By Scott Schultheis
Early in March, I moderated a talk by two InLiquid artist members, photographer Jaime Alvarez and painter Mary Henderson, at Park Towne Place Apartment Homes. A little context:
The event was the result of a partnership between InLiquid and Park Towne, and, ultimately, with AIMCO, the Apartment Investment Management Company, which has managed the redevelopment of the buildings and provides funding to InLiquid for its arts programming taking place there. The partnership works, as any partnership does, both ways. It outfits Park Towne with a more culturally rich amenity for current and prospective residents. The exhibitions, talks, and workshops are open to the public too, so although the four towers are reminiscent of a campus or estate, anybody can attend these art events. One of the explicit ambitions of the partnership is to reframe the residence as an art destination in the midst of its neighbors, which include the Barnes Foundation and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is still early in the project, and the integration of residential life with art recreation and the surrounding community continues to present new opportunities and challenges.
On the other side is InLiquid, which provides a public service to artists by connecting them with spaces, and, therefore, people. The partnership gives it the opportunity to host more programming. It provides InLiquid with a consistent venue to feature its artist members. And it has put more people, like me, to work, as I help conceptualize and introduce the programming and generate residential and community interest in it.
This map of the partnership — and, generally speaking, the intersection of corporate support and the nonprofit organization — is an important back story that is available to artists and their advocates to become more aware of, in order to increase consciousness about the social function of art today and what is affecting the mobility of artists within their communities.
The curious inner workings of this creative partnership are quietly bouncing around in my subconscious during the fireside chat with Jaime and Mary in Park Towne’s Oar Pub. There is, in fact, a working fireplace in the room, inches behind Jaime, Mary, and me, and while I can only speak for myself, assuming everyone’s sweat glands were behaving regularly, I speculate that I wasn’t the only one whose back was perspiring furiously. The Oar Pub is a social room normally for resident use, which has a beautiful gas stove, large flat screen televisions, and lots of wide-armed, comfortable chairs which, alongside the dark wooden surfaces and literal oars and other aquatic decoration feels like a living room in a handsome lodge.
I invited Jaime and Mary because of a hunch that their works both addressed the position of witness. I was interested in the ways that each of them invoked their position as finder and documenter of left-behind objects or experiences and rituals that they and their peers took part in. In each of their talks, they referred to the specific source material, which they either happened upon, or were a participant in themselves, and they broke down the filtration of all this stuff through the instruments of their respective medium. Jaime would alter tchotchkes with paint before photographing them, and Mary composed made-up events by splicing together figures from a variety of sources. Which is to say that their work implied something ulterior; their aspirations clearly went beyond the technically slick surfaces of their images. This isn’t an exceptional fact but is worth noting given how much their works can feel like documentation. Both of them expanded on their interests generously during their talks.
A few pearls stood out in hindsight, which included a simple definition by Jaime of what it meant to fetishize something – in respect to a project where he procured dozens of figurines from thrift shops, which he painted black and photographed at a fixed distance from behind. Paraphrasing him, his treatment of each subject “fetishized it by giving it a look that enhanced the object to make it a little bit more desirable in its shape”. Mary reflected her recent experiences giving similar talks in her tone. While speaking about her series “Sunday Paintings”, which features, in her words, the leisure activities of fellow gentrifiers, she was direct about how indirect her pictures can be, with people and places often drawn from composites of source imagery. Yet, while many of her paintings become pictures of nobody, in particular, they often solicit everyone, in general, as evidenced in her remark about one piece that shows a woman holding a baby while using an iPhone: “not me, not my kid, not my city but pretty much my lived experience”. We can each relate to a version of this feeling of floating above one’s body, especially while scrolling through a social media feed, where we see that certain activities and images no longer really belong to us only, but behave as a model that is constantly performed by our peer groups.
Each artist confessed to being a little envious of the other (a revelation taking place at the moment, as neither of them was well acquainted with the other’s work before this day), which I took to be enviable itself, since it 1: revealed a newly discovered kinship, and 2: verified one of the big paradoxes – that the folly of believing yourself to be an exceptional vision machine (aka artist) is in part sustained by the evidence that somebody else always renders reality in a flabbergastingly peculiar and personal way.
The next talk at Park Towne Place features InLiquid artist member Paul Fabozzi and will take place on June 1st, from 6 – 8 pm.