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~ Machine Labor Intensive with Kaitlyn Jo Smith + Genevieve Goffman 

Machine Labor Intensive with Kaitlyn Jo Smith + Genevieve Goffman

Kaitlyn Jo Smith is an interdisciplinary artist focused on the present and future trajectories of America’s working class. Raised by skilled laborers in rural Ohio, Smith was thirteen when the housing market crashed and nearly every adult she knew was suddenly out of work. Her artworks render visible the intangible realities of unemployment by utilizing automation, machine learning, and 3D scanning and printing. These technologies are directly linked to the loss of over 4 million US manufacturing jobs since 2000. Her work has been featured in PDNedu and Don’t Smile Magazine and has shown at the Tucson Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona, Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, Flower City Arts Center in Rochester, New York, Harry Wood Gallery in Tempe, Arizona and CO-OPt Gallery in Lubbock, Texas. You could find more of her work on her Website and Instagram.

Genevieve Goffman (b. 1991, Washington, D.C.) based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on utopic thinking, the memories and potential futures of communism, the intersection of technology, class, and luxury, and the history of nuclear science and radiation. Goffman earned her MFA in sculpture from Yale in 2020. Recent solo exhibitions include Redwall, But For Your Dead Pets Only, Catbox Contemporary, Queens, NY, 2019; Hotel Heaven, Lubov, New York, NY, 2019; she has also shown work with Gallery 102 in Berlin, EXILE in Vienna, Austria, and Workroom. Daipyat in Voronezh, Russia. An upcoming 2020 solo show at Money Gallery in Saint Petersburg, Russia is anticipated. You could find more of her work through her Website and Instagram.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Kaitlyn Jo Smith and Genevieve Goffman to conduct an interview-style “studio visit” to introduce them as recently graduated artists working beyond the expectations of their respective mediums. Their goals are to expand the notion of what is classified as “art” and connect other people to like-minded creators. You can find them online through their Instagram or their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn: How would you describe your practice?

Kaitlyn Jo Smith: My work deals primarily with 3D printing, AI, computer learning, video, and photo. 

Genevieve Goffman: My work starts in the digital space. 3-D printing is the second step. It’s  about creating things that are intangible and making them tangible through newer printing technologies. 3-D printing is one I lean on a lot, as well as printing on acrylic, different fabrics, plexi, and stuff like that. It’s about bringing the virtual and memory into an object you can see in real space.

KJS: I’m using 3-D printing in the exact opposite way. I’m physically out in the world collecting objects and broken relics of what I deem to be the height of the American Dream. 3-D printing is a way to make these broken objects precious. If you make enough copies of anything, the original becomes a hyper-precious object. 3-D printing has turned into an assembly line where broken objects mean nothing unless you’re making them mean something.

GG: When I started making work, I kept thinking about the idea of there being so much stuff; so much history, so many objects, so many sculptures. A joke that no one thinks is funny; whenever (my friends) invite me to a gallery in New York I go, “oh there are too many art galleries here! There are so many of them!” That’s how I feel about everything. 

It’s interesting to give someone a (printed) object when the only thing they know about 3-D printing is it can be reproduced into a replica. How people react to that is very bizarre. For some people it’s intriguing and for other people it’s incredibly upsetting. It’s like they haven’t gotten over the Industrial Revolution. The idea of reproducibility is something they haven’t moved past. I think it’s a very effective tool to use in art because it does have this effect on people. I think everyone has this fear that we’re slowly being encroached on by the amount of stuff that there is- data on the internet or actual physical objects.

Genevieve Goffman, Monument to a Hot Dead King (Waterfall), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, Monument to a Hot Dead King (Waterfall), 2020

KJS: Everything has (already) been photographed at this point, so I started veering into a more sculptural realm. Reproducibility is interesting. From a photo perspective, it’s never really an issue because a photograph is something that you reproduce. It’s not a one-off, like a sculpture or a painting. 

It made sense to me because my work deals with factory work being harder and harder to come by because of machines. The core of why I love 3-D printing is that I can recreate what a factory is. Some people are like “This isn’t art. It feels gimmicky. You can just click and it goes.” For me, that’s what I love (about it). I am talking about the assembly line.

GG: People see it as this cheap reproducible thing lacking in labor, when in fact it is a representation of a very specific kind of labor that has made up a lot of modernity; machine labor. Some artists will dismiss it as somehow being the absence of material, because they see plastic. I don’t work much with PLA anymore, but I do have a fondness for it. One of my one of my favorite pieces in the show I just had is PLA. They saw it as devoid of meaning because it isn’t one of the art materials that has specific, structured meaning behind it. Material that represents mass production, isn’t that the most potent thing you could think of?

Genevieve Goffman, The Station After (Pearl), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Station After (Pearl), 2020

KJS: I had the same pushback as you. How do you talk about factory work in a way that isn’t dealing with the multiples? One of the first studio visits I had, I remember a professor being like, “I’ve never seen this (material) not look cheap and not look like a toy and not look like something from Comic-Con.” I don’t think he was necessarily saying “don’t do it.” I love that challenge about it. Working with a newer medium that hasn’t really broken into the fine art world, it’s very exciting to be on the forefront of that. What better way to talk about consumerism and capitalism than with cheap material; taking something that feels cheap and embracing its cheapness. 

GG: The charm of 3-D printing is that it’s flawed. If you do everything exactly right, you can just press a button and hit go. For me, 75% of the time, it totally fucks up. The technology has been around for a long time, but because it’s so weird to work with it stays novel. The people who use it are gamers, both video game designers and tabletop gamers. Because I use fantasy in my work, those are also the kind of people who like my work. Our (work) should be referencing these hyper-contemporary things, or it should be referencing tabletop gaming, or it should be referencing the death of the factory. I’m curious, could you give some examples of the broken objects from factories you talked about?, 

KJS: My dad worked at a toilet factory my whole life. I was 13 when the housing bubble crashed. When that happened, any sort of factory dealing with home goods or remodeling went under. I grew up in a town of 800 people. When that factory (closed down), everyone in my family lost their jobs. I was young enough to not know what was going on but old enough to feel the effects.

My first Thanksgiving in grad school, I went home and really wanted to photograph the factory. It’s an interesting place. There’s one building still standing, one half-demolished building, and the rest is totally flattened. This is when I was transitioning from photos into something more sculptural. While I was taking pictures, My dad was picking up shards of broken toilets. They didn’t clear any merchandise when they totaled the building, so there were hunks of broken porcelain that meant absolutely nothing, but that everyone in my family had, at some point,  touched. That factory had been there since the 1800s. We gathered all of (the broken porcelain shards), shipped them out to Arizona, and sat and looked at them. 

I was editing through the pictures, and they’re good photographs, but it didn’t make sense to not have the materiality. I started by 3-D scanning all of (the broken porcelain shards) and learned to print them. Suddenly, these broken objects that meant so much to me but meant nothing to anyone else, now had value. 

How can we talk about the value of a community and of a space through broken toilet parts? What I ended up using for my thesis was one specific handle; the only one of the broken porcelain that looks like it is something. I reproduced it 300 times and turned it into a sculpture that’s lit from within. When the lights are on, you can see the infrastructure of all the handles. The original handle is standing on a podium above it. To me, it’s about how manual labor is the way people provide for their families, especially in rural Middle America, compared to the hundreds of replicas that are machine made. These objects tell the story of this group of people who are oftentimes overlooked in art. I’m interested in bringing the working class into the gallery space. The push and pull between rural and urban is interesting to me too, because (most) galleries exist in an urban setting.

GG: Wealth, of course, is always going to determine what is bought and sold in a place like New York. At the same time, where does culture come from? Culture is  appropriated from below and then conditioned through wealth.

A lot of the subjects I deal with are not normal pop culture, but pop culture that’s on the fringe. Anime, but also bringing online culture into a contemporary art space. It’s hard to see that happen without that thing becoming a fetishization of those cultures. Giving a window to someone else to observe is something you have to live with if you’re doing this process of translation, communication, and representation. It’s interesting to step back and watch it happen. When you talk to people about this stuff, they are very ready to have these conversations and be present with it. I feel lucky to have met a lot of curators who are legitimately interested in my bizarre internet and fantasy obsessions. It’s about finding those people who are willing to actually be like, “I like your work for what it is, not necessarily what it represents, but I’m willing to sit down and talk to you about the story behind it.”

KJS: Those are the conversations that need to happen! This happens all the time,  people will drive through a dilapidated rural town, take a couple pictures, then post them on the wall and sell them for a bunch of money. That drives me nuts! Whatever you make art about, if you are making something from a place of understanding and because you care about it, then those conversations can happen. That’s an important place to be creating from. It’s time for internet art to be in the forefront in a gallery space! It’s time for the rural voice to exist in there! If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we have to view the gallery space differently. People can’t go see things anymore. You have to be open to different kinds of art; not necessarily the huge painting or sculpture that sits in the middle, looks really nice in the window, and brings people in from off the street.

Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Shuttered (video still), 2019
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Shuttered (video still), 2019

TNG: Who are some of your influences?

GG: I pull from fantasy novels, anime, and angry teen girls on the internet. In terms of artists I admire, I always say Kanye West. He is probably one of the greatest musicians living and I like that it ruffles feathers. My friend Emma Pryde makes really beautiful art also. One of the things I liked about going to grad school was that my peer group happened to be 10 other very strong artists. When I’m not drawing from this more Internet, fantasy realm, I’m looking at historical documentation and at artists that have worked in data collection and research based practices. 

Genevieve Goffman, The Station Manager is a Chimera, 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Station Manager is a Chimera, 2020

KJS: The things that have inspired me the most over the past year would be two books. Andrew Yang’s book, which I cannot recommend enough, The War on Normal People. Then, this book by Nancy Eisenberg called White Trash. Two of my favorite artists of all time are Christian Boltanski and Odette England. Those are two artists that I am always coming back to.

TNG: How did you feel about your MFA program in general? 

GG:  At Yale, I think it depends on which of the schools you go to. It’s split, and there is not a lot of actual overlap in the core classes. They had completely different social and educational cultures. There was also intense emphasis on classical sculpting techniques. I had a really hard time there. I will say that we had amazing visiting artists that would come in routinely, like Kevin BeasleyAjay Curien,and Leslie Dick. They are amazing people and it was worth it to meet people like that.

I don’t get along with most people, but I loved everyone in my program. They were all incredibly talented. If I were a curator, I would be really excited to work with any one of these people because they would turn out something incredibly unique.

Another thing about Yale is you have the best young art historians in the country. You have amazing access to intellectuals and additional support in a way you wouldn’t necessarily have at a different university.

I think when everyone first got there we had this kind of imposter syndrome. I didn’t go to art school in undergrad, so I felt like I faked my way in and was pretending to be an artist. You have to stop thinking that way. I do think (Yale) offers this level of legitimacy to other people but also to yourself.

