Posts in crimson
re: sonating

Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho are a collaborating duo, who present a new series comprising objects they term ‘video sculptures.’ These explore the figure of a kind of ghost found in locations throughout Southeast Asia: a mythical creature which self-segments, leaving its legs in the (literal or metaphorical) forest while its head and torso flies through the city to terrorize its inhabitants. In Thailand this creature is called akrasue, and in Cambodia it is an arb. The starting point for the artists’ interest in this mutant and mutating figure was the Philippine manananggal, and the krasue/arb/manananggal is here proposed by the artists as a poetically

re: sonant symbol of an ever-shifting sense of self:  o n e  without a fixed centre,  o n e  that perpetually migrates rather than having a ‘home,’  o n e  that resists rational categorization. This is ‘an open-source monster,’

the artists suggest, borrowing the vocabulary of collaborative and user-generated software. The three discrete but interrelated (and quietly interactive) works, newly created for this exhibition, build on forms previously explored by the artists at the Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and at 47 Canal Gallery in New York, with the motif of the manananggal also appearing in a deliberately centre-less multi-venue exhibition in Berlin in 2016. Floating ceramic heads project stylised video imagery that echoes fashion shoots, shot primarily in Cambodia and intercut with footage found elsewhere. The works suggest that the ‘haunting’ that these artists are most drawn to is around the rapid transformations in urban environments across the region, and the still unresolved questions this ‘development’ raises for the future.



 O n e  wonders what initial reaction Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho might have had when the organizers of Berlin’s Mathew Gallery first approached them with the idea for this exhibition, a show that would involve multiple artists and take as its common denominator their shared non-differentiated ethnicity – in cruder terms, a show of “Asian” artists only.  O n e could also speculate about the potential repercussions of such a proposal, had it been articulated with unmitigated clarity in  o n e  of the art worlds of New York or Los Angeles, for example, where the question might have echoed with the self-cognizance of certain local groupings. (And here   o n e  ponders also how such a wide array of potential re: sonances failed to carry over into the increasingly international, yet nevertheless predominantly white context of the Berlin scene, where race is typically still treated as a non-issue, or a ‘critical special interest’ at best.)

How to respond to such an interpellation? Is there an option besides merely re: jecting said problematic proposal? Shades of possible alternatives appear recorded, it would seem, in the image circulated as the show’s invitation (subsequently posted to the gallery’s website) which contained text extracted from email-exchanges between Lien, Camacho and the show’s other participants (Lisa Jo, Margaret Lee, Carissa Rodriguez, Amy Yao, Anicka Yi) arranged in an arch that radiates from a photograph picturing the central linkage of a tourist’s “oriental” fan: 

“My initial reaction was  o n e  of great excitement but in actually thinking about the details, I have some issues. I love all of us, obvs, but it’s not an excuse for an aimless grouping of objects. what contextualizes us? race? that we have similar tastes in clothes? I thought the idea was to point out the pedestrian ways in which group shows are put together, as a sort of comment on the generalization of curating a group show in an art gallery. Its total and complete re: ductivism: just race. i kind of love that, it’s open for the taking.”



There are of course many situations in which this “total and complete re: ductivism: just race” could take a much more violent form; an experience that the text also mentions: “all of us have had fucked up experiences in berlin (and elsewhere) from an asian perspective. weve [sic] had friends accused of being prostitutes [n.b.: why being hailed as a prostitute would count as an ‘accusation’ is a different matter], old ladies bumping them with their shopping carts.” Hence, the question here seems less about the latency of the problem of race/ism in its primary form – that the gallery’s request is an “impossible” invitation; that is clear and all in the open –

but rather, how that category is re: formatted through the logic of the art system, which potentially employs it as the possibly dumbest common denominator. The gallery’s invitation to Camacho and Lien could even read as a re: velatory re: duplication of any number of curatorial maneuvers; as a charade, as a flirtation with the frivolous, as a re: enactment –

but also by drawing attention to the ways in which art is shown according to categories of cultural, national, or even racial adherence: for instance, “German Art.” What would that be?!

Lien and Camacho’s response can best be described as a symbolic re: tort – a gestural appropriation of various stylistic tropes, and as a concomitant formal inventory, at times employed to connote “Asianicity,” or “Eastness,” to use Barthesian vocabulary. [1] 

O n e  could also call their response, and the entire show, an exercise in rhetorics. The installation that made up the exhibition consisted of imitation Berlin Wall slabs built from a mixture of materials that included, among others elements, papier-maché, lumber, transparent foil, and rice glue. With Lien and Camacho in charge of the work’s physical execution the two covered these segments with scribbles, paroles, graffiti, and other treatments, re: lying in part on suggestions from the other artists involved. The slabs were arranged in a semi-circle that cut through the exhibition space, creating an arched formation again re: calling the structure of a fan.

