It was a languorous mid-summer night in NYC – the streets lulled, people sparse and unhurried – but you wouldn’t know that if you happened upon West 26th St. in West Chelsea on Thursday, July 12. Droves of people from every cross-section of life were crowding the outside of the former Robert Miller Gallery space, itching to see what was happening inside, waiting their turn as a few people trickled out for some air…over-capacity was not enforced; the gallery was simply over-capacitated. Whether the attendees heard about the 3-day flash exhibition featuring 90 radical feminist artists from across the globe from a friend, poster, word-of-mouth – or simply stumbled into opening night from the street – did not matter: EMINENT DOMAIN attracted an overwhelming amount of people.
EMINENT DOMAIN evolved out of Art 511 Mag’s recent partnership with the Manchester, UK-based Alexandra Arts, when this past Spring, we teamed up to produce a limited edition, 74-page full-color print commission celebrating International Women’s Day and the centenary for UK women’s suffrage (funded by ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND). The edition, available as a free download online here, was made available for purchase during the reception, and features critical essays, interviews and artworks by Marilyn Minter, Narcissister, Melanie Bonajo, Samantha Conlon (Bunny Collective), Go! Push Pops and Anna FC Smith among others. Artists included in the EMINENT DOMAIN show were mostly selected by a competitive open call submission process organized by head curator Katie Cercone.
From the street you could view artist and founding director of Alexandra Arts Lotte Karlsen’s ephemeral installation covering the gallery’s massive front windows with a feminine-derived symbol. Faintly reminiscent of the yogic OM, the initial imprint of the show was made by Karlsen’s zig-zagging dark purple shapes mounted flush with the space’s four massive, industrial scale front windows. It’s a motif that is near and dear to the artists’s heart as a visual representation of her collaborative ventures in Alexandra Park, Manchester, where she directs the arts collective Alexandra Arts. Upon entering the gallery, or peering in the window, one could view High Prieztezz Or Nah sitting calmly with perfect posture chanting softly to her kawaii Ganesha (Remover of Obstacles) and offering butterfly stickers and Lisa Frank tarot readings from a glittering hand-sewn fabric assemblage and “living Goddess Oracle” she titled “Do You Suck D*ck, Or Nah?” (a play on where her spiritual name, Or Nah, comes from). She’d later join her partner UNDAKOVA on the main stage for a lively hip hop yoga set, mixing expletives like “Piss on Patriarchy” with the positive lyrics they performed as a family with their son Kali Xion, just under 2 years old. “We Makin’ Moves Like Money Ain’t Everything” and UNDAKOVA’s “Chakras on fleek!” rap delivered over a Japanese trap beat were a hit.
Or Nah’s floor-mounted, heavily bejeweled Goddess Oracle was set to a backdrop of two monumental works of painting by NYC artists. Anne Sherwood Pundyk’s impressive 92 x 82 in. acrylic and mixed media on latex Triquetra filled an entire wall. During the opening, Pundyk approached her piece wearing an equally large painting as a cape, that trailed on the floor. Her performance “Tales,” in the spirit of EMINENT DOMAIN, was about taking up space and going LARGE. To the left of Anne’s work Audree Anid’s expressive oil painting installation with text flanked the walls nearly ceiling high.
In the adjacent viewing room, a large-sculpture invoking a striking Bird Goddess motif lodged in our psyche at least since matrilineal times “You’re Flying the Way You Are” by Kelley Donahue rose majestically out of the floor beside a softly pornographic print from Marilyn Minter’s Beaver series. Many posed for a selfie with Stephanie Castillo’s hanging textile and sound installation piece that read “Pussy Power,” while nearby (one of the pioneers of 1970’s feminist art) Nancy Azara’s carved and painted wood sculpture “Red Stand In” hung majestically.
Centered in the foyer was the boisterous mob on line for Signature Spirits’ Tambour Original Sodabi cocktails and Miolo Wine, a clusterfuck that you could push through to get to the majority of the work or avoid by moving to the next room on the left, one of the quieter roomier rooms, where you were initially met by a poignant and interactive set of graphic tiles commenting on and imploring the fictions of race and the ramifications of skin color in our society – “Not _____ Enough.” by artist Astrid Da Silva. A pyramid rigged for an aerial performance by Autumn Kioti & Katy Gunn, Carol-Anne McFarlane’s iconic and sexy silhouettes of a female figure with a target on the ass and a large painting by Sol Kjok from her series Spiraling Smoke, were other fixtures of the largest of EMINENT DOMAIN’s five rooms. Sol, who runs and directs the Mothership NYC in Greenpoint, played an active role as one of more seasoned artists in our show by making curatorial recommendations of several other performers, including the shamaness Siw Laurent, whose otherworldly vocals certainly raised the vibration in the space Friday afternoon.
In one of the small, dimly lit side galleries, Xinyu Zhang’s “Beauty Meditation clock” projected in a neat square of light against the wall. A pair of big eyes pop out of a thin Asian doll-like woman whose legs have fanned out into a gargantuon and kaleidoscopic circular fan of sorts. Gazing on the Goddess moving like clockwork against the wall, viewers could take a Zen-minute to reflect on the beauty standards of the times. Using post-production after affects to invoke the “popular cute looking Asian beauty standard,” the young SVA grad questioned today’s female beauty standards (and values), what she explains often have huge influence as trends that become “crazed phenomena.” As a Chinese woman, Zhang interrogates the saturated culture of cosmetics that “adhere to the traditional standards of the Asian beauty image: pale and smooth skin, big eyes, small face, and a thin body shape.” Under the influence of rapid globalization and the Internet, “The result is an innocent Asian taste that is softly erotic. This body of work is suggesting a further thinking about how much freedom we really have in defining our values; why it is so hard to reject broadly accepted standards; and what society promises [us] in return,” said Zhang in her statement about the full 4-channel piece.
Sarah “Balaeda Queen” Beckwith, another artist in the show, likewise makes video art commenting on the crazed phenomena of Kim Kardashian era contouring. Rocking her signature alter ego “Balaeda Queen” (an internet Telenova star she created while living in Honduras), her work interrogates cultural preoccupations with selfies, airbrushing and social media reflecting our paranormally ill internet culture for women, as well as the dark side of self-promotion, isolation, and girl magic (- emphasis on the magic!) The Queen, rarely seen without a thick, plastered-on glowing physique which catches the light to translate instantly into viral internet content, added her austere presence to the opening nearby her video “Sisters: An Endurance Piece,” observing keenly as would any merciful High Priestess of Pop. She’s based in NYC for the month of July only as an artist-in-residence at ULTRACULTUAL OTHERS Urban Mystery Skool.
EMINENT DOMAIN’s video reel featuring distinct works of video art by Kate Gilmore, Clemence Barrett, Emily Briselden, Jessica Caponigro, Yunxuan Huang, Elissa Ecker, Nara Walker, Cassie Wagler, Sarah Beckwith, Andrei Jewell, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Dorothy Megaw, Luce deLire Lene Vollhardt, Isabella Mellado held a nice group huddled around it for the entire reception. Meanwhile, 9 live acts from dance to activist porn took place while patrons could watch and view the wall art on the periphery at the same time.
Tumi Nkomo’s dance piece “Aren’t I A Goddess” was performed by an ensemble of 6 women hailed the “Goddess Gang.” The piece, choreographed by Tumi (of Nyane Khosi Dance Theatre) explored societal constructs around gender and sexuality, the male gaze and in particular, an embrace of the masculine/feminine duality that exists within us all. One section of a larger 3-part work-in-process, the piece opened EMINENT DOMAIN and was inspired by stories of ANC’s military wing Umkhonto We Sizwe female guerrilla soldiers during the anti-apartheid movement. Aren’t I A Goddess showcased anti-body shaming apparel by South African designer/collaborator Didi Moses’s Leotart. Nkomo, choreographer of the piece, reflects, “I love that the exhibition allowed for the performance to be interactive with the other art and audience, as this resonates with Nyane Khosi’s goal to make art accessible to all. What a great concept and way of bringing people together! We also deeply appreciate the warm reception and wonderful feedback given at the exhibition! I am truly grateful to have my amazing Goddess Gang, who are not only beautiful dancers, but also, some of the brilliant minds supporting the Nyane Khosi operations! As we say in South Africa ‘Ubuntu- I am, because you are.’” One member of the Goddess Gang, Shannel Resto, said “The Eminent Domain exhibition was such a fresh breath of air from the work I have been seeing in NYC lately. With such revitalizing work pushing boundaries for women… I feel as if I’m finally doing the work that I want to do, while making a change. Nyane Khosi Dance Theatre is such a diverse company with passionate women of different ages, race, and careers all coming together to dance and tell a story. The women in the company have become my dance family and an inspiration to me as an artist everyday. I am beyond thankful.”
Several of the performance pieces were not relegated to rooms, but created rooms of their own, silently overtaking space to an obliging group – guests willfully parted into sidelines, creating a runway of sorts for the viewing of Qinza Najm’s “No Honor In Killing.” “Powerful,” was the word that kept popping up in audience whispers as the artist walked down the corridor of rapt onlookers wearing a bullet headdress over a solid black gown. A menacing “clink clink” reverberated in the space as the metal bullets hit the floor. Pakistani-American artist Qinza’s stunning headdress was fashioned from 1100 empty gun shells (the number of reported honor killings in Pakistan in 2016), bringing attention to the issue of honor killing and the thousands of women worldwide affected by this horrific practice annually.
Qinza, who also showed some performance photos and her large-scale acrylic on carpet works from the Stretch(ed) series, blurs the boundaries of Eastern and Western philosophies. “Many of the primary concerns addressed in my work are inspired by this collision of cultures in my own life: dislocation, assimilation, identity, xenophobia, and conflicting views of tradition and modernity, particularly in regards to womens’ rights,” explains the outspoken Najm. Her performance practice grows out of her love of painting, with the visuals in her performances offering a live extension of sorts of Najm’s paintings, as such “exploring the idea of being pulled and stretched to accommodate our social structures and cultural expectations,” explains the artist. “Through my work, I hope to generate discussion about the obligations and responsibilities of belonging and the risk of reinforcing stereotypes during the process of challenging them.”
Kelly Shaw Willman, striking “Alien-Bruja” in the flesh, performed a durational piece to some throbbing hip hop-inspired instrumentals “111 therapies, phase 1 +” from her larger series “new/mind/ritualz.” Kelly handed out easter eggs to the audience, made a mess with black beans and eventually revealed her glittering cunt before crooning “Who’s Your Mama Now?” against a backdrop of candy-colored beaded talismans she makes by hand to invite good spirit juju for the healing of the sacred, divine feminine. Nearby, LA Marler’s full-scale photo collage “SHE is the new Buddha” paired with Kelly’s juicy spread reminds us, as curator Katie Cercone remarks – “the historical Buddha couldn’t abandon her family because her heart was the field and her breasts the nourishment. She couldn’t have left the Kingdom to seek Enlightenment because the Temple was right there between her legs.”
Many who happened upon our exhibition, walking innocently along 26th street, not only saw the throngs of elegant young people milling around, but were most likely greeted by Elena Kendall-Aranda’s brazen gaggle of rainbow-outfitted queer renegades, including a group icing the front door with a big mylar balloon banner that shouted LOVE, organized by artist Kendall-Aranda for her performance “Quests from the Virtual Age.” In addition to the physical presence of several performers in the space, her piece had a digital presence that by the artist’s lights “permanently claimed and transformed the way viewers can visit the flash exhibit space online into an artistic feminist tool.” A major motivation of her work is “Giving queer people control over their online representation, which is crucial in the path to regaining active agency for ourselves.” Her digital mapping of the live performance in the former Robert Miller space is still available online via the following GoogleMaps links: The Kiss ; American Gaythic; Raising the Flag; Washington Crossing the Rainbow; & Love.
