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The 2020 Sondheim Prize Finalists

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This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize, Baltimore’s most prestigious visual art award and the centerpiece of Artscape, ostensibly the largest (and definitely the hottest) free outdoor arts festival in the world. Like everything else, COVID-19 has forced Artscape and Sondheim to go digital, presenting us all with a much smaller and more remote experience than we are accustomed to.

Fifteen years ago, the Sondheim Prize attracted attention because it was the first in the region to offer a $25,000 prize to a visual artist or artist collective. However, it wasn’t until its second year that it offered the six or seven finalists an even more valuable reward: a museum exhibition. Since that time, Sondheim has been alternately hosted at the BMA and the Walters, delivering a rare chance for museum-level clout, which offers a level of visibility, credibility, and connections that is unparalleled. With COVID-19, this key element of the Sondheim award has been canceled and replaced by a virtual exhibition. The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts—an organization that has historically galvanized support for artists through festivals, collaborative markets, and large gatherings—is doing what we are all doing: attempting to do the best work we can through uncertain and dismal circumstances.

This year’s Sondheim jurors, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator at the New Museum in New York, Nona Faustine, a visual artist whose photographs focus on history, identity, and representation, and Diya Vij, Associate Curator of Public Programs at the High Line in New York, selected six finalists: LaToya Hobbs, Hoesy Corona, strikeWare (Mollye Bendell, Jeffrey Gangwisch, and Christopher Kojzar), Miguel Braceli, Muriel Hasbun, and Phylicia Ghee. Their work is available for public viewing in online galleries provided by BOPA through Kunstmatrix, a virtual reality app.

I think we can all agree that art functions most effectively when one’s concept and media are synonymous, when the language and history of one’s materials add depth and meaning to the work. Although the distinction of being a Sondheim finalist remains intact, viewing this year’s exhibition digitally is a compromise—but it’s the correct response to a cultural landscape decimated by COVID-19. That said, digital media is a medium, it’s not neutral, and whether you make paintings or build installations or curate interpersonal experiences, when you engage through digital media, your work becomes digital art.

Instead of the critical Sondheim response that BmoreArt usually publishes, this year we decided to have a conversation with each finalist. It’s not fair to assess the success of each exhibition based on a digital medium that was added at the last minute, especially when the participants’ experience with digital media was uneven and mostly unrelated to their success as visual artists. Rather, we discussed the ideas each artist is passionate about, how best to maximize the potential of a regional art prize, and the limitations of digital exhibitions.

To support and participate virtually in this year’s Sondheim Finalist Exhibition, you can visit each artist’s digital gallery and tune in to the award ceremony on BOPA’s YouTube page with the jurors and the six finalists for the announcement of the $25,000 prize winner on Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.

 

Geopolitical Games Participatory Project Miguel Braceli

Miguel Braceli, Artist
Resides in Bolton Hill, Baltimore
Born in Venezuela, 1983
IG: @miguelbraceli
Visit Braceli’s Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition? 

My proposal is Geopolitical Games, a participatory project to create a ball game between an undetermined number of people through a one-on-one game taking place house by house. It begins in Baltimore, and is a series that takes place in the United States, playing with the aesthetic imagery of the idealized construction of its national identity. Geopolitical Games is a work that dialogues with these imaginaries, inflated and deflated with the body’s air, contrasting patriotism, nationalism, and heroism with the fragility of their structures in the context of a pandemic. But above all, restoring the encounter from the resilience of the gesture through this open game. It is a game where the balls are not held by the political parties but by citizens and non “citizens.” It is a game that reduces all the borders of the world to 6 feet, where the idea of ​​nationality is diluted by the fatuity of this action. Geopolitical Games builds the idea of ​​a nation from the exchange of our own bodies, trying to keep the ball in the air and the game alive.

This project is part of Geopolitics of the body, a series of collective performances that seeks to create spaces of encounter between people and territory, opening reflections on issues of migration, national identity, social fractures and other problems typical of the places in which the works are inserted. These are topics that interest me due to my own migratory experiences and the strong migration of the Venezuelan diaspora. As a Venezuelan artist living in the United States, I have wanted to approach the geopolitical implications of these two countries, studying the complexity and contradiction of their relationships, as well as the parallels that can be found in opposite systems. Social fractures and polarization become the object of investigation based on their possible links with censorship and totalitarianism. From a global perspective, these are issues that appear in the uncertain context of a pandemic, putting the world’s governments in a state of alert and control.

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

Geopolitical Games originates from a proposal initially created to be developed at Fort McHenry, with the aim of transforming a historic military base into a playground. With the appearance of COVID-19 I have decided to take the project to neighborhoods near my home. Now Geopolitical Games is presented through a website, imagining alternative models of virtual exhibition in the public sphere while it is physically developed in the public space.

The proposal for an empty room at BOPA’s Virtual Gallery arises as a form of resistance to the exaltation of the white-box model transferred to the digital format. The opportunity for a virtual exhibition is not in the three-dimensional reproduction of the white box of the gallery. Unconstrained by physical walls, we can explore different forms of action and communication within a virtual space. I am using the possibility of links to share the videos here and submissions platforms to create an Open Call. Online environments provide for alternative means of connection and expression that can generate relational practices capable of bridging the gaps between public, physical space, and virtual space.

The proposal for an empty room at BOPA's Virtual Gallery arises as a form of resistance to the exaltation of the white-box model transferred to the digital format.
Miguel Braceli

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? 

In my opinion, BOPA made the right decision in not postponing the event and transforming it into an online exhibition instead. Perhaps what we need to question is not the idea of the “virtual” exhibition, it is the idea of an exhibition itself. I like to refer to Geopolitical Games as a project. The term “project” could have many ways of manifestation beyond the exhibition model. The goal of an exhibition is to address discourses, experiences, and especially to create an exchange with an audience. Today more than ever, artists and institutions need to rethink and shape all these concepts opening new possibilities. 

What is your opinion of art prizes in general? What advice do you have for other artists who want to become a Sondheim Finalist?  

