Co-curated by Daina Mattis and Melinda Wang
The Austrian Cultural Forum New York and Undercurrent unveil un/mute, an international group exhibition of collaborative works by 28 artists across multiple disciplines. On view at both locations, this multi-media exhibition is the culmination of an 18-month-long project that was launched in 2020 to provide European and NYC-based artists an opportunity for critical exchange and collaboration during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
What do communication and collaboration mean in a time of uncertainty and isolation? How is the artistic process impacted by going “fully remote”? In "un/mute", artists from 10 countries were paired to explore these questions. We recognize that effective communication requires active engagement of all the senses and an openness to diversity, interpretation and digitalization. But what does that look like in practice? The project challenged teams to overcome the limitations of lockdowns as they connected across artistic mediums, language, culture, generations and time zones to find new forms of expression and meaning within art.
"un/mute" is the physical manifestation of online conversations among strangers who became collaborators. What began as abstract, ephemeral and digital are now 14 tactile, analog and concrete artworks presented across two locations. The artists confronted the parameters imposed by the lockdowns and each team found creative solutions that we might all learn from. The common thread that runs through the sculptures, installations, films, drawings, photographs and performances is the importance of language.
Ever-evolving, language encapsulates an innate power dynamic that is renegotiated, redistributed and reimagined in uncertain times. While words like “screenshare,” “Zoom-bombing” and “unmute” enter a universal lexicon, and “#relatable” memes are shared across cultures, we also face the limits of language as we work to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding. Cultures and countries apart, the artists endeavored to find a bridge across two points in (virtual) space through the ephemeral Zoom link. What they also discovered were empathy from a fellow artist, discussions that sparked new ideas, a shared language around the creative process and a rethinking of the power of art.
With cities re-opening, a recontextualized focus on systemic racism and xenophobia, and our collective experience of 18 months of self-reflection, "un/mute" observes the transition into a new epoch – one that imagines an inclusive and diverse ecosystem. Differences may surface in times of cooperation and compromise, but synergy can be forged through friction. We trip, we regain our balance, we shift, we reconsider. What is crucial is that when we do have the chance to rise to meet the moment, we seize the opportunity and “click unmute.”
ONLINE MEDIA AND UPCOMING EVENTS: Recordings of the artists’ conversations and collaborative processes are available at www.unmute.nyc.