“I think the most effective forms of critique are ones that establish a common ground for people to occupy, and then appeal to the best nature of people on that common ground.” –Mohsin Hamid
#thisistomorrow is a relevant title for a set of visuals, texts and actions describing the current state of local and global affairs. It deflates the present through the lens of the many hardships associated with real change. Tomorrow may not be much different than a present that is flocked with turmoil, political mediocrity, corruption and poverty—all intertwined with violence and the misinterpretation of power. #thisistomorrow also candidly implies what we, or the next generation, will inherit. As dismal as this reality is, it also creates a space where artists and thinkers can creatively re-imagine a different future.
An optimistic tomorrow is perhaps a society that has not fully reduced language and communication to the will of technology. Another tomorrow is hopefully a society where policy can be generated from the street corner or cul-de-sac. If the obvious question is how do we arrive at another tomorrow? – then a direct answer is to expand the roles that are prescribed or that we signed up to play. In contemporary art, this implies a shift from singular, handmade forms to collaboration writ large, away from the studio and into the community, and away from the market towards shared models of sustainability.
In her first solo exhibition in Washington, Dutch-born Chicago-based artist Kirsten Leenaars presents a suite of video installations and text-based works that taken as a whole are both a starting point and departure from our current political climate. #thisistomorrow brackets recent events such as Ferguson and Charlie Hebdo, among others, in order to form a sociopolitical space that can exist outside of the media and in the hands of a community.
Especially conceived for DCAC and filmed in DC, her newest video piece mines the tradition and format of the protest song – and protest poem – as an open call that brings together a range of local performers, musicians and poets to cathartically respond with their own artistic inflections and concerns. Re-mixed as a narrative sequence rather than a series of auditions, the video acts as a form of creative reportage uncovering personal experiences, collective histories, and a form of succinct expression that is devoid of hashtags, social media and politicized slogans. What surfaces is a cross-section of a local, creative community’s response to the abuse of power and the radicalization of ideas. The performers in the video include: Shanna Lim, Born I Music, Joseph Ross, Katy Richey, Alan King, Abby Braithwaite, Courtney Dowe, Mansoor Celestin, and Ethelbert Miller.
Two additional works form a conceptual triangle. A series of appropriated text-based works derived from protest signs and placards of grievance, such as “Je suis Charlie,” highlight the possible shift towards an empathetic social consciousness. Yet they also implicate the subjective nature of language. Words, too, have the power to align themselves into unexpected chords of nuance, to pivot and reveal. Leenaars’ second video, Not In Another Place, But This Place… (Happiness), addresses the personal and collective notions of happiness. Acting as a neighborhood artist-in-residence in Edgewater, Chicago, Leenaars worked with local residents from all walks of life to respond to the prompt in the American Declaration of Independence—the pursuit of happiness. The three-channel video is composed of scenes in which community participants embody their version of happiness through various performative actions within specifically designed sets.
As with most of Leenaars’ work, her projects’ participants are given both the power and the role to complete the artwork rather than just being the subject in it. This spirit of art making underscores a progression in art, where the artist’s practice is perhaps more akin to that of a choreographer, producer and community activist. The space shared, as opposed to created, is rendered visible through vestiges of organizing, mediation and activation instead of mere depiction. If activism can be considered a seed, Kirsten Leenaars sets out to germinate communities so that they too can reconsider their roles and hopefully transform from witnesses to agents of change.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Kirsten Leenaars’ practice is a hybrid of social practice, video and performance-based work that engages with specific people and communities. Her work oscillates between fiction and documentation, reinterprets personal stories and reimagines everyday realities through staging, improvisation and play. She examines the very nature of our own constructed realities, the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we identify with, in order to explore the way we relate to one another. In her work she brings to light a shared humanity, often through humor and play. She has shown and developed work for numerous national and international venues including, Museo Universitario del Chopo (Mexico City), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Elaine L. Jacob Gallery (Detroit), Printed Matter (New York), Wexner Center (Columbus), Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam), and Kunst Fabrik (Munchen). She has also shown extensively in artspaces such as Glass Curtain Gallery, Threewalls, 6018 North, and Hyde Park Art Center, all in Chicago. Leenaars is currently an Assistant Professor in the Contemporary Practices department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
José Ruiz is a Peruvian-born artist and curator. He received his MFA in 2004 from the San Francisco Art Institute’s New Genres program and BA from the University of Maryland. During the past 15 years, he has shown his work in U.S. cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC and internationally in countries such as Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Japan, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, South Korea, and the Netherlands. His projects have been featured in museums such as El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum of Art, Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo de Arte de El Salvador, and the Van Abbe Museum. Ruiz’s practice has been the subject of various publications, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, ARTnews, Arte al Dia, Artnet, and the Washington Post. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at George Washington University, Maryland Institute College of Art, Moore College of Art & Design and University of Maryland University College. Additionally, he is the founder of Furthermore— a research, production and development lab in Washington, DC—and a co-founder of Present Company—a Brooklyn-based exhibition, performance and social space.
For more images of the show: https://kirstenleenaars.wordpress.com/thisistomorow-installation-views-show/
For more images of the text work: https://kirstenleenaars.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2734&action=edit&message=1
For the video #thisistomorrow: https://kirstenleenaars.wordpress.com/thisistomorrow/