AGENDA announces its fourth exhibition, Avantika Bawa: “Constructing Darkness” from February 27 – March 27, 2021
Born of pandemic challenges and creative necessity, Avantika Bawa and AGENDA have collaborated to enable this monumental artist to continue working in an imaginative and completely unprecedented way. Bawa and curator Jamie Wilson met at AGENDA’s inaugural opening in October of 2020. AGENDA’s space is small and lends itself to installation, but would it be possible to exhibit the work of Avantika Bawa in a meaningful way? Bawa asked “What if we painted the whole gallery black?” and the brainstorming began. What resulted is this exploration and response to the quiet and intimate architecture of AGENDA.
Constructing Darkness is the fifth of the ‘Scaffold Series’ by Avantika Bawa. In this site-specific installation, utilitarian structures are transformed into objects of beauty by their altering color and formation in response to site. By so doing they cease to be objects of function and become instead visual representations of planning and possibility represented in small-scale sculpture.
Earlier iterations of this series were exhibited in Mumbai, India (Another Documentation, 2012), Astoria, OR (Mineral Spirits, 2016), Gujarat, India (A Pink Scaffold in the Rann, 2019-20) and most recently in Eugene, OR (#FFFFFF, 2020).
Collectively, the ‘Scaffold Series’ has enabled Bawa to explore the endless possibilities of a single structure by pushing permutations and combinations of color, form and scale in relation to location. While responding to the topography and geography of each site as well as limitations posed by the pandemic, a new iteration of the series is manifested. Bawa intends to expand upon this small-scale series by exploring new terrain and different ways of configuring these installations. Bawa wishes to acknowledge Noah Mattuecci, who inspired and managed the printing and production of the miniature scaffolds, without whom the miniature series would not exist.
Things that have to do with fire
February 18 – April 01, 2021
(Portland, OR) Fuller Rosen Gallery is pleased to present Things that have to do with fire, a solo show of new work by Portland-based artist Vo Vo. Their newest series of video, print and large-scale textile banners focus on the social, racial and environmental upheaval during the summer of 2020. Led by the ideals of Black Lives Matter, Antifa and their own background as a radical educator, Vo’s solo show investigates the multitudes of activism and is a call for social justice and global solidarity.
Come with curiosity. Approach with openness.
Opening weekend February 18 – 21, 12-5 pm.
Virtual workshop and artist talk with Vo Vo March 13, 5-6pm.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a viewing appointment or stop by during open gallery hours.
As a 14-year-old I was radicalized by a free contemporary art exhibition downtown. It was a compendium of John Pilger’s journalistic and film work, enlightening me on environmental justice, Indigenous sovereignty, global border conflicts, war reportage, and corporate exploitation. A hand had reached in and switched on the light. Whilst in no way comparing my meagre blip with the gargantuan reach of Pilger’s work, I similarly seek to open an awareness with questions, analysis, knowledge and curiosity; with the hope of reaching towards a trauma-informed, disability justice, harm reduction, and transformative ideal. With the hope that it can plant seeds of learning, discomfort, expansion, conflict, and exploration.
A recent immigrant to the States and a kid of Vietnamese refugees, I often witness the centering of the United States in any dialogue around oppression. Anti-Blackness, militarism, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, racism, environmental degradation and the pandemic are all global problems we face. Don’t let the media crud machine convince you these are only “American issues.” Opening up to international solidarity means gathering insight to creative, inspiring, and proven strategies to create better worlds.
Anarchists and anti-fascists have been constructed as puerile, unthinking neanderthals whilst we seek to end exploitation and abuse of state power; by doing and building
We don’t do it for kicks, we do this out of necessity.
