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  • New York City has an ever changing art landscape. With the countless shows that go up on a weekly basis there are many topics that are explored and a wide array of artists featured in them. One such show opening this week is Art for Progress’s “Déjà vu.” This exhibition will be on display from October 30th through November 12th with an opening reception being held on Thursday evening from 6-10 pm at NOoSPHERE Gallery.

    Two of the the artists in the show, Essam and gilf! are creating art in a similar conceptual style. Essam is a New York City based artist who makes work that “seeks to create conversations on both social and political issues.” Much of the work that Essam produces is in direct reaction to his time spent in the US military. gilf! is a Brooklyn based artist who is creating art with a similar political edge. gilf’s work grew out of her need to “protest the Bush administration” which turned into a larger project responding to “ the crumbling structures of society” which uses “concept specific materials to present new perspectives to her viewers.” It is in both artists push to force conversations around difficult sociocultural issues which is helping to create a new form of dialogue around important topics.

    Essam was born in New York City and raised in Maine. As a child, he was exposed to the arts early on, “I had fantastic arts educators in my early years in Maine, they really helped me realize that art was was my path.” It was these early experiences with art which helped foster Essam’s visual practice. In 2003, Essam joined the US Army where he worked as a geospatial analyst.

    Essam said, “The military became the means to that end, eventually paying for the lions share of my education at School of Visual Arts. It also had a huge influence on who I have become and what I now choose to make work about. It was an incredibly disenchanting experience, and I think you will find most veterans today have a similar feeling. When you risk your life in no uncertain terms for values that your actions are directly subverting it has a profound impact on your perception of yourself and your role in society, and that’s the place from which my work is created.” After serving in the army for three years, Essam eventually found his way back to New York City. In 2006, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the School of Visual Arts. At SVA, Essam began to make work about his military experience which evolved in a larger project.
    Image courtesy of Essam

    In 2012, Essam gained national notoriety surrounding his drone campaign series. This work helped to develop dialogue on “the foreign and domestic UAV use.” Although the drone campaign series helped to create a larger conversation around this controversial issue, it also got the artist arrested. While his scrape with the law hasn’t changed the subject matter Essam is working with, it has changed the modes in which he works.

    For the “Déjà vu” show Essam created the piece Res Judicata. Essam described how the piece came about, “Res Judicata was born out of the FAA’s decision to open commercial airspace in the U.S. to a rather large number of UAV’s by 2015. I wanted to use photography to somehow represent the changing landscape that will ensue when this transition has taken effect.” Through the use of a laser projector, Res Judicata will display “a large neon drone on the ground in front of the gallery which spins slowly firing occasional projectiles.”
    Image courtesy of Essam

    Responding to the same set of complicated political and cultural circumstances, gilf! makes works in a related vein. In 2003, while doing a semester abroad in Florence as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, gilf! witnessed street protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She said, “I watched in awe as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest as America invaded Iraq. Travel is always the best way to expand one’s mind and that trip crystallized so much for me in terms of politics, and humanity. I started making political work soon after those experiences.” This experience abroad help gilf! realize the kind of art she wanted to make.

    As a cross disciplinary artist with strong ties to the street art community, gilf! characterizes her work in the following way, “I have worked to create new patterns of thought in the viewer. The work is starting to shift a bit though and I’m slowly recognizing the importance of the process and how that affects me and the work itself. It’s an amazing transformation to be guided by the work instead of controlling it so much.” It is in gilf’s shift towards a process based framework which is helping her to create a different kind of art.

    Image courtesy of gilf!

    However creating work as a female in the street art scene, gilf! has experienced sexism, “Sexism is inherent in our patriarchal societal systems. I have to be mindful of that gap between the sexes, which means nothing is promised and I have to always hustle a bit harder to be heard and seen. I was raised to always work hard which has served me well when understanding the additional hurdle of being female in a male dominated world.” While this is a very prevalent issue within today’s society, gilf! is doing her best to work past in her own way.

