habitat for artists


Art and Its Constraints: According to Faheem and Odin, HFA Is…

Recently, HFA artists Faheem Haider and Odin Cathcart got to talking and talking and talking, and decided that they needed to put together their thoughts to internet print about their experiences as HFA artists, and their views on art and social engagement, with or without an HFA studio. Here's their first exchange  (Faheem posed the first set of questions): questions and answers one to the other, and back, with what's to come waiting in the wings.

HFA abounds with constraints: it's major conceit is that about limits (how much, how little?); which constraint do you think is the most seductive, or problematic for an artist in residence?

Odin: The most immediate and most flippant thing that comes to mind, is getting what you always ask for, what Bukowski used to call air and light and time and space. Life is filled with endless constraints no matter your position or level of creative acumen. It is the norm. Therefore, obtaining any sort of real freedom becomes a kind of terror. For an artist it is terribly seductive to be given space and time to produce. Ideas do not come out of thin air, creativity is born of living in the world and reacting to it, however it is rarely born out of contrived conditions. The artist inherently knows this even though she continuously desires  it.The very nature of the question that Simon first imagined was the question that every artist ponders in the abstract as they go about reacting creatively to their own experiences. How much time do I need? How little money can I get by on and still make what I want to make? How much space is enough space? It is also why so few artists who achieve success, in financial terms, remain vibrant. Creative vibrancy requires a fierce discipline and that is a discipline of denial. You must persist under the same constraints that originally bore you ideas or you fear you will be lost. This is the conundrum that HFA rather surreptitiously and as you put it, seductively teases at.Given the nature of life and its inherent constraints, it is sometimes necessary and important for artists to establish their own constraints or be forced into them artificially to see things in new ways. HFA offers up some very simple parameters in the form of a recycled container, shed if you will, that is a mere 6 x 6 x 8 feet in dimension. It’s not insulated or theft proof. It’s not precious or permanent, it’s just enough to keep an artist out of the sun and rain, yet portable enough to place them just about anywhere within public view. Make of it what you will, prison or  principality, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is creating.

Faheem: Like you, I take constraints as a given proposition in any context; it's the context and content of those constraints that change over time, and yes, space. The issue, as ever is what XYZ constraint squeezes out of the artist, or better what kind of ABC work can an artist squeeze out of XYZ constraint. As Bono sang, covering Jimi Hendrix' cover of Dylan's original "..the rest is up to you". I do want to push at a constraint that may not be a spatial one, or a temporal one: the moral value, and the all-important status of singleton, singular, work. A piece done, one at a time. It seems more interesting, to me at least, to think that given, say, the 6x6 limit in space that the shed provides one has a choice to make either small work inside or large work outside the shed (say using the shed as a storage space, while still employing the shed as an almost metaphysical conceit). I've done both, but now I'm given to the idea that it may be more interesting, if not totally performative, to use the constraints of the space to make small work, that then gets larger and larger as a conjunctive process is employed to make bigger work out of smaller work. And by conjunctive I don't mean repetitive; I mean adding more views, more ideas, more, indeed, different concepts that together make a work. So, drawings, along with paintings. Writing, poetry that feeds into paintings, and say, animation, and conversation. It's the idea that a denial on one facet of some space may point to myriad other options obtaining as a result of that other denial. It seems to me then that denial just becomes a fount of other practices, as it always does. HFA just makes the conceit of "denial" an issue not of the world, but in the world.

What would HFA be without those constraints? At the limit what would HFA be without a studio?

Odin: Without the constraints of the shed, art practice is really one of three things, traditional studio practice, plein-air or completely conceptual. In a rather strange and somewhat perverse way, HFA is a combination of all three. In the end, from a purely conceptual point of view, HFA isn’t really about the shed or even perhaps the constraints of the shed, but really about a public outing of art practice. We’re well past the days when artists can or should hide away in secret, outside the public eye, toiling away at their craft as if it were some kind of alchemy. It’s that kind of belief system that has helped manifest the art ruin, the so-called art ‘market’ of today.

Faheem: I really enjoy and agree with your response. HFA without a studio would be the art world, as such. Interestingly, HFA with the studio is also the art world as such. It's an open question then whether one should mathematically eliminate the shed as logically unnecessary. My personal view is that--and this connects to my response, above--it depends on how you want to structure your practice. If the shed is dead, as I think it is logically, then why use it? Well, much like a dead god, you let the demands of an objective value die, and you develop your own meaning and your own craft through the spaces and concepts given you. The shed is important because it is like a pencil. And like a pencil, you could make art through other means, but why would you want to? The question isn't just a rhetorical one.

