Garden Party/Arts

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The dinner party for last year's "HUZZY." (Image courtesy of Sarrita Hunn, http://temporaryartreview.com)

It’s easy to forget that you don’t need a gallery to see and discuss art, and Garden Party/Arts serves as a good reminder. Last spring, emerging painter E.E. Ikeler teamed up with artist and art director Ariel Roman to create what they call “No Wave Feminism in Your Backyard,” a nomadic series of feminist-focused art events in friends’ Brooklyn gardens.

In a typical GP/A installation, the shows are often less about the objects themselves than the conversations surrounding them. Ikeler and Roman have been known to curate thrift shops, performances, video screenings, or and hang paintings amongst the bushes. The shows come with an accompanying artists’ text, exploring themes like the radical potential of embracing weirdness, or the radical potential of our bodies themselves.

GP/A then culminates in an invitation-only dinner party. As they explained to Kara L. Rooney of the Brooklyn Rail last year:

“The premise of the dinner is that [exhibiting] artists can use the occasion of their show as an opportunity to invite a guest they wish to be in dialogue with, but are perhaps not already [acquainted with] in a personal or professional sense.”

What a great idea.

Is Garden Party responding to anything that you particularly wanted to change?

EE: We wanted to give emerging artists a chance not just to show, but also to discuss and write about their work in depth. We wanted a more complex exhibition, where a text or a conversation is considered in equal importance to viewing to work– something more like a studio visit. We didn’t have any venues, and had to create our own in order to frame the discussion on our own terms. That’s how the feminist undercurrent emerged.

Ariel: At the time we began discussing the idea of GP/A, I had been struggling to transition my practice from California to New York– not only was I struggling to make work in the same way, but I had been organizing shows, hosting dinners, and was missing the community and dialogues I was part of. GP/A turned out to be the best way for me to continue what had been started previously, in a completely different context.

Was there any event or conversation that emerged from GP/A that you don’t think would have happened elsewhere?

Ariel: Being able to discuss feminism outside of a classroom or reading group, with strangers and in the context of an art event has opened up the dialogue a lot for me. Feminism as it pertains to abstraction– both form and theory– isn’t a conversation I experienced in any other places I’ve worked in. It was mostly experienced as an event or idea that had happened, in a few different waves, as part of a linear narrative.

I had been struggling with influences when I left California. It felt like everything that was being done had “re-” in front of it: re-contextualize, re-purpose, re-visit… I didn’t want to re-anything anymore! Exploring feminism as a framework, rather than an idea placed upon a piece or an action, really freed up this cycle I felt I was stuck in.

What’s a typical dinner conversation?

EE/Ariel: What’s been interesting is how consistently a group of mostly strangers have been able to locate their politics in their work, even if they don’t usually discuss their practices in that dimension. There’s been an undercurrent of optimism- that feminism is still vital in the hearts and minds of artists, and that we can appreciate the accomplishment of feminists from various generations while also imagining a more radical future.

Conflict has occurred only when the dinner guests did not relate to each other as peers. Specifically, there was a conversation that focused on how one artist’s work might have been different, how it could have been better, had it been informed by work that came before.

Something we’ve discussed a lot, both in planning Garden Party/Arts and at dinners, is how to embody a non-oppositional model of feminism. The first implication of this is we don’t work exclusively with female artists. It also means we won’t define ourselves against the past. We seek to use feminism as a framework or a lens to build, view and discuss works. It is not a desire to avoid conflict, or disregard difference; rather, a way to honor and continue the work that has been done, and is being made.

Do you have any major influences? An artwork or a person?

EE: David Getsy’s essay “Immoderate Couplings: Transformations and Genders in John Chamberlain’s Work” was influential because the queer/trans read of the work was so convincing while making a point not to claim anything about Chamberlain’s own sexuality or identity. Reading that essay made me feel like it was ok to talk about feminism in art that wasn’t made with explicitly feminist intentions, and that felt liberating. It was like a space opened up where feminism didn’t just have to be reasserted, but instead could be perceived as an already-present undercurrent in the work of the artists we were working with.

We’ve also quoted Griselda Pollock quite a few times, and I love her writing about feminism and painting.

Ariel: As it pertains to GP/A, I’ve been incredibly inspired by the works (and writing) of Hans Ulrich Obrist, Suzanne Lacy, Adrian Piper and Julio Morales. Among other important and significant feelings, their works validate my want to investigate all facets and functions of an exhibition. I am not a curator, and I don’t know how to just make work. They’ve made it a little easier for me to occupy that space.

Also, the Parliament song “Fantasy Is Reality” is a very important part of my dao.