Q&A: Jo-ey Tang on artist Zoe Leonard's work and upcoming Artist Talk

Malu Marzarotto

Feb 19, 2019

Jo-ey Tang

As the Beeler Gallery at Columbus College of Art and Design begins preparations for its fourth and final chapter of arms ache avid aeon: Nancy Brooks Brody / Joy Episalla / Zoe Leonard / Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified, Malu Marzarotto, Wex public and university programs intern, sat down with the Beeler’s director of exhibitions, Jo-ey Tang. Tang  discussed his approach to exhibition-making, a personal connection to feminist art activist collective fierce pussy, and hopes for Zoe Leonard’s upcoming Artist Talk at the Wex on February 28.

Hi Jo-ey. Thanks so much for meeting with me. Could you begin by telling me more about yourself and the Beeler Gallery at Columbus College of Art & Design?

I am a curator, artist, and writer. Prior to my role as director of exhibitions at the Beeler Gallery, I was a curator at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, working on international projects between France, China, and Southeast Asia. But the real start of my curatorial practice was during my MFA at New York University, when I organized an exhibition of my peers and teachers in my tiny New York apartment. Before arriving in Columbus, I was a research fellow at Villa Arson, an art school with an art center in Nice, France. Living on-site at the Mediterranean brutalist campus had me thinking back about my own art education and experiences in art school, the value of arts education, the role of the art school in the current political moment, and how I might contribute to rethinking the relationship between the art school and its exhibition program. Believe it or not, Nice, outside the cultural center of Paris, was a good transition to Columbus.

Beeler Gallery is the main exhibition space at Columbus College of Art & Design. I recalibrated each programming season to align with the academic year. Each season will have its own temporality. For the current season, arms ache avid aeon: Nancy Brooks Brody / Joy Episalla / Zoe Leonard / Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified is installed through four movements, or chapters, as a way to set the relationships of the four artists in ever-changing motion. Viewers are witnesses to a process where artworks’ meanings can continuously be regenerated through the condition of the present moment (whether that’s the political climate we find ourselves in or the weather).

I heard you also had a personal connection to fierce pussy. Could you elaborate more on that?

I work with and alongside artists, often without a goal. Perhaps that gives it a personal dimension. In 2015, I approached Nancy, Joy, Zoe, and Carrie to work on a project, with an undefined goal towards thinking through their individual art practices and the relationships to their collective work. Meanwhile, I worked on projects individually with Nancy, Joy, and Carrie, to get to know one another through working together. Our project might have led to a dinner, a book, a public or a private conversation, and an exhibition was the furthest from our minds. In other words, begin with freedom.

These four artists had been working together since 1991 and share a strong, unique bond. How to be respectful, to build trust? What might the lives of artists be without exhibitions? How might our social engagements with artists be? Fast forward to 2017, I thought we might be able to activate all that we had been working on within the context of an art school gallery at Beeler Gallery. It still feels like an experiment.

In a past interview, you described the role of the curator as someone who is responsible for organizing materials and working with people. [I’m] listening to and sensing the conversations around [me]. How was that method put to practice when working with fierce pussy and setting up the first chapter of the season? How will that process continue for the remaining three chapters?

Working with and alongside artists regardless of outcome has been the guiding principle and ethics. The focus is on being, listening, and sensing the conversations around me, in order to activate what’s possible. For the first chapter, my great team, including Associate Director of Exhibitions Ian Ruffino and Registrar Marla Roddy, conceived the structure for the four artists and their works in four separate rooms of the gallery. The living archive of fierce pussy is situated in the fifth room, and is more or less unchanged through the season, thus providing a grounding for the season that fluctuates. This was the first time these four artists saw their works in relation to one another since they met in 1991. The remaining three chapters are conceived on-site with the artists. We have more works on-site than we could fit in the gallery, which allows for flexibility in the installation process, which is one of intuitive rigor.

You have previously described your preference for slow programming. How would you compare your curatorial style and the art of Zoe Leonard, one of the original members of fierce pussy? Zoe’s works (photographs, sculptures, and installations) seem to force viewers to slowly reflect and make meaning and connections. What correlations do you draw between your curatorial work and the decisions you’ve made for this programming?

By activating images and objects across time, Zoe Leonard maps the sensorial, physical, and political capacity, limits, and contradiction embedded in perception, how that process materializes and dissipates, and what documenting the inhabited world means. For the current season, I imagined how her different series might spatially and temporally relate to each other, and whether isolating certain series or images might allow for another look at how her work operates as both resistance and totally porous entities. In that sense, it reflects the ethos of “slow programming,” a porous program in resistance to power structure.

What do you hope to hear from Zoe during her Artist Talk at the Wex on February 28?

I would like to hear about her latest project on the US-Mexican border presented at the Carnegie International, as well as how she approached the installations and spatial encounters differently at the two venues of her retrospective exhibition, at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

What are some other upcoming events that you are looking forward to?

I’m very excited about our upcoming symposium on the current season on March 2. I look forward to a great group of participants, reflecting together, with Gregg Bordowitz, Jill H. Casid, Jonah Groeneboer, Alhena Katsof, Thomas J. Lax, Elisabeth Lebovici, alongside Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Carrie Yamaoka, and Zoe Leonard. I’m thrilled to share that this season will also be traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia in September as Chapter Five. Instead of a travelling exhibition, it’s a “travelling idea.”

"In other words, begin with freedom."