By Whitney Mallett
Alt + Esc is a keyboard shortcut offering the possibility of switching between browser windows. That idea of navigating new windows and alternative perspectives is what prompted Alison Sirico and Irina V. Makarova to name their curatorial platform and editorial archive after the key command. Marrying their respective backgrounds in Brooklyn’s DIY art scene and New York’s commercial art world, Sirico and Makarova founded Alt Esc this past May. This Thursday, they’re already launching their fourth digital volume comprising nine new artist interviews. To celebrate, they’ve organized an evening of immersive digital art projections and live DJ sets hosted by Kinfolk 94.
I met up with Sirico and Makarova in Kinfolk’s wood-paneled geodesic dome-like compound where Thursday’s party is set to take place. They explained how they profiled Jonathan Checler, a French-American artist based in Brooklyn, for Alt Esc’s debut volume. Soon after, they featured his projection mapped sculptures in a group show they curated at Stream Gallery in June. And now they’re excited to be featuring his interactive work in a nightlife context. Kinfolk’s Bruce Easley was already talking about how excited he was for the collaboration, adding how Checler’s immersive art would be a perfect fit for future events too. “When we met Checler, he was saying how he wanted to get more involved in the music world and nightlife,” Sirico noted, adding, “It’s really great to connect people.”
With this goal of bringing people together in mind, Sirico and Makarova sat down with me to explain more the roots of their project and their future plans.
Whitney Mallett: What was the impetus to start Alt Esc?
Alison Sirico: This past winter, we both had these really intense jobs that we decided we no longer wanted to do anymore. We were both in this transitory space looking for what would be next. We’ve curated shows together in the past and so we decided we wanted to do more of that.
I wanted to go on studio visits. I want to see what people are making. Irina has a background working with publications, and we talked about documenting the studio visits because we were going to go on them any way. It kind of just like spiraled into this idea of making a magazine.
WM: Do you always do your interviews in person in the artist’s studio?
Irina V. Makarova: Most of the time. Whenever we can.
AS: We did a road trip to see Christian Little upstate. We’re going to Philly to see Andrew Jeffrey Wright. Going and seeing the work is really important because we want to curate shows out of these visits. It’s always different seeing the work in person.
IVM: A lot of our conservations with the artists end up being about how they feel with the increase in digital viewing. They really appreciate when people come by and see the work in person.
Christian Little in his studio.
WM: Do you feel like your publication is filling a gap? Did you see something missing in that kinds of artists and creatives that were being featured by most magazines?
AS: There’s a lot of high-brow art magazines like ArtForum and ArtNews and there’s a lot of subcultural magazines that are more fashion-based, photography-based, or music-based. I didn’t know of any magazines that were focused on emerging visual artists.
IVM: We also feature emerging artists and then sometimes super established artists. It’s nice to open that dialogue. We don’t have a hierarchy. And these artists who may have been featured in publications like ArtForum they are still super excited to talk to us. At the beginning, we were like, ‘We don’t have a magazine, we don’t have a website, but can we interview you?’ And people were like, ‘Yes!’
Hein Koh in her studio.
WM: The way you approach your interviews seems really conversational and you let the artist steer it based on what they’re most interested in so I can imagine they might be really enthusiastic to engage with you and have that space, while sometimes other publications have to fit the artists and their work into to certain narratives or trends. Is it your intention to have this kind of conversational approach?
IVM: We just want to talk to you about your art and start a dialogue.
AS: This whole project is a field study for me. I don’t want to be steering the conversation. The whole point for me is I want to get out of this conversation what the artist is interested in. We talk about the things the artists are obviously obsessed with, what they spend all day thinking about, so that energy is really fun!
WM: You describe your project as a subcultural archive. What does that mean to you?
IVM: Subcultures are the underground.
AS: We focus a lot of these little communities. We interview people who share artist-run spaces and a lot of people we talk to know one another. I was really inspired by my favorite subcultural movement from the 1960s the Earth Works Movement. I was looking at this zine that they had out at the time Avalanche that documented these conversations.
Nicole Reber in her studio.
WM: A lot of the artists you feature are working with new technologies or digital mediums. Do you think the notion of subculture has changed in the digital era? Are subcultures less geographically-determined when people can connect online?
