Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change

Urban Growth-detail, 2019, lost gloves and mittens gathered along the cycle paths of Copenhagen in the winter 2018/2019 - they are a kind of urban falling leaves, of which new growth can arise in the city. A poetic waste material, which I make float between threads, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Ane Henriksen (Denmark)

Italiano (Italian)

May 8-16, 2021
Opening: Saturday, May 8, 1pm – 6pm

Exhibition Hours: May 9-16, 10am – 5pm daily
276 Ridgefield Rd, Wilton, CT

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color catalog #51 of the same title.

Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change exhibition, organized by browngrotta arts, a gallery founded in 1987 by Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown, will be inaugurated on May 8, and will remain open until the 16th of the month. 

This project is born from the reflection on how the world of art and its protagonists, the artists, had to rethink and redesign their action, when the pandemic, significantly affecting the global lifestyle, compelled everyone to a forced and repeated isolation. .

But the need to adapt their responses to change, generated by the complicated health situation, was only the beginning of a broader reflection that led the two curators to note that change itself is actually an evolutionary process immanent in human history, generative, full of opportunities and unexpected turns.

How can art provide tools for solving daily critical issues? And above all, what are the strategies that artists use to deal with complex situations?

(left to right) Rojo, 2007; handwoven, linen, hemp, 77″ x 23.5″ – Brocado en Lino, 2009, handwoven, linen, cotton, 56″ x 24.5″ – Mineral II, 2001, handwoven, linen, cotton, 77″ x 23.5″ – Tonos Rojos, 2009; handwoven, linen, hemp, 56″ x 21.5″ – Azul, 2008; handwoven, linen, 76″ x 21″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Carolina Yrarrázaval, (Chile)

Adaptation: Artist Respond to Change, was born around these themes, as told by the founders of Browngrotta:

“Over the last year, by necessity, we’ve grown more introspective, more insular and more aware of our interconnectedness. We’ve had to acknowledge our permeable national boundaries, shared air, the limits of personal space. Many of our artists told us about how they were coping with the changes Covid brought about — moving locations, taking up art photography spending more time in nature or imaging nature. In fact, we did five posts on our blog, arttextstyle: Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in. That got us thinking about the many reasons artists make changes in their art practice – a material becomes unavailable (willow) or a new one suggests itself (fiber optic, bronze, copper, steel, kibisio, akebia), a move in the US from the East to the South or from one country to another or from the city to the desert, a change in physical abilities (allergy, injury) an altered relationship (new romance, divorce) or a commission opportunity or an exhibition challenge. We decided that exploring that broader theme – ways change is reflected in art, ways artists reinvent their work when confronted by altered circumstances – would be the theme of our Spring 2021 exhibition”.

Finally, we asked the two curators a few questions to illustrate this project more thoroughly and tell us about its developments.

Ecchos 1-6, 2021, Wrapped vessel for fibre, mixed media, stitch, 19.5-26.75″ (h) x 7.5″-9.5″ (d), photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Gizella Warburton (UK)

Letters from Quarantine 6, 2020, Flax, silk, polyester, hand-woven, 16″ x 11.5″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Irina Kolesnikova (Russia)

What difficulties and challenges were involved in setting up such a complex project at this time?

We represent lots of artists from outside the US, so there are occasional logistical snafus. However, the pandemic magnified these 10 fold. Some artists were locked out of their studios. Others had relocated and could not access artwork they wanted us to exhibit. Then there were shipper issues — Fed Ex and DHL would not ship works over a certain size to the US from Japan. Venezuela shut down its post office entirely. And some artists found Covid more overwhelming than they anticipated and, after initial interest, reconsidered participating in the exhibition at all. In mid-April in fact, less than a month from our opening, we were still awaiting works from Korea, Japan, Scotland and the UK.

Additionally, we wanted to illustrate the broader theme of adaptation —to be certain that the changes we were highlighting weren’t exclusively ones that occurred during the pandemic. To that end, we included two works from artists no longer with us, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette and Zofia Butrymowicz. Butrymowicz created a series of works while visiting Rousseau-Vermette outside Montreal, using the soft wools that Mariette had access to rather than the rough, ropey materials Butrymowicz was known for using. The Rousseau-Vermette work is an important one — the maquette  she created in response to a competitive challenge to create a gift from Canada to the US, which she won. In both cases, we had to compose a catalog statement that explains the adaptation, we thought each artist had made. We also worked with other artists who had faced changes before the pandemic. Yasuhisa Kohyama lost a kiln in 1982 and changed his work substantially as a result. Ane Hendricksen was inspired to create a work when she moved from the countryside to Copenaghen.

