1:1 Case Study by Jarrett Earnest and Leigha Mason

I am so excited to begin what I’m sure will be a thrilling and tumultuous marker of time in our lives together. This project will provide a major rupture in the banality of NYC ART, our everyday lives and other’s too. I have never believed in a project as much as 1:1, a unique tornado of aggression, love, celebration, resistance, social exchange, and image making. Physical space IS simply and politically the only option to execute intangibilities. I love you three with all my heart and I look forward to this year of wild and strange and exciting collaboration.

—handwritten note by Leigha Mason, 2012.

In 2012 Jarrett Earnest, Leigha Mason, Alex Sloane and Whitney Vangrin co-founded “1:1” in the Lower East Side in NYC. All in their early twenties and having recently graduated from art school, they were dissatisfied with the homogeneity which defined the commercial art world of the 2010s. The seeming impossibility of exhibiting their work coupled with the incredible market pressures on living and working space within the city, led them to opening a place of their own.

They secured financial backing through a patron/friend who agreed to cover move-in costs and the majority of the $3,000 a month rent. Though they were dead broke, they could hustle enough to cover costs as they arose – seeing it as an opportunity for creative solutions, which included, but were not limited to, begging, borrowing, and stealing. Having studied with Martha Wilson, artist and founding director of Franklin Furnace Archive, they went to her for advice on running a space. Martha advised documenting everything—even things that wouldn’t seem important at the time. Then she arranged for Franklin Furnace to act as 1:1’s fiscal sponsor, allowing them certain shared benefits of non-profit status (legal council and tax deductions for donors, among other things).

After a handful of arrangements—insurance, registrations, websites, and signage—they signed a lease in mid-February for 121 Essex steet: a long and narrow, second-floor walkup, above a whiskey bar. The space was nowhere close to being a “white cube”. It had popcorn-spackled dropped-tile ceilings, cheap laminate flooring, a bathroom with a bizarrely spacious shower, a little office and kitchen, and a huge wall-to-wall windows overlooking the corner of Essex and Rivington streets.

installation view of first show at 1:1, films by Marie Losier and Leigha Mason, 2012, photo courtesy 1:1

Over drinks they derived the name ”1:1” from the address, pronounced “one to one”. They excitedly listed associations with the ratio, ultimately describing it on their first press release: “1:1 employs infinite coexistence of genesis and chaos. It is not a neutrality nor a cancellation nor an equality. It is presence in action, without utilitarian demands. Tearing down not to set up a replacement, but to excite a series of shifting forces and strategies of everyday life. We welcome contradiction.” 1:1 was not interested in reacting against the art market explicitly, but rather in the possibilities of space without being beholden to any justifications. They weren’t deconstructing normative art spaces for the sake of installing a solution, but rather, as they said at the time, “to excite a series of potential activities.”

Generally they opened one exhibition per month, with between two and four related events. The exhibitions were installed with zero budget. Some materials were collected from Materials For The Arts (via Franklin Furnace), some others were borrowed from nearby galleries that they built relationships with, including Participant Inc. and Reena Spaulings. They served wine at openings because of a generous sponsorship from Middle Sister Wine Company.

1:1 opened on March 10th with “Marie Losier & Leigha Mason”, a selection of 16mm films digitally projected onto double-sided home-made projection screens. Losier exhibited film portraits of George Kuchar and Tony Conrad. Mason showed excerpts from “Sketches for Baal”, inspired in part by Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal, as well as her own experience of having been stabbed in the chest in Athens, Greece, the previous summer. Accompanying events included a performance by genre-defying pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and a night called Pasolini’s Body which included presentations on Pier Paulo Pasolini by art historian Aja Merjian, and a poetry reading by Stacy Szmaszek of her collection Pasolini Poems.

Marie Karlberg performing at the banquet table during Banquet for Artaud, 2012, photo by Jett Drolette

The final event of the first month, “Banquet for Artaud”, was defining. Plywood sheets were laid on and saw-horses to create a 14-foot-long banquet table in the center of the space. A bar was installed in the back of the room, and the wine sponsor ensured non-stop pours late into the night. During the approaching week they’d gathered rotting and expired fruits and vegetables from Chinatown markets, piling them onto the table, along with bones, cups, candles, and assortments of delicious ripe fruits. By the time of the event, they’d amassed a huge vanitas still-life in various stages of freshness and decay. A number of artists were asked to prepare performances that embodied Artaud’s idea about a “theatre of cruelty”, though a specific lineup was not announced.

The event began in the early evening with Mary Ann Caws, legendary translator and scholar of surrealist poetry, sitting at the head of the table and reading excerpts from Artaud’s writing. As the night went on, people continued to arrive and the crowd got more and more boisterous as performances erupted around the banquet table and amongst the throngs of visitors. Raquel Mavecq enacted a spiral dance, inspired by Rudolf Laban, to Emil Bognar-Nasdor’s noise performance in the corner; Karin Schneider unassumingly lit flowers on fire; Jarrett read excerpts from “Van Gogh Suicided by Society” simultaneously drenched in smashed blackberries; Whitney, wearing a raddish crown and a plastic dress, performed a screaming dialogue with a dead fish and a meat cleaver. Many guests began to enact performances of their own— completely blurring any boundaries between “artist” and “audience”. At one point Marie Karlberg began an aggressive striptease, gnawing on roses, sunflowers and food from the table; Leigha joined her while also subtly reopening a stab wound on her left breast… at which point, a man in the audience flipped the entirety of the table and its contents over onto the two women, and promptly fled. Joe Heffernan continued to play keyboards throughout the chaos, with Gaspar Claus on cello, providing a dreamy soundscape, while the remaining group righted the table and began scooping up piles of rot and broken glass, and putting them back in place. People hung around late into the night, with more actions fading into the morning.

