INTERVIEW Jarrett Earnest, Leigha Mason, Alex Sloane, and Whitney Vangrin of 1:1
1:1 is a new project space in New York’s Lower East Side founded by artists Jarrett Earnest, Leigha Mason, Alex Sloane, and Whitney Vangrin. Since celebrating its opening on March 10, the space already boasts an impressive and diverse schedule of exhibitions, performances, and collaborative events. Riot of Perfume visited 121 Essex Street 2nd floor to discuss 1:1’s development.
Desi Gonzalez: I love the part of your mission statement in which you describe your space as “welcom[ing] contradiction.” I think this is a great place to start. Can you tell me more about how 1:1 welcomes contradiction?
Leigha Mason: The foundation of 1:1 is the social possibilities of a physical space, which I think is inevitably full of contradictions. We aren’t trying to deconstruct something in order to install a solution, but more to excite a series of activity. It isn’t a pessimistic project, but I don’t believe in utopia either. We aren’t interested in policing ourselves.
Jarrett Earnest: “We welcome contradiction” refers to how we’re treating the space in the way we frame it, both in language and the way we organize events. We’re advocating for certain artists or practices, and we stand behind what we believe in, but that should never be hammered down. To be against contradiction in that sense, or even simply “changing your mind” would be castrating and very conservative.
Alex Sloane: We really are a whole mix of contradictions. None of us have the same idea of what this place is, and that’s kind of what makes it work.
Gonzalez: How did 1:1 come together? When did you four first conceive of the space, and when did it finally open?
Sloane: Our grand opening was on the eve of March 10. We moved in on March 1 and only had a 9 day turn-around for the actual space in terms of cleaning it up, painting, installing the show, etc. But the idea to open a space as an art project had been brewing in each of us for months. We had all sorts of ideas, this desire for something different.
Whitney Vangrin: It wasn’t just a desire – it was a necessity.
Mason: Yes, I found it impossible to exist in the presented, systematic way of living. It was totally necessary for me to carve out my own space, or else I was going to die.
Earnest: Putting up shows is always, inherently, making an argument, even if it is indirect. The things that you show, the way that you show them, the whole framework is an argument. I was seeing a lot of arts institutions being hesitant to make judgment calls or advocating strongly for positions. Yesterday, Whitney and I saw The Ungovernables at the New Museum, which is almost like a sociological or half-anthropological view.
Sloane: It’s so removed.
Mason: A survey of neutrality.
Earnest: We’re interested in sincere and playful ideas.
Gonzalez: How did the name 1:1 come about?
Earnest: Our location is 121 Essex Street—one two one. But then we arrived at this image of the proportion 1:1; it encapsulated a lot of things we wanted to do with the space.
Sloane: We had different conceptions of what the ratio represents; Genesis & Chaos, one to one intimate personal interactions, a pouring ratio to mix silicones, it’s infinite!
Gonzalez: How do you all know each other, and how did you come together in establishing this space?
Mason: Whitney, Jarrett and I met when we were 16 and living in Oakland. We all moved to New York at separate times and intersected.
Vangrin: I moved to New York first. I hadn’t seen Jarrett in years, and when he came, we went to see the W.A.C.K. show at PS1. We were both absolutely in love with a lot of feminist artists, and we had such an intense connection over the work. Then Jarrett went back to the West Coast and I didn’t see him, but the following year, Leigha showed up in New York.
Mason: We ran into each other in an elevator.
Gonzalez: That’s amazing.
Vangrin: And then we met Alex, who was coming from across the ocean, and eventually we went back over the ocean—
Sloane: Leigha and Whitney saw a performance that I was workshopping at the time, and they were all brutally honest. Leigha actually attacked me with confetti in the middle of the performance. I was so upset, I broke picture frames and started yelling and bawling. We somehow became friends! Leigha and Whitney were in a show at ICA London last summer, and came to stay with me in Gloucestershire. It was a part of my life in New York coming to see my life in rural England.
Mason: We’ve been together through a lot of intense and stressful situations.
Gonzalez: What are your backgrounds as artists? Whitney, you’re starting a performance here next month, right?
