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Hope is a Thing with Grab Bars

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There's hope and also a criticality to it as well. It's very much about possibility that is not tethered to the world we're in right now. It feels speculative, a hopeful 'fuck you,' and I'm delighted that it's hopeful because this year has also been filled with rage around my journey around illness and disability.
Alx Velozo

The moment you enter Crip Algebra, you’re made aware of how you’re moving through the gallery. 

A sculpture of layered black resin sprawls across the Current Space floor, establishing an otherworldly landscape. Fantastic plumb bobs are suspended from the ceiling, suggesting stalactites, while upended sculptures of molten wax and silicone rubber canes rise from the floor like stalagmites. In a corner, an assortment of bottles filled with multi-colored liquids and natural materials are gathered on a vitrine. 

Against the walls, silicon rubber grab bars undulate from the walls and the floor, begging to be touched, grasped. Under your hand, these impractically soft grab bars wiggle; unlikely to bear your weight should you need them to prevent a fall. Around the corner, an endless looping video of matchstick structures catch fire. As flames consume each structure, a name appears on screen and is spoken, a prayer offered as each melts into ash.

Installation view. All images courtesy of the gallery and artists. Photo by Tobey Myers.

Outside, near Current’s gorgeous bar, purple and orange votives dot massive candelabra sculptures. An opening night ritual featured a massive group candle lighting. 

Crip Algebra, on view at Current Space through June 4, is as much a meditation on fire and destruction as it is about navigation, care, and community. The three artists—Baltimore-based Alx Velozo, Saar Shemesh (Richmond, VA), and RA Walden (Berlin, GE)—comprise an international care network of queer disabled artists supporting each other through artmaking and precarious health. 

The show’s title is an idiom this artist network has used for years, referring to the constant calculations they each make while navigating the ableist world.

“We were only interested in showing where other disabled people could get in, and in Baltimore, it’s really hard to find spaces that are accessible. Current is one of the only spaces in town that is really accessible. It’s really basic, but there are no steps to get inside. Current felt like a place where I could build more queer disabled community, to build access for myself inside of the art scene.”
Alx Velozo

“Crip algebra is deciding whether I’m going to feed myself dinner and be in too much pain to be able to fall asleep, or whether I’m going to go to sleep and wake up kind of hungry,” says Velozo. “The terms are not necessarily in proportion, but you still have to make a decision.”

“The math is really fucked up,” Velozo continues. “I have to calculate how I’m accruing more pain to go hang out in a social setting where maybe I have to stand when I get there, but I need to feel some social connection. It’s really acrobatic, and there are no right answers. It’s actually just very broken. The body is broken, the world is broken. We’re just clinking broken things against each other.”

Despite the weighty themes, in assembling Crip Algebra, the artists—particularly Velozo—were surprised and thrilled to see how themes of hope have been revealed in the group show. 

“This work is exceptionally hopeful, which I’m delighted by,” Velozo says. “There’s hope and also a criticality to it as well. It’s very much about possibility that is not tethered to the world we’re in right now. It feels speculative, a hopeful ‘fuck you,’ and I’m delighted that it’s hopeful because this year has also been filled with rage around my journey around illness and disability.”

The carework system that connects and supports the artists of Crip Algebra is a key component of the exhibit.  

“Our care network takes a lot of different forms. At the core, it’s this amoeba-like connection between the artists, but it’s also the web of connection that links to others in our more local care networks,” says Shemesh. “In bringing the three of us together, a lot of other people have helped; we don’t have enough brain energy for all of the moving parts. So it starts from us, but it’s not about just us.”

Care networks have been key to disability rights in the U.S. The passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 grew directly from such care networks. The systemic change promised often remains slow and costly for many institutions. The City of Baltimore, for instance, discovered in 2019 surveys that an overwhelming majority of the city’s pedestrian system is not up to ADA standards.

In 2021, Disability Rights Maryland filed a class-action suit against the city for lack of compliance—a case that is still pending settlement, while the city considers the estimated $657 million price tag to bring sidewalks and other infrastructure up to code

 

Baltimore feels like a burgeoning space for alternative art spaces. It was a new experience to work with a gallery that understood our relationship as artists and also on a timeframe that accommodates how illness actually works in our lives...
Saar Shemesh

A year ago, when the artists proposed Crip Algebra, Current—as one of the more accessible art spaces in Baltimore—was the top candidate. 

“We were only interested in showing where other disabled people could get in, and in Baltimore, it’s really hard to find spaces that are accessible,” says Velozo. “Current is one of the only spaces in town that is really accessible. It’s really basic, but there are no steps to get inside. Current felt like a place where I could build more queer disabled community, to build access for myself inside of the art scene.” 

Shemesh and Velozo praise Current’s eagerness to develop Crip Algebra, and to push for renovations to improve the gallery’s accessibility. Current has secured grant funding to make their restrooms ADA accessible, and while those renovations are still in progress, it’s a move that is setting the gallery apart from its peers. 

“It’s the first time that I’ve ever shown in a space that understood I was disabled. That sounds really elementary, but not having to constantly explain, their understanding of the core ethos of the show felt really important,” Shemesh says. 

As challenging as Baltimore can be to navigate while disabled, the artists felt drawn to the art community of the city as a locus for Crip Algebra.

“Since I’ve gotten to Baltimore, my work has felt like a relationship and community-building,” says Velozo. “It’s connecting with other disabled folks, doing some disabled doula-ing. There’s a lot of excitement in Baltimore to have a disability-centered thing, and I feel really blessed and really honored to get to show here.”

“Baltimore feels like a burgeoning space for alternative art spaces,” Shemesh says. “It was a new experience to work with a gallery that understood our relationship as artists and also on a timeframe that accommodates how illness actually works in our lives, rather than saying ‘It’s happening. You’ve got this much time, the train’s leaving the station and you’re either on it or you’re not.’ And we’re like, ‘Wait, but can’t we drive the train?’”

 

Crip Algebra closes this Sunday, June 4 with an artist talk and reception from 3 to 5 PM (talk at 4).

Masks required, and RSVP suggested.

Gallery Hours: Saturdays 1-5 PM, during public garden bar hours (Wed-Sat, 5-11 PM), or by appointment
Location: Current Space, 421 North Howard Street, Baltimore, MD

 

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