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Ellen Kenney may be only a senior in college, but she’s already proving herself adept at organizing art exhibitions with professional-quality production values. Last year, the 6-foot woman with the ’80s-retro asymmetrical haircut studied at Goldsmiths College in London, the famed liberal-arts school Damien Hirst attended in the late ’80s, which played a central role in the emergence of the Young British Artists in the ’90s. There, Kenney, 20, met Mina Okumura, a 29-year-old Tokyo native doing postgraduate studies in curation, and found herself inspired by the lively scene.
But the current London gallery world was a disappointment to Okumura. “When I was in London seven years ago, at that time, art in London was so fascinating, so strong. But when I was in London last year, I felt a little bit the art world was weak,” says Okumura by phone from her summer post at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But outside of the world of the more established artists in their early 30s and 40s, “I found young artists who have strong art work,” she says. “And I realized maybe it is good to show young artists’ work to the public that is not so weak.”
So she and Kenney, who grew up in D.C. and attended the National Cathedral School, teamed up to organize their own exhibition to highlight some of the new works they were seeing in London and Tokyo—and to bring a little more contemporary international art to D.C. They found the perfect space to exhibit their vision in a recently vacated 1,800-square-foot women’s clothing store in Georgetown owned by EastBanc Inc., which lent them the clean, white-walled space with big windows as is for a weeklong show, “As Isn’t.”
Kenney and Okumura plan to show works from four artists in their 20s: Joanne Dennis, a recent graduate of Goldsmiths; Mako Ishizuka, born in Kobe, Japan, but now living and studying in the Netherlands; Meiro Koizumi of Tokyo; and Margot Quan Knight from Seattle, born in 1977 and most recently a member of the Fabrica art and design collective funded by Benetton in Treviso, Italy. Some of the works, such as Knight’s Photoshop surrealism, will seem very much of a piece with what’s hot now (think Margi Geerlinks’ digitally transformed human bodies); others, such as Koizumi’s seven-minute video—in which he manages to pack a striking amount of emotion into his chin—
are signs that Kenney and Okumura are onto something. Indeed, Koizumi won first place in last year’s Beck’s Futures Student Film and Video Awards, sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; his video tells a sad but simple tale of a man whose wife was eaten by a bear in almost cartoonlike fashion.
Ishizuka’s works focusing on “discommunication” and isolation are, according to Kenney, the “quietest” of the lot: a sound piece recorded at a gallery and manipulated to add echo and volume according to a heartbeat rhythm, a slide show in which the couplets of an argument’s answers and questions have been reversed, and a digital print of a girl at a table, installed in a corner and reflected in a mirror. Dennis uses marionettes dressed in clothes she designed herself as models for manipulated photographs, staging small tableaux.
“The show is about being able to do something that’s independent of either a commercial or a museum setting,” says Kenney. “Anyone can do what I’m doing if they want to.” —Garance Franke-Ruta
There will be a preview of “As Isn’t” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 20; the show is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Aug. 21 to Aug. 29 at 3300 M St. NW. For more information, call (202) 213-5911.