave it a try.

I began ironically to love NYC after September 11th as the city just melted ones heart. I saw how the city came together in a way I would not have imagined as you know normally is like ‘get outta my way’, or ‘move it fast’, on a daily basis here.  But the thing about New Yorkers is that in a crisis situation they have your back and this is what I learned about NYC that made me really fall for this city.

And the art community is the best I’ve experienced. People are energetic, they work hard and like to do so, are open to new things and they make things happen and quickly. It’s a hopping, creative, and no nonsense art city. Yes there is the regular nonsense you have in any city but things really get done here and in high volume and at top quality too.  You see the best here and yes the worst too but here we move so fast that there is no time for that stuff. It’s a very discerning crowd here.

 

I’ll give an example. Pierre, my husband has shot films in other cities and it always move so much slower than in NYC and he often hits walls initially either from unions or agents etc. In NYC it’s the total opposite where he finds what he needs easily and hears yes a lot! It gets done here without the baloney. Here it’s a YES lets do it mentality which I really like, and opens things potentially for innovation, creativity and hybrids. I now cannot conceive of living anywhere else, and I’m now head over heals in love with this city.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s quite easy to imagine that last few years have been truly busy in leading your own art space. How do you feel the transition has been in terms of becoming a gallerist?

LO: I love running a gallery, and working with my artists to plan their shows.  I’m really happy about the quality of the shows, level of press and number of curator visits and attention that the gallery shows have received and sales have been good.

It’s been an amazing experience all around. The first few months when I initially opened where very exciting and there was a bit of anxiety about how it would impact our family. Mainly it was our son Max who wanted his mom to be around 24/7 but he really got behind the gallery when he saw the space and saw that it made me happy. He even wanted to serve drinks and where a suit which was so cute! There has been a good balance between family, the gallery and my studio practice for quite some time now so it all good.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle> What is your secret in balancing between different roles in the art world?

LO: Most artists or art professionals have jobs so it’s the norm in most cases unless you’re very rich.

A quote I like is ‘A good artist studies art and a great artist studies everything’. My dream is to be an artist, curator and gallerist, so I’ve followed this to see where it leads. It’s an interesting and rich journey that is worth taking. What I’ve learned too is to plan out the week and get the work done. Just do it and don’t think too much about it. Get your self into studio and get working as through the work interesting stuff happens and if your not there it’s less likely to happen. The same goes for running the gallery.

Additionally, trust yourself and go for it, plan strategically and it’s ok to say no, rest when needed and spend time with those that make you feel good and even better loved.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have also featured artists in the art fairs; do you find attending art fairs rewarding?

LO: The gallery participated in Pulse NY last year and it went really well with sales and press, work placed in a corporate collection and several private collections and so much great feedback and contacts. It was a complete buzz and reinforced that the gallery artists and program was as good as I thought it was. People who visited our booth loved it and where so positive. But with all of this great stuff we only broke even and fairs are expensive to do. But they are now so much a part of the art world that it’s a must to do them as a gallery and again I think it best to be strategic with this and keep to a budget. I have only good thing to say about Pulse from a gallery perspective. This fair is run very professionally and everyone is super nice and efficient. Everything they promised they delivered on.

As an artist I’m not a huge fan of fairs overall but I do love Pulse, Spring Break and The Independent art fairs. They are so different as fairs but seem to push the dialogue forward and are visually interesting.

As an artist at fairs I like running into so many people and taking about art but think that fairs can be too formulaic and favor art that is easy to process with too much surface and not enough depth.  As an artist I think fairs are a survey of trends, are about status and art world hierarchy and not so much about art or pushing the dialogue ahead. But again as a gallerist, curator or as an artist participating in a fair you have to do it as it’s for the potential for so much attention in a short period of time and in a condensed fashion.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is very delighting that Station Independent features Finnish artists. Could you tell in few words about the Finnish collaborations that are coming up this summer?