An award is a recognition, and all artist careers are mostly based on that. But beyond that, BOPA as an institution gives you the possibility of communicating your research to a larger audience, and the possibility to be in contact with a very special jury. I am very glad to have had both opportunities. My advice to other artists would be to be truthful with their research, and avoid creating a project to win—we need to create the project that we believe in and we will be able to sustain in the future. I took a risk being out of the artificial galleries provided by Sondheim, but I did it as a statement. The website as a project won’t close after the exhibition time. It is a platform and a form of research that I hope to continue and evolve. 

What do you think about the 2019 finalists in the Turner Prize deciding to share the prize equally instead of appointing a winner? 

It would be easy for me to advocate for sharing the prize equally, because right now all finalists know the final result. The winner deserves to have the full award and what we need to share is a group exhibition. The great loss of a physical exhibition was not the possibility to communicate our works individually, rather to create dialogues together sharing one space. 

 

 

Hoesy Corona

Hoesy Corona, Multidisciplinary Artist
Lives in Station North/Greenmount West
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, 1986
IG: @hoesycorona
Visit Corona’s Virtual Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition?

I am presenting selections from my longest ongoing series, The Nobodies, an ongoing story documenting the journeys of displaced immigrants and marginalized peoples. In The Nobodies I use sculptural garments, public performance, and poetry to create otherworldly experiences for the viewer while questioning the social constructions that govern and objectify personhood. In this series I obfuscate the body by making it into a living sculpture; the performers’ faces are usually hidden and there is no way of fully identifying them. I revel in the simultaneous visibility and invisibility that the colorful sculptural garments bring to the wearer.

This body of work comes directly from my experiences as a young queer immigrant in the 1990s and the overwhelming feeling of being invisible and immensely visible at the same time. Invisible because I didn’t speak the language and therefore was not heard, and hypervisible because I was different, wore old clothes, and instead of a backpack I carried my supplies in a plastic bag. Fifteen years later these early experiences would translate into subtle and silent sculptural performances that privileged the “presence” of the self over a “performance” of the self. These performances make me think about the often blatant ways some Americans love to consume cultures and foods but loathe the actual culture makers.

Climate Poncho

I started this series in 2009—[the exhibition includes selections from 2010-2020]. This series was a turning point early in my career. I was formally trained as a painter but had always been interested in a multidisciplinary approach to art-making, and through this body of work, I found the empowering realm of performance art. Working in performance art proved to be the “fuck you” to the world that I needed to break free from a disempowering mentality.

The work came about when I was longing to reconnect to my roots, having migrated to the US at the age of 7, and while looking for answers I came across the book The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz. In the book, Paz poetically compares and contrasts two sisters: Mexico and the United States—and as he describes a power shift between the two, he identifies Mexico as living in the shadow of her younger sister. He dedicates a passage to the act of “Nobodying,” an operation that he describes as consisting of making somebody into nobody. And as is usually the case with every book I read, it brought me to something else, in this case, the powerful poem “Los Nadies” by Eduardo Galeano which so eloquently described the ways people are devalued and dehumanized. These two texts would form the foundation for The Nobodies.

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

One of the best parts about the Sondheim Prize Finalist exhibition is the privilege of showing the work in a museum gallery. When I received the news I was a finalist, of course I was overjoyed but certainly disappointed it would be a digital presentation, because while my work presents well online, there is a certain physicality in my work that I knew would never come across in a virtual space.

When I applied I was prepared to do a site-specific installation of my White Constructions series that would activate the entire museum gallery and allow viewers to walk through the installation. With the limitations of a virtual gallery, I opted to show performance photographs and digital collages from my series The Nobodies. I had always thought it was funny that even though I wasn’t a photographer, this particular body of work existed heavily through photographic documents. So I decided to both honor this series and also explore what a “gallery” exhibit of large-scale performance documents would look like. If I had the chance to recreate this exhibition in a museum setting I would make it into an installation by including the wearable sculptures depicted in the documents to create a more interactive and immersive space.

Hoesy Corona, Mother Death Life Mama _ Climate Immigrants 2019
Working in performance art proved to be the “fuck you” to the world that I needed to break free from a disempowering mentality.
Hoesy Corona

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? After this experience is over, what residual or archival elements would be beneficial to you and your art career? 

It has been a joy to see many local artists that I both admire and call friends to be recognized and celebrated with this fellowship over the last 14 years. Obviously this year the rollout is unlike past years so it’s hard for me to make suggestions that wouldn’t center our current limitations. For example, with a physical exhibition there were more opportunities to get press exposure—unlike this year in which the exhibits feel a bit hidden. I would like to see a nice print catalog added to the finalists’ exhibition with essays written by exciting local and national writers and distributed widely.

This year, in lieu of documentation, one of the residual archival elements from this exhibition will have to be a short video navigating the virtual gallery. I am still hopeful that an honorary exhibition of the finalists may still take place in a museum setting when it is possible to do so.

Hoesy Corona, Nobodies performance at The Hirshhorn

What is your opinion of art prizes in general? 

Art prizes come in all shapes and sizes and come with varying levels of prestige and dollar amounts that can really help transform an artist’s career. Aside from money, I think art prizes are helpful in that they require the artist to have a certain type of readiness and preparedness when it comes to having documentation and writing about the work ready to be presented to both the jurors and the public. Art prizes are also a great way to get your work in front of professionals in the art world that might be hard to reach otherwise. I think they also unintentionally help artists to think about their practice long term and to keep tabs of what work we’ve produced, where it is, what state it’s in, and generally which works we deem essential to our oeuvre.

When I got word I was a finalist I did immediately think about the radical Turner Prize artists deciding to share the prize equally instead of appointing a winner—unfortunately, we weren’t told who the other finalists were ahead of time. When we found out about each other with only a week to go before the public virtual exhibition, I opted instead to reach out to each of the other finalists for their email addresses to send a group email to BOPA. At first seeking clarification on the unclear status of the newly added six-week residency in Italy and then advocating for the residency to still be awarded to one of the remaining finalists even if scheduled for a later date.

What is your advice for other artists applying to and participating in art prizes?

My advice to artists would first be to remind them that most art prizes are quite transactional—we all paid to be considered for this opportunity and to get the jurors’ eyes on our work. Because it costs dollars to be considered, make sure you represent your work in the best way possible—for the Sondheim Prize the application is actually quite simple and only requires 5 images along with some basic info. For this first part I would suggest submitting work that is intriguing and will leave the jurors wanting to see more. If selected for the second round you will be asked to submit up to 30 works; for this stage I would suggest being mindful of the order of the images/media you are submitting and to consider the “story” they tell one after the other.

