Spotlit: The TSA Network

ny-installation-view-of-night-flight“Night Flight” at TSA NY. Image courtesy TSA NY.

Artist-run galleries can take many forms and be administered in many ways, especially when they’re partnered or collaborative affairs of some sort, or when they’re organized and directed by groups calling themselves collectives. They can be inspired, energized, even career-advancing labors of love for a while, then maybe wane as career trajectories or lives in general go in different directions. Or they can start in a kind of simple, pet-project-like way, then gradually formalize into something bigger than the founding artist or artists might’ve ever imagined.

The sustainability of exhibition space is of course always an issue—and by that I mean affordability, primarily, especially in expensive settings like New York—but it’s not necessarily the make-or-break matter it often seems to be. With regards to collectives in particular, programming and exhibition schedules, not to mention individual dispositions and work ethics, can be tricky items to handle, especially the longer a project endures, but there are certainly ways to keep the gears moving smoothly.

Such mixed potentials for success and imaginable problematics might seem obvious enough to anyone with a basic awareness of what it takes to run a gallery, commercial or otherwise, but what’s not obvious is what it takes to make it all work well. Less obvious yet is what might make it all work really, truly, exceptionally well.

And well, it seems that the folks at TSA have figured out a thing or two about that. Formally known as Tiger Strikes Asteroid, this once smallish, collectively operated project, established in Philadelphia in 2009, is now an expansive network of collective-driven spaces with outposts in four cities—Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and now also Chicago.

I checked in with gallery directors in each city, as well as with one of the original founders and now general director of the entire network, Alex Paik, to get a sense of what makes each space and the project overall not just tick, but keep on ticking.

I also asked Alex to address a matter of great curiosity and potential importance for the future of martial arts: Tigers, asteroids?

ny-installation-view-of-inna-babaeva-its-the-little-things-that-matterInna Babaeva at TSA NY. Image courtesy TSA NY.

Alex Paik, founder and Director of TSA

Five friends and I started Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Philadelphia in 2009. Philadelphia has a robust artist-run scene, and it made sense to create a place to show work that we felt was underrepresented in Philadelphia at the time. At the beginning, we made it a point to try to broaden our networks for every show by reaching out to acquaintances and friends of friends. We saw how a lot of artist-run spaces ended up showing the same roster of artists over and over again, and we wanted to avoid that. In retrospect I think that initial idea became the blueprint for what the organization has become. We joked at the beginning about setting up locations all over the world so that we could sidestep the commercial gallery scene entirely. The lesson here is to be careful what you joke about! After moving to NYC in 2010, I was involved remotely with TSA Philadelphia for a year or two before starting another branch here. We had already made a lot of connections and had some level of ‘brand recognition,’ so it made sense to build on that existing infrastructure.

After some early experimentation, we settled on a model where each of our members takes turns curating shows at their respective gallery. The member has complete control over their slot and can do whatever they want with the space. I’ve found that this adds an element of surprise to each show, since each member brings their own personal vision for both the show and how they hang it. We’ve taken this model and scaled it up so that each site has complete autonomy over their programming at their site.

We have two co-directors at each site who handle and delegate the day-to-day responsibilities. I keep tabs on what is going on at each site by updating our website and helping out administratively when needed. All of the co-directors meet virtually on a quarterly basis to give updates on each site, make network-wide decisions together, and problem solve/brainstorm about how to make each site run better. We are currently in the process of becoming a non-profit, so most of my time has been spent gathering materials for that.

The origin of our name is, unfortunately, not very interesting. At one of our first meetings we just started throwing around random words, and for some reason Tiger Strikes Asteroid was the combination that everyone liked enough. I like to think of it as sounding like a bad translation of a kung fu technique.

phl-installation-view-of-repeater“Repeater” at TSA Philadelphia. Image courtesy TSA Philadelphia.