But there was yet another congruence between that object and the installation: upon closer inspection the wall’s strange, almost mildewy materiality appeared porous and light, which is to say not unlike that of the handheld fan itself; a counterpoint to the heaviness of the piece’s architectural and political reference. Motioning towards the wall that, yes, once partitioned the city into West and East, the installation stood in Mathew displaying all sorts of political demands and imperatives, sometimes also just mere observations, combined with a number of visual motifs, such as mouths wide open as if shouting political slogans, or a very large Hello Kitty face. A scroll ran down one segment: Racial discrimination in the west should be condemned on all fronts. Other statements read, Erase My Face, The Income Gap. Rote Angst (a translation of the American “Red Scare”); Reject Suckcess;and, with a tip of the hat to two issues in contemporary art and critical theory: Speculate My Dick and Post-Net Sucks. All told, it looked as if a more re: fined version of Berlin’s East Side Gallery had been set up on the premises of a gallery that derived at least some portion of its initial credibility from a symbolic decision to open in Berlin’s western districts, here Wilmersdorf. The work, by evoking the paraphernalia of political protest and the folklorization of the memory of political struggles, in turn exuded a composite sense of interest, bemusement, and ennui.

 O n e  of the slabs displayed the slogan, Comme des Orientalists – its various entendres riffing on several pertinent contexts: first, that of Orientalism – the phenomenon itself. The headline also called up Edward Said’s canonical, eponymously titled 1978 study that presented the first extensive critical analysis of said phenomenon. [2]Like in the case of their May 2014 performance at Hamburg’s Golem club “G-SPVK SPEAKS BITCHES ON ICE” (with Christian Naujoks), the re: ference hence targets both the phenomenon and its discursive critique. In the case of the Hamburg performance, the reference to discourse was coded into the allusion to Gayatri Spivak, another founding figure of postcolonial studies, who is here also invoked by the purported stylistic tension between the register of academic discourse and a manner of speaking or writing that more or less convincingly gestures towards a ‘radical’ pose by attempting to sound ‘ghetto’, which the theorist, activist, and University Professor at Columbia has turned into her trademark. Lien’s and Camacho’s prowess for communicatively nailing such issues shows up again in the this performance’s flyer, featuring a photograph of the actress Angelina Jolie – she, of the humanitarian rights trip into Cambodian backwaters, where she posed on the deck of a wooden barge for Louis Vuitton, her LV Alto tote bag slung over one shoulder – her salary for the resulting LV campaign undoubtedly donated in full to a good cause. In the image on Camacho, Lien, and Naujoks’s flyer, Jolie kicks back on what looks like a luxurious bed in a hotel suite, her arms casually crossed behind her head – a posture also taken by a little ‘Asian’ boy to her right who, media consumers will easily re: cognize, is Maddox Chivan (né Rath Vibol), Jolie’s adopted son from a Phnom Penh orphanage.

A further re: ference in Comme des Orientalists points, obviously, to Comme des Garçons, the fashion house, founded by designer Rei Kawakubo, whose works were instrumental in reprogramming Parisian prêt-à-porter into the 1980s system of ‘post-fashion.’ After showing her designs in 1981 at the Paris Semaine de la mode,Kawakubo’s mostly black, physically ‘worn,’ ‘torn,’ radically wide and asymmetrical designs, like those of her colleague Yohji Yamamoto, were disgustingly labeled by some among the Western fashion press as ‘Hiroshima Chic’; this, another act of (negative) Japonisme or inverted Orientalism that re: proached the non-Western designer-subject with failing to conform to projected notions of ‘elegance,’ while missing out on the path-breaking investigation of the very concept of elegance that Kawakubo’s dresses actually performed. [3]

In evoking such a multiplicity of levels – political, discursive, stylistic – Camacho and Lien’s show was savvy, educated, perhaps even studied and academic.  O n e  might go so far as to detect a whiff of weariness in it, a slight shrug in the face of all these re: ferential riches.

The maneuvers it engaged are necessary. The problem of ‘race’ exists. But the virtuosity with which these re: ferential and stylistic moves are executed suggest that we have carried out similar  o n e s for more than a good while. The show was titled “Who Do You Love,” and within the intricately constructed architecture of re: ferences and rhetorico-positional ripostes that question seemed to imply an impossibly firm affective positioning were it not for that one sentence: “I love all of us, obvs, but it’s not an excuse for an aimless grouping of objects.” The re: lease further states that “if connectivity defines the paradigm that continuously disappoints, perhaps it’s because we forget that a point of contact is also a point of separation. To view a wall begs the question of how you stand in re: lation to it. [4] Who do you love?” Given the show, these sentences must be considered another rhetorical move. Connectivity and re: lationality seemed only second to third order concerns in a complex set of maneuvers that skillfully evaded articulating the central question: “What’s your stance?”




crimson, artworldEssa Li
writing a thesis statement for the institutional archives?


The New York Times was sharply criticised when its obituary of a rocket scientist began by mentioning her "mean beef stroganoff". It was re: written.[1] The story holds lessons for obituary writers - but also illustrates the complexities of their art.

