A Review of FRESH MILK XIV

Art historian and writer Jessica Taylor reviews Fresh Milk’s last event, FRESH MILK XIV, which took place March 20, 2014 at The Milking Parlour Studio.

Photographs by Dondré Trotman.

Chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Tobias Ostrander, giving his presentation. Photo by Dondré Trotman.

Chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Tobias Ostrander, giving his presentation. Photo by Dondré Trotman.

The inaugural event held at the Fresh Milk Art Platform for the year 2014 brought together two interesting discussions concerning the production and exhibition of artworks within a global context. The first of these took up the role that artists’ residencies play as valuable sites of artistic growth and production, but also as sites that encourage cultural mobility and the negotiation of difference, where artists are able to freely adapt to new spaces and perspectives. These talks were conducted by three local artists – Mark King, Nick Whittle and Versia Harris – who have participated in multiple residencies within the region and internationally. This was followed by a presentation from the Chief Curator at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, Tobias Ostrander, who explored the notion of a new regional museum. Reinforcing the emphasis that Fresh Milk places on the importance of cross-cultural collaboration, the speakers at FRESH MILK XIV provided audience members with an expanded view of Caribbean regionalism, intending to provoke greater consideration of the need to work across geographical boundaries in order to develop relationships with other institutions across the globe.

For Barbadian and British artist Nick Whittle, the problem with residencies is that eventually they come to an end. This notion of the artist residency as a safe space in which to experiment, explore, develop and even make mistakes resounded throughout the presentations given by the three speakers. For artists, a residency is an opportunity to produce work in a space away from their usual environment and obligations, often accompanied by other artists, and thus creates a community of reciprocity. Since there is not one specific model, residencies offer different environments and different creative frameworks.

Nick Whittle, Queen Emma Bridge, Curacao, 2013

Nick Whittle, Queen Emma Bridge, Curacao, 2013

Nick recently attended a residency at the Instituto Buena Bista (IBB) in Curaçao. The language barrier that Nick experienced inspired him to take up the issue of exclusion in his works, which acquired the form of nesting boats made from large sheets of Dutch newspaper. With the words “this is not my land, not my island” written on his back, Nick staged a live performance in Curaçao in which he sat in a long newspaper boat on a bridge, forcing viewers to consider what his presence in that context meant historically and geographically. Subsequently, Nick has produced a short film with his daughter, artist Alberta Whittle, extending these themes of exclusion and belonging, presence and absence, forced encounters and cultural dislocations.

Versia Harris, a Barbadian artist, was able to trace both the transformation of her artistic style and the development of her confidence towards her production process through her experiences at four artist residencies. Beginning at Fresh Milk, she saw this opportunity as a test run for her first international residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where her intention was to focus on printmaking because of the facilities available at the Center. By the time Versia finished her next residency at the IBB in Curaçao, her work had taken a fascinating turn, experimenting with the incorporation of photographs and live footage into her animations.

Versia Harris, Fantasy Land Seperation, 2013

Versia Harris, Fantasy Land Seperation, 2013

In Trinidad, under the guidance of Christopher Cozier, co-director of Alice Yard, Versia began to revise pervious animation projects, and through the process of re-editing was able to produce a multi-screen installation on the exterior walls of the Alice Yard building. This creation of a strong, new work from fragments of older works was an impressive manifestation of Versia’s development as an artist during her time at the four residencies, and stands as a testament to the importance of reflecting on progress over time, and anticipating what is to come from this young artist.

While Versia’s development was first and foremost aesthetic and stylistic, artist Mark King’s development was intrinsically based in the theory behind his works. Although trained in photography, Mark felt that the medium was limited in its ability to communicate the issues that he wanted to address. While attending residencies at Alice Yard, Fresh Milk and Ateliers ’89 in Aruba, Mark used the mediums of photography, drawing, installation, sculpture and collage to respond to what was happening around him. Inspired by geometric forms and the practice of origami, Mark has created a series of beautiful and complex line arrangements on paper that are the result of algorithms made from books on the 2009 economic crash, overall banking history and culture, memoirs, autobiographies, and financial industry related news articles.

Work by Mark King from the CABTW series, (2013 - ongoing) exhibited at FRESH MILK XIV. Photo by Dondré Trotman.

Work by Mark King from the CABTW series, (2013 – ongoing) exhibited at FRESH MILK XIV. Photo by Dondré Trotman.

Underlying these intricate and delicate designs is a strong criticism of the CEOs who were responsible for the financial crisis, and he recognizes an interesting connection between the uncertainty of the shape that the algorithms take when converted into the vectors that make up his work and the uncertainty of the stock market. In this series, and in his installations in Aruba, Mark has altered familiar structures in ways that enabled him to respond to social norms in coded and often satirical ways, free from the restrictions of one specific medium.

