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FEATURES

Filtering by Category: Art

Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better

fairweather enterprises

Peter Fischli David Weiss,  How to Work Better  (1991) Houston and Mott Streets NYC, January 2016 / Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Peter Fischli David Weiss, How to Work Better (1991) Houston and Mott Streets NYC, January 2016 / Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Have you seen Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better in Lower Manhattan? Organized by the Public Art Fund, it is the first presentation in the United States of the artists’ iconic wall mural. In 1991, the work was originally painted on an office building in Zurich.

Coinciding with the Guggenheim’s retrospective exhibition of the same name, How to Work Better (1991) is a six-story painted mural of an enlarged motivational ten-point list for the workplace that the artists found on a bulletin board in a factory in Thailand. The simple statements —“Distinguish sense from nonsense”, “Accept change as inevitable”, “Learn to Listen”, “Smile”—propose a code of behavior that extends well beyond the workplace. This tongue-in-cheek bulletin suggests that “working better” is as much about an approach to everyday life as it is about productivity.

At approximately 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide, it was hand painted on the south face of a building on Houston Street at the corner of Mott Street. The mural is intentionally placed nearby billboards and advertisements. In contrast to the commercial backdrop, How to Work Better (1991) catches your eye, selling nothing beyond a simple code of conduct.

“How to Work Better points to an ethos that has deeply informed the artists’ collaborative practice and their approach to making work. Over the years, the piece has become an analogue meme, with small copies taped to the walls of countless studios and desks, advocating a practice of thoughtfulness and caring in the way art is made and presented,” said Andria Hickey, Public Art Fund Curator.  “On Houston Street, the piece is quite literally tacked to the wall of New York City, asking us to consider how we can all work better in our own lives—our work, commutes, personal interactions—and reminding us that it’s not always what we do, but how we choose to do it that matters.”

Public Art Fund’s presentation of Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better is on view until May 1, 2016 at Houston and Mott Streets.

The Leadership Committee for How to Work Better is gratefully acknowledged, including Jill & Peter Kraus, Maja Oeri & Hans Bodenmann, Donald A. Capoccia, Elizabeth Fearon Pepperman & Richard C. Pepperman II, Sprueth Magers, and Molly Duffy Burns & Hugh Burns. Additional support is provided by Matthew Marks Gallery, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Special assistance has been provided by Overall Murals. Public Art Fund exhibitions are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Isa Genzken: Two Orchids

fairweather enterprises

Get ready New York City for something special. On March 1, the Public Art Fund will be exhibiting acclaimed artist Isa Genzken’s Two Orchids in New York City. Initially presented at the 56th Venice Biennale’s All the World’s Futures exhibition in the spring of 2015, this is the second time the artwork has been exhibited publicly. The two flowers will be 34 and 28 feet in height and will greet visitors entering Central Park from its southeast corner.

“More than twenty years after first making her famous outdoor ‘Rose’ sculpture, Genzken has again borrowed from the natural world to create an imposing new public installation. Whereas the red rose has long been a rather clichéd symbol of love, the orchid, once a more obscure and exotic bloom, has become increasingly ubiquitous. For Genzken, the decorative neutrality of the orchid makes it the quintessential flower of our period – global and porous to meaning,” said Nicholas Baume, Public Art Fund Director & Chief Curator.

The artist’s orchids are stylized and cartoon-like. More subtly, through the choice of the orchid, Genzken references a frequent topic in her body of work: sexual identity. The feminine shapes of the blooms contrast with the nature of the orchid’s root, a reference to the Ancient Greek origins of the flower’s name (Orchis referring to the male sexual organs).

Isa Genzken: Two Orchids will be on view March 1 – August 21, 2016 in Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park.

Lead support for Two Orchids is provided by the Fuhrman Family Foundation and The FLAG Art Foundation, along with generous support from Galerie Buchholz. Additional support is provided by David Zwirner, New York/London; Elizabeth Fearon Pepperman & Richard C. Pepperman II; Agnes Gund; Sarah & Eric Lane; Andrew & Linda R. Safran; and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. This exhibition is also supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Public Art Fund Talks at The New School are organized by the Public Art Fund in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School. This program is made possible in part by Con Edison and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, as well as by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Michele Wiles, BalletNext

Mable Yiu

Former principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, and now Founder, artistic director, and dancer at BalletNext, Michele Wiles has an impressive resume to say the least. Before that, she trained and lived at the Kirov Academy in D.C. from the age of ten, and competed in numerous ballet competitions in places like Bulgaria, Japan, and France. See my interview with the lovely and ambitious Wiles below.

By Mable Yiu

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

I remember seeing you perform with American Ballet Theater years ago in Orange County, but I never knew about your training. What was it like moving to D.C. to train at the Kirov Academy when you were only ten?

This was a life changing event and a big decision for a family to make. Originally, I received a full scholarship from the Royal Ballet in London. My parents would have had to sign legal guardianship over to them- a bit extreme! Luckily, the Kirov Academy opened in 1990 and that was a car ride away. We made the huge decision that I would board at the school full time. I was there for six years training in classical Vaganova technique, character dance, and historical court dance. There were academics in the morning, and at night, I had to maintain other kinds of dance for local dance competitions I would compete in... there was no time for anything else. I lived for dance!

