So you’re walking by the Stamp Gallery one afternoon. Peaking through the glass exterior, you see that there are boxes and packing paper scattered throughout. You see some power tools on the benches, and a ladder leaning against the corner. You notice random walls that seem to be hanging out in limbo in the middle of the space. Walking past the entrance, you find a sign taped to the door: “Closed for installation, please come back for our opening next week!”
Ever wanted to know just what goes into the installation of a gallery exhibition?
The past week at the Stamp Gallery has been quite a busy one, with the installation of our current exhibition featuring new arrivals for the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP). As a docent, I get to take part in this installation process. As such, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into a few of the more subtle, never-occurred-to-me-before-I-started-working-here types of things that go on behind the scenes of an installation.
When you first walk into the Stamp Gallery and start reading about what the exhibit is about, you are reading the vinyl. I’d like to start off by admitting that, before I started working at the gallery, I was under the impression that someone had to come and actually hand-paint the words onto the wall…which I’m glad is not the case! After the exhibition overview is typed up in a Word doc, it is sent to be blown up in size and then printed out on a kind of sticker-like paper. Before sticking this onto the wall, we measure the length/width of the sheet, take a ruler to the wall, level it, and make light pencil marks for guidelines. Next, we peel off the outer layer of the sheet, which uncovers the sticky part that goes onto the wall. Once we have the sheet up on the wall, we smooth out any wrinkles and press it against the wall as much as possible – this makes it easier to peel the paper off without peeling the actual letters off as well. The final step is to do the actual peeling!
In the gallery, we have “moveable” walls that are stored in the back. The wall holding Titus Kaphar’s The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XII is a moveable wall.
These walls allow us the mobility to create new, smaller spaces within our existing gallery space. They also provide extra surface area to accommodate more pieces, draw attention to particular works, as well as provide general interest and variability to the eye. For this exhibition in particular, we added a wall behind the podium holding Wafaa Bilal’s Perseus Beheading Medusa and Pink David in order to direct focus onto the pieces, since they are relatively small objects in comparison to the space.
Tracks along the ceiling of the gallery provide grooves that the lights hook into. There are three tracks spanning the length of the space, and five tracks running widthwise. The lights themselves consist of a bulb attached to a frame that can be maneuvered to adjust the angle of the light accordingly. In addition, there are metal bars within the hook of the frame that conduct electricity and make the light turn on when attached to the track. Depending on the needs of the exhibition/pieces, the lights can be placed so that they either “spotlight” or provide a softer, glow to the work. When spotlighting, the lights are generally placed closer to the piece, which provides a very direct focus. Setting the light farther back creates more of an atmosphere and harmonization for the piece as well as the space surrounding it. Other things to keep in mind when setting up lights is reflection, shadows, and the color casted by the bulb. For the pieces that contain a glass covering, we had to consider the effects of possible reflections caused by our lighting choices. In addition, we can control the degree and location of shadows by light placement. For Ellington Robinson’s Oath of the Imperialists, we played around with the distance of the lights from the work in order to “shift” the shadows around.
Finally, some bulbs are older than others and cast a softer, more yellow hue than the newer ones, which typically cast a very bright, verging on greenish tint. We usually try to match the shades of light throughout the exhibit.
Of course, there are many other aspects that go into a gallery installation that I haven’t mentioned here – each show is unique in terms of the methods used to bring it together. For a closer look at the results of our installation, be sure to check out the opening reception of CAPP New Arrivals 2015 this Friday, September 25th between 6-10pm.
See you there!
Black and white photographs, textured filters, slow-moving figures, a fluffy white dog on a beach, and what looks like a giant floating roller coaster.
Like many video art pieces in the Gallery’s current exhibition, “PROJECT 35, Volume 2,” Alexander Ugay’s “Bastion,” draws incredible depth across multiple psychological layers, within a mere five minutes. Ugay is an Central Asian artist, currently residing in Khazakistan, who uses cameras manufactured in the early Soviet Union and manual processing and film editing to produce eerie, intricate videos: a style often titled “New Romanticism” due to its nostalgic themes and references of Soviet avant-garde cinema.
