Want to get inside the art world? We offer a range of rewarding volunteer opportunities, good for us — good for you, too! Gallery support, special events, fundraising, communications and ushering are just a few of the possibilities that can be tailored to your time and talent. Volunteering at CulturalDC is a chance to broaden your network, meet great people and be part of the team.
Upcoming events include:
Source Festival Preview Kick Off Party at Source April 12, 2017
Opening for Blair Murphy showing Footprint in the Flashpoint Gallery April 14, 2017
VisionDC at Arena Stage April 24, 2017
Opening for Khanh Le showing Making Memories as We Wait in the Flashpoint Gallery May 12, 2017
Opening for Sioux Falls in the Mead Theater Lab May 19, 2017
Source Festival at Source June 9-July 2, 2017
If you are interested in volunteering, please help us find a good match for your skills and interests by completing a volunteer info form. For more information, contact email@example.com
February 21, 2017
Each month, the Luce Foundation Center partners with neighboring Flashpoint Gallery to bring local artists to speak about their artwork and how it relates to SAAM’s collection. This Sunday, February 26, we welcome Sparkplug Collective, eight local artists from the D.C. Arts Center, to discuss how collaboration and continued education help local artists thrive. We chatted with Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin and Jerry Truong, two artists within the collective, to discuss how their community fosters creative growth, what they think of the D.C. arts scene, and how their current exhibition, Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us, draws on long-time themes of self-portraiture also seen within the Luce Center.
Eye Level: How would you describe the visual arts scene here in D.C.?
Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin: Describing the D.C. art scene is a complex question, and we would all probably answer it differently. I have lived in the D.C. metro area for over twenty years and have seen it ebb and flow. Right now, I see local artists pushing the boundaries with materials and content as well as building on established ideas about art. The work in Selfie: Me, Myself, and US exemplifies this as we all started with self-portraiture and developed the idea with different concepts and media. Over the last five years, I have witnessed a surge of energy from artists themselves to create a place for their work. As more traditional galleries have closed, artists are exhibiting in alternative spaces such as Artomatic, Delicious Spectacle, and Pleasant Plains. One thing I think we can all say about the D.C. art scene is that there are numerous opportunities to see a variety of art from local museums to open studio events and everything in between.
EL: Can you tell us a little bit about where Sparkplug artists gain their inspiration and how the community fosters creative growth?
FAY: Being a diverse collective of people, both in artistic practices and cultural backgrounds, inspires creative growth through the dialogues and experiences we share with one another. We can see the same subject from multiple points of view, allowing each individual to consider things they may have not been able to consider before. We are all looking to develop and grow as artists and as people, and creating a stimulating environment allows a constant flow of inspiration.
EL: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a part of Sparkplug?
FAY: Having the opportunity to learn and connect with one another is the most rewarding aspect of Sparkplug. The past two years have given us room to experiment. Most of us are exploring different media because of our exposure to one another’s artistic practices. Being part of this collective allows us to expand our network and become more connected to the D.C. art scene. We help each other advance in and out of the studio.
EL: Describe Sparkplug’s creative process in the collective’s Flashpoint exhibition, Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us?
FAY: We met once a month to check-in and talk about what was going on with us—artistically as individuals, but also about what was happening locally, nationally, and globally. We hosted critiques at our studios which helped fuel ideas and inspiration; then went back to our studios to think and create. Each artist’s creative process was different, sometimes private and always personal. In my case, it continues to be an ever-changing process depending on the ideas I want to develop.
EL: What motivated you to use the selfie as a starting point for an exhibition?
FAY: We developed the idea of an exhibition about the self/selfie because artists have been engaging in self-reflection for thousands of years. It also speaks to the current cultural obsession with using digital representations to create an identity. This duality spoke to the Sparkplug Collective as an opportunity to individually express the way we encounter social media and representation, and, at the same time, tap into a long history of self-reflection and creation methods.
EL: What are two points you hope a visitor takes away after seeing the exhibition?
Jerry Truong: One of the most satisfying aspects of this exhibition is being able to show the different approaches to the theme, which is that the mundane act of taking a selfie has connections to the long history of self-portraiture. We hope viewers will leave with an appreciation of the varied ways in which portraiture is practiced today and how far some of the artists in the collective could stretch that definition. While the act of taking selfies could easily be dismissed as superficial or pointless, we wanted to show that the things we experience in everyday life are worthy of investigation and artistic inspiration can, ultimately, come from anywhere.
EL: Lastly, why art?
JT: We all came to art in different ways. Some of us have been creating art since we were children; others came to it more recently by way of music, performance, and even journalism! For each of us, art has given us space to ask questions of ourselves and the world we live in. It allows us to explore space, color, time, material, and, of course, ourselves.
Please join us this Sunday, February 26 from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the Luce Center for Sparkplug Collective’s presentation and a short Q & A afterward. More information about the event can be found on our Facebook page.
When drunk Australian Nathan “Hopey” Hope fell and bit through his lip in 2002, he didn’t know he was about to make linguistic history. “Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie,” he wrote on an online forum alongside a photo of his injury — the first known use of the term on record.
“Selfies are ubiquitous and unavoidable. They’re everywhere,” says D.C.-based artist Brendan L. Smith. That’s why he and seven other local artists decided to put together a show exploring the practice, “Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us.” “Selfies raise interesting ideas about identity and how we project this false concept of ourselves online,” he says.
