Two new art projects at Public Space One in Iowa City are perfectly tailored for the current moment, though they were planned long before the coronavirus pandemic led to recommendations for social distancing.
The first, “Post-Consumer Content,” is a series of outdoor art installations that launches Sunday and continues through August 14, with a new artist featured each week.
The second is a new website, afrofuturist.center, to showcase work by artists at Public Space One’s Center for Afrofuturist Studies, beginning with new work by artist Antoine Williams.
Black Fusionist Society
Williams, a contemporary artist and assistant professor of art at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the current Center for Afrofuturist Studies artist-in-residence, though that residency had to become virtual due to the pandemic. Normally, the residents come to live in Iowa City to produce work, but Williams worked with the center from home.
His project, “Black Fusionist Society,” is entirely digital and meant to be interactive. Williams started with a true historical event, the 1898 massacre of Black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina, when a white mob overthrew the local elected officials, burned down a Black newspaper and killed scores of people. With that as his vantage point, Williams then imagined an alternative future for the survivors of Wilmington and built a mythos and secret society for them known as the Black Fusionist Society, which uses social justice, creativity and science to defeat white supremacy. His imagined society has a series of mythic beings the society members call on and interact with, each an anthropomorphized version of a truth they live with.
The idea, Williams said, is for other artists and writers to take the world he has imagined and add to it, creating their own stories and art to add to the Black Fusionist universe. People are encouraged to share their creations with the hashtag #blackfusionistsociety. In the future, Williams hopes to collect submissions online or create a way for people to upload them. He also hopes to host virtual meetings of the Black Fusionist Society, where people can come together online to share ideas, stories and art.
“I created a few texts and images that are meant to serve as the foundation for the story. There’s a manifesto, a history, a set of beliefs. This serves as the foundation,” he said. “I’m inviting other artists, other writers, to build upon this narrative, however they see fit ... Hopefully it’s this communal art making effort.”
He said while he always planned to share the work digitally, his original plan was to simply create his own work and put it up online. But the circumstances of the pandemic made him want to bring in the interactive element.
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“Once the quarantine happened, that need to connect became even more apparent, and the communal aspect of the piece became more prominent,” he said. “It became less about me making stuff and more about … how do I connect with this community?”
Williams’ residency, which is funded in part from the VIA Art Fund, also will include a livestreamed virtual conversation at 6 p.m. Monday on the Center for Afrofuturist YouTube channel with cultural organizer LaTanya Autry and scholar Tiffany Holland.
Iowa City artist Louise Fisher curated the Post-Consumer Content show, which debuts Sunday. She said she was interested in themes of sustainability and ecology and how those interact with the creation and consumption of art itself.
“It was always this negotiation of, if I’m making art about climate change, does it make sense to use materials that contribute to greenhouse gasses, or if I’m making work about toxic waste, why would I use toxic materials?” she said. Some people think it’s a necessary evil, but other people take it as hypocrisy. I don’t think artists can be perfect and know all of the impacts of the material or presentations on the environment, but we still have to try.”
The artists she chose for the series of exhibits focus on sustainable and reused materials. Each will have their work displayed outside Public Space One’s two houses at 225 and 229 N. Gilbert St. in Iowa City for one week.
Fisher said they always planned to have the exhibit outside, but the timing worked out especially well with the pandemic, since the art nonprofit has closed its indoor gallery space to the public.
She said she also hopes the show encourages the community to engage with the space, which the nonprofit just moved into last year.
“We’re trying to show the community we’re an art space, we’re not someone’s private house … It’s not just a mowed lawn with bushes, it’s more something that would surprise people as they’re walking down the street and would delight them and make them pause,” she said.
For those who are unable to visit Iowa City to see the work in person, Public Space One’s Media Arts Co-op will help Fisher produce short videos of each installation, which will be shared on Public Space One’s social media pages. Caitlin Mary Margarett’s installation also will include a performance at 5:30 p.m. on July 20, which will take place outdoors for a socially-distanced and masked audience.
The schedule for the exhibits is:
July 12 to 17: Jagar Palad, MFA candidate at the University of Iowa whose work draws from the waste of industrial production and consumerism
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July 19 to 24: Caitlin Mary Margarett, combining performance and object-making with an interest in feminist spirituality, systems of flourishing, and suffering
July 26 to 31: Ayla Boylen, a Cedar-Rapids-based climate activist and artist
Aug. 2 to 7: Tim Tabor, an Iowa City artist and child-care provider whose sculptural work repurposes discarded and previously-used objects
Aug. 9 to 14: Peggy Fitzgerald, an artist and educator who will co-create a Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) with youth participants from the Prairie School of Art.
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