A New First for BRIC: The BRIC Biennial, Volume 1

10/22/2014 4:00 AM |

Valérie Hallier’s several-channel video and mixed- media installation is an altar, or perhaps a tomb, activated into a kind of polytemporal virtual reality that heaves and sighs tones of fuchsia. Niv Rosenberg’s grid-like photographs of selected segments of skyscraper windows grant the towering structures airs of intimacy, anonymity, humanity, and curious heft all at once. Opposite them, a two-channel video work by Jenny Polak and Dread Scott plunges viewers down into altogether different airs and environs as it descends, with manually imperfect calm, into that incomparably mesmerizing, chronologically scarred maw that is the Grand Canyon. Elsewhere, enlarged images of artificial office plants that Penelope Umbrico pruned from the Internet read like faux-floral résumés—they, too, were laid off—discarded by the same mix of greed and impersonal pragmatism that devastated lives and futures far and wide. Hanging quite low from a very high ceiling, then, Jean Shin’s brilliant sculpture, Crown, consisting of so many differently sized, sourced, and sheened lengths of chains, is both a monument to excess and a silent death knell for the same.

These are but a handful of the many well-selected works in the first BRIC Biennial (through December 14th), a sprawling exhibition assembled by four curators—Elizabeth Ferrer, Jenny Gerow, Leslie Kerby, and Fawz Kabra—who went to great lengths to put together a democratically culled, thematically cogent show. We’ve asked each of them to address the how and the why of this new initiative, as well as the now and the later.

What was the impetus to establish a biennial at BRIC? How is it like or unlike other biennials?

BRIC (and our predecessor art space, BRIC Rotunda Gallery) has long been dedicated to presenting the work of Brooklyn-based artists. With our much larger facility, we decided to establish this ambitious exhibition initiative to survey the art scene in Brooklyn, which has ascended in importance as a world-renowned center for creative activity. Moreover, we wanted to establish a true artists’ biennial, one that could reflect artistic practice on an ongoing basis. We also committed ourselves to seeking out artists of great talent, both known figures as well as younger figures of great promise, or artists who have flown under the radar for too long. (Elizabeth Ferrer, Vice President, Contemporary Art, BRIC)

Describe a bit of the selection process that led your team of curators to settle on works by 27 artists.

The process was driven by the artwork. Over several sessions, we focused in on works that we felt relayed the landscape of contemporary practices in Downtown Brooklyn. Through this, we discovered powerful dialogues. For example, Songs of the Islands: Concrete Music from New York by Nina Katchadourian and Steeplechase by Joe Diebes imagine different possibilities for evoking rich soundscapes. Dread Scott and Jenny Polak’s The Great Unconformity, the Automonument series by Niv Rosenberg, and Chronicles of New Mexico: Prologue by Isak Berbic propose poignant questions about representation of the manmade and natural worlds. Meanwhile, Appearance as Value by Martha Wilson and I Was Very Happy Really by Youmna Chlala present statements of dislocated subjecthood through humor. (Fawz Kabra, Guest Curator, lives in Fort Greene.)

What were some of the biggest challenges in bringing this inaugural BRIC Biennial into realization?

Since this is the most ambitious exhibition BRIC has mounted to date, our curatorial team committed to be comprehensive with our task—to survey as many artists as possible living and/or working in BRIC’s adjacent neighborhoods. We wanted to understand what artists are making and get a sense of what is important to them within their practice. We reviewed hundreds of images and artists’ websites, and in spirited discussions we necessarily set aside many fine artists in the process. In the end, we selected confident work that also represents artists of all ages, places of origin, varied stages in art careers, and points of view. (Leslie Kerby, visual artist and guest curator, is based in Boerum Hill.)

What kinds of additional programming have you planned for the public?

The programs held in conjunction with the Biennial are collaborations formed to further elaborate the multidisciplinary practice of many artists in the exhibition. A selfish act on our part, since as an organization we are always attempting to break the boundaries between disciplines. We approached a few artists to come up with unique programming, particular to their practice, that included artists not a part of the exhibition but part of their community, to open up a larger conversation about the dimensions of their discipline. (Jenny Gerow, Assistant Curator, BRIC)

Any plans underway for the next iteration?

Absolutely. We’ll soon begin research for the 2016 edition, to be dedicated to artists based in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. I think this locale will ultimately result in quite a different exhibition than our inaugural edition. Both are highly diverse communities that have attracted numerous younger artists over the last several years, and I think the selection process will be incredibly competitive. (Elizabeth Ferrer)

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