Don’t look for glamorous Kim Kardashian-style pics in this exhibit, which opened Saturday and features multiple pieces from each participant. The artists — many of whom avoid social media — explore self-presentation and virtual worlds through sculpture, abstract painting and collage. One contributor, Jerome Skiscim, had never taken a selfie until a week before the show opened, when he needed a photo of himself to promote an artist talk.
“I took 10 or 12 of them before I got something decent,” he says. “It’s the most awkward thing I’ve ever done.”
Cultural DC’s Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St. NW; through March 11, free.
‘Etch A Sketch Bust,’ Michael Booker
Booker wanted to juxtapose the ephemeral with the eternal, so he painted the image of a marble bust as it might appear on an Etch A Sketch. “With an Etch A Sketch, you shake it and it’s gone, while marble sculptures are supposed to last forever,” he says. Both art forms, as well as selfies, represent an ultimately impossible quest to freeze time. “Even the bust is going to crumble eventually,” he says.
‘Self-Portrait With Stars,’ Jerome Skiscim
Skiscim created this work by layering objects on a piece of photographic paper, painting it with chemicals and then exposing it to light, a process known as chemography. The rectangles with the geometric shapes inside (created with stickers and stencils) represent the analytical, digital realm, he says. “To me, it looks like math or logic.” The circle at the top represents a more organic, spiritual existence. The background, which Skiscim created by applying cooking spray before the photography chemicals, “represents the noise of the world and the noise of your thoughts,” he says.
‘Selfie With Lips,’ Megan Maher
Maher’s piece is a mixed-media self-portrait. “I lived in rural Indiana for a little bit as a kid, so I included a contour map of the county I lived in,” she says. She studied her lips closely before drawing them. “I was noticing all the cracks and lines that have shown up now, so I drew those, but then I also drew some [more lips] on a day when I was wearing lip balm, when the lines were filled in. It kind of reinforces what we do with our selfies on social media — taking photos over and over and trying to hide our imperfections.”
‘Humanity Digitized,’ Brendan L. Smith
Smith’s sculpture uses technology from a variety of eras to show how the urge to capture one’s image has spanned centuries. “There’s a Brownie camera from the ’50s as the head, and around the body there are a bunch of old tintype photos and cellphone circuit boards.” Taken together, the figurine captures “the idea that this human form is becoming a computer,” he says. “Eventually, maybe we just become our digital selves, like [in] ‘Tron.’ ”
By: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO | February 15, 2017
The enigmatic selfies Maryland artist Michael Booker paints are more than skin deep — they tell stories about Black culture and Black excellence.
“It’s just something that feels so vain to me to just take pictures of yourself all the time,” Booker told the AFRO, explaining why he’s not into traditional selfies. “It’s limiting and I feel like there so many more ideas that we can discuss and get out there.”
Michael Booker, Etch-A-Sketch Bust, 2016. Oil on woven canvas. (Courtesy photo)
For example, in “Etch-A-Sketch Bust,” Booker painted a bust of his visage within a cracked “Etch-A-Sketch.” He said the cracks represent the idea of nothing lasting forever — busts are usually around for a very long time, but not when they’re drawn on an Etch-A-Sketch.
“As soon as you shake it, that image is gone and so I wanted to play with that idea of time and that temporary permanence,” Booker said. “It’s alluding to where we stand in time and how we’re remembered throughout time.”
Booker, 31, a Mississippi native now living in Laurel, Md. will serve up his alternate takes on the selfie in a forthcoming exhibit with seven other local artists at Flashpoint Gallery in Northwest D.C. called “Selfie: Me, Myself and Us.” It is scheduled to run from Feb. 11 through March 11 and it looks at our obsession with selfies and the narcissistic desire to capture and alter those digital images.
The exhibiting artists hail from the Sparkplug Collective, a group D.C. Arts Center created to foster a community that lets local artists meet, network with and lean on each other. Booker is the only Black artist showing work in the upcoming exhibition.
The two-year program grooms participants to become even better artists. It gets participants together to critique their work, visit each other’s studios, talk about exhibits, and meet curators, collectors and established artists.
“Part of our mission is to support emerging or underrepresented artists in the area, and many of these artists are young or starting up a second career,” said Carolyn Law, program manager at D.C. Arts Center and Sparkplug’s manager.
Sparkplug typically taps 10 people to join from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. There are nine total artists this time, and two, including Booker are Black. Booker joined the collective because he had just moved to the area from Mississippi and was looking to connect with other artists in the area.
“I was attracted to the other members who came to be part of Sparkplug as well because we have very diverse members — Blacks, Mexicans, Native Americans,” Booker said. “People from all walks of life coming together to share ideas about art.
Booker said he uses the obscured faces in his selfies to draw larger lessons about American culture.
In “Crown,” the other painting Booker will show at Flashpoint, a faceless Black person — the gender is open to interpretation — dons a brightly colored, Coogi hoodie. The hoodie has taken on a sinister meaning in American culture and it inspires fear when black men wear it. But Booker turns the hoodie into something more regal — a crown.
“The hoodie has become a symbol for Black Lives Matter after Trayvon Martin,” Booker said. “I see it as a symbol of strength, of power. You don’t get to see the face — you see the power that’s enveloped by the hoodie. So it’s a concentration on people, not the person.”
