2016-07-08 / Front Page

Babble On At Topless

By Elizabeth Holzer

Photo By Elizabeth Holzer Photo By Elizabeth Holzer Saturday’s opening at Topless invited participants in to poke and prod or just unwind on the evolving sculptural exhibit, Babble On.

The sensitive surfaces easily bruise as the public leaves their unique fingerprint on the foam. Traditionally used in flower arranging, the trio from Toronto reimagined the material as an architectural element for this mixedmedium exhibition.

“Even though it’s synthetic it’s kind of alive in that it changes over time and its really sensitive to people’s touch. People can sit on the benches or leave their mark on the fountain so its changing as people visit the space,” explained artist Laurie Kang.

“We like the foam because it’s sort of a craft object. It’s typically more like a feminine object. It has sense of a fertile material,” added collaborating artist Nadia Belerique.

Photo By Elizabeth Holzer Photo By Elizabeth Holzer Brent Birnbaum and Jenni Crain commissioned Topless’ first international show, Babble On, after attending the artist’s previous collaboration The Mouth Holds the Tongue in Toronto. They wanted to give the artists a platform to revisit the former project and create a new iteration of it in a different setting.

“What I really like about this piece is that it’s a piece that’s participatory and a non-traditional art form,” explained Crain.

It’s also something that’s going to degrade over the span of the show so as the light hits it, it begins to yellow and brown and turn colors.

“Obviously it’s an exhibition that we have to photograph twice because it’s going to look so different at the end of the show than it does right now,” said Crain.

In concentric circles the foam expands from a central fountain and is contrasted by sporadic splatters of pewter melted and applied on-site.

Kang explained the materials have distinct characteristics but it’s not a case of the floral foam represents this and the pewter represents that.

“Our intention is very much not to impose one direct meaning. Meanings are created here through individual or collective activation of the space,” she explained.

“It’s really meant to facilitate kind of actually getting away from meaning. Through our conversations a lot of the things we talked about were the potentiality of the unknown or what has yet to be seen,” added Belerique.

“I think even the circular shape feels more active in the sense that you can come here and sit and talk or whatever. The fountain kind of makes it a meeting place,” added Kang.

The artists sourced local material for this site-specific installation to create an extension of the beach. The fountain was created with water from the Atlantic. The artists filled a bucket and rolled it back and forth from the beach to the gallery on a skateboard.

“They said a bunch of people were just starring at them while they struggled with the bucket of water,” laughed Birnbaum.

Together with Jenni Crain, Birnbaum founded Topless three summers ago. The duo hosts contemporary installations in a newly renovated location each year.

“We started doing this because people weren’t coming back to the area after the storm,” explained Birnbaum.

They typically find storefronts that have been vacant since Sandy, transforming unusable commercial space into something habitable. Topless renovated the unit that Zingara Vintage now occupies.

Called the “outlier of outliers” by the New York Times, Birnbaum and Crain maintain a non-traditional gallery model. Topless is seasonal and non-commercial giving it’s founders the freedom to curate shows that push boundaries and to feature lesser known artists.

“For us to be doing shows that are exciting for the viewer and pushing the understanding of what art is and what art can be, that’s really exciting. But the fact that this is something tha’ts so like a live piece. It’s not something that’s purely observed but something that’s interacted with,” explained co-curator Crain.

The show will run until July 23 at 91-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd. when Topless will unveil its next installation.

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