Did you take academic classes at Kirov as well, or did you have to go to a different school in addition to the ballet academy?

I skipped 5th grade to go there. The first two years we went to a public school in the area. It was a crazy adjustment. The kids were older… it was overwhelming at first. I wasn’t living at home during the week, it was my first time living at a boarding school, and I was eleven. I had home on my mind a lot. It was a different social scene... It was a public school and it was hard to fit to find people to fit in with. But by eighth grade, I made a really good friend, Lisa, and we still keep in touch. By the third year I was there, they started to have in-house schooling, so I could do my schooling within the Kirov Academy.

Since you started training at such a young age, was ballet always a career you were aiming for, or did you ever think about going to college or doing something else?

I started young in tap and jazz and [participated in] a local dance competition then. At that point, the goal was to be a Rockette. To improve my jazz technique, they suggested that I take ballet. I started watching videos and became completely hooked and knew that was what I wanted to do. So I set out with this one goal in mind.

You moved pretty quickly through the ranks at American Ballet Theater (ABT); it took you two years to become a soloist, and then five years to become a principal. Can you share more about your experience at ABT?

This was like going to college. There was a whole new set of people and challenges to experience. Like the big leagues. The Kirov was a place to concentrate on creating my technical foundation. ABT was about carving out a space in the world of dance as a great dancer. I went through several phases, which ultimately led me to BalletNext. 

Phase 1 was the Kirov training for 6 years, and winning the gold medal in Varna, Bulgaria.

Phase 2 was company life. I was dancing through the ranks: studio company, Apprentice, Soloist, and Principal. My Kirov training carried me through becoming soloist, the Princess Grace Award in 2000, the Eric Bruhn prize in 2002, and my first principal roles in Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. In 2005, I sustained a back injury which sidelined me for 7 months. Ironically, I was just promoted to principal when this happened.

Phase 3: emotional life begins. I met David Howard [one of the most sought-after ballet coaches], and worked on rethinking how I approached my work. The first thing he said was "Let go!" I had spent so many years examining myself in the mirror; it was time to go inside and figure out what was going on. A whole new emotional side was added to my work. I learned a new way of working with ballet mistress Georgina Parkinson. She would always ask, "What do you want to do today"? 

Phase 4: emotional life continues to build. I had a lot of success with more dramatic roles, which require an emotional understanding of the character. Ultimately, I came to the decision to leave American Ballet Theatre to expand and experience a new way of creating art. BalletNext was born out of a desire and need to have a more process/experimental type environment. Then I started choreographing myself and collaborating with unlikely artists such as Jay Donn and Tom Harrell.

Dancers at BalletNext, in costume for Wiles'  Ushuaia . Photo by  Albert Ayzenberg

Dancers at BalletNext, in costume for Wiles' Ushuaia. Photo by Albert Ayzenberg

So did you start BalletNext while you were still at ABT, or was it something that came about afterwards?

I started thinking about BalletNext the last year I was there. It was just a conversation and I was just wrapping my head around the idea of creating a new company. It was definitely a risk, but a risk worth taking. You know, you come from a ballet company and a ballet school, and your main job is to dance. I had to break those walls and learn about it.

I love how BalletNext works to, in your words, "pair classically trained dancers and live musicians in a collaborative setting that encourages risk taking and a focus on process." What was your inspiration for founding BalletNext and what do you hope to achieve with it? 

My inspiration is finding new energies to pair with the strong foundation of classical technique and to bring the style into the future. This is also helping me find out how I really want to dance. I hope to achieve a bi-coastal presence and show other ballerinas who leave a company that there is another way and to bring up the next generation.

How have you selected your company members, choreographers, composers, and musicians? Did they have to audition, or did you reach out to them?

It's been a little bit of both. I have auditions in the summer- mostly for the dancers. [For] choreographers, musicians, etc., I reach out to them.

You mentioned that your husband, James, is a chairman on the board. Is he a dancer as well?

No, he is on the business side of cancer research. He develops companies - young and entrepreneurial biotech companies.

How did you guys meet?

It’s a funny story. I call it the “Chinese-Arranged Marriage.” It was all Irene Shen, who’s on the board for YAGP [Youth America Grand Prix competition] and ABT. James was on the board for YAGP. She kept telling James that she had the perfect woman for him and to not get married, and wouldn’t tell him who it was. I was dating someone at the time, but Irene took me to dinner and told me, “I have this very tall man for you. When you are done [dating], let me know.” This went on for two years. One spring I told Irene that I was ready, and she tells James. Then three weeks later, he calls me, but I’m busy and didn’t call him back for another three weeks. But Irene was persistent and said I have to call him back. Finally, I do, to satisfy her, and we met up and had a blast. It's sort of history from there.

You've also taken on choreography, and recently debuted Ushuaia, with music by Heinrich Biber, last February. How has that process been? Do you tend to choreograph works on specific dancers or simply to the music? 

I tend to choreograph to the situation. Ushuaia began with a male dancer and three females. Then there were four female dancers and I adapted the piece to that. It was like three different ballets all in one. By the end, everyone was like “I like it better with four girls now.” I liked the process and I don’t necessarily want to make the dancers to do the same choreography. Choreography is alive, too, and it always has to be changing, especially if you are doing the same work with the same music. It's never done, but you have to move on.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Wiles' visit to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy, December 2015. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Greater New York.

I saw that you regularly work with YMCA to teach some of their young members ballet. What has been some of the most meaningful charity work you've done? 

YMCA has been my heart for the past 5 years. I fell in love with the dancers from PS 54 and with the Tiny Toes [program], it doesn't get any better. I've recently taught at 51st Academy for the COMPASS after school program. One of the boys said, "I thought dance was only for girls, but l was wrong," which melted my heart! You realize in those moments that you are changing lives.

How did your partnership with the YMCA come about?

In 2010, I was given an Arts and Letter award at the YMCA Gala at the Time Warner building. They were honoring me for my work, and it was amazing. Then I was introduced to the program, Tiny Toes, and I taught the class out there and we decided in 2011 to do a joint collaborative performance with the Y and Ballet Next. There were high school kids that they invited to watch the performance, and I danced the White Swan pas de deux, where the guy comes out in white tights. They were all laughing! But the moment he lifted me over his head, they were like “Wow, this is amazing.” So I’ve been teaching there and doing the gala in Brooklyn. This will be the fifth year.

Alex Devol

Mira Dayal

Alex Devol is the master hand behind Wooden & Woven, a "100% Homemade" source for your new favorite home, kitchen, and art pieces. Here he talks about his relationships with materials, tools, and other makers.

By Mira Dayal

Fairweather Magazine: How did you get into woodworking? Who or what were some of your early influences?

Alex Devol: My grandfather got me my first workbench and tools when I was about 5; I don't suppose that really counts, but I do remember quite vividly being in his garage and inspecting each tool with immense fascination. Since then I have taken on a variety of roles and worked with more materials than I could list, and I'm not sure exactly how or why wood seems to have won my affection over all the rest, but It has. It’s not just the material that’s responsible for me becoming a craftsman, though. I have a love of ceramics and sometimes think it could have just as easily been clay in my hands. I think it’s just always been important to me that I’m making things.

FM: From a cooking standpoint, how does using wood products differ from using alternative material products— metal, plastic, and glass, for example?

AD: As a designer, I am fascinated by synthetic and engineered materials. I love learning about new technology. I have a background in sportswear and one of the most fascinating aspects of that industry was the research & development. It’s interesting to see how design can push the performance of material to new places, but despite that my personal preference is always the natural one--cotton & wood over polyester & plastic. Most well-stocked kitchens will have a wooden spoon or spatula. It isn’t as strong as stainless steel, it wont wipe clean as easily as ceramic, but it just feels right to use when you’re making a stir fry! Not that long ago, all the utensils in a kitchen would have been wooden. I see why convenience and ease of production has led us away from it, but for pure aesthetics and pleasure in use there is no comparison for me between wood and metal. There is just something inexplicably warm and soothing about wood which can’t be replicated.

FM: How do you choose your woods? Do you have preferred types for different products?

AD: It’s important to me that all the materials I use are responsibly sourced. Most of the green wood I use comes from local trees in controlled areas which needed to be felled. The timber I use comes from local suppliers I trust to ensure that the process is the most ethical and sustainable it can be from woodland, to sawmill, to me.  Different trees bear wood with different properties, and that makes them most suitable for different products. Sycamore is particularly antibacterial which makes it great for chopping boards which come into contact with raw foods and meat. As with any design, to make a good product, you have to consider the properties of the material you’re going to use--the durability, strength, and weight... It’s no different with wood, but there are some idiosyncratic properties like the grain type and smell. Some woods actually retain a lot of flavour even when dried out and so would affect the taste of a hot drink if used in a cup or one of my coffee cones. 

FM: What are some of your most trusted carving tools? Have you been trying out any new techniques or materials recently?

AD: Most of my tools are either hand-me-downs or things I picked up second hand. I’m about 45 minutes from Sheffield, which is famous for crafting some of the world's best steel. While unfortunately most of that industry has vanished in the past half century, there are a lot of great tools floating around. There are still some incredible artists out there smithing tools, though. I’d say my best carving kit is either made by Nic Westermann, who is still independently making incredible tools, or a set of Japanese Oire Nomi chisels which are so beautifully made that it’s sometimes hard to bring myself to use them.

FM: I love the look of the coffee cones. What other designers or art movements inspire your aesthetic eye?

AD: Most of the makers who inform my own work are ceramicists. I struggle to think of a craft that forms a better relationship between art and utility than pottery. It seems to have always held a perfect balance of functionality and ornamentation, and at the moment that’s the same balance my work sits within. Designers are very fortunate these days since we can just look to a screen for ideas, but the people around you provide your best inspiration and I have been fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented potters this past year: Romy Northover, Clair Catillaz, Takashi Endoh, Jono Smart… There were actually a lot this year, too many to name, and some have since become good friends. To give a nod to a few master woodworkers, though, I admired the work of George Nakashima and the writings of David Pye, both of whom should be remembered for a very long time.

FM: How long do these handmade pieces take to carve? An Italian Olive Eating Spoon, for example?

AD: The quickest thing I make takes several hours, and the longest can take weeks!

FM: How much do you depend upon the internal qualities of the wood? It seems like, by making each piece from hand, you have relative flexibility in terms of tailoring each piece to the wood you are working with, rather than having a single template you impose on each section.

AD: Yeah, wood is a very active material. As a rule of thumb, the more figure and beauty you can see, the more it will want to have a say in what you can and can’t do with it. Of course, you can disregard that and just wrestle with it with hand tools all day until it does what you want, or you can overpower it with machine tools, but I find it’s much more enjoyable and generally gives better results when you learn to cooperate with it. With dried timber, that could simply be selecting your piece of wood to make a particular item based on what you see in the grain, but when working with a fresh log, a lot of that information is hidden inside and so the process becomes much more collaborative as you chop away to reveal new knots and figure. The grain will often try to guide your axe a little as you make cuts. I really enjoy this; you feel like there is a dialogue between your tools and your material, and while I’ve often wondered if this can be noticed by my customers, I can definitely tell when and where the wood had a say in the design.

FM: What's next? Have you considered expanding the business to partner with other stores or businesses? Will you move more into art, as you have begun to do?

AD: I work with a very select few companies who I have believed in and admired for a long time. I try to keep partnerships with stores and other brands to a couple at a time and chose the projects I’m most interested in that have the most creative and honest intentions. If a store's values are the same as mine then I’ll try to work with them, but as only one pair of hands I have to keep it to a few at a time.

As for the future, for the first time I’m trying not to think about it. I’ve been inclined to think too far ahead in the past and start myself on very long journeys with my career and my personal goals. In retrospect, I think being so focused and specific with my plans may have placed a lot of obstacles in my way which might have been otherwise avoided if I had been more fluid. Wooden & Woven, in contrast, has been completely organic and unplanned. I’m enjoying just seeing where things go and am trying not to chase after anything if it doesn’t come naturally. At the moment, opportunities are finding me and it makes for a nice change for me to just loosen my grip off the steering wheel and see how things develop.

Daniil Simkin

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of NYC Dance Project

Photo courtesy of NYC Dance Project

by Mable Yiu

You could say that Daniil Simkin was born into a ballet family. Born in Russia, to two ballet dancers, you could often find Daniil Simkin performing on stage alongside his father, Dmitrij Simkin, in Wiesbaden, Germany from the age of six. By nine years old, Simkin started training directly under his mother, and soon after, started competing and performing in galas around the world. 

Now a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, Simkin sat down with us to discuss his “normal” childhood, unique Youtube story, and what’s on his holiday wish list.

Mable Yiu: What was your childhood like? What was your experience like privately training under your mother in Germany without any other peers?

Daniil Simkin: I was very lucky because my ballet education was very compact. If you went to a normal ballet school, you would train the whole day basically. My parents wanted to make sure I had a normal education and a normal childhood, with a regular way of life besides ballet. That’s why they wanted me to finish high school in Germany. It gave me a certain grounding experience, because I knew there was a life outside of ballet.

For me, becoming a dancer was an option and not a necessity. Academic school was fun for me, and I also enjoyed other subjects…such as art, psychology, and neuroscience. Only at around the age of sixteen, I decided to be a dancer. We went to all of these competitions not to compete and win, but to be surrounded by all these other dancers my age. So when I was sixteen, I was like ‘Let’s give this a try, I can also go back to University in case it doesn’t work out.’ My parents wanted to give me the opportunity to decide myself, if I wanted to become a dancer, because they didn’t have the possibility. 

MY: What was it like dancing with your father?

DS: It was very special. The audience appreciated it a lot, since you had this intergenerational factor as well. It was funny and I still treasure my moments and memories with my father on stage.

Daniil Simkin performing in "Till Eulenspiegel" with his father, Dmitrij Simkin in Wiesbaden, Germany

Daniil Simkin performing in "Till Eulenspiegel" with his father, Dmitrij Simkin in Wiesbaden, Germany

MY: I actually first found out about you through Youtube, from that SIMKIN vs. Simkin video with your father. How did you end up on Youtube, and how did that impact your career?

DS: Before Myspace and all of that, I learned html, coded my website myself, and uploaded my own videos. When Youtube came along [in 2005], I found out I was already on Youtube. Someone had downloaded my videos and uploaded them and was selling DVDs of my performances. I tried to comment on Youtube, and they would actually remove my comments because they wanted the monopoly to sell the DVDs. So I wrote a copyright infringement notice to Youtube, and they took down the videos. Then I put my videos up there, because I thought if I didn’t, someone else would. 

For whatever reason, I was one of the first people on Youtube, so if you typed in “ballet,” I would pretty much be on the first page. [My videos] sort of became viral, and when I competed [at the USA International Ballet Competition] in Jackson in 2006, a lot of people knew who I was. In a way, I was lucky that someone stole my videos and put them on Youtube.

Looking back, it aided my career in a big way. Someone that saw me on Youtube invited me perform in Paris, and then because they liked my dancing, they invited me to New York, and that’s where I got my contract with ABT. Of course, you still have to prove yourself and back up your reputation. Both New York and the ballet world are really competitive, but nevertheless, it gave me a certain ignition.

MY: Similarly, you have a great following on Instagram, where you post a variety of content from behind-the-scenes shots of fellow dancers to funny videos. What role does social media play in your career? 

DS: Instagram and social media…it’s my way of giving. It enriches my life to see the world through other people’s eyes. Each photo I put out there, I am trying to tell a story. In my opinion, it’s not about self-publication and it’s not an egocentric thing to do, but it’s more about sharing your life with someone else…It helps [me develop] my photographic eye, and I use it as a motivation to improve my dancing and to practice my video editing skills. It’s a school in itself. 

MY: Please tell us about INTENSIO. What was your source of inspiration for starting this project?

DS: We premiered this summer in Jacobs Pillow [known as the oldest internationally-acclaimed summer dance festival in the United States]. It has been four new creations of contemporary dance and it stemmed from the fact that I grew up in Europe, with a European aesthetic of contemporary dance. Then I came to New York, and I am very thankful for dancing the more American modern dance choreography, but I missed the European aesthetic, and I wanted to explore that. One way was to to spearhead a project like this and take my friends from ABT on this journey because I thought they would benefit from this experience as well.

It’s a win-win situation because we get to dance works that have been created on us. And that is one of the most beautiful things you can have as a dancer…to have something be originally created on you, with your particular skill set. At the same time, it adds a bit of European choreography to the New York landscape. 

MY: What have you learned from guest performing with other companies and at different galas around the world?

DS: You build yourself a network of friends. I basically have friends in every major city of the world. It gives me great satisfaction to see other people’s life paths and to be able to reconnect with them every few years. Also, every culture is different and every audience is different, so it’s fascinating and broadens your mind to see how other people think and how other cultures work. I am thankful to be able to be so lucky in having that life experience.

It’s also difficult, because I travel four to six months a year, and sometimes I just miss being home and having a night off playing PlayStation. I love routine. I love having my coffee and my breakfast at home. When you are on the road, you have no choice but be exposed to these other routines, people, and places. But because the upside is so high, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to calm that side of my life down little bit. 

MY: What do you do to relax and get away from the ballet world?

DS: I love hanging out with friends, but I do need some time for myself. I’m actually more of a shy person, but life forces me to be more social because of all the traveling. I like to stay home, cook myself dinner, play video games, and watch a movie.

MY: Because this is our holiday issue, what is on your holiday wish list?

DS: I just moved into my apartment last January so I’m still finishing it all. There’s this design chair from Artek, and this digital art frame I would like to hang on my wall. It’s a Kickstarter project, and it’s a frame specifically for digital art. Other than that, I love video games, photography, and traveling (to a certain extent).

 

Photos courtesy of Daniil Simkin

Samuel Draxler

Mira Dayal

Samuel Draxler is an artist, curator, and co-founder of the "New York Performing Artists Collective (NYPAC)" whose practice has most recently challenged conceptions of failure, performativity, and context.

By Mira Dayal

Fairweather Magazine: How has your work as a curator affected the ways in which you think about your own art practice?

Samuel Draxler: I started curating and making art around the same time. For me, producing an artwork is a curatorial act at heart, at least in terms of the underlying logic. Buyout / Tragedy, for instance, is organized around a proposal for “a new work – a tragedy in which the characters, dialogue, and plot have all been removed, leaving only the landscape.” The work is to be exhibited “with or without accompanying text and illustrations,” which allows it to be reformulated in different contexts using different materials. At the ACC Galerie Weimar, for instance, the installation was structured in relation to the life of Christian Gottlieb Priber, an 18th century German utopianist. The piece was first conceived of as a literary work, inspired by the scene descriptions from extant Greek tragedies. The combination of texts and images, both original and appropriated, lets the references shift with each iteration. It’s become a more open investigation into the depictions and functions of tragedy.

FM: In founding NYPAC, you identified gaps in the accessibility of performance art. Do you feel that you have been able to address those gaps? 

SD: For artists working in the medium, one of the biggest issues is the lack of year-round organizations dedicated to performance art. It’s not only an issue of having opportunities to present work, but also of receiving financial support and professional services. Our goal was to work with these artists to help realize projects that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, all while representing these pieces in the clearest language, and with high-quality documentation. We didn’t only want to present well-developed work; we also wanted it to connect with an engaged and excited audience. While we’ve received a great response from our artists and audiences, we’re still a small organization. The art world is evermore vast, and the need for these types of services isn’t going away.

FM: COLLAPSE (or, falling flat), one of the most recent NYPAC events at the Knockdown Center, addressed "the legacy of failure in contemporary art," in this case partially through humor. What sources of failure persist? How can failure be productive?

SD: To oversimplify, there are two common ways failure appears in performance: as a planned motif that references postmodern dance, or as an unintentional outcome and source of abject terror. Implied in the title, COLLAPSE (or, falling flat) was both. Things fail for many reasons, but when you're looking for failure, everything's a victory. "What if it doesn't work?" "It wasn't supposed to!" [laughter]. That night, I was curator, stage hand, photographer, and sound guy. I had no functional experience with mixing, and when I caused a spike between performances – that terribly loud popping sound – Sara Grace Powell applauded. Broadly, though, I think failure is interesting because it’s hard to operationally define, and even harder to identify the stakes. It’s cathartic, too, to rehearse for the worst, but I’ve been told that I tend to catastrophize.

FM: How is performance art more suited than other media to address contemporary concerns, in art or otherwise?

SD: There's certainly a history of political concerns within performance, in regards to gender, sexuality, and the body. With a body at the center of the work, and with a performer investing their time and labor one-to-one with their audience, it's, in a way, naturally predisposed to examine and critique political and structural governing forces. At the same time, that doesn't absolve other media from being actively engaged with these types of concerns. Just because performance as a medium tends towards this focus doesn't mean that other media can't or shouldn't as well.   

FM: Your own art does not always involve explicit performance (as movement through space in time) but frequently involves multiples, collections, and juxtapositions of discrete elements. Several of your pieces (Watershed | The End, 2011 and Strike, 2012) attempt to literally freeze fleeting moments — the daily news. As the frozen pieces melt, there is a sort of performance involved, but it does not involve your body. Similarly, in one of your photographs, plants grow in a bathtub, and this itself is a sort of performance. How do you define performance? 

SD: I myself am not a performance artist, though performance, as an academic and curatorial interest, does seep into my work. Watershed | The End isn't not a body, though. The headline of the original paper in the work is "Qaddafi, Seized by Foes, Meets a Violent End." The form of the work enacts a bodily and state instability. As such, the works as you describe them are all performative, but in no sense performance art. As far as defining performance: there are video works, and installations, that are experiential to the point that performance can be a useful lens to understand them, even if the artist’s body isn’t present. I think fixing a definition is only significant so long as there's something at stake.

FM: What performances, events, or traditions are you looking forward to this winter during the holidays?

SD: ’Tis the season for end-of-year fundraising, when all of the nonprofits in your life ask you for money. We're no different, and you can donate to us at nypac.org/support. More seriously (or perhaps less seriously), the most “holiday” event I’m attending is Justin Vivian Bond's “Angels We Have Heard When High” at Joe's Pub. V is incredible, and I can’t wait. As far as traditions, I host dinner parties frequently throughout the season. Friends, brothy soups, and “Lil BUB's Magical Yule LOG Video” on repeat – what more do you need?
 

Rebecca van Bergen

Mable Yiu

Rebecca van Bergen in Varanasi, courtesy of Neil Davenport

Rebecca van Bergen in Varanasi, courtesy of Neil Davenport

by Camilla Misiaszek

Rebecca van Bergen is the Founder and Executive Director of Nest, a non-profit committed to helping local artisans sustainably develop their small businesses. She is empowering women, promoting prosperity, and introducing globally inspired designs and materials to the fashion industry. Here, she shares with us her remarkable journey, impact, and travels.

Camilla Misiaszek: What prompted you to start Nest? What was your source of inspiration?

Rebecca van Bergen: I founded Nest when I was 24. It was 2006 and I had just earned my master’s degree in social work from Washington University in my hometown, St. Louis. This was the same year that Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to create economic and social development through microfinance and microcredit. I was drawn to his work, and wanted to explore the opportunities for economic development beyond monetary investment but through training and infrastructure as well. I always knew that as a woman I wanted to support fellow women – I felt and still personally feel, even more so now that I am a mom, that economic independence and family life should not be mutually exclusive. 

An avid traveler, I had noticed that craft was very unique in its ability to create employment opportunities for women while allowing them to care for their children and families. On top of this, the women always seemed to be very happy when working on their craft – it seemed to bring personal joy and the opportunity to connect with others in the community. At the time, sustainable fashion was not a buzzword, so artisans and homeworkers were certainly not a widely discussed issue. I decided to make this my issue. Recognizing that the company I wanted to work for did not yet exist, I entered a business plan competition for social enterprise and to my surprise, I presented my idea for what is now Nest and the $24,000 grand prize funded Nest’s start. 

CM: Please describe how you partner with businesses to provide opportunities for local artisans.

RVB: Nest believes very strongly that change in the artisan sector must come from many directions. Many brands employ artisans and homeworkers in their supply chains. This is incredibly important for artisan groups, because it provides them access to the market, which fuels sales and keeps their businesses strong and growing. Despite how fast-paced and largely mechanized the fashion industry in particular has become, industry estimates indicate that 40% of garment production is likely to be happening in homes, rather than in the four-walled factory setting. Nest is very committed to helping these brands that work with artisans and homeworkers to bring visibility and viability to these complex supply chains. We offer our artisan assessment and programming services to them through a fee-for-service model, and also invite them to source from artisans who have already benefited from Nest business programming. Artisans with whom Nest has assisted have been able to achieve strong sourcing partnerships with cult brands including The Elder Statesman, FEED, West Elm, TSE and many others.

CM: How has Nest impacted local artisans?

RVB: I am so proud to say that Nest’s impact right now is stronger than ever. It grows with each year, and we are just getting started. By bolstering the global craft sector and leveraging a fair capitalist market as the sustainable glue to hold its programming in place, Nest’s goal is to see artisan business growth across all groups reached by Nest programming. In 2015, artisan businesses benefiting from Nest’s services realized an average increase in production of 45% and revenues grew by 76% on average, across the board. Most importantly, this economic growth is trickling down to the individual artisan level year over year. In 2015, Nest artisans saw Nest artisans saw an average increase in staffing of 8% and Nest artisans earn on average 120% more than their national minimum wage. As countless studies show with great proof of concept, when women in developing economies are empowered through employment, they are likely to invest their incomes in family care and community enrichment. For every Nest artisan employed an estimated 20 other lives are impacted including the lives of family members and children as well other people in the craft supply chain.

CM: What is the most memorable place you've traveled to? 

RVB: India has a way of taking hold of something deep within you that never quite leaves. Varanasi in particular is a holy city of death, and yet it is pulsing with life. The food, the colors, the emotions, the passion for family and culture – it is all bold and raw and compelling, just like the craft that comes from the region. In Varanasi, Nest works with handloom silk weavers who have been struggling to keep this 500 year-old tradition alive. Just ten years ago as many as 100,000 Indian handlooms were active, but since the rise of the power loom and the outsourcing of cheap labor to factories, this number has been cut in half. With Nest’s help, we have seen a dramatic increase in awareness and appreciation for the rare handloom technique. Following a design elevation mentorship, our partners in India presented a new contemporary silk collection to luxury fashion brands in Paris, resulting in incorporation of their silks into three Spring 2016 runway collections! It is incredible to be a part of this cultural diffusion and merging of East and West – one of the rare experiences that make Nest’s work so special. While I am able to travel less these days with two young children at home, I look forward to my next trip to India!

CM: What are some of the challenges you've faced as an entrepreneur?

RVB: As an entrepreneur, your company or organization becomes your baby. Your heart and soul are invested in your work, and the lines between personal and professional life can be blurry. By and large, there are meaningful benefits to this synergy. However, I have learned the importance of setting aside time that is reserved exclusively for family and moments of personal repose. I know Nest will always be there waiting for me when I pick back up my work again.

CM: What are your plans for the future?  

RVB: Nest is approaching its ten-year anniversary! As we approach this milestone, we are at an incredible inflection point in our growth as an organization. Over the past ten years, we have learned so much about the complexities of the artisan sector and we have been able to analyze where the greatest challenges and opportunities lie. As we head into the years ahead, we are excited to play a larger role in not only directly servicing artisan businesses, but also in tackling the global sector solutions that plague the craft sector as a whole. These issues include wastewater management during textile dyeing (an issue that creates both environmental and safety concerns), living wage models applicable in the piece rate payment setting, and technology integration for rural or highly decentralized groups. These challenges, and many others that other organizations shy away from, must be solved for the sector as whole in order for the industry to advance. Nest is committed to continually identifying these big picture issues, connecting key industry leaders, and working with these partners to build solutions at scale.

CM: In the spirit of the holidays, what's on your gift-giving list?

RVB: The greatest gift for me is the health and happiness of my family. Believe it or not, that includes my Nest family too – my dedicated team, our philanthropic supporters and volunteers, and the artisans we have the joy of working with. There has been so much pain, suffering, violence, and hurt taking place in the world, that I feel grateful for all the examples of love, compassion and understanding that I encounter daily. Nest stands for these values. 

Nest is also inviting our supporters to gift a $60 holiday donation in honor of someone special for the holidays. All donations will be sent with a beautiful ByBoe 14K gold fill necklace [image below], designed and donated by artist and Nest supporter, Annika Inez. Each delicate necklace is packaged in a Varanasi silk pouch made by our artisan partners in India, and includes a note describing the donation. Handmade in New York, these special gifts fund a 100% donation to Nest, supporting makers around the world. In addition to this, I am always excited to see the holiday offerings from Nest’s partners like West Elm, FEED, and The Elder Statesman, who are committed to a more socially responsible industry and are making gorgeous objects that bring beauty into our lives.

Photos courtesy of Nest.

Stephanie Manasseh

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of  Kim De Molenaer

Photo courtesy of Kim De Molenaer

by Mable Yiu

Founder of the Accessible Art Fair, Stephanie Manasseh dreamt of creating a new public art space without boundaries between artists and audiences. The art fair will be coming to New York for the first time in November 2016. 

What led you to start the Accessible Art Fair?

I left Canada in 1997 to move to Europe. Since my youth I have had a keen interest in art as my mother is an artist. I always knew that she struggled to find a gallery to represent her and when I moved to Brussels 10 years ago, I decided to start the Accessible Art Fair as I realized that there were so many great artists out there without gallery representation. I did my research and came to the conclusion that these artists are in need of exposure. I then decided to run a high level, qualitative art fair for artists only. 

Eight years on, I am very proud of the evolution of the fair and what it has become. We are a relatively small boutique fair, working with around 65 artists at a time, showcasing a hand picked selection of artists, chosen by our panel of judges all working in the arts (gallerists, art journalists, fine art specialists, etc). I made the decision that I would rather run the fair in a beautiful and special location in the high end area in Brussels, rather than have a huge event in an exhibition hall. People seem to appreciate the cozy atmosphere where they get to meet the artists behind the work. I think there is a lot to be said about gaining insight on a work of art directly from its creator.

Please describe your work with luxury brands, such as BMW, and how it ties in with the Accessible Art Fair.

I am very proud to be working with luxury brands such as Montblanc (on the Montblanc Likes Art Award, launched at the Accessible Art Fair in 2012) and BMW Belgium. By aligning themselves with the Accessible Art Fair, these very strong brands are showing their support to young, emerging talent and are showing their ongoing support to the arts.

Since November 2015 I have been working with BMW in Brussels as curator for their Art and Design Sessions. These sessions were launched to give a platform to artists and designers of various disciplines. We showcase some young talent as well as some big names such as Marc Lagrange, Xavier Lust and the legendary Terry O'Neill.