KJS: I could not say enough wonderful things about the school that I ended up going to. It is incredibly interdisciplinary. You can work with any of the faculty that you want. Tucson is not a huge city by any means, but it’s this amazing photo hub. If you’re going to study photography, being in the desert is the perfect place to do so because the light is always perfect. We have access to the Center for Creative Photography founded by Ansel Adams. They are always bringing in great scholars.

I applied to all of the top schools that weren’t in New York City. I grew up in a town of 800 people. I do love living in a city but I couldn’t do (New York). U of A was perfect. It’s  in this really nice spot- only a seven hour drive to LA, so a lot of artists that can’t afford to be based in LA live in Arizona.

The imposter syndrome thing is real. When I got here I was like, “this is a giant mistake.” I originally wanted to take four or five years in-between undergrad and grad school, but all my professors told me “you should start applying now. You probably won’t get in, but at least people can look at your portfolio.” After one year of being out of school I applied to my top schools and got a call a month later that (U of A) wanted me. I was not prepared to move my entire life across the country at all but I was like, “okay this is what we’re doing.” 

(A three year grad program) was really nice because you have the entire first year to play and experiment. The photo program is intense, but having that extra first year was amazing because they truly just want you to dabble in other mediums, meet other people, play, fail, and figure that out. By the time thesis year came around, I knew what I was doing. 

Kaitlyn Jo Smith, In Mass, 2019
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, In Mass, 2019

TNG: Would you recommend that young artists go straight into an MFA or wait a bit? 

KJS: It totally depends. I knew I wanted to go to grad school when I was an undergrad. I’d asked all my professors, and 50% of them said, “you have to wait, you have no life experience,” and then the other 50% of them said “if you know you want to do it, just do it.” I thought I wouldn’t get into grad school and got in. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to do it.

GG: I live in New York. There are hundreds of artists here who were those kids who were good at drawing, then went to Cooper Union, then went to Yale MFA, and now they’re painters. They took route, but I don’t think that is where all of the best artists come from. 

I am of the belief that people probably shouldn’t be going to grad school until they’re at least over 27. The fact that there are people who are going to grad school so young is creating a weird thing in our country where you have to go to grad school to be successful in certain fields. Grad school traditionally was for people who specifically wanted to teach in a certain medium or study something in a very specific way. Now it’s becoming this second step that everyone wants to do. People just want to get it out of the way. I hate that for education and I hate that for art. 

I was in grad school with people who had just finished Yale or Harvard and they felt pressure to immediately get their PhD in art history.

People don’t know exactly what they want to do when they’re 22, or the best ways to do it. Go do something fun and then go to grad school. Have a job that sucks and go get drunk every night. It personally makes me a little upset when I see people who are very young going into their second degree. It kind of shapes your life in a way, and it also sets a precedent that people should be trying to do that. I know a lot of successful artists who have never been to grad school.

Honestly, if you want to teach then you should go to grad school, and you should try to do it sooner rather than later. The reason I went is because I was isolated from the art world. I knew that I wanted to participate in it and I knew I wanted to start showing in New York. It took me a long time to figure out that’s what I wanted.

Genevieve Goffman, The Mining Incident (Magenta), 2020
Genevieve Goffman, The Mining Incident (Magenta), 2020

TNG: How was your experience doing residencies?

KJS:  It’s been so long since that’s even been on the radar just because of the way the world is. Anderson Ranch was the last thing that I did. Anytime I’ve done a residency, I’ve always really enjoyed it. I’ve never done any for more than a couple of weeks. 

I haven’t really been applying because a lot of residences aren’t happening and so many galleries are just online exhibitions. Everything is just so weird right now, it feels like a whole ‘nother lifetime when I would go to residences and do those things. 

Hands down, I think you should do (a residency) if you have the means. If you’re in between jobs, do teaching gigs or shows. It’s a great opportunity. You meet and learn from so many wonderful people you would never have otherwise, and most of those places offer scholarships.

GG: I’ve only ever done one full residency and it was in Berlin. It was great for me because my work looks at points of political upheaval. I’m especially interested in the Cold War and the tension between socialism, communism, fascism and capitalism. 

You do meet amazing people. I met my boyfriend while I was there and being there is what made me decide to go to grad school. The conversations I had with the academics were the most interesting conversations that I had ever had. The reason I decided to go to grad school in the first place was so I could keep having conversations like that. 

Residencies take a lot of energy to apply to. It’s an incredibly grueling process. It feels hard to make oneself go through that right now, given how uncertain things are. 

KJS: So much of art is applying, getting nothing till you get one thing and it’s exciting. Under normal circumstances, I have the ability to take rejection like nobody’s business. Normally it’s fine but right now I don’t think I’m in a place where I can handle being turned down. 

I feel like this is a bad time to have emerged into the professional world. I’ve been in school for so long at this point that I’m like, is this what leaving grad school is like 

for everyone? Or is this just because of the time in history when I left? 

GG: I do think there is something very fucked up about leaving grad school, especially for artists. For a lot of people it’s leaving the studio. That can be hard for people who depend on having one. You’re also leaving this community of people who aren’t going to tell you to shut the fuck up if you try to talk about the things you care about. A lot of times, it involves moving away. That was hard for me; suddenly being somewhere my closest friends weren’t.

Getting work is much harder now. Teaching opportunities are weirder. For the first time in a very long time, there are less women employed than there are men in the United States. Take from that way you will, I’m not making a value judgment on this. One of the reasons is because a lot of women have quit their jobs to go home to take care of kids who are now not in school because of COVID. We are living in really fucking weird times.

 Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Campaign (video still), 2018
Kaitlyn Jo Smith, Campaign (video still), 2018

~ Konked: Ben Absent


Ben Absent
 shares some photos of people he came across in Atlanta and Boston over the past year.

~ The 1975: Jordan Curtis Hughes

Jordan Curtis Hughes spent most of the couple months before lockdown touring New Zealand and Australia with The 1975 shooting their headline slot at Laneway Festival. Looking at these images retrospectively, the festival was the last big hurrah before COVID really took a grip on Europe, Australia, and New Zealand at the beginning of March and shut everything down. You can follow Jordan on Instagram and Twitter.

~ 10 Yoga Poses for Artists

10 Yoga Poses for Artists

Yoga allows us to learn about ourselves and gain insight into the world. We learn tools that make handling life easier, more joyous and integrated.  By taking ownership of our physical health, we empower ourselves to go further, to fully own our narrative threads, our emotions, and our lives.  These are simple postures that will help you bring your imagination into your body! Move energy and inspire yourself!


1. Strike the Match: 
This is a pranayama (breathwork) technique to stoke our internal fires. Sit up on a block or cushion, kneeling like I am, or cross legged. Begin to rock forward and back, creating friction, contact and heat! Your whole spine and central nervous system will warm up and you will feel energy moving upwards! 

2. Down Dog: 
Come to a plank pose, then lift your hips up to create an inverted V shape. Take a slight bend in your knees, so you can really revolve the sit bones up.  Hands should be shoulder width apart and feet, hip width.  Start with 5 breaths and build from there. Moving from plank to dog and back again several times can feel really nice.

3. Pyramid Pose: 
From Dog, step one foot forward, and bring the back foot in, so you have a short stance, about 3 feet. Take an inhale to pull your chest forward, and on the exhale fold towards your front leg. This is an incredible posture for lengthening the back of the legs and alleviating back pain!  Start with 5 breaths, per side. 

4. Warrior 3:   
This is a powerful and empowering posture.  From standing, take a small bend in one knee as you raise the other leg behind you.  Allow the torso to cantilever forward. One option (that i always take) is to put your hands on blocks for added support. 5 breaths, each side.

5. Standing Forward Fold: 
Take your feet hip width apart or wider and have a nice, generous bend in your knees.  Allow the torso the drape, drip, hang and release over the support of the legs.  You can grab opposite elbows, allow the arms to dangle, use the hands for support on the earth or any other arm variations you can think of.  10 slow, deep breaths. 

6. Handstand: 
This posture is for fun and joy so absolutely don’t take it too seriously. Allow your energy to move! Hands down shoulder with apart, look forward on the mat 6 inches in front of your hands. Start with small controlled hops, keeping your legs together!

7. Side bend: 
From sitting crossed legged (or however works for you) take a nice bend, opening up the side body channels. Breathe into the length and space! 

8. Seated forward fold: 
Turn inward for inspiration with this simple and humble posture. From sitting extend your legs forward, and take a generous bend in each knee. Try to fold forward and fit your armpit son to your kneecaps.  Drop your head and take 10 slow, deliberate breaths.  

9. Fish: 
Open up the front body with this simple backbend.  Lay down, press your elbows into the mat, lifting your chest up and allowing the crown of the head to make contact with the earth.  You can reach your arms overhead like I am in the pic, or keep your elbows down.  Alternatively, you can slide a pillow under the bra line and take a supported fish, which has all the same benefits.

10. Reverse Prayer: 
From sitting, take your hands behind your back into a reverse prayer. If that isn’t working, interweave your fingers. Close your eyes and take a few breaths, allowing the collarbones and shoulders to reset.

Click here to get tickets to STP x Kyle Miller Yoga Every Sunday 1PM EST!

~ Buffalo Chicken Empanada and Autumn Salad with Buttermilk Scallion Lemon Dressing 

Buffalo Chicken Empanada Recipe

Yield: 16 empanadas

Ingredients:

3 lbs chicken thigh or breast (bone in)

7 oz buffalo sauce

1 package turnover pastry dough (Goya “grande discos” 10 pack is ideal)

1 medium red onion

32 oz peanut oil (for frying)

To enhance the pulled chicken:

1 large white onion

2 chicken bouillon cubes 

Prep

Allow disco pastry dough to dethaw, julienne red onion, and liberally salt-and-pepper chicken.

Chicken

Bring chicken, onion, and chicken bullion cubes to boil in a 6 quart pot with contents fully submerged in water. Throw in any wilting herbs like dill or cilantro into the pot, along with any old vegetables in your fridge. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees. Allow chicken to cool.

 Shred the cooled chicken. Combine chicken shreds with buffalo sauce and incorporate onion into the mixture. 

Assembly

Add 4-5 oz of chicken mixture into the center of each disco dough. Fold the dough in half to form a semi- circle. To seal the pastry for frying, fold the edges with your thumb and pointer finger to create twists, or press the empanada edges with a fork.

 Frying

Bring peanut oil to 165 degrees and fry each empanada for 3-4 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels. 

I made this combo for dinner a couple weeks ago and I have been looking forward to remaking it since. The duo may seem gratuitous, but it isn’t unless you eat too many empanadas. This recipe is for 2 but preps enough filling for many empanadas and enough dressing for several salads. 

Background Image: Google
Background Image: Google

Autumn Salad with Buttermilk Scallion Lemon Dressing  

Ingredients:

1 cup buttermilk

1 cups aioli (or kewpie mayo)

¼ cup white wine vinegar 

¼ cup lemon juice

½ cup minced scallion 

1 bunch dandelion 

1 tsp annatto pepper  

8 oz arugula

6 oz radish

2 forelle pears 

1 honey crisp apple

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 tsp olive oil

4 oz pecorino romano

Prep

Whisk together buttermilk and aioli. Add lemon juice and white wine vinegar, followed by scallions. Season dressing with salt, annatto pepper and black pepper.

