Making un/comforts

Maxwell Fertik 
MFA ID 2023

Here are a few words about my art show called un/comforts. The full statement can be found on Artland.

In January 2020, before I knew I’d be coming to RISD, Chase Buckley and I came up with an idea for a group show. Chase is a Providence-based artist, musician and curator, and we have known each other since kindergarten. We hadn't actually worked together until this year, but we quickly found that we worked well together. At that point we had both just moved back in with our parents. We now live together.

In one of our early meetings, we discussed the performance of quotidian existence: the Camera roll mirror pics, the thirst traps, the ritual sharing of Instagram posts, the long argumentative monologues with immediate family, and the chaotic, courtroom-esque debates with relatives on WhatsApp. Now that we are in the (fill in the blank)th month of the pandemic, I would also add to this list the socially conscious TikToks, the neo-conservative TikToks, the graceless drama of seeing someone you haven't seen since 2015, curating a Spotify playlist for raving alone in your car, the delicate dance of using dating apps in your hometown as an adult, the violently poetic movements of putting the comforter inside the duvet cover, the autocratic ballet of a president refusing the basic terms of democracy, and last but not least, the knowledge that my mother recently attended a virtual Bris. All of these things are a part of this everyday performance of living for me and in many ways this initial conversation grew into something closer to a prophecy as we put together un/comforts.

After documenting the many ways in which we personally perform and how this might be looked at as something meaningful, we decided to put together a show centered around the privacy and intimacy of the home and the habitual distress and pleasure of prolonged living in a familiar space. So, we gathered a group of artists who we knew could best encapsulate this concept and who could provide nine distinct ways of thinking about it.

In March 2020, humanity was hit with the most cataclysmic event of my lifetime and we abruptly halted all of our conceptual discussions. In other words, a thoughtful dialogue on the nature of routine was not going to combat the rapidly spreading virus and it became increasingly evident how privileged it was to celebrate anything non-essential. In addition, the Pawtucket gallery we were working with, Machines with Magnets, had closed its doors indefinitely. So really as soon as we started, we stopped, discouraged and unable to determine the next step. Without a gallery, we had no show.

By June 2020, so much had already happened. The concept of urgency was completely redefined in the wake of layers of national unrest, and substantial new conversations needed to happen. A performance about “everyday performance” in this atmosphere would only get in the way of real justice work. Needless to say, a new and decisive discourse was in the air and it didn't feel right to open the show in June.

So we decided to try something different. I sent an email to the head of prominent Danish art publication, Artland. Instead of ghosting, they agreed not only to partner with us but also find someone in Rhode Island to 3D scan the exhibition. It was light in a very dark time.

But I should briefly explain what I mean by 3D scan. This medium is something many galleries are experimenting with as
more galleries attempt to deal with the drastic plunge in physical visitors/buyers. In the same way that a 3D object is scanned into a database—even RISD’s Nature Lab is trying it Artland takes thousands of tiny photos per second of both the panoramic space (the x and y) and also the depth (z). Together, the images make up an aggregate “space” that can be maneuvered through on a phone, computer or VR goggles (if you want all the peripherals).  It certainly brings up innumerable questions about what a virtual landscape could provide, and, conversely, what is lost when we move farther away from physical experience. Nonetheless, we had no better options so we gave it a try.

Somehow, by July, we gathered each artist’s submission in the gallery before the deadline. Some pieces had been kept in my parent’s home from before RISD’s shutdown. Some were taken from earlier but relevant projects. Some were completed in the 11th hour. One piece, by Boston artist Marissa Cote, had to be installed with the help of the artist on FaceTime, guiding us as we carefully hung the taught, flesh-like fabric. It took a full week to install, but only about 30 seconds to 3D scan. By the 25th, un/comforts had manifested into a show about being alone in bed that could be viewed while alone in bed. If nothing else, this show and its manifestation helped me get through a very difficult and unexpected chunk of time. And I can only hope that this transformation onto the VR platform acts as a humorous immortality that we can look back on and learn from.

Here’s how I see it:

Some of the artists approach the topic with a playful nostalgia (Ford) while others embrace absurdity, death and aging (Konopka, Blum). Some are purely reflective (Nelson, Buckley) some lean into distress, destruction and trauma (Ng, Cote, Fertik) and some play with neutral self-awareness (Cofrancesco). As a whole, un/comforts offers a sense of visceral self-consciousness and shared aloneness without breaking from the tactile, familiar home environment. It points to this distressing and sustaining feeling of being isolated within familiar space but equally offers a vision of adaptable futures unhindered by trauma. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such talented, kind and dedicated artists — they deserve all the credit for making un/comforts what it is.

Enter the gallery here.

Read the Providence Monthly article here.

Maxwell Fertik is hopelessly dependent on oatmeal