Reviving Virginia Woolf: “A Room of One’s Own” for Today’s Artists

Installation View of A Room of One's Own: An Exhibition
Installation View of A Room of One’s Own: An Exhibition
JOANA KOHEN Hello my name is Joana Kohen and I’m from Turkey, 2016 Digital print on carpet
JOANA KOHEN Hello my name is Joana Kohen and I’m from Turkey, 2016 Digital print on carpet

A Room of One’s Own, on view at the Lower East Side’s Clemente Center, strives to make contemporary, and visual, part of the twentieth century’s literary canon – the essay of the same name, of course, by Virginia Woolf. In her text, Woolf describes the necessity of women, in particular, having a particular space in which to create. The curator, Osman Can Yerebakan, has thoughtfully taken this concept and transcended Woolf’s original intent to apply it to the global group of contemporary creators (visual artists exclusively in the case of the exhibition, but it would work just as well applied to contemporary writers, musicians, etc.)

Yerebakan outlines four conceptual groupings within the exhibition – the artist’s studio, the body as a room, memory (through its reconstructive powers) as a room, and the physical boundaries of inside and outside as defined by a room. While many of the works fit within two or three of these groupings, there is also an undercurrent of ideas regarding identity – political, ethnic, religious, sexual – perceptible throughout the works in the show. Though the vast majority of the artists have some tie to New York, they come from a wide range of backgrounds, reiterating the universal application of Woolf’s nearly 100-year-old ideas.

SINAN TUNCAY, Whole, 2013 Inkjet print on paper
SINAN TUNCAY, Whole, 2013 Inkjet print on paper

A true highlight of the exhibition is an immersive installation by Turkish artist Sinan Tuncay. The only piece granted its own room in a show about rooms, Tuncay recreates in photographed miniature dioramas a narrative of a traditional circumcision ceremony, as remembered from his own childhood. The photographs are placed amongst an installation featuring confetti, a knocked over chair, and a sheer curtain representing the foreskin, to suggest that the ceremony in question had just ended upon the spectator’s entrance into the scene.

LANA ABU-SHAMAT Masbanet Abu Shamat 1500-2002 (Abu Shamat Soap Factory), 2014 Handmade olive oil soap, original Abu Shamat soap bar (1990), digital image (2010), wooden stool, customized copper stamp, soap wrapping paper, acrylic display cube
LANA ABU- SHAMAT Masbanet Abu Shamat 1500-2002 (Abu Shamat Soap Factory), 2014 Handmade olive oil soap, original Abu Shamat soap bar (1990), digital image (2010), wooden stool, customized copper stamp, soap wrapping paper, acrylic display cube

Another installation, Lana Abu-Shamat’s Masbanet Abu Shamat, also draws upon the duality of physical space and personal identity as sort of room. Her work serves as a partial reconstruction of her family’s centuries-old soap factory, destroyed in 2002 in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the form of a “remembered” soap recipe and seal, paired with a photograph of the ruins of the building. At once political and personal, Abu-Shamat’s work sums up Yerebakan’s interpretation of space, identity and memory to serve, each in their own way, as rooms.

KAMBUI OLUJIMI Where From Here, 2016 Brass
KAMBUI OLUJIMI Where From Here, 2016 Brass

Other works in the exhibition more literally refer to the physicality of the room idea and integrate what pose as architectural elements – for instance, Selime Okuyan’s Ascent/Descent, and Kambui Olujimi’s Where From Here. The latter poignantly salvages original brass doorknobs from a no longer extant Bed-Stuy brownstone, questioning the physical definition of space as well as that of the knobs, while also touching upon a nostalgia for the past (memory), as well as issues surrounding gentrification.

A Room One’s Own brings together an undoubtedly thought-provoking group of work by young artists to breathe new life into a classic text. What becomes clear throughout is that ownership, as suggested by Woolf, of one’s space, as well as of the body and remembered experiences, come together to inform one’s creativity, and Yerebakan’s efforts to stress this amongst a diverse group of works is certainly a success.

“A Room of One’s Own: An Exhibition”

Curated by Osman Can Yerebakan

Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center

July 1st – July 28th, 2016

 

Writing by Jennifer Wolf

Photographs courtesy of Azmi Mert Erdem

MIKE HEWSON, Brick View, 2016 Oil on canvas, wood
MIKE HEWSON, Brick View, 2016 Oil on canvas, wood
RYAN ROA Plane Drawing # 6, 2016 Bungee cords, hardware
RYAN ROA Plane Drawing # 6, 2016 Bungee cords, hardware
Jennifer Wolf

Jennifer Wolf

Jennifer Wolf is an art administrator and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked in Chelsea galleries since 2010, and holds degrees in art history from Stony Brook University and Hunter College.

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