Artist Kim Harty is an assistant professor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, where she is the section chair of the glass program. In addition to her regular schedule of exhibitions and writing projects (Harty edited GAS News after serving as the managing editor of Glass Quarterly for several years), she has also done a number of curatorial projects dating back to her Cirque du Verre performance-art project in the late 2000s. Currently, Harty has an unusual exhibition on view at Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak, Michigan, a commercial gallery in a affluent suburb of Detroit. The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet recently spoke with Harty about this exhibition, which remains on view through October 17, 2018.
Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: First of all, how did this exhibition come about? It doesn't seem to be a typical exhibition that Habatat would hold.
Kim Harty: About a year ago, Habatat invited me to curate an exhibition and gave me a lot of creative freedom in how to approach it. When I was thinking about the show, I wanted to do something that would be a good fit for the gallery, that took on a subject matter that was relevant to Detroit, and that would contextualize glass in a new way. One thing I knew about Corey Hampson, one of the owners of Habatat, is that he has a passion for street art and has a small collection of it. That, married with many of the shows and street art projects I had seen around Detroit, as well as some of the work I had been paying attention to in glass, came together as the impetus for StreetKraft. I also felt that StreetKraft could be a visually compelling exhibition and could draw people in through the rich surfaces, colors, and imagery.
Glass: In the exhibition announcement, it reads, "StreetKraft features bold new artwork from around the world that is inspired by the street." So, I wonder, when you use the term "street," what does that refer to exactly?
Harty: The idea of “the street” started out as a somewhat vague notion, and a more nuanced definition developed as the exhibition was assembled. “The street” is the roads, sidewalks, street facing walls, telephone poles, and other public surfaces that are constantly being traversed. People are in the street to commute, to wander, to protest, to play; sometimes they travel carelessly, leaving litter behind, sometimes carefully, posting notices or leaving their mark methodically on walls, poles, and trash cans. The street is a workplace for some and a home for others. The street absorbs and reflects the remnants of all these experiences, which could manifest as spray paint and traffic cones from municipal workers, mounds of dirty snow, pasted-over notices, and graffiti on the walls. It could be gum, beer bottles, and pizza boxes left behind and spilling out of trash cans, or shattered glass.
Glass: Were you also looking to connect to so-called street art, which is traditionally defined as art that takes place outside of a gallery, specifically works meant to be experienced outdoors and in a public setting? Did you have this association in mind when you named the exhibition? Or what was on your mind?
Harty: The spirit of street art is in-your-face, eye-catching, and political. It’s a way to make a mark on the world. All the artists in the show embody that spirit in their work. Some of the artists, like Kalina Banka and Joe Ivacic, take on the theme of graffiti directly. In Kalina Banka’s case she is taking a raw surface—a graffiti wall—and translating it through traditional stained-glass techniques. The contrast is a commentary on the transcendent potential of the street. Calcedonia Curry, aka SWOON, is an artist who works between the street and the gallery, and she showed drawing made on found widows—literally bringing a part of the street into the gallery.
Glass: The international range of artists is wide and impressive. Were you looking to explore the meaning of the term "street" as it crosses different cultures?
Harty: I think there are more cultural commonalities than differences when it comes to the language of the street. Work from Poland, Australia, Japan, alongside art from U.S. cities, both big and small, demonstrates that “the street” is a universal concept.
Glass: How were the artists chosen?
Harty: Some of the artists I had in mind for the exhibition and many of them I discovered through research. I tried to be as exhaustive as I could, looking at publications, social media, and talking to people to find artists for this exhibition. I wanted to highlight artists whose work demanded more exposure, and I wanted to show artists working in a variety of processes and at different points in their career. However, curating is definitely an art, not a science, so ultimately, I made judgement calls about which artists were a good fit. Some artists showed previously made work and others, like Stacy Lynn Smith, Carmen Vetter, Esteban Salazar, and Bandhu Dunham and Robert Mickelsen made new work for the show.
Glass: Can you talk a bit about your observations about the connections between the work in your exhibition? What do you see as the links, or is it simply the subject matter?
Harty: There are four particular themes in the show that I explore in the catalogue essay. Artists are finding magic in the mundane moments of the street, looking at the language —symbols, signage, and images—found on the street, imagining sort of post-apocalyptic urban futures, or creating fantastical interpretations of the street and urban space. Some of these themes I had in mind when I was putting the show together, but the more dire work—Carmen Vetter’s Traces series, which shows crumbling wallscapes with fallout and biohazard symbols; Stacy Lynn Smith’s Memorials of Things to Come, with murky glass gravestones for cities that will be underwater as a result of climate change; and Esteban Salazar’s The Eternal Return #2, which is like a post-capitalist deity figure—those were all made in response to the show, and I think they highlight the anxiety of our current political moment by materializing dystopian representations of the street.
Glass: Will the exhibition travel to another venue?
Harty: I would love to see that happen, but currently there are no future plans.
Glass: What has the reaction been to this exhibition in a suburban setting? What types of comments did you receive from viewers?
Harty: At the opening there was a wide range of visitors. Habatat’s typical collector base, who had been attending openings there for 30+ years came, and they were excited about the work. There were also folks from the flameworking community and the Michigan Glass Project (a large flameworking event in Detroit), students from CCS, and other artists from the surrounding area. Everyone who attended seemed engaged with the work and interested in learning more.
I think that even the suburbs, in a driving city like Detroit, you still find moments that touch on the themes in the show. “The street”’ isn’t solely isolated to urban centers; it’s a universal concept, and therefore a broad entry point for people to relate to the artwork.