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Interview with Tara Fay
Tara Fay’s warmth and excitement exuded through the phone as I spoke with her about the opening of Women, According to the Internet, the exhibition she curated at Bunker Projects throughout August in Pittsburgh. The independent curator and manager of Social Status Sneaker Boutique took her time researching feminist exhibitions and artists before putting the exhibition together with eight regional artists exploring feminism and what it means to be a woman in the age of social media. She took time to chat with me about how she came to love being a woman, how she met and put this group of artists together, the growth experienced while curating at Bunker Projects, the show’s provocative and poignant work, how this show might open minds to the sexism in the current election and more…
Sally Deskins: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! So how was the opening?
Tara Fay: It was awesome, I didn’t realize how many people had heard about it, and it was a great turn out. People were really engaged and excited. A lot of people were shocked at some of the imagery which was good because hopefully that means they got something out of the exhibition…
SD: Awesome! So let me back up a bit…your experience is in fashion, as you manage a boutique. Tell me more about your background and specifically with regards to art. Is this your first curated show?
TF: We do monthly shows at the boutique. My first endeavor on my own was a mixed media graffiti group exhibit at Most Wanted Fine Art in 2014. So it had been awhile before I did anything independently.
SD: So how did this show come together; why the topic of women’s objectivity and why now?
TF: It more or less started after I ended a past relationship. I was not in a good place, in retrospect. I did a lot of reflecting on my choices—how it affected myself, other women, things I allowed myself to deal with that weren’t healthy. I had been controlled in many ways, so I had to learn how to love and respect myself. From there I started to see things differently, learning things about myself without restraint. I realized I loved being a woman, I felt like a different person—the view of myself made everything look different. I began to have more respect for women; I realized being catty is not right…I want to love and embrace women which is an amazing feeling.
And I have no artistic abilities…I wanted to express myself being a woman. I wanted my focus to be on feminism. I didn’t know what exact concept but I wanted it to be genuine. I chose social media from my personal experiences, realizing this is every day for women. There are also women who make a living on Instagram, and the kind of comments and things you see--you can’t believe people use these platforms in such a harmful way. So, this show was over a year in the making to conceptualize something the artists understood and responded to.
SD: Did your fashion/boutique experience impact this exhibition/curating?
TF: Yes, planning events has given me a lot of experience. I studied fashion retail in college and got a job managing this boutique, it is working out well. I am so fortunate to have this position. Moreso what impacted this exhibition is being a woman working in a male dominated field. My employees are all males, which taught me to have a voice. I have to be loud and aggressive to get my ideas across. I started out meek and mild, and learned quickly you have to be assertive to be taken seriously. Shoewear is a boys club which does translate to my curating, to my content. My goal is to make people notice certain things, and to do that I have to be bold, I can’t be scared no matter how extreme the content or message. And people really looked at it like, ‘I can’t believe this!’ regarding the screen shots of Ian Connor, a prominent guy in the streetwear industry. I had to think seriously about my role, and my store manager’s connections. I try to be conscious about how I present myself, I’m apprehensive and don’t like to take risks with my role. But this was a great idea from a great artist [Twilight Sparkle]. It speaks to the boys club; a lot of the shots show Connor’s comments against women. I had to include this. I felt like it was a bold move. Excellent idea.
SD: So that leads to my next question – tell me about the work in the show and how you curated the space to get your message across. Do you have a curatorial philosophy?
TF: If I had a philosophy, it’d be that your work should engage and make people think of things differently. Art has the capacity to teach, and we should embrace our roles as curators and curate meaningful content. Every artist had their own experiences they wanted to build on, and ideas to contribute. Overall it wound up being a think piece. People realized with the work the vulnerability that comes with being a woman on social media. It really worked out with space and made the message clear. Bunker Projects is an intimate space which really enhanced the experience; the audience engaged with the work in intimate ways. We have the screen shots framed on a mantel like you were in someone’s home in a loft. I really love and appreciate the space in that regard.