We hold a multitude of experiences and perspectives; we are philosophers, builders, teachers, social workers, mutual aid providers, carers, retail and service industry workers, union organizers, health workers, academics, immigrants, refugees, BIPOC, parents, grandparents, students, and young people. We are compelled by a desire for justice and fueled by the astonishment caused by oppressive and repressive violences. Many critics have come from a spirit of protectionism, bringing in property relations and capitalism as a “tsk tsk” response. We ask people to move away from individualistic and materialistic concerns, and towards collective concerns of the basic human rights for communities to stay alive; to thrive with dignity and feel connectedness and belonging.
This past year, these diametrically opposing weights at each end of the scale have appeared in many forms: debates over mask-wearing, conflict around providing lifesaving financial aid, how we as a society prioritize an abstract economy, convenience and instant gratification over the lived realities and safety of our workers; resulting in the subsequent continued spread of a vicious global pandemic. We find ourselves calling for a unity when again dominant colonial culture and whitewashed liberalism seeks to decide that point of unity.
Consider the questions posed here today. Consider how your actions were to change if you looked beyond your personal, or domestic, needs and experience. Consider tangible steps you can take towards furthering people power, and social and racial justice.
Vo Vo (they/them/theirs) is a radical educator of 11 years in over 20 countries in inclusion, racial justice, intercultural communication, Trauma-Informed Care, De-escalation and Restorative Justice. They have trained staff and board members from over 300 organizations in OR and WA since immigrating to the US in 2014. Editor of an internationally renowned publication, speaker, curator, artist and musician who has exhibited and toured in Australia, Germany, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Singapore, Croatia, Mexico, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Vietnam, Sweden, Malaysia, and the UnitedStates. They have curated for IntersectFest: A Festival For and By People Of Color, now in its sixth year. It has featured over 200 Black, Indigenous, and POC artists, including dancers, poets, filmmakers, curators, visual artists and more.
Vo Vo primarily works in textiles, embroidery, weaving, and furniture. Their installations seek to interrogate power dynamics and structural oppression while challenging histories and realities of imperialism, white supremacy, and colonization. They continue to explore support strategies and models of community care within a post traumatic social landscape, focusing on the resilience of BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S+ and disabled communities.
Fuller Rosen Gallery was founded in 2018 by artists EM Fuller (she/her) and BriAnna Rosen (she/her) as a collaborative curatorial project. The gallery exhibits regional and national artists who address urgent, contemporary issues. Fuller Rosen Gallery is located at 1928 NW Lovejoy St. in Portland, OR and is ADA accessible. The gallery is open Thursday – Sunday from 12 to 5 PM and by appointment.
Please do not visit the gallery if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, have been in contact with someone who is experiencing symptoms, and/or has tested positive for COVID-19
Maximum 4 guests allowed inside gallery
Maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from one another
Wear an effective face mask at all times
Please be courteous to our neighbors and maintain social distancing
How can satire and collage techniques expose capitalist strategies of using Black bodies to exploit spiritual, mental, and physical health, and to force mystifying consumer relationships? How can satire and collage create new imaginative storylines that explore the emphatic performance of Black iconic, hotep-ish figures, like Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, amid such mystifying consumer relationships? These are the questions ruminating in my head as I experienced Ilana Harris-Babou’s Long Con at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery in Seattle, WA. Painter, sculptor, multimedia, and performance artist Harris-Babou was commissioned by the Black Embodiments Studio at the University of Washington, an art writing incubator that holds theoretical and technical conversations about the ways Black artists express ideas of Black life. In Long Con, Harris-Babou poses the question: can our ways of consumption lead us to buy expensive “truths” falsely advertised?