AS: I feel like location and being physically present in a space is really important for any movement but it is really cool that you can be in New York and be inspired by someone out in LA. A lot of the artists we talk to are definitely influenced by people in other cities. These subcultures have maybe become less insular.
A lot of people we feature are friends or friends of friends, but there have been people that we’ve found through Instagram, but again it’s usually through a different friend’s profile.
WM: Through the network. It seems like you’ve featured a lot of artists in Baltimore as well. Do you have ties there?
AS: A lot of my favorite musicians come from Baltimore. There was a mass exodus and a lot of them came to New York, and they suggest other people whose work we should look up, artists who are still based in Baltimore. Everyone is so great down there. They’re all so community-oriented and there’s so much talent there.
WM: And you also seem to be connected to the Bushwick scene too. It’s cool that you featured a collective like Nitemind who work with a lot of artists in that community but whose contributions often stay in the background.
AS: I love Michael Potvin. I was a fan of Steel Drums [a now defunct underground dance venue in Bushwick that Potvin operated.] I know how talented he is. It’s a no brainer to interview people like him and Monica Mirabile. I’m really inspired and humbled by people who are so talented but then also lift other people up at the same time. I think that’s a really nice attitude to have that should be celebrated.
IVM: I thought Authority Figure [directed by Mirabile and Sarah Kinlaw] was one of the best things I’ve seen, like oh-my-god, actually breathtaking. It was so awesome that they squeezed us in and found the time to talk to us in the midst of that.
AS: It’s also nice to talk to people [like Potvin and Mirabile] who are at the center of these communities because we talk to them and then we find out who they are excited about and it branches off from there. That’s always exciting to me, finding somebody new and exploring that.
Ryan Oskin’s Studio
WM: Right. If you hang out in these communities, you’re aware that they’re the lifeblood of the scene and are doing so much work keeping it going and bringing people together. People at the time in the scene might know that, but it’s important to document that for others and for the future.
IVM: We also don’t want to get pigeonholed or focus too much on one scene or community. One of the artists featured in Volume 4, Anvar Musrepov. I interviewed I’m when I was in Kazakhstan visiting family, for example. And that’s why we’re exciting to have the launch at Kinfolk and hopefully connect with new communities, new artists, and expand our readership.
WM: And after launching Volume 4, what do you have coming up next?
IVM: After doing four digital volumes, we are getting ready for our first print issue. It’s going to be a compilation of about 20 artists that we are going to pull from the past digital volumes, maybe also add a few new ones. We want to do a biannual print magazine. We want to have an object to distribute.
WM: Why is it important for you to have something printed IRL?
IVM: A printed issue is something you can keep on your shelf and refer back to. With the digital volume you can go back and edit at any time, but with print you have to put more TLC in it. It becomes more precious.
AS: And years from now, who knows what will happen to the website. An important part of this project is archiving. It’ll be cool to look back at one of these books like a yearbook, ten years from now. It’ll be cool to know what conversations people were having back then, to know what an artist whose blown up was thinking about when they first started. Also, right now we are equally living in the virtual world and the real world so it’s a nice metaphor to have our project exist in both these mediums at once.
Coming up on November 4th, there’s also going to be this really big show to launch the print issue. For volume three, we interviewed this artist Tyrrell Winston, who works with found objects. He has access to this beautiful space we are going to do a pop-up show at. He’s calling it Squat Gallery. There are all these smaller rooms and a warehouse space up top. This show to launch our print issue is the first real show that’s going to be there. It’s really exciting!
AS: We should also add we have a residency with Small Editions happening next Fall. We’re going to be curating exhibitions and creating artist catalogs based off the exhibitions.
JJ Brine in his studio.
Alt Esc Vol. 4 features interviews with Christina Acevedo, Born in Flamez, Hein Koh, Anvar Musrepov, Martha Mysko, Ryan Oskin, Nicole Reber, Christian Little, James Clar, JJ Brine. Celebrate its launch this Thursday September 29 at Kinfolk 94, 94 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn from 7pm to 12am, with live sets by DJs Chez Desmond, Michelle Lhooq, and Prince Harvey. View Event Details.
Whitney Mallett writes and makes videos. Her work has been published by The New York Times, Art in America, ArtForum, ArteTV and others. She’s a contributing editor at Topical Cream and The Editorial Magazine.