 

 

Phylicia Ghee, Interdisciplinary Visual Artist (Performance, Installation, Photography, Video, Fibers)
Resides in Randallstown, MD
Born in Baltimore, MD 1988
IG: @phyliciaghee

Visit Ghee’s Virtual Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition?

My exhibition is an exploration in both grief and self-directed healing. It all evolved from a desire to see liberation for Black lives. To see us healing and thriving, to honor those we have lost. The energy of transition and death is definitely present in the space, but it is in conversation with this idea of windows and portals. For me, the video works on the two opposite walls, “The Site of Memory” and “8:46” function like windows into moments from my life. Most of those moments were documented during this pandemic period: gardening with my Grandfather, paying reverence to my ancestors, writing prayers for my mother, making herbal remedies, exploring how I care for myself and how we care for one another during these deep challenges and moments of grief and bereavement.

The large-scale earth spiral “The Immeasurable Truth,” made of sea salt and compost from my Grandfather’s garden—which he made with dried leaves from this past fall—appears to flow in or out of the alcove in the center of the room. This is to reference the veil between worlds; the physical and the spiritual. It’s not evident whether the spiral is going or coming. This simultaneous ebb and flow, this collapsing of time and space, to me, is like complex poetry representing the lives and the unknown truths of history living in the soil and in the sea, making manifestation both in this realm and beyond.

So it’s not so much a question of living or dying, but of traversing physical, psychological, and spiritual realms and living on through re-memory with a cyclical understanding of life. In this space I wanted to be able to touch on the inter-dimensionality and spiritual power of Black lives, and to honor Black, brown, and indigenous lives ripped from us by the continual violence committed against us, both presently and historically.

My exhibition is entitled WE ARE THE INFINITE, DISGUISED AS THE FINITE. This title functions as a declaratory statement, a reclamation, and a threat. In other words, you cannot kill us or erase us; you cannot silence us, we are infinite, we will thrive.

Phylicia Ghee, Still from The Site of Memory

I share various photographs documenting a rite of passage and hair cutting ceremony entitled “Grounding Ceremony” in addition to a mixed media (in-progress) quilt and collaboration with my Grandmother entitled “Genetic Memory.” My hair, which I cut during “Grounding Ceremony” (and it’s seen laying on the earth beside me in the panoramic photograph on the left as you first walk into the space) is sewn into the quilt (7 years later) amongst photographs of my family and my mother’s brain scans printed on fabric, framed by Bògòlanfini and hung on driftwood. This demonstrates how narratives, materials, and elements continue over various works, sometimes spanning years.

I created five new works for this exhibition. One of my favorite moments in the exhibition is a photo I took of my Grandmother, called “Grandma.” It is situated above a poem by Lucille Clifton entitled, “I am accused of tending to the past.” This makes me think of my lineage and of Black women being at the forefront of tending to falsified histories and constant erasures, but remaining strong in the midst of challenges sprouting from seeds they did not plant.

“8:46” is a visual prayer named for the approximate amount of time the officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, ultimately killing him. Moving images that overlap are anchored by one image depicting me breathing. Other images of moments from my life both during the pandemic, and some from years prior, are layered together creating a montage of inherited and learned restorative healing practices. These are seeds of longevity, acts of protection, catharsis, and self, family, community, and cultural preservation. These overlapping moving images are overlaid by the sound of me breathing and praying for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Essentially this is 8 minutes and 46 seconds of reverence, a visual and auditory medicine for times of grief.

My hope is that by breathing for this time, it encourages the viewer to breathe as well, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and shifting the internal state of the body from one of stress to one of calm. This is also cleansing, clearing, and oxygenating the cells, ultimately creating a positive effect on the heart, the brain, the digestive system, and the immune system. This is reinforcing that we need to be well to show up fully in this revolution (breathing, taking care of self, etc.), especially in the face of such brutality, sickness, and hatred.

Phylicia Ghee - 2020 Sondheim Virtual Exhibition Walk-Through

My exhibition is entitled WE ARE THE INFINITE, DISGUISED AS THE FINITE. This title functions as a declaratory statement, a reclamation and a threat. In other words, you cannot kill us or erase us; you cannot silence us, we are infinite, we will thrive.
Phylicia Ghee

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

I had to change my thinking and process entirely. First I explored the digital space and the options that it offered, which included a few digital gallery spaces with different aesthetics. This was a whole different way of thinking and I had to learn the capabilities and limitations of this digital space. Then I began to work in a site-specific manner. I envisioned how I could engage with this new environment, while also delving deeper into works in progress that were speaking to me at the time. I had been making a series of recordings of various moments from my life during this pandemic.

I thought about piecing these together into a montage (which became “8:46”) and creating new work that would offer a unique experience of this digital gallery. To work through my thoughts I printed out photos of the digital exhibition space from different angles and did simple sketches on top of them which helped me further visualize what my work would feel like in this space. It’s much harder to cultivate a feeling in a space that isn’t physical and has limited options for how you can engage with those who will experience the space; fewer senses are involved. I wanted to create a space that felt like someplace you could visit in reality. A space that traversed various mediums as a way to explore what sensory exploration was possible in a virtual environment.

There was an alcove in my exhibition space and I envisioned this large spiral coming out of it, or going into it, or both. I had to begin to explore how I would bring a three-dimensional installation into this digital space. Since I have no experience with 3-D design, this involved a ton of research and tutorials. Ultimately I ended up building out the spiral in real life using compost from my grandfather’s garden with sea salt. Over a total of about 25 hours, potentially more (13 hours of trial and error, 12 hours of actually making progress on the piece) I photographed the earth spiral from all angles, then I taught myself to 3D scan the work and use 3D modeling programs to prepare it to go into the space. This was exceedingly difficult. Just getting the work in took very many early-morning hours of phone and email correspondence with the Kunstmatrix team (located in Germany) and required various formatting changes.

I’m still processing how this digital space impacts my work. I can say that my relationship to the viewer of the work feels more detached than I’d like. I don’t get to have the experience of being there, seeing people being moved by the work and having impromptu conversations about what comes up for them and what emotions they’re processing as a result of experiencing the work. That part is sad and definitely missed.