The value of attending multiple artists’ residencies as part of a larger process of artistic development comes from the global reality of our contemporary art world. Residencies, both regional and international, should be seen as part of a wider network of institutions that stands to connect artists and foster cultural exchange. This dialogue was continued by Tobias Ostrander, who spoke of his work as chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which opened December 2013 in a new building designed by Herzog & de Mueron. Given that Miami functions as a transitory space between North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, the addition of this large-scale museum to a quickly maturing city, previously best known for the temporary art fair Art Basel, positions Miami as an interesting space in which to explore the possibility for a long-term relationship between the Pérez Art Museum and Caribbean art institutions.

FRESH MILK XIV. Photos by Dondré Trotman.

Speaking of a larger project of “strategic regionalism,” intended to increase the dialogue between these regions over time, Tobias emphasized the importance of seeing this a process of resolution, rather than a quick solution to the lack of visibility that Caribbean artists experience. Recognizing the curatorial issues inherent in exhibitions like Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, which will be shown at the Pérez Art Museum this year on a smaller scale than was shown in New York in 2012, Tobias positions this exhibition as a potential starting-point for dealing with these issues, and the first stage in a greater project of collaboration.

Underlying the discussion was a distinct frustration that ultimately exhibitions, like residencies, are temporary. The challenge that we face now is how to extend the wider horizons afforded by these events to effect meaningful change to the infrastructure within which Caribbean artists work on a daily basis.

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About Jessica Taylor:

Jessica Taylor

Jessica Taylor

Jessica Taylor recently graduated from McGill University with an undergraduate degree in Art History and Philosophy and hopes to begin a graduate degree in Curatorial Studies in 2014. Her focus is contemporary Caribbean art.

Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean

The full documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, the culmination of a collaborative project between Fresh Milk and New York-based, Guyanese artist damali abrams is now available for viewing online.

The Fresh Performance Project was an experimental, six-chapter documentary series which saw damali interviewing 12 performance artists, 6 from the Caribbean and 6 from NYC, and pairing them under particular themes to investigate performance art from the perspectives of those working in these different locations and contexts.

This video, which was screened at FRESH MILK XIII in October, 2013 saw footage from all of the interviews edited into one video, which flows almost as if the artists are in conversation with one another as they speak out their practices and the larger contexts they work in, revealing a number of linkages that can be drawn despite differing settings and the variety of concepts addressed.

Screening damali abrams' documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean

…Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean, the documentary that I came to this residency to complete, came out very differently from what I expected (but I expected that as well)… I began to leave in only the portions of the interviews that clearly explained the importance of performance to these particular artists. I wound up cutting about two-thirds of the piece. It went from about 90 minutes to roughly 30 minutes. Then I had to rearrange the clips so that the words of all of the artists I interviewed flowed together. It wasn’t until I got back to New York that I realized that the project had taken shape based on the conversations and experiences I had during the residency (which I think must be the entire point of a residency anyway)…

– damali abrams in her blog post on her residency with Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada

Zachary Fabri, New York-based performance artist in Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean. Photograph by Mark King.

…Entitled Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, damali’s documentary is less about the specific performance works of the twelve artists that she interviewed but is instead more about the artists’ conceptions of performance art as a practice within the context of their work. In the first few minutes of the film we are introduced to differing considerations of what performance art is from the twelve artists, which for the viewer emphasizes the interpretive nature of performance art and its malleability as an art form. damali has paired the video interviews with still images of the live performances of each artist, which creates an intriguing juxtaposition of interview as performance, and performance as documentary…

Jessica Taylor in her review of FRESH MILK XIII

A Review of FRESH MILK XIII

Art historian and writer Jessica Taylor reviews Fresh Milk’s last event, FRESH MILK XIII, which took place October 24, 2013 at The Milking Parlour Studio.

Photograph by Mark King.

Photograph by Mark King.

The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. continues to provide a space for contemporary artists to develop projects and exchange ideas in a creative and engaging environment, as evidenced by the most recent public event Fresh Milk XIII, which was held at the Fresh Milk site on October 24th 2013.

While outlining a number of projects that have been ongoing at Fresh Milk, the event included a screening of a full-length documentary made by resident-artist damali abrams. damali, a New York-based Guyanese performance artist, showcased a documentary that she had produced during her joint residency at Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada for the month of October 2013 as part of The Fresh Performance Project. The documentary featured footage from interviews that she had conducted with six Caribbean-based and six New York-based performance artists over a six-month period prior to beginning her on-site residency.