TSA PHILADELPHIA — Alexis Granwell, Co-Director

I have been a member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid since we first opened in 2009. I have been a director for the last two years, and I currently share directorship with Todd Baldwin. TSA Philadelphia has shifted, and dare I say ‘grown up,’ a lot since 2009. In the beginning, our vision was to mostly show local artists in the Philadelphia area and build community where many different types of artists could be represented. We are still interested in showing a diverse group of local artists, but we are expanding our curatorial vision and utilizing our network of TSA galleries to build a much larger community that connects Philadelphia to other cities.

Part of this desire to broaden stems from the fact that the Philadelphia art landscape has changed, and that there are so many more artist-run spaces now. Some spaces focus primarily on the local scene or working as a collective to show their work together, while others curate from all over the place. Presently, I think there is more flexibility to curate in different ways while staying connected to the Philadelphia scene because of the diversity of the DIY galleries.

Currently we have 11 members, and these artists work in a variety of mediums including glass, ceramics, video, painting, installation, sculpture and photography. I think TSA has always been focused on artists with an interest in craft and making, whether that is ultimately more conceptual or formal.

This year we are focused on the idea of swapping with other TSA sites to learn about and examine artistic communities in other cities. We are also interested in a show that rotates through all of our sites as a traveling exhibition.

TSA’s participation in Artist-Run in Miami opened up possibilities to create and connect with artists/curators both nationally and internationally. Our current show, “A Body Has no Center,” curated by Ricky Yanas, deals with this very idea of what community means within the exhibition space. This show is a beautifully amorphous experience. I hope that we continue to push the format of our exhibitions.

TSA Philadelphia members are Megan Biddle, Will Dibello, Dimitra Ermeidou, Mary Henderson, Joanna Platt, Kayla Romberger, Terri Saulin Frock, Douglas Witmer, Ricky Yanas, and Todd Baldwin and myself as Co-Directors.

weightovertime_03“Weight Over Time” at TSA NY. Image courtesy TSA NY.

TSA NEW YORK — Vincent Como, Co-Director

After Alex Paik moved up to NYC from Philly, he gathered and vetted our core founders here in order to start another collective exhibition space. Although the pool of artists was largely people who had shown in the Philly space, or who had some kind of connection to it or Alex, we really weren’t initially intending it to be a second location to Philly, or as the beginning of a franchise. We weren’t sure about how, if, or why we might have any real relationship with the Philly space. Obviously that resolved itself pretty quickly as we thought that, as a whole, we could better expand our networks and visibility by building on what was already done with a solid track record, rather than starting from scratch. The current active members involved include Alex Paik, who is also the Director of the whole TSA network, overseeing all four spaces, Andrew Prayzner and myself, as Co-Directors of the NYC space, Rachael Gorchov, Naomi Reis, Matt Phillips, Norm Paris and Jackie Hoving, William Crump, and Sun You.

Our curatorial program is largely dictated by our members’ passion projects. The lion’s share of our programming is coordinated such that each member gets a calendar slot with free reign to do with it as they please. They might coordinate a group show, offer the spot to another curator whom they feel strongly about, give a solo show to a deserving artist, etc. There are occasions when we work collectively on a project, most often if it is something outside of our physical space. Or if an opportunity arises that we’d like to take advantage of, sometimes we need to shuffle the calendar a bit, and that can create programming gaps. The one consistent collaborative project we’ve been doing is our annual open call for the flat files. Every member weighs in on every submission, and we hold the selected work for a year before turning it over to a new group of selected artists.

A couple of years ago we secured a long-term lease on a large space, which we built out along with our friends at Transmitter gallery in order to be able to better sustain the space for a while. We’re very happy to also have Microscope and Underdonk as neighboring spaces in the building too, so that we can all collectively benefit from the activity and traffic, and more to the point, to create a community. We’ve currently got an exhibition titled “Lost Cause” on view, curated by Alex Paik, which deals with artists working within seemingly impossible parameters for executing their work. We’re also very excited to be participating in the second iteration of “Exchange Rates” in October, an exchange between Bushwick and international gallery spaces. We’ll be showing work from members of Scotty Enterprises, based in Berlin.

la-installation-view-of-laurel-shearLaurel Shear at TSA Los Angeles. Image courtesy TSA Los Angeles.

