"We’ve usually started with a 'concept' when we’ve made a show. This is the first time we’ve started with artists" texted me Gregor Quack, one of the three organizers of "Is It Much Too Much To Ask, Not To Hide Behind The Mask?," a group show at Old Room. The other two organizers of the exhibition - Elisa R. Linn and Lennart Wolff, members of Berlin based non-commercial project KM Temporaer - joined forces with writer Gregor Quack for this exhibition featuring an eclectic group of artists: Darja Bajagi, Olaf Breuning, Debo Eilers Heather Guertin, Liz Magic Laser, Hanne Lippard, Michael Phelan, Benjamin Saurer, Hayley Aviva Silverman and Patrice Renee Washington.
Although the concept wasn’t the first step of the process of putting this exhibition together, as Gregor walked me through the show a few days before its opening on Saturday September 15th, a conceptual thread was quite apparent. The "role of the artist is somewhat of an illusion" said Gregor, as he showed me three pieces by German painter Benjamin Saurer. These paintings depict stereotypical moments in the life of the artist and the different modes of the artistic process such as the discovery of the new, the epiphany and so on. The canvases have been dyed to create an almost theatrical backdrop for the small, minutely oil-painted figures, taken from 16th and 17th century manuscripts. The concept of the “mask,” cited in the show’s title, relates to the separate identity one has to wear to be an artist.
This “artist” identity is commodified in an uneasy union of temperamental artistic ideals a constant demand to sculpt an image of oneself according to one’s own reality. On one hand, the artist must have the mental space to create, to be alone, but on the other hand, the artist must find his or her social mask, in keeping with his/her real self. This formula seems essential nowadays, especially when social-media and one’s the highly visible online presence actually matters (for the better or for the worst.) This concept of the persona, also comes through in Liz Magic Lazer’s performance “From North Carolina to South Korea", which was screened - live from North Carolina, where her mother, the choreographer Wendy Osserman now resides) on the TV in the living room of Old Room, as a choreography was created to mimic the visual rhetoric of Internet news. In this performance, the artist and her mother (who, although highly inspired her daughter with her Choreographic work) officially collaborated with her for the first time. The exposure to such works in the intimate and informal space of Old Room amplifies the experiences of the works. Surprisingly, but fortunately, even in our overpriced, overly gentrified city, intimate artist-run spaces such as Grand Century, Bed-Stuy Love Affair and Old Room are able to thrive.