The Chimney- Interview with Clara Darrason & Jennifer Houdrouge by Carla Lucini

NY, March 2017

The Chimney is a 23 feet high industrial and windowless black cube. A former powerhouse, with a now condemned chimney in Bushwick. The space has been transformed by Clara and Jennifer into an exhibition and performance venue since June 2015.

How did you come up with the idea of starting an exhibition venue in such a place ?  

Clara: I discovered the space in June 2015; it was vacant, without electricity nor HVAC. It stood as an exciting venue to curate exhibitions focused on works commissioned to artists to echo the architecture of the space. The first exhibition was planned to last one weekend during Bushwick Open Studios 2015. One weekend became a week, then a month, and now the Chimney has existed for almost two years! This adventure is a mixture of incredible luck, a supporting community and of course hard work to make a new space come to life in the extremely dense art scene of New York.

What is The Chimney’s ‘Mission’? and how is the exhibition program structured?

Clara: The Chimney aims at offering an exciting venue for artists to experiment with monumental scale, in a space closer to a warehouse than a white cube.  

Jennifer: Regarding our program, we develop long dialogues with artists ahead of the exhibition and have close relationship with them. We want to make sure that they utilize the space the best they can in order to push themselves and their works to the maximum. Our exhibitions program is always 5 weeks from September through June and we organize a Chimney Performance and Video Festival in July. We want the Chimney to be a place where ideas and diversity prevail and want to keep it a multicultural site by developing collaborations with international curators, artists and galleries.  

I had the opportunity to whiteness the first shows at The Chimney, and also of working with you as curator of one of them (Vertical Horizons, by Nicole Franchy). There, I experienced a sense of memory, diversity, magic, history, and science. How could you describe the curatorial process of The Chimney’s exhibition program? 

Jennifer: The curatorial objective is working with the architecture of the space and create works that are in direct interaction with the building. The Chimney in itself becomes an intrinsic part of the exhibitions as we offer artists a playing field in which they may experiment with their own practice and extend it to new format. This space continuously propels us to imagine new curatorial possibilities in light of different artistic practices. Each artist has explored the space in completely different ways: Aaron Taylor Kuffner turned the space into an urban sanctuary with his robotic Indonesian gongs, Nathalie Rodach created a giant glass cocoon suspended from the ceiling in collaboration with Andrew Erdos, Juliette Dumas & Sara Mejia Kriendler turned the space into a semi-cave, semi-factory, and the show that you curated, Vertical Horizons by Nicole Franchy gave a feeling of entering the three-dimensionality of a collage and disoriented viewers’ path as you explored different heights within the volume of the space. It also often happens that exhibitions we organize make compelling observations regarding today’s era.

 Installation view of Aaron Taylor Kuffner - Photo: The Chimney Archive

Installation view of Aaron Taylor Kuffner - Photo: The Chimney Archive

 Installation view of Fumihiko Sugino- Photo: The Chimney Archive

Installation view of Fumihiko Sugino- Photo: The Chimney Archive

How did you meet and decide to work together?

Clara: Jennifer and I met at Sotheby's institute of Art in 2014 where we both pursued a master in Contemporary Art. We became very close friends and discovered we shared a very similar aesthetic sensitivity. Shortly after I opened The Chimney, Jenny introduced Artist Talk for each exhibition. We then gradually collaborated on the exhibition planning, did many studio visits together, which ultimately led to becoming partners in the spring 2016.

Do you have other jobs or activities? 

Jennifer: I have recently started working in the curatorial department at the Guggenheim, which is an incredible experience. I also have an association called Children of Africa that develops project aiming at improving children’s living conditions in Tanzania and Senegal. I am currently working on a publication for the Chimney for the occasion of 2020, our last exhibition by Juliette Dumas & Sara Mejia Kriendler.  

Clara: I have been working for a gallery in the Upper East Side which has been an enriching experience. I have also recently started an Art Residency at my home in Paris for artists we work with at The Chimney. Finally I collaborate with my husband, American artist Andrew Erdos on a long-term video project entitled "Song of the Sun" which we will present this May at the Joshua Treenial

Could you tell us a little more about the 2020 Publication and the new Art Residency program you just told us about? 

Jennifer: "2020" by Juliette Dumas and Sara Mejia Kriendlier will be the first Chimney publication! It will include a notebook that consists of a series of drawings and writings that were passed back and forth for months between the two artists and before the show opened. This notebook was used as a treasure map that enabled two artists with opposite viewpoints to understand one another. It also traces the evolution of the exhibition. In addition, John K. Grande, an art critic and curator with great interest in the exhibition’s topic will write an essay for that publication.

