Utopian Visions with Srijon Chowdhury

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Utopian Visions with Srijon Chowdhury

By Ashley Gifford October 16, 2018

In-depth, critical perspectives exploring art and visual culture on the West Coast.


The Utopian Visions Art Fair (UVAF) was publicized as “a platform for artists, gallerists, and curators to present projects that work towards possible, alternative futures."1 Traditionally, art fairs have sought to showcase artwork in a forum aimed toward generating a profit. A nontraditional approach is certainly a powerful gesture, but what are the stakes?

From the promotional material, it was obvious that the fair was a clear departure from what one might see in a blue-chip, commercial gallery. The question is boldly presented: “How do we free art from a system that both gives art its value but also makes it powerless?”2 How then would one experience the work at such a fair? Is foregrounding the experiential its aim, and to what extent does that variety of presentation also influence value? Could UVAF disrupt some ideal of what a fair even is or is meant to accomplish?

The variety of represented artworks and galleries is often a huge draw for collectors to attend art fairs, in that often many of the participants are located outside of the city that is hosting a fair. Utopian Visions could perhaps embody this sentiment in that it highlights not only variance but also the underlying motives of art fairs—namely, to connect potentially disparate audiences, to admire the work, to learn, and to be aware.

Here, the artist Srijon Chowdhury, the initiator of UVAF, speaks about its purpose, first iteration, and potential.

Utopian Visions Art Fair, installation view. Courtesy UVAF. Photo: Mario Gallucci  

Ashley Gifford: The Utopian Visions Art Fair states it is working toward possible futures. What kind of future is the fair looking to achieve? Is it achievable, and how?

Srijon Chowdhury: We asked artists, curators, and gallerists to present projects that work or think toward possible futures. The art fair was asking for possibilities, not seeking to advertise a specific one. The world we live in is a creation brought about by people working toward their ideas. Anything is achievable. For example, The Institute for Interspecies Art and Relations, a project started by Aidan Koch and included in the fair, is trying to reshape how people see themselves in relation to other species.

AG: Could you speak to the variety of artists and gallerists featured at the fair? How and for what reason were they chosen?

SC: I asked people who I think are doing interesting work and are working toward a new world. Many of the projects were platforms made by other artists for other artists. There was a lot of generosity in the projects on display. Conduit, a project by the artist Jade Novarino (who also made our logo), invited all the artists she has worked with in the past to make flags that greeted visitors as they walked toward the fair. The artist Victor Maldonado invited his students to work with him to make a project that became intertwined with the works literally supporting each other. “u” is a project and pseudonym; u creates transparent boxes as project spaces to display the work of others. Lee Pivnik’s Institute for Queer Ecology showed Mecha Body Mall, a project by Posadas (Pablo Herza + Ignacio Hernández Murillo), which in turn invited artists to wear their work and perform at the end of the first night; the artist Nicolo Gentile was included, in addition to showing his work outside.

Utopian Visions Art Fair, installation view. Courtesy UVAF. Photo: Mario Gallucci

AG: How does the message of the project differentiate itself from the message of a traditional art fair? 

SC: A traditional art fair is mostly about selling work and networking. Our fair was about making new friends and connections and starting conversations about really interesting work. A traditional art fair is hierarchical; ours is not. A traditional art fair costs money; ours does not, for neither participants nor visitors. In fact, we were able to give some participants stipends. Our fair is about community and many different types of art functioning for the benefit of that community. One of the projects from the fair that is a good example of Utopian Vision’s message was by Private Places and M. Page Greene, who performed a ritual throughout the fair to help to release pain that fairgoers may be experiencing. There was no irony or sarcasm at UVAF.

AG: How does UVAF intersect with the art-fair economy, and is it a propitious relationship?

SC: The positive aspects of the art-fair economy are that art gets sold and artists get paid and are seen and given more opportunities to make their work. The problematic aspects are the financial constraints involving the costs of a booth, travel, shipping, and so forth that make it impossible for people who don’t have all the necessary resources and support to participate. Lately a lot has been written about art fairs’ effects on galleries.

I am interested in the idea of embedding Utopian Visions within a more traditional art fair in Miami or New York to have a conversation with the art-fair economy and food-and-drink economy. Derek Franklin showed a kava fountain made of socks, steel and hoses, as well as a wind chime made of sausages. I would love to serve Derek’s drink and food at Frieze or Art Basel.

Utopian Visions Art Fair, installation view. Courtesy UVAF. Photo: Mario Gallucci

AG: How does having a dialogue at an art fair help to dismantle the traditional art fair? And is that its goal?

SC: There seems to be a prevalent feeling that nobody likes art fairs, yet they keep happening—just like most people are seemingly not served by capitalism, yet it prevails as the dominant structure. Getting people talking about the rolling ball and sharing ideas about how to stop the rolling ball is the beginning of any revolution. Asha Bukojemsky led two discussions with participating artists and curators for UVAF: one had to do with artists sharing and making space for the broader community, and the other had to do with educating while curating. Both of those topics are beginnings to dismantling the traditional art fair. I was happy that there were different levels of accessibility that made for a fulfilling experience. I brought a group of students to the fair, and we had some important conversations. Many of these students would not have previously considered a lot of projects included in the fair as art. It was a beautiful mess, with worlds and ideas converging.

Utopian Visions Art Fair was on view at Pegasus Project in Portland, Oregon from September 14 through 16, 2018.

Notes

  1. “About,” Utopian Visions Art Fair, https://utopianvisionsartfair.com
  2. “Utopian Visions Art Fair,” Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, http://pica.org/event/utopian-visions-art-fair/

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