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ICA Visitor Assistant Exhibition, "Ask Me," Opens to Sellout Crowd

Visitor Assistants from the ICA Stage their own Exhibition

Visitor assistants (VA's) working at the ICA are employed by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) to inform the visitors and to protect the art but their role is not to create the art.  Yet most of the VA's are recent art graduates. 

ICA VA Exhibit What the VA's longed for was the opportunity to display their own art in an exhibition type setting where the work on display was fully their own but with their understanding of art galleries significantly influenced by having worked at the ICA.  That very idea has been an ongoing conversation for years and, in 2012, due to the confluence of several factors, the exhibition became a reality.

Three VA's, Anthony Montouri, Chris Ford and Jordan Lloyd, acting as curators, contacted everyone who had worked at the ICA over the last year (turnover is high).  The result is an exhibition by 29 artists displaying a wide range of artistic interests including painting, photography, mixed media, video, video games, textiles and sculture, and for the opening reception, spoken word and live music.

The exhibition opened to a sellout crowd (though admission was free).  The young artists attracted a youthful crowd but here and there you could catch a glimpse of the more mature folk who looked a lot like Mom and  Dad.

Clear from the quality of the exhibition, the participating ICA visitor assistants are already accomplished technicians with a demonstrated enthusiasm for exploring new avenues of artistry. 

The Howard Art Project, 1486 Dot Ave, Oct 27-Nov 11, 2012.

October 27th through November 11th
Opening Reception Saturday, October 27th 6-9pm
Open Sat & Sun 12-4pm or by appointment

Several  visitor assistants discussed their work, giving us insight into their creative processes:  Kevin Smith's reproduction of the dream machine, Jordan Lloyd's video reflecting on her VA work, Julia Atwood-Golebiewski's woven paper art and Dylon Hurwitz's painting made by dancing feet.

Conversations with Artists

Kevin Smith
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art ProjectKevin Smith "Deam Machine 3"

Although several accounts describe somewhat differently how the first "dream machine" was invented, they tend to involve the beat writer William Burroughs and his soul mate,  Brion Gysin.

On December 21, 1958, as Gysin's diary reports, he started to hallucinate while travelling on a bus in southern France. He had fallen asleep, leaning with his head against the window pane and the flickering sunlight caused by the bus passing by a row of trees brought on the effect.  His diary states:  ‘an overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colours exploded behind my eyelids: a multi-dimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. The vision stopped abruptly when we left the trees. ’ 

Known as a stroboscopic effect, appropriately spaced flickering in the alpha range is what brings on the hallucinations.

Kevin Smith's artwork consists of replicating one of the several dream machine models generated in the late 1950's. "I did not invent the actual device," Kevin said.  "I took Gysin's idea and interpreted it by recreating it. What is interesting about this artwork is that it is the only artwork that was ever designed to be looked at with your eyes closed."

Kevin enjoyed the challenge of building a dream machine, an exact duplicate of the original, from scratch. Look into the machine at the same level as the bulb," he said. "Close your eyes and it creates a stroboscopic effect." 

What was missing from this reproduction of art from the 50's?  Only the comfortable bus seat where exhibition visitors might recline, fall asleep and experience the same hallucinations as did Gysin on Dec 21, 1958.

Great challenge, Kevin, and beatiful results.

Jordan Lloyd
Always maintaining the requirements of her work as an ICA assistant uppermind, Ms. Jordan Lloyd also dreams about expressing her own creativity while working as an assistant - like, for example, dancing and expressing her joy in the galleries.  When there are no visitors, so go her thoughts and the tap-tapping of her toes.  This plethora of fanciful thinking led her to put together a video engagingly communicating the nature of her job and also her creative longings.  That is her contribution to "Ask Me."

Jordan's friend Ingrid taped the video with ICA exhibit hall settings mocked in Jordan's apartment.  No dancing in the ICA halls, after hours or not, so Jordan performed outside the ICA.  Her joyful dancing, set against the backdrop of the ICA's grand building, along with special effects that emphasize her creative energy, are contrasted with the solitary still life poses of Jordan, on the job waiting patiently for a gallery visitor, so she can answer questions and speak about the art she so dearly loves, and, by the way, also guard the artwork. 

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Two scenes from video "Clocking (In/Out)" by Jordan Lloyd

 "How did I create the special effects?  I used Final Cut." 

"I was motivated to create this video because in my mind I create it every day on the job.   You're in a creative environment in a museum and that causes me automatically to be creative in my mind. So, yes, I've included in the video a section that shows me being really restless but I have also included a section that shows how much I enjoy working at the ICA."

"Of the two me's, the part I enjoyed the most in the video shows me having a lot of fun.  That's what I love about the visitor assistance job.  It can be a lot of fun. And, yes, it's true.  I have this idea, this fantasy that I would dance in the galleries every chance I get. "

"We filmed the dancing outside on a rainy day and I really thought I was going to get pneumonia because it was cold out but it was well worth it."

The 2 minutes and 35 seconds of final video was cut down from at least a half hour of footage.  Jordan said it took a ouple hours to film and about eight hours to edit.  "On top of that," she said, "I finished the video, then scrapped it and started all over again. The first one had more special effects and I decided simpler was better."

Good job! Jordan.  Never stop dancing.