LO: Yes I’m pleased that the gallery will be hosting two guest curated shows this summer by Ilari Laamanen and Leena-Maija Rossi both from Finnish Cultural Institute.

Ilari has curated a group show of Finnish artists called  ‘The Powers That Be’ which is on view from July 17-August 9th. This show is part of FCINY’s 25th Anniversary year’s program on Urban Nature and explores human’s relationship to the environment.

Rossi has curated a two person show that explores shifting ideas on dwellings in urban space called  ‘(Un)livable’ with work by Kari Soinio and Janet Biggs which opens August 13th and is on view through September 6th.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you define your own curatorial motto?

LO: My curatorial motto is to not follow trends but to follow art and artists. I’ve been following the gallery artists from between 5-25 years. Also, it’s important to love the work your showing and to choose work based on its merits and not on if it’s easy to sell. It’s all about the artwork itself and about dialogues about art within a larger context of the past, present and future.

***

The gallery and artist websites:

www.stationindependent.com
www.leahoates.com

Artist spotlight: Johanna Tuukkanen, The Outstanding performer

I interviewed Johanna Tuukkanen, who is currently preparing her PhD in art education and cultural policy. She is a well-known curator and art-maker herself, and the Artistic Director of ANTI festival based in Finland’s Kuopio. This week, January 30, 2015, she will also have a premiere of a new work Panopticon together with her colleague, choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula in Oulu, which is a vibrant capital in Northern Finland. Their new multidisciplinary work will articulate a hot topic of women’s ‘controlled bodies’, as they are often portrayed in fashion industry and magazines, taking a theme of aesthetic violence in relation to women’s bodies as a starting point in their performance. Simultaneously, their performance asks, are we allowed to mock this phenomenon, and even make fun of it in the arts? Johanna Tuukkanen has been making noise with her performance art for good 15 years now, highlighting women’s bodies in her performances many times before.

Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Johanna, I have known you from the early 2000s onwards. It seems that there has been a lot of currency exchange around your artistry since that time. Finnish art scene, I believe, has also developed and changed during the past 15 years. Could you highlight in a nutshell, how did the 21-century look so far in the art world from your personal point of view? What are your greatest pros and cons in the field as a participant with so many roles?

Johanna Tuukkanen: You are right, things really have changed! After studying performance and new dance in the Netherlands and Germany in 1990s, I moved back to Finland in 1997. In terms of the art scene, it was a kind of culture shock for me and it definitely took some time to find my way around it. From very early on, I found myself thinking how else I could make a difference in the arts other than working just as an artist.

Since then, I do see and have also personally experienced that the field has expanded greatly, it has opened and it is accepted – not totally but more and more – that for example in the field of dance, there are multiple traditions from which an artistic practice can stem from, not only one or two. Also the growing interest in site-specifity, a kind of ‘trend’, has resulted in other kinds of expansions and effected how a cultural production organization whether a museum, a theatre, a festival or a freelance collective might operate. Currently I’m thinking a lot about the concept of social in the arts as many artists are producing socially engaged works in collectives and communities where the artist is not the central point of the work but the interest in a process, in shared authorship, in participation and dialogue…

As a participant in the field, I feel that there are several communities in the art world where one can find a kind of ideological home and vast amount of possibilities. Yet, at the same time, although we do have some rather brave funding bodies, generally speaking our funding structures have not been able to develop in line with the field – thinking especially the amount of work that it produced by the freelance artists and companies in comparison with the institutions established in the 70s.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are known as a hardcore doer, and as a hands on professional when it comes to performance and to its management, to your curator’s role as well, and to a founder of a successful art-festival. Where lies the secret behind it all, how do you manage all your roles, or your doings, and don’t get burned-out at the same time? You seem to be shining.

