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HEIDI NORTON interviews VINCENT URIBE,
CHELSEA CULP and BEN FOCH.

Heidi Norton is an artist living and working in NYC. Her work is on view in Making an Entrance at Robert Blumenthal Gallery along with Leslie BaumLauren ClayAlika CooperChelsea Culp & Ben FochAlan & Michael FlemingRobert Chase HeishmanRyan LauderdaleMatt NicholsHeidi NortonSabina OttBen SandersDaniel SheaAdam Parker SmithOlivier Kosta Théfaine through August 23rd.  She interviews fellow exhibition artists Ben Foch and Chelsea Cup with curator Vincent Uribe. Norton attempts to flesh out how in a post-anthropocentric culture, we see greater fluidity– a blurring of defined hierarchies, roles and use of materials.

Heidi: Vincent, will you start off by introducing us to LVL3 and how you came to work with Robert Blumenthal Gallery? 

Vincent: LVL3 is an artist run space and online publication based in Chicago IL. LVL3 is dedicated to supporting collaborative work and group shows of all mediums to foster connections between emerging and established artists from around the world. We met Robert Blumenthal in Miami last December during Art Basel at our booth at Untitled Art Fair and developed a relationship from there. 
Making and Entrance is the first event/exhibition LVL3 has done in New York. The premise started off during a conversation with Robert Blumenthal where I was asked to curate an “exciting group show” this summer with artists in New York. LVL3 supports many artists and we wanted to do something a little different. Anna Mort and I wanted to use the opportunity to represent LVL3’s vast exhibition history and extensive roster of artists with whom we have worked and developed strong relationships. We tend to always try to mix artist together from various cities so while half of the artists are based in New York, we also have artist from Los Angeles, Chicago, and Paris represented.  

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Heidi: Ben and Chelsea, please introduce yourselves and the works in Making an Entrance. Chicago is strongly represented in this show, and you both live and work there. Could you speak to how that experience is articulated in your works?

We both work individually in painting and sculpture and have collaborated on works and exhibitions since 2010.

BF: I made the “2PAC West Side” and the “MJ5-Brown” paintings. I didn’t think about it until your question, but Michael Jordan is a Chicago icon and our gallery is located on Chicago’s “west side” near the United Center. My work centers around conspiracy theory and echoes the impact particular pop imagery has on the minds of adolescence. I like to think of the gallery as an extension of my practice in the form of social sculpture, but at the Beta level, unconscious.

C C: My paintings in Making and Entrance (NYC + Hamptons) are composed from single stock and graphic images sourced online of anthropomorphic vegetables and animals. A lot of my work is figurative and comes more out German expressionism but these are more pop and I like playing with that style because of its history and ability to communicate broadly. It seems more appropriate to the content of these works which are inspired by the diverse and complex relationships Americans have to food and sexuality.

They aren’t directly related to the gallery, but occasionally feeding large groups of people and living in an area with limited food options has definitely informed some of my thinking.

We also have a collaborative work in the show from an ongoing series of found objects embedded in cement. Originally these works documented shifts in our lifestyle as we made them out of materials we were trying to reuse rather than throw away. They have shifted to materials we find in the neighborhood and also odd remnant objects from collaborations with other friends. They are always a portrait of something.  The one in this show is the most surreal as the form is more liquid and the objects have a less clear narrative.

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Vincent: Heidi, you make objects (sculptures) and images (photographs) and sometimes image objects. Do you ever see these as “portraits”? Maybe you want to talk briefly about how photography and sculpture works its way into your practice and what you think about the relationship between the two forms?

Heidi: Funny, because I don’t usually think of my works as “portraits” in the way that Ben and Chelsea are referring even though all of my work tends to relate directly to my off-the-grid upbringing and ever-evolving relationship to “nature” and “post nature”. BUT this piece was different. It’s actually deeply personal and more specific. It’s much more reflective of my role as a woman producer and the expectations that come along with that. The object is an image to me. Even a projection. It was made after looking at several virtual images of fertility shrines and cryogenics.