Toast sunflower seeds lightly with olive oil, bake for 12-14 mins at 355°F then season with salt and pepper.

Assembly

Assemble salad ingredients to your liking and add dressing.

Recipe by Andres Salamanca

~ Peace Mountain: Eddie Mellow

Peace Mountain is a collection of photos taken by Eddie Mellow during the summer of 2020. 7 Days, 26 peaks and 101 miles hiking through the White Mountains of New Hampshire with his friend Jordan, seen in many of the pictures. These hikes, along with his camera brought him peace in a year filled with noise.  All photos taken on vintage SX-70 land camera. 

~ In Conversation with: KT Hickman 

In Conversation with: KT Hickman

Bushwick-based artist KT Hickman is the epitome of someone who enjoys going hard in the paint; big strokes, messy renderings. Yet still, her distorted Coke logos are instantly recognizable. Looking at KT’s work is contagious and makes you want to paint. Her current series combines an insanely playful rendering style with an insanely disciplined subject, Coke. She has managed to stay on this subject for 5 years, without straying into the millions of other potential series, and still finds ways to keep it new. Discipline or obsession?

Joseph Smith is a Bushwick based painter and interviewer. He conducts studio visits with emerging to mid-career artists. These interviews serve as documentations of the artist, the artworld, the time period, etc. You can find his work and current projects on his website, or instagram. He visited KT’s studio towards the end of September 2020 to rummage through stacks of old paintings while talking about the eponymous Coke. 

Joseph Smith: You bounce back and forth between video and painting, how did that become a part of your process? 

KT Hickman: I wanted to study painting, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to focus on technical skill alone. That made me go towards video. I think the audience is broader and you can connect to more people with film, but I always went back to painting eventually. 

I made a video of this drink I made called  “The Coke Girl.” In it was every type of Coke mixed together with vodka, or whatever liquor you’d like, a spoonful of sugar, and a cherry. I’ve always painted text in some form and something just clicked as I was painting for fun, just spinning off of the video.

Stills from 'Coke Girl' by KT Hickman

My ideas are always derived off of an obsession. [Coke] is definitely about obsession. Obsession is something I get a kick out of, the repetition fuels something in me. The idea that something can be repeated so many times and still be different each time.

JS: Did you think you’d be painting this for 5+ years?

KH: No, I just imagined it in so many different combinations and I wanted to see how many ways I could manipulate the logo through a variety of color combinations, or whatever it was, and yet have it remain so graphically recognizable. [Coca Cola] is ingrained in everyone. That’s why it’s funny too. Everyone can have an immediate reaction because they know what Coke is. You get it right when you see it. It’s not alienating. I’m not a fan of elitism or exclusivity. I don’t like how alienating the art world can be towards people from different backgrounds. It’s so limiting and unrelatable at this point. The [Coke] symbol immediately connects us globally. 

KT's Coke Series in her studio, photo by Rouchka Bourquelot
KT’s Coke Series in her studio, photo by Rouchka Bourquelot


JS: So it was an endless combination for you?

KH: It still is endless. I’ve been experimenting with not using the Coca Cola font and I plan for that to look totally different. I was wondering how far I could take it with it remaining recognizable, and found that for the most part it stays recognizable. It doesn’t matter how fucked up it looks, people still know what it is. It’s like brainwashing. It’s kind of semiotic, the word, “Coke.” You can endlessly analyze it. Coca Cola is an archetype of American culture, visually, historically, economically. It can represent the best and worst, the American dream and imperialist corruption. It’s an evil thing that can also make you smile. 

JS: When you see a graphic or font you want to reference or experiment with in your paintings, do you collect it physically? Would you take the book or find images of the type online?

KH: I would take a book, like Stephen King’s typography from the eighties, even Goosebumps or something. I’ve been buying books by the lot on eBay, which will have like 10 books in one lot. That has a huge visual influence.  

Sourced from Google
Sourced from Google

JS: We’ve talked a little about how you felt more pressure to develop a brand as a female painter, why do you think that is? KH: I think you have to try harder to fit yourself in. I personally do not think about or impose gender onto my work. I think it should function outside of those boundaries, but people are quick to impose them and create a narrative for the maker. Some people want a clear definition and like to divide things into categories, then have a hard time separating the thing from the person. Whenever that starts to happen, I try to do the opposite. I don’t feel the need to be seen for my work to be understood. Making a brand and doing one thing is not really my interest. If I didn’t switch modes, I would get really bored. I was making video art and when that started taking off, I became really un-attracted to it. I care less now, and not caring has helped me a lot with my work.  

JS: Do you see yourself continuing to work on the Coke paintings in the next couple of years?

Coke painting, photo by Rouchka Bourquelot
Coke painting, photo by Rouchka Bourquelot

KH: I have no idea. It’ll evolve, and it’s always something I can go back to. I’ll just keep painting and experimenting and living in my own world. 

It’s weird to feel like you have to do something like this. It’s obsessive. I can’t really explain it. You make time for it- if you don’t it drives you crazy.You always come back to it. It’s not about gaining a skill, it’s about getting anything internal out. [Painting is] basically therapy.  

~ Panoptic Party People

Panoptic Party People

In March of 2018, I was sitting in Newark International Airport waiting for a flight that had been delayed for seven hours. Losing hope, I tweeted “Ending it all,” the intended punchline being the location tag of the airport. I sent the tweet and did not think about it again until I boarded the flight. Later, I got a text message from my mother saying that the Port Authority of New York had just called her. In post 9/11 America, surveillance measures have greatly increased in airports, something I had not questioned until that moment. They chose to call my mother because they had pulled up our family history, taking note of various family trauma and previous mental health incidents I had experienced nearly a decade before. I have no clue where this information is stored, why they need it, or how they got access to it, but ‘they’ have it, and ‘they’ use it. It was in this moment that I began to think about social media and all of the data circulating around it – like the airport, I was being surveilled like the panopticon, being watched with the most careful of eyes by a guard in the tower. 

The panopticon comes from a prison design by Jeremy Bentham in the seventeenth century that situates its prisoners in a circular formation surrounding a central watchtower. This is done in order fo the few to exercise their power over the many. The prisoners have no sense of privacy; consistent surveillance renders them powerless to those watching. Perception is essential in the function of the panopticon, because more than actually surveilling the prisoners, the central watchtower makes it so the prisoners feel as though they are being watched. This feeling creates docility amongst the prisoners. The true power of the panopticon comes when there are no guards in the tower but order amongst the prisoners is maintained; where the feeling of being watched conditions self-regulation. The imposing nature of the tower itself breeds the architecture of surveillance. This architecture has become omnipresent outside of the prison now. From chain link fences to closed-circuit televisions to law enforcement, there are structures to remind one that they are being watched all around. 

Philosopher Michel Foucault takes Bentham’s panopticon and analyzes its inner-workings, applying its ideals to notions of power through surveillance. Contemplating issues of panoptic states, Foucault discerns three criteria necessary for the panopticon to function outside of the prison: to impose power at the lowest cost, to exercise social power through surveillance, and to place that social power as a primary source of human functionality. A visible yet unverifiable power is key to maintaining the panopticon. Aesthetics of power become essential for this to work, as these forms must be easily recognizable and suggest consequences upon being “caught,” so to speak. 

One of the most present cultural institutions in all American cities that enforces this panoptic state is the art museum. The art museum serves to connect visitors with works of art; exhibitions are organized by curators of the museum, who choose works from collections in order to convey a point of view. Through the act of placing work throughout the museum space, both the art and the curator become the de facto experts on the subject being presented. Museum-goers must be wary of this submission of power and enter an exhibition with a critical eye to the selection, organization, and works on view. An exhibition is a zero-sum game, where the fact that one work is on view automatically means another is not – the curator is in control. There is no perfect solution, as there are many more works of art than there is wall space in the world. Viewers must exercise their power in order for the museum hierarchy to be partially dismantled. 

However, this becomes next to impossible due to the architecture of the panopticon present in the museum space. Due to the monetary value ascribed to works of art, museums are monitored by security cameras and oftentimes guards physically in the space as well. This is not kept secret by institutions, purposely letting visitors know they are being watched in order to maintain the idea of museum etiquette. If not instilled by an authority figure upon first visiting a museum, the rule of “no touching” is quickly implemented by the architecture, attitude, and law enforcement at the museum. In some institutions, lines will be placed on the floor in front of certain paintings and sculptures in order to tell a viewer how close they are allowed to get to the work. Some have sensors that, when triggered, produce an alarm. Consider this a watchtower with a guard. This museum panopticon can be partially dismantled with the intervention of specific artworks in museum spaces. 

Without art, there is no museum. This relationship is essential for artists. Especially in contemporary art institutions, artists can invert the didactic hierarchy between curator and viewer. This is where the panopticon can be either smashed or reinforced, often regardless of the intent of the artist. Artworks that emulate the violent architecture found in a panoptic society, often made to critique, can heighten the museum panopticon. The empty watchtower becomes a sculpture-like object, with a commanding power over the viewer’s psyche. Outside of the panoptic prison, imposing forms are constructed by a more powerful class in order to manipulate society. 

These ever-present pieces of violent architecture become the inspiration for artists appropriating these forms in order to subvert their power. The sculptures Not yet titled 1994, and Untitled 1999 by Cady Noland, specifically through their exhibition in MONO: Oliver Mosset and Cady Noland at the Migros Museum in 1999, embody this idea. So does Policeman 1992/1994, by Duane Hanson, and its two placements in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and lastly, Untitled 2014, by Tom Sachs. Each of these sculptural works places the viewer in a state perceived directly by the panopticon, a space that allows breaking free with no fear of punishment. 

Cady Noland, 'Not yet titled,' 1994
Cady Noland, ’Not yet titled,’ 1994

Cady Noland’s oeuvre of sculptural works is rooted in a critique of the brutality found in American objects, ranging from guns, newspapers, and chain link fences. In reimagining these forms with new materials, Noland is able to draw attention to the subtext within these seemingly mundane objects. Both Not yet titled, and Untitled, are examples of Noland’s ability to re-contextualize the quotidien form. Not yet titled is comprised of a 120” x 149” chain link fence, the same kind of fence used to close off areas where one is not allowed. Whether an active construction site, prison, or private property (One of Jenny Holzer’s truisms comes to mind, “Private property created crime”), the chainlink fence exists to keep someone out. The fence represents a choice of where one can/cannot go as it is exercised over others. While the physical barrier is not an effective way of keeping people out, fences can easily be cut open and climbed over. Yet, the fear implied with breaching such a barrier reflects panoptic qualities in a fence. The installation of Not yet titled is key to the critique of panopticism. 