JT: Wow, thank you! I don’t really see myself that way… But yes, to say that I’m a doer is perhaps a good way to put it. I suppose I’ve been interested in many things and just started doing them, rather naively sometimes. I’ve not been waiting around for someone else to do the work but really dug my hands into stuff, working beyond my comfort zones, not counting hours… I can’t recommend it to anyone! To be enthusiastic, to get excited is a great energy and force also. For me doing different things is also very energizing, things feed off each other and I never feel that ‘I’m doing the same job’. Maybe also because I’m not a very organized person!

But to be honest, time management is a big issue for me. I’m a very work oriented person and I have to actively work on prioritizing time for my family and friends and my own well-being. But I do do it! These days I prioritize regular exercise, try to eat well and sleep enough. I try to have one day off every week but if it’s not possible, I’ll make up for it by taking extended weekends off or mini holidays.

I’m lucky to be working for organizations and things I really believe in and I feel connected to and supported by an international community. I’ve also managed to organize my life so that I live with my lovely family in a beautiful house where I can enjoy everyday aesthetics, quietness, the Finnish lake landscape, the forest and an amazing sauna.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I associate you strongly with ANTI Contemporary Art Festival. How did this idea come forth, and develop into an international success story?

JT: This is a long story but to put it short, I was working in the Regional Arts Council of North Savo at that time and with my regional artist colleague we wanted to create a new, international multidisciplinary contemporary art festival in Kuopio, to create international networking opportunities for local artists and to active the city and different sites in Kuopio through art. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, it was a real experiment! But already since the first festival, there was a lot of international interest and the festival was a great success. The networks I’d started building in the early 2000 were crucial for our international growth and reputation and of course artists themselves are great messengers of a quality festival. I’ve personally always thought that international networking is very important and for me it has also set the standards how to run a festival. But I suppose the most important thing is that ANTI has a unique concept and in fact, it’s also modelled in different parts of the world. This all has taken an enormous amount of work and I’m grateful for the wonderful individuals who have worked for the festival over the years.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I admire your knowledge on the performance field, internationally you seem to have a network of artists that resonate with your own way of working. Was it organic to find collaborators accross the country borders?

 JT:  Yes, it all has happened very organically. ANTI has also been a partner in two European projects and it has been a great gift and learning process to collaborate with international live art curators and festival directors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland is getting a Dance House finally, how did the miracle happen?

 JT: Well, I’m extremely happy to be working for the Dance House but the background work with the private funding bodies was done and negotiated before I even started so I can’t take any credit for it. The Dance House initiative is very lucky to have a fantastic project manager, Hanna-Mari Peltomäki, but also the time was right – the Finnish dance sector was ready, the private funding partners were ready and lots work was done in a rather short amount of time.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does living and working in Finland mean to you? Where else in the world would you imagine to live?

JT:  Living in Finland and outside the Helsinki area has been a very conscious cultural political choice for me. I’ve wanted to show that great art can be made anywhere and it is really crucial to have artists and cultural professional working and making an impact in different regions. These days, especially with digitalisation and good connections, I don’t really think it matters so much where you live.

But in recent years, as my children are getting older and as I want to find new professional challenges, I’ve become open to other options as well. Like I said earlier, I’m very work oriented so it’s probably work that will take me somewhere… There many places I could imagine living i.e. Australia and Denmark. But where ever I’d go, my work has to be meaningful. I can’t really imagine moving somewhere for the sake of the place or city.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next, any specific plans for the future?

JT: Good question. I’m open and up for new challenges. I completed an MA in Cultural Policy last year and enjoyed that process greatly. What a luxury to deepen one’s knowledge and expertise! I’m the beginning of my PhD so probably for the next years I will be juggling my time between the Dance House, ANTI Festival and my research…unless something totally unexpected happens. Which of course is very likely in this life.

Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon-premiere, Jan 30, 2015. Photo: Pekka Mäkinen

Fashion Curating: Unsustainability, gender and class readdressed

Fashion Interactions is a multidisciplinary exhibition that explores fashion culture by means of contemporary art, design and media. The exhibited works comment, on the unsustainability of the fashion industry, analyze the relationship of fashion and corporeality, and investigate how people use clothing as a tool for building identities. The exhibition is Curated by Annamari Vänskä & Hazel Clark and it presents works from: Federico Cabrera, Heidi Lunabba, Jasmin Mishima, Anna Mustonen, Nutty Tarts, Timo Rissanen, Salla Salin, Heidi Soidinsalo, Saara Töyrylä and Timo Wright. This exhibition opens on Friday November 15, 2013 in New York City. It is a collaboration with Parsons The New School for Design and the SheilaC. Johnson Design Center, Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, and the Centre for Fashion Studies (Stockholm University).

Image 

(Fashion Interactions-exhibition, Timo Wright-‘un fit’ video still)

FASHION CURATING NOW is a daylong symposium at Parsons The New School for Design on Saturday November 16 9:30 am-5 pm. The symposium reflects the subjects around the Fashion Interactions exhibition focusing on the possibilities and challenges of contemporary fashion curating on a global scale. Critical points of view are stressed, as is contemplation of fashion’s kinship with art, design, industry, performance, and self-presentation. I asked a few questions from Leena-Maija Rossi, who is the Executive Director of Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, about the seminar and other related topics. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you explain the background of the seminar?

L-M Rossi: The background of the Fashion Curating Now is in the exhibition project Fashion Interactions. It has its origins in the show Boutique, curated by Annamari Vänskä, which was part of Helsinki’s World Design Capital year in 2012. Finnish Cultural Institute wanted to bring a new edition of the show to New York and partnered with Parsons New School for Design in order to do that. The process of “re-curating” an already existing exhibition made us think of curating fashion at large: how to present fashion in an interesting way “outside the  market”? How to make engaging exhibitions on fashion, how to show its entwinement with fine art, how to find new fora for curating, e. g., in the new media? How to make visible the political aspects of fashion?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finnish fashion and design have gained more international visibility, creating their own trends as well, how do you see current research field is following trends from the industry?

L-M Rossi: I see fashion research as a developing and dynamic field, especially when it connects with studies on class and consumerism, and, of course, studies of gender and sexuality. I do not know if the task for the research is to follow the trends, I rather see research as a field for critical interventions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In Finland, it seems that industries have also been able to point to cultural questions, what do you see as current research themes coming from the field/industries themselves?

L-M Rossi: Sustainability is of course a timely research theme, and the way it intersects with the issue of class. I am also really interested in the potentiality of queer fashion research, and I would really like to see more analysis on gender nonconformity, not so much of equaling queer with identity categories.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Yourself, you have written about advertising, media, gender representations/performance-related, in the contemporary visual culture. What do you see this global exchange is giving to these themes?

L-M Rossi: I think fashion is a crucial part of visual culture at large, especially because of its border-crossing nature. Gender is being profoundly done by people’s choices of dressing up and wearing their clothes, and these choices are, again, influenced by advertising. So one could say that the fields of fashion and advertising are constantly participating in the global processes of doing and undoing gender.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How well or how do Finnish fashion industries communicate globally? How do you see the branding, would it be more individual voices than a canon etc.?

L-M Rossi: It seems that many Finnish designers communicate quite naturally in the international field of fashion. Like visual artists, I think they first and foremost present their individual voices; it is very difficult to build a uniform “brand.” But then again, many seem to be thinking of such issues as high quality materials and sustainability. 

 Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Art, fashion, design: How would you speed-describe these together?

 L-M Rossi: Fashion and design are artforms, fashion is an interesting field within design. All of them make difference in everyday life.  

 Image

(Fashion Interactions-exhibition, Nutty Tarts & Heidi Lunabba) 

/// INFO: FASHION INTERACTIONS ///

Fashion Interactions-Exhibition

Opening: Friday November 15, 6pm – 9pm

November 11 – December 13, 2013

Open daily 12pm – 6pm

Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center

Parsons The New School for Design

66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, New York

The exhibition is supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, Frame Visual Art Finland and Consulate General of Finland in New York.

