Though this year’s festival may be over, there are still those who have its works and impacts on their minds. Our Thinkers in Residence each went out during the festival days and engaged with the artists, the works, the public, and the street. They had their own reactions and interpretations of what they saw and experienced. As we look forward to 2017, let us take the time to look back on what these Thinkers thought and read their perspectives on this year’s festival.
Thinker in Residence: Almog Cohen-Kashi
Almog Cohen-Kashi (b.1995) resides in New York where she spends most of her time engaging with contemporary art. Graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. Though she primarily studied art history and critical theory, she supplemented these classes with courses in queer and gender theory, literature, and visual arts. She spends much of her free time self-publishing zines that contain everything from comics to essays on art theory.
Race was the general theme for this past year’s Art in Odd Places festival. While there were certain pieces that drew me in because they aligned with my general artistic and political sensibility, like Mike Richison’s looped video work that takes advantage of the internet by using found clips of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, or Christina Stahr’s poetically minimal labyrinth made with broad, red lines; however, I was struck most by the Red Line Archive, by Walis Johnson. The piece is a red, shelved chest that functions as a traveling archive consisting of color-coded glass bottles with a corresponding, laminated map of New York City. It also contains old family photographs, personal items like a white ceramic hand, and books with titles that explicitly relate to gentrification. Each item in this human-sized chest was selected by the artist because it holds significance to her and her story of pre-gentrified New York she is trying to make people acknowledge.
The first thing that drew me to her work was that she used books. They reminded me of Rashid Johnson’s installations. Both use person objects to ensure that their viewers understand the themes they are trying to convey in a heavy handed manner, which isn’t particularly negative. The artists are both very direct in their work; while Rashid reminds us of his blackness and this feeling of “selling out” that he feels due to his popularity in the art world, Walis openly creates a platform to discuss the issue of gentrification in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Gentrification is something New Yorkers are aware of, yet no one takes the time to stop it or consider how it happens. The signs of it are quite clear, once schools start getting upgrades and supermarkets begin offering craft beers.
The props used in her project almost give it an academic feeling since you can really just stand there and go through all of the items on every shelf and after have an in depth understanding of what housing displacement is and how it is affecting people of color and immigrants. The presentation of the work is straight forward, displaying as much information as possible in a very organized manner. However, it is still sentimental. It almost feels like you are visiting an old family member who is letting you go through their stuff. Aside from the props the artist also shares personal stories about herself, her family and people she knows that were kicked or bought out of their houses. Each story is related back to an item in the end which harkens back to how Rashid uses objects in his art. Like the inclusion of shea butter in his work because when he was young he would say that when he covered his body in it he was covering himself with Africa. Looking at the Red Line Project feels like there isn’t much that low income New Yorkers can do with the dirt except bury themselves in it.