MONACO Collective @ JC

March 27 - May 1, 2021


“The question is if the profound experience of interconnected and interdependent bodily vulnerability during the global pandemic situation will give rise to a deeper understanding of how bodies and environment are co-constituted as interconnected and interdependent in their living with an infected planet.” 

- Elke Krasny, Care Feminism for living with an infected planet

Fluid Ground exhibits works by members of Monaco: Yowshien Kuo, Howard Krohn, Allison Lacher and Jeff Robinson, Janie Stamm, Kalaija Mallery, Bruce Burton, Vaughn Davis Jr., Edo Rosenblith and Alyssa Knowling and Marcus Stabenow (Visitor Assembly), to expand on the notion of the artist-run collective as a site for practice-based insight and understanding in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


Monaco is an independent artist-run collective and gallery space in St.Louis, Missouri. Founded in 2017, the collective believes in the role of artists in shaping critical inquiry of the social structures within contemporary art. The collective format fosters new ways of building relationships between the environment and visual culture with a lateral organizational structure that provides us with a soft landing in a hard edged art world. Monaco is an egalitarian and collaborative arts ecosystem, that is both site specific and ubiquitous, in contrast to the hierarchical world orders we live in. The collective takes form through exhibitions at 2701 Cherokee St., St. Louis, MO. Monaco creates conditions for emergence, a space where artistic and intellectual inquiry co-exist with care, through a network of artists in interaction with an audience, material and process. 


Fluid Ground flows between the arts, ecology, ontological design, and the disciplinary boundaries between these professionalized fields. Fluid Ground explores the transdisciplinary terrain of artistic practice where sea meets land, craft meets abstraction, sculpture meets music, and digital data meets sunlight, to collectively disrupt the neoliberalization of artistic practice. The exhibition becomes a site for emergent-collaborative insight at a destabilized time.


Yowshien Kuo’s The Myth of Liberty and its House of Cards, emphasizes the problematic perception of gender based cultural conformity in Asian diaspora, while attempting to unpack Anti-Asian racism in America. Over the last four years, Kuo’s paintings have confronted the psychological impact of violence enacted on Asian Americans since early migration to America. As a first-generation Asian-American, Kuo incorporates the Asian body against dramatic neo-provincial landscapes where they are outlined in their foreign-ness. Dominant art historic narratives framed from the standpoint of the colonizer coalesce with “Asian glory”, as Kuo draws on Caravvagio’s The Cardsharps, Ali Wong’s stand-up act on Asian men (being ‘as smooth as dolphins’), and a false brand of ‘freedom’ once sold to vulnerable immigrants. For the Asian Diaspora, belongingness and displacement are intertwined with the economic fallacy of “well being for all”, denying the Asian immigrant body a sense of safety, keeping them in a perpetual state of exclusion. The Myth of Liberty and its House of Cards is a site of unresolved loss and celebration, of mourning and outrage, as the artist refuses to align with neoliberal hegemonies that curtail the happiness and freedom of America’s Asian communities. 


Janie Stamm’s Remnants of the Golden Calf negotiates the historical divide of fine and machine arts, while addressing Florida’s ecological crisis. Stamm’s fiber practice and knowledge, passed down by her paternal grandmother, allows her to cleverly hide language in forms inspired by the sea. Remnants of the Golden Calf is a collection of beaded silhouettes containing passages of Southern slang. Oceans Kiss Goodbye utilizes text within an image to compress the repressed history of queer communities in Florida and the ongoing ecological crisis, as intersectional concerns in urgent need of care. In Ocean’s Dream Stamm points to the distortion of memory mistaken for nostalgia, as people only remember that which is lost. Embroidering on felt, Stamm considers beading to be an act of ‘returning home’, mobilizing craft as a mode of sexual autonomy and celebration of queer culture. In a dolphin, conch shell, and spiny lobster, we find whispers of insurgency on political battlegrounds where Stamm advocates for her local queer community through hand work, drawing a connection between social justice and craft economies.


Howard Krohn’s paintings contemplate the relationship of making and perception. Carefully devised and errant marks erupt spontaneously on canvas, in contrast to fields of meticulously stenciled detail. Krohn creates impressions of color through thin softly blended layers, interjecting symbols to disrupt the uniformity of abstraction. He directs the viewer's attention through carefully built layers of paint, resisting formal association as he systematically amalgamates figure-ground relationships. Mediating a system of creation and destruction, Krohns interest lies in the intentionality of abstraction, questioning the meaning of forms and symbols in our ever encoded world.


Jeff Robinson and Allison Lacher have no hesitance in integrating environmental ciphers in Fish Out Of Water. Robinson and Lacher work as transdisciplinary nomads, living and working as artists between St.Louis, MO, Springfield, IL and Chicago, IL. Their works provide an account of the Midwest and its resources, emphasizing our condition of isolation over the past year in Fish Out Of Water. Pet fish plucked from the wild become a metaphor for our secluded ecosystems in quarantine. The Illinois-native largemouth bass gasps for air, referencing our relationship to dwindling natural resources and policies that erode our communities. Often found near lily pads or shallow underwater root structures, largemouth bass attempt to bridge the gap between human and nonhuman cosmologies as Robinson and Lacher meditate the construction of ‘social bubbles’, as places of nourishment and/or starvation.


