Presented by BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn, the exhibition Cultural Fluency: Engagements with Contemporary Brooklyn took place March 14 – April 27, 2013 at BRIC Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn, NY. Below is the curator’s essay to the exhibition’s newspaper/catalogue:
“For the artist, obtaining cultural fluency is a dialectical process which, simply put, consists of attempting to affect the culture while he is simultaneously learning from (and seeking acceptance of) the same culture which is affecting him.”
– Joseph Kosuth, “The Artist as Anthropologist,” 1975
Cultural Fluency: Engagements with Contemporary Brooklyn brings together six artists whose active and purposeful engagements with the city embody its culture. The exhibition is part of a wider dialogue examining the creative exchange between urbanism and art practice. In the spirit of Cultural Fluency, this newspaper/exhibition catalogue includes conversations with the artists as well as with contributors from different fields.
The exhibition, ranging from public artwork and photography to “guerrilla opera bombs”, highlights artwork that depicts Brooklyn while also altering our perceptions of and experiences in the borough. The artists featured all regularly operate at the intersections of art, place, and community, often with an innate political awareness.
Working in response to the exhibition concept and the gallery space itself, David Court’s text-based work, A Description Without Place & A Glossary for Other Spaces, expands throughout the gallery walls, exhibition postcards, and this newspaper. In a playful yet strategic manner, Court draws attention to the multiple forces at work in the production of space, specifically addressing the materiality of BRIC Rotunda Gallery, the layout and experience of the exhibition, and its implication in larger frames of building and inhabitation.
From Here I Saw What Happened and I Could Not Understand (aka The Obama Skirt Project) is a year-long performance artwork by Aisha Cousins during which she vowed to wear fabrics bearing President Obama’s image every day. The fabrics were collected shortly after Obama’s election in 2008 from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, and Tanzania, where there is a long tradition of depicting the faces of black political leaders on clothing. She wore the Obama fabrics until her friends and neighbors began to see them (and the mind-set they represented) as normal. Cousins documented her experiences by writing a series of performance art scores. The piece expanded into the creation of a group called The Story Skirt Project, whereby participants re-perform Cousins’ work by wearing Obama fabric and documenting their own stories.
Vocal artist Malesha Jessie challenges the notion of ‘authenticity’ in opera performance being tied to a ‘legitimate’ venue and audience. Her guerrilla opera bombs in the barbershops, bodegas, stoops, and sidewalks in Bedford-Stuyvesant engage a surprised public who pause to listen and even spontaneously dance to her performances. The 8-minute video loop Guerrilla Opera is presented openly, allowing the film’s music to permeate the gallery space and alter the experience of viewing nearby artworks.
Hiroki Kobayashi’s photographs of the endangered Slave Theater, once a hub for civil rights activities in New York, uncover a history that is at risk of being buried. Abandoned for years and at the center of a bitter dispute over ownership rights and competing visions for a neighborhood landmark, the theater’s future is uncertain. By re-presenting the politicized murals inside the iconic building in a new gallery context, Kobayashi re-introduces the soul of the theater and its history to an expanded demographic, possibly affecting its future.
For over three years British artist Martin McCormack has been walking the length and breadth of New York City, gathering tattered subway maps, tourist maps, and maps found on take-out menus. An active interplay between commerce, leisure, location, and art practice, The Great New York City Mapping Project is a dynamic re-creation of the city, in graphic form.
Mark Reigelman’s Stair Squares is a response to ongoing activities on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall while actively altering the space. The collection of public furniture accentuates and encourages the use of the public steps as a grand civic stoop. Presented on a custom-built stoop for the exhibition, visitors are welcome to sit and linger, shifting their perspective and becoming part of the exhibition.
The exhibition is conversational and participatory not only by engaging the public in the gallery space itself, but by expanding the dialogue through its communication materials. Newspaper contributors Laurie Cumbo, Matthew Deleget, Karen Demavivas, Keith Gill, Thomas Leeser, Syreeta McFadden, and Hanne Tierney discuss the relationships between politics, community, architecture, poetry, and performance with their art and with the city.
On Thursday, April 4, 2013, Inside Cultural Fluency extends the dialogue further. The public program night features Q&As with the artists and the Bed-Stuy Story Skirters (a group of Brooklyn women who have been re-performing Aisha Cousins’ The Obama Skirt Project), as well as interactive performance art scores directed by Cousins.
The public is invited to visit and participate in the online forum culturalfluency.info, whereby Cultural Fluency will continue to grow beyond the confines of a gallery exhibition. By regularly including new interviews and conversations across fields and globally, the blog will continue to examine the creative exchange between the city and art practice. At the risk of being utopian, it is my hope Cultural Fluency will help our understanding of the human condition in our city and in our society – essentially shaping our ‘place’.
– Erin Gleason, Exhibition Curator
Erin Gleason is an artist, curator, and designer based in Brooklyn. She studied Fine Art, Imaging Science, and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, and received her MFA in the Art/Space/Nature Program at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Gleason has exhibited and curated in the U.S. and internationally and has created works for a variety of public sites. She is the co-founder, director and curator of the Crown Heights Film Festival, co-editor and designer of the publication FIELDWORK (ASN Mutual Press), recipient of a Russell Trust Award for research in Greenland, and a 2013 Lori Ledis Emerging Curator Fellow at BRIC Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn, NY.