On the occasion of his curated events comprising the Ginger Island Project, independent curator and writer Liutauras Psibilskis had an email conversation with Summer Guthery about the unfolding lecture, exhibitions at the Emily Harvey Foundation and the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and a sound performance at pop-up venue Red Egg that took place recently.
Psibilskis's exhibitions and events center on Ginger Island, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, where in the late 1960s, artist George Maciunas wanted to buy the island to start a Fluxus artist colony and build a unique city. In 1969, together with friends such as artists Milan Knizák, Yoshi Wada and actor Robert De Niro, Maciunas travelled to the island to explore it. The experience was rather traumatic; the visitors suffered from temporary blindness and swollen limbs. In the end, the artist colony was never established there.
Summer Guthery: I really enjoyed the talk On Blindness and Ginger Island on November 4th, 2011, about George Maciunas's trip to the island. Can you sketch out the story and how you found these materials?
Liutauras Psibilskis: My relationship with this story started from a little personal discovery that I made through Jonas Mekas. I have collaborated with Jonas for quite a while, and he has opened a few treasures that he has accumulated through the years in his personal archives. One day he showed me a box full of slides that he was keeping on one of his shelves. It was full of fascinating material that I wanted to visualize in the space. Jonas inherited it from his close friend George Maciunas, and between lots of fascinating material, like images of Fluxus parties, dress-up events, and projects like Twelve Big Names, I found the slides of an exotic island. I started asking around about it and doing some research. It is not an unknown project for Fluxus scholars but it is not a project that we would automatically associate with George Maciunas and Fluxus. Similar to the artists coop project in SoHo, which allowed for the creation of an artist community, Ginger Island crossed the line between creative concept and construction of the material world. However Ginger Island never became real.
The only outcome was lots of planning, a trip to the island, anecdotes and urban legends and some video and photo materials…I also curated a project last year at the Emily Harvey Foundation that I named just like my discovery of the Ginger Island Project– Out of the Box. I presented quite a few items from Jonas’s box in collaboration with a few artists working in New York. It included projects by Olivier Babin and Harold Ancard who started a foundation fundraising for acquisition of Ginger Island. This project is ongoing.
Jonas Mekas comments on the relationship between Warhol and Maciunas, and Pop and Fluxus with images of the Andy Warhol show at the Whitney Museum (1971) and a Maciunas dumpling party on 80 Wooster Street, Soho, on June 29, 1971.
The only real "evidence" of the story is the 16mm video and word-of-mouth, right?
Yes, in a way. Milan Knizák filmed Ginger Island during this trip with 16 mm camera and later composed a 7 minute film… There are also photos that probably were taken by Maciunas as well as an island planning map by Maciunas. In this plan Maciunas created an urban planning grid on the island that is strangely reminiscent of Manhattan.
I was looking at a map of his intended architectural plan for the island and it included buildings of his own design laid out in a Manhattan-style grid. His role as a founder of Fluxus and maker of multiples sometimes overshadows his life-long work on sustainable buildings and artist cooperatives in SoHo back when it went by Hell's Hundred Acres. Could you speak a little to this?
Probably this was a classic clash of creative vision and the material world. I suppose all the arrangements and organizational matters that he engaged with in SoHo became increasingly difficult. As is known, Maciunas was constantly running from creditors and trying to make ends meet balancing acquisitions of SoHo buildings, and initiating renovations and sales to artists. However it is very much because of his work that we had an artist community established in SoHo.
George Maciunas, Ginger Island Map. 1969.
I can't help but think of where this could have gone if it had happened. It is like a metaphorically sped- up version of many utopian communities, starting with idealistic principles that quickly fade or get diluted, in this case via blindness.
Probably it would be a boutique community of Ginger Islanders as happened in SoHo. This is a usual model of gentrification – creative inhabitants are followed by commerce.
The story of Ginger Island is the seed of an exhibition that opened at Emily Harvey on November 12th, 2011. Could you tell me more about how some of the artists have responded to the idea? Also there was a sound performance on November 11th at Red Egg. Can you tell me more about how they fit into the project?
We had Marina Rosenfeld and Raz Mesinai responding to Milan Knizák’s sound projects from '60s and '70s. Marina is a big fan of Knizák, especially of his “broken records.” In her sound piece she re-mixed them as well as music of a rock band that Milan Knizák was part of then. Later Raz Mesinai joined in reacting to Marina’s sound. All of this created a few layers of experience.
Milan Knizák, Broken Music Composition. 1979.
At the Emily Harvey Foundation we have a group exhibition and a couple of performances. I shared the Ginger Island story with all the artists without really expecting them to respond in a direct way. The Ginger Island story, with all the anecdotes and experiences of the actual trip became something of a parallel line to their contributions. Every artist found their specific way of response– a performance and wall painting/installation by Amy Granat, a 16mm film by Lisa Oppenheim with reflections of her childhood years in downtown New York, and Sissel Kardel speaks about her hideaway place…