Vangrin: I work as a performance artist but also as a sculptor. The sculpture is always intertwined; it’s something I don’t think will escape my performative work for a long time. I’m interested in the relationships between the performer, the “prop”, and the audience. My last long-term performance was based around Joan Of Arc and Maria Falconetti. I’m attracted to what film actresses experience: the idea that you’re performing but you feel “authentic” and painful emotions at the same time. I also come from a catholic family. In The Joan Cycle, I knelt on a slate slab for nearly 2 hours (among other self-inflicted regimentation). It was a painful thing, but I think there is something in the consciousness of presenting a live female body in pain to an audience and considering what the reaction and responsibility of the audience might be. It’s about what happens to your body when you’re watching another body. I’m now working on a performative triptych that is a sort of continuation of my Joan of Arc work. The first section will be a SWEAT PIECE that I present in April here at 1:1.
Sloane: My performances are also concerned with the complexities between the experience and depiction of the female body. My performances and photographs come out of a very traditional approach to artmaking, I used to do an awful lot of still life paintings. I happen to really love still life paintings, I still do. I think that the still life still holds significance for contemporary art. We all do, 1:1 is actually constructing a massive still life in the Banquet for Artaud here on April 7. Anyways, I moved from painting to making tableaux utilizing my body; there’s generally no movement happening within them. It’s a visual still life with living elements. I’m also very concerned with the distinction between performance for the camera and performance before a live audience, and how this generates different reception.
Mason: I started out doing a lot of image-driven paintings, things about disease, and their political context. Then I got really disillusioned by the idea of making what I felt were passive objects, so I started doing really aggressive performances where I was disrupting lectures, things like that. I was against these factories of role-making. After being involved with some of the Occupation, I realized that actually representation plays a crucial role in protest, and in ‘action’ in general. I’ve been trying to come to terms with recent political implications of modes of representation by making film, since they are, in a way, images and objects but they’re also not.
Gonzalez: Right, they’re not so static.
Mason: Yeah. The work that I have up now at 1:1 is a film I’ve been working on for a while based on a Brecht narrative of BAAL, which is a name that is separately used to communicate both demon and deity. There are some personal experiences that play into the film as well. Even though I’m working on a lot of other things, 1:1 is the most important and lively “work” for me right now.
Gonzalez: I’ve noticed that—how in this space you don’t just produce discrete projects. There is a thread of thought running through all exhibitions, performances, and events. Especially in the way that you incorporate your own work into the space.
Mason: We’re really event-driven. It’s important that we have active bodies that have to navigate the space, and have to navigate each other and various other practices.
Earnest: Obviously the body and performativity are something we’re all very involved in. That’s what connects our work. The public-facing work I do is primarily writing, both in an academic context as a doctoral student in art history, and in criticism for the Brooklyn Rail and other magazines, but I also make performances and draw. I do performances that are based on taking other forms, especially artist talks or lectures, and trying to explode those. The last big one I did was about Dolly Parton and performativity and psychoanalysis.
You mentioned that we incorporate our own work into the space. We’re showing a lot of people who might be our friends, but are also the smartest or most interesting people we know. And necessarily, there would be no reason to do the space if I didn’t feel so strongly about the work of these three women I work with. It would be a crime not to include their work.
Part of what we like doing is taking hero figures, like Genesis P-Orridge, or who are now dead, like Pasolini or Brecht, and recontextualizing their practice in the contemporary moment, while at the same time contextualizing our work and the work of our peers. We hope to articulate alternative lineages in relationship to others.
Gonzalez: Okay, so this neighborhood: you’re in the Lower East Side. Why did you choose this location for the space, considering three of you live in Brooklyn?
Mason: There are a lot of spaces in this proximity that we respect and want to be in dialogue with.
Gonzalez: Which spaces?
Mason: Participant Inc., Reena Spaulings, CAGE. These are people that have been really helpful, that we want to do things with, and be in dialogue with.
Vangrin: We are also aware of a constant relationship to history, and how things that have happened can leave spaces or neighborhoods psychically charged. There’s an embedded history on the Lower East Side.
Mason: 1:1 is haunted.
Gonzalez: Do you have any other relationships with institutions or individuals that have been instrumental in founding 1:1?
Sloane: We were really lucky to get access to Materials for the Arts, which we gained through our association with Franklin Furnace and [its founder] Martha Wilson, who we knew—she’s utterly fantastic.
Gonzalez: Do you work with her?
Mason: Well, Franklin Furnace accepts tax-deductible donations on our behalf. Martha had been really helpful in terms of giving us advice.
Gonzalez: How do you know her?
Mason: Whitney, Alex, and I used to workshop performances with her. She’s been something of a mentor for all three of us.
Vangrin: The power of this woman who’s always supported artists in so many regards and [her power] to continue to be so supportive of our project, is something that I am in awe of and extremely grateful for.
Interview by Desi Gonzalez
Photographed by Gregory Aune