Installation view of 'Not yet titled,' Cady Noland, at Migros Museum 1999
Installation view of ’Not yet titled,’ Cady Noland, at Migros Museum 1999

The work is flush with the staircase leading into the gallery of Noland’s work. At the top of the staircase, the viewer is unable to see all of the works on view although their view is unobstructed. As one descends down the staircase, the chain link begins to tower over them and obstruct their perspective of the other works on view. This placement is essential to breaking the panoptic quality of the chainlink fence. One is only briefly kept out of the space, and upon walking from the stairs, the work no longer keeps one out, but invites them in for closer consideration. 

Cady Noland, 'Untitled,' 1999
Cady Noland, ’Untitled,’ 1999

Once they pass Not yet titled, the viewer encounters Untitled, a minimal work comprised of elements of police barricades stacked together. These barricades have been rendered functionless, as there is only one middle part supported by far too many end pieces of the barricade. This brings new light to the form, making it look excessive, which draws attention to the  frame. The inspiration for this work by Noland is taken from the photograph Pushers and junkies put massive pressure on the Langstrasses neighborhood in Zurich. The answer was massive police pressure, by Livio Piatti. 

4 Livio Piatti, 'Pushers and junkies put massive pressure on the Langstrasses neighborhood in Zurich. The answer was massive police pressure.' First page of MONO exhibition catalog.
4 Livio Piatti, ’Pushers and junkies put massive pressure on the Langstrasses neighborhood in Zurich. The answer was massive police pressure.’ First page of MONO exhibition catalog.

The photograph depicts police officers writing tickets to civilians behind a police barricade. Notions of keeping out become present again, now in how the sculptures protruding from the wall produce a phallic form, aimed to be a commentary on the hyper-masculine associations present in policing. The entire barricade is white, stripped of any didactic text, leaving only the object. The text on the barricade is essential to effectively keep people out, often reading “danger” or “Police Line Do Not Cross.” If one is unable to understand the delineation of the physical barrier, they are held accountable to read it, too. The police force provides some of the best panoptic architecture utilized for controlling masses of people. Better than their architecture, the presence of a single police officer can do the same work as the empty watchtower.

Duane Hanson creates hyper-realistic sculptures of human beings. These lifelike forms intervene with viewers’ interactions of traditional art spaces. Viewers will often get too close, even touching the works to verify whether or not it is a live person or a sculpture. 

Duane Hanson, 'Policeman,' 1992/1994
Duane Hanson, ’Policeman,’ 1992/1994
Another angle of 'Policeman'
Another angle of ’Policeman’

Policeman is a seminal work in panoptic aesthetics. Police are liaisons of enacting the panoptic state, working as the watching power with added legal power to exercise consequences if laws are broken. The police visibly carry handcuffs, batons, and guns; these weapons loom as the bodily consequences if one is to break the laws. This fear instills self-policing among citizens, so the presence of a singular police officer in a space will alter the behavior of large groups of people. 

Upon the San Francisco Museum of Art’s remodeling and reopening in 2016, the curators of the institutions’ placement of the work activated their panoptic qualities. Policeman was exhibited adjacent to the staircase on that floor of the museum. The sculpture, situated against the wall, was often missed by visitors using the staircase. This is due to the realistic qualities of the form, complemented by its placement, eluding that rather than a work of art on view, the sculpture is a police officer monitoring the space. The work has since moved location in the museum, now situated in a small gallery dedicated to hyperrealist sculptures . However, in this exhibition, Policeman is sanctioned not only by a border of tape, but functional alarms set to go off if one gets too close. If that is not enough, the museum staffs a live guard in that space to reprimand viewers who break the institutional rules. 

Tom Sachs, 'Untitled,' 2014
Tom Sachs, ’Untitled,’ 2014

The closed-circuit television (CCTV) has become a defining fixture in surveillance to ensure order. Infamously, the United Kingdom has a staggering one CCTV for every 32 citizens. These surveillance cameras are positioned all throughout cities and were done under the guise of reducing crime by using the footage from the cameras to catch criminals. The false CCTV is the evolved form of the empty watchtower in the panopticon, instilling the same fear with a much smaller and invasive piece of technology. Here, the CCTV has become iconic, ripe for appropriation and critique by artists. Using everyday materials his works, bricolage sculptor Tom Sachs gives new light onto recognizable forms from pop culture. Sachs’, Untitled, is a CCTV camera fabricated out of plywood, fiberglass, resin, hardware, and bamboo. Sitting atop a plywood base, Sachs situated the CCTV camera below the viewer. 

This choice subverts the physical hierarchy of cameras’ high vantage points in order to better record an area. The materials used to construct the camera also work to invert the power held by the CCTV. Using low tech materials, the CCTV is no longer able to function with its original intention. Lacking the technological makeup to record, it becomes similar to false CCTV cameras installed with the same purpose of functioning ones. The false CCTV cameras are nearly identical to the empty watchtower, they cost marginally less while producing the same results from surveilled citizens. The materials lend themselves to produce a more human quality to the form. Marks on the surface from mistakes made while constructing the sculpture are left to visually indicate the process of construction, the drips of resin elude a human imprecision, the CCTV now prides itself in its flaws. Rather than a camera, the CCTV features a small mirror, so upon closer inspection of the sculpture, a viewer will see themselves. Sachs shared an image of the work on social media amply accompanied by #panopticon. This iconic panoptic form is rendered to work with and reflect human beings rather than attack them. 

Foucault’s idea of a panoptic government and society has become our reality. In all aspects of our physical and digital lives, we are met with panoptic devices. Self-policing and docility are used against the powerless masses. Through appropriation, reduction, and re-contextualization of panoptic forms, artists are able to guide viewers into thinking critically about their surrounding panopticon. However, these experiences exist in a panoptic museum vacuum, which is seldom criticized by the artists showing that space. Knowing of the panopticon does not stop it, Foucault does not provide any solutions either. As a viewer and a citizen, these panoptic devices become overwhelming in any space. The arts may not be the solution, but the education of these surrounding objects and institutions is a productive beginning. Once aware that we are victims of panoptic devices, we may begin dismantling it. If we do not, we will not be free.

~ Fashion and Agency with Gia Kuan Consultancy 

Fashion and Agency with Gia Kuan Consultancy

Some remember Fashion’s Night Out with a twinkle in their eye, the tents at Bryant Park are a thing of the past, and fashion has instead sauntered downtown. Is nostalgia on the list? Heritage logos and saddle bags have been traded for pool-blue Telfar shoppers and backless Kim Shui qi pao’s as PR maven Gia Kuan moves steadily through the second year of running her namesake consultancy. Following years at Comme des Garçons and Nadine Johnson, Kuan now represents some of the most exciting names in NYC Fashion, Arts, and Culture today. These “clients” are more likely to call her a friend than their PR agent; the relationships she has with those she represents extends far beyond the scope of traditional PR campaigns and influencer lists. The difference in Kuan’s consultancy is that she is part of the community whose voices she helps to amplify and shape. An immigrant who moved to New York with a dream, Kuan worked three jobs during school. With no friendly, phoned-in favors from daddy to get her in the door, she’s never had to ask, “what’s authentic?” She doesn’t have to try to understand, she empathizes. Her intuition is a skill that she has been sharpened through sustained self-awareness, and it guides her as she actively redefines her entire profession. Kuan builds bridges between curation, marketing, and public relations in today’s distorted landscape so that brands may see themselves reflected in the decisions they make and the legacies they leave. 

STP’s Lindsey Okubo sits down with Kuan to talk about life in the fast lane, the cracks in the system, and the realities of an industry that has us all wide-eyed, inspired, and anxious. 

Gia Kuan by Lindsey Okubo
Gia Kuan by Lindsey Okubo

Lindsey Okubo: You started your own consulting agency just over a year ago and represent some of downtown’s biggest names in fashion including Telfar, Area, PriscaVERA, Kim Shui, Lou Dallas, Puppets and Puppets and Barragán. Can you give us the lowdown on your trajectory,  from being Arts and Culture Director at Nadine Johnson and cutting your chops in the early days at Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market? 

Gia Kuan: I had just moved to New York in 2010 with no professional fashion training. I graduated school in Australia with a degree in Communications and Art History, but at one point, was pursuing a degree in Law [laughs]. I wanted to be a food editor or work in fashion. I applied for so many internships and no one was replying to me. They only ever looked for one intern, and it had to be someone they knew. I decided to take a break from Australia and come to New York for post-grad; a fast course at Parsons in Fashion Marketing. My rounds of internships secured me my first job at Comme des Garcons. I was there for a good five years working under the Press Department. I also worked on the Dover Street Market press when it opened in New York in 2013, and was part of creating and witnessing that culture at the beginning. Looking back, I still haven’t seen anything like it, the way that the staff was curated alongside the work culture behind it.

After five years, I took a turn and went into agency mode with Nadine Johnson. I headed her Arts and Culture department. There, I did press and communication strategies. Nadine was such an icon, since the late 90s she was known for throwing the best parties in town  –– a straight from Sex and The City Samantha inspiration. She kind of just threw me into fire, which built my confidence. Even when I told Nadine that I didn’t have completely linear experience, she said, “don’t doubt yourself, just do it.” That mentality is so much of what I believe in now. If you have a sense of “this might be something,” don’t overthink it, do it. 

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: It seems like embracing that mentality is what allowed you to go off and do your own thing, right? That, and wanting to help build the community that you were a part of and to see it thrive. 

GK: While at Nadine, I delved into the brands I loved, which at the time were very much the new, young, rising talents in New York City. I moved to New York during a period in which fashion wasn’t as raw. It was Bryant Park, it was Fashion’s Night Out, and it didn’t get brought downtown. My first client was Eric Schlosberg, who worked with me at Dover Street, followed by Robert Childs, who at the time was launching his menswear brand, Childs. I realized that a lot of the young designers were usually one or two people shows. If I liked the collection, I’d want to push them forward even if there was no monetary return initially. I would rather see the market change to reflect what I like, and what I know a lot of people like me like.

LO: What does that change look like?

GK: It tells a deeper cultural narrative. Fashion before then was very white. Hood By Air was one of the early pioneers of this new fashion vanguard per se, and Telfar had always existed but it wasn’t on the calendar. The question became: how do I bring that narrative up a level to reach everyone who just doesn’t know about it yet? There is a hierarchy in place and this system doesn’t always allow smaller brands to push further. Without being totally conscious of it, I was also vouching for a lot of minority brands because I wanted to tell a multidimensional story and show that clothing didn’t have to look a certain way. Brands like Lou Dallas, who I worked with, brought something  more fantastical that makes us question if fashion needs to be the clothes that we wear to work. It’s about changing those rules.

LO: What is fashion there for? As we’re thinking about changing narratives, what really is the importance of words like “heritage” and “legacy”?

GK: Fashion means so many things. It’s a way of personal expression. Depending on what you wear, it goes beyond function. If you think about brands like Telfar, the designs are fantastic but there’s something more deeply rooted there; what you’re supporting is a cultural community that you want to be a part of. It’s the same with Kim Shui and the hypersexuality and confidence that she puts into the Kim Shuigirls, you want to be part of it. What fashion means to me is asking, how do you support that community? How do you extend your personal narrative through mixing and matching these subcultures as wearable items into one?