Faheem Haider is an artist, writer, editor and political analyst. 

E. Odin Cathcart is a member of Habitat for Artists. He is an artist, writer, independent curator and marketing strategist. 

Image courtesy of Faheem Haider


HFA at the Philly Flower Show: Artists and their Art

Artist: Virginia Walsh


Artist: Sara Schenke

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Artist: Sara Schenke


Artist: Carol Phillips

Here we've got some pictures of the first few artists we were in residence at the Philly Flower Show. Our thanks to all the artists who collaborated with us, and with the Hudson Valley Seed Library. The show's up until tomorrow Sunday, March 8th. Do drop by and say "hi" if you're around town.


HFA at the Philly Flower Show (Again, Redux)

We're having a blast at the Philly Flower Show working with our partner the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Our thanks to Ken Greene!  Our project continues to develop through the work of HFA artists in residence.

This past Saturday's engagement was tremendous, with many more visitors and guests than we'd hoped for. One of those people was HFA friend Brian DiSabatino, hailing from the great state of Delaware. Here below, are many of the pictures he took during our engagement. (Please click on the thumbnail to see a larger pic):

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We hope you'll come visit the show if you're able.


All images courtesy: Brian DiSabatino



On the Possibility of Something More


My name is Faheem Haider, though I prefer to be called Antik. I'm an artist, and a writer, and a member/collaborator of/with Habitat for Artists.

I'd like to offer an unbidden testimonial about why I joined up with HFA. That reason is unitary and utterly complete.

I joined up with HFA because it offers one the opportunity to do something different, the possibility that one might do something more than the norm.

The thing is, the possibility for that something more was, is, and will always be there in whatever ones practice consists in, studio-based or otherwise.

HFA just manifests that possibility in a weird looking shed left out in the world.

The rest is up to you, and me.


HFA at the Philadelphia Flower Show (AGAIN!!!)

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Habitat for Artists is proud to announce that we'll be collaborating again, for the second time, with the Hudson Valley Seed Library, at the Philadelphia Flower Show starting this Saturday February 28, 2015.

HFA will have artists in residence in our studio, now refashioned into a stop motion animation studio, from February 28th to March 8th 2015.

Hudson Valley artist, Keiko Sono, from Flick Book Studio, has been helping us with the camera set up, and so we thank everyone involved for what we are certain will be a fantastic time.

We'll have the following artists in residence on the following days:

Virginia Walsh, in collaboration with Faheem Haider:  February 28

Sara Schenke: Sunday, March 1

Ilana Friedman: Monday, March 2

Carol Phillips: Tuesday, March 3

Ellie Brown: Wednesday, March 4

Jacinta Bunnell: Thursday, March 5

Carol Philips: Friday, March 6

Margaret Kearney: Saturday, March 7

Misty Sol: Sunday, March 8

Come join us. It'll be a fun time.


Resilient Criticism: Evolution or Revolution?

Lucy Lippard at Creative Time, November 2013

Lucy Lippard at Creative Time in

This year the College Art Association awarded the Frank Jewett Mather award for art criticism to Lucy Lippard, the venerable feminist, curator, and writer who has been an astute observer of the art world for fifty years. In her acceptance speech she said, “I’m … pleased that the award is for art writing and not art criticism, a term I’ve always kind of disliked, since most of what I know about art I learned from artists, and artists from pretty diverse backgrounds, and ‘critic’ sounds awfully antagonistic.”[i]

I think it is fair to frame Lippard as an art writer not a critic, even though the original intent of the CAA award was designate important work in art criticism. That aside, Lippard has always written with the social contract in mind, not the value or lack thereof of art. It is fair then, to avoid the use of the term ‘critic’ and more appropriately frame her in the light of art and politics. Lippard’s contribution to our understanding of art in a social context, particularly as it applies to women is incontrovertible. I do not however, agree with her assumption that criticism is to be avoided because of its antagonism. The implication in her statement is that criticism for her, undermines the potential for interaction with artists and therefore diminishes their contribution. This may be particularly true given her embrace of the conceptual, especially when it relates to ‘space’ over more traditional forms of art, especially painting. She wrote, “A painting, no matter how wonderful, is an object in itself separate from the place it depicts. It frames and distances through the eyes of the artists…like tourism, painting formalizes place into landscape.” Lippard’s view avoids formalism and in fact is bound as an escape from the confines of traditional roles and expectations, which is why it is often so vibrant and prescient. Does this then mean art criticism no longer serves a role in society? Perhaps it is better to begin with a different question—does art any longer serve a role in society?

