Creating art can be a solitary affair. Of course there have been some very famous artistic collaborations like Picasso and Braque, Dali and Bunuel and Warhol and Basquiat, but creating art collaboratively is a relatively new trend that’s grown only in the last 10 years.
Patricia Miranda owned a traditional gallery, Miranda Fine Arts, for more than a decade in Port Chester, where she sold paintings and prints by solo artists. But then, after a four-year stint as a gallery director and curator at Concordia College, she decided to return to her gallery and do something completely different with the unique, loft-like space in the heart of Port Chester.
“I wanted to combine art with an educational experience in an interactive way while engaging the community,” Miranda, 50, said.
She decided the way to hit all her requirements was to create a collaborative residency program in her artists’ space.
“I put out a request for proposal for artists working in pairs to submit an idea for new work—created on location in Port Chester—that had a community component and could be completed in one month,” Miranda said. “I received dozens of proposals.”
Last fall, after careful consideration, Miranda’s first choice for this new venture was called “Interplay” and the artists, Beth Dary and Sarah Lutz, decided to create the evolution of the Byram River and the rising water levels in the past 100 years inside the 800-square-foot artist loft on North Pearl Street in Port Chester. They researched and mapped the river and scaled the maps to fit the walls of the room. The loft became the Byram River with three lines representing the water level at the turn of the 20th century, the current level of the river, and the river’s expected water level in 100 years.
Dary and Lutz created handmade barnacles from clay and paper pulp that protruded in 3-D from the wall, as well as anemone-like creatures scattered throughout.
What they didn’t plan on was Hurricane Sandy, which arrived on their doorstop in the midst of their residency.
When the exhibit finally opened on Nov. 17, 2012 it attracted so much attention, there was standing room only in the small gallery as well as an article in The New York Times.
“The visitors to the exhibit felt the collaboration deeply as many of them had been through hell during the week [following Sandy] with no power or running water. They came together to talk about their concerns for the environment and their experiences with the storm,” Miranda said.
The most recent month-long residency was entitled C.U.T.E., an acronym for Cultivate Uncomfortable Temporary Encounters.
The artists were Kelsey Harrison and Brynn Trusewicz from SUNY Purchase. Their residency was focused on relational aesthetics, which is when art is actually an activity that brings people together. The artist becomes the catalyst for art, rather than being at the center.
The two young artists created several different social environments such as “Build-a-Bench,” which took place at the Carver Center in Port Chester, where members of the community got together to make benches for public spaces in the neighborhood. There was a ceramic cup-building activity done in conjunction with the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, a “Girls Night Out,” in which a drag queen taught women to dance burlesque, and the event that capped off the month-long residency was a micro-grant dinner in the loft, during which proposals were pitched and diners voted on who should get the grant to go forward with their work.
The residency created various social environments in which people came together to participate in a shared activity rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and a piece of art.
“Artists are always thinking about whatever is going on in the world at that time, posing questions, imagining solutions in a way that is different from science or data,” Miranda said. “Those are the artists I am interested in. Artists who see art not as a separate thing, but as something that impacts the culture.”
Up next is the fourth residency for Miranda Arts Project Space, or M.A.P.S., and the two young artists are Master of Fine Arts graduates from Queens: Karen Cintron and Matt Greco. The name of their residency is “Also of Hope and Aspiration Do We Live-De Illusion Tambien Se Vive.” The name loosely translates to the fact that life is not only about “getting there” but also about dreaming of getting there. This residency explores and celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of the immigrant-owned businesses in Port Chester, especially, although not exclusively, the Latin American community. The two artists will spend their time during the residency interviewing and photographing the people in the immigrant businesses in Port Chester, creating a visual and audio archive of the faces and spaces of this diverse, thriving village.
So how does Miranda come into the picture besides opening up her space and handing over a set of keys?
“I help each pair of residents work on their original ideas; we see if they work in the space and within the community. I guide the project and, of course, things change as we progress, but that’s what’s so great,” she said. “There are no rules and everything is flexible. It morphs and changes in the time they are here. When I designed the residency, I thought I would just throw it out there and see what happens and I am thrilled with the results.”