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: Now things feel more like they’re in visual communication through the choices that the consumer makes. I think a lot of designers have felt this weird sense of competition between each other and I feel that’s something you’re changing through this community downtown. All these disparate voices have become crucial pieces to the collective framework. 

GK: I came to New York with the American dream in that I wanted to be part of this industry, but quickly felt disillusioned by it. (The Industry) becomes something other than how you’ve envisioned it, but that magic is still there. How do you make that happen or bring it back? It stems from the work environment; the way that the community interacts with each other. All of those stereotypes that you see in fashion, they definitely used to exist. In the mid-2010s, this slightly different generation of kids came up on the scene. They were very crafty, very DIY before it became such a phenomenon. They were breaking the rules of what wearable art could be, they were more supportive of each other because they went to school with each other, or interned together. That dialogue was important. At the end of the day, are the people in positions of power really the ones deciding what should? We have come to realize that you don’t have to show within the context of a certain time or place, you don’t have to follow a certain format. I said this three or four years ago and I’m saying it now, they don’t have the power, you do. If all of the designers came together and said, we’re not going to do this, that’s the only way that this system will crumble. 

LO: What do you think is the hesitation for people? It sounds so simple when you put it that way, but there is this underlying sense of fear because of firmly rooted ideals of what success looks like based on validation from the old guard.

GK: There’s some truth to the idea of passing knowledge down through generations, but it has also created problems. Young designers are paired with heritage designers, and while these are very lucrative companies, they’re not always thinking about these young brands; who they really are, who they speak to. They’re not born out of the same time, they’re not functioning the same way. I think that it’s important to have that mentorship program be more balanced. A lot of young designers do feel daunted being told by a legacy designer of 30 years that you’re not going to succeed unless you do x, y, z.

LO: Right, and thinking about the ways success can be subjective but at the end of the day, fashion is still a business. Questions of where you are stocked and what your sell-through is are still valid. 

GK: Exactly, even the wholesalers can be bullies to these younger brands by trapping them for seasons at a time so they can have the exclusive buy. Sometimes young brands don’t know any better. Before it was like, “oh my god, I really want to be at Barney’s!” but  look what happened to Barney’s. We’ve seen that in a lot of multi-brand retailers because certain formats aren’t working anymore. It’s an exciting time for brands because if you can do things direct to consumer, you can have 100% control over your distribution, your voice, and your own time.

LO: Right, and if that’s the case, their exposure would come from magazines or the press. Many of these publications, historically speaking, used to have distinct communities behind them. That’s shifted. The brands are the ones with the communities now, with key people behind them who represent the values and a multidimensional demographic. What happened to publications?

GK: It’s a double whammy and a good question because it’s also a very sensitive time. We know Conde Nast has their own set of problems, but from the devil’s advocate side, those “problems” existed because they represented a certain voice, perspective or demographic. It’s really important to have diversity across the board. At the same time, if you apply the same diversity rules to every single publication, then everyone is advocating for exactly the same thing. This year when a lot of people were canceled for various reasons, they often had small teams and a distinct voice that appealed to a certain audience. There’s something about that cancel culture which I don’t fully agree with, because then you’re just removing certain perspectives from the conversation. It’s like someone coming to me at GK Consulting where I have, like, two employees and being like, you have no diversity in your staff. I wouldn’t know what to say, I too had a specific vision as like a minority Asian woman. The applicants who apply to my business are also probably drawn to me because they share the same narrative.  

LO: Yeah, and with cancel culture, to what extent are you allowed to have diversity in opinion?  To what extent do you have to police yourself to make sure to cater to other people’s opinions, and where do you draw the line with that?

 GK: It’s very tricky. I’ve been thinking about this all year. I don’t know if I’m just being the devil’s advocate because I don’t agree with all of the times publishers and magazines face backlash because of what they say. What happened to independent journalism and free speech, you know? It’s more about accountability, not cancelling each other.

LO: I feel like everyone is kind of a weird clone of someone else. We’re all expected to have the same affinities, references, interest in food, love for this brand, whatever it is. Individuality is now a trend. You can’t really be in your own lane without feeling like you have to also be up on the latest news. 

What resources, conversations, etc. are you using to shape your vision? 

GK: Honestly, this is probably bad for me to say, but I really don’t read fashion digests. My staff sends out daily news updates and I read about it when there’s something that I need to know. I feel like too much competitor research might deter me from what my vision is.

I actually read a lot about food. A lot of it also comes from my daily conversations. I don’t know if I ever really sit down and strategize what I envision for Gia Kuan Consulting, I feel like I’ve just been doing it. It’s just as simple as how to help the brand get their voice to the people in ways that are not so straightforward. Previously, I think that wasn’t really even in the scope of public relations because people think that the publicist is doing a very certain, traditional scope of service.There are so many other ways to raise visibility for your client’s brand. A lot of it now is just being culturally attuned, being a matchmaker of sorts. It’s saying, ‘oh, I think that person will think it’s cool, let me connect you with them’ because you never know what that person can bring you.

by Lindsey Okubo
By Lindsey Okubo

LO: Your clients are diverse and require this balance between curation, marketing and PR. All of these words have seemingly meshed into one sticky existence now, how do they all still differ and do they need to differ?

GK: There’s definitely a little bit more of a blurred line now, more so now than ever. The textbook definition of what PR is that you are engaging with the public to raise the profile of your client or help them gain visibility in a positive way. That is still really what I do, being the bridge between the direct consumer and the media. How you build that bridge is now very, very different. The scope is now more fluid. We’re working with not only the external public, but oftentimes with how brands talk to their audiences directly. In the past, you usually had a third party that helped do that for you. I’ve also been helping brands consider conversations in how they should speak to their staff. Everything has to be in sync now more than ever. What happens internally can very quickly be externalized. 

LO: Fashion is traditionally plagued by this idea of relevancy. How do you best ensure that working in this industry is sustainable? 

GK: Yeah, for sure. That’s why we’ve seen the rise and fall of a lot of these young designers. It’s a pretty brutal industry. I’ve worked with brands who are now no longer brands but during their time were amazing. I left fashion at one point to go to Nadine’s and now I’m back, but I don’t read fashion news religiously. I think if you keep your life fashion and fashion only, then it can become a little disillusioned. Fashion is never just clothes, it’s always borrowed from something else. You can’t live and breathe fashion alone. Everything is intermixed. 

~ Curatorial Instigation with Now Curation 

Curatorial Instigation with Now Curation

Ben Werther: Where are you guys from, and how did you meet?

Sieun Lee: I’m from Korea, but I grew up in living Japan, China and Singapore.

Thea Voyles: I’m from New York originally. I lived in Paris, then Berlin. So I’m American, but I grew up in France. We met at uni, we both study History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London. 

Sieun and Thea sitting below works by Cybele Troyan from The Penis Parade (London, June 2019)
Sieun and Thea sitting below works by Cybele Troyan from The Penis Parade (London, June 2019)

BW: Can you talk a little bit about your curatorial collective, Now Curation?

TV: We’ve been working on Now Curation for almost two years, and we’ve done shows completely grounded in curating a physical space. We’ve had five shows; three in London, one in Seoul and one in Leeds. Three of those shows had substantial catalogs with creative writing. That writing aspect seems to transition into our recent project, “The Anatomy of the Body Electric,” but other than that, we’ve always done straight-forward curation.

Tall Tales of Transparent Things (London, April 2019)
Tall Tales of Transparent Things (London, April 2019)

SL: After about the third or fourth show, we wanted to push the boundaries of what’s possible within those spaces. For one of our shows, we had life drawing in the gallery. We try not to define exactly what we do because we are always trying new things. In trying to put on shows, we met other people who are also at this early stage of their career.

 We’re bringing together a community of people that can grow and support each other. That was the main aim, and we’re excited to explore different realms. We’d try to find writers and begin a publication to keep the project interdisciplinary; both academically and artistically focused. 

BW: How did you arrive at the structure for “The Anatomy of the Body Electric?”

SL: I was in Seoul and Thea was in Berlin, so we knew our next project would be online. We wanted to utilize the digital space in a more creative way than just putting artworks on a webpage.

TV: Anytime we’re in a gallery space, we visualize every possibility. We’ll try wall treatments and put up different textiles; we’re always kind of thinking about tangible space and studying the history of architecture. Being aware of physical architecture made us very aware of digital architecture. We didn’t want a direct translation from physical to digital. We started thinking of all the interesting ways that we could analyze the digital and push people to interact with it in even weirder ways than they do already. 

SL: It (conceptualizing the show) was a lot of just broad reading at first.

BW: What were you guys reading?

SL: I was reading “The Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan, as well as Walter Benjamin, which we had to read as part of our course. Also Hito Steyerl. 

TV: I love her (Hito Steryerl). I was reading more fiction, a lot of David Foster Wallace. That was useful in being so American; there’s a certain American-ness to the digital space. 

SL: We also talked a lot about the different reality TV shows and dating shows and how they operate in online space. 

BW: How did the various creative practices of the artists you selected for the exhibition influence the pairings you guys came up with?

TV:  Before, we had looked their work up and looked at their statements and just random things that they were doing. We tried to pay attention to how their practices are changing rather than all of the things they’d been doing in the past. For example, Yage. She’s paired with Zack. When I spoke to her about her BFA and pursuing her Masters in painting, she talked about her interest in translating her craft to a digital space as classes move online. I thought, there’s definitely a tie between her and Zach. He’s a sound artist  and he’s also interested in this translation of analog to digital. 

SL: Even though they operate using different mediums, we kind of saw that they were focused on the process of translating something from one state to another state. Though their work seems very different,  we thought that difference would give them something interesting to talk about because they do have a common ground process-wise. It was like that for the others as well, where we tried to look at what would be different enough for them to keep each other interested.

BW: What are some works of art, shows, or curatorial moments that you’ve seen where you feel like sociality was effectively showcased?

TV: For me, the classic example would be Claes Oldenburg’s store. I think it’s interesting to think about the difference between performance and social engagement for a work of art, because they’re so close together. When you look at the 1960s action paintings, there’s a whole performance involved with someone like Jackson Pollock; a performance around producing that work of art. We get really fascinated by the artist’s production; this idea of the performance of production that we’re aware of without seeing it. It’s just assumed that there’s this whole hair pulling process that requires loads of drugs, and staying up for 24 hours, and pushing your body to its limits, to produce a good work of art. At least right now, I’m interested in looking at how we start to kind of dissect the difference between what we consider to be art that addresses social relations, or performance art, or any art that’s considered to be interacting with the viewer. A lot of interactive art isn’t like actually engaging the viewer at all. If you look at somebody like Olafur Eliasson, it’s not interactive. It’s projecting an action onto the viewer, which is not social. 

Zoe Schneidereit in Uncanny Alley (Leeds, June 2019)
Zoe Scheidereit in Uncanny Alley (Leeds, June 2019)

BW: I like that you brought up Claes Oldenburg. He’s one of my favorite artists. 