Selfies are nothing new. The concept of self-portraiture has been around for thousands of years, starting with cave wall paintings. The Sparkplug artists came up with the idea for the selfie show, seeing it as a subject that will resonate with audiences, Law said.
The exhibit questions whether selfies represent the downfall of American culture and whether we’re drowning ourselves in our digital reflections. Black people should take care and them to not only make political statements, but to also export the richness of black culture to the world, Booker said.
“Be careful to not be too vain with the selfie and it becomes something that’s about you alone and being too indulged in yourself,” Booker cautioned.
Photo: Jerry Skiscim / Artwork by Brendan L. Smith
When searching for the words to describe Sparkplug Collective’s newest exhibition, all that comes to mind is “resonant.” Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us is a rich exploration of our deepest selves, challenging viewers to examine the space between who we are and how we present ourselves.
I was lucky enough to attend opening night this past Friday at Cultural DC’s Flashpoint Gallery in Chinatown. Walking through the space, it was clear each artist’s work held deeply personal – as well as societal – meaning. The exhibition, which examines our cultural obsession with selfies, raises powerful questions about how people mold their identities.
“The show is really a meditation of sorts,” says Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin, a Sparkplug Collective artist. “There’s an abstract, investigative meaning behind our work.”
The show’s artistic diversity only adds to its richness. Each piece was crafted with strikingly different mediums, utilizing glitter, video projectors, mirrors – even a metal birdcage.
Take Brendan Smith’s “Humanity Digitized.” The mannequin-like sculpture consists of aluminum foil, wire, circuit boards and 19th-century tintype photos. A large, vintage camera sits in place of the mannequin’s head, reminding viewers of the show’s central theme.
Smith’s use of digitally sourced materials adds a layer of complexity to the sculpture’s design. His choices reinforce the exhibition’s overarching message, encouraging viewers to examine his work – and the meaning of selfies – more deeply.
“I hope it causes people to pause for a moment and think about the amount of time they spend in the digital world, and how that affects their relationships in reality,” Smith says.
Other works included selfie-inspired pieces by Sparkplug Collective artists Michael Booker, Delesslin “Roo” George-Warren, Megan Maher, Jerome Skiscim, Casey Snyder, Jerry Truong and Yurcisin.
There’s no doubt the show raises questions that are deep and relevant. What struck me the most, though, was not the exhibition’s meaning, but the spirit behind it.
At the question and answer session held at the end of the evening, I learned what truly made the group a collective. Every artist, though from vastly different creative and cultural backgrounds, spoke candidly about their investment in each other’s artistic growth.
“We challenge each other with our varying perspectives and backgrounds,” Yurcisin says.
Perhaps this is the secret behind the exhibition’s resonance. The show is a creation born not from one creative mind, but from many – minds that endeavor to inspire others, as well. Together, Sparkplug Collective has shaped an exhibition that is profoundly personal, yet strongly universal. It is an artistic experience that promises to move us all.
Selfie: Me, Myself, and Us runs through March 11. The Luce Center Artist Talk, featuring Sparkplug Collective artists, is on Sunday, February 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The event is free and open to the public.
Flashpoint Gallery: 916 G St. NW, DC; 202-315-1305; www.culturaldc.org
We are very excited to announce that two of CulturalDC’s Resident Companies, Constellation Theatre Company and Pointless Theatre Co., and one 2016-17 Mead Theatre Lab Program participant, Convergence Theatre, have been nominated a total of nineteen times for The Helen Hayes Awards!
Here’s the full list:
Constellation Theatre Company:
Outstanding Choreography – Urinetown
Outstanding Musical Direction – Urinetown
Outstanding Costume Design – Journey to the West
Outstanding Lighting Design – Journey to the West
Outstanding Set Design – Journey to the West
Outstanding Sound Design – Equus & Journey to the West
Outstanding Direction, Musical – Urinetown
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical – Urinetown
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical – Urinetown
James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play – Journey to the West
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play – Urinetown
Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play – Journey to the West
Outstanding Production, Musical – Urinetown
Outstanding Production, Play – Equus
Pointless Theatre Co.:
Outstanding Musical Direction – King Ubu
Outstanding Costume Design – King Ubu
Outstanding Production, Play – King Ubu
John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company
Get out and support the great work these companies are doing!!
Mending… An interpretation of the works of the fourth solo exhibition of American artist Nicole Salimbene
By Ebtisam Abdulaziz in Al Tashkeel
At the fourth solo exhibition of artist Nicole Salimbene held from 16 September through 15 October 2016 at Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C. This interactive installation exhibition contained several sculptural compositional and interactive works in addition to a series of two-dimensional canvasses. Through these pieces, the artist hoped to combine elegance with persistence in going beyond the ordinary to touch on the concept of impermanence. Nicole’s works have been characterized by these features, which were represented through an interdisciplinary approach. She also focused on these particular concepts by creating dialogue between the public and the installation itself. “I am interested in provoking contemplation through this dialogue,” said the artist, “searching always for the poetics of relationship and the transformation that arises as a result of the conflict between internal and external worlds.”