There’s also this disconnect for some people, as navigating the site involves learning to move through a digital environment, from a technical perspective. So, there’s this constant learning curve—if I click that it does this and if I click this it moves me to the other side of the room, etc. I do think this takes away from the sense of having this organic sensory experience. Then there’s the streaming speeds and the glitches that truly do affect the experience of my work, with all of its freezing and unpredictability. My films are constantly freezing, my installation pops into place minutes after the viewer has already been waiting.

I’m very particular about the experience that I am creating and often times explore elements like smell and touch, so I’ve definitely had to relinquish control over how the work is experienced, especially considering that there are many things I literally have no control over—such as the use of Chrome or Safari and if a viewer has slow or fast internet speeds.

I also think about those who may not readily have access to a computer; how has this digital exhibition space limited chance encounters with the work and access for those who may have just been walking down the street and decided to wander into the museum, as has happened in past years. I had so many deep conversations with people who knew nothing about last year’s Sondheim finalist exhibitions, but were, by chance, just drawn in to have that experience—this includes those people who are not traditional museum-goers.

I tried to consider this virtual space as a whole and I thought very deeply about how the viewer would navigate and move through it, as I would if it were a physical space. I challenged myself and went beyond my scope of knowledge and understanding. I dedicated long hours to make this space feel cohesive.

While the virtual exhibition does offer this opportunity for a more global audience in theory, this is very much dependent upon additional labor from the artist to share the work more widely. Otherwise, it just feels like a pin dropping in the roaring vastness of the digital world.

I can imagine creating this exhibition in the physical realm, with projection, sound, large framed photographs and words painted directly onto the walls. I can imagine installing “The Immeasurable Truth” on the floor of a physical exhibition. The difference would be in the fluidity of navigating the space, and in its overall feel. I would definitely engage the other senses, like the sense of smell, and explore creating something that would feel much more immersive in real life.

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? After this experience is over, what residual or archival elements would be beneficial to you and your art career?

There are many fundamental changes BOPA and Baltimore City could make to enhance my experience and the experiences of future Sondheim finalists. The first would be to make this more of an opportunity to build relationships that can be potentially sustained long after the Sondheim is over. Currently, the Sondheim is reminiscent of a reality show, with competitors and one single prize. I think that there is a more holistic approach to this, one that is creating a more connective rather than divisive experience. Authentic community building is so important both within the smaller microcosm of the Sondheim and the larger Baltimore cultural landscape.

I think BOPA/Baltimore City could start by offering more opportunities for the artists within the competition to meet, share time and build relationships with one another. That way we leave this competition having created new relationships that could influence our practice or possibly lead to collaborative opportunities. Secondly, I think it would be transformative for finalists to have more time to communicate with jurors (maybe through studio visits) so that rather than this one 45-minute meeting/interview, after which the winner is chosen the same day (or within a day or two, in this case) we are able to create deeper relationships with these art professionals from various fields.

I don’t think the Sondheim can truly elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape until BOPA/Baltimore City elevates the dynamics between the multiple finalists and jurors. This can happen by recognizing the importance of using this opportunity to attempt to establish those connective relationships. It’s mainly the finalists’ work and labor in creating these exhibitions that are elevating Baltimore’s cultural landscape at this current time. This year, I didn’t find out who the fellow finalists were until July 1st. Last year myself and the other finalists connected on our own, without the assistance of BOPA. We went out to dinner and endeavored to build those relationships between one another, which was beautiful, however unfortunate that BOPA didn’t facilitate these types of opportunities to be together in shared space.

So much of ourselves—so much work, time, and energy go into this whole process from start to finish. Last year I spent nearly $7,000 to complete my Sondheim Finalist exhibition. I think there is a more equitable way to conduct a competition that requires so much from an artist; this definitely requires further thought. I can imagine the possibility of there being three total finalists (rather than 5-7) and the prize being in three tiers so that each person walks away with a monetary amount that is more in alignment with the level of work required to complete this competition from rounds one through three.

Phylicia Ghee, Still from 8 Minutes 46 Seconds

The lack of residual and archival elements is truly a major problem and downfall of the Sondheim prize. From the lack of opportunity to create/build true and potentially lasting relationships to the lack of documentation provided. Not just documentation of singular pieces of work—documentation of the exhibition spaces as a whole (speaking most specifically about exhibitions done in the traditional/physical sense and not in the digital realm like this year).

It would be great if BOPA/Baltimore City considered the previously mentioned forms of documentation, as well as documentation of the artist talks that usually happen each year. Last year I had to hire my own videographer to document my artist talk (Thank you, Poll Bravo!). I had to also rent equipment to film and document my space, so that I would have more archival elements that could potentially benefit my career in the future. It would be great if the Sondheim could offer non-monetary archival support like this; that not only benefits the artist but allows the work to have a more lasting life-span and impact on the larger Baltimore cultural landscape.

If BOPA/Baltimore City really wants to improve the Sondheim they would focus on lasting impact, relationship building, and professional development as well as financial support. Maybe there’s even the possibility for more programming—other than the award ceremony—around/within these exhibitions (possibly also associated with Artscape) that involves the greater Baltimore community and/or organizations, outside of the realm of traditional museum-goers. This could be a beautiful way to enrich Baltimore’s cultural landscape.

A foundational change that I would definitely suggest is to create criteria for the judging process. There are no real criteria, which in my opinion creates a huge grey area and many blind spots. I can’t speak for the judges or other finalists, but for me, having even loose criteria is like a roadmap giving insight to both finalists and judges, while still allowing flexibility.

One of the most disheartening things about this year’s experience was the complete dissolving of the second-place award, a residency in Italy. Everyone applied with the expectation that there would be a second-place award. Although the shifts required as a result of COVID-19 have been impossible to foresee or predict, and while I completely understand that these circumstances are unprecedented, I believe that in the interest of honoring that which we applied for, the solution should also be equivalent and inventive, rather than a dissolving of the second-place award altogether.

Once the finalists were announced and we found out who one another was, in early July, we advocated for a solution to this problem. Even if that meant attending the residency the following year or offering a different, equivalent award. Those concerns were made, to no avail. I could even imagine the cost of the second-place prize being liquidated and split between all of us, especially during such challenging times. It all felt very bait-and-switch. I do want to note that Lou Joseph has been really great in hearing our concerns and trying to advocate for change on our behalf (as he is the only representative from BOPA we get to communicate with).

