Can I Sit Next to You?
It’s a truly bizarre time to be a human. We may not have realized it before Covid but the relative normalcy of sitting next to a stranger on the bus or in a theater was not something to which most of us gave much thought. When that changed dramatically across the globe in March 2020, we were forced to reconsider what we’d once taken for granted: proximity to others and ourselves. In the last year and a half, the vacuum of distancing, quarantine, virtual communication, and isolation has somehow made us more human, more aware of ourselves, more in touch with our value systems, our aspirations, our fears, desires—and each other. In the absence of the physical connections we so long for and need, we found new ways to connect and collaborate virtually (and new ways to complain about video conferencing). Although many of our interactions have been simulated in a virtual grid over Zoom ever since, our human connections with one another have remained, perhaps even intensified, even if our physical connections have not.
How do we form new and meaningful connections through exclusively virtual means during a global pandemic? How do we collaborate and genuinely create with one another across the new virtual landscape? What is the creative nature of distance? A small group of artists have converged in Miami at Dimensions Variable to consider these questions and, through their respective and collaborative work, co-exist and see each other in their own work.
Each artist in the exhibition has either a geographic relationship to Miami or a personal relationship to one another. Artists Jacin Giordano and Brandon Opalka met more than two decades ago in Miami, which is also the hometown of Nicole Doran. Giordano met Coe Lapossy while the artist was living in Tampa, and Lapossy met Loretta Park while studying in Boston. Their collective collaboration began by one artist inviting another artist to participate and so on, each interested in experimentation, materiality, and a fondness for tactility and deconstruction. Weekly Zoom meetings commenced in spring 2021, followed soon after by artists mailing select works-in-progress to one another for the other to complete, a kind of painterly exquisite corpse whose final stage of collaboration ends together in the gallery at Dimensions Variable—the first time the artists (and their work) will share space together.
The work of Chicago-based artist Nicole Doran exists in a liminal space between painting, assemblage, and material abstraction. Her paintings—amalgamations of acrylic on canvas or hand-dyed fabrics, beads, and found objects like spandex, metal chains, and tree branches—are often adorned with glazed ceramic objects strung like pendants or charms across their respective surfaces. Rather than function purely as material embellishments, these handmade objects fired by the artist offer a kind of charge to the work, symbolizing in Doran’s words, “a goddess-like deity or super power.” Rich and varied colors and textures dominate these compositions, wrapping around stretchers and leaping out into the physical space of the gallery, as if trying to physically connect with the viewer. Together Doran’s paintings feel like a community of materials exchanging ideas and energies with one another, a sentiment at the very core of the exhibition.
Artist Jacin Giordano is similarly interested in the tactility of paint and the significance of deconstruction and reassembly to build up the painting’s surface. Like Doran, his work frequently expands painting beyond the confines of the traditional four-sided form, using acrylic spillover to create organically shaped boundaries inside which to experiment with pattern, depth, materiality, and abstraction. The laborious product of cutting, scraping, shaping, and meticulous pouring and sanding, Giordano’s compositions repurpose discarded materials from previous works and often feature networks and webs of interconnected holes and patterns of dimensional, textural elements. They reveal their insides to the viewer, such that their exposure reveals something about the nature—and perhaps vulnerability—of both paint and the artistic process.
Coe Lapossy’s work is so fluid, self-determining, and empowered with such agency that it literally speaks for itself. Talkies, their video series of speaking paintings, takes its dialogue from Craig Lucas’s stage play Prelude To a Kiss, a “Freaky Friday”-like body-swap story about an old man who inhabits the body of a young, pessimistic bride. In Lapossy’s videos, the play’s characters swap bodies with the artist’s paintings, complaining about trivialities of life through pairs of impasto lips. The body and disrupting the binary in which it exists are central to Lapossy’s practice, and their approach to painting is no different. Also on view here are a series of new works whose supports are pliable, secondhand pillows whose floral surfaces have been painted and repurposed. In this sense the performative in Lapossy’s work extends both to video and the malleable material support for their work, disrupting hierarchies within the history of painting and charting new futurities in which to connect with other bodies, painterly or otherwise.
The human psyche and changes within it are a recent focus of the work of Miami native and Colorado-based artist Brandon Opalka, whose interdisciplinary practice extends to painting, sculpture, and installation. His works and installations function as ruminations on emotional states, transitions, isolation, and the complexity and beauty of the natural world. Like many in Miami Opalka’s earliest understanding of art was through an appreciation of graffiti, reflected in the colorful ombré compositions of his paintings. Their surfaces collapse in carefully cut fragments of canvas, as if molting or in a state of transformation, like snake skin or frayed palm leaves—a necessary shedding that makes new movement possible.
The sculptural work of Boston-based artist Loretta Park is rooted in an exploration of value, material hierarchy, and modalities of abstraction, and uses brightly colored found and discarded articles as source material. The choice to use inexpensive plastics, discarded garments, and colorful refuse is intentional: it’s a response to the material hierarchy of sculpture, which has historically favored wood, metals, and expensive processes like fabrication. Park’s work is a rejection of this material ranking system and uses readily available materials in striking colors, creating a new system of values and accessibility. Richly textured and and carefully manipulated by the artist, Park’s gnarled works reveal a kind of intimacy among her materials which are interwoven and adhered together, a method that highlights their physical and chromatic contradictions, unified into a singular vision.
Over the last year and a half these five artists have compared notes, met regularly (virtually), shared ideas, shipped materials, and established shared intentions. Their final collaborative action for the exhibition is the installation of their individual and collective work at Dimensions Variable, where select artists and works are paired together. In so doing, each artist has a work that ‘sits’ next to every other artist in the show—a gesture that is both collaborative and generative and asks where one artist’s work ends and the next begins. These pairings intentionally remove the physical distance—and emphasize the closeness—that has existed between these artists for the last several months. To quote Opalka, “Maybe our relationship to ourselves and our work is just a form of coexisting.” Their exhibition is a profound statement about the current state of creative collaboration and encourages each of us to sit a little closer together.
Evan Garza is a Washington, DC-based curator, writer, and a 2021-2022 Fulbright Scholar at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, Ireland, where he is also Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin. He was 2021 visiting faculty in the MFA in Visual Arts program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and a fall 2020 graduate visiting critic at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts). Garza was Director of Rice Public Art at Rice University in Houston, TX from 2016–2019 and previously served as Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin from 2014–2016. He is cofounder of Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR), the first residency program in the world exclusively for LGBTQ+ artists. As a current Fulbright fellow at IMMA, his research focuses on artists from art historically underrepresented communities, both in Ireland and globally, through digital interpretation, public programs, and collecting strategies which emphasize equity and art historical parallels between the history of Irish protest and civil unrest and contemporary global movements for racial and social justice. With co-curator Ryan N. Dennis, Garza is Curator and Artistic Director of the 2021 Texas Biennial: A New Landscape, A Possible Horizon.