Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From?

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An Interview with Transformer’s Victoria Reis, and artists Amy Hughes Braden and Tang in conjunction with Transformer’s Locally Sourced at American University’s Katzen Center by Michael Dax Iacovone

For the last 13 years Transformer has been a credible source for new work by emerging and experimental artists in Washington, DC. It has launched countless artists’ careers by providing space,  promotion, context, and dialogue for their creative output. Locally Sourced is the first exhibit in the new Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series, in conjunction with six other CSA (Community Supported Arts) Organizations from around the country. I asked curator Victoria Reis, and participating artists Amy Hughes Braden and Tang a few questions about the exhibit.


Michael Dax Iacovone – Transformer has been a stalwart independent gallery in DC for so long. How does a show at AU help progress Transformers mission?

Victoria Reis – Well first – I never define Transformer as a gallery. We are a non-profit visual arts organization. We have an exhibition space or project space at 1404 P Street, NW where we present experimental exhibitions, installations, and performative work that featured a range of educational programming components like artist talks, workshops, artistic actions etc. In tandem with this, we have always since inception worked with a broad range of collaborators both within DC and beyond in developing and presenting exhibitions and programs at a range of larger scale cultural & educational organizations.

Our Framework Panel series, now in its 13th year, has always been presented at universities, or larger cultural institutions, and at least once a year we present a larger scale exhibition at a partner organization. We’ve presented these exhibitions at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Corcoran, raw spaces like the Room & Board building at 14th & T (when it was a raw space), The Mexican Cultural Institute, as well as at organizations nationally & internationally like the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Michael Dax Iacovone – And how does this fit in with Transformer’s mission?

Victoria Reis – Transformer’s mission is to provide a consistent, supportive, and professional platform for emerging artists to explore and present experimental artistic concepts, build audiences for their work and advance their careers, while increasing dialogue, understanding, and audiences for contemporary visual arts. We have pursued this mission through a diverse and broad range of partnerships with artists, curators, and cultural institutions to serve as a catalyst and advocate for emergent expression in the visual arts.

Our programs and services are designed to help artists grow their audience and patronage while educating them about opportunities for sustainability, so it is a natural fulfillment of our mission and an expansion of the work Transformer does to connect and promote emerging artists by presenting them in the kind of exhibition collaboration we are pursuing with American University.

MDI – How did you become involved with the current project?

VR – Transformer presented one of our Framework Panels, The Art of Organizing: Artist Developed Models of Creative Engagement at AU in spring 2014. Tim Doud, the head of AU’s Visiting Artist Program was the moderator of the panel. Tim has been a long time supporter of me and Transformer, and was interested in ways we could work together. The panel was inspired by national convenings I had been attending of about 20 Transformer peer organizations from around the country discussing the creation of a new national network of artist spaces and artist led projects around the country.

The work of the organizations that participated in the panel, and those of Transformer’s peers in this newly forming national network called Common Field is so inspiring, Tim & I started discussing how we could continue to all work together. I pitched to him the idea of an exhibition series that would look at multiple platforms artists and arts organizations have initiated to develop, create, and present art, and that’s how the Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series came together.


VR – Locally Sourced is the first of four exhibitions in the Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series which will be presented over two years at the American University Museum and the Rotunda of the Katzen Arts Center. Curated by me (Victoria Reis, Executive & Artistic Director of Transformer), in collaboration with Tim Doud, Associate Professor of Art and coordinator of the Visiting Artist Program at American University, the series will comprehensively showcase artists and organizations that incorporate a range of visual art practices including performative, experiential, social, and pedagogical, with the goal of investigating current and future models of art organizing

MDI – Did you know these other organizations previously?

VR – Yes – all of the organizations in the Do You Know series, and in Locally Sourced are all peers of Transformer whom we have connected with either through Warhol Foundation convenings of grantees, through Common Field convenings, or via Hand in Glove conferences. Some of the organizations presented in the Do You Know series, for example Franklin Furnace, who will be featured in the final exhibition of the series in fall 2016, has been a peer of mine since early days of The National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO – sadly now defunct) where I launched my career in the arts in 1991. Common Field is in many ways a new NAAO.

MDI – How does this sort of long-distance collaboration benefit the artists? And the community?

VR – I think it is essential that DC based artists be presented in national and international contexts. It elevates them and the overall DC arts community to be presented with their peers based nationally and nationally. Since our inception, Transformer has always been committed to presenting DC based artists in a program that also presents their peers nationally & internationally. It highlights the strength of the work of DC based artists, that their ideas and practice are in sync/ the same strength and depth as their national and international peers.

MDI – Do you see any clear difference between the different artists based on location?

VR – It’s been exciting to see that there are a lot of aesthetic similarities with the artists and works from all of the artists/organizations in Locally Sourced, and yet each org/region has their own distinct ‘flair’ or vibe. You have to come see the exhibition to see what I’m talking about.

MDI – Do you have other collaborative efforts with these organizations (or other organizations) coming up?

VR – Yes! Three more exhibitions in the Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series at AU. The next is fall 2015 with Design Studio for Social Intervention out of Boston, and a new collaboration with the Kreeger Museum where Transformer will be presenting two DC based artists in solo exhibitions at the museum. We are also collaborating with Quota to present an exhibition they guest curate at Transformer this May/June.


Transformer Flat File Artists Amy Hughes Braden and Tang:

As artists, can you tell me a little about your experiences working with Transformer, and particularly about being part of the Locally Sourced show?

Amy Hughes Braden
Amy Hughes Braden, Tiny Heads Perpetuate the Unjust System, acrylic on paper, 2014

Amy Hughes Braden – Transformer has been very supportive over the years. I joined the flat file program at the same time that I went from making only giant ass paintings, to also making small flat works (collage and drawings). I actually had bought a piece from the flat files before I joined— because it’s so affordable! Personally I think everyone should be buying FF stuff, all the people around 14th that drop $100-200 bucks on dinner could instead (or also) have beautiful exciting work for the same amount. Anyway I don’t really like thinking bout money and sales, but you have to if you want to keep going, and what’s great is that Transformer helps me on that front. Julia will have me swap out work in the file if something’s been sitting too long, and I know she and the rest of the team spend a lot of time thinking about the ins and outs of selling work. It’s also great to be able to discuss price points, and other professional questions that pop up along the way.

Tang, untitled (snake), Ink, gouache, and spray paint on acid free mat board, 2013

Tang – I owe my art career to Transformer and Victoria Reis, the director. They have helped and supported my friends and me so much in the past thirteen years with many great opportunity around Washington, DC and outside. I just did an artist-in-residence / exhibition with them in Asbury Park, NJ last year and in Mexico City in 2009.

Author Michael Dax Iacovone is a DC based artist who works in photo, video, maps and installation.

Installation photos by Brandon Webster

Locally Sourced (January 24 – March 15, 2015) at the AU Katzen Center, the first exhibition in the Do You Know Where Your Art Comes From? series, provides an in-depth look at the extensive collections of six regionally focused CSA (Community Supported Art) and Flat File programs that seek to grow recognition and support for artists in their communities.

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