What is your opinion of art prizes in general? Are they helpful to artists and if so—besides financial support—how?

I have varying opinions about art prizes. I think the most helpful art prizes are the ones that offer financial support along with some form of professional development and/or lasting impact. I do, however, think the hierarchy that is created by competitions, specifically in circumstances where there can only be one winner, yet large amounts of labor are required from the remaining finalist, is problematic.
I think that the 2019 Turner prize finalists deciding to share the prize equally offered an amazing counter-narrative. I love this “symbolic gesture of cohesion” and I love that they challenged this idea of being pitted against one another, which can sometimes perpetuate the idea that one artist’s work is more important/significant. In this particular situation, the fact that each artist was making work around political and social issues made this even more appropriate. Overall, the idea of declaring worthiness in a competitive sense is deeply questionable.

“At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society.” — (2019 Turner Prize finalists) — I think that says it all.

What is your advice to other artists on art prizes?

On first thought, it’s hard to give practical advice to future finalists without there being criteria for the way this award is judged—in that way, it’s sort of like gambling with something you care really deeply about. But, overall, just do what you feel in your spirit. That which feels most authentic to you and that which is the best representation of you and your art practice. Make work that does something for you and your community, work that is not solely dependent on an award. Pay attention to people’s responses to the work, there are gems in there, and beautiful, revelatory conversations to be had. The amount of regional visibility you will receive is really great and allows for more people to interact with your work. Document your work, and share it widely. Advocate for yourself.

 

 

Muriel Hasbun & Caroline Lacey: Calling to You, Civilian Art Projects, Washington, D.C., September 10-October 22, 2016.
Homage, (El altar de la memoria), 2014.03.25, El Congo, archival pigment print, 2016, si je meurs/ if I die.Brief statement: An extended portrait, these photographs explore the fragile space between absence and presence, and continue the conversation about identity that I’ve had with my mother, Janine Janowski, with family and with communities, through my work, over 30 years.Caption: Moisés Barrios' Altar de la Memoria held 500 years of history together with the secrets and the accomplishments of her life.

Muriel Hasbun, Artist
Lives in Silver Spring, MD
Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, 1961
IG: @murielfoto
Visit Hasbun’s Virtual Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition? 

The main idea of Pulse and Memory/Pulse y Memoria is to highlight personal and cultural memory in the construction of identity and history, and how we might imagine our “terruño” or homeland through our own cultural expressions. Being an immigrant to the United States, and also the daughter of immigrants to El Salvador, my identity is made up of many diasporic stories and histories that find voice through my work. With this exhibition, I recognize the cultural legacy of El Salvador, and create a counter-narrative and an alternative art history, which identifies, recognizes, and represents Salvadorans and Salvadoran-Americans as producers of art and culture. In the process, I challenge erasure, invisibility, and underrepresentation.

My new body of work “Pulse: New Cultural Registers/Pulso: Nuevos registros culturales” features the land of El Salvador through its seismic register. Images made by artists from El Salvador during the Salvadoran civil war emerge out of the pulses and spikes of the lands’ movements. I also add my own personal experience of that particular time and place, by overlaying images from my own photographic archive of the 1980s and ‘90s, a time of war and mass migrations to the US, including my own.

In making “Pulse: Réplicas, 1986 (Homage, Julio Sequeira)” I remembered the desperation I felt of not being able to contact my parents in El Salvador for three days during the 1986 earthquake. While working on the piece, I thought that I would include a photograph that my father, Antonio Hasbun Z., had made of the artist Julio Sequeira as he was coming out of the rubble of a building that collapsed during the earthquake while he was getting a haircut inside.

But then I discovered a sort of latent image in the seismic register of what appears to be a volcano with a sphere spewing out of its crater, and it reminded me of both my own photograph from the 1990s series “Santos y sombras/Saints and Shadows,” where I inserted a Greek Orthodox prayer written by my great-grandfather in his own Arabic calligraphy onto the mouth of the Izalco volcano, and also of one of Julio’s abstract, cosmic artworks, which I juxtaposed next to this apparition of a volcano in the register. The text written on the seismograph, “réplicas,” which means aftershock in Spanish, obviously adds all kinds of possibilities to the reading of the piece, making us think about “the original” and authorship, and about the reproducibility of photography and knowledge, which I love.

Additionally, Julio Sequeira is linked to my video “Scheherazade or (Per)forming the Archive,” because he wanted me to dance Scheherazade in a production that he was directing when I was a teenager, which was the catalyst for the making of the video after all those years. All this to say that personal histories are embedded in our “terruño,” and that art can hold and make our personal histories visible, creating a space of collective inclusivity and sharing, in our journey through life. The quote, “If one no longer has land, but has the memory of land, then one can make a map,” by the writer Anne Michaels, which opens my Scheherazade video, also seems apt.

The exhibition also includes a selection of photographs from the series “si je meurs/ if I die,” which tells a story of grief and of my relationship with my late mother, Janine Janowski, whose renowned Galería el laberinto was an oasis for art and for the exchange of ideas during the civil war years in El Salvador. With “Homage (El altar de la memoria), 2014.03.25, El Congo” for example, I pay homage to her personal life as well as her legacy while speaking of colonialism, absence, and remembrance: Moisés Barrios’ “Altar de la Memoria,” exhibited in Janine’s galería el laberinto in 1992, holds 500 years of Central American history, and now whispers the secrets and accomplishments of her life too.

With the video “Scheherazade or (Per)forming the Archive” (in the exhibition, you must click on the link below the image to view it), I give the most intimate glimpse into my own life, as an artist, a daughter, and a mother. I reflect on the transmission of cultural history through the generations, joining my son’s heartbeats in utero with my mother’s last breaths. I contest orientalist notions, resist forgetting, and embrace a hybrid sense of belonging—all within the framework of Scheherazade, a woman who had to tell her story to survive.

There are 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States. We are the 3rd largest Latinx population and the largest immigrant group in the Washington, DC area. I invite the public to celebrate us, through our personal stories and through our art and culture. I invite us to empathize with the other within us; to get to know us through nuance and complexity, for a more hopeful, restorative, and dignified future.

