For two days last August, the unusual and somewhat controversial exhibition "An Order" occupied the site of Burlington's former orphanage, St. Joseph's. Curated by Monkton artist Abbey Meaker, the show had a significance that hinged on its brief public "resurrection" of a deeply storied building. Meaker and four other local artists — Wylie Sofia Garcia, Sarah O Donnell, Rebecca Weisman and Mary Zompetti — created installations specific not just to the orphanage's physical location but to its fraught emotional and historical space.
In the wake of that show, Meaker and O Donnell have teamed up to launch Overnight Projects. They describe it as a nomadic experiment in curating "immersive environments," with a focus on activating "abandoned and in-between spaces." The pair explains that the venture evolved directly from their eagerness to keep exploring the concepts underlying "An Order" — site specificity, historical engagement, immediacy and collaboration. The project also represents a turn away from what both artists identify as the prevalence of painting and object-based work in Vermont.
"We're hungry for that community [created by "An Order"] — we want to keep it going," says Meaker.
Overnight Projects' inaugural site will be 339 Pine Street, the Burlington City Arts space where, earlier this year, Leif Hunneman's Simulacrum Project orchestrated a delightfully hectic series of tech-fueled performances. As the newest BCA Pine Street artists-in-residence, Meaker and O Donnell will have the run of the studio until the end of February. They'll host two joint installations by four artists, as well as "satellite programming." They hope the latter will include screenings of George Kuchar films curated by LA-based writer and film scholar Dreux Moreland; and a Skype presentation on the intersections of art and comedy from Mike Calway-Fagen, a visiting assistant professor of sculpture at Indiana University Bloomington.
In January, New York City-based artists Andrew Brehm and Jennifer Lauren Smith will install "Triangle Circle Square," a three-channel video installation that uses footage of geometric shapes the artists have placed in natural environments, such as dice hovering over a field. Instead of traditional flat screens, the films will be projected onto what Brehm and Smith call "sculptural screens": a square, triangle and circle for the corresponding images. The artists liken the rhythm of their footage editing to a "jam session or song," with a soundtrack from Brooklyn-based recording artist Luz Mob. Brehm and Smith, a couple, have been working side by side for six years, but this will be their first collaborative work.
Next, local artists Dana Heffern and Rebecca Weisman will install an ambitious project similar to the Moth Cinema of art and science innovator Natalie Jeremijenko, who spoke in Burlington in October. Titled "Conceal/Reveal," Weisman and Heffern's work will incorporate live native moths and worms in a suspended, transparent housing.* A video feed will record the creatures' motion and project it onto the walls, floors and ceiling.
Both Heffern and Weisman teach at Burlington College, Heffern as chair of the art and design department, as well as gallery curator; and Weisman as an adjunct professor of experimental film and art theory.
Meaker and O Donnell consider their upcoming tenure at 339 Pine a test run for Overnight Projects and say they're grateful for BCA's "supportive piloting." BCA was a cosponsor, along with Burlington College, of "An Order." The two are hopeful that their projects will attract contemporary artists from outside Vermont. And, they note, they intend to reimburse all artists with whom they work for travel and material expenses. Documentation, catalogs and critical consideration are other possible attractors.
"The idea that artists should constantly be working at a loss is a huge problem," declares O Donnell.
As for future sites, she and Meaker mention storefronts and a former train depot in New Haven. "Our intention is to find weirder and weirder locations," Meaker says. O Donnell adds, "I personally love the detective work of [finding out] who owns a place [and asking], 'Do we approach the township? Do we approach the property owner?'"
As Overnight Projects evolves, it promises to be an energetic addition to the local arts scene. Untethered to a physical location, its experimental curation aims to draw out the significance of place by activating overlooked spaces and neglected histories. As O Donnell says, "Learning the history of the place becomes an important piece of the project. You're never working in a void."
The original print version of this article was headlined "Overnight Projects Makes Place Part of the Artistic Vision"