   /// FASHION CURATING NOW ///
Symposium, Saturday November 16, 9:30am – 5:00pm

David Schwartz Fashion Education
Parsons The New School for Design
560 Seventh Avenue at 40th Street
New York

Finnish Cultural Institute in New York Facebook.

http://www.ficultureny.org/node/330

http://www.newschool.edu/sjdc

Leevi Haapala discusses with Axel Straschnoy (2011)

Curator and art researcher Leevi Haapala (Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki), and a friend visited New York in 2011. We sipped cocktails, walked and talked. The global art scene, environment, artist-stories, what was going on in the world; inspired our conversation. Leevi was after a bunch of creative ideas. My thought was to start a blog as a platform, where to reflect what it means to be global and to stay attentive to different cultures. During the time of starting FIRSTINDIGO&LIFESTYLE, many changes had taken place in New York City. The first post was published on September 11, 2011, which was the 10 year anniversary of the tragic attack. It was all over the media, people were talking about it, artists were discussing it. The ‘darkness’ was still touching and moving. Yet, there was an opposite force as a new kind of optimism that was even more dazzling. The city was creating new urban plans. The High Line was only one example of the greener thinking.

This is to 2-year-old blog, which will feature more voices in the future. It wishes to bridge gaps between distances, worlds, body parts, artists, adventures, thinkers, beautiful minds.. Happy Fall!

Below is a link to a video where Leevi discusses with Axel Straschnoy, a visual artist (born in Buenos Aires, lives in Helsinki), who held his exhibition BOXES at the MUU gallery in Helsinki in October 2011. The themes were so timely. Enjoy!

Interview between Leevi Haapala and Axel Straschnoy from Axel Straschnoy on Vimeo.

What is a virtual feminist museum?

Griselda Pollock’s writes in her Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive (Routledge, 2007), about the choice and power, as well as about alternative views in the curating of art.

Spring time is full of art showings. Some of the contemporary art events used ideas that were earlier introduced. Current mixing of concepts and art are already well established. Where is art actually taking place, is it the person performing it, is it in unique details, or is art a social phenomenon, or is it in your subconscious? Looking into Griselda Pollock’s view on curating offers some interesting insights.

Would art galleries be any different than museums from the perspective of power? In case there would be no space for alternative voices in the museums, would ‘officially’ curated galleries be any different? What Pollock implies is that ‘reading against the grain’ is much more than just aesthetical choices. Virtual feminist museum needs to touch silenced territories. Whose story will be told in the future is important. But we choose to follow the path of retelling the same ‘official’ stories.

I just learned about an art project, which would fall into a category of ‘alternative’ curating. After all, writing about works in a more positive light, using the power of choice, and overall, rethinking the ethical parameters in actual processes, is crucial for this type of curating. Who gets to participate in a biennale, for instance?

I found some answers from Estonia. The contemporary art movement called Artishok was established in 2008 in Tallinn. It was initiated by a group of young voices who wanted to “scatter clusters of symbolic capital and status quo”. They were ten young artists, ten young critics, and ten exhibition days, showing new works with critical reviews that opened new works each day. Multiple tastes, philosophies and world views were the key words in the project, which aimed to do something around the exhibition experience as well.

“Artishok Biennale is an experimental exhibition format that was brought to life by art and criticism…”  (http://artishok.blogspot.com) The next, 3rd in a series, Artishok Biennale will take place in October 10th-20th 2012 in Contemporary Museum of Art of Estonia in Tallinn. The biennale aims to bring X young Baltic and Scandinavian writers to promote X young Estonian artists. This will happen in a moment, where Estonian art world “is struggling for the preservation of the most basic functions”… (III Artishok Biennale will be supported by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

Artishok seems to offer ideas for alternative curating. How would the project do something that relates to a virtual feminist museum?