The Anatomy of the Body Electric has a kind of tiered system of collaboration where the artist pairs text or DM to generate correspondence, and then that correspondence is shown as it is generated alongside a few conversations. You guys have essentially created this living thing as the show continues to exist and change. I would love it if you guys could speak about the spirit of collaboration in relation to this show, as well as the internet as an institution for showing art.

TV: At the time we were looking at a lot of  1960s and 70s feminist art collective building mechanisms and a lot of those had really forced primary school-esque ‘pass the baton’ kind  of structures. You get to say your bit when you have the baton. We were interested in fusing that sort of collective building with today’s rapid fire internet. It’s about bridging the gap between the older and more modern collaboration format.

BW: Why did you guys decide to do it in installments instead of just collecting everything for a month and then just putting it all out there?

SL: We liked the concept of following people, so it’s not something that has happened and then you’re seeing it later. You’re able to keep up with the duo, and have the illusion that you are with them along the journey. It’s also that you want to come back every week as if you were watching a TV show. We just thought that pattern in itself was unique to the internet. Then the plan is just to see what happens. Like, how are people going to respond? 

TV: A  lot of the show is just about being critical of the methods of communication that we’re using on a daily basis. I like that the internet is continual and there’s always something new, something specific to that experience. Going into it, we kept asking, what is specific to being on the internet? The episodic format, definitely. We want it to be instantly accessible but also for there to actually be a relationship. To create any kind of intimacy with people, it can’t be completely public. Secrecy is super, super important to developing relationships. 

BW: How did you guys decide that you wanted to start Now Curation and how did you make it happen? 

TV: We were willing to put in the hours. Beyond that, I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge barrier to entry. Usually people are happy to show their work, especially if you’re talking to people who are your own age.

SL: A big part of it is going in being confident in what you want to do. Being able to say, okay, we want to put this show together. Then, maximizing the digital platform. Nothing we did could have been possible without Instagram. You have to be social and sometimes ask for help, “Oh, do you know someone that could introduce us to venues? Do you know someone who could introduce us to this person?” It’s just about getting yourself out there. Do your best and have that journey be public.

TV:  I think the biggest thing probably is money. Our first show, we spent 150 pounds on the venue and we only had it for two days, which in retrospect was not a great deal. It was a white cube space and people thought it so legit, even though it was only like 150 pounds. Which is definitely a significant sum of money. We were willing to do it. We both worked as waitresses last year and you know, you pull it together. 

SL: There’s ways of making it more affordable. And then if you’re willing to accept that you will lose a bit of money, it’s doable. You just kind of have to see it through. 

~ Vancouver to Berlin: Interdisciplinary Art Practice with Kira Buro + Zeynep Samioglu 

Vancouver to Berlin: Interdisciplinary Art Practice with Kira Buro + Zeynep Samioglu

Kira Buro: Kira Buro (they/them) is a visual artist and writer currently based in so-called Vancouver, Canada. Their work is primarily a surreal, dream-like exploration of our shared emotional landscapes — the feelings and worlds we create through being in relation to one another and all we are embedded within. Kira graduated from the Bachelor of Illustration program at Sheridan College in 2019, and is currently a member of the studio SPACE. You can find them on their website and on Instagram.

Zeynep Samioglu (She/They) is an interdisciplinary artist who sees art through the lens of poetry. For them, existence in itself is poetic, therefore every piece of art created is a poem. After briefly studying Visual and Critical Studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Zeynep now lives in Berlin where they study Fine Arts at the Universität der Künste Berlin in Berlin, Germany. Their hometown is Istanbul, Turkey. You can find them on their personal Instagramart Instagram and on their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Buro and Samioglu to conduct an interview-style “studio visit” to introduce them as artists working outside of the traditional art world. Their goals are to expand the notion of what is classified as “art” and connect other people to like-minded creators. You can find them online through their Instagram or their website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn: What experiences and realizations have influenced your artistic trajectory?

Zeynep Samigolu: I’ve found that the only way for me to get out of the cycle of overthinking and just life my life is by making Art. What has brought me to where I am today was the realization that I could not live doing anything else, the realization that creation is survival. Making, and even just thinking about and conceptualizing art is what gives my life meaning. It’s important in these times where it feels like we’re approaching the finish mark;the end of time for humanity (That is, unless global and simultaneous revolution  ends capitalism and saves the green earth we walk upon). Until then, I want to put as much human experience into the world as is possible and to do so in a beautiful manner. It doesn’t even have to be all pretty-there’s beauty to be found in pain and suffering.

Kira Buro: That’s a succinct way of putting that. It’s true- acting as a channel for the experiences  that you harvest from the world, and then finding a way to formulate and share those experiences and feelings with the folks around you as a way to connect with them. (Creating is) integrating your personal experience with that of the world. I don’t know what I would be doing otherwise. Whenever there’s a longer stretch of time where I’m away from the work that I’m doing, I feel a tension in my body.

ZS: I agree- I get this pain in my stomach. It feels like a breakup to me. Like I am abandoning my Art; the one true love that I have in my life.

KB: Part of feeling well-grounded in the practice is having a positive relationship with yourself and with your emotions. When I feel like my art is informing other parts of my life, it feels so good. Professional and collaborative work can disrupt that mode of creating and that method of self soothing, but ultimately creating work is so integral to my stability. Art is like engaging with those innermost truths, and truths outside of me, as well. It sounds like i’m saying, “no big deal, but this is the only thing that connects me to the world,” even though of course there are other things, but creation is the  site where all of these seemingly disparate areas of my life connect and become something new. Even if I chose not to do this professionally, it would continue to feel essential to my existence, which is nice to know.

ZS: With Art, you can put everything about yourself in one medium, then take a step back and figure out what’s actually going on. It’s the whole micromacro and macro, microcliché; You look at something so closely that you start seeing something bigger than yourself. Then, you look at something from far away and say, “well that’s me.” In a way, that ties into meme culture, which has, in my opinion, become one of the most popular and relatable Art forms of our day. Everybody can actually say “oh yeah, me” in the face of existential questions raised by a simple meme, because that is what the culture has become. We are all in different bodies, we have our individual problems, but in the end we all want jokes about things that are depressing. “Oh, the world is ending and I’m just here trying to pay my taxes!”

KB: We’re all desperately looking for something out in the world that we recognize ourselves in, and we’re constantly looking for affirmation that we are real, and that the things that we’re experiencing are real, or shared by other people. I love that memes are often an absurd expression of the need to be connected and to share your existence, your joy and your suffering, with other people. It’s funny because it’s easy to get really complex when talking about work methodology, intent, and relation to the self. So much of that complexity is just stripped bare and turned into a meme!

Autumn by Kira Buro (2020).
Autumn by Kira Buro (2020).

TNG: As interdisciplinary artists, how have you developed such a wide skill set?

ZS: Short attention span. I can’t focus on one thing for a long time. I feel like it’s the internet’s fault that our attention spans are relatively shorter than that of older generations. 

In short, I want to be a master of all trades, the whole renaissance man thing. When I come up with a concept, the material, the approach that I take, and the way that I present it develops accordingly. One idea may require me to do a sculpture. Another one would require me to do a painting because that would be the best medium. It all depends and I feel like I should have the skills to do whatever necessary. If I don’t have it I can always learn it.

KB: I agree with you that  the fact that our attention spans are so short Is a culturally created thing. I can’t focus on something for a long period of time. When I do manage to focus, I hyperfocus, which is part of why so much of my work is a really detailed clusterfuck. There’s no negative space; everything  is filled. It’s reflective of my inner-experience and the way that I relate to the details around me. I really love being able to just flow intuitively. That process is interrupted when I’m trying to learn a new skill, which feels frightening but also worth investing in. Baptism by fire.

ZS: I kind of understand the whole baptism by fire thing. I started knitting a house while not knowing how to knit. It was so horrible! There were so many mistakes! I kept skipping lines, but it was all part of the process of making this house, which seems to add so much more to the concept which it began from. There were a lot of injuries and frustrations, and you keep doing the work but you never find an end to it.

For me, the clusterfuck happens in my head more so than in the end product. I am trying to filter it in order for it to make sense to other people. If I were to just show what was in my head, people would be really confused.

Geldik Gidiyoz by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)
Geldik Gidiyoz by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)

TNG: How has your style progressed over the years?

ZS: (My style now) is symbolic, it’s a reflection of how I think. During quarantine, I got very into Anatolian traditions and old religions. I’ve noticed that everything there is magic related or ceremonial. In history, when people would try to conjure things into reality, they just created symbols and performance around it. I feel like artwork comes into reality in the same way, and I know what my reality looks like now, before it wasn’t too sharp. My hands work better now, they intuitively know what to do.

KB: Both of our work does a lot of internal reflection. That’s part of the reason why the work that I’ve made has shifted so dramatically – because I have also changed quite dramatically. There’s more built into the work that I create now than there was back, when I was constructing these very specific worlds. I was almost condemning myself to live within them. Now, more of the doors are open. I’m allowing myself to go out into the world, experience beauty, bring that back, and not have to cloak everything in the same sad story. 

There’s room for complexity and different kinds of feelings in the work that I create now, it’s not coming from a place of stuckness. I don’t feel condemned to create the same things for the rest of my life.

ZS: One of the things about growing up doing Art is that you have a record of the feelings that you have felt. (In my old work) there was a shorter range of emotions, feelings and experiences than what I have today.

KB: So much of what I used to struggle with closed the door to any further discussion or development. I was like, nope, this is how it is! I will suffer forever! Now I recognize, there are so many different things to look at and listen to, even within myself. Allowing more space for all of those different voices and perspectives has led to a lot of healing. It’s a shift in my relationship to myself and to others.

Thank You by KB Buro (2020)
Thank You by KB Buro (2020)

TNG: How do you incorporate metaphor into your work?

KB: There are a lot of metaphors that exist inside of my work, but it’s something that comes later. I work with what is presented to me in the piece that I’m creating, then work around that and try to understand it. It’s this process of interpreting my own work as I go.  It’s all happening for some reason. There’s intention in the things that I’m doing. It reveals itself more through the process of creating than what I could ever hope to know at its outset. 

ZS: I have a dictionary of symbols in my head; colors, objects, names, lettersall with some kind of meaning assigned. I like when I happen to see those symbols in my regular life. I’ll see something red and go, “oh, passion.” Very recently, learned the language of Tarot, which helps me with the connections I make with symbols. I believe that esoteric teachings can be universal and help with the conversation one has with the universe. So now in my daily life when I see something that catches my eye I can say, “Oh, that’s a tree, baby. What do I do with this information?

The creation process is like giving birth to something. You get pregnant with an idea, and then you grow that idea inside you. You read books, you get ideas in your head and then the idea may mature. After that, the idea becomes the Art piece. It’s physical and free to do whatever it wants, like the way you can’t really control your child that much.

