Shoes and Purses is the final installment of A Process Series, four mini-exhibitions that invite each artist to transform the gallery space in order to present and explore the inspiration behind their most recent work.
An interview between the artists and the gallery follows:
Rawson Projects: When you were approached to participate in the exhibition what were your initial reactions?
Barb Choit: When I was approached to participate in the exhibition, my mind immediately went to an elaborate setup involving thousands of downloaded images, multiple green screens and a live video feed.
I knew that you would be open to me trying anything. For my project/residency with the gallery in 2012, 744 Hr Photo & Tanning, I camped out in the space for a month. I turned the gallery it into a photo studio / tanning salon. The neon sign that we produced together— that led some residents of Greenpoint to believe that Rawson Projects was a tanning salon— was something that I hadn’t tried before. I still feel that my first neon piece is one of the strongest works I’ve made.
When I thought about it a bit more, I decided to experiment with bringing one of my non-art projects into a gallery setting. This past summer I opened an online vintage clothing store, Division of Vintage. The shop was a way for me to display and sell my extensive collection of vintage shoes. It wasn’t originally intended to be art. However, now I am using the pretext of advertising items for my shop to make still life tableaus for a gallery context. For my current series, Campaign, I am remaking Andy Warhol’s shoe Polaroids from the 1980s using items in my shop as subject matter. Mimicking the production of Warhol’s original photographs— which were studies for an advertising campaign— I am documenting primarily 1980s vintage shoes using an antique Polaroid camera from the era.
I decided to ask Erica to participate based on a conversation that we had about some works she had made in the 1990s and had not shown. She had photographed a number of thrift store purses using 35mm slide film. I was interested in the overlapping subject matter as well as the potential fetish appeal of both projects. Both series’ make use of analogue photography— for which there is immense nostalgia in both art and popular culture. These projects depict items that are associated with both excessive consumption and femininity. They depict two recent decades that are constantly mined for imagery— and fetishized themselves.
I am curious to see how Erica’s original photographs— produced in the 90s— will take on a new life when printed and shown now. I have always been intrigued— and perhaps this is why I am interested in Warhol’s shoe Polaroids— how old photographs become either more or less interesting depending on current fashion and tastes.
Erica Baum: My participation came out of a discussion with Barb about her shoe photographs. I mentioned to her that I had an early project with related subject matter and the conversation continued from there.
RP: What is the relationship of the exhibition to your larger body of work?
BC: The majority of my projects involve cultivating and maintaining collections of objects and images. This aspect of my work is often downplayed, as I primarily show photographs for my gallery exhibitions. However, collecting really drives my practice.
For The Division Museum of Ceramics and Glassware (2004 – 2014), I collected dishes broken through everyday use from family, friends, and colleagues. I opened an exhibition space to display my broken items at 141 Division Street in Chinatown, New York. For my 2009 project, Nagel Fades, I collected commercially produced prints by 1980s American illustration artist Patrick Nagel. I faded these images, commonly found in beauty salons of the era, using a tanning bed and bleach. For my 2011 project, I “♥” My Attitude Collection: The Store, I presented my personal collection of mass-produced items, all inscribed with standardized, yet culturally tailored, statements of irreverence containing the word attitude. I sold objects such as mugs, t-shirts, and key-chains printed with phrases such as, “If you don’t like my Brooklyn attitude, quit talking to me,” or “I Don't Have an Attitude Problem, You Have a Perception Problem,” at a both turned boutique at the NADA Fair in Miami Beach.
With my current web project, Division of Vintage, I revisit aspects of my 2011 Attitude project. I use the shop as a mode of presentation. The title of the project is a spinoff of the Division Museum, another one of my ‘enterprises’ involving a display of mass-produced objects. With Division of Vintage, I like to think of my store as type of museum and of shopping as a form of everyday collecting. Given the experimental and open-ended nature of the exhibition format, I have been able to bring these more eccentric parts of my practice into a gallery context in a way that I have not previously.
EB: I made this work in 1996 but I never printed it before. It's similar in approach to my other projects, a deadpan serial presentation, but the content is distinct. It is great to have this opportunity to develop the installation of objects that Barb and I have selected for the exhibition.
RP: Did you find the idea of having the freedom to show something that was “inspirational” or unrelated to your primary studio practice challenging?
BC: I’m a big fan of freedom, more so than “inspiration.” I find that having a primary studio practice is more challenging than chasing ideas or following trajectories. I have a huge collection of side-projects, back-up ideas, and to-do lists. My practice is varied and not necessarily limited to art. New work that can be contextualized by old work is easier to show— it ends up being what I publicly present. My photo-based work is what I end up showing in galleries.
The premise of this project not needing to be a form of output generated by serious practice made it easier to produce. It allowed me to not be too precious about the show and to invite Erica to collaborate. Though, this freedom to experiment has actually propelled me to start a new series that I will pursue further.
If I could do a mini show— maybe every six months or so for the rest of my life— and try something new every time, I would be pretty happy.
EB: It was exciting to share this previously unseen work. I love having a dialogue with Barb and having the chance to develop an installation together. I really welcome this chance to collaborate and engage with different materials and ideas.