Griselda Pollock states that “The dominant social and economic power relations that govern the museum make feminist analysis impossible” (2007, pg. 9). She further adds that “The museum in contemporary society is increasingly bounded into the circuits of capital between entertainment, tourism, heritage, commercial sponsorship and investment” (pg.10).

So, can this rhetoric be changes in establishing something like the Estonian biennale?

Art criticism is a tricky institution, and it needs to re-evaluate itself together with the artists. What is truly at stake today is that criticism still has a powerful voice in creating the future for the arts.  The mission statement of the Artishok Biennale is collaborative, as both the artists and writers can be at home “within the ever changing landscape of contemporary art”. What is so great about Artishok is that it has taken the art criticism seriously. It has created reading groups, interviewed renowned professionals from around the world, and brought professional circles and the media together. Artishok has also touched upon the idea of the exhibition spaces. The first two biennales were exhibiting in white and cubic city galleries. The 3rd biennale will take place in Contemporary Museum of Art. The group sees that the art museum is a positive space, because as a young institution the Estonian museum is ambitious and interested in experiments.

Coming back to the virtual feminist museum. This blog writing showcases one photograph, which is empowered by a writer of this blog. Her writer name is Firstindigo. In the picture she is looking at her camera, which is her documenting device. She also admirably pretends to hold her defined notes of the documented art. But in fact, this might be completely false. It is rather implied that she holds an art museum program or the museum floor map in her hand. The fact is insignificant in the picture. The location is Philadelphia Museum of Art. The sculpture in the picture matters: Diana was made in America in 1892-94 by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was born in Ireland.

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{Addition to this article by Liisa Kaljula from Artishok comments on March 21, 2012}:

So nice to read your contemplations on alternative curating and also that you merge it with feminist theory! Some little remarks though on the purely factual: Artishok was founded in 2006 as a platform for different activities on art and criticism, but mainly as an art criticism blog, 2008 it started with Artishok Biennale. The founding formula of the biennale was that there had to be ten artists and ten critics involved in the exhibition each time. The rest has been up to the changing curator. This time instead of one person picking the participants, I wanted to let the critics choose, and for that to make sense, they had to be with as different backgrounds and agendas as possible. So this is why there are critics who are into queer theory and feminism, phenomenology, self-mythology, modernism, video games, sculpture and installation, photography and so on. So basically these ten critics who all have different agendas pick ten artists – and they will all merge in the autumn as one big happy family, when each and every critic has to write about each and every artist.

Our memories and futures

Curator Leevi Haapala in Standard-hotel

This is the day when we remember New York, the city with wounds, the city with radiant sparkle that lost so much of its future potential in one day, or did it start re-doing it? Dissonances are present in our memories, yet, we also recognize what our new futures might hold. Future is in people, in environment, in their harmonious co-existence. We can leave positive traces behind us, traces of the sun, traces of our bodies, movements, designs planting new hope. Let me share some of the silence and noise of the future potential. Give it away to the architecture that is there. Walk the High Line and look around you, sip a fruity cocktail in the luxurious Standard…When you stroll, find your own stone, find a wooden structure.

I was walking ‘up’ the new High Line extension paying attention to the new park designs. As I went along, I was gladly absorbing a different atmosphere, I left the modernist and massive Standard behind me (believe me, I think it is fantastic), and stepped into a merely willowy landscape, which I would not exactly take for granted in the heart of New York City. It has to be admitted that ‘willows’ are trendy, the Northern atmosphere created in the city will attract people, and it surely took me by force. I wanted to go back, as when walking the new extension I felt that I could leave some of the city mayhem behind me.

Notably, Steven Holl Architects have been joining in the city plans with ecological dimension (in Helsinki, for instance), so the High Line also reflects this approach. Green trends are global.