This past winter, Pratt Institute’s senior painting students suffered an immeasurable loss of their work when an electrical fire burned down their studio space. At the time, these artists were working on their thesis shows, many of which were destroyed. This unimaginable scenario initially seemed devastating and yet it proved to be a surprising catalyst for developing new work. The fire received wide coverage which lead to many compassionate donations and encouragements. Since then, this group of artists have had two group shows, both entitled Flameproof, the first of which was sponsored by Gagosian. Juliet Knuth, one of the artists who had lost her entire studio and months worth of artwork, took it upon herself to start up an Indie Go Go Fund, a public donation campaign to benefit the artists directly.
I spoke with artist Juliet Knuth specifically about the events preceding this show, and how it all came together.
Kat Slootsky: This is the third and final installment of the series of senior painting shows that came out of the events of the fire. Can you talk about why you decided to start this GoFund campaign for the final installment?
Juliet Knuth: I started the online campaign immediately after the fire without knowing exactly how we would eventually spend the money. All I knew was that there were lots of people who wanted to help us out, who wanted to support the artists, and the only real option they had for helping was by donating directly to Pratt. We received an immense amount of donations through Pratt that were hugely helpful to us; however, we only had so much control over how the money was spent. There were also limitations on how Pratt as an institution could spend those donated funds as well; for example, they weren’t allowed to fund anything for us this late in the summer, since we’d already be graduated. This also meant that all the funds donated needed to be spent immediately. So luckily, when the Painting Center and Mona Brody approached Pratt about having this show for us in August, we had separately raised enough funds to still make it happen. I knew I wanted to sponsor a group show that celebrated our new work, and the Painting Center posed this opportunity, and everything worked out. Actually, it was my roommate Madeline Mikolon who brought up the idea to another professor, Chris Wright, who got me connected and allowed for everything to happen. And thankfully, since al the money was raised online, I was able to have access to the funds almost immediately. In fact, some of the money contributed not just to this show, but to the art handling and opening reception of our last show group show as well.
Kat: Is this final show indented to be purposefully different from the preceding two? If so can you talk about how and why?
Juliet: For this show we wanted to get away from the specific tragedy of the fire, and start thinking about respecting the past and embracing the future in a more universal way. Flameproof was a title chosen by a few people that wound up being carried on to not just one, but several of our group shows. The studio fire has certainly brought us together, and it is absolutely the reason that my campaign, and consequently this show, has happened. But as artists we are not merely synonymous with this fire. We thought the title Effigy was both curious and provocative; it can be interpreted in both a positive and negative way and has some pretty broad connotations in respect to the event that happened and to art.
Kat: The previous shows, entitled Flameproof, meant to identify the events of the fire as a unifying factor. What is the meaning behind changing the title for this last show to Effigy?
Juliet: Making this show happen involved a very different process from our original Flameproof show, in which who was doing what and when was entirely out of our control. All the artists could do was wait for emails from people higher up that would explain to us what was happening. In the case of our original Flameproof, many students never even met or saw the curator or any of the sponsors for the show. But Effigy is entirely community funded and driven. All we did was ask for some help, and together we were able to make the show happen on our own, with far more freedom than we had previously been granted. We specifically chose a new title because we wanted the show to be a symbol of this new independence and growth. We wanted to shed off our graduation caps and the looming tragedy of this fire and move on. I think this step in our careers has helped us develop and mature, and will be visible in both the curation of the show and the quality of the art. Not to mention, it has opened our eyes to the possibility of making stuff happen, simply by asking the right people for support.
Kat: Can you speak more about the experience of producing your very first group show in a Chelsea gallery…And does the fact that this show was funded via cyber public funding influence or affect its intent and meaning?
Juliet: Everything about this show is happening so quickly, and a great deal of the mechanics of it occurred almost entirely online. Before the fire, I was already somewhat aware of the impact social media can have on our lives. If used the right way, it’s an enormously powerful tool for change. And taking advantage of it wasn’t as hard work as one might think: all I did was ask the right people for help. I found an amazing person to film my online video (Hope Fitton), sent a bunch of emails and texts asking for people to come get interviewed and to send their own footage, came up with some questions, and then found yet another fantastic person to edit the video (Peter Brensinger). Then I stuck it all online and asked friends and family to donate. The Painting Center and our curator Mona Brody volunteered their services to make this show happen not long after I had raised the funds, and Chris Wright got me in connection with them. The students met on their own to discuss logistics. And together with Mona, I wrote up a press release, and another friend (Mark Feggins) helped me design the image for the cards
Kat: Is this truly the last group show for this collection of artists, or do you think that the bond formed after the fire will provide for future collaborative opportunities?
Juliet: It’s possible that all of us as a group will never show together again. Several students have already left New York City. Some are headed to grad school, others are headed abroad. However, there are definitely some strong connections that I’m positive will continue to foster creative collaborations. Simply the act of working together to make these post-graduate shows happen has given several of the artists opportunities to demonstrate their ability to lead and work together. A few artists have already moved into the same studio space. Some of the artists even live together. Right now, many of us need some time off to build portfolios worthy of showing again, but you can rest assured this won’t be the last of us.