Through collage, Harris-Babou doesn’t just superimpose different materials, fabrics, and textures, she extends this technique by interweaving and layering varied voices, personalities, scenes, and histories into one video still, gif, video, or tarot card. Upon entering the gallery, I could hear voices playing from three different video streams in different rooms. The chorus set the tone for a show full of sarcasm, cynicism, and dry humor that mocks consumerism, progressive politics, and popular culture. One voice played from Harris-Babou’s Reparation Hardware (2018), where the main “Reparator,” discusses how she and her team will contribute to Black American reparation efforts by using rugged, slippery materials, and ineffective hammering techniques. Despite the narrator’s claims, the project only produces assemblage sculptures named after Black icons like Malcom X, which disregard the life and demands of the person, ossifying them as voiceless figureheads. Faintly, I could hear a voice demonstrating a DIY Cheeto face mask from Decision Fatigue (2019), which was playing in a small offset cubby room. The loudest voices came from the main gallery, where Dr. Sebi and Miss Cleo spoke their flamboyant gospel over lo-fi hip-hop beats. These icons are known for being outrageously emphatic, but the soft, lulling music had a calming effect on Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s message. As I will come to understand, pacifying audiences can be a ploy to dupe people into purchasing spiritual services they think they need to survive.
I was drawn to the deep purple wall surrounding the wall-mounted videos and still images of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, but I couldn’t resist the draw to the oversized cards that lined the left wall. The cards play off of the aesthetics of tarot cards, with many featuring a person in ancient Egyptian clothes holding or using ancient tools. Along with figures and images popular in tarot illustrations, Harris-Babou’s cards also have collaged images of Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s popular ads, hand motions, and the “call me now” slogan. Sometimes the bodily figures are cut out of the card and replaced with the sky, earth, or fire backgrounds.
Each tarot card lists a date and a corresponding event connected to Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi, as well as health crises largely affecting Black communities. A card dated 1937 references the US involvement with “Eugenics Medical Sterilization Law 116” of Puerto Rico. Another card dated 1985 references Ronald Regan’s acknowledgment of AIDS crises, an acknowledgment that came far too late for a crisis known for being most brutal on Black and Brown queer communities. Harris-Babou references moments where the US neglected, or outright caused, turmoil for Black peoples’ spiritual, mental, and physical health. She juxtaposes these moments with cards that indicate important events of Miss Cleo’s and Dr. Sebi’s lives and career. Immediately following the 1985 card is another card dated 1987 that references Dr. Sebi’s lawsuit for claiming to cure AIDS. The chronological order of the cards offers an alternative storyline to the lives of these two icons and links the performances of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi to corporations’ scamming techniques.
The tarot cards reorient my perception of Miss Cleo and Dr. Sebi. The first card in the storyline resembles the Temperance card: an ancient Egyptian figure hurryingly pours one cup of water into another. Underneath their feet, the advertisement for Miss Cleo’s number creeps up; the description for this card reads: “The US Public Health Service began ‘The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in African American Male.’” The next card indicates the birth of Dr. Sebi and resembles the Queen of Cups holding out a cup towards the heavens, but the body of the Queen and the bird is cut out, replaced by the sky, rivers, and earth. This juxtaposition alludes to a narrative that reveals what public health negligence and capitalist consumerism tries to disguise: capitalist systems alchemize and manipulate conditions to create con artists, making Dr. Sebi a figure that takes money by claiming to save people from crises started and perpetuated by the US government. Consumers, at the hands of such capitalist ploys, buy into the narrative believing that the US, corporations, and their use of iconic figures can save their lives when these very entities are destroying lives.
I turn to the wall where Harris-Babou brings the figures back to life by distilling clips of their past studio interviews, talks, and ads. The alternative storyline told through tarot cards revealed how Miss Cleo’s exuberant rejoicing and Dr. Sebi’s self-righteous medical knowledge are rhetorical tools that dupe people into buying their products and services. Furthermore, especially in the case of Miss Cleo, the manipulative performance of a fabricated accent and inauthentic attire increases the wealth of white corporations on the backs of Black spiritual culture. Both Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s performance becomes a costume created in the service of capitalism via medical health and spirituality.
Ilana Harris-Babou’s Long Con reinforces the ideas that suggest much (if not all) of our material realities are shaped and constructed by white imaginations, and Black people are forced to participate in these realities. The exhibition gave me a chance to reflect on how I’ve mistaken Dr. Sebi’s and Miss Cleo’s performances as just spiritual mumbo jumbo, not understanding the grander devious tactics of corporations and governments lying underneath. Long Con critiques white imagined and dictated consumerism and its relationship to Black spirituality, wellness, and labor, and emphasizes the absurd ways that we, as consumers, participate in these relationships.
