Art works like lovers

Artists/Gallerists steve mykietyn & zuriel waters get real on what it's like hosting santa's car key party, the bushwick tradition that brings artists and the like together annually.

Bushwick is no stranger to the virtues of thinking outside of the box.  Home to a flourishing community of artists, Bedford Ave runoff, Hispanic families and small business owners, "East Williamsburg" has come to be known as on of the boroughs where artists can momentarily afford the luxury of experimentation with their practice.  Rent is slightly cheaper than Manhattan and there are so many artists and galleries in the vicinity already, there's a built in audience, full of potential and a somewhat more care- free attitude.  It's no surprise that Steve Mykietyn and Zuriel Waters met in such a place.  Both Steve and Zuri juggle the balance of being artists as well as being gallery owners; Steve of Orgy Park infamy and Zuriel from Sister, the space he co runs with his partner Jenny Lee.  Steve and Zuri met when they were working together at Henrique Faria's and struck up a long lasting work oriented friendship.  Many beers and summer nights later, they came up with the idea while at work, inspired by the swingers party depicted in the 90's movie, the Ice Storm,  In other words, a casual exhibition in which artists are invited to donate and trade art works like lovers.  I caught up with Steve and Zuri this spring to talk all things secret Santa, and everything in between. 

Sarah: Why do an exchange of art between artists as a way of hosting and curating an exhibition?

ZW: Well the first show was called “Secret Santa’s Car Key Party” which is a combination of the holiday exchange and a “car-key” party which is a swingers party I had learned about watching “The Ice Storm” where every couple puts their car keys in a bowl and at the end of the night they are blindly drawn from and you have to go home with whoever draws your keys. So the first part of the idea was that your art was like your lover and that to be in this otherwise large and communal group show there were high stakes involved.

SM: Yes also it was a fun way for the artist to become the collector and as a way of thinking about other artist’s work in a different way. I was responding to this notion after giving an artist’s work back from a previous show and thinking wouldn’t it be more interesting if the artists got each other’s work instead.

SC: I love that idea! Why not do that? Sometimes the constant showing of your work at spaces for no money becomes a strange act of faith- it has often made me want to have more fun and or wonder why am I doing this?

ZW: yea totally, it kind of re-establishes the innate sense of value in making art.

SM: you get to engage as a collector and as an artist, maybe it also starts to build a value by being owned by someone- the exchange alone creates a value also being that you get to meet another artist(s).

SC: How did you first get into the Santa Car Key exchange? And what brought about you guys to work on it together? Seems like maybe a nice natural development since Sister was right in the same neighborhood?

ZW: I think we dreamt it up while were working together at Henrique Faria’s. We’ve been there together for a long time doing installs and we get a lot of multi-tasking done. Strangely enough, Sister was born at almost the exact moment as the first exchange show at Orgy Park, December 2014. In retrospect it must have been a time that Jenny [Jennifer Lee, Sister cofounder] and I were reaching out to artists and just to the world in general.

SM: There was lots of ideas on how to do the exchange and probably why we had 3 iterations and variations on this same show idea, first with Santa Car Key where we had artist Paul Weston dress up as a wild-red-faced-glitter santa, he was the one with the stocking filled with keys that artists reached in and picked out an actual car key and on the tag it would have an artist’s name which corresponded to the piece you would get. The second version we did a year later was with way more people and was based on the idea of the Befana’s is a holiday on January 6th where these 3 witches give you coal or would trick you and fly around on brooms. For that one we used a program to generate matches on the computer, there were many couples in the show so we wanted to split them up so they wouldn’t get each others work etc. In Befana’s it was a one-to-one exchange all the artists were paired off, all the artworks were gift wrapped in a very long and heinous night of wrapping over 50 works in gift paper, Katherine Aungier was involved with this version and we made up a performance to gift out the works- it was pretty lively and lots of laughter and emotions running high. The 3rd version of the exchange (that Jenny was involved with as well) was based on the idea of the Stone Soup- where everyone brings something to throw in a pot of soup but the first ingredient in is a rock, sort of way of tricking others into helping make a free meal. For this exchange we had the artists play the dice game Threes which the lowest roll wins with 3 being zero, there would be 3 artists playing at a time and an artwork would come up as the stake for each game, whoever won the round would get the piece and then another artist would fill the seat at the gambling table. This was by far the most fun and exciting of the exchanges in my opinion, the participants would get so caught up in winning that it seemed to matter less what piece was in the pot.