You can play make-believe with Art, do things that you can’t actually do in real life. I feel like when I write a very intense poem for someone, I obviously might not even give it to (them), but I did say what I wanted to say. Now I’m not burdened with it anymore.

“You May Not See Küble, But Can You Feel Her?” by Zeynep Samioglu (2020)
“You May Not See Küble, But Can You Feel Her?” by Zeynep Samioglu (2020)

TNG: Both of you are based and from outside the United States, but have experienced living and working in New York City. Did you enjoy living in the city?

ZS: Yes and no.The biggest stressor was (not having) money. Going into the United States, I was in a more capitalist mindset. Then I realized that making money is horrible. I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to work five jobs! 

Art scene wise, amazing place. I love the energy NYC has. It was a very nice experience living on my own outside of Turkey, which happens to not be a great place to live as an artist and as a queer person. I identify as a non-binary, pansexual person. In Turkey, (I am) a lesbian woman. It’s very hostile here.

Turkey is such a shit place geo-politically. You just can’t win. Whatever happens in the world, it goes around and blows up in Turkey’s ass. If America is going through a recession, political (issues) and racism, those are problems that America has to deal with on its own. Turkey has to deal with its own problems plus the effect that (America’s issues) have on the world dynamics and economy.

In my experience, it isn’t easy being Turkish in America. I had seen how people treated immigrants and people not of their own skin, I just didn’t know it went so far. I never saw actual white privilege before going to the United States. Then I saw that I could get away with things easier than most of my friends could and it was just a thing! You guys live like this! 

The reaction of people going, “Oh my god, you’re Turkish? your English is so good. You speak English? You’re blonde? Are you really Middle Eastern? Are you sure your family from the Middle East? Are you sure about that?”

KB: Living in Canada most of my life and then spending some time in the States, there isn’t an enormous difference. In what (Zeynep was) saying about the advent of white supremacy, colonialism and how obviously that affects the way that people feel capable of relating to one another, all of that is definitely at play in Canada. 

(New York City) is a very intoxicating place to be. It’s a place where I wonder whether I would ever feel comfortable being anything but anonymous within. I was there three years ago, feeling very small, excited, and eager to connect and see everything but not really wanting to contribute my own voice very much. 

One of the things that feels comfortable to me in Vancouver is that the communities are small enough for me to feel capable of existing within them. I can carve out a little space for myself rather than constantly being surrounded by this barrage of energy, intensity and workaholic-ism. ] After having lived and studied just outside of Toronto, I feel that there is a marked difference in the urgency that people feel. People move at a slower pace where I live now, and that feels really necessary. I’m not someone who’s constantly on the go with my energy split between a million different things. It’s nice to be somewhere inspiring but not overwhelming.

ZS: Berlin sounds like it is a healthier medium to me. Obviously, there’s a lot more Art happening in Berlin than in Istanbul,  and the chaos of the city is not at the level of my hometown. What I loved about New York was having Art everywhere all the time. The galleries were a very positive experience. A lot of people went to them, compared to (Istanbul) where there’s not many people that are like-minded. Even if there are people, it’s going to be the same people all the time. It’s a smaller community here.

I love Art made by queer people. I love that in New York, you could do that and not get penalized for it. (In Turkey) you just can’t do that. If you do a very sensational groundbreaking artwork in which you voiced an opinion you are not allowed to, you could go to prison. They had an artist that went to prison for doing political pieces. There is no free speech in Turkey.  

In The Woods by Kira Buro (2020)

<<>>

TNG: How do you feel about centralized art world hubs like New York and Berlin, in general?

KB: I kind of wish they didn’t exist. It makes sense that they exist, but I wish that they were everywhere rather than just having these intense, localized, and often inaccessible spaces.

ZS: IIt’s good that you can go to a space and be with people that think likewise. I wish it was like that everywhere. I think about Turkey and how we’ve idealized the West to the point that all we deem worthy and important is what the West says. 

Now (Turkey) has this problem. There needs to be artists in our country that have the education, the will, the passion and the skills to revolutionize and make a new Turkish Art culture. In order to do that, you need to leave the  place where you are, get the education and  connections of the more legitimized Art world, and then find a way to bring it back to where you came from. But once you leave, it’s hard to come back. Now you have a life over there. 

I’m moving to Berlin because I want to go to school there and be in the Berlin Art scene. I want to be able to support myself as an artist so I don’t have to do anything else in order to live. I know I can’t do that back (in Turkey). One good thing about Berlin compared to New York, is that they actually support you in doing that. It’s not hard to get an artist’s visa.

If you want to go to America to be an artist, they don’t want you in their country and you can feel it. I never felt it with the people that I spent my time with, but the policies made me feel that. The hubs are not the problem, the problem is that there aren’t t policies that help ensure artists have an easier time.

KB: The support must come not only from your peers, who are potentially also facing the same barriers as you, but also on a state level. That’s what prevents people from accessing these spaces. Something as simple as not being let into the country.

Asik Olmam by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)
Asik Olmam by Zeynep Samioglu (2019)

~ Selfish Organ: A Scientific Method

Selfish Organ: A Scientific Method

Concept development

As the heat of the New England summer grilled Providence and its inhabitants, I sat, flattening my sit bones on the stool in the long desired third floor studio at the Canal street building. A place so sterile and clean, empty desks sat everywhere ready to be disturbed by hungry art school seniors. I was hungry too, both for my creative freedom and also breakfast. Throughout the summer I was writing every morning, preparing myself for another year of artistic commitment. It was good practice and eventually did lead me to some ideas, which later gave me the courage to explore neuroscience. 

In the very beginning, I was testing the waters of neuroscience and psychology by choosing to research the concept of female hysteria, which has affected my interest in exploring visuals from 19th and 20th century science. Pierre Janet established earlier ideas on hysteria symptoms: loss of body control, culvusions, depression, hysterical laughter, paranoia etc., and how to treat it in women, including hypnosis, sex, electrical shock and physical theraphy. Later, Sigmund Freud declared that female hysteria was a psychological disorder often occurring as a result of sexual oppression or incapabilities. He also stated that hysteria can occur in both men and women, and that he himself occasionally experienced it. “After a period of good humor, I now have a crisis of unhappiness. The chief patient I am worried about today is myself. My little hysteria, which was much enhanced by work, took a step forward.” (Freud 1897) 

Today, hysteria is not considered a real diagnosis. The numerous and unpredictable symptoms of hysteria have been broken down into smaller fields of study. Before new technological advancements arrived, it was often confused with seizures. The close ties between the two undeliberately set me on the neurological disorders path, which I was afraid to dive into from the start. Over time, I decided to abandon the theme of hysteria due to it’s heavy psychological and historical content, and transition into a more fact based, personal topic, epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disease caused by a disorder of neuron activity. There are various types of epilepsy, the one I am the most familiar with is categorized as Generalized Epilepsy.  For this category, seizures are produced by a widespread abnormal neuron activity present throughout brain.

 As I mentioned before, visuals from 19th – 20th century patient studies and cabinets of curiosities projected a dusty aura of time which I didn’t want to miss. The archival portraits of women in asylums twitching their faces, holding on to their bodies, sitting on hospital beds and yelling were very haunting and disturbing. It is almost like they asked me to save them, so I did. That gave me a better visual direction, helping me with general aesthetics. 

Library

I began my research in the Fleet library, a beautiful and monumental space. Its high domed ceiling suspends a sphere clock in the middle, like a giant eye hovering over the space to observe everyone. The best part about art school libraries is that almost all of the books have amazing visuals in them. As I was flipping through the pages in the science section, I stumbled upon grotesque photos of a human cadaver. It was all a beige with distorted rendering on all the vessels and facial features. Flipping further, I saw brain scans, studies of lobotomy, and a brain chopped in half with little arrows pointing in different directions, defining each part. It was magnificent! This book was soaking with traditional, unrefined academia and science. I could feel my blood rushing everywhere, just as if I saw my crush up close. 

Lobotomy: Treatment that was discovered by António Egas Moniz. An invasion with Orbitoclast (long needle) into the frontal cortex, usually through the nose to “steer fixated brain circuits.” Lobotomy was mainly used to treat mental disorders and was highly performed in the early 1940s through the 1950s. It was a failed science experiment. Patients were “treated” psychologically, but extremely damaged physically and neurologically. 

I didn’t know how to digest all this newfound information and turn it into a concept, but the photos was a good starting point. Later that day, I picked up books on botany with exquisite botanical plates and flower illustrations. Everything that resembled an interesting organic shape, color, or form was made part of my research. There was a lot to choose from. My goal was to stay away from extremely bright colors and straight lines, collecting visuals that either relate to nature or the human body. I was pretty much building my own cabinet of curiosities.

Color/Sketching 

After my rendez-vous at the library and a four hour scanner session, I joyfully brought my research back to the studio. While forming my moodboard, I could feel a natural cohesiveness developing. I began to collage my library visuals together, trying to come up with drapes and print ideas. The beige color pallet of the cadaver easily blended with the seaweed green petals of the flowers. Blood vessels looked just like plant roots, and the brain texture mimicked the spirals of the sea shells. Based on my earlier sketches, you can see that the forms are pretty ambiguous and organic. That made perfect sense to me since I was mainly inspired by the brain, which can be presented to us in all shapes and sizes. 

Brain: The human brain is composed of three distinct sub brains, each of them is a product of a separate age in evolutionary history. (Dr. Paul McLean, National iInstitute of Mental Health) All of them have different functions, properties and chemistries that were developed throughout the evolution.  
The Reptilian Brain: The oldest and the smallest brain, is the foundation of the whole structure. It houses the vital control centers neurons that are responsible for our breathing, heartbeat swallowing and visual tracking. If the reptilian brian dies, the whole body follows instantly. 
The Limbic Brain: Limbic brain hovers over the Reptilian brain. Some of the main parts that are included in it are; hippocampus, fornix, amygdala,septum, cingulate gyrus, perirhinal and parahippocampal regions. In the most primitive terms this brain is responsible for our emotions and memory. It stores our most basic natural instincts and senses that were first developed in all the mammals and allowed them to feel protective of their offspring and develop senses of rapid reproduction. 
The Neocortical Brain: Finally, the most developed brain, The Neocortex, is the largest of the three brains. It encapsulated everything and is draped over the Limbic brain. It is responsible for our logic, speaking, writing, conceptualizing, planning etc. It is a complex structure of millions of tiny muscles fibers firing with neurons everyday to satisfy our thoughts and actions. 

Materials / Fabric/ Texture 

‘Epilepsy’ is a collection that is choreographed between tension and release. The delicate dance of the two symbolizes both the physical and emotional state of a patient in the hospital. A lot of the fabric manipulation that has been done is inspired and based on the feeling of tensed nerves, brain matter, body tissue, and the functionality/dysfunctionality of the hospital clothing. The choice of material developed gradually.  I was mainly paying a lot of attention to color and texture. 

Having very particular research visuals, it was important to stick to organic colors and natural fabrics that would mimic the human body, particularly skin, hair and of course, the brain. 

Wool

Hair was an important visual cue for my texture.

