Deconstructing the Self as Other

I had the amazing opportunity to work as the Interim Assistant Curator at BRIC in Brooklyn while the Assistant Curator, Jenny Gerow, was on maternity leave. Working with the team at BRIC and the VP of Contemporary Art, Elizabeth Ferrer, was one of my most treasured professional experiences to date.

While there, I spent most of my time working on the BRIC Biennial: Volume III, South Brooklyn Edition, which opened with a reception on Feb 6th, 2019 and will be on view through April 7, 2019 in BRIC’s main gallery at 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY. It is a diverse, evocative exhibition that I hope you will go visit, not only because I put a lot of time and love into the show, but because the art on view is truly amazing. All exhibitions at BRIC are free and open to the public, and the gallery hours are: Tues-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat & Sun 11am-5pm, closed on Mondays.

I was also asked to write an essay for the exhibition catalogue, copies of which are available and free at BRIC, and wanted to share that essay here along with some installation images of the show.

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Photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

In a period when political and social turmoil has reached nearly untenable levels, many artists have begun to look beyond how the individual shapes the world, to how the world acts on their sense of self. The influence of social constructs — be it gender, race, or sexuality — has increasingly become a point of critical examination as individuals work to understand and break down the institutionalized systems of control on personhood. Several of the artists brought together in the BRIC Biennial: Volume III, South Brooklyn Edition turn inward to question how ideologies and cultural “norms” have influenced their sense of self; how they have internalized these social constructs and come to reflect problematic systems of othering and categorization. Each artist explores this phenomenon through unexpected uses of familiar imagery, materials, and mythology.

Vera Iliatova focuses on the female psyche to build autobiographical moments involving mysterious characters. Inhabiting a dissociative environment, groups of girls seem at once listless and anxious. Iliatova’s scenes are ambiguous; we are uncertain if these characters are coming or going, lost or exploring. This precariousness is heightened by the unique surface texture created by the artist, through scraping and a visually complex layering of colors and technique. The symbolic femininity of her work is brought to the fore through the prevalence of flowers within the visual plane. While no clear vision of danger is visible, the anxiety produced by these enigmatic scenes and looming blossoms acts as a soft, romantic protest against the systemic misogyny of the assumed “frailty” of women.

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Vera Iliatova, Drift (2017), oil on canvas, 50 x 60 in., courtesy of the artist

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Yi Xin Tong and Rachel Klinghoffer (left to right) installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

Rachel Klinghoffer takes a more direct autobiographical approach in her densely composed sculptures. They resemble organic accumulations of forms; natural growths gone awry. However, upon closer inspection of the details, each work is revealed to be a documentation of a deeply personal self-portrait — everything that goes into making an individual from family to friends to shared culture. Her titles, including long lists of objects and materials comprising each work, read like a poem of quotidian life, the meaning of which is revealed through and embedded in small, otherwise inconsequential objects magically imbued with personal import. The sculptures tease with hints of kitsch, like the bric-a-brac on your mother’s vanity. All things personal are gathered and half hidden within these bright, organic forms, as if they are pulled directly from the artist’s memory, mined from the artificial sediment of nostalgia and forgetting. Klinghoffer’s abstract drawings, in contrast, act as open, atmospheric studies and stand as a foil for the complex sculptures.

Dale Williams explores the ways heroic figures influence and inspire our contemporary sense of self. The twelve portraits exhibited in the Biennial, selected from Williams’s Awareness Day Portraits series, depict a cultural or political figure who has shaped history and, in turn, the artist. Stepping away from his typical style, Williams drew realistic depictions of the figures to respect the full weight of their impact. Each portrait is accompanied by the subject’s name and, for some, a biographical descriptor in a unique, handwritten script. This series combines several elements Williams has explored throughout his career including drawing, book- making, and writing. The acutely personal, almost journal- like drawings and text accentuate how public figures and their deeds inspire individuals to higher states.

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Dale Williams installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

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Qiana Mestrich, Frost: Botanical I (detail) (2018), inkjet print on satin vellum paper, 12 x 19 in., courtesy of the artist

In contrast, Qiana Mestrich focuses on objects she encounters to think about personal identity and how it is shaped through cultural stereotypes and systemic processes of othering. In an earlier body of work, The Black Doll series, Mestrich examined constructs of “blackness” through found photographs of dolls of color. With this new series of digital prints on synthetic vellum, Notes on Whiteness, Mestrich, a first generation American of Panamanian and Croatian reflects on how she has felt the concept of “whiteness” materialize in the world. Every aspect of these photographs is deliberate: the objects she depicts touch upon ideals of beauty propagated for colonialist purposes; the synthetic vellum used to veil the objects and on which the image is printed maintains a distinct relation to skin; and the veiled, frosted view of the objects reflects the pervasive,  blanketing force of whiteness. The artist works through the complicated aspects of whiteness as an idea, with each photograph acting as an individual, related note.