I am very excited to announce that we just got confirmation that Jeff Koons will join our session in July. We are bringing over his Art Car and the man himself will be present for one night to talk to our guests about this amazing creation.

That is so exciting that you will be launching the art fair in New York next November. Why New York specifically?

I am really excited about launching the fair in New York City in November 2016. We have found the perfect location which fits exactly the boutique style fair that we are. It just seems a natural evolution to run it in NY. There are so many artists in NY who just need the opportunity to get their work out there and we are here to give them this opportunity! I also love NY and all the possibilities it offers. We have already started working on this edition and I can't wait for its launch next year!

Stephanie Nass

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of Katie Kosaya, The International Culinary Center

Photo courtesy of Katie Kosaya, The International Culinary Center

by Mable Yiu

Chef, artist, and entrepreneur Stephanie Nass finds new ways to tie together culinary and artistic expression...and not just with beautiful photos. 

Please tell us about Victory Club and how it all came about. 

Victory Club is the supper club I founded to bring together friends of friends over the culinary and visual arts. Events take place 2-3 times per month in artists’ studios, private collections, galleries, and museums. The art in each space inspires the menus. Members bring their friends so the group at each event is comprised of friends of friends.

Last winter, I started culinary school at ICC and hosting people in my apartment for dinner. Everyone invited was asked to bring a guest, and the art on my walls— my own paintings but also treasured pieces from artist friends—sparked our conversations. These informal homecooked meals helped me connect the art and food lovers of New York City, in person and on Instagram, and ultimately led to the membership organization that Victory Club is...

How did you get into the food industry and what are you doing that's unique in the food world?

Growing up, my brother Teddy gave me the nickname “Chefanie” because I spent every free second in the kitchen. After college, I worked in Silicon Valley, and Victory Club is exactly what I wished existed when I was doing that job: a way for food, art, and friendship to converge in my busy schedule.

I am passionate about food & art and constantly look for ways to bring these things together. I look for modern plating techniques to apply to familiar dishes and consider food an important artistic medium for self-expression.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope Victory Club will continue to inspire more people in interesting venues for many years in the future!! I also hope the club will find partners that share a passion for reaching food and art lovers. I am personally working on a cookbook, as well as designing and producing embroidered napkins with aspirations to do more tableware.

Dream client to cook for/work with?

Ralph Lauren!!

Plums

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of Plums

Photo courtesy of Plums

by Mira Dayal

We don't often hear music described with terms like "spectral beauty." When we do, it's because Plums has launched a new album and its silvery dream-pop guitar riffs have captivated fans and critics alike. 

But the best introduction to our new favorite band, Plums, is below: a full stream of their debut EP, Jen.

 
 

You've recently been working on your first album release as Plums. How have you drawn on your previous experiences with music to create this album?

A few of us have made music together in the past, and each of those projects have been great learning experiences. With each new project we discover new production techniques and we find more sources of inspiration. When you make a new album, all you can really hope to do is to build upon these insights and make something that improves upon your previous work. 

How would you describe your music in terms of colors (hues, saturation, tone) or images? How do you think listeners would describe your music?

The saddest brown of all time..... 

What is your process of collaboration like while writing and producing your music? How do your diverse experiences as musicians enrich or complicate production?

Typically one of us will come to the band with an idea for a song, and then we'll work together to complete the arrangement, write new sections, and finish the piece. Working as a group helps in that it gives us more perspectives and possible directions to take the music. Music production can sometimes be a bit of a puzzle – you can tell pieces are missing, but you're not sure exactly what they are. Having multiple people involved in the writing process makes it much easier to fill in those spaces. 

Some of you are also jazz musicians. Does the structure or composition of jazz play a role in your process of creation?

Jazz really is an interactive and improvisational form. While we don't typically write music from a primarily jazz perspective, certain jazz processes influence our music in various ways. This includes compositional jam sessions, dissonant harmony, and dialogic patterns between instruments. 

What have you learned about production through this album, and which tracks were the most interesting or creative on your end?

During the production of this album we became very interested in analog recording technology, such as tape machines and cassette recorders. The drums were recorded onto cassette before being transferred to digital recording software, and many of the guitars were put through tape machines. We love the depth and distortions created by the tape – qualities that you hear in older music (pre-1980s) but get lost with modern all-digital production.

In an increasingly digital and connected world, how do you see music being shared, performed, or distributed in the future?

With digital recording software and the internet, it's easier than ever to create and disseminate your own music. Of course, we also have illegal downloading and the rise of music streaming services, and so revenue from record sales is declining and will likely continue to do so. This is bad for record labels but might not be quite as bad for musicians. Traditionally, musicians have made very little off of record sales (the standard royalty rate is about 15% for the artist), while their primary source of revenue comes from concert ticket sales and licensing. Because of social media, it is easier to connect with others in the industry (we found our record label through surfing the internet and sending them an email) and to build a following that will hopefully attend your shows. That said, it's a very complicated picture and it can be difficult to locate the exact effects of these big changes in the music world. 

Which artists do you find most innovative and interesting today? Are there any artists you tend to return to or feel most influenced by?

As we work on our full-length album we've been listening to a lot of 70s greats - Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Elton John, Jackson 5 - and we're hoping to place a greater emphasis on rhythmic elements.