How can artists unmute themselves and make work in creative dialogue with each other while they experience forced solitude at faraway places? How can collaborative practices be reinvented in social isolation? And how can virtual and chance encounters between strangers can lead to the making of jointly authored images and objects? The un/mute project, initiated by EUNIC New York and Undercurrent, the independent exhibition space in DUMBO, was an attempt to probe these questions by inviting 32 artists to work across borders, languages, and media, while sharing the global experience of the Covid-19 pandemic at distant locations, under varied social circumstances, and in cultural contexts.
Titled after the all too familiar phrase of pandemic conversations, un/mute is a singular project that covers multiple grounds. It is a dialogic experiment among artists and curators that initiated unprecedented ways of making and thinking remotely and in doubles: a two-part online residency program, a virtual workspace for artist duos, and an exhibition installed in one city at two different locations.
A research in social relation and cultural production, the project functioned as a shared platform designed for the staged encounter of 32 strangers. In 2020, the organizers connected 16 European and 16 New York-based artists who never met in real life and invited them to work in randomly selected twosomes. Artists in Belgium, Estonia, Malta, Lithuania, Germany and Austria, among many other countries, began a year-and-half-long conversation with their New York-based but rarely New York-born counterparts working on computers and smartphones. By learning about and from each other through long and accented conversations, and by exchanging ideas, images, objects and sounds, they created works that made their way via the help of the curators and a few selected consultants to the New York exhibition spaces.
The two-part exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown Manhattan and at Undercurrent, is arranged into a series of multimedia installations. Each team’s project is a hybrid composite that instead of overcoming the fundamental differences among the artists’ creative processes and live experiences uses the opportunity of collaborative work to bring their affinities and diversities into play. Formed by distant makers and ideas, the often fragmented and infinitely layered artworks of UN/MUTE do not conceal or reconcile but proudly manifest their makers’ disparities.
Curated by Daina Mattis and Melinda Wang, un/mute is not an easy exhibition that offers a spectacle of difference, but a challenging invitation to read, look, listen and think about the various degrees of separation that exist among languages, places, and people. As if to manifest the absences of immediate connections among the artists as well as our claustrophobically confined and forcefully inward existence during the global pandemic, the exhibited works—whether they are projected images or life-sized sculptures—often include missing parts, play with in-between spaces, prompt multisensorial engagement, and contain performative elements asking the audience to connect dots, fill in blanks, listen in, look carefully, or touch objects.
Alex Mirutziu’s and Sidney Shavers’s colorful and toy-like empty chairs are waiting for us to sit down, Gabriele Gervickaitė and Yi Hsuan Lai invites us to take home a diary-like zine comprised of a collection of images and notations made during their collaboration, and Mo Kong and Olesja Katšanovskaja-Münd’s composite pieces about lands in Estonia and China altered by mining asks us to contemplate locational specificities, or lack thereof of industrial and environmental decay on two continents. Mattis’s and Wang’s installation emphasizes the sensorial invitations and the participatory aspects of the exhibited works: the work appears as neither a product, nor as a self-contained entity, but a stage, a space of open-ended arrangements of still and moving images, objects and bodies.
The exhibition is not so much a culmination or a grand finale of the year-and-half-long online residency programs, but as Mattis and Wang put it, “the physical manifestation of online conversations among strangers who became collaborators.” The extended Zoom conversations among the artists have been thoroughly documented to form a large moving image archive that is available on separate websites. The digital records of the two online residency programs form multi-layered serial narratives. Amusing and banal, inspiring and sometimes even resolutely boring, these Zoom conversations are unstaged exchanges between perfect strangers who, at surface level, share little with each other. While watching long hours of video chats, we can witness the artists’ regular encounters, peek into their studios and bedrooms, learn about the mundane details of their daily lives, and observe both collaborative processes and formations of friendships. An exercise in intimacy and strangeness, the recorded online conversations point to previously unexplored modalities of artistic labor and reveal how social relations can be formed and reimagined under the duress of pandemic times.
Open-ended, performative and fluid, the un/mute experiment evokes the transatlantic mail art projects of the 1960s and 1970s neo-avant-gardes and reimagines practices of collaboration in the realm of the digital and in defiance of the limitations of the global pandemic. The residencies, the exhibition and the project’s labyrinth-like website defy borders and physical distances as well as institutionally sanctioned forms of artistic labor to present the audience with a document of work and life in-progress.
Justyna Górowska (Poland) and Ieva Mediodia (Lithuania), RKTIKAANTARKTIKA0.9, 2021.Giclee on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper, 13.5 x 41 inches
UN/MUTE in UNDERCURRENT, 70 John St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 Through 11/22/21 and at the Austrian Cultural Forum Through 1/7/22 11 East 52 St, New York, NY 10022
Ágnes Berecz is a New-York-based writer and art historian. In 2019, she published the book, 100 Years, 100 Artworks: A History of Modern and Contemporary Art (Prestel), a singular and decidedly non-comprehensive overview of artists and their works across continents and media from the aftermath of World War I to the end of the 2010s. The New York correspondent of the Hungarian art monthly, Műértő, and she regularly publishes reviews and feature articles on global contemporary art both in Europe and the United States. Her writings appeared, among others, in Art Journal, Art in America, Artmargins and the Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin as well as in many European and US exhibition catalogues. Berecz received her PhD at Université Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) and teaches at the History of Art & Design Department of Pratt Institute.
- https://unmute.nyc/exhibition [accessed on November 12, 2021] ↑
- https://10001.unmute.nyc/ https://10002.unmute.nyc/ [accessed on November 12, 2021] ↑