It is a vessel of darkness and a conveyor of light.
It glimmers and it dims.
It hangs and sits. It hums and looms.
It heaves, and it breathes.
It seems to absorb, and it seems to sigh, and it seems, as well, to seethe. Its nebulousness shifts, its mystery eludes. Ostensibly, it is alive.
You might be in the body of a beast.
Maybe it ate you. Maybe you let it. Maybe you wandered into its maw. Maybe you awoke it from a slumber. Maybe it doesn’t really mind. Maybe it likes you in its insides.
Likely, you like being there.
Where? In Raphaele Shirley’s current installation at The Chimney, 12.6 Lyrae, a resolutely site-specific exhibition that features also a sound piece by Algis Kizys. It’s a fantastically suggestive, transportive intervention in a rather raw, now definitively post-industrial space that is fantastic and transportive in its own right.
An East Williamsburg/Bushwick art venue, The Chimney has now been in operation for about a year, and its directors, Clara Darrason and Jennifer Houdrouge, have plenty of things lined up for the coming months.
So I thought now would be a good time to put them and their program under the spotlight.
Is this your first experience as directors of an art space? What was the nature of your curatorial or related creative practices prior to opening The Chimney?
Clara Darrason: The Chimney is the first venue that Jennifer and myself have run. Before this, I curated exhibitions in Paris, and I also organized art fairs. Ultimately, being close to artists, discussing their practices and ideas, and turning the dialogue into an exhibition is what brought me to open a space.
Jennifer Houdrouge: I had worked at galleries and auction houses before. When this opportunity came up, it was obvious that I had to seize it. Despite how incredibly dynamic and restless New York is, I’ve often felt a slackening of ideas in art exhibitions and production. At the same time, Clara and I have met incredible artists in the past year, driven by compelling and essential issues. We wish to give them the visibility they deserve and offer them an opportunity to work in a unique space.
Why this particular neighborhood? Why this particular space? Was it more the vibrancy of the Bushwick art scene that brought you here, or the uniqueness of the venue?
CD: A mixture of both. The neighborhood has exciting venues for contemporary art and a strong community of artists. The Chimney is unique and has opposite codes than the white cube: red brick walls, high ceiling, absence of windows. The space offers artists a playground to experiment with scale and the rawness of the building.
JH: It doesn’t happen often, especially here in New York, to find a 23-foot industrial cube with its own existing identity. Bushwick is such a puzzling and energetic area filled with seemingly antagonistic endeavors: ‘white cube’ galleries coexist with industrial warehouses, factories, and artists’ studios. The context itself has been an inspiration for some exhibitions such as Incantations: The Modern Cave, our 2016 summer group show.
You’ve completed about a year of programming now, showcasing primarily international artists. Why is that?
CD: New York has a very diverse community of artists. We regularly meet with people coming from all over the world. We also believe that a space aiming to representing contemporary artists should offer its public an insight into the diversity of art practices and aesthetic backgrounds. Finally, Jenny and I both come from France, and are naturally inclined to work with a diverse group of artists.
JH: Showcasing international artists means working with different backgrounds, cultures and histories. The richness of these differences leads to diverse exhibitions, varied narratives and incredibly productive relationships. Despite inherent differences among them, we can also see fascinating point of connections between each of them. As Clara said, we cannot disregard our own personal background. My strong ties to Senegal also propel us to envision projects there.
It seems that many of your exhibits have been designed specifically for the space. Is that always the case, or have some been altered or redesigned adaptations?
CD: The Chimney has to be part of the exhibition simply because its raw architecture cannot be hidden. This usually offers exciting challenges for artists to create projects specifically for the venue.
JH: When exhibiting at The Chimney, artists really have to translate their artistic practice into the space. The Chimney has often been conceived as a medium itself to work with. The space may at first seem challenging due to its physical traits, but those constraints have been a motor for creation. Most works have been conceived specifically for the space.
Tell us about about how the current installation by Raphaele Shirley and Algis Kizys came together. What kinds of events are yet to come before it comes down on November 12th?
JH: Clara and I did a studio visit with Raphaele over a year ago. Her works immediately fascinated us. Algis and Raphaele collaborated on projects on several occasions before. Both of them are interested in materializing space with immaterial forms—sound for Algis, light for Raphaele. In accordance with her practice, Raphaele used the space to complete her works. The immersive and dusky features of the exhibition achieved through the interplay of fog, sound and light variations make the architecture of the building disappear and reveal itself progressively throughout the cycle of the exhibition. So in a way, there is also a desired denial of the space that allows her to convey certain aspects of her visual language, such as infinity and totality.
CD: On Friday, November 11th, at 7pm, Raphaele will create a temporary installation in which she will light pink smoke, engulfing both The Chimney’s architecture as well as her work. The veil of color will directly interact with the exhibition and further its sensorial immersion in the industrial landscape of Bushwick. The event will be followed by a musical performance by Le Chiffre, conceived and arranged by Algis, as the closing of 12.6 Lyrae.
Certainly you’ve loved all of your shows, or you at least find it hard to pick favorites. But is there an exhibit or event you put together over the past year that you found to be particularly gratifying?
CD: In January 2016, when a snowstorm buried New York, Finnish artist Riitta Ikonen built a 22-foot iceberg made of renewable material. American artist Lizzy de Vita confronted the issue of immigration and what we consider as ‘the other’ with a wall made of emergency blankets. Indian artist Kiran Chandra transformed the space with a labyrinth of sound and light with 23-foot curtains animated by video projections, between which visitors could circulate.
JH: Indeed, we’ve loved every single exhibition at The Chimney, and it is impossible to choose. However, certain exhibitions that I found extremely moving were one by Brodbeck & De Barbuat, a French duo who transformed the Chimney into a street chapel, with a powerful video depicting the human condition; and one by Aaron Taylor Kuffner, with his robotic Indonesian gongs that converted the gallery into an urban sanctuary. Also, The Chimney Performance and Video Festival this past July was extremely exciting. We collaborated with 11 international artists, two galleries—Jousse Enterprise (Paris) for the screening of Charlotte Finel’s work, and Carbon 12 (Dubai) for the screening of Anahita Razmi—and two curators, Marie-Salomé Peyronnel and Adriana Pauly. It was a great opportunity to activate the space in different ways over the course of two weeks, and to further develop an international community.
Anything lined up for the coming months that you’d like to announce here?
JH: The next exhibition, Call In, by Swiss-French artist Nathalie Rodach, will feature a cocoon sculpture made of tree branches and glass, created by Rodach inside the space in collaboration with American artist Andrew Erdos. For a few hours the space will become glass studio!
CD: We’ll start off 2017 with a two-person exhibition with Juliette Dumas and Sara Mejia Kriendler. Both artists comment on similar issues such as the Anthropocene, but each addresses her topics with a very different language and approach. One describes the inevitability of man’s evolution towards mechanization and artificiality, while the other describes the urge for nature’s prevailing power. The exhibition will explore the dichotomies and analogies present in the two artists’ work.
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Raphaele Shirley: 12.6 Lyrae is on view through November 12th. More information about this exhibit and The Chimney can be found on the gallery’s website. You can follow The Chimney on Instagram @thechimney_nyc.
Photos by Paul D’Agostino.