Later on, as Art 511 rolled out the red carpet for several more musical acts, the pink haired queer video and sound artist LEYLA DAZE made a splash and Jade de LaFleur wowed audiences with her “psychoPOP” infused sound. A Louisiana-native, de LaFleur released her first, critically acclaimed album “JADED” in 2014, which featured a host of then burgeoning talent including Jhene Aiko, Cassie and Kelela. Hailed as a “powerful, provocative and unfiltered” force in the music industry, Jade closed out our opening reception’s series of performances with a sweet group circling around her and swaying to the honeyed melodies of psychoPOP.
By hook or by crook, artists and works of EMINENT DOMAIN had a powerful effect. “This is the most exciting thing going on in Chelsea tonight,” commented one guest. “There really is nothing else like this.” The exhibit arrived at the right moment, in a distinct splice of time, where women’s voices are heard a little bit louder, where they have a little bit more of a platform to speak and actually be HEARD. “Do you know what the white box is? This is a white box space,” said an attendee. Whether he was impressed or baffled/upset did not matter. That was exactly the intention. And the impact of the exhibition lasted well beyond the 3-day event. Non-binary/trans, queer, self-taught artist Madison Steele, who exhibited a black and white ink drawing titled, “Don’t touch my butt” reported back that the company she is currently working at (RGA headed by outsider-art-loving Bob Greenberg) overhauled their entire “gender policy” to recognize non-binary folks in response to our EMINENT DOMAIN show.
Lotte Karlsen, head of Alexandra Arts exclaimed, “It was hard not to feel intoxicated by its stonking success. (I was high for days). We made our mark on West Chelsea…. highlighting the gross and unfair inequality…..on their own stomping ground/in their own hood.” One of the artists Karlsen’s Alexandra Arts brought over from the UK, Anna FC Smith, was meanwhile hailed in her local paper of Wigan for making a splash debut in NYC. Smith’s colorful set of three horned sculptures in the corner definitely added their own spice to the mix.
While the closing day was calmer in crowd, it was equally fascinating, in the form of discourse, with a speaking panel titled Women in the Arts – Sisterhood & Sustainability, moderated by Katie Cercone. The panel comprised of a cross-section of thought leaders in the International Art World playing the fluid roles of curator, organizer/activist, gallerist, artist and arts administrator. Panelists included Lotte Karlsen, Kate Gilmore (Guggenheim Fellow ’18), Kristen Dodge (SEPTEMBER gallery), Vei Darling (Artist/ Activist), and Hein Koh (Artist/Curator). EMINENT DOMAIN’s curator Katie Cercone designed and titled the culminating panel to be the more positive foil balancing out the show’s militant spirit overtaking – guerrilla style – the former white box gallery space. What unfolded was ironically, a sort of pulling away the veil of the successes garnered from such a powerful, packed opening and cheerful response to the show. What rang through loud and clear on the panel was a dissatisfaction all around with the state of the art world(s), given the inequities experienced across the board for women and people of color.
Kate Gilmore, a 42-year-old female artist, full time professor and 2018 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship among numerous other outstanding achievements, broke the initial air of cheer by chiming in “I am super dissatisfied…I’m done, I’m fucking done. I’m sick of taking the crumbs…the political system is a shit show, the art world is just a mirror of it…Either the institutions have to be totally dismantled and rebuilt or the people in power have to change.” Meanwhile Vei Darling, the youngest member of the panel at age 22 (a Bushwick-based artist and activist born in Liberia, West Africa) introduced herself as a queer person of color in acknowledgement of her position as a token. “Your network is your net worth…I would say stop focusing on these institutions and start focusing on one another.” Darling, who also curates and identifies as a mystic, offered advice to other artists and set a strong precedent with her words for a potential new way of positioning ourselves within and against power structures. “ I know that I can break these boundaries and demonstrate to women and people that identify like me that this stuff does not dictate your life and show them that we can be exceptional and we can keep being exceptional until we’re no longer exceptional but we’re the norm, or there is no norm.”