SD: Expand on the context and layout of the show; is there a narrative or is it more aesthetically designed?
TF: I presented each artist with the idea for the show, and they all received it in different ways, based on their own thoughts and experiences. From there, they created their own stories within the context of my idea, which became the statement for the show. All the work fit together because ultimately, each story was a part of a larger narrative, and in the end we created an introspective built around the statement I constructed. There were a few instances where aesthetics came into play, but only along the lines of maximizing the amount of space we were working with, and making everything cohesive. Other than that, the work was laid out in accordance with what each artist was trying to convey.
In this image, Andre Jones' piece is at the center above the mantel, and Tamia Johnson's are on either side of it. Tamia choose where her pieces would hang, because she was in attendance during installation. It worked out because both pieces were part of a series, but still very different from one another, so they could hang relatively close to each other, but still separate.
SD: In the exhibit description the show is described as a feminist exhibition. So, did you think about feminist artists working with objectivity like Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, or Mickalene Thomas?
TF: I am a huge fan of Barabara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sherman. I draw a lot of inspiration from feminist artists, though there is only so much inspiration to be had while staying true to your own vision. Sherman’s early work, the Film Stills, still reflect how we feel today—how the media distorts and attempts to define what a woman should be. I am huge fan of text in art, especially in the work of Kruger and Holzer. Kruger’s work in the 1980s responded to print media, and though this show focused on social media, I recognize that print is still very powerful. I definitely drew inspiration from them and incorporated that as much as I could. Some of the photography included text, for example such as the work of Devin Ashmore. She featured five pieces that combined her own photography with her as the subject, script and paint splatter. The series is called 'Ruurbody' and is about body shaming, and the pressure mass media and the Internet places on women.
SD: When you put the show together, then, how important was collaborating; did you collaborate with the artists to hang/curate the show?
TF: The artists were very trusting. Tamia Johnson was there when we did the hanging, so she chose where her work went, like I said. I was apprehensive at the prospect of so much work; one artist had 17 pieces. In preparation, I visited a feminist art show in Charlotte, North Carolina (Cherry Pie: A Feminist Art Show, Union Shop Studio), where I met Lis Grace.
Then, I got an idea for how I could execute my own show. I met the artists from the Charlotte show online. It was an amazing, exciting, and beautifully executed show. This got my momentum going. Lis and I connected again, and told her what I wanted to do. We realized we had many of the same experiences, and she had so many amazing ideas. We built an amazing digital story about growth, and realizing who you are as a women. She promised me this show would come together and everything fit! It was primarily me and the gallery. The Bunker Projects has an installer that helped out with placement, flow, to make it cohesive. Everything felt right where it ended up.
SD: So what drew you to Lis Grace’s work initially, and how is her work in this show different or expanded upon?
TF: I loved her use of digital media, and color. Part of it is combining photo-shopped imagery with photography in this surreal way....it's dreamy. It's also very abstract. Some of her work in NC was about her mental health struggles, and it really struck me how open she was about it. She was really friendly and just lovely to speak with. She has great energy that translates through her work. Everything she submitted was a lot different from what I had seen from her already which was about relationships and growth. For this show, she was really able to express what it is to be a woman in the age of social media, in a way that people really haven't seen before, because it's not necessarily clear cut and direct. Her standout piece is called 'redefined', and it's part of her 'web' series. It's definitely my favorite.
SD: Did you think at all about social media aspects with this current election and obviously the female democratic nominee? Do you think this exhibit might encourage people to view the election differently?