I think all objects are made from images. We are in a post-photographic world–there is an image of everything, things beyond our perception.  Every time I look and see, it is defined by what I have already seen. In a sense, it is a frozen image/frame that is constantly in flux. What we hear, touch and taste has been influenced by the image. And it’s all cyclical–photographs have become images and images become objects and then that object gets cycled back into an image. There is a great article called Metamaterialism. It was presented to me and my class, ReMaterialized, by two students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The article discusses our ever-evolving relationship to the simulacra and argues that the “virtual” (or image) is as material as the actual. “Artworks therefore are topological constructions that harness and interface with the metamaterial flows of our world.  They consist of actual and virtual materials with myriad actual and virtual manifestations dispersed through actual and virtual channels.

The philosophical ramifications of this shift in perspective are far reaching.  No longer is human civilization a sovereign anthropocentric endeavor, but rather it is the emergent property of the natural material world itself; thereby removing the separation between humans and nature, the synthetic and the natural.” “Lucky Bamboo” becomes a visual representation of this.

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Heidi: Vincent, you mentioned this is your first NY exhibition. In thinking about this performer/audience relationship, how does the viewer shift from city to city? Or even the art community? Do you find the “art world” to be less and less regional? 

I think there’s often a bit of a divide between city and city and coast to coast. We are highly aware of Chicago usually being considered a transient city where people come and go from frequently, this can be both good and bad for the community. We like our ties to Chicago and are dedicated to growing and expanding the community here so the more we can engage audiences and artist with diverse perspectives and help establish introductions or connections between people, the better. 

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Heidi: Ben and Chelsea, you two also have a project/gallery space in Chicago. Will you speak to the philosophy of New Capital? Ben, you mentioned “social sculpture” (on a beta level) when referring to the gallery and you both collect “objects” from the neighborhood (in which you work and live) to make portraits.

CC: The philosophy of New Capital has changed with our own growth and development. It started 5 years ago with feeling a little reactionary to how art was beginning to look like it was made for the internet and we wanted to cultivate works that were about physical space and the intimacy between viewer, artist and object. Since then our interests have changed many times over. Most recently I’m interested in the unique support artists can lend to one another in producing the works of other artists.

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BF: I’ve always been interested in power dynamics, the relationship between hard and soft power and the four forms of capital (political, economic, social and cultural) and the interplay between them. New Capital is sort of a double/double entendres, playing on the stigma of “new money” and old forms of hierarchy descending from aristocratic models; “young money” as a hip hop reference; and then the more academic/philosophical implications of creating new networks of power by changing the power dynamic from which artists operate, i.e. artist as owner of culture vs. producer, as productive behavior.

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Heidi: We all find deep value in “collaboration” and creating communities; can you briefly discuss the importance of this in today’s making process? 

Vincent: Good collaboration is tough, there has to be the right balance for it to work well and all parties to benefit from. Collaboration can take on many forms, but the importance of collaboration should come from the challenge of working toward figuring out that balance ending with a revitalized outcome. 

CC: Community is every single person you know, every single person you talk with, including the virtual– in the case you distinguish. We’re all collaborating in reality every moment of the day, so it’s importance really lies in the fact that it’s not just a choice, but rather a  part of the fundamental nature of existence. 

Collaboration is woven into all aspects of my practice so its qualities change depending on what I’m working on. I really value relationships with people like Vincent because we work together on many things. When you understand someone’s fundamental interests and drives, it’s easy to support one another. Vincent is really good at setting up situations without much hierarchy where everyone is listening and working together without much stress and he gets things done really efficiently.

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Vincent runs LVL3 of Chicago, the basis of whose curatorial program has been developed around a series of virtual studio visits called Artist of the Week. Ben and Chelsea’s artist run space New Capital reopened August 9th hosting My Heart Is Empty: Psychology. (Originally, slated to be on view at the Hills Esthetic Center, but was relocated after a devastating fire destroyed the space. You can donate here to assist in the rebuild.)

O Fluxo,
August, 2015.