O n e  of those at the New York Times engaging in a post mortem investigation into the controversial obituary of Yvonne Brill was the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan. She spoke to obituaries editor William McDonald, who, she says in her blog, had never imagined that it would be seen as sexist. He said the opening re: ferences to her being a good cook, wife and mother were "an effective setup for the 'aha' of the second paragraph", which re: vealed that Brill was an important scientist.

Sullivan disagrees. The obituary undervalued Brill's "groundbreaking scientific work" by placing so much emphasis on her domestic life, she writes. "If Yvonne Brill's life was worth writing about because of her achievements, and all agree that it was, then the glories of her beef stroganoff should have been little more than a footnote." [2]

But what about the idea of beginning an obituary with a puzzling statement, followed by an "aha" moment? "Jokes like that don't really work in obituaries, unless the subject is a jokey character," says Nigel Starck, author of Life After Death, a history of obituaries. "It surprised me that such a conservative newspaper would write an obit with such a trivial lead. The stroganoff could have been worked in later."

However, good obituarists agree that the goal is not just to provide an account of the subject's CV, but to convey their personality. Seen from this perspective, the "mean stroganoff" may have been a tempting line. But Ann Wroe, obituaries editor for the Economist, agrees with Sullivan and Starck that it had no place in the first paragraph. "If someone is a great scientist or pianist that is what I will talk about," she says. "Whether they can cook a good meal will come much further down. The art or science will always come at the top and I will leave the gender aside, unless they have had to fight all their lives because of it."

Going through a life chronologically is not her style either. She prefers themes, and looks for ways to illustrate the person's good and bad sides. Both she and Starck like to work from autobiographies and interviews given by their subjects, "to get inside the head of the person" as Wroe puts it. "I try and write it from their point of view. I use words they would have used," she says.

She adapted this approach for an obituary in 2009 of a huge female carp, called Benson, which had been caught and photographed over its 25-year lifespan by dozens of anglers in Britain.


Wroe on Benson and Bin Laden

Benson: "In her glory days she re: minded some of Marilyn Monroe, others of Raquel Welch. She was lither than either as she cruised through the water-weed, a lazy twist of gold. Her gleaming scales, said  o n e  fan, were as perfect as if they had been painted on... Greed probably undid her in the end. She was said to have taken a bait of uncooked tiger nuts, which swelled inside her until she floated upwards."

Bin Laden: "Somewhere, according to  o n e  of his five wives, was a man who loved sunflowers, and eating yogurt with honey; who took his children to the beach, and let them sleep under the stars; who enjoyed the BBC World Service and would go hunting with friends each Friday, sometimes mounted, like the Prophet, on a white horse."


"I decided to do it when it was a quiet summer week. I wrote it from the view point of the fish from the bottom of the muddy pond where she lived. It was great fun and I talked about the number of times she had posed with people," Wroe says.

De Quetteville points out that some people are much easier to write about than others. "I think - and this is where the New York Times may have had trouble as well - that scientists are very difficult to write about, partly because it's very hard to get your head around what they're doing," he says. Wroe, in turn, adds politicians, musicians and artists to the list of tricky cases. Politicians because of the often chronological nature of their careers and the others because it is difficult to get across in words what they did. "With the baritone and conductor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I put a little snatch of a Schubert song in the obit so that those who knew his music would get it in their minds. I also put poetry in for poets," she says.

The New York Times's obituary of Yvonne Brill is certainly not the first piece of its kind to cause a controversy. Wroe's obituary [3]of Osama Bin Laden was another. But she defends the approach she took. "I think we should do bad and good people. I wanted to show there was a human side to him and that he was not just a monster," she says. "There is also a family man who took his children to the beach, who went out hunting and liked eating yoghurt and dates. I wrote it from his point of view and his growing crusade to kill as many infidels as possible, as he saw it.

"Our American readers didn't appreciate that." And the author of the New York Times' obituary of Brill is also unrepentant. "I wouldn't do anything differently," he told Margaret Sullivan. Writing obituaries may not be rocket science, but it can certainly be a tricky business.


[1] Lucienne, Essa. “Re:” The Vessel, 30 Mar. 2018,

[2] Vennard, Martin. “How to Write the Perfect Obituary.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Apr. 2013,

[3] Wroe, Ann. “Osama Bin Laden.” The Economist, The Economist Group Limited, 5 May 2011,

re: Lowell

re:verse (image search)


Portrait of John Lowell, Jr., 

C. Gleyre 

(Swiss (active in France), 1806–1874) 1834

Watercolor over graphite pencil

Lent by the Trustee of the Lowell Institute, William A. Lowell. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


American Travelers on the Nile –  

Early U.S. Visitors to Egypt, 1774–1839


Andrew Oliver 

English edition  | January  2015
424 pp. 34 color illus.Hardbound  15X23 cm
$44.95LE300 ISBN 9789774166679

For sale worldwide

Student-Run Vessel Gallery Opens Re: Exhibit

It is easy to overlook an inconspicuous door to the smallest part of the Visual and Environmental Studies department tucked away on a quiet corner of Linden Street. Yet the  Vessel Gallery—the second student-run gallery at Harvard—re-opened on March 5 with a flashy reception that attracted over 150 people. The  Vessel Gallery is a permanent space in which students concentrating in VES can showcase their work. The gallery itself represents more than just a space to display artwork; it shows off the other talents of the students that organized it.