TF: I don’t know that it would – ideally, it would! Women are doing amazing things every day. I love Hillary [Clinton]. People need to recognize that we may not agree with her on everything, politicians make promises, politics is what it is. But the opposition against her is misogynist with glaringly reckless anti-female dialogue. This is a woman being attacked for being a woman. People aren’t acknowledging her accomplishments. She’s the first female U.S. presidential nominee!! I have two daughters, and they are going to watch this and think, wow a woman can be president! The night she got the nomination there were still people that were hating her, and I was like, ‘this is amazing! A woman nominated as president! Can we please give her credit for that?’ Some came to the opening wearing Hillary t-shirts which was pretty cool!
SD: There are some male artists in the show, right? How did you come to include men?
TF: Yes there is one male, Andre. I included Andre Jones because I’m a big fan of his work. His work is largescale shots of Instagram with comments, showing the social commentary that women experience. He does this on his own as a man. When we spoke he talked about how he noticed these things that go on with women and I wanted him to be included. He provides a male perspective and his concept fit perfectly.
SD: So, what is your definition of feminism? Or is that too broad of a question?
TF: Yes, that is a broad question…For me feminism is realizing certain things firsthand that happen daily. We are used to certain things…The best example right now is the Olympics; there was a woman who win the gold and the media announced it as ‘the wife of lineman won gold medal’ so I have no clue who this woman is because they didn’t acknowledge her own accomplishments. Those are the things you notice. When you have this realization, you start to see the gender gap and inequality and how people ignore that. It [feminism] is wanting to change that. Embracing womanhood has changed my whole thought process. There is a definite gender binary – men and women are so different in society. Once you are in tune with being a woman, you see these things and want to make that change.
SD: Awesome! I agree…Changing topic, what was your favorite thing about curating at Bunker Projects?
TF: Bunker Projects is structured so well. They are amazingly organized and hands-on. Everyone helped with me with installation. The have so much patience. Jessie [Rommelt, Director of Bunker Projects] didn’t know me, and offered me the space. She had so much faith in me and the show. She has been an amazing mentor throughout the process. I trusted the fact that she was patient with me. Bunker Projects is ‘Do it yourself,’ so she walked me through the installation process. It was great, very instructional, and gave me experience that will help me going forward. I will definitely be consulting with Jessie for my future projects. It was such a great experience. Initially I had doubts, but everything came together perfectly.
SD: Very good; so that brings me to what’s next for you, curating wise?
TF: I am working on large-scale photography exhibit in East Liberty, a documentation of East Liberty as it’s going through changes in development. The landscape of the city is changing, and though they’ve documented the city in past, but no one now, that I know of. So I want to document East Liberty now before it changes. I am finding a way to exhibit these large-scale photographs. I really hope this grant comes through! I also want to do another graffiti-based show with all female graffiti artists. I am very excited, just starting the early planning stages.
We also have the semi-monthly shows at the boutique to coincide with gallery crawl, our next one opens in September. This gives local artists opportunities to be shown and promoted in the gallery crawl guide.
SD: That is excellent; so what do you think of Pittsburgh’s art scene overall, and what do you think Bunker Projects adds to that conversation?
TF: I love Pittsburgh art scene overall. There is a lot of growth and potential. There are things that are being done that are not being done before anywhere, and there are several large institutions supporting public art. There are also a lot of independent curators that are huge inspirations to me. Sean Beauford’s and Marqi Lyons’ shows at August Wilson Center. Both curators brought out well known artists. On the other side, there are a lot of smaller nonprofits that need more support, like Bunker Projects. There is major lack of monetary and otherwise support for smaller galleries, which is a big issue. Penn Avenue Arts Community cannot be overlooked; there are amazing residency programs that are nurturing and help artists and curators grow. I can say first hand; they did so much for me that a large institution can’t do. My experience I gained through Bunker helped me out so much more than I could imagine going forward. They need support in every regard. There is also not a huge feminist art presence. I didn’t realize it until I did this show. I’m excited to continue doing more female-based exhibitions. It was an amazing experience, connecting and collaborating with women artists. I dug up books and information on feminist artists and exhibitions, so I could share it with other artists. I can’t wait to do another.