Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Screenings"—Q&A with Owen Smith, Exhibitions Manager

Screenings is a new exhibition in the Mattress Factory’s lobby at 500 Sampsonia Way. The “screenings” are being created specifically for the space by six different artists from the U.S. and Canada. Already underway, each artist’s video will be shown for two weeks, the series ending May 23. I tracked down Owen Smith, Exhibitions Manager, for a chat about the series. 

CAITLIN HARPSTER: How did Screenings come to fruition?

OWEN SMITH: We have had special occasion screenings in the past at the Mattress Factory, and we have this big, lovely screen, which is an under-utilized opportunity. I wanted to have something on the screen all day for the general public to see, so I took inspiration from our Gestures series and invited artists to do something quick and dirty, low budget…a gesture. The screenings are meant to be immediate works, more like loose sketches, and in doing so, the artist is forced to experiment and take risks, perhaps creating something that is different from their overarching perception of their own work.

I gave everyone carte blanche to do whatever they wanted—to program that screen, basically. I didn’t have any preconceptions of what I wanted them to do. I had only two stipulations: I asked that they create something new, and that whatever they created be silent.

CH: How did you choose the artists to showcase?

OS: I really wanted artists who came from all different types of background in video. For instance, Stamatis Marinos works primarily with documentary film. Tzarinas of the Plane are performance artists. Matthew Biederman creates computer-generated video installations. Carrie Schneider is a wonderful photographer. I invited a diverse group of artists in hopes that they create something outside of what they are used to creating.

CH: Can you talk about the first work of the screening series, Stamatis Marinos’ regeneration?

OS: Stamatis’ background is in documentary film. I was very pleased that he went outside his normal practice and created something more experimental. Stamatis took a clip from the Internet and appropriated it. He wanted time-lapse footage of something growing and dying. The two mushrooms shown on the screen were out of sync with each other as they grew and died. It was a very touching little narrative within the film. The individual grids on the screen were also out of sync with each other. What I found most interesting was that while it was silent, it was the equivalent of a musical round. When you sing a round, you are out of sync individually, but as a whole there is a beautiful rhythm that is created. The same goes for regeneration. It is a different experience depending upon how you focus your attention on it.

CH: Tzarinas of the Plane are currently screening their work now. What are your thoughts on their creation?

OS: Tzarinas of the Plane created two films, essentially. The first one, Mediation on the Making of Madness is a documentation of the two of them in free form—how they come up with their costumes and the process of how they work together. I wasn’t expecting that at all, but I was very pleased that they focused on that part of their artistic process. The second part, Ping-pong, is really interesting, especially devoid of sound. It is accelerated to a speed that, paired with its silence, appears very Charlie Chaplin-like. And I like the run around the table and never actually playing ping-pong. They obviously like to have fun.

Last Saturday, Tzarinas of the Plane came to the Mattress Factory for a special performance called, Bag Animals. Every spring in the artists' home of Detroit, plastic shopping bags will slowly appear as the snow melts. In their performance, Tzarinas of the Plane wore costumes made entirely of plastic shopping bags and acted like animals. Sometimes they were orangutans, sometimes squirrels, sometimes raccoons. At the very end of the performance they switched personae and started to beautifully play a concertina and sing opera. It was great. The best part is that I had no plan for Screenings to include live performance. It was just something that happened though the process of working with the artists.

CH: What can we expect from the upcoming artists?

OS: I am really not sure. That is the point, as well as the fun of it. So far I have had a documentary filmmaker create an experimental work, and two performers create a documentary work. Anything can happen.

The next Screenings installment, by Steve Summers, will debut Friday, March 29 and run through Thursday, April 11, 2013. For more information on Screenings please visit the Mattress Factory’s website.

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