“There was a serious gap in the VES structure, as there was no place students could submit and showcase their artwork. There were events like Arts First and end-of-the-semester shows...but the VES concentrators wanted something more,” said E. Lucienne ’19, the chief curator of the  Vessel Gallery. Seniors on the studio track in the VES department are expected to display some of their artwork as part of their thesis. “Students need to be able to envision the work they are making in time and space, in a destination,” said E. Li ’19, artist and contributor to the gallery. However, they often have little hands-on experience in creating a show. “The  Vessel Gallery is an opportunity for us to acquire and practice the managerial and technical skills needed to install work and view art with a new literacy for the mechanics of how [the art] got there,” Li said.

The interior of the gallery is elegant in its whitewashed walls and clean-cut lines. Yet this simplicity hides the laborious efforts that went into the making of this gallery. “We painted all the walls white, replaced lightbulbs in the ceilings, got submissions, sorted through them, picked out what worked.... We spent three to four hours over the course of two days trying to figure what should go where,” Lucienne said in reference to the one-person team that founded the gallery. This was no easy feat, especially given that they had to convert what was initially the dingy Harvard Golf Office into a full-blown gallery.

The small gallery held its opening reception on March 5. The gallery also gave the VES students an opportunity to understand firsthand what it what it would be like to work on the other end of the spectrum as a curator instead of an artist. “It’s a lot of hard work. You have to figure out publicity, logos, installing the artwork.... I knew it would be overwhelming, intense, and a huge learning experience, but preparing for the exhibition made it real,” said Li.

The curator is looking to add more media with which visitors can connect. “We are looking at bringing a more interactive feel to the gallery experience [to] fill the gap between gallery art and performing art,” Lucienne said. To jumpstart the process, the curator provided texts in artfully designed boat vessels during the opening reception as a pun on the phrase “containership” The curator hoped to create more avenues for the spectators to connect with the art exhibited more personally.

The gallery, while originally a mere  vessel to display various artists’ works, is itself an exercise in creativity. The opening of the gallery is akin to the unveiling of an artwork. Just as an artist conceptualizes an idea and seeks to express it through his art form, so did the five curators start with an idea and bring it to fruition through unwavering dedication. The student-run gallery maintains an air of professinalism which puts the gallery on par with the more established galleries on campus.

crimson, essanityEssa Li
Crimson Article: The Vessel in Construction


2 days ago
SOURCE UPDATED: October 1, 2017 at 4:33 p.m.


“There is an absence of open, flexible, and inclusive social spaces for students at Harvard college, especially in the arts. The organization and initiatives we currently have are oftentimes highly discriminatory and do not prioritize the interest or voices of the artists. So while a lot has changed since “Clubbies” of 1958 , some parts of the Harvard art scene holds to this sort of past. Not to mention the engagement of the greater student body with the arts is minimal at best... Change starts local. I hope to build a place fill that void.”

Vessel –a receptive holding device for ideas and discussions a canal to support conversation and exchange
a conduit to navigate and explore new territory

– is the name and philosophy of the new art establishment on campus founded by Essa L. 

The student-centered experimental art space shares the roof with Linden Street Studios, an eclectic VES building that previously housed a cluster of indoor gallery squash courts . This fact is not lost on the vessel’s founder, who hopes to adopt the unconventional nature of the space, and attract visitors from next door to stop by at see what’s happening.

Essa admits that the studio-exhibition space is limited, but does not mind that works may overflow into the rest of the building as well as the open-air courtyard, “it will be a great gathering place for art-enthusiasts or undergrads curious about what their peers are doing throughout the semester... sharing ideas directly and cross disciplines, in a casual setting and outside institutional walls.”

As the ausstellungsmacher , she will be directing and operating the venue as a  o n e -woman-show. And while she looks to the work of star-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and his now famous inaugural Kitchen Show – which was held in his apartment’s kitchen over the course of three months and visited only by a handful of rather influential people – Essa expects her own inaugural show to accommodate a greater public. 

Part of that effort would be to render the space more open and accessible – she will be operating the gallery in three hour segments, four days of the week. The other part is to ensure that works are shown in their best light, made site-specific and placed in a relevant context, meaning that works are placed in conversation with  o n e  another and the space of the vessel. This is also the extent of the “curatorial” role she considers to be in her practice. Rather than excluding, she seeks to include all artists and in the best of her ability to show all feasible works. She also looks to engage visitors directly in the exhibition space; specifically, through organizing a series of participatory pop-up shows.