Muriel Hasbun, Pulse: Réplicas, 1986 (Homage, Julio Sequeira), 2020
There are 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States. We are the 3rd largest Latinx population and the largest immigrant group in the Washington, D.C. area. I invite the public to celebrate us, through our personal stories and through our art and culture. I invite us to empathize with the other within us; to get to know us through nuance and complexity, for a more hopeful, restorative, and dignified future.
Muriel Hasbun

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

When we were consulted as to whether we wanted to move to a digital platform as a way of keeping the prize going, I immediately said yes, because I knew that being a finalist was a unique opportunity that doesn’t present itself every day. I wasn’t that thrilled about having to learn a platform “just for the prize,” but once I began to work on the exhibition, I loved the results. When I found out that I was a semifinalist at the beginning of March, I had just come back from El Salvador from photographing at the Archivo General de la Nación (National Archives). I soon realized that the pandemic and the forced isolation was an opportunity to focus on actualizing this new work.

The 3D virtual platform presented an opportunity for me to imagine the work without physical limitations. If I would have had to present work in a physical space, I would not have had the resources to make the work at the large scale that I now believe makes “Pulse” breathe best, or to create an exhibition that gives context to my art practice through the presentation of three different but interrelated projects. I would have had to edit a lot more and the exhibition would have probably been very different.

Scheherazade or (Per)forming the Archive and ARTE VOZ in The Looking Glass: Artist Immigrants of Washington, Alper Initiative of Washington Art at the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, 2016.

The only thing missing that I might have included otherwise, because of the limitations of the platform (and because I took the instructions literally of sticking to working within the confines of Kunstmatrix) was to also “install” my interactive piece “ARTE VOZ,” which allows participants to transmit heartbeats and to record stories based on the art of Central America. But regardless, that would have probably taken too much time to prepare, beyond the allotted time.

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? After this experience is over, what residual or archival elements would be beneficial to you and your art career? 

I was impressed that BOPA selected the jury that it did and I commend all three jurors for selecting a very inclusive group of artists, with a diversity of practice and of origins. The move towards a 3D exhibition was brilliant, really early in the pandemic. Kunstmatrix, the platform that BOPA chose, is a powerful tool, and I wish BOPA would give us access to it for a much longer period of time and that the exhibition would stay on for longer than August 31st.

Otherwise, how will that exhibition remain recorded? Can there be a publication that gathers our work along with the thoughts of the jury so as to contextualize their process and make it more transparent? Baltimore is becoming a thriving arts center, and it would be great if BOPA would see itself as having an innovative and integrating role in the region. Supporting the sustainability of our practices after this prize is indispensable. Building community too. BOPA could continue to promote all six finalists (and those before us) by actively recommending our work to museum collections and art institutions around the country as possible acquisitions, exhibitions, commissions, and public programs of all kinds, depending on the kind of work that we do.

As artists/educators, for example, we could be consultants to schools, museums, and community centers in providing culturally responsive curricula and programming, thus helping to dismantle systemic racism and giving space, bringing art and culture to those who are most vulnerable and in need of finding their voice. All six of us would like to have a physical exhibition at a museum together once it’s possible to do so but my concern is funding. Who will pay for the printing and framing of such an endeavor? Again, promoting sustainability is key.

What is your opinion of art prizes in general?

The art world has become more and more part of a system that supports celebrity and the market. We are part of a society that doesn’t value art as “essential.” As a result, opportunities are rare, and not part of a regenerative system for making a living as an artist. We participate in prizes and competitions because it’s one of the ways that our work can become recognized (and that we can obtain some funds to be able to do the work). We hope that we are nominated/selected because the work is good and we have something to say, but in doing so, we are also participating in a system of gatekeepers that reflects other inequities or trends in our society.

At some point in the last few months, when I was working away, feeling really isolated and in limbo, not being able to share that I was a finalist, not knowing who the other finalists were, and with the uncertainty of whether the funder would come through, I suggested to BOPA that the judges distribute available funds amongst the six finalists. I think that especially during these times of great need, art organizations should be leaders in new ways of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be recognized for the work I do because I strongly believe in it, and it’s wonderful to feel the rush of being a finalist or the winner, but having been part of this for 30 years or so, I think that something has to change. Artists are becoming activists and are coming together because we see the need for change, not only in the art world, but in society at large.

 

 

LaToya Hobbs, Birth of a Mother
LaToya Hobbs, Queen Ann

LaToya M. Hobbs, Painter and Printmaker
Lives Ashburton, Baltimore, MD
Born in Little Rock, AR 1983
IG: @latoyahobbs
Visit Hobbs’ Virtual Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition? 

Some overarching themes that run throughout my practice are beauty, spirituality, motherhood, and sisterhood. Those themes are present in this online exhibit as well. In particular, my exhibit showcases a selection large-scale relief prints and mixed-media paintings from two series; the first, Beautiful Uprising, which explores the rejection of Eurocentric standards of beauty and the influences that shape Black women’s perception of beauty from a historical and cultural standpoint, and second, Salt of the Earth, which explores the personification of Black women as salt and their role as preservers of family, culture, and community. Salt of the Earth, an ongoing body of work, is also an introspective look into my ascent to motherhood, where I’m thinking about self-preservation, matriarchy, and the legacies that have been passed down to me from my foremothers. I’m also interested in looking at the lives of women in the arts who are also mothers. 

One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit is “Birth of a Mother,” a self-portrait reflecting my first pregnancy. Grey dominates the palette of this work because I had a lot of uncertainties or “grey areas” about bringing a child into the world and being able to maintain my art practice.

Though it is expressed through the lens of my experience, I think this work resonates with a lot of people because everyone has some type of experience with motherhood, whether good or bad, or from the perspective of a child or parent. In the mixed-media painting Queen Ann, the viewer stairs up at a figure of my mother from a hierarchal position.

Works by Black women artist trailblazers Elizabeth Catlett and Samella Lewis adorn the walls of the background interior space. The intent of this work is to honor the matriarchs present in my personal life and those that have inspired my art practice. The largest work in the exhibit is a mixed-media painting of me and my children titled The Everyday. This work brings everything full circle because it signifies the everyday work that goes into being a mom and the legacies I hope to pass along to my children in the future.