 Portrait of Jennifer and Clara by Marcus Mam

Portrait of Jennifer and Clara by Marcus Mam

Clara: The "Danton Residency" is offered to artists who have exhibited at The Chimney and who have a project or exhibition planned in Paris. The Chimney will offer them the possibility to have an accommodation during their trip in the Quartier Latin for the length of their stay. 

How do you see New York’s independent art scene in comparison with the French and British one?

Clara: In the New York art scene is the diversity of artists we meet, as they come from all over the world. In France, the numerous opportunities for grants and residencies are essential namely for young artists. 

Jennifer: Although very dynamic, Paris and London are more institution-oriented cities. New York seems more welcoming for emerging projects! 

 Installation view of Raphaele Shirley - Photo: The Chimney

Installation view of Raphaele Shirley - Photo: The Chimney

Do you have any advice for an emerging artist who just moved to NYC? As well as for someone who wants to build a career in the NY art scene?

Jennifer: Make sure that you are spending more time in your studio rather than at social events.

Clara:  See as many exhibitions as you can and surround yourself with artists you admire the work of and who can give you critical feedback. As for building a career in New York, likewise: spend time educating your eye through museum & gallery exhibitions and studio visits; keep an open mind as curatorial opportunities can arise in various forms and not necessarily within a gallery space.

If you weren’t doing this as a career, what do you think you would be doing?

Jennifer: I developed my passion for art through my encounter with philosophy, so maybe professor of philosophy. Otherwise, an ethnologist! 

Clara: Most probably photojournalist.

What are your favorites galleries or museums in New York?

Clara: I enjoy very much the program of Microscope and Underdonk galleries in Brooklyn. The Knockdown center is a really exciting industrial venue. Wandering in the 19th and early 20th European Paintings and Sculptures aisle of The MET is an eternal source of wonderment. 

Jennifer: For museum, Guggenheim! As for galleries, I really enjoy Miller Contemporary and Kai Matsumiya in the lower east side!

How do you relate to the other art spaces located in Bushwick and close-by area?

Jennifer: The Chimney blends quite exceptionally with the rest of the neighborhood as it used to be a powerhouse! Another art venue that resembles the Chimney with its industrial quality is the Knockdown Center that is very close by. We are very community-oriented and we see the galleries around us as possible collaborators in the future

ClaraThe Journal gallery in Williamsburg is certainly an inspiration as they naturally grew over the past decade from a magazine to an exhibition venue showcasing underground and up and coming artists. We gradually transition from a DIY exhibition and performance venue to a formal gallery. Jenny and I are contemplating starting a Zine Publication starting in the fall of 2017. 

What are your go-to places in Brooklyn after The Chimney openings?

Clara: We like the New England beach vibes at "Cape House", the Party bomb sushi at "MoMo Sushi Shack", and inventive cocktails at "Forrest Point".

What would be your “unrealized” –yet– project for The Chimney? And where do you see The Chimney in 5 years?

Clara: An exciting unrealized project would be to organize a land art festival or exhibition with artists of The Chimney in entirely different location from New York - such as the desert in Utah / Arizona.

Jennifer: I’d love to do an exhibition of artists from Senegal and develop off-sites there; or an exhibition that would play with miniatures contrasting with the volume of the space. We believe in the long-term capacity of The Chimney as a site in motion with an international community that furthers its objective of showcasing the wildest projects of artists in non-traditional art spaces. So for now, the chimney is in New York but we wish to build a moving entity developing projects in Africa and Europe.

Follow The Chimney's exhibition and projects at www.thechimneynyc.com

Carla Lucini 

-- Art Historian and Independent Curator from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Carla was part of the curatorial team of The Illusive Eye (2016), the Op and kinetic art survey exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, New York City's only museum dedicated to Latin American and Caribbean art. Recently, she curated Vertical Horizons, by artist Nicole Franchy at The Chimney, and Amérika: Bahía de las Flechas, by artist and filmmaker Ana Vaz at 67 Ludlow, NY. She has also worked on different initiatives related to the body of work of Cuban artist Carmen Herrera. Carla holds a Bachelor of Arts, Art History and Art Management from Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires), and a Master in Contemporary Art from Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York --

 

 Photo: The Chimney Archive

Photo: The Chimney Archive

 Photo: The Chimney Archive

Photo: The Chimney Archive