The majority of the video depicts a bright beach setting with images of family and leisure that blend into each other, seeming to ebb and flow with the sound of the ocean. Figures walk down the beach, converse, and play music, always looking towards the sea. The lethargy of the scenes, the absence of color, and the disregard to details, even facial expressions, comprise an intimidating reflection of how we form memories, what we remember, and the key elements of reality that even our most fond moments lack. The viewer sees flashes that seem to capture a beautiful family outing. Yet, all is left is a literally ‘filtered’ understanding of the scene. Only one audio “channel” from the day lasts, the sound of the tide, not the voices or the music heard that day. Only value, not hue: the color of the beaches, the flora, the blue that made the sea and the blue that may have made the sky.
The climax of the video is the noisy, pained entrance of a giant metal tangle, floating atop the ocean towards its own form of wreckage on the shore. The looming structure is Ugay’s depiction of Tatlin’s Tower– a historic symbol of victory from the birth of the USSR– made from a collage of Hi-8 video and 3-D architectural models.
The physical interruption of the joyful family outing by this structure further reveals the transcendent quality of memories, and in particular, the tendency of the mind to be entrenched in certain symbols, many from cultural influences, that have personal significance, or affected a change in the individual.
In this light, “Bastion” sympathizes with every viewer, speaking to a universal desire of synthesis and preservation of perceived sensory information. Inevitably, our perceptions, as incomplete to reality as they may be, are embedded with emotional meaning that serves to form an even deeper portrayal of the occurrences that encompass our lives.
PROJECT 35, VOLUME 2 will be exhibited until mid-December. Do not miss this short opportunity to view moments, such as that described in “Bastion,” that reveal important perspectives in our world today.
Written by Grace DeWitt
The Stamp Gallery’s current exhibition “Project 35: Volume 2” features several videos selected by curators from around the world. One of these videos, entitled “Pacífico”, is a fascinating piece that was inspired by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade’s experiences and travels through Latin America (video selected by curator Pablo León de la Barra). The video begins with a captivating and vivid stop-motion sequence that portrays the beautiful Latin American landscape. The artist uses a variety of materials and textures along with bold colors to construct an almost dreamlike, whimsical sequence.
After several minutes, the video cuts to images and narration from the book “Chile Ayer/Hoy.” The narrator describes scenes happening in Chile, alternating between yesterday and today to show contrast. There are images of violence and turmoil, but also images of peace and joy.
Again, the video returns to stop-motion, showing an imagined earthquake that causes Chile to split away from South America and become its own island. There are also sequences of narration over images of maps and landscapes that describe real events such as the 2010 Chilean earthquake.
The video is captivating, to say the least, but you’re probably wondering at this point (as I was) – What does it all mean? In a 2014 interview, the artist describes his inspiration for the piece. While traveling through Chile and Bolivia, De Andrade found many cultural differences and viewpoints, particularly regarding the 19th century War of the Pacific. This was a bitter war between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia over territory and resources that ended in 1904. De Andrade wanted to use the video to depict a fictional solution to the fighting and territorial disputes, which was an earthquake that would force the physical separation of Chile.
However, during the making of the video in 2010, an actual massive earthquake rocked Chile. De Andrade decided to compile images and audio from the earthquake and its aftermath to integrate into the video. The result is a surreal, almost haunting combination of fiction and reality that creates a powerful viewer experience. The interlacing of vivid cartoon-like animation with powerful real-world images and narration can be jarring, but it also leaves you with a lingering reminder of the profundity of imagination and the coldness of reality.
Written by: Nick Freas
When I thought of art and museums, I always had this image of a renaissance painting that sits in a humongous room. However, as I get older and more aware of the contemporary art, I realized that the most important artwork is no longer the one limited to the most refined skills; it is about the idea that the art is trying to communicate with its audience, or even our society. Rather, some of the most powerful artworks nowadays are composed of simple matter. For example: video.
