AHA! A House for Arts

S7 E7 | CLIP

AHA! 707 | Ellen Letcher and Julie Torres on LABspace

Originally founded by Susan Jennings in 2014, LABspace is now the long-term curatorial project of artists Julie Torres & Ellen Letcher. The Hillsdale NY gallery is dedicated to experiments in curation, exhibiting culturally relevant works by contemporary artists. Learn more about their current show, Kurt + Courtney, featuring never-before-seen photos from the collaborative photography duo, Guzman.

AIRED: August 25, 2021 | 0:09:54

First tell us what LABspace is.

- Do you want me to take this?

- Sure.

- LABspace is an artist-run art space

in Hillsdale, New York.

Sort of in the middle of nowhere,

but halfway between Great Barrington, Massachusetts

and Hudson, New York, where we live.

And it was founded by artist Susan Jennings in 2014,

actually in her backyard in Great Barrington.

- So, you've been running it now for about three years.

- Exactly, since 2018.

And she calls it more than an art gallery.

- Yeah, so, I've noticed that before.

What does that mean exactly?

What sets LABspace apart from your typical art gallery?

- Well, I think because it's artist-run,

we're more about connecting people

and getting people to show up and come

and meet each other and spend time there

and grow different communities

and I don't know, you want to?

- More than a commercial space, would invested in having...

Most of our followers are artists,

and so, the shows are primarily focused

as the artist as the viewer,

rather than the big collectors.

We've been having that too, which is wonderful.

We've had some success there as well,

building our collector base,

but connecting and expanding the community

is something that we specialize in

and something that S.J. specialized in

when she founded the space.

- I actually wanted to then bring us now,

more into the present,

because I know you just recently opened

your "Kurt & Courtney" show at LABspace.

And from what I understand, it's a set of photographs

that come from this 1992 photo shoot

by the GUZMAN photographer team.

But they were photographing Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love

who were famous musicians from the '90s,

even if you're not gen X, you know who they are.

And I've seen images of these works,

and they're just incredible.

What do you think is so special about this show

and what do you think visitors are looking for

when they go to see it?

- I think we have lots of different visitors

for lots of different things.

I mean, we have a huge Instagram following now

of Kurt and Courtney fans

which was kind of unexpected.

Yeah, that's a whole separate thing that we didn't foresee.

People writing to us from literally all over the world,

begging for more images, which is kind of fun.

And then a lot of those people who are in the States

are driving from all over the country to see the show.

And then there are the local artists and art lovers.

- And skeptics. - And skeptics.

- That are like, "What is this?"

- Yeah, so, tell us a bit about the people

who love the work and the skeptics, and maybe tell us too,

what do these pieces look like in person, right?

Because it's not just a digital reproduction

of the photographs,

they are physical objects that you go and see.

- Yeah, GUZMAN is really amazing.

GUZMAN is Connie Hanson and Russell Peacock.

And they're a team, a couple who work together.

They've worked together for over 30 years

and they're artists.

They do art photography

and lots of different types of photography.

But in the '90s, they were really popular

to go on these commercial shoots.

They were hired by Spin Magazine to do the shoot in '92.

But the thing that's interesting about these photos,

number one, they're mostly outtakes.

So, mostly photos that nobody has ever seen before

from their archives, and number two,

they are still art photography.

They're printed on Japanese rice paper, mostly.

There's a mix of Polaroids

and then some older silver prints.

- So, I can imagine that they have this kind of raw,

sort of matte quality to them,

not like the glossy sort of black and white

that you typically envision

when you think of celebrity shoots.

- Exactly.

So, it's quite different than what people generally expect.

So, they show up and they're sort of surprised

to see how the images are printed

and the artfulness and some are collages.

And then we also have photos

spanning their entire career of 37 years.


- Which just scratched the surface of things they've done.

So, you really get an overview of them

as this photo art duo.

- Right, right. - Yeah.

- It sounds like what the GUZMAN team is doing

or was doing also in the '90s

was kind of blurring the boundaries

between what is considered formerly art,

what's considered photography,

what is pop culture and what's kind of fine art

or high art culture.

I've also seen images of your work as artists.

And I've been struck by this mix

of acrylic and found notebooks or gouache and envelopes.