Every year I go to my neurologist to do some basic check ups, one of which is an EEG analysis. 

EEG: electroencephalogram (EEG), a test used to find problems related to electrical activity of the brain. An EEG tracks and records brain wave patterns. Small metal discs with thin wires (electrodes) are placed on the scalp, and then send signals to a computer to record the results. 

During that process, a nurse or a doctor spreads the hair away in specific areas, applies a special gel, and places electrodes. After securing them with a net-like rubber hat, all of that compresses the head for some time while a doctor asks you to look at different levels of light and sound intensities. Sometimes an EEG is performed over a sleeping cycle, during which there is a better chance to detect abnormalities.

As I was trying to combine my own experiences with ‘Epilepsy,’ it was important to translate these memories into the garments. Hair spreads, the net-like rubber hat, and the tension from pulling all helped conceive a design idea for the wool coat. I used to have a picture of two men wearing mongolian fur coats on my wall. They were long and furry, swallowing the bodies of the owners. I knew that I had to make one just like it and make it my statement piece. I found red alpaca wool fabric, which looked just like the hair of one of the models. I figured it would look effective if her hair would blend with the coat, to fetishize the whole hair concept and make it more dramatic. My fabric manipulation consisted of simply placing bungee cords in a grid-like manner (remembering the net rubber hat) all over the fabric, sewing under the bias tape tunnels and later scrunching everything up. Voila! I created a hair coat and my model finalized the whole look with her own magnificent hair. 

Later, I used the same fabric manipulation for a pair of pants.

Latex 

Latex is another fabric that perfectly blended in with the intended aesthetic of the collection. In a way, it reminded me of both skin that carries the medical smell of latex gloves often used in hospitals. Beige latex specifically worked well with the mesh print dress, symbolizing a layer of fragile protection over the neurons and blood vessels, as well as introducing some blurry beige tones to the look. 

Green latex mimicked the texture and color of the seaweed leaves which connected the botanical aspect of my research to the rest. The green latex dress was another iteration of the hospital gown, a silhouette often carried throughout my looks. The open back creates just the right amount of vulnerability and exposure that one would feel while wearing it in the hospital. 

Digital Print 

This stage required a lot of visits to my neurologist, with whom I had to schedule an MRI exam specifically for this task.  

MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which detects inside structure and the blood flow of the organs. 

The brain is the most selfish organ in the body. If the body is dying, the brain would be the last organ to survive. It hydrates itself by sucking all the water out of the rest of the organs until there is nothing left. This concept just further proved to me how important it was for me to deliver the obsolete importance and beauty of this organ. My goal was to blow my own brain out of proportion, and make it noticeable but ambiguous at the same time. Turning it into a digital print was a perfect solution.

Sheeting cotton 

It was hard to take inspiration purely from something so irrelevant to my practice as an apparel designer. In order to figure out the actual apparel, I decided to research medical clothes for patients, which later helped me to construct a foundation for my silhouettes.

A patient gown is probably one of the simplest pieces of clothing out there. It is specifically designed to cover but also reveal. It is loose but can be adjusted with ties, and it is soft and made out of cotton just like the bedsheets. These aspects played a crucial role in my design process. The opening in the back was adapted from that, as well as the loose fitted drape which later developed into a dress. All I had to do was to choose the right materials and adjust the length. 

Scent 

Something I was exploring with forming a concept for my perfume was the idea of remembering home while existing in a foreign place. The smell of the sterile halls of the clinic blending  with the sweet memory of the cardamom tea and the wooden liquor cabinet in the kitchen. The clash of materials, textures and smells were united by the same concept of brain evolution and abnormal cognitive development. I saw a lot of connection in all of that. 

I visualized my scent as a line which flowed through every corner of my house, stopping and absorbing every detail. It is a line of memory that lives inside me and helps me remember my home back in Kazakhstan. I focused specifically on the tea ceremony that my mom often has in the evenings, with dessert and cognac. This little ritual subconsciously navigated me towards the smell that I developed in collaboration with International Flavor and Fragrances Inc. (IFF)  called [ reli (e) ving the burn ].


Born within the sweet milk of vanilla ice cream as it melts under the syrupy coat of cognac. It continues its way towards the dusty white leather couch right next to the marble kitchen table, sneaking into the woolen blanket, passing through the yarn loops. It embraces the elements of black tea mixed with cardamom as it gets poured into the porcelain cup. It is as tender as when the rose petals hit the lips after taking the first sip. Be careful, let it rest, otherwise it might burn you. The cognac stings the tongue but the silk smoothness of the vanilla wraps around it melting, reli(e)ving the burn.


Finalization 

We all have experienced struggles with our psychology and our bodies, and it is beautiful to accept that. Expanding our ways of learning about science in an unconventional manner and using art to help us navigate through it is one way to get rid of frustration and confusion. Combining both worlds with knowledge, precision and chaos and diving in and coming back to its surface can help us heal.

With my art I am trying to depict a view of the world from the inside of a non-standard brain. My work explores the different levels of cognitive functioning of a patient with an neurological disorder. Combining both my family and my own experiences, I dedicated my ‘Epilepsy’ collection to the human brain – the most selfish organ. 

~ It’s Cocktober!

It's Cocktober!

When I was nine years old, my mom helped me set up my first personal email address. Now a collection of detritus- from old promotional mailing lists to calls organized but never “hopped on”- at the time was the vestibule to a life lived foremost by online communication. While not a social media platform in the way that Facebook or the last breath of MySpace were at the time, anyone from the Google Chat (and eventually, Google Plus) generation can tell you that it was the gateway drug to being extremely online. My walk home from the school bus everyday was punctuated, without fail, with a stop by the family computer to see if my crush had chatted me “heyy” or if my signature needed more wingdings. Soon it was clear that I wouldn’t just grow up with the internet, I’d grow up on and alongside it. Both products of Y2K, social media and myself were awkward tweenagers, just beginning to individuate, but with sincerity largely still intact. Then came the perfect setting for my emblem of that time: chain mail. 

My inbox, and from what I could tell, the inboxes of my peers, parents, grandparents were constantly filled with lengthy declarations about karma and the demand that the reader forward to ten friends. Despite the barely legible prose almost universally recognized as some sort of phishing scheme, they kind of worked. I mean- why not send it along, even if you know it’s fake. If the good fortune to get my parents to let me go to the Animal Collective concert was one forward away… I’d be fucking stupid not to send it. We knew what we were doing, and we did it anyway.

The medium has disappeared as online social interaction has redefined itself as the fully fledged Instagram, Twitter, TikTok world. While there’s no shortage of grifters looking to get you to like and share– not excluding the liberal obsession of reposting slideshow tutorials and  petitioning idealogues – it’s just not the same. There’s only one remnant of chain-mail culture that has endured the onslaught of peer-to-peer communication and feels like a worthy homage to the chain-mail of my youth.

BOO!! Sorry did I scare you?! WASSUP GURL😉😉😊 ITS COCKTOBER 😈🌚🍂🍃🍁 AND IF YOU👈🏽 ARE GETTING THIS👇🏽😘 IT MEANS UR A HALLOWEEN 👻🎃 HOE😏😩👅💦 every year in Cocktober the jack o slut🎃 comes to life🙀😻🙌🏽👏👏🙌🏽 coming to harvest 🍁🍂🍃 his hoes for THOT-O-WEEN😏😏💥💥🎈🎂🎉 send this to 10 other Halloween Hoes or else you a TRICK🎃👻👻 🎃 IF YOU GET 4 BACK UR A THOT-O-WEEN TREAT😋 IF YOU GET 6 BACK UR A SLUTTY WITCH BITCH👄😍✨🔮 BUT IF YOU GET 10 BACK UR THE SPOOKIEST SLUT ON THE BLOCK😜💦⚰🎉🎉💯🎃 If you don’t send this to 1️⃣0️⃣other thots💁😩👄 you will get NO DICK 👋 this COCKTOBER🎃😉😜

Migrating birds, sprouting fungi, falling leaves, horny, emoji ridden, declarations of “Cocktober.” Somehow, every year this chain gets passed around despite its long expired schtick of ironic, gratuitous lust and infantile Internet speak. The genre is pretty broad, but the Autumn variation has always stood out to me the most. Something about the way “Cocktober” rolls off the tongue. It’s sex-positivity in the most accesible, least corny way possible. There’s no indecipherable vocabulary about 3rd and 4th wave feminism, just go out– be a jack-o-slut before it’s too cold to sling cocktails on the street. The final plea– threat of 0 dick if you dont text it to your hoes– is also the perfect reference chain-mails past promising your first kiss unless you fail to keep the chain going. You’re lying to yourself if you’re single on Halloween and don’t think about coming home with someone in cliched but topical Hunter Biden costume. Most importantly though, “Cocktober” is  a bit that’s braved the cool, uncool, ironically cool, ironically uncool flywheel at least a half dozen times, and as goes the rotation of the sun, is just charming enough to play well when it reaches my phone each year. We know it’s arcane, embarrassing, annoying but we do it anyway.

And, truly, the internet landscape we’re operating off of could be the most antagonistic conditions for chain-mail since its inception. We’re no longer at that naive pre-teen stage of just the right lack of social consequence. Social media and the post-Y2K internet is in it’s 20s now. It’s nothing if not preformative to the detriment of it’s relationships. We haven’t done away with these daisy-chain interactions, we’ve just shifted them to the public sphere as platforms continue to serve the acceleration of–wait for it– our Culture of  Narcissism™. Just looking at the changing layouts of MySpace, Facebook, and now Instagram clearly represents a moving goalpost of our desire to connect with a group of our peers, to the desire to present to public at large. And with an open audience, the intention of sharing some message in the interest of your good fortune and maybe your friend’s, has turned into an identity signal.

What are the sort of passed on motifs of social media if not hyper-exposed chain mail? Charity challenges, clip-art produce, LA graffiti walls, black squares, Pepe, Clandestino cheese plate. It’s the same thing with a sociopathic insistence that your participation in the passing forward is somehow a personal description. You don’t just want to get the good luck for the next 24 hours, you want your friends to know you have it.

Cocktober is democratic and impersonal. The joke has been laundered over and over to devoid it of any meaningful context, it just exists as a completely non-referential, but participatory event. It’s the last internet communication that isn’t tied up in some fantasy of “being in on the joke.” Sending the Cocktober text does what all of the ornamental “we’re in this together” COVID posting wishes it could do. It places the sender at the center of a really humane web of people, doing their fully conscious due-diligence of participation. The clapping at 7PM, #untiltomorrow, these are predicated on getting it. You have to read about it in some lame publication, or see it on your timeline, then show everyone you saw it. With Cocktober, if you’ve ever deceived the text, you’ve instantly understood it, and shared it with a community that means enough to you that you don’t feel weird about forwarding it to them . The infrastructure of 10 friends, each passing to 10 friends is a mimicry of genuine social interaction. Performing for an audience of 300-100K is collective psychosis. 

It’s Cocktober, you know what that means!