TSA LOS ANGELES — Carl Baratta and Vanessa Chow, Co-Directors

Christopher Ulivo is LA’s founding member and former director. He had moved to the west coast from Brooklyn and knew a bunch of folks who started TSA Philly and New York, and he had gained enough street cred to carry the TSA spirit out west. Currently we have 10 members: Carl Baratta, Vanessa Chow, Erin Harmon, Brian Porray, Jonathan Ryan,Warren Schultheis, Laurel Shear, Christopher Ulivo, and newest additions to the group Liz Nurenberg and Brittany Mojo. Our members range from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, and we have a member in Tennesee doing the heavy lifting with our on-line posting and email. The rest of us live in LA. Despite being spread out, we keep in touch weekly, try to meet in person before each opening and all pitch in for each show. The past couple years have seen some changes in membership and direction, and we are really excited about the shows we have been doing this year, and about our schedule for 2017.

In addition to our regular shows, we recently began throwing night time events showing movies and hosting performances and poetry readings. We call it Bring Your Own Chair (B.Y.O.C.). Turns out, we only have a couple of chairs, and these events seem to draw in a larger crowd. Well, at least more than six. It’s fun to see folks hustle into the gallery with camping chairs and random stools or whatever to get set up for the events.

This fall and into 2017 we plan on ramping up event participation with local filmmakers and video artists. We live in LA, after all, so it’s been a great opportunity to meet local directors in and around Hollywood, and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

We have two spaces. One is for exhibiting shows, the other is for the events. They’re next to each other, and we are located in a strange old gallery type mall. It’s relatively inexpensive, and we are left to our own devices, which is great when things get loud. We share the top floor with the Skid Row History Museum and Archive that hosts a number of events for people living in and around Skid Row. It’s an interesting mix of people. The bottom floor has strange local shops and stalls. We were sad to see the shaman/witch boutique close down, but we don’t miss the stinky incense.

Since we are located between the arts district and Chinatown, we get a lot of foot traffic for openings from people who want to pop in and see what we have before heading out into the city, or from people who use it as a destination spot to hang out, drink beer and mingle.

chi-michelle-wasson-red-yellow-blue
Michelle Wasson’s “Red, Yellow, Blue” at Terrain Exhibitions.

TSA Chicago — Anna Kunz, Co-Director

When I was first introduced to TSA NY, I was struck by the generosity of all of the members. They were genuinely interested in the idea of artists helping other artists. In fact, an artist-to-artist connection was how the idea for a Chicago location came about. Vincent Como mentioned TSA NY to me two years ago, and we had been talking with Alex about how this could come together. Vincent and I knew each other because we worked together on a Sol LeWitt exhibition at Rhona Hoffman gallery when he still lived in Chicago. For TSA, he curated my work into a show called “Angular Seduction,” and later included my work on paper to Just Mad Art Fair in Madrid, where we had some success. The artist-to-artist connection continued, and I approached Michelle Wasson to co-direct in Chicago because I had been thinking about her work, and because she, like many artists, was under-exposed, considering her strong reputation as a painter and educator. In Chicago, the co-op, DIY gallery scene is very strong and, historically, always has been. A lot of artist-run spaces have solid reputations here, and no two are alike. Our vision was to gather a group of strong, diverse artists who had a reputation for being supportive to other artists. Michelle was in the midst of looking for a larger space, so she repurposed her Garfield Park studio for TSA Chicago. It’s a perfect location with neighboring projects and galleries such as Claudine Ise’s new project, Goldfinch, The Franklin and Devening Projects. Together, we started going to visit studios and approached some artists we hoped to work with, many of whom we didn’t know personally. Each member of our location will bring a unique vision to our program. They are Robert Burnier, Zach Cahill, Holly Cahill, Meg Duguid, Esau McGhee, Josue Pellot, Olivia Schriener, Justin Witte, Michelle Wasson, and myself.

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Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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