Cameron, Tania, and Vashti in the gallery space
Cheap & Plastique visits with the folks at Live With Animals Gallery
C & P: How long have you run Live With Animals Gallery?
Tania: Live With Animals was started in 2004 by Vashti Windish, Cameron Michel, Bonnie Pipkin and Tania Ryalls. We had several shows in 2004/2005, before closing our doors to create a communal studio space. We emerged as a gallery again in 2006, and have been a venue for artists ever since.
C & P: Who is involved in the administration of the gallery? And what are each of your duties?
Tania: In the early days, we all worked together to physically build out the space (Cameron can build just about anything), and develop the gallery into the space we envisioned. Several years ago, Bonnie left the gallery to dedicate her time to ‘Step Right Up’, a not-for-profit that provides free arts workshops in New York City’s public schools. These days, Cameron and Vashti are the presence of the gallery, dealing with all day to day matters. It is not only the gallery that they run, but also the home of the studios where they work, not to mention a place where our friends and colleagues enjoy spending time. Cameron, Vashti and Tania work collaboratively to select artists, prepare for shows and run the gallery while shows are in progress.
C & P: Tell me a bit about the history of your name. I have had many arguments with friends over the pronunciation over the years—and now I know the truth!
Tania: Choosing a name was tough. We went with Live with Animals (pronounced liv with animals). It is from a Walt Whitman poem—
I think I could turn and live with
the animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about
They do not lie awake in the dark and
weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing
their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is
demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his
kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious
over the whole earth.”
I think it represents what we wanted from the gallery. We did not want to get wrapped up in the sort of mania that is sometimes associated with galleries that have a profit motive. We wanted artists to have the freedom to get back to sort of a pure state, without any pressures from us or from society. We wanted to be a venue for free expression.
Vashti: We opened the gallery in hopes to provide a space for everyone, not focusing on the money making industry that is the modern art world but to house creativity in all mediums for creativity’s sake.
C & P: You told me a bit about the process of setting up shows. It seems pretty democratic, decided upon by all three of you. How far in advance do you schedule shows? How often do you accept outside proposals from people that you do not know personally?
Tania: We strike a balance between organization and flexibility. When we sit down and discuss the show schedule, we generally have a one year horizon. We have worked with international artists, including a gallery swap with Yautepec Galley in Mexico City, and these shows are set in stone months in advance. Others are in flux. We realize the scarcity of space in New York versus the number of talented artists, and so we try and keep the space alive at all times. We have pulled together shows and performances within a few weeks or even a few days upon notice of a cancellation or a lag between shows (which happens from time to time). We also try to incorporate performance and live music while our art shows are up (to the extent that they are synergistic).
While we are blessed a very talented group of friends and growing network of artists with whom we are acquainted, we have always been open to proposals from people we do not know personally. As our network grows, it seems that even strangers are connected through friends. Most artists who have shown at Live with Animals have been recommended to us, but there have been occasions where this was not the case.
Vashti: It is pretty democratic. We usually do around 8 months to a year in advance. We are very lucky to have a bounty of amazing friends and acquaintances that we have worked with, but there are definitely shows that have come about from chance meetings or online submissions.
C & P: What made you want to embark on such an ambitious project as operating a non-profit, artist-run gallery? Had you ever been involved in running/coordionating a project like LWA before?
Tania: For years, prior to moving to New York, Vashti was organizing and curating art shows in Atlanta. When Vashti and Cameron moved to New York, Vashti and I teamed up to organize a group art show, Another One Night Stand, in 2003. It was a one night show of art, film, music and performance that was held in a rented space. It was clear, after that show, that what we needed was space. Erik Zajaceskowski, then of Mighty Robot, now of Secret Project Robot, was the man who had that space, when Monster Island was started the following year.
Vashti: I don’t what we were thinking! Just kidding, really I had worked on a curatorial project called Art Attack in Atlanta before moving to New York. They were one night only multi media events that usually included more than 30 artists. I loved it and kinda got my hopes up about having an art space someday. I definitely didn’t think that way upon moving here, because it seemed so over-saturated with galleries. I had some pressuring by a great friend of mine Maya Hardinge, and by Eric Z who runs Secret Project Robot next door to us. He found the building right after Cameron and I had returned from a summer in LA. I was totally broke and totally not in a position to take a rotting raw space over, but he kept telling me get some people together and just do it, and when Cameron, Tania, and Bonnie Pipkin (Original Member) got excited about it, we just did it!
C & P: Do you find it rewarding to show & expose other people’s artwork to the world/Williamsburg? (I assume YES, or else why would you do it?)
Tania: That is what it is all about! It is an honor to be part of the process, and so rewarding to help facilitate a successful show.
Vashti: Haha! Yes! Someone should be doing it! Its been a really great learning experience that has brought so many people and projects together, including ones of our own. It really makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to think about all the times we have had here and all amazing shows we have gotten to produce.
C & P: Do each of you have a favorite art show that has been staged at LWA? Or a memory of a particularly grand time at the gallery that stands out in your mind? What is the craziest thing you ever remember happening in the space?
Tania: There are too many memories to count! There are certainly crazy memories from the start when the gallery was a construction zone. There were times when we were hosing down beams with bleach to kill mold, wearing plastic bags on our heads, with electrical wires precariously dangling. There were crazy parties and police raids. Now, we are a bit more civilized. We love so many of the artists, it perhaps too difficult to call favourites.
Vashti: Oh man, I could give you a million responses to this question! It’s really hard to pick a favorite art show, there have been so many amazing ones! Stand outs would of course be Raul de Nieves, Micki Pellerano, Panacea Theriac, Sarah Gates, Christopher Duffy. Some of the best times have been at Monster Island Block Party, our annual open studio and music fest. I think because its a time when everyone in the building has a chance to hang out with each other and appreciate the greatness of all that is produced here. Practicing music here is also one of my favorite things, its great to have a revolving visual when you are creating music! Craziest thing ever? Someone (I won’t name names) trying to strangle a DJ then pulling the plug on the entire sound system because they wouldn’t play Grateful Dead.
C & P: How has Live with Animals been involved with Williamsburg Fashion Weekend & the Monster Island Block Party? Vashti, were the paper dresses that you designed exhibited as part of Fashion Weekend? Or another performance/installation at the gallery?
Vashti: Ya, we were involved with the very first one. The colorful costumes were from MayPole which was a performance art piece I did in with Raul. Our friend Alice Cohen did the amazing soundtrack and Cameron did eerie lights, it was amazing.
Vashti’s paper dresses
C & P: Vashti, have there been other fashion-related events connected to/occurring within the gallery?
Vashti: I did have people wearing the white costumes in Symbiosis in Exotica, but other than some photo shoots, not really. We have had hundreds of people snapping photos in front of the gallery for years! I’m always seeing it in fashion magazines.
Monster Island building
C & P: When we discussed the idea that LWA would not last forever (in the present MI space) you seemed like you already had accepted this as fact and did not seem too saddened by the reality that LWA would probably not be there in a year’s time… Do you feel that LWA will continue to exist once the Monster Island lease is over and everyone is asked to move? Can you see another iteration of LWA existing somewhere else in Brooklyn (or Manhattan)?
Vashti: Well, we are really sad, but also excited at the possibilities the future holds. Its not that great to lose something you have literally bled, sweat and cried over, but you have to accept the fact that nothing is permanent too. We will keep creating, and whether or not we have a new home, we will try to keep our community alive in a different form.
C & P: You were included in an exhibit about alternative art spaces at Exit Art last year. are there any non-profit alternative art spaces in NY, existing presently or long ago, that you feel a certain kinship with ? What about other alternative art spaces in other cities? In your travels (on tour with bands, etc…) I assume you have been exposed to some places that have a similar objective to Live With Animals… perhaps? Have you been to Okay Mountain in Austin? Do you feel that they are doing a similar thing as LWA?
Vashti: Ya, Okay Mountain is awesome, I don’t really know enough to say if they are similar or not… We really like Secret Project Robot of course, and Cinders… Yautepec in Mexico City is rad, Showcave in LA is a really great space as well. There is a cool spot in Hot Springs, Arkansas as well but the name escapes me right now!
C & P: Do you ever work with/collaborate with any local spaces, art or music venues?
Vashti: We have done a lot of things with Glasslands, both artistic and performance based. Also we love to play at Death by Audio, its really great to have so many like-minded spaces in the same 5 block strip.
C & P: What is your favorite place in the city to see art ? How do you feel about Chelsea as a place to see artwork? Do you find yourselves going to Chelsea/LES frequently on art viewing adventures?
Vashti: The streets! I also like PS1…really I don’t get out much because there is always too much to do with the gallery, music or art… Chelsea is fine to see artwork I suppose, but when I do get out, I am more impressed with LES galleries.
C & P: Vashti, you and Cameron both have studio spaces in the building… Do your bands (Golden Triangle and K-Holes) also practice in the space? Do you spend most of your time at Monster Island toiling away or are there other projects/jobs that you are involved with that require your presence elsewhere?
Vashti: Just K-holes practice here… we spend a lotta time here, but we also have day jobs to attend. I also really love to cook, so I like to be in my kitchen when I get a moment.
C & P: Vashti, I know that you are headed to New Orleans for a short break from NY life tomorrow. Are you escaping New York for any particular reason? Will you use this time to explore creative endeavors? Are there any spaces in New Orleans doing a similar thing to LWA? Will you be collaborating with any of these places during your sojourn?
Vashti: Well, yeah there are a lot of reasons! But mostly to create work for our upcoming show at The Front Gallery and to curate a show at Good Children Gallery which are both great spaces! New Orleans is an amazingly creative city and there are wonderful artists and musicians there. My favorite space is the Spellcaster Lodge, which is an underwater dance club below the residence and art studio of Quintron and Miss Pussycat.
C & P: What shows do we have to look forward to at LWA in the near future?
Vashti: We have a packed year of wonderful shows! Our next couple shows will be Andy Curtin in March, a group drawing show in April, an installation with Sara Gates in May, plus many musical performances. We plan on going out with a huge bang come this October! Just check our website or our blog for current events and photos or join our mailing list or facebook page!
Monster Island building and murals
All photographs © Violet Shuraka/Cheap & Plastique. Do not use without permission.