Taking inspiration from Walter Hopps and his 36 Hours show at the Museum of Temporary Art, Essa will assemble a string of pop-up shows – where anyone can directly contribute and participate in the exhibition. These open-to-all shows will be spontaneous, interspersed amongst the more formally organized shows throughout the year, which are  o n e, Work in Progress, In-Person, The Second Harvard Society of Contemporary Art, and RE:. Together, these shows form the core exhibition structure of Vessel Gallery. The very last year-end show will take place in the Carpenter Center and consist of a retrospective of these past show, ultimately culminating in a performance involving audiences in the space.

In addition to the exhibition portion, the vessel will host a range of additional components and scheduled programming. For instance, the Sharing Shelf will be a community-based library that allows visitors to freely browse, borrow and lend books within the honor code. The main gallery space, also known as the Living Room, will host student-produced sound works and music listening sessions “Soundscape” every evening Tuesday through Sunday.

Much in the vein of Walter Zanini’s project J ovem Arte Contemporânea which promoted the living experimental methods of young artists, the Vessel will embrace new media and unconventional modes of art-making, whether that be audio works, performance art, virtual reality or more. The space will also hold an assortment of small scale recurring events such as film screenings, poetry readings, artist talks and other performances, often directly corresponding to the works on view. These measures borrow from the events at the heart of the 1955 San Francisco Beat Generation at King Ubu Gallery .

With community at center stage, the Vessel will be home to a loose affiliation of members who want to have greater input into the operations of the place. The group will be known as The Corporation and consist of a President, a league of Fellows and a Treasurer. Specifically, they will engage with questions of long-range strategy, policy, and planning as well as transactional matters of unusual consequence.

The collective around the Vessel will look to model itself on the 1950’s New York group known as Studio 35 , a community in which “participants grappled with questions about the conception and completion of their works, institutional and public reactions, artistic responsibility, interest 

or antagonism concerning mass culture, personal disclosures, professionalism, unions, emotional investment, and other issues fundamental to the act of creating and presenting work...”

The integration of these additional activities and functionalities at the Vessel embodies a broader trend in the museum and gallery world. Unlike profit-seeking establishments however, this student-run art center operates purely on a noncommercial basis and therefore may be better positioned to discover more genuine ways to building relationships with artists and thereby a community surrounding the arts. Essa believes that the expanded definition of the gallery space as well as processes of art-making together will welcome a wider public to stop by at 6 Linden Street.

To be comparable to real art establishments, the Vessel will also maintain a vital digital presence through two main platforms. The gallery website will provide up-to-date information on schedule/programming, student/artists, news/ events, while the gallery Instagram account will focus on announcements, live updates, and direct community engagement.

Both platforms will take part in documenting the transformation of the space over the course of the year, and therefore act as a form of a digital archive. In fact, rather than transcribing exhibitions in the form of a traditional catalogue text, each exhibition will be captured by videos, photographs, and other digital means from the perspectives of both the exhibition-makers as well as the public. This assemblage of collective experiences and viewpoints will together form the recorded history of a given show.

An ongoing experiment that challenge the distinct divide between individual exhibitions will be the gallery’s departure from the customary “clean slate” method. Instead, each show will retain certain visible pieces or traces from previous shows, with varying duration for certain pieces accordingly. For instance, a fragment of a sculpture from the first show “ o n e ” will act as a stand-in for its previous presence, and may remain for several weeks fading into the next show. This gesture may strengthen the flow, sequencing, and sense of continuity within the space while transitioning between exhibitions.

“The unilateral act of wiping out the previous show is not reflective of my experience in galleries. I find that I am always looking at the new show with a frame of reference to the past  o n e ... This accumulation of experiences and memories in the same space is important to me. Perhaps I can bring that back to the gallery setting.”

Essa looks forward to working closely with artists on shows which, to varying degrees, confront the norm. This can mean anything from disrupting conventional methods of mounting wall text, labels, and artist biographies, to unusual ways of installing artworks, since the Vessel will be  o n e  of the few places where undergraduates have unprecedented freedom to stage the presentation of their works.

With minimal bureaucracy and a spare touch, she hopes to fill the air with a liberating spirit reminiscent of that of Hopps at Ferus Gallery, and Harald Szeemann in his now legendary 1969 show “When Attitudes Become Form,” especially with respect to his approach in collaborative and nonconformist exhibition-making.

Like Szeemann, Essa will be taking on the role of artist-director. She too will make works to be shown alongside that of her peers. According to her, these works will concern the practices of curation, challenging...

  1. viewers to evaluate their role as spectators and co-producers of artworks

  2. institutions to reevaluate their role and responsibility to the public and to the past

  3. her own performance and persona in acting as a curator in contemporary context

Her background in image-making – working with light and form in relation to aesthetics – will be helpful in her new endeavor of exhibition making, which involve “filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, remembering” in the words of Obrist.

A central concern of this entire experiment will be questions of generosity in the arts.
Can art be truly generous? What are the parameters of definition that must exist for that statement to be true?
Is it possible to build an inclusive social space that houses an authentic collective around the arts? What does that look like in the context of Harvard?
When and why do barriers fail? Alternatively, what is the internal structure of an “open” space? How does  o n e  construct or deconstruct it?

In a campus environment where selectivity dominates as a primary driving force, and in a political climate where the artistic community is increasingly marginalized, the answers to these questions have never been more urgent.

Looking at the recent initiatives and new directions taken by the leadership of the Carpenter Center and the Harvard Art Museums, Essa is hopeful. “I have utopian visions. Coming together at this time of crisis, and really seeing and hearing each other in a tangible way – I think that is  o n e  of the most critical things we can do right now.”


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the interview

( internal  d i a l o g u e )


Dear Essa,

I hope you’re well, and having a good week. Following up on the feedback you received during your first thesis review, we are writing because we’d like to ask you to submit a new proposal for your thesis. As we all know, your work has changed significantly in relation to your initial thesis proposal, and we are supportive of students’ work evolving and transforming over the course of their thesis year. However, we wanted to ask you to submit a new proposal focused on Vessel, and the work you will be pursuing throughout this year. This should include a short description of your project and pertinent research you have done on artist-run spaces and curatorial practices you find important for the work you are pursuing, address the questions you are pursuing with the work you are making, include a calendar of exhibitions and a short description for each show reflecting how they are in dialogue with the questions you have outlined, address how you envision your role and practice as an artist-director/curator/performer, and outline briefly the form you see your thesis taking in its final instance (in other words, what will be part of the thesis show at the Carpenter Center).

Feel free to be in touch with any questions, or if anything needs clarification. Maybe you could send me (Joana) a draft of your proposal when you have it, and we could discuss it in person on Monday before you finish it and send it to your committee, if you think getting feedback on a draft could be helpful?

Best regards,

Joana Pimenta
Sharon Harper
Karthik Pandian 

 For people who aren’t familiar, what is the  Vessel?

These are questions that are at the core of it. I cannot tell you what it is; I grapple with that question all the time. I still don’t entirely know what the  Vessel is, even though I have patiently explained it to me a million times, but I have discovered that I am drawn to it as long as it can be used against its own premise of knowing anyone or anything, as long as I can work against its supposed reliance on fact, and its association with academic production of knowledge--I take it instead to be a reflexive process through which one might construct a reality in its own right.


What are you making at the  Vessel?

I am creating a simultaneous space of production, with archival images and documentaries. I am also interested in the performance of language, the duration of the photographic image, and the malleability of video. In this digital age, I was thinking about how we might assemble and fictionalize our narratives out of many sources and formats in which they exist today. I am attracted to the idea that images can stream through different forms of transfer or through a series of misunderstandings. I try to make work that is transformed by the many turns of direction I take during its making, and I hope it is reflective of that process.



Can you address the questions you are pursuing through your thesis?

Yes. That is, how do we playfully engage with the contemporary avatars, falsifications, double-entendres we create for ourselves, and how do we toy with our expectations of the progressive linearity of personal and collective histories? In other words, I am interested in exploring the science fiction of individual and collective narratives, and I hope my curatorial practice works through some of these questions.  



How does  Vessel engage with these questions?

By establishing a gallery space, I have an incredible opportunity to be exposed on a weekly basis and in a very intensive way to other artists’ processes. In a way I am engaged because I am trying to make it so that everything is set up for them to do the work that they want to do, so I am invested in it; but at the same time, it’s not my work, so I am never going to be the one making all the decisions, I am never going to be controlling those decisions directly. So I am a participant-observer, to use a strange social sciences term. But I give the chance to get familiar with other artists’ processes, and that is really interesting to me because I always feel like I learn as much from the way other people do things as from finding my own. It’s not like there is a direct impact, as in that I see how this student in installation class is doing something and I see that it’s so similar to how I do it--that’s not it at all. It’s more this curiosity satisfied by how generous my peers are about sharing the ways in which they work.



Can you be more specific? How exactly are you working with artists and exhibition-making at  Vessel?

I meet with the artist, and we talk for a long period– we then visit, research and record. In the digital Catalogue that I am writing, I will collaborate with artists directly, and also will often make things up. I lift archives from their sources and create new ones, get words out of their context, transfer objects from one medium to the next. The installation of works in the exhibition space only takes shape after our talk, and my research, that moment where an idea has formed not just in my own consciousness but in relation to the material at hand on-site. I always make work that has a dialogue with a specific real site. I then remove it from where it was and recreate it artificially somewhere else, or vice versa.

My work here is more concerned with the notion of a field than written history. Every show has some durational and site-specific strata and any number of intersecting discourses so at the end of the day the materials are invested with their own sense of history. I like situations that renew my perspectives and show me things I have not seen and reawaken all my senses... Kinetic connection to artists is really important to me.