In her exhibition entitled Mending, we see an important interactive piece entitled Mending Table. Mending Table is one in a series of compositional works mounted in a manner, which calls the viewer to explore and meditate on the practice of reparation by interacting with the artwork. For Nicole, mending is the substance or raw material for this work, inviting or perhaps even requiring that the audience sit, interact, and then meditate. The canvasses displayed by Nicole at this exhibition incentivize the viewer to pause, as each piece on its own is an attempt to meditate on or explore those minute details. The works were completed with extreme precision, or by using tools relevant to the process of mending. Nicole used thousands of needles and yarn woven together to create either very complex canvasses or sculptures as well as intertwined installations that invite contemplation and decode the symbols through which the significance of the mending process may be felt. If we look at the sewing work intended to repair damage, a recurring theme in several works displayed, Nicole’s message stretches beyond this particular piece of canvass; many symbols are deployed in her works, such as mending life, the human soul, or the hearts of others. Those stitches woven into a piece of cloth have the potential to repair deterioration or errors committed.
Nicole’s experience with this multi-featured approach began after she conducted several investigations of tangible poetics and the desire to create public and private engagements with the public as a way for the viewer to embody metaphor. By drawing attention to the art of exercising the mind and interacting with the tools of the exhibition, such as needles and thread, Mending encourages us to reflect on the transformations that might take place in our lives and in the greater world, from the moment each stitch is made. Nicole said of her works: “I am constantly inspired by this idea. I am always searching to find a way to embody it in my works. this place where we can be alone together for reflection, a space that welcomes silence. This silence serves as the raw material or the artistic medium, and inviting the viewer to silence is semi-interactive. The viewer or audience is able to be present with themselves, or even sit in silence. For me, that moment is represented in the meeting between the self and the soul, along with the ideas or even meditations on the self that may be produced from that moment. I see this time as a moment of inner peace with oneself.” Regardless of whatever the viewer concludes as they interact with the piece, this work strives to create an environment suitable for interaction with the internal. Perhaps this moment is drawn from the desire or need for a space suitable for a moment of stability and silence. I also hoped to create this space not only for meditation and silence but also for contemplation, regardless of the content. I wanted to fulfil the viewer›s need for contemplation on whatever they may need to ponder, but this doesn’t mean that I named the project Mending to try and force the viewer think about what he/she wants to mend via sewing. Rather, it is a call to contemplate what must be mended – if anything – and forms an invitation to listen to our inner self and answer its call. The inspiration may have been drawn from my personal experience and belief in the need to be present to communicate with myself and mend what I want to mend. “
Through the exhibition Nicole aims for the installation to create a mixing or intermingling between various cultures with different backgrounds. She is very interested in what may be produced from this intermingling and difference as well as opportunities to find all of these cultures and backgrounds in the same space, communicating with one another in a spiritual way, and listening to each other in the absence of religious or ethnic discrimination.
In this exhibition, Nicole also displayed a series of boards entitled the Mending Fire Series, which partially originated from a collaborative art project she did a few years prior with refugees. She worked on this project with a professional artist from Ethiopia. Through this artistic collaboration, she was inspired to produce her first piece of cutting and burning the canvas. “I made a linear cut across the canvas,” Nicole said, “I remember that at the time, I was undergoing a very trying crisis. We were discussing what it means to be open to expressing whatever you are experiencing, and what it means to be a person who is broken inside. I thought about how we begin to mend those wounds. How in the mending you begin to see these wounds as a blessing.” Although Nicole does not assume that things can be completely recovered, evident in how her canvasses still bear cuts and remnants from the sewing process. The canvasses carry many scars. She is focused on the call to explore transformation by providing the right conditions or circumstances, through which we are called by the desire to reveal. Many of us carry deep wounds that remain open, and many of us also refuse to reveal or mend them. As for the production process and logistics associated with these paintings, Nicole said: “At the start, I made that linear cut which represents the wound as well as an openness to revealing it. Then I burned the canvass, which symbolizes the first flames of our desire to change and mend, and which some may see in a negative light but is also the creative fires of transformation and change that aid the process. For me this mark making is similar to the bruises we find on our bodies in various forms and colors, which form an important part of the healing process. Some remnants of the fire on the surface of the canvasses are dark in color and others light, just like the colors of the bruises on our body, whose colors change gradually from dark brown to light until they eventually fade away. After this, I began the sewing process to close the cut on the canvas but sometimes not a complete closure but a new form created in the space between. These canvasses are a visual expression of what takes place during this approach and successive steps taken until the process of mending the damage is complete.”
In the exhibition hall there is a large piece entitled Mending Waters. Nicole sees water as a flexible raw material for sculpture, as it can transform and take on any shape. In this synthetic work, this idea is strengthened, supported by the concept of flow and flux from a spiritual standpoint. Water can bear, carry, and contain quite a lot and she describes the material as rich and strong. As for Nicole’s origins, she was born in the state of Colorado. She then moved and grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, and we can see the degree to which Nicole was impacted by this imagery. Nicole also discusses many negative environmental issues and how commercial and industrial development can manipulate and negatively impact water. In demonstrating this complicated relationship through her installation, she invites the viewer to contemplate an empathic relationship with water. How can this process be absorbed and reflected in the self, not just when thinking about how we can exploit water or harness this resource to serve us? She wants the viewer, through interacting with and sitting before the work, to contemplate and imagine this water as rains or waterfalls in the form of blue threads, and also to see the other side represented in thousands of needles implanted in pieces of wood. That aspect which renders the relationship very complicated cannot be overlooked, and Nicole says: “I wanted to tell the viewer that the water which has given you so much deserves a moment of contemplation; it deserves this from you, even if it is just a small gesture.”
