Interviews

In Kentucky, Tomorrow Comes Today

Berndnaut Smilde, "Nimbus LOT" (2013) (Photo by Tim Furnish, all images courtesy Land of Tomorrow)
Berndnaut Smilde, “Nimbus LOT” (2013) (photo by Tim Furnish, all images courtesy Land of Tomorrow)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Since moving here with my family a couple of years ago, Land of Tomorrow (LOT) has been on my mind. It is a provocative production and exhibition space established by Drura Parish and Dmitry “Dima” Strakovsky, first in Lexington (2009) and then in Louisville (2010), Kentucky. Louisville is a city where the aesthetic approach of business is palpable, infusing the development and design of small, local shops, companies and restaurants with a look, if nothing else.

What should amount to strength – given the design-oriented commercial sector – spirals into weakness when that trait morphs into a vacant valuation system, a contrived metric ladled onto artists to determine who and what should be encouraged, supported and facilitated. LOT is a counterpoint, challenging this citywide problem through its work as a cultural producer and presenter, a creator of spaces and moments. I have asked Drura and Dima to address a few questions to shed light on what appears to be a pragmatic, responsive, rigorous mode of working with and for artists.

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Yasmeen Siddiqui: What is the story behind LOT? Who are the players?

Dima Strakovsky: Drura and I were standing in the front space of what became PR&VD (Parrish, Rash, Van Dissel). He claims that I convinced him that we should start a gallery. I claim he convinced me. I am afraid we will never know the truth.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I come from Chicago, which is an incredible hatchery — so many great art programs, spaces and apartment shows! Going through the program at the Art Institute, I constantly showed my work with my friends and there was this sense of community. I don’t think it really translated up to commercial galleries or museum institutions but that might have actually been a blessing. Anyways, when I got to University of Kentucky in 2006, I didn’t see those opportunities for my students. Starting a space was the most real and vital thing I could do as an art educator. Also, I had to make a decision on how to make a home here in Kentucky and my home has gotta have at least one or two adventurous cultural institution. Bringing amazing artists in was the most natural thing to do on many counts.

Both of us were just super hungry to do something big and different. We gave ourselves room to experiment and try things out. The fabrication component paid for the art exhibition and slowly (OK, actually not that slowly almost within a year) things began to move and congeal into a more of a symbiotic relationship between production and exhibition.

There is an amazing list of collaborators and interns who have made LOT flourish over the years. I might leave some of the folks out (apologies), but people like Rives Rash, Bart Van Dissel, Angela Torchio and the current crew both in Louisville and Lexington have done some really amazing things to get the spaces live.

Drura Parish: My former business partner Rives Rash and I moved from a small space on Maxwell to the current space on third street in Lexington. He and I went crazy and converted the building that was previously a refrigerator supply store and church into an open front and small shop in back. We put in a table and then Dima walked in and asked us what we were going to do with all the space.  We‘d met Dima at UK. He was in the art department and we were in architecture. He suggested that we use the excess space as a gallery – Will Tucker and Paul Simmons was our first show and I was blown away with the ambition of one person to articulate a vision in an empty room.  Through the years we were fortunate to have many people pitch in on the effort, Will Sizemore, Joey Yates, Nathan Hendrickson, Charlie Campbell, J.R. McClenny, Paul Michael Brown, and more.

Shih Chieh Huang, "Luminosity" (2011) (Photo by Leslie Doyle)
Shih Chieh Huang, “Luminosity” (2011) (photo by Leslie Doyle)

YS: In your view how would you analyze the relationship between cultural production and exhibition in 1) the traditional commercial gallery as compared to LOT 2) the alternative project-based space as compared to LOT?

DS: LOT has changed modalities of operation about a thousand times as we tried different things along the way. So at times we mirrored aspects of the more “traditional” models that you have mentioned. Though we have to remember that from art historical point of view both are very new and strange beasts in the cultural landscape. They are adaptations to the market condition and the market has made dramatic shifts in the last decade.

There is a natural fabrication base in Kentucky, which has always been the cornerstone of our enterprise. Commercial galleries manage reputations. Alternative spaces create community-based consensus. We can collaborate with both to produce shows all over the world. In some very real ways this liberates the artists that show in our space because we are not as interested in current cultural capital maintenance but rather in asking the “What if?” question through production and presentation of material artifacts.

DP: Whoa.  I am still new to galleries per se, and their modes of operation. I think the focus on economy is much different.  Through the years we are drifting to an area where production is a means to give artists’ objects, things, moments they can transfer and sell while the economic element rests in us locating, hiring, securing fabricators and craftspeople to produce work for the artist.  Exhibition is the place where all production and economics meets. It is the project so to speak.

I think we have much in common with most project spaces.  Generalizing the two, I would say that we rarely separate economics from art.  This does not mean sales — rather the metrics of understanding success-which is hard to quantify in art.  With that said, we are very focused in what we are trying to “get” out of an exhibition. This very rarely has dollar signs attached to it, but has always fascinated me in terms of the commoditization of a moment in a space. I come from architecture so the economics of a project are inescapable, and the indirect value of a project is hard to quantify and qualify. Art and project spaces are the opposite, here the mission of the artist at best is honed and clear, but the VALUE and economics are hard to define. With that said, I have always viewed our exhibitions as a way to observe true market demand and desire. After all we are in Louisville, Kentucky and our press budget is nill, so to see how work is received without the hype machine is priceless.