Alyssa Knowling and Marcus Stabenow of ‘Visitor Assembly’ delve into the subconsciousness of the pandemic in TIME WARP AGAIN. The impact of the last year on our psyche is conjured through a collection of soundscapes, poetry and photography. Solvej Helweg Ovesen parallels the Covid-19 lockdown as “A psychedelic experience, releasing all our fears and dreams into the collective bloodstream all at once.” (ISCP New York, April 2020) As an extension of this thought, what if we were to trace our memories of a pre-pandemic era from the standpoint of the present? What kinds of distortions or dissonances arise? Bridging our syntactic understanding of what the world once-was to it-is-now, Visitor Assembly conjure images of lost memories. TIME WARP AGAIN composes a series of negatives that require us to have an intuitive image of a photograph we have never seen. Places, plants, and abstracted textures become details of forgotten environments. An accompanying soundtrack, accessible via QR code, creates an emotional undertone, meant to mimic the way memory imprints feelings onto fleeting details. An interactive website component offers a space where these  ‘memories’ can be rearranged in a blend of fact and fiction. In this way, Visitor Assembly plants part-true/part-false images in our minds, creating a hallucinatory experience that blends fact and fiction in a cinematic way.


Kalaija Mallery’s two-part installation Light-meter and One Thousand Sunny Hours, brings the history of sundials together with  a living anarchive hosted on the artists website. 


Etched into the mirrored sundial is “COUNT ONLY SUNNY HOURS,” a commercialized proverb drawn from kitsch garden accessories. The idea of selectively ‘counting only’ the happy moments in life exemplifies mankind’s preoccupation with the classification of nature as means of psychological control. Once a tool for measuring time, the sundial here becomes the enabler of selfie-induced narcissism. Conscious or unconscious engagement with the work becomes an act of self-identification,  as our reflections are trapped in the object oriented economy of narcissism. Light-Meter is the corruption of  mankind’s understanding of light in relation to time, removing it from its ideal, scientific and mathematical systems.


Further probing the ancient worship of the sun, One Thousand Sunny Hours is a participatory digital anarchive manifesting the trace of collective knowledge formation. Like the artisans of ancient solar cults, digital data transforms light into cultural artifacts. Through a QR code, viewers are invited to submit materials on sunlight, worship, time and travel, manifesting creative energy that radiates through the collective. The anarchive goes against the entropy of data-driven knowledge and search databases, with the aim to evolve into an organic communal space where light can multiply boundlessly..


Bruce Burton’s Watch You, Watch Me (Composed) parallels the agency of the artist with that in nature. Burton renegotiates the colonization of natural systems by examining the values ascribed to material, exploring nature as a resource offering itself to engagement. His sculptures draw on 16th century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portraits, whose still lifes conjure up grotesque heads. Suspended as two abstracted faces, Burton’s sculpture also references Nauman’s ‘Hanging Heads’, which examined the contradictory nature of human communication. Acknowledging the stories we tell about ourselves, our environment, and its relationship to it, Watch You, Watch Me (Composed) warns of forgetting our place in  nature. Part conservationist in his approach, Burton’s deep interest in salvaging disposed material is linked to his maternal great grandfather's experience of the Great Depression, a time which could well parallel with the pandemic in terms of sickness, job losses and nationwide suffering. His careful engagement with art history and discernment in material, leads to an assembly of things that dictate their own lifespan. ‘Watch You, Watch Me (Composed)’ is an animation of squirrel-eaten walnut shells, snail shells, sweetgum tree seed pods and found slag from the artist's backyard, creating a silhouette of man rising from his environment. 


Edo Rosenblith’s Low Spectrum II (After Ellsworth) responds to Ellsworth Kelly’s series ‘Spectrum II’ (1966-67), at the St. Louis Art Museum. At the time of its creation, Ellsworth questioned the standardization of the red-to-blue color spectrum by presenting viewers with a yellow-to-yellow series.  Rosenblith condenses the original twenty-three foot polyptych into an eight-foot installation. Collaborating with Brooklyn based artist Erik Peterson, he incorporates concrete feet on each panel as an homage to his heritage-  collapsing his lineage in coming from a long line of cobblers in Tel Aviv, with his 

memory of a family member’s limb being amputated due to diabetic complications. Low Spectrum II is both a critique of art historical impression and ancestral memory. Rosenblith says, “My experience is that people tend to look for meaning and project their own narratives onto abstract or minimalist works, even when none exist.” The large-scale minimalist painting is here absorbed and transformed into something that is understood in relation to the artist's lived experience. Low Spectrum II is a discrete take on what art as capital continues to accommodate, leaving us to consider what we see and what we’re expected to see in the art world.


Vaughn Davis Jr. is one of MONACO’s newest members. So What?! is an early work presented in parallel with his solo exhibition, ‘Schisms’ at Romer Young Gallery in San Francisco. Working with material as figure, Davis breaks past the stretcher, veering the edge between intuitive, emotional action painting and formal abstraction. Titled after Miles Davis’s 1959 single, So What?! commemorates the moment at which Davis began to embrace the rhythm of painting over the calculation of sculpture. Employing improvisation as a structure to shatter the restraints of abstract painting, Davis works performatively with his body to create a ritual site, breaking down the barriers between himself, his history, his community, St.Louis and the art world, So What?! speaks to the artist's commitment to art as an antidote to the harshness of life and collective frustrations of America at this political moment.


The last 13 months has strained our natural and social systems, both locally and globally. Art, artists and artist driven collectives help us mitigate these conditions, as we each struggle to resume work, education, entertainment and play. The central question now is how we rebuild a more sustainable ecology of care, at the cusp of art and nature. While natural systems are already adapting and laying out the design for the next generation, man is preoccupied with the fabrication of it. Aligning with the imagination of the collective ecology of Monaco, Fluid Ground is a step back from the crisis to make space for viewers, thinkers and activists to contemplate the interconnectedness of artistic practice in relation to the fluid structures of nature, as each of us has a role to play in the long response to an ongoing socio-ecological crisis of such magnitude. 


-Pia Singh, Chicago

March 2021