My colleague at Habitat for Artists and art critic Faheem Haider and I have an ongoing conversation about the virtues of art production and criticism. I think that art at its best supplies a special knowledge to the world, one that cannot be assessed easily or in any other manner than the visual, because language ultimately destroys its own veracity. In other words, art can be a kind of truth that provides insights otherwise unseen, if not always acted upon. Faheem, on the other hand, much like Lippard, favors art as more of social intervention with no real importance unto itself. He does not believe that art transfers any special kind of knowledge, but rather simply layers an imposition onto the already ongoing social conversation.

“The artist’s role is to start a conversation. Another way to think about the artist– if that were ever important– is to think the artist shows up to intervene in a world that may not have needed any intervention, and that through those interventions an artist builds an audience. An audience never exists outside of, before, interventions, and thus, the artist always has a privileged position. But, the artist’s intervention should help along a chain of actions and conversations that might not have happened otherwise, though, of course, that’s no guarantee of the need for that intervention, and therefore of its value. This implies that the artist best have a view on offer that induces and conduces to some public good, where the good is measured in terms of well-being.”

So, does art offer some, dare I say, truth or is it merely another form of human expression that simply intervenes in an ongoing conversation?

I’ve written here before about resilience and one interesting concept of resilience is the resilient mind. Over the last couple of decades we've encountered new ideas about our cognitive processes and uncovered a genetic latency in some people toward greater resiliency. It seems that some people when hit with trauma bounce back quickly and have no long term impacts from the trauma. It is my contention—although there not yet data to back this—that artists may have more of this genetic propensity than the average person. It would be miserably self-destructive if artists intervened in the world by pushing society with new ideas, a kind of trauma to social constructs without having a personal resiliency. If this were true, it would provide an unconscious connection between art production and evolutionary progress. Disruption whether conceptual or conversant as Faheem suggests, is on its face counter productive to natural selection. Darwin said, “Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.”

Let's pause for a moment and turn Darwin’s statement on its head. What if art were the driving force behind man’s distinct expression of natural selection? What if those handprints and charcoal drawings in neolithic caves 40,000 odd years ago were a way of modifying our behavior with the natural world and overcoming overwhelming odds that might have otherwise rendered us obsolete as a species? Isn’t it possible that art informed our natural sense of resilience and imbued us with a seat of consciousness which Darwin called “Divergence of Character”?

It may be easy to dismiss this conjecture as hubris or at least the hubris of an artist/critic seeking to justify his own practice but given the current state of the art world and our own society, it seems the missing piece of our divergent character is this divergence. Yes, we’re becoming more interconnected through virtual media and there is an opportunity, as Lippard proposed, to create an updated regionalism within art practices, but what really seems to be missing in my opinion is a true critical approach.

Armory_Show_1Fear is so pervasive in our society that pinhole cameras can shut down an entire city for nearly a day. It would seem social conversation and stimulation cannot overcome a state action that impugns art production for its mimicry of state surveillance, intentional or otherwise. These are the unintended consequences of an art world free from true criticality. True art criticism is indeed antagonistic because it questions the veracity of what is being introduced to the conversation in order to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. It pushes historical context and pushes back on artists to do better, ask better questions, and indeed truly change the collective conversation. It’s not a practice for everyone because it requires a keen aesthetic eye balanced with historicity. A critic must be a hardened lot willing to speak her mind even when it’s uncomfortable or involves someone she knows. But a critic can also be a champion of the otherwise derided or misunderstood. Great art is never understood by the public when it emerges and cultural critics are necessary to pointing out the virtues as well as the shortcomings. True art criticism must therefore be embraced in order to avoid complacency. As Joyce Carol Oates has said, “When in 1913, the Armory Show of European Modernist art came to the United States, there was an opportunity for American art and cultural critics to assess the new, innovative art that had swept Europe by storm. Instead, professional critics, like the general public, from Teddy Roosevelt on down, received the work of Gauguin, van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and Duchamp with cheerful derision… Criticism is itself an art form, and like all art forms it must evolve, or atrophy and die.”