Tell us a little bit about how your art

also breaks down some of these barriers

between different categories of art

or different categories of creative making.

- You should talk about your work.

- Well, we both like to use

unexpected materials, definitely.

So, that's kind of a fun place we like to dabble in

and to experiment in, definitely.

- I'll pour paint on anything.

- Will you pour paint on me?

- If you wanted me to.

When I first met Ellen and saw her work,

you were mostly doing collage of magazine pages

and her work has changed since then.

But I think it's kind of interesting

because she was coming from a publishing world

and it's sort of along the lines

of how GUZMAN are taking photography,

but turning it into sort of a more tactile art form.

And we're actually installing our work together,

coming up very soon.

- And this is at LABspace?

- No, we never show our own work at LABspace.

But we have a duo show.

Well, it's actually a three-person show

with Susan Carr coming up

at Cedar Crest College in Allentown at the end of October.

- Amazing. Amazing.

So, I'm sure viewers will look forward to seeing that

and also that you leave your space open

to other artists to exhibit their work at LABspace,

which is really great.

I mean, that is the definition of community, right?

Is allowing other people the space to express themselves.

- I do want to say, the art...

I don't want it to make it sound

like it's sort of like a community,

crunchy granola kind of space.

The artwork comes first.

We focus really heavily on emerging

and mid-career artists in the area

and in the Hudson Valley and Columbia County,

Capital Region. Berkshire's, there's just so many.

- So, really local, very much regional.

Why is it important to support

early career and mid-career artists,

and on top of that, ones who are coming

from the region or the area.

- You have to be part of the environment you're in.

So, I would say that maybe 80% of the artists

that we show are in the area,

but we don't want it to be insular.

So, we also like to bring artists from other areas,

but not just the city,

we're not just trucking artists from the city.

'Cause that's also something

that we have a little bit of a pet peeve about.

- Why is that, why is it such issue

to just kind of truck in artists from the city?

- Well, I think that it's very easy to show

tried and true artists who already have built a career

and are showing in the city,

but there's so much art all around us, I mean...

- There's so many great artists

just right in Hillsdale, it's crazy.

- I know, in Hillsdale!

- It's fun to just mix all those people up together

and then see what happens.

- And you expand communities that way

rather than keep things insular also.

'Cause if you're just bringing people from the city,

then it's like, okay, their city friends may come,

but when you're bringing artists from the area

and from other parts of the country

or from other areas that aren't quite as local,

then you're sort of connecting communities

and that's something that we're more interested in.

- Yeah, it's almost like you're creating new networks

and new centers for artistic dialogue

that they're not just like the city is the center

and then it just sort of spreads from there.

- Well, that's just the thing.

- [Ellen] That's exactly, yeah.

- So, we are pushing. I like what you said.

We're pushing against this idea

that the city is somehow the center.

I mean, I guess in some ways it might be,

but it's not up here.

- It doesn't have to be anymore either

because of the internet and everything.

We're all so connected that it seems

more exciting to me too, to have to feel

like you have to be in that one place and that's it.

- And we learned that during COVID.

You can literally be anywhere.

- I was about to say that with COVID and everything

and people not only working from home,

but also, people are migrating from cities to rural areas

and vice versa and people are moving around

and realizing I don't have to be only in New York or LA

just to do this thing.

Yeah, yeah.

So, what kinds of programs and what kinds of events

do viewers have to look forward to?

- So, Upstate Art Weekend takes place

August 27th to the 29th

and we're going to be open 12 to six.

That's Friday through Sunday.

And 60 spaces in the Hudson Valley region.

60 other arts spaces are going to be open

that weekend with extended hours.

And it's sort of a self-guided tour

that we're thrilled to participate in.

And then as part of that,

Connie and Russell of GUZMAN are going to do,

well, it's not a talk,

but they're going to be at the space from one to three

on Sunday the 29th at the gallery to meet visitors.

- People have a chance to just meet the people

who made these photographs, that's really cool.

- Yes, and I want to mention that GUZMAN, the couple,

actually live five minutes from the gallery.

So, people have this idea

that we've sought out these celebrity photographers

from New York or LA,

but they live right here in the Berkshires.

- It was such a pleasure having you both

on "A House for Arts".

It's great talking and thank you so much for being on here.

- Thank you so much for having us.


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