Vei and Kate diverged in their support of the institution, which moderator Cercone pointed out are still run by curators and individuals in leadership positions that are demographically less than 4% Black; with Gilmore bringing up the good point that it’s actually institutions that support artists making work that is not traditionally of great value within the commercial marketplace.
Later in the panel, as transparency about money came to the fore, Gilmore hit another nerve as a large audience of mostly women artists watched on slack-jawed to acknowledge the harsh realities she broke down with passionate ire. “Look at someone like Carolee Schneemann, hardcore feminist artist, probably influenced the majority of performance artists in the world and only recently got a good gallery…look at her prices and then see some little shit out of Yale (no offense) – white dude – two years out of school, he got a good gallery. Four years out of school his prices will be equal or more. A very clear lesson in what is money, who is getting it, who isn’t…Everyone that deals with money in the art world knows that Carolee Schneemann is not making what she should and Joe Schmoe little shit-head over there is.”
Kristen Dodge, a female dealer who ran the LES’s DODGEgallery from 2010-2014 before moving upstate and publicly “leaving the art world,” spoke about her refusal to cater to the sexist business-as-usual in the art world has affected her business. As a lone wolf making space for women and people of color to enter the discourse, she admits, “I built my career selling the work of white male artists. I sold more of their work and at higher costs than their contemporaries.” Her DODGEgallery, which boasted a roster of 1/2 female-identified and 1/2 male-identified artists, only made money from the male artists. After publicly leaving the art world and writing her book Art v. Farm, she eventually rekindled her love for art and fortified her new vision to continue providing space and resources to underrepresented artists by opening SEPTEMBER gallery upstate on the Hudson. Unfortunately, acknowledges Dodge, she’s making much less money and often feels “like a free public service.”
Her view is that the inequality stems from Art History, where there is simply no precedent for anything but white male painters. “The entire trajectory of art history had zero female artists until 1987, so what are we valuing?” As much as Dodge sees many of her colleagues taking actions towards more diverse programming, frankly, she believes “we’re still at the point of exotification. We want that black artist in the show and we want that black artist to represent all black people. And make things that look black.”
Additional panelists Lotte Karlsen and Hein Koh (an artist and Yale MFA Grad) had great notes of personal experience to add into the mix, both fortifying the women-helping-women threads suggested in the title. Meanwhile, Vei Darling’s insightful accusations against the white male power structure seemed to echo a damaging reality still affecting too many women in the arts: “How many of the galleries are run by disgustingly misogynistic men that make their usually female assistants do almost all of the work, don’t pay her enough, treat her terribly, probably sexually harrass her, it’s kind of horrifying…that’s another conversation we have to have about money – where do you set your boundaries for this institution to come into your life as someone who is always being taken advantage of within it?”
It felt necessary to air out some of the art world’s dirty laundry to the fresh faces in the house that might have imagined showing your work in Chelsea for free was some sort of quick fix rocket to fame. That being said, one problem brought up after another only seemed to highlight just how much work there is to be done. A recording of the full panel is available on Soundcloud here.
While the EMINENT DOMAIN pop-up is over, the momentum behind it keeps growing. Problems are coming to light, and as old structures are slowly, slowly crumbling, more bombs are erupting with righteous haste. We need to rebuild, and the dust doesn’t look like it’s settling anytime soon. The floodgates have opened; conversations about the myriad of complicated and culturally nuanced issues (including sexual violence and abuses against women the world over, xenophobia, body/fat politics, race, sisterhood, the archetypal feminine, colonialism, sex tourism, white supremacy, ageism, religion, gender, sacred art, and environmental ruin) are HAPPENING. Artists are disrupting the system and taking their power back. Get Ready.