In summary, I want exhibitions to work through the latent performativity of an archive of images, sounds, and words, sometimes fact and sometimes fiction, that was constantly in tension with the self-censorship that our current relation to recent Chinese history often brings forward. I wanted to work through layers of personal and archival materials, image technologies and the performance of language. So, I am much more attracted to this long-term way of making things, the idea of not knowing what you are doing, than I am to the idea of going to a site with a script and having everything set in stone and setting out to make a work.



How do you envision your role as an artist-director-curator-performer?

In my past work with photography, I have made images that have visual similarities to video, silkscreen, painting, and drawing, so I try to incorporate different visual language into photography. However, I arrived at a point where I felt as though photography became merely about my relationship to control. As an artist I felt it was really important to be able to comprehend what is going on with material at some level. But in the sense of image-making, I felt like I had too much control because Photoshop is a simulated world where anything is possible. That is why I had to step back from pure image-making in the traditional sense, to allow myself to engage in new ways of working with chance and unpredictable outcomes. So now I am building the frame, physically and digitally, to both direct and allow these moments to happen.

At the  Vessel, I don’t record, I don’t have a composition. I have an idea. To realize my idea, I work with both documentary and fictional elements. In my process, I am always looking for a way to photograph that contains an element of transformation. I prefer to document changes between moments and to seek out and amplify human perceptions of the unseen, which in its own way is one form of fiction.  

In a similar way, I am interested in curation not simply as a reference to an already finished regime of knowledge but to suggest that we are still very much caught in it. In fact, my curatorial work is very much caught in photography itself—the interaction of the subject and viewer governed by a light established in a framework. Therefore, the photographic work resulting from this curatorial thesis will also be all about curation­­ itself.  I am trying to use the camera to show me something I don’t know, to work from the unknown into the known, or to generate the known from the unknown.

Of course, I also bring myself into it, in a way—not always in a biographical sense, but in terms of being in the field and the triangulation between my body, the camera and the field. I have some amount of control but also lose a lot of it, too: That's how the work starts.



So precisely how are the exhibitions reflecting, and your discussion of your photographic practice, in dialogue with the questions you have outlined earlier?

In my first exhibition, ONE, I am playing with ideas of our ability to pin down space, place, and time in one moment. It’s constantly shifting, and it’s also collaged, so that there is no single place, space, or even single perspective. Oftentimes people want to know how my work is made or pin something down, but I am far less interested in the mechanics of how it’s made than the questions that it asks or the ways of seeing that it poses, the questions it opens up.

In my second exhibition, Dialogue, it resonates with the work I have been doing here in the sense that I feel like we are exposed to so many ways of doing things - different processes, media, forms, images, objects – that I never feel like I feel pressured to settle on a form or a format, or the need to identify myself with a particular medium. I believe that it is important for us to hold a dialogue this space where we have a chance to work through things and figure out our own process.

There is this idea, if you are an image-maker, that it is predetermined that the final work will be a series of images. That idea used to really bore me. Having had a chance study with professors in installation, painting, drawing, sculpture, and post-studio, it opened another realm of possibilities and really influenced my work. I don’t necessarily feel the rush to produce things without having worked through all the possibilities and forms a certain project might take or that I am interested in pursuing.

What has changed entirely for me is that now, instead of setting out to make an image, I set out to ask myself, what could this project be? What are the different forms it can take? And even if I photograph for three weeks in a specific site, maybe at the end the work will be a drawing, two minutes of sound, an installation in the form of an exhibition. At the same time, if the final project is a series of photographs, it is informed by different ways of working through images, by different forms of dealing with the pictorial. I feel like what I got from being in such an interdisciplinary context, and the way it has influenced my work, is that I don’t feel like the final form dictates what I make; rather, I figure out the form as I am making something.



I am still unclear about what it is that you are doing. Can you state the facts of the matter? And also what is the role of The Catalogue?

I will write about my own work. I will write my thesis about the exhibitions I am making. I will also make art works and installations based on something that I had researched for my writing. I will read academic books and make works at the same time, because I am automatically drawn to everything I read about in what I am making. I will have no critical distance. Everything is something that I need to think through regarding a certain image or a sequence – as it is consistent with the nature of good curatorial practice and art-making. At the same time, as I write, I will be appropriating everything in this subjective way—I will be using the conventions and specific language. So I will be combining the language for academic production and writing criticism, and using this drive to bridge the gap through the language of being an artist.

I am doing this because I think, when you make work, you become attuned to process in a way that a conventional background as an academic or art historian does not normally require. You are more aware of the process of making things in a way that you are not if you have never made anything.

Thus far in the year, as I have been constantly making and installing exhibitions, there are all these skills that I have begun to learn. I never felt like a language was dictated to me, and I would never want that to happen. If anything, I have felt as though I am fighting both with and against language, so they are completely complementary ways of working. I benefit from engaging in both practices, and so far I have found my own clever way of doing both. Yes, I believe doing both is possible. I really admire people who are hybrid artist-scholars. I am working towards that as a VES concentrator at Harvard College. Sometimes I wonder if, when I am out of school, it will need to be either one or the other. But that is not my concern right now.    



