If artists knew how to take breaks, they’d probably find different professions. True to their people, art-party company The They Co. has put together an ambitious “break” from the commercial art madness of Armory Week — a colossal, curator-driven, thematic art exhibition on three floors of an old school in Nolita. Spring/Break’s 23 curators, both independent and gallery-affiliated, from boroughs near and far, present a dynamic, thoughtful response to the inaugural show’s theme, “Apocalist: A Brief History of the End.”
Spring/Break’s tongue-in-cheek nod to the 21st-century obsession with the world coming to an end finds an appropriate setting in the old school, complete with desks, chairs and blackboards. The context vacillates between the teenage fantasy of an upheaval of authority and the stuffy, amateur hour of a parent-teacher open house. But many works, like those curated by Maureen Sullivan — one of the show’s most successful curators — manage to jive with the school setting and, when occasion calls, transcend it.
If you’re short on time, beeline to the courtyard and sign up for Dora Budor and Maja Cule’s Sp33d Guided Art Tour, curated by Alex Freedman. The artists invite you to put on a pair of headphones and hop onto what are essentially the handlebars of their Segways for a joyride around the space. The piece puts a cheeky spin on the old-fashioned cassette-tape audio tours that would accompany tourist drives around famous landmarks. Instead of hearing about work on view, you will listen to the artists muse over the peculiarities and frustrations of becoming intimate with art. Inside the school, Budor and Cule have prepared a dance floor to further explore the awkward nature of the art world’s sometimes tepid embrace of interactivity: a DJ mix samples phone conversations in which the artists interrogate receptionists about the walls of pristine galleries all over the world.
Bigert and Bergström’s “The Last Calendar,” curated by Maureen Sullivan, is a calling card for the show’s theme. The artists collaborated with Cabinet magazine to create a calendar for 2012 (predicted by some as the last year of the world, based on an interpretation of the Mayan Long Count calendar) featuring the artists’ take on twelve visual prophesies. The prophesies are derived from divination methodologies that range from the silly — patatomancy, divination through the observation of potatoes — to the morbid — meteoromancy, divination through the observation of meteorological phenomena, in this case, aerial views of the aftermath of a tornado. Some of the original works photographed for the calendar are included in the show, including a 20-year-old potato creature and a silver-plated owl pellet pendant.
Other works selected by Maureen Sullivan include “Where is the Black Beast?,” Simon Lee and Algis Kizys’s film interpretation of Ted Hughes’s poetry, and “Sea of Fire,” an interactive video installation by Fall on Your Sword. Both pieces pair found footage with original audio to create masterful interpretations of the historical angle of “Apocalist.” Fall on Your Sword invite you to hit the keys of a busted piano to cue various scenes of hyperbolic disaster porn from apocalypse movies — it’s fun to guess which films made the cut. “Where is the Black Beast?” is a much darker and colder work that demands more introspection.
Other highlights from the show include: Jeremy Floto’s clever sight gag remix of inflatable Santa lawn ornaments and Jamie O’Shea’s “Immaculate Telegraphy,” wherein the artist goes into the woods to create electronic communication from scratch (full disclosure: Jamie is my partner and hired me to produce the video), both curated by Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly (a.k.a. The They Co.); Icelandic artist Sirra Sigurdardottir’s stark, touching video of small-town Icelanders re-living the trauma of a 2008 earthquake in an earthquake simulator, curated by Angela Conant; Jennifer Sullivan’s “One-Week Walden,” a film that exposes the would-be vapid nature of Thoreau’s experiment in the age of YouTube, and Brent Owen’s wood carvings of digital typography, both curated by Amanda Schmidt in her meditation on our relationship to nature.
Spring/Break (the Old School at 233 Mott Street) takes place March 8 – 11, Thursday – Saturday: 12 – 9pm; Sunday 12 – 6 pm, and admission is $5.
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