The Founder
The Everyday
Because of COVID-19 so many of us have had exhibitions and residencies canceled or postponed and I think a lot of us have been missing that sense of connection. Although an online exhibit is not ideal, I’m glad the prize wasn’t completely canceled.
LaToya Hobbs

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

When I got the notice that I made it to the finalist round of the competition I was so excited! After being informed that the finalist exhibitions would be done in a digital format, my heart sank a little, honestly. For me, art openings are a time to connect with other artists and art lovers in the community. It’s always a pleasure to see people interacting with the work and to document my own response to seeing it outside of my studio space. Plus the Walters is a beautiful museum and I was really looking forward to exhibiting in that space. Because of COVID-19 so many of us have had exhibitions and residencies canceled or postponed and I think a lot of us have been missing that sense of connection. Although an online exhibit is not ideal, I’m glad the prize wasn’t completely canceled.

I didn’t have to change my process in terms of the execution of my work to accommodate the digital format but I was a bit concerned that the texture and surface quality wouldn’t translate as well in a virtual space as it does in a physical space. I don’t think you truly experience a work until you see it in person. In a lot of my paintings, I’m combining printmaking and painting processes on the same surface and there are a lot of really fine details and nuances that just don’t translate the same through a photo. I was also concerned that viewers wouldn’t get a sense of the scale of the work. On the platform, I used the actual dimensions of each piece but sometimes that doesn’t always translate the same way in a virtual space. Another thing to consider was choosing the best virtual space to compliment my work and the flow of the exhibit. I chose a space that had two sections for visitors to flow in and out of vs. one large space.

When exhibiting in a real-life situation, the things that I am most adamant about are having enough space for the work to breathe and that people can step away from the work to take it all in. More importantly, I want viewers to have an intimate experience, to get really close to the work so the surface can be investigated. The plus side of a digital exhibition is that the work can be viewed by a broader audience. So far, I’ve been able to share my work with all my family and people outside of the DMV area who would not have been able to experience the exhibit if it were presented in a physical space.

LaToya Hobbs, Sondheim 2020 Video Walk Through

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? After this experience is over, what residual or archival elements would be beneficial to you and your art career? 

I moved to Baltimore a little over seven years ago and while getting acclimated to the arts community here I quickly learned about the importance of this prize and it’s only grown since then. I’m not sure how this prize is perceived in the surrounding areas but the fact that it’s connected to the larger Artscape festivities makes it even more of a highlight of the summer arts programming in Baltimore. In conjunction with the art/vendor fairs, I think BOPA could offer more programming, workshops, and lectures that help artists with the more administrative and business aspects of their practices.

With the finalists, it would be great to have a certain number of hours with an arts professional or other resource to get practical strategies that could be used to advance our careers outside of the act of creating amazing work. Thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on this year’s programming, I feel it would really benefit the finalists to have a physical exhibition in the near future so we can share our work with the public in the way it is intended to be experienced. I am new to some of the finalists’ practices so it would be a real treat for me to see their work in person. A new component that would be awesome to have is a nice catalog produced highlighting works from finalists’ exhibitions and accompanying comments from the jurors.

What is your opinion of art prizes in general? Are they helpful to artists and if so—besides financial support—how? What advice do you have for other artists who want to become a Sondheim Finalist?

I think art prizes definitely have their place in this art ecosystem and give us something to aspire to. However, you can’t let them define you as an artist or your career. Yes, winning these types of high-profile prizes signify that you are gaining traction with your career and it definitely feels great to be recognized by professionals in the field, and not to mention the impact the award winnings could have on your practice, but you must have other ways to define yourself and validate your work.

The reality is that a person may apply for a certain prize or another prestigious opportunity every year and never get it, but that doesn’t mean that their work isn’t substantial or important. Sometimes the reasons people are not selected have nothing to do with their actual work. Also, when you consider things like implicit bias and the fact that the jurying process can be so subjective it can really frustrate you if you let it. What’s even more important is that diverse jurors are selected so that different perspectives are presented when selecting the winners. Earlier in my career, I would take rejections rather hard but over time, I’ve learned that they don’t define me and I use them as opportunities for self-critique, to think about ways I can improve my work in a meaningful way or sharpen my application materials. The ultimate answer for me is simply to get back in the studio and keep creating. You have to keep making the work you believe in whether it gets recognized or not.

What do you think about the 2019 finalists in the Turner Prize deciding to share the prize equally instead of appointing a winner?

As far as the Turner Prize finalists sharing the monetary award, I think that’s a noble thing to do; but with a situation like that, you have to consider other factors like the amount of the grand prize and the career level of the finalists. Someone who is more advanced in their career or has already had a certain amount of success may be more likely to share a prize than someone who is earlier in their career and quite frankly can’t afford to do that.

One thing I really appreciate about the Sondheim is that there are tiers to the award experience. The semifinalists have an exhibition and the finalists are given a monetary award and exhibition experience for making it to the final round. Additionally, one of the finalists is awarded a residency to have dedicated time to focus on their practice. It’s not an all or nothing experience like some of the other prizes.

 

 

strikeWare, Omission (Real Life)
strikeWare, Gallery View, Kunstmatrix

strikeWare (Mollye Bendell, Jeffrey Gangwisch and Christopher Kojzar), Artist Collective focusing on interactive sculpture and immersive installations
Reside: All over Baltimore, most recently Jonestown
Born in Baltimore, MD, 2018, Average birth year of members: 1987
IG: @xtrikxware
Visit strikeWare’s Virtual Sondheim Exhibition

What is the theme of your Sondheim Finalist exhibition? 

We approached the Sondheim exhibition as an opportunity to reinstall work from our exhibition Renovations, as well as to present new born-digital works in Church and State and BIMA artWalk that expanded on the research we did for that show. An interactive exhibition including augmented and virtual reality, interactive sculpture, and large-scale projection, Renovations looked at Black education in Baltimore from church to state, from slavery to segregation to integration, from school to prison, and from private to public school. Augmented reality experiences in Renovations and the Church and State gallery, as well as the Google Doc component of BIMA artWalk reflect both research we’ve uncovered since the show opened and our adjustment to the new gallery format. 

