l-r: artwork by Christine Gray, John Whitlock, Marissa Long. full works list at bottom.
We've long been fans of Wilderness Bureau – whether they're producing videos featuring (your soon-to-be-favorite) bands for WAMU's bandwidth.fm, designing 3d typography pieces, or just posting amazing portraits and project previews on Instagram, they're a collective worth keeping an eye on. We were glad, then, to have caught up with WB's Victor Aguilar in advance of QUANTUM FICTION, a group show presented by Wilderness Bureau, and featuring the work of three artists – Christine Gray, Marissa Long, and John Whitlock – all of whose work center around themes of an alternate reality, the fantastic, and the surreal. The show opens Saturday evening at Furthermore, in the 52 O Street Artist Studios, and is up through the end of July.
Is this the Wilderness Bureau's first time curating an art/group show? Indeed, this is the very first exhibition we've curated. Hopefully the first of many! It's been a learning process since the beginning. I want to briefly give a shout to the Furthermore guys (Jose Ruiz and James Huckenpahler) who have been incredibly generous with their time, and in offering feedback as the show has developed over the past year. They just gave really smart, practical insights on how to think about this show – how to keep things tight and how to communicate the fundamental premise without getting bogged down in art-jargon, or making it gimmicky.
Can you describe what Wilderness Bureau does, for readers who may not be familiar? [It's] a project that has continued to evolve since Raul Zahir De Leon and I started it a couple years ago. As of now we define it as an 'art collective' but fundamentally it's an ongoing collaboration between Raul, Maggie Famiglietti and myself that involves art, design, sound and film. That probably sounds frustratingly vague, but each of our interests are so varied that it makes sense to keep the labelling fairly loose. There is a ton of overlap amongst the three of us in terms of prevailing tastes, ideologies and creative approaches, so the projects we seek out tend to map those common vibes.
How did the show come about? The original impetus came out of an interest in the work of my friend John Whitlock, a fellow graphic designer. John and I briefly worked for the same agency back in 2006, but his personal projects have always been compelling to me. Since he moved back to Brooklyn a few years ago, I saw him beginning to develop a more deliberate studio practice and taking a decidedly more object-specific approach to his work. Initially, I thought some kind of solo exhibition of his stuff here in D.C. would be a great opportunity for people to see these amazing collages and found-object assemblages he was making. With that kernel in mind I approached Jose last fall to discuss the possibility of mounting an exhibition at Furthermore and he was receptive to the idea, though he encouraged me to think a bit bigger and consider broadening the scope of this into more of a group-show endeavor. He offered a few reasons for doing so, but the one that seems the most salient now, and the same reason that I latched onto at the start – is that it would make the curating more fun for me. (Imagine that!) It seems like a no-brainer now, but expanding the scope of the show definitely made it into this ten-times more awesome thing I couldn't have expected or anticipated otherwise. Early on, Raul offered advice similar to Jose's and they were both so right.
After some initial conversations with John, he expressed interest in participating in the show and I had my first artist. From there, I went about making a list of other artists in my circle with whom I was familiar and whose work I felt would be simpatico with John's, if not conceptually than at least on a more obvious, visual level. I promptly thought of Christine Gray, whom I met at Art Basel Miami (also in 2006) and whose paintings I've admired since I first encountered them at Project 4. I reached out to her soon after, we exchanged a few emails to discuss the theme of the show and timing and to my delight, she was onboard too.
It's worth mentioning that I only really considered approaching artists whom I had met and spoken with a number of times, or knew personally. Part of this was simply logistical, but since it was also the first time I'd done anything in the vein of curation, I figured that pre-existing rapport would go far in terms of establishing a baseline of trust (and might afford me some slack in case I super-messed anything up along the way).
[It also] helped in that it allowed me to more quickly intuit some of the deeper connections in their work, and tease out a few of the concepts that eventually became central to the theme of the show. Plus (and this now seems like another no-brainer) – working on projects with friends is 10x better than with complete strangers!
Around the same time that I had been communicating with John and Christine, I was working closely with my good friend Marissa Long on the first release of Great Big Iceberg. For her solo exhibition at Civilian the previous year, Marissa had shown a new series of photographs that combined collage, still life and sculpture in this really provocative, almost painterly way. I was mesmerized by the photos and it occurred to me that her work might be this terrific visual and conceptual bridge between John's collages, which use a variety of cut-paper and reworked photographic material, and Christine's paintings, which had recently begun to feature collaged elements and were becoming increasingly abstract.
I think fundamentally there's a shared interest amongst the group in peeling back the surface, so to speak – exploring this "unseen" realm that's ambiguous or inexplicable. This notion of "quantum" is pretty important too, as it connotes a barely perceptible change in quantity – or a small, yet meaningful shift in the dynamics of a larger system. In the context of the show's title, the idea is that these artists are constructing images that deviate ever-so-slightly from our traditional conception of reality, which we typically think of as this inert thing that's hard, fixed, concrete, or objectively 'true' in some way. This show challenges that perception in favor of a reality that's perhaps a bit false. A bit counter-intuitive or logic-defying or shifty. Maybe even a bit fabricated. Something approaching fiction, if you will.
At its core, the show is about artists who are offering visions of reality that straddle this hazy line between depicting things as we perceive them– the familiar, almost mundane scenes and stuff of daily experience – while probing the more metaphysical underpinnings of that reality that are strange or vexing. Their works are anchored in realism, but often take subtle detours from it that evoke a sense of magic or the supernatural. Both Christine and Marissa explore this pretty overtly in their work, using fairly commonplace items and materials yet rendering them in ways that are off-kilter or unexpected. John's pieces are a bit different pictorially, but his work communicates a similar feeling of chaos or randomness, hinting at alternate dimensions that lie beyond our day-to-day experience.
Five words or less – why should we check out Quantum Fiction? Reality is weird. Look again.
artwork, l-r and from the top:
Aphrodite and Fruit - 2015. Acrylic and vinyl collage on paper, 15" x 11"
Other Worlds: Deification - 2014. Collage on paper, 16” x 16"
White Hole - 2015, Digital C-print, 11” x 14"
Other Worlds: Deception - 2014. Collage on paper, 16” x 16"
KALLAX - 2015. Acrylic and vinyl collage on paper, 11" x 15"
Tabletop- 2015. Acrylic and vinyl collage on paper, 11" x 15"
Clumsy Aura - 2015. Digital C-print, 11” x 14"
Multiverse Roses - 2015. Digital C-print, 11” x 14"