When Maxwell Fertik and Chase Buckley, curators of Machines with Magnets’ first virtual art exhibit, reconnected last winter, both were already considering the artistic theme of domestic spaces. They saw it in the works of fellow artists they studied with and admired at RISD and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, respectively, and they faced it in the uncertainty of transitional periods they found themselves experiencing in their own lives, even before the pandemic had them homebound for months.
“It is serendipitous that the idea was very tied to the uncertainty and inability to kind of grasp what’s going to be happening in the next day,” says Fertik now, relaying the start-and-stop process that has brought them to this moment: The big debut of un/comforts set in a virtual space, sans the speeches and appetizers of a pre-pandemic exhibit opening. Its thesis was devised pre-COVID-19, but then evolved to lean even more deeply into the domestic theme with the mental health struggles and feelings of isolation that came with lockdown.
For a beat or two, it seemed like the exhibit, originally scheduled for May, wouldn’t happen at all. By April, Fertik and Buckley found themselves sitting on this body of new artwork that they couldn’t showcase in person. “We had to sort of prepare for an absurd future,” Fertik says. “With that in mind, we were like, okay, where can we move forward from this?”
Fertik pursued a connection he made in Denmark with Artland, the online platform hosting the digital gallery, and worked with Machines with Magnets gallery director Catherine Hood to give the exhibit a second chance. Hood emphasizes the timeliness of un/comforts, “particularly given the current landscape in which many are still struggling with the loneliness of being isolated in quarantine, and many more with examining and fighting persistent race- and identity-related inequalities, often visible in the home sphere.”
Many of the works, which range from sculpture and fiber arts to self-portraiture, were created before lockdown, but the underlying motifs of insomnia, self-critique, and privacy are amplified when viewed together. Literal symbols of the home, like Rebecca Claire Ford’s vibrant red lamp sculpture, coexist with the more psychological approaches to the theme that turn the mirror on the artist sitting in quiet yet tense spaces.
Both Fertik and Buckley conceived their own paintings during quarantine. A figure painter by trade, Buckley explains that he didn’t want this piece to be just another self portrait and pulled from the surroundings of his home: “[I was] looking at this place that I find comfort in that can also be debilitating.”
What you might miss is the sheer scale of some of the larger works, but the solo experience of viewing this exhibit at home feels fitting, too. “It’s not purely this kind of recitation on pain – that’s certainly part of it, and a necessary conversation to have now,” Fertik says, “but I also feel like there is this brightness that comes out in the end, that people are still working and striving and pushing, throughout this process.” View un/comforts online via Artland through October 25.