There is no doubt that Nicole Salimbene is always interested in creating an empathic and poetic relationship to materials- materials of the internal and external a fact that shines through her works. Poetics form Nicole’s raw materials and tools, and this is linked to her educational background: She received her Bachelors Degree in Literature and the English Language explaining her close association with her passion for the principles and components that express stories and poems, which she presents semi-abstractly and hopes for the viewer to embody as a means of intimacy with the work.
Ebtisam Abdulaziz is a multidisciplinary Emirati artist and writer based in US & UAE. Reflecting her Bachelor’s Degree in Science & Mathematics, Ebtisam incorporates her unique perspective on mathematics and the structures of systems to explore issues of identity and culture through installations, performance pieces and works on paper. Ebtisam solo shows include Autobiography, The Third Line, Dubai, UAE (2012) and Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Sharjah Contemporary Art Museum, Sharjah, UAE (2007). She has also taken part in a number of international group shows, including: View from Inside: Contemporary Arab Photography, Video and Mixed Media Art, Emirates Palace Gallery, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2015); Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, USA (2015); On Site, NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2014); View From Inside – Fotofest 2014 Biennale, Houston, USA (2103); Emirati Expressions, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2013); Three Generations, Sotheby’s, London UK (2013); Arab Express, The Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan (2012); 25 years of Arab Creativity, L’institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France (2012); Inventing The World: The Artist as a Citizen, Benin Biennial, Kora Centre, Benin (2012). The artist has exhibited as part of the Inaugural UAE and ADACH Pavilions at 53rd Venice Biennale, as well as at the 7th Sharjah Biennial, and the 32nd Emirates Fine Art Society Annual Exhibition.
From Texas to DC, Artists and DIY Spaces Struggle with Permits and Trolls
Blair Murphy | February 1, 2017
Before 1919 Hemphill was shut down in December, the venue had always passed its annual fire inspections. So when the Fort Worth fire marshal received seven anonymous complaints about the space in a 48-hour period, the volunteers who run the DIY music venue and community space were surprised and confused. They quickly discovered that the anonymous complaints had come not from concerned community members or even angry neighbors but from anonymous internet trolls looking to exploit concerns about safety in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire to target DIY arts spaces. In Fort Worth, the increased attention brought on by the complaints revealed that 1919 Hemphill’s Certificate of Occupancy had expired. The organizers were told that they would need to complete repairs and get a new Certificate of Occupancy before being allowed to re-open.
The troll campaign against DIY music venues and live/work artists’ spaces that caused the closure of 1919 Hemphill emerged from /pol/, a 4Chan message board ostensibly devoted to politics and current events, but known more as a cesspool of meme-ified Nazi symbols, racial epithets, and extremist right wing activity. After getting booted from /pol/ by 4Chan moderators, the threads moved to 8Chan, and then to a private chat app called Discord. The reactionary politics of the online campaign are explicit, disturbing, and wholly unsurprising. “These places illegally house our enemies,” one anonymous user writes, before encouraging readers to “EVICT LIBERAL RADICALISM.” One of the earliest anonymous posts ends: “MAGA my brothers and happy hunting,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. The anonymous posters adopted the name “Right Wing Safety Squad” — SS for short — and posted memes incorporating Nazi symbolism. They found lists online of DIY spaces across the country and scoured Facebook for venue names, addresses, and, in some cases, images of specific venues, using the information to call in anonymous complaints in an attempt to get spaces shut down over fire code violations and permitting issues.
While trolls in the message boards were eager to take credit for a spate of recent closures, it’s difficult to confirm how many can actually be attributed to the campaign. After the Ghost Ship fire, DIY spaces were already bracing for a crackdown, anticipating that the tragedy would draw the attention of local officials to similar spaces in their cities. In Baltimore, the closure of the Bell Foundry happened on December 5, just three days after the fire in Oakland and before the threads on 4Chan seem to have started. The closure of Burnt Ramen, a legendary DIY music venue in Richmond, California, took place after Richmond’s Mayor Tom Butt released a statement referring to that venue, by name, as “Richmond’s Ghost Ship,” suggesting that the city was already planning a response. In San Francisco, artists, musicians, and dancers in a live/work space in Bernal Heights received an eviction notice a few days after the Oakland fire. Tenants told the San Francisco Chronicle that they believed the heightened concern about un-permitted live/work spaces simply offered a convenient way for their landlord to push them out — he had filed for permits last July to build a $7-million, 49-unit apartment building where the warehouse currently stands.
While it may be difficult to judge how many of the recent arts space closures can be directly attributed to trolling efforts, the feeling of being targeted has, understandably, left many venue organizers angry and frustrated. In Athens, Georgia, the organizers of JokerJoker, a DIY venue, also found their home on a list of targets. Although they haven’t heard from any local officials, organizer Muz Blank says they are taking a break from holding public shows while they make repairs and research relevant regulations. In the meantime, Blank expressed frustration that their activities would make them a target. “This was not about making money, it wasn’t about overthrowing the government, and it certainly wasn’t anything that would hurt anyone,” Blank told Hyperallergic. “We simply produced art and shared it with the community.”