Project 35 is s selection of 35 international curators who each choose one work by an artist that they think is important for audiences around the world to experience today. I was beyond excited when we have the chance to present it at Stamp. The combination of diverse interests from all over the world made the project more value added as a whole. It is even more interesting to see the regional and global connections among practitioners and the variety of approaches they use to make video. One of the unforgettable pieces I had strong feelings toward was Prilla Tania’s Space within Time Series.
Space within Time Series is a series of video works in which Tania employs stop-motion photography to record herself against a background of white chalk images on a blackboard. I found the integration of a 3D subject with a 2D context very creative and interesting. The images change based on Tania’s movement, and the following sound effects add liveliness to the artwork as a whole. Through some background research on the artist, I realized that her work focuses on the elements of environment and exploration with unexpected media such as paper and cloth.
Now looking at the video again, I realized the theme about the environment through the direct contrast between the subject and the background, and the theme about the tensions and connections between us and the environment. The utilization of chalk images on a blackboard naturally simplified the environment we live in. The surroundings are now white chalk lines, and it contrasted the subject and made the audience to focus more on the actions. On the other hand, as the artist performs her daily occurrences, the chalk images alters corresponding to her actions; yet, the chalk marks from previous images can still be seen even after it is being erased. I began to wonder if this were intentional, and if the marks were left there to imply the memories of the past. The ambiguity made me appreciate the art more, for all the possible interpretations that lie within this four-minute long video. Either way, the artist successfully demonstrated the tensions between the changes in the past and the present, through the most subtle and natural way without any artificial efforts.
Space within Time Series portrayed the idea of interacting with the environment and surroundings smoothly. Through the choice of materials, Tania was able to guide the audience to think creatively, and reflect on their own actions. Thanks to Tania, I was able to image myself living in a world of chalk images, and to ask myself: what are some of the chalk marks that I would leave behind, and what are some of the chalk marks that I would create.
I can genuinely say that I love working at the Stamp Art Gallery. Who knew that as a docent I would have so many opportunities to meet interesting people? No guest is ever the same. Since working at the Stamp Art Gallery I have encountered quests from all sorts of backgrounds who were genuinely curious about our current exhibition, Looking Black at Me by D.C. based artist, Larry Cook.
From the front desk I see quests sometimes walk inside the gallery hesitantly and look around the room with much curiosity in their eyes. Sometimes they take their time around the room and read Cook’s commentary on his work. And other times they rush through the exhibit without truly observing his beautiful and provocative art. I can easily tell – just from observing our guests – how Cook’s work elicits many responses, both negative and positive, from our guests. Through these various responses, I often encounter the best conversations.
When I was asked for the first time to express my personal interpretations of Cook’s work, I was taken by surprise. In my head I thought, well, why would guests want to know what I have to say? I did not feel that my opinions, in some way, were worthy to be heard, not because they were not valuable, but because my preconceived ideas about my responsibilities did not allow me think this interaction could be possible. I did not expect such a thing to happen at work. Before I began this job I thought that my task was to primarily greet guests, make them feel welcomed, and inform them about gallery related things. But instead, I have had quests walk towards me and ask questions about the art, not as a person seeking additional information about the work, but as a person interested in knowing what I had to say – my opinions mattered to them.
Because Cook’s work is somewhat abstract and open to many interpretations, guests found it helpful to hear what I had to say. My interpretations gave them a guideline into what direction Cook might have taken in his work. It also allowed them to see whether their interpretation/s aligned with someone who knew a little more about the work. Unititled #1 and Untitled #2 would receive the most questions. I had one guest ask me if someone in the video had died. I had other guests ask what the Morse code represented in context to the people in the video and their surroundings. My response would always be that Cook potentially tried to showcase the black body in a different light. By different light I mean that Cook tried to reverse the stereotypical images that are often shown of black people. We are portrayed as thugs, violent, untrustworthy, criminals, etc. Because SOS is used by people in need of rescue and is played in both videos, I interpreted that Cook wanted to represent the black body as innocent. When you look into the individual’s facial expression and their surroundings, you can almost imagine them crying out for help. This portrayal destroys the stereotypical images we both African Americans and non-African Americans are often forced to believe. From this interpretation both the guest and I would discuss how Cook’s work accurately portrays how African Americans are portrayed in this conversation. This often lead to insightful exchanges and a deeper understanding of the work as a whole.
