The Chelsea Hotel is an icon of New York’s endangered free spirit — replete with freaks, geeks, ground shakers, noise makers, and artists who just don’t give a shit about capitalist progress. Though the latter has gnashed its teeth and the Chelsea’s caboose has stuttered to a halt, the spirits in the air will never vacate the premises.

Writer and independent curator Dmitry Komis curates The Quality of Presence at the Chelsea Hotel today through Sunday in a recently vacated suite — a group exhibition that employs Walter Benjamin’s seminal text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction as a point of departure, and extends Benjamin’s argument of a diminishing “aura” of an artwork to the architectural space that encompasses it.

We walked through the exhibition with some Ace x Impossible film and had a chance to ask Dmitry about the show and some our friends who are in it.

Sherrill Tippins wrote about how the architect of the Chelsea was influenced by the French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier — that it was envisioned as a hub of creativity from the start. Is American utopia down for the count at the Chelsea or making a comeback?

To be honest I do not feel very optimistic about it, informed in part by my own experiences at the Chelsea.  

Living there, I was most interested in the people who felt they could not live anywhere else, because they felt so much a part of it, the architecture and the mood. The people who have been there 20-30 years. So you cannot tell them that artists have left the Chelsea or whatever people want to say now, they’re still there and continue to make work. There are not many buildings in New York you can still say that about. I also feel that for an artist community to flourish anywhere, affordable housing is a prerequisite. If the Chelsea continues to raise rents and fight its rent controlled status in court that would be a complete disaster.

Is Colette here to represent for the Fourierist spirit in 2012?

Colette is Colette. She is true to her vision. Her work is certainly informed by a self-sustainable ideology, but I’m not sure she would say she was influenced by Fourier. For The Quality of Presence, she resurrected one of her original bedroom panels, complete with a 1975 lightbox, and customized it for the Chelsea space. It looks like it’s always been there. I begged her to do it, she was not keen on bringing that back, but I felt it had to be seen within this context. I really respect Colette’s work and think she deserves a lot more serious attention. I won’t mention the current “controversy” surrounding her work, but it does seem to be very relevant at the moment culturally, thinking about artists and musicians and their all encompassing environments.

If Zaldy could dress any of the artists-in-residence in Chelsea history however he wanted, who do you think it would be? 

Viva. But she already had a great personal style.

Will Desi Santiago represent the 90s club kid aesthetic?

Desi’s piece literally borrows from the 90s club kid aesthetic, as he is using materials from Mathu & Zaldy’s costumes in the 90s, which were stored in the same closet where his installation will be. Desi found them in the closet after Zaldy & I moved out of the apartment. Desi certainly loves a spectacle, and is inspired by that culture, but his work takes on so many other cues and meanings that become something completely different when removed from the club context. The work is celebratory, yet dark and introverted. 

Has Scott Hug taken any more Polaroids? 

Scott is including his graph collage pieces. I love this body of work and I think it can go on forever.

Mapplethorpe and Miguel Villalobos in one room — that’s a powerful litany of black and white.

Miguel has photographed many many shoots in the bathroom in room 302, so it is fitting that he is contributing images that were shot there. His photos will be contrasted by Jen DeNike’s bathtub projection. Every artist is responding to the architecture and utility of each room in the suite. 

The Mapplethorpe in the show is pretty powerful; the longer I stare at the photograph the more I start seeing other things the image.

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