The names and locations of several Washington, DC venues were included in the trolls’ list of targets, but none of the complaints have resulted in closures. An occupant of one house venue told Washingtonian magazine that DC Fire and EMS officials they spoke with described the complaints they received as “ridiculous.” Despite the lack of closures, DIY organizers in DC are expressing a higher level of caution, indicating they may reconsider how much information they post about their venues online. Both traditional and DIY venues in DC were already on edge after months of harassment aimed at local restaurant and music venue Comet Ping Pong, as well as many artists and musicians with connections to the venue. That harassment campaign is driven by the Wikileaks-inspired, 4Chan and Reddit-driven, anti-Clinton conspiracy theory known as #Pizzagate and emerges from many of the same dark corners of the internet that host the Right Wing Safety Squad threads. The fear that online threats stemming from the #Pizzagate conspiracy might result in violence was affirmed on December 5, when a gunman arrived in DC to “self-investigate” Comet Ping Pong.
This atmosphere of caution was certainly a factor for artists Eames Armstrong and John Moletress when they found threads discussing their works and musing on their possible connections to the thoroughly debunked conspiracy on Voat, a site that now hosts some of the #Pizzagate conspiracists banned by Reddit and 4Chan. The artists were preparing for an exhibition at Flashpoint, a gallery in downtown DC, and the opening was scheduled to take place a week before Trump’s inauguration. The artists informed CulturalDC, the nonprofit that runs Flashpoint, about the threads and, after a discussion about their options, CulturalDC’s staff made the decision to hire armed security guards for the exhibition opening. While the threads they found about their work don’t compare to the vile abuse and harassment some of her friends have received because of #Pizzagate, Armstrong described reading the discussions of her work and Moletress’s, in the context of the conspiracy, as chilling and invasive. Their show, Perversion Therapy, was scheduled long before the election’s outcome was known. But, in the current political environment, Armstrong says, the artists were approaching the show as a celebration of queerness and a self-conscious rebuke to the explicitly anti-LGBT people who are coming to DC with the new administration. Given the queerphobia underpinning #Pizzagate, the fear that the show might attract attention from the conspiracy’s remaining believers seemed reasonable.
In the United States, the culture wars have often descended into harassment, vilification, and targeting of particular artists. Jesse Helms famously called Andres Serrano a jerk on the floor of the Senate. David Wojnarowicz successfully sued the American Family Association and its leader, Reverend Donald Wildmon, after the group used cropped images from his work in an inflammatory pamphlet that was sent to members of Congress. The internet allows for a more intimate culture war, one in which even artists who are relatively unknown beyond their immediate communities can find their work, their identities, their spaces, and their lives picked apart — not by politicians trying to foment public outrage, but by extremist trolls whose own sense of community comes from teaming up to harass, vilify, and threaten strangers, especially queer people, women, and people of color. The number of individuals involved in these harassment campaigns may be relatively small, but the reach they can have, amplified by technology and emboldened by the tacit approval of newly powerful individuals, creates a broader chill that feels like a warning. “This is a completely different city, a completely different country,” as Armstrong told Hyperallergic, adding that the harassment campaigns are “a really visible sign of this.”
Back in Fort Worth, 1919 Hemphill held a successful fundraising campaign, gathering more than $10,000 for building upgrades. They’ve also applied to become an official 501c3 nonprofit and began the paperwork to apply for the appropriate Certificate of Occupancy. They anticipate re-opening by the end of March. In Washington, DC, the opening of Perversion Therapy went on as planned, complete with a spirited and participatory performance by Moletress. Two armed guards conducted bag searches at the front door and another was stationed at the back of the gallery, observing the crowd. A few attendees asked Armstrong if the bag searches were part of a performance piece.
In the meantime, most of the DIY spaces that were shuttered in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire — the Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Rhinoceropolis in Denver, Burnt Ramen in Richmond, the Glass Mènage and Drkmttr in Nashville, Flux Capacitor in Colorado Springs, and Purple 33 in Los Angeles, among many others — remain closed. While the chaos and upheaval of Trump’s first 10 days in office has grabbed the spotlight, attention to the fate of these spaces has faded, even as the fight to preserve DIY arts spaces — and the freedom they give artists to work and live in safety — only becomes more urgent.
A QUEER CELEBRATION OF FILTH AND RESISTANCE: EAMES ARMSTRONG AND JOHN MOLETRESS TALK PERVERSION THERAPY
Andrew Johnson | January 27, 2017
On view at Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, DC, Perversion Therapy subverts the abusive practice of conversion therapy, thus affirming queerness and playfully celebrating deviance, eroticism, and filth. Featuring paintings, performance objects, and multimedia installations, artists Eames Armstrong and John Moletress re-imagine the gallery space as a site of queer resistance.
I first met Eames in graduate school where their performance-based work focused on queer negation and noise. This exhibition offers a change of pace for Eames in which their figure-based paintings explore queerness through humor and domestic deviance.
John’s performance and video work transgresses social and bodily boundaries – a key element of the show. John’s own body acts as a site of resistance, repulsion, and pleasure, which collectively critique social scripts of respectability and conformity.
Perversion Therapy underlines the historical censorship and abuse of queer bodies, while reminding the viewer that our bodies ultimately are our most potent counter-weapons. We must speak up, act up, and resist erasure, for we are reminded of Gran Fury’s famous phrase that silence does indeed equal death.