Entitled Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, damali’s documentary is less about the specific performance works of the twelve artists that she interviewed but is instead more about the artists’ conceptions of performance art as a practice within the context of their work. In the first few minutes of the film we are introduced to differing considerations of what performance art is from the twelve artists, which for the viewer emphasizes the interpretive nature of performance art and its malleability as an art form. damali has paired the video interviews with still images of the live performances of each artist, which creates an intriguing juxtaposition of interview as performance, and performance as documentary.

The role of documentation in performance art is fairly ambiguous given that some artists have denied any documentation of their work (claiming that it shall not exist outside of the moment of its performance) and others rely on documentation to preserve their performance (normally for exhibition purposes). damali complicates this ambiguity even further by turning an act of documentation into a performance itself. For her, the documentary is as much a performance as the works that we see in the still images shown in the documentary. The result of this is that as viewers, we are experiencing the binary of watching a live performance art piece by one artist in which she interviews other artists about their practice and calls on them to recollect past performances. This play with documentation and temporality demonstrates that performance can be something direct but not necessarily something that is easily understood by the public.

Despite the drastic differences amongst the various pieces discussed, several common threads surfaced throughout the interviews, such as the importance of the audience, the role of spontaneity and interaction, and an appreciation of the unpredictable nature of performance art. This overarching notion of the role of the public sparks many questions for me. Can we have cross-cultural notions of performance art? Does a Barbadian audience approach damali’s work differently than a New York audience? Given that all of the artists interviewed deal with issues of identity, how do their audiences inform and interpret these issues based on their geographical location? Of course these questions remain unanswered, but I believe that is exactly what damali is trying to show us.

Ultimately, damali is offering these artists a chance to both explore and explain what performance art means to them, while forcing her audience to ask themselves the same questions. Her exploration of the medium through the words of these twelve artists initiates a much-needed discussion of the role that performance art has to play in the Caribbean, and simultaneously links it to performance art in New York. The connections that damali is making between the Caribbean and New York through the dialogue that she maintains with the twelve artists are unique, given that performance art is practiced by such a small number of Caribbean artists. Perhaps the most telling sign of this was not only in the words of the Caribbean artists on the screen, but even more so in the responses given by the audience members attending Fresh Event XIII. After the screening damali was met with questions from young art students who had either never heard of performance art or had never considered it in great detail, but who will now hopefully perpetuate this important discussion.

In addition to damali’s documentary, there was also a screening of Project 35: Volume 2, which is a travelling exhibition produced by Independent Curators International (ICI) and included a piece by Bahamian artist Heino Schmid, selected by Trinidadian artist and curator Christopher Cozier. Subsequently the director of Fresh Milk, Annalee Davis, took to the floor to present to the audience a series of other projects that had been in the works at Fresh Milk over the past few months. The first of these was the Fresh Milk Artboard, which was erected at the bottom of the road leading to the Fresh Milk site as a new public gallery from which the work of contemporary artists will be showcased. The first work to be displayed on the Artboard was designed by Barbadian artist Evan Avery, who had also previously designed a graphic work to be installed in the front window of Casa Tomada’s ‘A Casa Recebe’ in Brazil, which exhibits the work of both local and international artists.

The relationship between Fresh Milk and Casa Tomada is just one example of the cross-cultural exchange that Fresh Milk is encouraging and that we are beginning to see more and more in the arts of the region and further afield. In light of this, Annalee also presented the Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces. This resource is an online map indicating the existing art spaces across the region, which also includes links to the websites of these spaces. Working to circulate information regarding arts in the Caribbean, this map not only offers a regional view of how these spaces have manifested themselves across the Caribbean but will hopefully help to facilitate greater connectedness between these institutions. Finally, Annalee directed the audience’s attention to the addition of new publications to the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, located on the Fresh Milk site.

Fresh Milk XIII, which marked the platform’s final public event for 2013, fittingly brought together several of the elements integral to Fresh Milk’s mission; regional and international collaboration, experiment and exchange, knowledge of the contemporary arts, and increased visibility of Caribbean art all came into play. Moving forward, it is imperative to find the best way to activate these resources that Fresh Milk has made available, and continue to nurture the relationships built with artists such as damali and institutions such as ICI. In this way Fresh Milk will continue to evolve not only as an organization, but as an entity facilitating change by inspiring new ways of thinking, reaching new audiences and stimulating the public’s sensibility as we move towards intellectual and creative growth.

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Jessica Taylor

About Jessica Taylor:

Jessica Taylor recently graduated from McGill University with an undergraduate degree in Art History and Philosophy and hopes to begin a graduate degree in Curatorial Studies in 2014. Her focus is contemporary Caribbean art.