L.A.’s MAMA Gallery will have its first European show in Berlin in June. The gallery’s founder and director Adarsha Benjamin described the month-long residency on Keithstraße as a “natural move”, made all the more enticing by the great friends and beautiful spaces offered by Berlin. Benjamin has said in past interviews that the MAMA Gallery aims to live up to its name—albeit in a sexy, slightly tongue-in-cheek way—by fostering contemporary artists and nurturing their work and careers.
I was interested to know whether Benjamin considered the gallery to be an invisible facilitator—bringing an artist to a new space—or whether it was important to her to bring the presence of MAMA to Berlin, too. “I think a bit of both,” was her reply. “MAMA is a facilitator of ideas and happy to be an invisible carrier for an artistic vision. But we also have our own personality and that will surely find its way into Berlin in some way or another!”
The Berlin show, ‘the windward side of the island’, will exhibit new works by artist Cole Sternberg. The pieces manage to be both simple and elemental, as though Sternberg understands the contingency of his responses to the vast subjects he chooses: in this case, the Pacific Ocean. I spoke to Sternberg about his work and the upcoming show.
Claudia Grigg Edo: Your new work is the result of a visit to Santa Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean. How much has your current practice been informed by your incredible 22-day experience as a resident artist on an ocean liner crossing the Pacific?
Cole Sternberg: The short answer is: very much. My work has always involved an environmental commentary and referenced erasure. Making works on the ship and exposing them to the elements, dragging them in the sea, leaving them out in storms, and so forth, that gave the work another dimension, erasing the human hand entirely and making the environment the true artist of the works. Seeing the results of that experiment directly inspired this body of work and I used a similar process here.
CGE: Your work often seems to explore how a ‘micro’ detail relates to the ‘macro’ context it is a part of. (Cabin life in relation to the vast ecosystem and trading network that is the Pacific Ocean; the bronze lock copied from Guantanamo Bay, a product of cruel, paranoid global power dynamics; the rugs placed in different L.A. contexts, etc.) Is that carried into this exhibition?
CS: Our daily lives are inherently focused on the micro but mainly influenced by the macro. My goal is to merge the two in order to subtly reference the need for societal awareness, activism and change. Here, we look at the windward side of an amazing and mysterious island. The water and earth are stunning. But, reading poetry about this place from the early nineteen hundreds, you discover that it’s basically a graveyard. Fish used to be extremely abundant and now you wait all day to catch a sea bass. So, what is it with this macro beauty: why are we amazed by it and yet destroy it? Hence, the works are in my mind beautiful, yet crumbling.
CGE: Your titles are really something. From the plainly descriptive to straight-faced, insouciant aphorisms and Frank O’Hara-esque one-liners. Do you fear the reception will be different in a non-native English context?
CS: Frank O’Hara? I wish! My one fear in translation is the art of sarcasm. I think everything else– the poetic, the distracting, the political–is mirrored and understandable regardless of language. Sarcasm, however, works differently based on cultural norms. At least I have the luxury of using English, which apparently everyone speaks these days. That was sarcastic.
CGE: What are you looking forward to doing/seeing in Berlin?
CS: A few years ago, I would walk around Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg and check out the scenery and museums. After a few hours, I would buy a Döner, lay in the grass by the river and eat it slowly. I’m looking forward to doing that again.