Eames and John recently spoke with me about Perversion Therapy, the goddess of nonconformity Divine, and the role of queer artists now that our country is led by one of the most anti-LGBTQ presidents in history.
Andy: The work of curating such an exhibition in our current climate, I know, becomes exhausting, so how are you holding up?
Eames: In the immediate wake of the election it was kind of nice actually to have this show to plan and work towards, it gave me purpose when it felt as if the world crumbled. I was grateful for some direction to pull through initial despair. We had a great turnout for the opening, so I’m more invigorated and motivated now, but yes a little exhausted, haha. I feel a beautiful new hope today after the incredible women’s marches around the country and beyond.
John: Disoriented. Well enough. The keeping doing occupies the time, although I could use a vacation.
A: How did this project come about and how did it evolve over time?
Eames: We did a three-hour performance together about a year ago, so this exhibition is completely different in scale. This exhibition went through a number of evolutions and permutations. The initial idea was to expand on work that John is doing exploring notions of “home” in relation to performance practices. After the election it became necessary to respond in some way, and we debated whether we ought to scrap all our work and start over or continue with our initial plan. We found a middle way through, and reframed our work to emphasize our opposition to the incoming anti-queer agenda.
John: Of course, it went from A to Z as it evolved. We were on separate coasts for most of the time in between, working on multiple projects.
A: The phrase “Filth is my politics” is so iconic for anyone remotely familiar with Divine and John Waters (I think Cry-baby was my first sexual awakening as a youngster), how does that mantra fit into this notion of perversion therapy?
J: I like getting dirty. I never slighted away from playing in mud. Perversion is as messy a subject as therapy. Both co-exist in a space that has fluid rules with no particular arrival. Perversion has been used as a term of persecution; however, it can be reclaimed as a term for play that is consensual and pleasurable.
E: I intend to talk about filth and perversion in a way that recuperates our actions and desires from the negative meanings of those words, very much like the taking back of the term queer. The quotation is from Pink Flamingos, a reporter asks Babs (Divine) about her politics to which she responds “Kill everyone now! Condone first-degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth are my politics, filth is my life!” It should go without saying that this is the statement of a fictional character- and shouldn’t be taken literally! But it represents an exaggeration of a real position, a big fuck-off to the perpetual reproduction of a stagnant status quo that frantically adheres to values that are passed down and adopted without question. I want to scramble the codes of normativity, but I’m not here to hurt anyone.
We’re in a time where the very notion of truth is rapidly losing meaning. It is terribly easy to misconstrue our message by literalizing it and ignoring the huge tongue in our cheek. Art has this important capacity to locate social boundaries by disrupting them, artists like John Waters push on reality through fiction, exposing that what seems un-changeable can become un-fixed and we can re-imagine our world. But increasingly this force for change that art and fiction can provide is being used to manipulate a huge portion of our population to bend truth, cast facts as unreliable, to depict a fantasy future that can be achieved through regressive and hateful politics. It is crucial to continue to speak out and act against gaslighting rhetoric. We have to support one another, and we need to be expansive in our thinking about how to create and preserve systems of support.
A: The show not only critiques the censorships of queer bodies, but also the notion of homonormativity. Beginning in the 90s with a shift away from the politics of AIDS and queer liberation to a politics of respectability with regard to the military, marriage, etc. the queer assimilationist movement has certainly staked its territory. How is Perversion Therapy intervening in such a debate and what makes the show so antithetical to homonormativity?
E: I think you already answered this better than I can! I hope that my paintings can simultaneously push away from cliché or narrow representations of same-sex relationships while also being relatable to folks who do not identify as queer.
J: We’re looking at our own queer bodies as a site for non-conformity and non-assimilation. Ideally, we can move about the world with the fundamental truth that all bodies share the same human rights as free and independent persons. To be frank, I was not shouting for gay marriage because of how hegemonic patriarchal structures define the institution. What I will say, on a hopeful note, about this current people’s Presidential employee is that this travesty has sparked the communal pilot light, on the way to heating a people’s furnace that has the real potential to burn bright and make way for a paradigmatic shift. As an artist, I can be a part of a movement that brushes against expectations by being deviant and playful as fuck. I don’t need to make things that please. I want to make thoughtful work that is as unsimulated as it is theatrical.
A: John, during the opening night you staged three performances, one as a baby, one as a dominatrix, and the last as the recipient of several pies in the face. Could you walk me through your thought-process for those performances?
J: I chose the paraphilia “bible” as a source for actions. The three performances were things I have experienced with clients during sex work.
A: Eames, I had the pleasure of watching your work evolve over time from small drawings on paper to now large acrylics on canvas and wood. What is it that draws you to these ambiguous figures and their portrayal of domestic deviance and queer bliss? There is certainly an aspect of humor present.
E: Definitely humor. As I developed this body of work I had a few loose rules- I was on the right track if it made me laugh, and if I’m bored making it they’ll be boring to look at. So I made these visual jokes for myself, and rendered everything kind of fast and loose. They’re ultimately about capturing a feeling or mood through human interactions, presenting new or unusual intimacies among bodies, and support systems. Some of them are in non-specific spaces, but the ones in rooms are all domestic. There is a bit of mirroring between a room and a body, with its entrances and exits, insides and outsides, safety and vulnerability.