SC:Wow that sounds like fun! What were some of your favorite moments? Did anyone get mad or are there any stories that evolved from doing this? Can you still remember who got what and what the reaction was?

ZW: Yea! I think it's safe to say that we got better at the exchange as a concept with each iteration. Just like making an artwork the real trick is in dealing with all the practicalities in an effective and graceful way. Like Steve mentioned, it was always on our mind that some people might not like what they got in the exchange. Other than appealing to people’s ethical and social consciousness there was really no way to insure that we would get “good” work from everyone, not to mention that some of the artworks could be said to have actual monetary value and others not (yet at least). Of course flattening this type of hierarchy was part of the shows concept, but still a few participants were less than happy with their gifts, haha i won't name names though.

SC: I see both your names on the list for these shows, how did it feel to be the ones organising and participating?

ZW: To me it was a sign if good faith, I think it helped convince people to participate knowing that we had skin in the game as well.

SC: Yeah I feel like part of the reason I really like the Key Exchange is because of that vibe; with all people participating, it’s like an even playing field.

Sm: yes the vibe was pretty insane, I remember Zuriel and myself looking at each other astonished when it was happening, people were so excited and asking how the exchange was going to go down and then at some point Paul Weston enters the room white beard, red glitter face paint, red suit and shouting something like “HO HO HO YOU HAVE ALL BEEN BAD LITTLE BOYS AND GIRLS GET IN MY SLEIGH!” followed by some raunchy and prying remarks at people a big personality- people thought maybe it was more satan than santa- no one knew what was gonna happen next- but then i had Paul aside and gave him a red xmas stocking filled with used car keys with everyone’s name on an attached tag, the idea is you had to throw the key back if you picked your own name- everything after that was improvised. To this day Jame Wei says it felt like total chaos and he loved every moment of it. James wants us to do another one just like the first one.

SC:What’s your thoughts on the sense of community in Brooklyn? The car key exchange show is such a great representation of the idiosyncratic qualities of the Brooklyn vibe- lots of the ebb and flow and interesting cross section of people coming together you wouldn’t normally  expect-

ZW: Yea the artist-positive kind of supportive brooklyn community definitely played into us wanting to make it an exchange show. In the beginning for me at least I kept feeling like people wanted to trade work all the time and it felt funny in a complicated way because you are sort of able to print a currency that is used to buy other currencies but without an exchange rate; like a utopian alternative value system where people’s “market value” seemed less important...ideally anyway.

SC: I feel like the strength of the show is the way it playfully and nonchalantly touches on all of these details you’re bringing up here; the artist positive quality of Brooklyn, the sliding scale notion of trying to understand different values of artwork in a community- we’ve become accustomed to having our notions of arts value challenged with Visual Aids, Bar Bar, End of the Night Cafe- taking the idea of a show or presentation almost to a performative or happening type of level-

Do you feel like this is something you’re interested in taking to another level, or that you consciously consider with each iteration of the Car Key Exchange?

ZW: Yea exactly. It actually started as almost a provocative idea because I slightly doubted the bohemian-togetherness that was being performed locally; the idea of a random trade is actually little deflating because it enforces a kind of flattened value on the participants: all artists are roughly equal units. But this skepticism gave way to enthusiasm as we did it subsequently. I love how the sense of what the art value was analogous to was able to evolve in each show: first as your lover in car key party then as an offering to the social contract as well as your ante in stone soup. In hindsight the fluidity of meaning surrounding value was probably the major theme of the project for me at least

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