Jarrett Earnest performing at Banquet for Artaud, 2012, photo courtesy 1:1

The performance had spiraled out of control. It was exciting, upsetting, and confusing. The Banquet had been a unique experience with a Dionysian atmosphere, but any number of things could’ve gone wrong when the social contract is relaxed in the ways they were interested, especially in a situation open to the public. It was a level of responsibility that they hadn't anticipated, but that needed to be confronted if 1:1 continue to pursue their stated goals of hosting “social ruptures.”

The Artaud banquet kicked off a month of performances that accumulated residual objects and artifacts in the space, growing into an exhibition by the end. This included “Sweat”, the first in a trilogy of endurance body works by Whitney, and was paired with Tom Chung’s “God Speaking”, for which he publicly ingested ayahuasca. Jarrett performed a lecture on the history of artists giving lectures as performances, and showed rare Faith Ringold and Robert Colescott videos (as well as hosting a meeting of the Faith Ringold Society). 1:1 also handed over it’s keys to AA Bronson, Elijah Berger, and Ryan Brewer for an overnight sex ritual called “Who’s Afraid of Red, White, and Black”. They left the windows covered by a thin veil of yoghurt and the shower smeared with body paint.

Confusing the line between public and private, through documented and ephemeral actions, became increasingly generative. Leigha lived at 1:1 from the start, setting up a clandestine pallet in the “office”. Soon Jarrett dropped out of grad school, broke up with his boyfriend, and started sleeping in the front corner of the gallery under the glow of the neon sign. For a while Whitney was staying there too. Alex could regularly be spotted sitting in the window reading a book and drinking tea. Even though there were myriad publicized events featuring friends— SSION, House of LaDosha, Casey Jane Ellison, Actually Huizenga, Roxy Farman, Alexis Blair Penney, Jackie Mason, the bands Starred and Gambles – the elaborate rituals and prepping of the space for concerts, comedy nights, and screenings, became integral to the way they conceived of 1:1. Many nights included impromptu performances just for each other, sometimes captured on video. Even outside of this studio function, it also played host to birthday parties, dinners, photoshoots, etc. Artists would habitually stop by just to hang out, drink, talk, and workshop ideas. It was a nucleus for all sorts of activity.

Whitney Vangrin performing first installment of "Sweat/Tears/Blood" 2012, photo courtesy 1:1

1:1 approached “curatorial” decisions as though they were the formal considerations of a painting, an attitude they they described at the time as “several million aesthetic judgements that archived up to something incalculably greater.” 1:1’s devotion to a vast array of artistic forms left them with no regard for orthodoxy of any kind, artistic or political, and necessarily situated their practice at odds with the priorities of the market and prevailing critical trends. The only “methodological” commitment was play, as they described in press materials: “Playing as a strategy is defined both by its commitment to pleasure (by virtue of the fact that it is fun), and by presentness (one must be fully engaged in the action at hand).” The work drawn into 1:1 was united by this underlying sensibility, which saw pleasure, active engagement, and a move towards openness as its purpose.

Over the following months, exhibitions included collages and sculptural altars by anarcho-mystic Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) who pioneered the concept of “temporary autonomous zone”; Emily Kinni’s photographs of sites previously used for execution chambers in states that outlawed the death penalty; minimal paintings by Nathlie Provosty based on medieval books of hours; another “Spit Banquet” orchestrated and filmed by Leigha. Alex organized a month-long series of poetry readings and political discussions. The space served as wardrobe, hair, makeup, and general headquarters for the production of Grant Singer’s short film IRL (2013). The final exhibition was a group show called “All the Best People” featuring work by friends Raul de Nieves, Stewart Uoo, Sandy Kim, and Nicole Wittenberg, among others. Valentine’s Day 2013 was designated the final public event. Whitney performed “Blood” – the final installment of her endurance trilogy, where she drew her own blood and then live-streamed a trip to the top of the Empire State building. Candice Johnson and Dachi Cole performed in their installation “Bed Sport”. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge gave tarot card readings, and some attendees got tattooed.

performers in Leigha Mason's <em>Spit Banquet </em>at 1:1, 2012, photo by Matt Whitley

At that time in New York, there were a number of familial collaboratives, but 1:1 was the only one who had an ongoing physical space in Manhattan where they could cross-pollinate without having to accommodate anyone else’s rules or expectations. 1:1 provided a space to develop and play with ideas and process, and the potential to continue to push one’s work further than the circumscribed mediocrity that defined most mainstream programming.

From its inception 1:1 was approached as a year long project. This gave a sense urgency, and made the project feel more manageable without additional financial resources. When it came to renewing the lease, they questioned whether or not they could not sustain the ongoing level of anarchic experimentation without it necessarily stabilizing into an actual business or institution. Everyday operations became an all-consuming task, and they each decided to pursue new forms.

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About Jarrett Earnest

Jarrett Earnest is an independent writer and curator living in New York City. He is the author of What it Means to Write About Art: Interviews with Art Critics (David Zwirner Books, 2018), editor of Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings 1988-2017 by Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams, June 2019) and curator of "The Young and Evil" at David Zwirner, NY (2019) and "Closer as Love: Polaroids 1993-2007: Breyer P-Orridge" at Nina Johnson, Miami (2019).

About Leigha Mason

Leigha Mason is an artist living and working in Brookyln, NY. She works with a variety of media, most recently focusing on painting and filmmaking. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1, the Andy Warhol Museum, ICA London, and other galleries internationally. She is also co-founder and director of the NYC arts space '1:1'.