Ilana Harris-Babou: Long Con
Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Seattle, WA
November 19, 2020 – January 16, 2021
This interview is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Read more about Variable West’s Critical Minded Grant here.
Ghost Mass is a multimedia installation designed to be experienced from outside the gallery. No appointment necessary –– just show up Thursday through Saturday after 5 p.m. through
These days, it can feel as if we’re floating through the world like spirits, unable to tangibly engage in it. Yet the world is physically impacting us through events so enormous, complex, and pervasive they seem abstract or surreal. Measuring the gravity of this impact begins with considering the solid, the objective, the truth. Like ghost particles or neutrinos, which are studied to better understand dark matter, Ghost Mass is a piece that gauges what’s missing or lost by interpreting what remains through video projections, sound, and objects.
Emily Tanner-McLean (b. 1983) is an artist whose work explores the transformative potential of liminal, discordant spaces. Her practice encompasses video art and immersive installations that
examine media’s generative capacity to promote new, conscious-building ways of thinking, particularly within moments of apparent paradox. Emily received a Bachelor’s degree in Studio
Art and a Master’s in Public Administration from New York University.
All photos by Christian Sorensen Hansen, http://www.csh.studio
The US Constitution makes provisions for processes of citizenship. But between the text and experience, what is lost, overlooked, or erased? Tannaz Farsi’s screen prints The Measure I and II (all works 2020) each feature a wall of stacked words, a lexicon conjuring the experience of “measuring up” to exclusionary migration policies. Marginalia in light gray shift the semantics of bold black letters, giving viewers pause. Among these and other references to language in A More Perfect Union, Farsi’s exhibition at HOLDING Contemporary, “we the people” is conspicuously absent. Instead of coldly asserting static facts or figures, Farsi’s textual and material poetics across the gallery negotiate nativist scripts by exposing their incongruities and discontinuities, rescuing the critical will of the people from oblivion.
Casually perched on a low concrete slab across from the gallery’s entrance are four open bottles of rose water—their caps nowhere to be seen. The bottles, collectively titled Visceral Language, are wrapped in commercial markers of the curative, holy, and familiar Persian smell. Despite their seemingly open welcome, one notices that the rose water comes from Lebanon rather than Iran, gesturing to the trade sanctions between the US and Iran. The subtle yet “visceral” difference denotes the numerous impasses between the artist’s home countries.
Farsi’s other works in A More Perfect Union lament the historical and contemporary barbs that underlie such tensions. American Greetings [state III] leans coolly against the white wall, with the eponymous text imprinted vertically onto a massive aluminum sheet. In their cramped verticality, the words are displaced from an otherwise expansionist horizontality, serving to cancel, in part, the space-taking bravado of the bubble-letter “welcome.” In the gap between the metal and the wall, dried gladiolas rest on the floor—a symbol of infatuation, protection, and remembrance—an ephemeral sculptural element Farsi has invoked in previous works. Here, the flowers offer an ironic elegy to this exceptionalist welcome. Across from American Greetings, Second Skin occupies a corner, also inclined against a wall, this time without the façade of nonchalance. The assemblage of found objects in Second Skin includes a security light glaring downward, spotlighting a bedraggled US flag-patterned collared shirt—the kind coopted by the far right in a seizure of monolithic and uncritical patriotism. Here, it hangs, blasted, sanded, dragged, cut, and under interrogation, with tufts of cotton huddled around the base of the light’s pole. Cotton. The “second skin”—or the comfort of de facto nationalism—is quite literally flayed from its racist origins. This raw sight returns us to a query posed by the artist in the exhibition statement: “The American flag is an object, an image, and an idea signifying a shared history that tethers the bodies of citizens to the edges of this land. Who does this belong to?”