A: How has this exhibition and this body of work been a process of therapy or release for you? I’m wondering how your practice becomes an escape in a way? How do filth, domestic deviance, and queer eroticism relieve some of that pressure?
J: For me, practice is not escape as much as confrontation. I work towards meeting personal fears, up front and at times, terrifyingly close. Things that defined my youth – Catholic, faggot, fat, mentally ill – drop pins on a map I navigate. Differing between then and now is that I no longer take the routes less populated. I go right down Main Street, or Gay Street depending on the suburb, but rather prefer an Elm Street.
E: In my performance work I explored negativity for quite a while- the possibility of negativity to be in resistance to a positive but false hope in the future rather than working for immediate change in the present- and negativity against normalizing social structures that co-opt and dilute dissent. I’m still working down that path in noise projects, but this painting work came about as a major counterpoint to that thinking. These paintings are meant to be celebratory of a cherished weirdness. So in the context of our national situation, it is joy as a fuck you in the face of a nightmare, celebrate your rage and don’t let it crush you.
A: What, in your opinion, can queer artists (be it painters, photographers, performance artists, etc.) do to maintain their creativity and motivation when we are living in a country now run by a sexist, racist, islamophobic, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and fascist orange man-baby?
J: Disobey. Be the instigator and anarchist. Find your truth.
E: Never stop working! But remember that taking care of yourself is valid work. Support and show marginalized voices, it isn’t just about you it is about all of us. Be fucking furious. I think about the final lines of Susan Stryker’s lecture-essay, Performing Transgender Rage- “May you discover the enlivening power of darkness within yourself. May it nourish your rage. May your rage inform your actions, and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world.”*
A: Last question, and this may be the most difficult one of them all. Which John Waters movie is your favorite?
J: Pointing to is difficult. If no choice but to choose, I’d say Mondo Trasho.
E: Damn, I think it must be Pink Flamingos. In 2015, Waters made Kiddie Flamingos, a child-friendly remake read by children. It is brilliantly charming. It made me love the first one even more!
*STRYKER, SUSAN (01/01/1994). My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix Performing Transgender Rage. GLQ. , 1 (3), p. 237.
Image Credit: 1) Eames Armstrong, We are in the bathroom!, acrylic on paper, 30″x44″, 2016, 2) John Moletress, Performance, Flashpoint Gallery, 2017, 3) Eames Armstrong, I miss then, acrylic on paper, 28″x20″, 2016.
Just in time for the dawn of the Trump era.
JAN 27, 2017 11 AM
“Thieves Like Us” by Eames Armstrong (2016)
The armed guards at the opening of Perversion Therapy didn’t go unnoticed by anyone at Flashpoint. Chalk it up to the persistence of the insane #Pizzagate conspiracy, whose rabid subscribers still dog anyone associated with art in D.C., even weeks after the lies were put to rest. Or call it a sign of the dark turn the city has already taken under President Donald Trump. Maybe private security will soon be as ubiquitous as white wine in plastic cups at gallery shows in the District.
It’s almost as if Eames Armstrong saw it coming. Perversion Therapy, a show combining her paintings with performance by John Moletress, seems to wink at the hangups of the incoming Republican administration. Armstrong’s paintings in particular confront the notions of boundaries and identity and what counts as ordinary (and who gets to decide). The figures in her paintings stare out, as if they are challenging the viewer: go ahead, say something. It’s as if they’re waiting for Mike Pence to walk in.
“We are in the bathroom!” (2016)—Armstrong’s titles often read like cheery texts from a party—features six figures of indeterminate status loitering in the loo. They look blank and expectant, to the extent that emotions can be assigned to figures that look like they’re all wearing the same emoji face. Armstrong’s paintings are naïve, but they aren’t unserious, even if the figures themselves aren’t taking anything seriously. They look vaguely deviant (why’s everybody in the bathroom?) and possibly brainwashed, in keeping with the allusion to the “conversion therapy” in the title of the show.
The five figures in “We did it!” (2016) linger like the ladies of Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” their body parts intermingling with the indeterminate space around them. Armstrong’s paintings are a happy-go-lucky queer-fauvism, all mega-intense brushstrokes and delightfully girly palette. Her figures are feminist like the work of Dana Schutz and zany like portraits by George Condo, although Armstrong’s style is less painterly than either.
That figures for an artist known better for her performance work, but don’t discount her painting—especially her color work. Or the narrative assertiveness of paintings such as “If This Dark Age Conquers, We Will Leave This Echo” (2016), in which her figures appear to be lost in sex without depicting anything like fucking.
One problem with Armstrong’s paintings is that there’s so many of them—20 in fact. It’s an awkward number. There are too many paintings to sustain the theme without testing it, like variations on a theme. There aren’t enough paintings to overwhelm or obliterate the viewer or make a compelling point through repetition. Taken altogether, some of them seem redundant.
There are more than enough of Armstrong’s paintings to justify a solo show, however, and Moletress’ “Untitled” (2016) video artwork—a film that captures a couple engaging in puppy play—doesn’t add much to the gallery presentation. (The artist also led performances in the gallery on two nights.) Simply showcasing men (one “dog,” one “puppy”) biting and barking at one another is more than enough to freak out our new Vice President, but it doesn’t meet the high bar for provocative video art.