 

BIMA artWalk, 2020, Gallery Tour with audio, Total Runtime – approximately 15 minutes

We encourage people to enter the BIMA artWalk and listen to the audio in its entirety. The music is linked to a 1949 performance at the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts and was used as audio in the strikeWare app “underWater” (documented in the “Renovations” gallery on kunstmatrix). The original recordings are on 16-inch lacquer transcription discs that require special handling. Our request to the Peabody Conservatory’s Arthur Friedheim Library to digitize this music makes it stand out, mainly because there are no digitally accessible recordings available from BIMA’s repertoire. The history of BIMA as an alternative to the Peabody during segregation is well-documented, yet largely unaddressed and even more pertinent today as it relates to the Afro Newspaper’s efforts to revitalize the historic site. The “BIMA artWalk Document” is a detailed directional tour from the Upton neighborhood to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD. 

Omission, 2019, Book with AR Component and excerpt of documented performance, (Dimensions: 24” x 12”), Total Runtime – 2 hours : 42 minutes

This piece responds to research that deals with a multi-layered overlap between Christianity, slavery, and education.  The idea to cut an actual Bible was generated while considering what it means for any book to be redacted or misinterpreted.

In this work, a King James Version of the Bible is cut as a gesture towards the omissions of “Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands,” which was originally published in 1807. Unlike other missionary bibles, the Slave Bible’s British publishers deliberately removed almost 90 percent of the book—basically any passage that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, they emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery vital to the Empire. In the Renovations exhibit at the Carroll Mansion, a video played the 2 ½ hour performance of Omission. The artefact (the mangled book) was on display as two sections (what was and wasn’t omitted from the slave bible) for visitors to leaf through. 

The Omission video performance took place in a former Methodist Church, which ironically was one of the first religious sympathizers to African Americans. Hovering the Augmented Reality app over the book’s cover and its final page respectively reveal the 1807 Slave Bible cover and a redesigned strikeWare cover of that text.

The First Nine Graduates, 2020, Interactive Sculpture (Dimensions: 86” x 72” x 26”)

A lot of people responded positively to this piece during the show, in local media coverage on WYPR on WBAL, and in its documentation on Kunstmatrix.  When it was on display at the Carroll Mansion in the winter of 2020, gallery visitors interacted with the sculpture by dipping their fingers in chalk dust and gently rubbing the engraved text to expose newspaper articles that documented the lives of the first nine students to graduate from “Male and Female Colored School No. 1.”  All of the students went on to lead well-documented and often extraordinary lives, tracked here predominantly through the Baltimore Afro-American.

This piece exemplifies a lot of the ethos of Renovations: touch the art and discover the stories.  In this piece, visitors participate in the making of the work, which begins as black text engraved into a black chalkboard. As participants rub chalk dust across the board, it sticks in the engraving, exposing the text. Over the course of the six-week exhibition, chalkdust invaded the space, falling onto the floor and getting tracked into other rooms in the gallery.

The First Nine Graduates (Real Life)
06_85 60 (Real Life)
We didn't make the work for the Sondheim, we made it through an evolving dialogue over the projects we were passionate about. With the right people, you can be more than the sum of your parts.
strikeWare

When you applied to Sondheim it was before COVID-19 and you were prepared to exhibit your work in a museum in physical space. When you learned that the project would pivot to a virtual exhibit, how did you have to change your thinking and process? What is the impact of a digital space and medium upon your work? And conversely, can you talk about your ideal IRL exhibition scenario—what did you envision for this work and how would it be experienced differently in person?

A lot of the interactivity we planned was lost as a result of the online platform, which led to a much heavier emphasis on AR to imitate that. We usually try to plan pieces that are accessible in multiple layers, so people who love using their phones to look at art get something out of a piece, people who love touching art get something else. A lot of that planning was both practical and conceptual—we felt that with Renovations, we had found a narrative that was relevant to everyone and we looked for concurrent methods of delivery to appeal to different audiences.  

In an IRL Sondheim exhibition, we really wanted to emphasize the positive and negative power of touch by deemphasizing visual stimuli and embracing tactility. That had to change when we realized that Kunstmatrix was limited to pictures on walls. We’ve never framed anything to hang on a wall before so in the online gallery we were really imitating a physicality that was less relevant to our practice than any other mode of delivery we’d worked with before. 


strikeWare Sondheim 2020 Virtual Gallery Walk Through from Bmoreart on Vimeo.

It’s the 15th year of the Sondheim Prize and this seems like an opportunity to consider the impact of this prize. In your opinion, what could BOPA or Baltimore City do to enhance your experience, to maximize the impact of this prize, and to use Sondheim to elevate Baltimore’s cultural landscape? After this experience is over, what residual or archival elements would be beneficial to you and your art career? 

We would like to see the original promise of the prize realized as it was advertised when we applied, however long it takes to pull that together. We would love the opportunity to exhibit in person with the other finalists. That’s one of the things we’ve loved about the Sondheim in past years—seeing the variety in media and method between finalists as you move from room to room.

strikeWare, Gallery View on Kunsmatrix

While we understand that residencies are not as much of an option right now, we were excited to see the introduction of a second-place prize this year when we applied. An equivalent of the residency would maximize the impact of the prize at a time when artists have lost professional opportunities due to COVID.

What will be beneficial? Time will tell. We have ambitious project ideas that would require larger commitments from funding bodies. As a younger collective, we would love to see the Sondheim boost our credibility as we look for future opportunities.

What is your opinion of art prizes in general?  

We have mixed feelings about prizes in general. Are they helpful? Of course. We know how a strong resume line can affect the way we’re perceived for grants. Should that be the case? We’re not sure. We’ve talked about the 2019 Turner split as it relates to this exhibition a couple of times—especially in 2020 when individual recognition feels less meaningful then solidarity. On the other hand, who’s to say that six artists are the strongest expression of that solidarity? One of us could win the prize and use the money to impact more than six people. Contradictory viewpoints like these are critical to our internal collective dialog. We hope they make the collaboration more resonant. 

Our advice to other artists: Make work that challenges you as much as it challenges other people. Be honest about your intentions for the work. We didn’t make the work for the Sondheim, we made it through an evolving dialogue over the projects we were passionate about. With the right people, you can be more than the sum of your parts.

 

 

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