This Saturday, the Soap Factory will be hosting the opening night reception for "Here We Are Nice," the 2014 volunteer biennial.
As the Soap celebrates its 25th anniversary, "Here We Are Nice" serves to highlight the work of the many volunteers who have contributed to the success of the organization. Twenty-five artists will be featured in the show.
"Visitors should expect to see at least one kind of art they have never seen before," says co-curator Shelby Rose Thomason. "Think tubs, think balloons, think paint, think big."
[jump] Volunteer curator Christopher Barton came up with the show's title after spotting a piece of roadside graffiti. The anonymous graffiti writer had posed the question: "ARE YOU EVEN NICE?"
After discussing it amongst themselves, Barton and Thomason concluded that the answer was yes. Shared spaces are nice. Artists are nice. Volunteering is nice. And volunteers deserve to be recognized. Consequently, here we are nice.
"The exhibition is made up of entirely volunteer work," says Thomason. "In some circumstances, they've literally spent countless hours helping install other shows, performing in the Haunted Basement, or helping clean out the upstairs spaces."
"Organizations say all the time how they couldn't function without volunteers," she continues. "But in the case of the Soap Factory, that really is true. Without volunteers, the Haunted Basement wouldn't happen. Exhibitions wouldn't be installed. The number of hours that volunteers and staff give to the Soap Factory is incredible."
So when the time came for the 2014 volunteer biennial, artists were given free rein to produce what they wanted.
"We thought that would be the best way to reward them for the hard work they do for the Soap Factory," says Thomason.
Many of the artists drew inspiration from the building itself, a historic factory warehouse built in 1892. But everyone has their own interpretation, and the work on display at the Soap Factory is as varied as the artists' own backgrounds.
Participating artist Carolina Borja says that she has been volunteering at the Soap Factory since 2013, and previously served as an intern during the "We Are Water" exhibition. This is Borja's first Soap Factory biennial.
Borja's own work draws upon traditional Mexican folk-art techniques, employing paper flowers and papier-mâché. For "Here We Are Nice," Borja will be presenting four new pieces, including an assemblage titled Car/na/tion, which the artist describes as a "visual translation" of the word as it relates to Mexican culture, using carnations as symbol. "It shows how meaning can deform and move out of context," she says.
Concept-driven sculptor Sam Isham-Schopf will also be exhibiting his artwork during "Here We Are Nice." Isham-Schopf says that he was drawn to the Soap Factory because of the "DIY spirit of the place." He has been volunteering at Soap Factory for the past three years, and has previously worked on the Haunted Basement.
Isham-Schopf will be contributing two sculptures to "Here We Are Nice." One piece, Fire Bin, consists of a giant tin lantern made out of a garbage can drilled full of holes (the can is illuminated from within). White light shines through the holes, creating patterns on the floor.
The artwork is meant to be "meaningless and grim, but beautiful nonetheless," he says.
Thomason hopes that members of the local community will feel free to come in to the Soap Factory to take a look at the artwork, regardless of whether that's "for five minutes or five hours."
"It's a third space," she explains. "We don't sell work, though people can absolutely ask to commission the artists. But we also don't present work like a museum. We ask for active participation from visitors. We think that's 'nice.'"
IF YOU GO:
"Here We Are Nice"
The Soap Factory
Through December 21
Gallery hours are 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
The show opens Saturday, December 6, with a reception from 7 to 11:00 pm. At the opening night reception, visitors will also have the opportunity to win artworks left unclaimed after last year's $99 Sale. Some pieces are by lesser-known artists, while some are by successful artists with national reputations. (To help level the playing field, the names of the artists have been deliberately obscured, forcing potential buyers to judge the artwork on its own merits.)