Until now, the ICA Boston’s Foster Prize has been relatively traditional. It begins with the museum’s announcement of a short list of artists who participate in its biennial. From there, an independent panel of judges selects one winner, who walks away with a cash prize. This year’s Foster Prize is different. The ICA’s Associate Director of Performing Arts, John Andress, and Senior Curator, Jenelle Porter, have chosen four artists and collaborative organizers as the winners of the Foster Prize, lending the institution’s weight to help execute their artistic objectives. The winners of the 2015 Foster Prize are Sandrine Schaefer, Vela Phelan, kijidome (Sean Downey, Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Lucy Kim, and Susan Metrican), and Ricardo De Lima (Another Spectacle).
The 2015 Foster Prize is not about latent potential, but about creating an actualized reticulation. In this curatorial framework, individual artists aren’t grouped and isolated, or begging to be anatomized. The resulting “exhibition” can be transplanted anywhere and bears fruit: It is a rhizomatic schedule of events that assembles à la carte meals instead of a tasting menu. For art critics, reviewing the exhibition after its preview would’ve been much like reviewing a book after reading one sentence, as almost nothing had happened at that point. All four artists’ projects are ongoing and contradictory at times. The reciprocating schedule is dictated by the terms of the audience. If you’re running late because of family schedule, the pokey slow train, or any other dog-ate-my-homework excuse, you simply miss the exhibition’s event that night. As no one individual could be at all the events, each moment reflects on what was and will be, as an unfolding, multimodal semiotic chain.
The works of Sandrine Schaefer and Vela Phelan can be bracketed as individual performance-artist exhibitions. Each has an ongoing relationship with the exploration of specific conditions: Schaefer to the body, and Phelan to artifacts of faith. Schaefer is physically present, embedding herself in the museum. She uses a list of verbs with and to the museum: rolling, rubbing, cleaning, reflecting, etc. Both the affinity and distance between visitor and performer are essential to her work. Schaefer’s performances engage the museum as much as they engage her own body, turning a bit into Andrea Fraser à la Little Frank and His Carp. In one action, she rolls herself up into the carpet that runs the length of the ICA’s Founders Gallery. In another, she traces the distant horizon, leaving a hand trail of slime and grease on the gallery’s windows.
Phelan’s work concentrates on a Mexican folk saint named Jesús Malverde, the patron saint of drug smugglers. He has created a commanding room covered with black aquatic gravel. This dark, anise-scented room is lit only by flickering monochrome videos and serves as a home base for Phelan’s performative activity. A record player or shortwave radio emits white noise to indicate his presence in the building. Phelan’s study of faith and veneration has resulted in several performances, parading Malverde’s bust through the museum’s entrance and to various churches in Boston, in a boat on the Fort Point Channel, and on top of piles of trash bags. During each performance, two anonymous masked men briefly visit him, holding machetes over their heads.
kijidome and Ricardo De Lima have used their prize to include myriad collaborators. kijidome hosts two exhibitions, presenting a mix of newly commissioned and existing work with Dennis Congdon, Jesal Kapadia, Tomáš Moravec, Sarah Oppenheimer, Josue Pellot, Nicholas Sullivan, Sean Glover, Sakura Maku, Michael Jones McKean, Leila Namin, Pat Oleszko, Jennifer Schmidt, and Randi Shandroski for Lactic Incorporated. Their exhibition space functions as a low-cost annex for their commuting artist–educator–collaborators, with a scheduled reading from the powerhouse Jesal Kapadia and a performance from Pat Oleszko.
Using display mechanisms from a 1960s Lina Bo Bardi design for the São Paulo Museum, De Lima has embraced an aesthetic that can be summarized to “amplify voices, share power, respect boundaries, decline ownership.” He invites Jesse Kaminsky to broadcast a weekly radio show, the collective Sweety’s for a residency, Scott Patrick Weiner to exhibit work, and Adriana Dominique Warner to curate in the space. The space hosts dinners, a talk show by David Levine, a film screening from the Balagan film collective, a democratic slideshow event from Trevor Powers’ All Visual Boston, a launch party for the lifestyle magazine Adjunct Commuter Weekly (edited by Dusko Petrovich), and musical performances from Bromp Treb, Jason Lescalleet, Caroline Park, and Asha Tamirisa.
The Foster Prize is a crucial local exhibition, and this year’s reach is commendable, though its pitfall is the lack of context for its almost one hundred individuals exhibiting or performing. The ICA has provided little insight into the conditions that generated this range of alternative spaces and nonmaterial performance artists. The circumstances are left floating in a cloud of anarchic, unanchored semiosis.
The James & Audrey Foster Prize exhibitions are on view at ICA Boston through August 9, 2015.