Julia Atwood- Golebiewski Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) was an American, Cuban-born visual artist, known for his minimal installations and sculptures in which he used materials such as strings of lightbulbs, clocks, stacks of paper, or packaged hard candies. 

Julia tells the story of how her art came to be created.

"In 2012,, the ICA elected to display one of Gonzalez-Torres' works of art and to do that, the ICA had to apply to his family trust for permission to use one of his ideas.   The trust provides a description of the work of art, in this case, blue and white swirl candies wrapped in a translucent wax paper which can be layed out on the museum floor in a particular way or placed in a pile in the corner.  In this piece, the weight of the candy is required to be 355 pounds which was the combined healthy weight of Torres and his partner (a lot of candy).  The exhibit invites ICA visitors to take a piece of the candy to experience the art work through eating part of it. 

Julia admits that "During the course of the exhibition, the VA's ate quite a bit of the candy."

Julia's story is interesting because of the, perhaps, unexpected dynamic created by the VA's consuming the candy, which from the artist's perspective is exactly what should be happening.  Julia continues.

"I felt guilty in a way because we were disposing of all those candy wrappers. So early on I started collecting the papers from all the VA's and I started weaving them into strips. I learned how to fold these candy wrappers as a child and used the same technique because the purpose of folding is to create little strips that you can interweave." 

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Julia Atwood-Golebiewski, "Ideal Weight"

So what is causing the blue color to bleed through in your artwork?  "The blue," she said, "is the residue from the candy. I wasn't going to remove the candy off the wrappers if there was any. In whatever form I got the wrapper, that's how I used it." 

Her artwork is entitled "Ideal Weight" and reflects the fact that she used exactly 355 candy wrappers, the same number prescribed for the weight of the original artwork. Julia likes the effect of the color blue bleeding through in an almost fleeting manner.  "The artist," she said, "stated that the blue color was a happy memory."

Julia is to be commended for continuing the theme prescribed by the artist, not only in honoring the number 355 but in creating an artwork that is also suggestive of "a happy memory."

Dylan Hurwitz
Dylan Hurwitz, a 16-year trained classical pianist, is also an artist and seeks to bridge the two worlds.  "I have over 16 years of classical piano training so I've always been interested in painting and music. I'm looking for ways to bridge the two together. So this is my attempt at doing that."

Modest Mussorgsky met artist and architect Viktor Hartmann in 1870 and quickly became friends but not long after (1873), Hartmann died from an aneurysm.  The sudden loss (Hartmann was 39) shook Mussorgsky and others.  An exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works was organized in the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia in February and March 1874.

Mussorgsky's creative response was to compose Pictures at an Exhibition in six weeks. The music, depicting an imaginary tour of an art collection, includes individual movements that allude directly to works by Hartmann.  The first movement, entitled "The Gnome" is the basis for Dylan's work.

How Dylan created this artwork - assisted in its creation - is unusual.  He begins with a layer of acrylic, then places the canvas flat on the ground.  With buckets of oil paint along the edge of the canvas, Dylan's friend, Imari Pratcher, trained in ballet, dances on the canvas while Dylan plays the piano, the painting effected through Imari's dance steps with feet dipped in the pots of paint.  Imari described what it was like to dance as he listened to the music being played.  "When I close my eyes, the music hits my body and determines how I dance."

"The Gnome" lasts only three minutes and during the entire composition, no words are spoken.  Imari knows to begin when Dylan starts playing and to stop when Dylan stops playing.

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Dancer Imari Pratcher and artist Dylan Hurwitz, "The Gnome"

"Who," we asked is the artist, you or the dancer?"

"So I have actually given over to the dancer the ability to create the art. So there were three colors that the artist, the dancer, could use and he gets to choose which color he wants to use when in his dance. In addition, in this piece I did not give any suggestions to the dancer as to the nature of the dance he should perform when applying the paint."  But he adds,, "That's something that I'm working on with the next pieces that I'm doing, where I actually get into the choreography, providing some guidelines before hand."

When the dancer is done, the canvas is not.  Artist Dylan adds the finishing touches to the canvas - clearly different from the look created by the dancer foot painting - bright yellow, white and black lines, much more regular shapes that give structure to the painting and connectivity.

"What caused you to add your own special touches to the painting after the dancer was done? What inspired you? Was it your memory of the dance or how you played the music? Because you elected to add your own expression to the canvas, something must have inspired you."

Dylan:  "It's really about responding to what I saw on the canvas, working against what I saw, creating a type of tension and enhancing what I saw on the canvas.  Actually, I was responding to everything I know about the canvas, the dancing, the music and the visual effect created."

Dylan sees his work as a continuum of transformation.  Art motivated Mussorgsky to create music and Mussorgsky's music reinterpreted by Amari and himself are bringing the form back to the canvas.

We should all be so lucky as to have a friend who is willing to dance on canvas for us.  Great Job, Amari and Dylan.

Photos of Selected Art and the Opening Reception 10/27/12
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Christopher Albert Lee, "California Cheese"
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Sage Schmett, "Pop-Up Cake House"

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Jasmine Spear, "Cat"
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Isabel Donlon, "Greco-Roman
Bedazzled 'Diva' Jacket"
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Matthew Daly, "Blue Dung"

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Chris Goodale, "Easy Rider"
Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Rachel Manly, "Cotton Candy Block"

Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project Ask Me - ICA Visitor Assitant Exhibition at The Howard Art Project
Posted: October 28, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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