Pangaea, 2021, Linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 46″ x 29″ x 1.5″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Blair Tate (US)

Macramè Red Shell 1, 2021, knotted cotton cord, wax, hematite powder, 12″x 11″x 10″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Federica Luzzi ( Italy)

And speaking of adapting to change, how will the public’s enjoyment of the exhibition change (if at all) compared to before the pandemic, and will these new ways affect the relationship between the work and the viewer?

The experience of visiting browngrotta arts has had to change. We have always invited people into our home, which is where we exhibit the art, and as a result, they are our guests. We offered curated food, cocktails and wine and a chance to intermingle with our artists and other art fans — a salon-style experience. The Covid version is, by necessity, more constrained. We permit only 15 people at  time, by appointment, with masks, and they need to follow a one-way, socially distanced path through the exhibition. Sanitizers are placed throughout the space. Refreshments are prepackaged and limited.

At the same time, when we were open with these safety protocols in September, we had a very strong turnout. People were excited to get out of their homes and have a safe experience and they were hungry to see art. Adaptation will touch those chords and another — the desire we all have to know how others are doing, what ways others have found to boost resilience, what has occupied their thoughts for the last unprecedented year.

Among the Trees II, 2020, Gampi paper, museum board, foam board, pencil, 36″ x 24″ x 2″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Mary Merkel-Hess (US)

Il Procuratorio, Flooded, 2020, Wool with cotton and metallic threads, 34″ x 41″, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Laura Foster Nicholson (US)

Could we say that Adaptation shows that art is a response, a problem-solver?

Without a doubt, turning to art or involving oneself in an artistic puzzle can serve to calm and clarify one’s thoughts.

Several of artists have written eloquently for our catalog about how art has helped them manage the stress and upheaval of the past year. Ideally, for those who attend Adaptation: Artist’s Respond to Change that calming effect will be evident and even shared.

Tapestries by Sara Brennan of Scotland were made from photographs of trees that she had driven past twice a week for six years, a journey that stopped during Lockdown. “Drawing, weaving and looking at these trees from a different context took me on another journey,” she says. “The study of these trees and the tracing of time brought a new rhythm to a place.”

Wlodzimierz Cygan of Poland says the time of the pandemic allowed him to draw his attention to a “slightly different face of Everyday, the less grey one.”  He found that, “slowing down the pace of life, sometimes even eliminating some routine activities, helps one to taste each day separately and in the context of other days. Time seems to pass slower, I can stay focused longer,” he says,  “delve into the problem and maybe finally bring one of them to an end. Everyday, calm artistic practice allows for searching, branched into cycles and multi-variant solutions.”

Life has changed in Germany, Irina Kolesnikova told us. “Before that, we would travel a lot, often for a short time, a few days or a weekend. We got used to seeing the variety in the world, to visit different cities, to go to museums, to get acquainted with contemporary art. Suddenly, that life was put on pause, our social circle reduced to the size of our immediate environment.” Under these circumstances, Kolesnikova felt a need to dive deeper into herself to realize the direction, that led to a new series of small works, Letters from Quarantine “Focusing on such long-term, meditative work makes it possible to feel and appreciate every precious moment of time,” she says, “to just work and enjoy the craft.”

In Japan, Hisako Sekijima thought she was responding to concerns about the virus well. She soon realized that working longer at home did not mean working better. To escape the stress and improve her focus she needed to create different working habits. Her solution was to separate, intentionally, the preparatory step and the shaping step in basketmaking. “I concentrated exclusively on the preparatory process at the outset so that I could enjoy repetitive plaiting as a daily prayer. I found this simple work very soothing against the social annoyance of Covid. Months later, I connected edges of the braid I had created, in order to give it a form. The time gap in making that I discovered became a means to concentrate myself, and achieve a successful outcome,” she says, through what she calls ‘suspended decision’

Marco, 1966, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Zofia Butrymowicz (Poland)

Marco (detail), 1966, photo cr. Tom Grotta, copyright Zofia Butrymowicz (Poland)

Adaptation: Artist Respond to Change reflects on how art has a great positive transformative potential, as it is at the same time motivation, inspiration and challenge, and shows how artistic research is the vehicle through which the artist pushes himself beyond the border of the ordinary, transforming the obstacle into a springboard and opportunity, with a view to transformative resilience.

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