    For the “Déjà vu” exhibit and a larger performance piece, gilf! wore a prison jumpsuit for the month of October. gilf! Described how the idea came about in the following way, “I’ve been spending time with the band The Last Internationale- an activist rock band based in LA. They’re throwing a free concert on October 30th to raise awareness around Prop 47, a proposition on the ballot in California this Election Day to lower or abolish mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses. They’re rockin prison jumpsuits for the show and asked me to create some work on them. After the idea sunk in, I wondered what kind of effect would be had by wearing a jumpsuit all month.” Through wearing a jumpsuit for the month, gilf! has interacted with people in a different way. She said “Wearing a jumpsuit everyday for a month has allowed me to interact with the general public and have all sorts of crazy discussions with strangers, get people thinking, and aware about the crumbling structures of our justice system. It’s been so educational and eye opening for me. I’m really enjoying the experience.” gilf’s performance is not helping to raise awareness about proposition 47 in California, but also about the prison system in the U.S. in general.

    Image courtesy of gilf!
    It is both Essam’s and gilf’s art that are asking the hard questions and is making viewers confront a variety of social realities today. By creating thought provoking work, more conversations can begin to be sparked which hopefully can led to the changes in the world both artists hope to see.

    Join Essam and gilf! for an artist’s talk on November 12th from 6-8 PM at NOoSPHERE Gallery.
    –Anni Irish

  • I am delighted to be blogging (every 8th and 25th of the month) about film for Art for Progress. The organization/site’s dual mission – supporting emerging artists and arts education – is an admirable one, especially given the stratospheric real estate prices in New York and other cities that have traditionally incubated arts scenes, and the deep cuts in pubic school arts education. The ever-escalating mainstream media coverage of celebrity-driven — as opposed to talent-driven — arts and entertainment doesn’t help the current climate. Fortunately, blogs such as this exist!

    In the past 20-or-so years of writing about movies for a variety of print and digital outlets, I’ve covered everything from major Hollywood releases to little-heralded films, interviewed (i.e., was allotted 15 phone minutes with) major movie stars and had long, insightful conversations with extremely independent filmmakers. It’s all been good, but I especially relish writing about lesser-known films and their creators; it’s always satisfying to encounter a fresh cinematic voice and easy to get caught up in the excitement of the filmmakers themselves. That’s mainly the stuff I plan to cover here.

    Courtesy of FilmBuff

    Courtesy of FilmBuff

    The Heart Machine, which received a lot of positive attention at this year’s SXSW Festival, is the first feature from writer/director Zachary Wigon, who used Kickstarter to help fund it. A 2008 graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Wigon has a background in film journalism. While at school he started a cinema studies magazine and later contributed to Indiewire and Filmmaker magazine; he still writes for the Village Voice.

    Though many have compared The Heart Machine to 2010’s Catfish — another film about a questionable online romance — The Heart Machine is a moodier, more atmospheric work, with an underlying theme about modern-day relationships and the digital environment that has transformed both the way they form and how they play out (or don’t).

    John Gallagher Jr. (Cody) and Kate Lyn Sheil (Virginia) both fine, naturalistic actors — play a couple who meet via OkCupid and conduct what seems like an ideal long-distance relationship via Skype; he’s in Brooklyn; she’s in Berlin. When Cody hears police sirens on her end that sound suspiciously American, he begins what becomes near-obsessive research (much of it online) to figure out whether she’s messing with him and why. As his suspicions mount, he plays detective and puts himself into increasingly risky situations, all the while keeping up the Skype relationship with Virginia. Alternately, there are scenes from her point of view, which provide a nice counterpoint without decreasing the film’s tension.

    Both Cody and Virginia use various online tools (Gmail, Facebook, Blendr, Craigslist, Twitter), to get what they need in The Heart Machine. Though these are common conveniences for most of us, when presented onscreen en masse they’re a somewhat startling reminder of how casually dependent we’ve become on digital devices and how they’ve altered our lives as well as those of the film’s protagonists.

    Rob Leitzell’s cinematography is dark, straightforward and compelling; his nicely-composed shots of familiar New York spaces — sidewalks, building facades, parks, subways and various interiors — provide an additional layer of engagement for city dwellers who can identify, and identify with, these locations. All in all, it’s a solid debut from a promising filmmaker.