Jerry Saltz, the Action Figure

Jerry Saltz, the Action Figure

When Jerry Saltz (another former winner of the CAA Mather award) joins a reality TV show art criticism is under duress. I point to Saltz because he writes for more populist publications than his counterparts Peter Schjeldahl (The New Yorker) or his wife Roberta Smith (The New York Times) or John Yau (Hyperallergic). New York magazine has a decidedly more mainstream and younger audience than its other cultural counterparts, so the impact that Saltz has is potentially much greater. Remember: Robert Hughes used to write for Time magazine, that bastion of mainstream America.

A new language must emerge, and criticism is vital for the nurturing of such a language in art. How else will we escape the trappings of regurgitative ironic gestures borne out of laziness and fear? The great bulwarks against cultural erosion have either died or gone soft in their aging and, frankly, one should not be expected to maintain the kind of powerful critical rigor found in the late Clement Greenberg or that of Robert Hughes throughout a lifetime--it would be exhausting as proven out by Dave Hickey’s current writing. Fresh blood is always necessary to keep the dialogue moving. Unfortunately, today we find ourselves with few young voices willing to exert the precise combination of intellectual rigor and productive critical questioning vital to the enrichment and health of society. As Maurice Berger so eloquently stated in his introduction to his collection The Crisis of Criticism:

 “Art is neither value-free nor an independent source of values; to one extent or another, it always reflects the needs, politics, intellectual, and aesthetic priorities, and tastes of the artist, the institutions that support and disseminate his or her work, and the social and cultural universe of which both are a part. By connecting the artifact and its institutions to the bigger picture of culture and society, the critic can, in effect, help readers better to understand the process and implications of art, the importance and problems of its institutions, and their relevance to their lives.”[iv]

There is a natural tendency in our so-called advanced technological state to forego all things unrelated to comfort. Why have we come so far if not for our own comfort. We have reached an apex in America where there is a distinct separation between the marginalized and the haves. Even the middle class who find themselves at increasing disadvantage look downward in disgust at an imagined poverty and reinforce their fear by embracing comfort in the form of mindless capital expenditure. Who will call out society on its mindless parade toward extinction if not the artists? Who will ensure artists remain focused on truly disrupting the conversation, and adding to the accumulated knowledge of millennia if not the critic? Although I disagree with Faheem’s value-free assertion regarding art production, we are in total agreement as to the importance of art criticism. A disruption is a kind of trauma and most will react to that trauma by recoiling or attacking. Disruption is an affront to comfort and the current status quo, therefore easily misunderstood. The reactive mind as opposed to the resilient one is blind to opportunity as well as imminent danger. Our cultural of fear is breading a generation of meek, unquestioning souls which can only lead us to implosion. More than ever we need fearless critics willing to “help readers better to understand the process and implications of art.” This is how we will find resilience, through the resilient minds of the artist and their critics.


Erik Odin Cathcart is a member of Habitat for Artists. He is an artist, writer, and a thinker committed to green construction and development, and green resilience.



Engagements With the World: On Paintings Constant Renaissance

This week's Engagements is a simple one, but deadly. The great writer and art critic John Yau edits Hyperallergic's weekend edition, and this weekend's review is a beauty.

Ann Gale's show of portraits at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects gets reviewed up in the way everyone should write reviews. I encourage you all to read them the way Yau intends them to be read: slowly, and over and over again.

Here's a bit to savor:

Gale’s ostensible subject is the record of an encounter between her and someone else, whether it is a model or her own face, which she presumably uses a mirror to scrutinize. However, unlike Philip Pearlstein, who is also a studio artist, Gale resists photo-like resemblance, overt signs of virtuosity, and the theatrical. But where observers have connected Gale to Freud and Pearlstein, as well as Alberto Giacometti, I think that the differences between her work and theirs, which elevates it into a category all its own, lie in her unlikely affinities with the Abstract Expressionists and the Minimalists.

Virtuosity, which Pearlstein and Freud find many ways to demonstrate, is something many of the artists associated with Abstract Expressionism either tried to subvert or flat-out scorned. Mark Rothko was interested in making a painting that was naked, a work pared down to its essentials. Gale is also committed to stripping down her paintings, to getting rid of everything that she considers inessential. Gale wants to depict a figure in a real space, but refuses to rely on a viewpoint or schematic lines. It is a direct one-on-one encounter. This is what connects her to Giacometti, while her preoccupation with the phenomenology of seeing connects her to Paul Cezanne. For all the modesty of her marks and means, Gale is an incredibly ambitious painter devoted to a meticulous inquiry of the act of looking at another human being, to registering the optics of her inquisitiveness.

What a piece of work!