Gustavo Prado explores ideas of surveillance, appropriation, and voyeurism as systems of control. In an increasingly digitized and data-driven world, our awareness of being constantly monitored and analyzed leads to curated virtual lives and self-censorship. In Martyr, Prado composed a triptych out of Legos; each panel presents an increasingly closer view of Saint Philip’s face based on Jusepe de Ribera’s 1639 painting, The Martyrdom of Saint Philip. Prado’s image-making is reminiscent of meme culture where found photographs are mined and manipulated, focusing on comic expressions and dramatic magnifications. Looking at the pained face of Saint Philip, pixelated by way of Legos, the artist suggests the cult-like devotion inherent in the endless cycle of social media and digital communities manifested through the relative innocence of the children’s toy from which it is built.

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Quay Quinn Wolf, Vera Iliatova, Gustavo Prado, and Eleanna Anagnos (left to right) installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

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Eleanna Anagnos and Qiana Mestrich (left to right) installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

Eleanna Anagnos takes a step back into the physical realm, working through mythologies instead of the logic-driven, information overload of the Internet. The sculptures Eos and Pollux are abstract, organic forms with familiar textures. Her materials’ similarity to the textures of bark and snakeskin hint at nature, but they overlay clearly built bodies, vacillating between born and constructed objects to examine our place alongside and within them. The works are unequivocally physical evocations of the way people perceive tactile traits without touch. This in turn is related to the conscious act of seeing and understanding the constructed environments that we inhabit. Pulling her subject matter from phenomenological reflection, Anagnos explores how the intellectual state of the self acts within the physiological state of the body.

Taking this a step further, Liz Collins explores the materiality of the built environments we inhabit. She employs fabric and textiles more often associated with fashion design, or craft to re-contextualize architectural structures into bright, tactile experiences. Collins asks the viewer to not just inhabit a structure, but to actively take part in it and understand the labor and wonder of creation. Often using performance to activate a space and expounding the creative and liberating potential of reuse and up-cycling, the artist creates installations that remind the viewer how the spaces we inhabit shape our identities and psyches.

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Yi Xin Tong, Liz Collins, Myeongsoo Kim, Laura Bernstein, Las Hermaans Iglesias, and Levan Mindiashvili (left to right) installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

About the BRIC Biennial (via BRIC’s website):

With the BRIC Biennial: Volume III, South Brooklyn Edition, BRIC continues to dedicate its Biennial to emerging and mid-career artists of exceptional creativity who are based in a specific region of Brooklyn, highlighting the significance of the borough as a place where artists create work and develop their careers.

This third iteration of the BRIC Biennial presents artists living and working in South Brooklyn—the archaic and nebulous term for that area of the borough including the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Gowanus, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge. This region of Brooklyn, which encompasses long-established residential neighborhoods, thriving industrial zones, and areas undergoing rapid gentrification, is also among the city’s most diverse, with thriving Latino and Asian communities in Sunset Park. The BRIC Biennial: Volume III includes partnerships with more venues and institutions than any before, with five satellite exhibitions in conjunction with the exhibition at locations across South Brooklyn, including at Green-Wood CemeteryLa BodegaNARS FoundationOrtega Y Gasset ProjectsTrestle Gallery, with a curated project by An/Other presented in the Project Room of BRIC House.

During this time of political turmoil, the 2019 BRIC Biennial offers a look at how artists envision “The Impossible Possible.” Rather than reflecting our current state of affairs, their work looks inward, whether reflecting the sphere of the personal or some alternate reality. Some artists create fantastical beings or environments, conjuring spaces beyond the here and now, whether to suggest utopian or dystopian ways of being. Others work with materials in unconventional ways as a means of rethinking gender and racial binaries, or to push against norms of painting and sculpture. Some look to remove themselves, to some degree, from the current social system, focusing instead on overlooked and undervalued communities and the values they embody. Throughout these strategies, these artists express the need to question the status quo, as they seek new models of working and existing outside of our current social and political system.

Artists featured in the exhibition at BRIC House include: Eleanna AnagnosBobby AnspachLaura BernsteinSarah E. BrookLiz CollinsKatya GrokhovskyPhoenix Lindsey-HallLas Hermanas Iglesias (Lisa and Janelle Iglesias), Vera IliatovaMyeongsoo KimRachel KlinghofferQiana MestrichLevan MindiashviliJordan NassarGustavo PradoYi Xin TongFrank Wang YefengDale Williams, and Quay Quinn Wolf.

Curatorial advisors for the BRIC Biennial III include Eriola PiraJesse FirestoneWill HutnickSarah Simpson, and Connie Kang and Danielle Wu of An/Other.

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Installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn

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Installation image, photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn