Written for publication in The Bohemian Zine, 2013.
Miles Fermin, despite his clever ploy to convince us he is a youthful art student, behaves in many ways like a very old man. Although his style has not digressed entirely into oversized cardigans and wool slippers, the big glasses and un-tucked button-up suggest a similar frame of mind. Miles is not the old man who goes to bed at 6pm, nor is he the man down the hall that complains every time the temperature changes. Miles is a very different elder. He is an old man with his ambitions still in tact. He is the anti-establishmentarian on the block, spouting off ideas to the neighborhood. He is the old man with objects that might be from outer space on his front lawn, unearthly flags waving high, and a secret job selling home-grown bud. He is an old man trapped in a young mans body and financial insignificance. To sum it up: this 20-something, wild-haired (some of them already graying), bespectacled motor-mouth has some crazy ideas–and they’re pretty contagious.
Since January 31st, Objet Boutique has been operating out of Paragraph Gallery (23 E 12th St) as a pop-up shop with handmade items from a group of artists and friends at the Kansas City Art Institute. The group is composed of ceramicists like Brett Ginsburg and Dean Roper, fashion designers such as Maegan Stracy and Jen Wilkinson, and printmakers Madeline Gallucci and Eric Dobbins, just to name a few. The mix of artists operate with a soft pastel and faux-natural color palette interjected with bright, garish yellows, greens, and hot pinks. Cacti abound, the shop has a cool but inviting boutique-ish air that almost seems to have been carried over from somebody’s lax apartment. The items are all on a couple tables and shelves (wood propped up on saw horses, it seems) and hanging from the walls and ceiling. Two shirts police the scene from above: “DON’T GET CAUGHT”, they warn, unsure whether to be deterring or encouraging theft. Other clothes, ones of the Vinyl and digital persuasion, hang in the corner. Besides the brick-and-mortar front, Objet Boutique lives an equally important life as a Tumblr blog, where the work is showcased in the strange grey area that is between fine-art documentation and candid photobooth. Beautifully anxious ceramic outcasts crawl feebly atop patches of fake grass, hunch awkwardly behind the glory that is the plastic bottle or commercially successful foliage, and simply lie around as receptacles for spent roaches. Pieces of broken (but who’s to say they are not whole?) pots and cups become perfect exposed vessels for the meek, voiceless discards of a messy studio. My heart melts a little when I encounter Mel Nguyen’s “Desk Deposits” and Joey Watson’s “Espresso Cups”. These little reminders of the artists private studio are displayed in a kind of self-conscious rest. I want to bend down and kiss every one of them.
A well-developed aesthetic emerges from the art objects and it becomes clear that this group has known each other for a while, or long enough at least to influence each other. Mixed into their own flavor is a little Hiam Steinbach, some stroboscopic internet sensation, and a dash of “fuck the po-po” attitude. The boutique has, as described by Miles, “a sophisticated stoner vibe.” I must agree. The objects are deceptive and playful. They guard sketchbooks, hang out next to under-watered house plants, and ride skateboards. One might imagine the objects all aflutter in the evening, after the doors have closed and the lights shut off, drinking vodka out of water bottles and replacing the contents of grape flavored Swisher Sweets. The charm of the delinquent continues to prevail.
Miles is adamant in stressing the importance of the group as a whole. During his internship at Whoop Dee Doo, Miles learned the significance of working as a team of artists.
“It’s easier to get noticed when everyone is working together toward something.” This communal mentality is partially nurtured by KCAI’s Printmaking department, where privacy is a rare thing during studio hours and everyone works at what, at first glance, appears to be one building-length desk stretched up against the wall. While this environment may be off-putting to a more reclusive artist, the printmakers know that in order to succeed, ideas need to be shared and supported. A kind of skill-sharing economy arises in this environment, where two people with different goals need to access each other’s talents in order to complete a project. There is an honor system in place based on trust and credibility. The “never not telling” someone how a certain technique works goes hand in hand with the “don’t steal ideas” rule of art. Miles is completely trusting of his friends, especially Dean Roper, Joseph Hutchins and Brett Ginsburg, who are at the front of the movement.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can leave the Objet Boutique with your new gift completely vacuum sealed. It’s more than just a clever way of keeping the object safe. This little inside joke is sure to humor one crowd and baffle others. The whole show seems to have one foot in the fine art world and the other in a small Midtown apartment with a few friends, the windows closed and the record player on. In light of recent political changes, it seems both appropriate and necessary to open the conversation up to digital influence and the presence of functioning potheads in the US. For a group of artists to begin the process of tackling these contemporary issues in such an engaging way shows real initiative and effective translation of real-world experience. The visual appeal of these objects is completely accessible to the public, but to the well-versed internet junkie/programmer, there are plenty of things to get excited about. Jen Wilkinson’s “Digi Scarf” and her strangely patterned outfits are direct impressions of the digital world, now in a funky wearable fashion. Madeline Galluci’s “Barely There” iPhone cases are both evocative of digital painting programs and tongue-in-cheek references to women’s undergarments. Incense burners, for cones and sticks, are there to remind us that we can successfully mask our ill-advised habits and be forward about it.
Towards the end of our interview, Miles broods on life after art school. Any job will do, he says, so long as it pays the bills and he can continue making art. It sounds like a lonely road when he acknowledges the relative unimportance of where the money comes from, but we leave on a positive note that encompasses his belief about art making:
“At the end of the day…if the thing you’re making is more important than the people around you, that’s just not right.”