Visual Arts

Open Studios at the Center for the Arts

by / Nov. 3, 2016 8am EST

On Thursday, November 10, 7-10 pm, the University at Buffalo graduate artists invite the public on an inside visit to their Center for the Arts studios for an interactive evening providing “a format wholly unlike any other way of experiencing art,” says Mark Shepard, co-host of the event with Stephanie Rothenberg.

Western New Yorkers, curators, aspiring makers, artists, educators, gallerists, critics, students, families, non-profit professionals, and supporters of the arts will be able to visit with more than 50 artists, and enjoy performances, screenings, installations, dialogue, and refreshments in the studios, and as the night ends, weird art people dance parties where you can move like a wacky idiot and be loved for ir. 

Rothenberg and Shepard, professors in the Art and Media Study departments, respectively, sat down for a conversation exploring Open Studio’s generative potential for collaborations with Buffalo’s cultural community at large, the city and university’s wealth of global perspectives, and all the unexpected delights that come from experiencing the intimacy of an artist’s process. 

You two are practicing artists. What does the concept of an Open Studio mean to you?

“Our North Campus is geographically removed,” Rothenberg admits, and Shepard quips, “The farmlands of Amherst.” We all laugh.

“But so many of our artists are involved in the city’s art scene and have Buffalo shows whether they’re site-specific, in gallery spaces, or performances,” Rothenberg says. “Open Studios creates a new kind of connection between the artists and their public, who will be coming to where these artists make work for the first time.

“Visiting someone’s studio is a more personal, accessible experience than going into the white cube. This is an opportunity to talk to emerging artists about their process, and to see what goes into a work of art.”

Shepard agrees: “You get a greater picture of the constellation of ideas that an artist is working with. It’s not so much: well, I made this, which lends to that, and then to that. It’s more: what surrounds my work? This enables us to see a kind of continuity of thought, a discontinuity of thought; the development of ideas, rejection of ideas. You see a set of recurrent concerns and that sometimes what one is interested in exceeds the capacity of a single work or exhibition to communicate. You see the B sides. It gives a richer context to understand the work being made.”

Rothenberg gestures around the office we’re sitting in, and I take in the mass of her art pieces, books, posters, dripping with the kind of colorful promise that makes me want to take out my phone and Google everything I see. “When you come into someone’s studio, you see the detritus that’s around, everything that won’t make it into the final work,” she says. “Well, it’s what a friend of mine, Marisa Jahn, calls the ‘byproduct’ in her edited anthology that recently came out: Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices, which examines the work of artists embedded ‘non-art’ sectors.” 

(Jahn, who I look up as soon as I get home, is a trans-media artist of Chinese and Ecuadorian descent and the founder of Studio REV, “a nonprofit organization whose public art projects and tools impact the lives of low-wage workers, immigrants, women, and youth.”)

Rothenberg continues: “It’s an opportunity to ask questions. What are intersections between the different artists? How are they commenting on the current social and political zeitgeist? A studio visit allows you to ask what you’re curious about. And it’s okay if you don’t know anything about ‘art.’ This is about having a conversation.”

Shepard adds, “It’s important when you’re seeing process-based work that there’s a kind of incompleteness to it. A complete work has cohesiveness to it; it doesn’t need anything. When you’re seeing a fragment of something that’s not yet complete, there’s an opening: there’s a space where you can enter in and contribute something. 

It seems that when you can enter into the process in a different way, there is potential for collaboration. 

“Contrary to a gallery, or a festival, or a screening series,” Shepard explains, “Open Studios creates different kinds of collaborative and connective synergies. For instance, it can connect a biology student with an artist who is experimenting with ideas coming from the biological sciences, or someone who has grown up in Buffalo with a work of art or film that changes the way they think about their future.”

“Successful collaborations tend to be based more on alchemical connections, complimentary skills, and perspectives that are mutually generative of ideas. I’ve collaborated many times throughout my life. It’s very seldom that I’ve gone to someone’s exhibition and then said: ‘I want to collaborate with you.’ Instead, the collaborative spark often arises from moments where you’re having an informal conversation and you arrive at the same time at the same idea.”

The positive aspects of Buffalo’s ambivalently termed “renaissance” are very much tied to the city’s current influx of refugees, immigrants, and asylees, as well as its recognition of its rich history as a city of immigrants. 

The negative aspects are connected to the exploitative development of the East Side, and the systemic practices of oppression perpetuated towards the city’s marginalized populations, which is of course also happening (and has always been happening) everywhere across America. 

Open Studios features artists from Iran, Mexico, Burma, China, India, South Korea, among many other countries, and including many American and locally rooted artists. How is Open Studios positioned to foster inclusion, to attract young artists from across the city of Buffalo towards the University, and to reflect awareness of the cultural and artistic genesis the city is currently experiencing?

“What’s really going on here artistically, is important in reflecting Buffalo’s ‘Renaissance’ and issues of gentrification and globalization that are happening right now,” Rothenberg says. ”There’s much more public art programming happening in Buffalo, through Universities, the Albright Knox, and other non-profit venues.

“As the city becomes increasingly cosmopolitan, it is even more important to build bridges between our artists and the city, because they will represent the city in their work. How these artists are reflecting both locally, in a micro-way, and then how they’re reflecting more globally (especially because many are internationally-based), is important to the cultural fabric of the city, and how it develops.”

Shepard adds: “One of the attractions to the city of Buffalo and the University at Buffalo is their diversity. This diversity is both a subject and a context that work happens within. It is also a condition, which produces different ways of knowing.” 

“One of the things we need to get better at, and I think this current presidential election highlights this, is developing greater degrees of tolerance for otherness. It is absolutely clear that being in an environment which nurtures difference can help us all give voice to a range of perspectives—not merely to represent them, but to engage and enact them.”

Open Studios participating artists include: Morgan Arnett, John-Patrick Ayson, Amirreza Azadeh, Galia Binder, Lindsey Baeder, Jenna Curran, Natalie DiLenno, Vinny DiVirgillio, Rachel Doktor, Bernard Dolecki, Julio Flores, Aleah Ford, Joseph Frank, Pam Glick, Yvette Granata, Yiwen Gu, Gabrielle Heard, Andie Jairam, Jonathan Joy, Kyla Kegler, Cortney Krueger, Kathleen MacNeil, Sarah Mann, Susan McWhinney, Mani Mehrvaz, Erik Miller, Bethany Moody, Maryam Muliaee, Van Tran Nguyen, Sepideh Pourhang, Javier Sanchez, Vivien Schütz, Rachel Shelton, Shikha Shahdeo, Mijin Shin, James E Simpson, Law Eh Soe, Kalpana Subramanian, Annette Daniels Taylor, Stanzi Vaubel, Ye Wang, Ridvan Yavuz, Tony Yanick, and Yuxin Zhao. 

You won’t want to miss an incredibly complementary program from the University at Buffalo Art Galleries in the Center for the Arts for the evening. 

The Anderson Gallery will feature Brazilian-Japanese artist Lydia Okumura’s SITUATIONS. The Department of Art gallery features THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS, the work of 16 select local, national, and international artists probing what it means to be human—“No longer limited by Man as the measure of all things, we can reconsider our relationships and responsibilities within a world where we are all inextricably interconnected.”