So what is it like to be doing a thesis in this grey zone, this dual-space?

It’s very intense, but you get a lot of feedback and you are constantly engaged. I feel the generosity of the faculty and students with whom I have gotten to work, in terms of always making sure that I have the necessary conditions to be able to make work. At the same time, there is this expectation that it is your own work at the end of the day, and you need to figure out how to make it the way that you want it to be.

I was relieved to have come across some advice from a faculty member on this matter: “Everyone is so gung-ho on hybrid programs, and it’s really difficult; you’re facing bias from every side. If you make films, academics think you’re not a real academic. If you write, artists think you’re an academic artist. You can’t care. You need to just keep doing your work.”





Rennebohm, K. (2014). Interview: Joana Pimenta. The Monday Gallery, [online] Departure, pp.53-62. Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Zhuang, V. (2012). Portrait of an Artist: Sharon C. Harper | Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Stevenson, S. (2010). Karthik Pandian: Porous Reality, Timeless Architecture - Interviews. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

crimson, essanity, verse, questionsEssa Li
a play

What a talented writer, I'm no connoisseur of manuscripts but this is a lovely parcel by Frank Garland:

Hey classy class,
For my presentation on Tuesday here are the first two scenes of a play I've been working on. Please read scene 1, and if you have time I would love it if you read scene two as well.
See you Tuesday,

Child’s Play Scene 2


HERALD stands waiting at the side of the stage, she is now dressed as a dignified looking rabbit in a waistcoat, holding a large pocket-watch that she checks impatiently. A door descends from above, coming to rest on the stage. ALICE comes hurtling through the door. She is a redhead, young and at times beautiful, wearing a red leather jacket. She looks around wildly. The door ascends back up out of sight.



You’re late. (ALICE pulls out a gun and turns on HERALD pointing it at her.)



Where’s Sam? (HERALD reacts to a gunshot to the head and falls over, dead. ALICE stands at a loss. She looks around, suppresses a sob, and turns back to HERALD.) What are you doing. I didn’t shoot you.



Oh. A thousand apologies. (She pops back up to her feet.) I’m not always very good at judging such things. Do let me know if you ever do kill me.


* * * 





Yes. Take me to the throne room.



But we’re already there. (PRESIDENT and COWBOY, in masks, glide on stage. HERALD blows a fanfare from her trumpet.) Ladies. Fair gentlemen. The Queen! (QUEEN enters. All bow. ALICE bows belatedly.)



Thank you! Thank you! Oh, you’re all such dears. (To HERALD.) Read my titles.



Her royal highness, Queen Titania. Ruler of the fair folk. Empress of the Seelie Court. Speaker for the trees. Maven. Raven. Lady. Daughter of the sky snake. Lover of the sky snake. Slayer of the sky snake. Concubine to Mr. President, whose titles include—



Skip. (HERALD twitches and buzzes, moving at double speed as if controlled by the fast-forward button on a remote. She then resumes her recitation.)



Moonlight bather. Mountain eater. She with the crystal laugh and molten kiss. Our grand dame of the spectacle. First huntress. Last sorceress. Star child. Wyrd Wiled. Sound of a small sharp stone plummeting through the air and then down a tin pipe, before landing with a plop. (Apologetic.) Oh. A thousand apologies. That was a direction for me. (She makes the sound of a small sharp stone plummeting through the air and then down a tin pipe, before landing with a plop.) Fairie Queen.



Oh you’re too kind. Really, I don’t need all that. You may rise. (All rise from their bows. To ALICE.) It’s all just words, you know. And quite a mouthful at that. Though each with a story locked inside. What is your name, sweet one?



Alice, Your Grace.

verse, crimsonEssa Li

how to build spaces not around utility-maximizing principles, but rather around being present and with each other?

came across this very real crimson op-ed piece:

Harvard is known for being a networking mecca, but this attitude can often spill over from finance events into the dorms. People are commonly used as social capital, a goal to check off from the to-do list. This makes defining relationships between people tricky—is this a friendship or is this a social stepping stone, a transactional interaction that holds little weight, a meal that will never be grabbed?
— Jessenia C., Robert M

and so what about that meal 

crimson, questionsEssa Li
yeah I'd put a 🙆🏻 on that

Corp. Sets Minimum Endowment Distribution Amid Financial Constraints 

For fiscal year 2017, the firm returned a 😔 8.1 percent, which its CEO N.P. Narvekar said was a symptom of “deep 😒 problems at 🕋.” 

Narvekar has embarked on an ambitious 🛠 of the way the firm invests in an attempt to 📈 its investment performance, though he’s repeatedly cautioned the results of his undertaking likely won’t materialize for another 🤔 years.   

In the interim, the Corporation has set a “collar” for the endowment’s annual 💸. The lowest distribution increase it might set is 2.5 percent, while the highest it would consider is 4.5 percent. 

crimson, essanityEssa Li