    The Heart Machine (Pacemaker Films, FilmBuff) is currently playing at Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th Street, Manhattan.

    Also of note: Revenge of the Mekons, a documentary by Joe Angio about the venerable British punk band, playing at Film Forum, Oct. 29 through Nov. 4; Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History through Sunday; Other Israel Film Festival at various venues around town, Nov. 6 through 13.

    Marina Zogbi

  • reptar

    Reptar at Baby’s All Right. Photo Credit: Zoe Marquedant.

    There isn’t a more musically diverse city than New York. The boroughs boast every kind of venue, from coffee shops to concert halls. From Barclays to The Bowery to The Silent Barn, there is a constant flow of musicians moving amongst, around and through NYC. Whether they are defining or defying a genre, each strive to make their mark. This blog aims to explore that journey and report on what the natives and newcomers are coming up with. On the 3rd and 20th of every month we will post on the up and coming, the established, the solo acts and the full bands, doing our best to bring you what’s news and what’s new. Open mic nights, co-headlined tours, battles of the bands and quality buskers are all fair game; we aim to bring you a mix of everything. We want to include the five person Balkan brass bands, the shoegazing indie rockers, head-smashing metal acts and whatever else this city may culture in its midsts. We understand that the NYC music scene is ever changing and we plan to keep pace. We won’t tell you who to see or who to listen to, but if you would like suggestions we’re here to help. We will be posting interviews, concert recaps, album reviews and any related news, all with the aim of making you a better informed listener. Welcome and we hope you enjoy the ride.

    About your blogger: Zoe Marquedant grew up listening to, playing and illegally downloading (whoops) music. Nowadays there is rarely a moment when she does not have her headphones in. Although a longstanding fan of punk rock, Zoe has broadened her musical tastes and over the years added everything from LCD Soundsystem to Herman’s Hermits to her iPod. Some of her favorite bands include The National, Jack’s Mannequin and Third Eye Blind. Zoe believes in crowd surfing, music zines and preordering CDs. Originally from Maryland, she came to New York for college and never left. Zoe majored in English literature and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Now living in Brooklyn, Zoe is slowly, but surely expanding her knowledge of New York City’s bands and venues (although DC’s 9:30 Club will always be her  all-time favorite.) She is honored and delighted to share this musical journey with you, because as much as she is a journalist she is also a fan. If you’d like to hear more from her/suggest something for a blog/swap mix tapes Zoe can be found on Twitter at @zoenoumlaut.

    Zoe Marquedant

    The author. Photo Credit: Zoe Marquedant.

  • September has been another exciting month for AFP Arts Education. We have been forming alliances with a variety of other non-profit groups, as well as getting this semester’s programs under way. Teaching artist Elio Schiavo has been doing a great job with our new partner LACASA at P.S. 84. Elio is teaching four percussion classes per week to K-4 students.

    I have hit the ground running at Humanities Prep this semester. In addition to having two great groups of kids in my regular classes, I have some very dedicated and focused students attending, and we are getting into some great stuff, including song analysis, learning how to identify the key or keys of a song, and some new improvisation techniques.

    One of my favorite things about having the opportunity to teach at the same school for a third consecutive year is that new students have heard exciting things about my class from their friends. When they come to class in the beginning of the year they are eager and hopeful,  they know the class can help them achieve goals that are important to them, and they are attentive and participate with less self-consciousness. Some students who have excelled and some who were slow to appreciate the opportunity actually request to be enrolled in the class for a second time.  Whether they are expanding their repertoire or finally taking the class seriously, returning students are enthusiastic and focused without exception. Because there is a well established creative musical culture that has now been in place for two full years, students and even teachers  come by my classroom to see if they can get a few minutes of practice in or an impromptu lesson.

    After three weeks of intensive music theory instruction, my music students have begun to start to apply their new knowledge to instruments. They are now learning guitar chords, putting scales and chords together on the pianos and keyboards, and some have gravitated toward the computers where they have been learning to play beats on keyboard controllers along with the metronome in Garage Band. I can’t wait to hear the next “trap” track!

    LACASA After School Percussion  LACASA After School Percussion