If Cook were to read this, he would probably say that my interpretation is completely wrong. But this post is not meant to convince anyone that my interpretation is true, it was written to show how thought-provoking art such as Cook’s work can influence the kinds of conversations we have with our peers. These conversations force people to consider and reconsider how race, social-economic class, gender, sexual orientation, and religious values alter our human experiences and how people are perceived differently because of these elements. As I expressed earlier, Cook’s artwork has prompted some of the most profound conversations I ever had with guests. Essentially, I think this is the essence of art. If it can make you think and share with your fellow peers, the work of the artist has been done. With that being said, I encourage you to visit the art gallery and share your interpretations with me. I would love to converse with you.
– Genesis Henriquez
Looking Black at Me exhibit featuring Larry Cook is a innovative, powerful and thought provoking. He executes the process of filming footage of African American men and women in a archival manner. Which forces viewers to think about the state of African American society. His work portrays this intriguing space in which America has created for the contemporary African American.
Moreover, I have become attached to his work because of this show. During the reception I got a chance to talk with Larry about his work featured in this show, and some of his work in previous shows. I pointed to the fact that I was able to see how his work has evolved. If you look at some of his past works they were very direct and subjective even; however looking at his work in this exhibit you see a more subtle yet effective approach. Which I admire, his work simply offers you a window to look into; however the viewer is left to decide how he/she feels about the work and what it means to them.
That is what is so special about his work, it gives African Americans an undeniable voice. It says to me that, we are here… this is who we are… and we are not going any where… this is what you created… These images conjure up all my feelings about 465 years that African Americans were enslaved, and all the harsh treatment thereafter. As well as the marches on Washington led by MLK, with black men holding signs stating “I Am A Man”. The work makes me think about glass ceilings that hold African Americans back because of the color of their skin. It evokes the culture in which mainstream America does not understand but, simply rapes and exploits for their own benefit.
When I look at this work I see African Americans that want a space to call there own and this work is a testament to this. For example the SOS footage of the African America female holding the flair, comes across as a black statue of liberty to me versus a threatening women with a gun; however that might not be the case with someone from a different class or ethnicity. Images like these transform our social ideology embedded in us through our social up bringing. Cook’s show presents me with important ideas which challenge the way people judge and are perceived in American society.
One of my absolute favorite pastimes is people-watching. That may sound creepy; yet, it’s something that never becomes boring, since no two people will look or act exactly the same. When I people-watch, I feel as if I’m a receiver of information rather than a creator. To put it simply, I enjoy people-watching because it can be an entertaining, passive kind of activity.
At the same time, there have been days when I chose to add a new aspect to my people-watching game. I was recently sitting on a bench at Dupont Circle in D.C. with a friend, and we decided to pick a passerby at random and “invent” a life for him or her. It’s astonishing when I think about the number of attributions we were able to come up with, based exclusively on our first impression of this stranger.
Since “Looking Black At Me” has been in show, I’ve been thinking about the difference between simply observing a person versus actively making assumptions about them. I think that there is a very fine line separating the two things, and this line falls in different places for different people. In my own experiences, I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to even be aware of crossing the line. It just seems to be a natural human inclination to attach a personality and a characterization to an unknown face.
When I stand in front of the monitors in the gallery and (seemingly) make eye contact with the people in the video, I challenge myself to ignore the impulse to characterize them right off the bat. I particularly like the notion that the person in the screen is essentially looking right back at the viewer, but without making any sort of judgment. It really gets me thinking about the give-and-return that comes with making judgments.
Even when I feel positive that I’m not characterizing someone on first sight, it sometimes happens subconsciously. I think this is why it’s so easy to develop an impression of someone and then stick with it. Something that I’ve taken away from Larry Cook’s work is the idea that perception can be considered fluid. Larry’s exhibit has reminded me that our immediate characterization of someone isn’t set in stone by any means. When visitors come to this show, I like to think that they walk away with the awareness that perception is changeable.