Sutton Beres Culler, "Small Moons" (2012) (Photo by Magnus Lindqvist GLINTstudios)
Sutton Beres Culler, “Small Moons” (2012) (photo by Magnus Lindqvist GLINTstudios)

YS: To date, how has the paradigm LOT asserts served artists? Are there projects that have been more successful than others?

DS: We really do shift our gears a lot depending on an artist: in some cases it’s purely production support, in some, it’s full on-site project management and then, some come in a very straight-forward exhibition production sort of way. I think financially, Freeman and Lowe stand out very clearly. They are able to effectively orient the production process in a similar way to many of the mega-brand artists of today (Murakami, Hirst, etc.) Yet, at the same time, they playfully throw in a utopian hallucinatory trip or two that allows for an uneasy critical distance from the objects conjured up by their production pipeline. At the same time we have worked with art group Voina, who are absolutely not interested in production capabilities and have very antagonistic relationship with the art market. Relative success is kind of hard to judge when the cultural scope of the game we play is so loosely defined.

DP: No project is the same. Luckily our team has a very diverse background that can facilitate the many different projects we have taken on. On any given project we finance, produce, manage, and / or just place the exhibition. Sure there are more successful projects work flow wise, but there are kernels of value in each project that are completely amazing. It’s fascinating how intense it is to produce objects that are intended for cultural consumption.

Hernan Alonso Diaz, "Le Chaise Grotesque" (2011) (photo by Frank Doering)
Hernan Alonso Diaz, “Le Chaise Grotesque” (2011) (photo by Frank Doering)

YS: What would you claim as your moral position and ideological stance in connection with the production and circulation (exhibition/sale) of art?

DS: I still teach. That’s my day job and a half. I went to academia from a great design job because I wanted the freedom (albeit relative one) to play with various ideas — to discuss them with some of my students and colleagues. My own work is not particularly commercial in nature. I am saying all this to try to define the position from which I am coming to the answers to your question.

For the most part contemporary art world is a plutocratic sphere. There is a lot of lifestyle branding going on that has very little to do with the supposed content of the work. I personally don’t mind this specific feature, since it has much more historical traction then anything else about art that I can think of right now. Some of the most amazing collections: Louvre, Hermitage, Uffizi had to do as much with the status projection, as with any ideas about transcendent beauty. However, and here I am channeling Lewis Hyde, there is a gift element to the artworks in play – a reason, a drive to put a unique experience out there for everyone to see. The gift and commodity economies exist in parallel: very often one is faced with the hard cash to pixie dust ratio calculation when selling a work. As long as there is a little bit more pixie dust in this equation the work is worth producing and selling.

DP: I use info from this article, which cites info from TEFAF report on art market.

The art market is the largest unregulated market in the world next to illegal drugs and I do not know if needs to be. I think the production of art, design, and architecture is the most necessary non-biological function humans can do. The platform by which these goods are sold, however, needs to be figured out. I do know that they need us more than we need them (producers vs. sellers), however the fiscal scales on this matter are skewed.

Think the global art market has a rough value of $60 billion with contemporary and modern art accounting for 70% and with the top 5% of galleries accounting for 70% of sales. I don’t want to turn this into an issue of inequality blah blah blah, but I do think that the art market would benefit from a check where we focus more on sustainable economies for the makers rather than suffering as a whole by continuing to pretend like we are all doing okay.  It appears no one is winning and no one is happy.  The artists are frustrated, the galleries are suffering, and the buyer is exhausted. Recently, we were discussing this and Dima likened it to living in Russia where you either you drive in a black car with security and a siren that stops traffic or you dream of being in that car. No one wants to step outside of this model.”  No one, however, is really pressing for reform — and I am not sure what that would look like. However, it feels like the system is getting stagnant.

In a business where everything relies on emotions and perception, though, it would help if the rules were a bit clearer, and the transactions more uniform.  We have unfortunately made a market where the seller has the majority of power.  They seem to control the buyer, often times employing draconian tactics to ensure a sale.  If the market was opened up (which fairs ironically may be the last bubble mechanism and first level playing field at the same time) and the best sold and the worst didn’t, we would all win — without all the snake oil, bad suits, and fear.

Alex Pincus, "Xanadu" (2012)
Alex Pincus, “Xanadu” (2012)

YS: What factors allowed for the establishment of the Louisville chapter?

DP: One amazing developer and core group of supporters that believe in what we do.

Seven New Exhibitions opens on April 26 at Land of Tomorrow in Louisville (233 West Broadway, Louisville, Kentucky) and continues through May 31.

Red Herring runs on April 27 at Land of Tomorrow in Lexington (527 East 3rd Street, Lexington, Kentucky).

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