The Power of Play

Q&A | Oct 2017 | BY Jessica Idarraga

After the samuccess of PLAY at PULSE Miami Beach last year, the innovative video exhibition is back to explore a dire and pertinent subject: POWER. Nine works from an international lineup of digital and video artists have been selected in this year’s open call for submissions and will play at the Project for Empty Space in Newark starting this week in anticipation of PULSE in early December. Cultured sat down with PULSE curators Jasmine Wahl and Rebecca Pauline Jampol and recently appointed director Katelijne de Backer to discuss this year’s PLAY theme, promoting emerging artists and what to expect from the fair this year.

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol. Courtesy of Anthony Alvarez.

How did you conceive of the theme of POWER for this year’s edition of PLAY?

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol: Power is something that has always been part of the fabric of social interaction; however, the term power within the context of social relationships seems to be more prominently featured in contemporary conversation in the socio-political/media realm this year. In part we were looking for the underlying, and maybe catalytic, element in today’s conversations. The other part of this exploration comes from our own organizations mission of navigating various elements of ‘power’ or impact. Given that our mission is to create equitable space, and cultivate dialogues through art, we were interested in seeing how the idea of ‘power’ is manifested in a directly correlative way to social movements and social identities.

What are the opportunities of hosting PLAY in Newark-a city that isn’t particularly known or recognized for its arts scene?

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol: Newark is where Project for Empty Space is located. As a part of a larger arts community here, we’re excited to bring this group of international artists here and to share what we’re doing with the rest of the larger art world. The videos that we’ve selected are going to be shown dually inside our gallery hub, as well as in the public space, which nearly 30,000 people pass by per day, so our PLAY artists will be seen by a very large audience. On the flip side, we are also exhibiting at PULSE in December, and we’re bringing three feminist artists who have shown with us or live in Newark.

Jasmine Wahi: We love this city, and are eager to cross pollinate between NYC and Miami and the larger world! I’m someone who has the great privilege of being able to work in two amazing art cities, New York City and Newark. Newark may be smaller, but our long legacy of incredible music, particularly jazz and our contributions to contemporary visual culture are important and strong!

PULSE is coming up soon. What should enthusiasts and collectors expect from the fair this year?

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol: We are thrilled to share that we’re going to be showing three badass feminist artists, Hiba Schahbaz, Zoë Buckman and Shoshanna Weinberger. We also have an exciting participatory project that we hope everyone who comes to PULSE will engage with. Having a participatory project is very important to us, last year we have a piece by JC Lenochan titled What was your race moment? during which people were invited to write their moment of realizing race on a chalk board. We were told that it was extremely cathartic and a visceral experience by a lot of people. We don’t want to share exactly what our project is this year, but we can promise that it’s socially oriented, empowering and hopefully fun!

Katelijne de Backer: We are happy to say that many of our past exhibitors will again be joining us in Miami, but we also have new exhibitors from around the US, Peru, The Netherlands and Israel, among others. Our programming this year has shaped up to have quite the political slant, which was unintentional but really speaks to our current climate. From PLAY’s theme of POWER and the different ways it can be interpreted to PROJECTS that deal with everything from gun violence to a contemporary concept of fertility, visitors to the fair really see how artists are portraying what is happening in the world right now.

Katelijne de Backer. Courtesy of Pulse.

Can you discuss the relationship between PULSE and PLAY?

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol: PLAY is a really important program within the larger PULSE realm. Often, really great works dont get seen in the artfair context because video isn’t as easy to sell.

Katelijne de Backer: PULSE has a history of working with and promoting the careers of emerging artists and PULSE PLAY is one of the platforms which really allows us to do that. Last year we opened up PLAY submissions so that any artist could submit work, whether they are represented by a gallery exhibiting in the fair or not. Many of the artists whose works have been selected for PLAY since then are not represented by galleries and this gives them an opportunity to get their work out there and get noticed by curators, collectors, press and the public. We also are aware that, from the standpoint of our exhibitors, video is a tough medium to sell. PULSE’s mission is to provide its visitors with an overview of today’s contemporary art market and PLAY guarantees that video and new media are represented in that.

What vision do you have during your first year as director of PULSE Contemporary Art Fair?

Katelijne de Backer: My predecessor, Helen Toomer, handed me over a fair in such good condition, that my priority is to continue to grow PULSE’s rich legacy as the presenter of a vibrant and noteworthy program of international art, and to push for more opportunities for the public to experience a deeper engagement with the works we show. Taking this well-respected boutique art fair to the next level and introducing new people to the fair is something I have started to work on and I hope this will be apparent when you visit the fair in December.

How does your experience at as Director of PULSE so far contrast from the one you had as Director of Art New York and Aqua Art Miami?

Katelijne de Backer: Each art fair has its own niche, and PULSE is totally different from the two fairs you mentioned as well as from The Armory Show, which I directed for 10 years. It is, however, nice to see some Armory Show galleries and artists back again at PULSE and to see how they have evolved since I last worked with them. But no matter how different the fairs, the end goal is the same–you want to create opportunities for works to be seen and experienced and for that to create a new dialogue, be it between the work and a visitor, the gallery and a collector, etc.

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