Artspace’s New Exhibitions set out to challenge the status quo
Artspace’s latest exhibition wants to spark tough conversations on Capitalist Critique.
Courtesy of Artspace
Artspace — a New Haven-based contemporary art gallery — is showcasing two new exhibitions meant to challenge visitors to think critically about capitalism and exploitation.
The exhibits are entitled “Revelations” and “Against the General Good / Contra el Bien General,” and are running from Sept. 17 to Dec. 3. Two showcases can be seen at Artspace located at 50 Orange St.
“Revelations,” by Brooklyn artist Ilana Harris-Babou, humorously explores wellness culture and consumerism in modern society. “Against the General Good / Contra el Bien General,” by Detroit couple Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas, looks at sustainability and the power of environmental activism.
“The art gallery has a loose yearly theme, and this year we decided to dig deeper into certain structural inequities that were heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Laurel McLaughlin, director of curatorial affairs at Artspace. “These two exhibitions, they both explore the ways in which capitalism is extractive.”
McLaughlin told the News that Artspace chose to showcase both exhibitions at the same time because of a “synergy” between them. Both artists are breaking the boundaries of working in one medium and are also engaged in civic discourse, she said.
In “Revelations,” Harris-Babou parodies modern wellness empires like the Kardashian brand and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop,” while also highlighting the cultural appropriation and exclusion prevalent within said industry.
The exhibition features a series of sculpted objects laid out on counters to resemble a minimalistic, Instagram-esque wellness boutique. Upon further inspection of the tables, visitors will notice the strangeness of it all — a yoni egg and a soap bar made of air fresheners are just a few of the things on display.
According to Artspace Visual Culture Producer Gabriel Sacco, the exhibit “exposes the way these spaces curate our experience and ways of being.”
Harris-Babou also includes several satirical videos in her installation. One involves her mother walking the audience through a beauty routine where she puts on a Cheeto facemask. Another includes Harris-Babou herself posing as the CEO of a brand that imports its products from a historical slave house in Senegal.
“They’re supposed to make you laugh uncomfortably, because it’s critique, but she’s using humor to get there,” said McLaughlin.
Although Harris-Babou explores the way that wellness has been used against people of color, she also sees it as a potential for “Black self-determination.” Her art examines the possibility that Black people can carve out their own space in the wellness sphere.
“Against the General Good / Contra el Bien General”
Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas’ exhibition “Against the General Good / Contra el Bien General,” is described by McLaughlin as a “puzzle” that the artists put together.
“Bergman and Salinas use the space to work against the space itself in a purposefully minimal conceptual look,” stated Sacco. “The space, within four of our galleries, is utilized to get the most impact from each piece.”
One of the major elements of the exhibit comes from its consistent usage of sumi ink, a sustainable ink made from soot. Sumi ink is featured in many different artworks throughout the exhibit, from a wall of flattened Amazon boxes to a communal podium.
A major theme of the exhibition is the need for people to take collective action in protecting public natural resources from exploitation. Artspace Program Coordinator Steve Roberts thinks that information about sustainable food consumption can oftentimes be “too academic and too rigid,” and that the perspective Bergman and Salinas’ exhibition takes can help reach a wider audience.
“I think having a display with something that’s artistic like this can help spread the message,” said Roberts.
Collaboration was central to the entire exhibition. Bergman and Salinas worked with artists from around the world, and even involved their young daughter Agnes in painting some of the pieces.
In tandem with their exhibition, the duo has also planned a slate of public programs aimed toward sustainability education and practices at Artspace. The workshops are free for visitors and allow them to learn from community members, farmers, poets, professors and a variety of other experts of sustainability.
The title of Bergman and Salinas’ exhibition was also purposefully listed in both English and Spanish as part of Artspace’s larger undertaking to include more diversity. Artspace is making a conscious effort to make the space more accessible and reflective of the demographics of New Haven by focusing on the works of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists.
“We’re interested in conversations that are relevant to our contemporary moment,” said McLaughlin.
Artspace was founded in 1987.