An adjacent work, Obligation of Allegiance, a stainless steel sculpture, offers an answer. The work reads “CITIZEN” in Farsi’s idiosyncratic geometric font derived from Arabic script nuqat, or dots, which obscure in their decoration as much as they disclose alternative configurations of state-sanctioned semantics. The typeface both constitutes the term of legal status and simultaneously disassembles that composition through its shifting form. Turning towards the back room, a grid of names written in the artist’s cursive script cascade down a wall in Systems of Displacement (January–November fatalities of African American/Black folks by police). The dark texture of the names matches that of Obligation in the front of the space—revealing the tragic result of uncritical allegiance. Painstakingly etched in stainless steel and grit, each name signifies a Black life lost, unprotected by their supposedly hallowed citizenship George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake… the list goes on. The devastating record motivates the artist’s question: “at what cost is allegiance?”
Farsi continues to pose open-ended questions concerning the nature of citizenship and nationality in a Line; a Figure; a symbol. The geometric script returns, here literally welding together negative spaces cut out between names from a 2017 work that commemorated Iranian political prisoners, as Farsi revealed in a conversation with scholar Lucy Cotter hosted by HOLDING Contemporary. The resulting silver composition abstracts the minute and sculpted pauses that collectively jut out from its base. It denies easy legibility, retaining the material haunting of absented prisoners and the ambiguous “CITIZEN” from Obligation.
Turning to the back wall, Farsi leaves viewers with a final evocative suspension: the wall has been cut open, exposing the structural beams. Upon a low piece of wood rest the four caps to the rose water bottles in the entryway. Their small convex shapes fit their containers but remain distanced from them, articulating a longing that permeates the pauses, tensions, and negotiations throughout the exhibition. They deviate from the notion of a “perfect” union referenced by the exhibition title, and instead embody openness and criticality that leans towards the desire for “more.”
The American flag is an object, an image, and an idea signifying a shared history that tethers the bodies of citizens to the edges of this land.
Who does this belong to? What do we rally around?
Who is considered a citizen? For how long?
Under what circumstance does one become suspect?
What is sacrificed in order to belong?
HOLDING Contemporary is pleased to present new spatial works by Tannaz Farsi. A More Perfect Union opens on Thursday, November 19 and runs through December 19, 2020. Gallery hours are noon – 5:00 pm, Thursday – Saturday. A conversation between Tannaz Farsi and curator Lucy Cotter will be held on Thursday, December 2, 2020 at 5pm PT on Zoom. Meeting ID: 855 192 711 Password 060467.
In her practice, Farsi uses text and material to create contingent works and installations rooted in diasporic (immigrant, refugee) identity, history, and language. A More Perfect Union consists of both amorphous and structured artworks that reflect on questions of citizenship in the United States during a significant time of unrest and months of living at a public distance and close domestic proximity amid widespread protests simulcast on streets and screens. A More Perfect Union, is a phrase extracted from the preamble to the US Constitution, and in this exhibition, intended to acknowledge structural failures that show the distance of our everyday reality to the imagined democratic experiment outlined in the founding document of this country. Farsi’s installation of words, actions, and repetitions stand in as markers of rage, fear, and sorrow, as well as a collective aspiration for change.
Tannaz Farsi’s practice is a configuration of objects and images that address the complicated networks around the conception of memory, history, identity and geography. Drawing from historic cultural objects, feminist histories, and theories of displacement evidenced by long-standing colonialist and authoritarian interventions into daily life, her project-based works propose a different means of representation regarding non-western subjects and objects that obstruct singular and conventional means of identification. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and supported through residencies including Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, MacDowell Colony, Santa Fe Art Institute and the Rauschenberg Foundation. Her work has been acknowledged by grants and awards includings a Hallie Ford Fellowship in 2014 and a Bonnie Bronson Fellowship in 2019. Born in Iran, Farsi lives and works in Eugene, OR where she is on the faculty at the University of Oregon.