Inside “Origins” the 2019 Signs and Symbols exhibition from Sharon Louden and Hrag Vartanian. Courtesy of the artist and Signs and Symbols, New York. PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER GALLO.
As the owner and director of Signs and Symbols, a performance-based art space and gallery, Mitra Khorasheh has faced unique complications in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(My program) is very conceptual and ephemeral, and really relies on in-person interaction,” she said. “Not every artist is able to adapt their performance to a virtual space.”
It was her belief in the power of live and site-specific art that inspired Khorasheh to create Signs and Symbols in the first place, starting as a nomadic art collective in 2012 and, since 2018, a New York City gallery.
“There needs to be a dedicated space within the gallery world for artists that are performance (based),” she said, “because usually each gallery has just one or two (performance artists).”
She plans to discuss her approach to curating performance art and give the School of Art’s Emerging Artists insight on how to work with galleries and approach them for representation.
Khorasheh was introduced to Chautauqua through Sharon Louden, the School of Art’s Sydelle Sonkin and Herb Siegel Artistic Director of the Visual Arts.
“Access had always been really important for Sharon,” she said.
Louden and Hrag Vartanian, a Core Mentor at the School of Art this season, worked with Khorasheh last fall to put up their exhibition, “Origins,” at Signs and Symbols. The immersive, site-specific installation was a runaway success.
“We had people lined up for blocks to get in,” Khorasheh said. “It was amazing, we had no idea what it was going to turn into.”
Khorasheh calls Signs and Symbols a “non-gallery gallery,” because she works with artists to put up their exhibitions without requiring exclusive representation, encouraging experimentation and artistic development.
“It’s really a community,” she said. “(I work with) artists that I’ve had relationships with for years, since before I opened this space.”
The gallery closed to the public on March 14, as New York City went on lockdown. It is currently open by appointment only.
“It’s going to take a while for people to feel comfortable (again),” Khorasheh said.
In the meantime, while she’s been holed up in her apartment, Khorasheh has worked to put together a number of socially distant projects for Signs and Symbols, such as screening a different solo video piece every two weeks through the gallery website.
“Most of the videos I selected were meant to be viewed on a screen in a gallery with headphones,” she said. “It’s really interesting because (the videos) are able to get a much wider reach than if they were in the gallery. Each video has 500 to 600 views.”
Additionally, to raise money for the gallery, Khorasheh created a Signs and Symbols postcard project. For $35, anyone interested can purchase a unique piece of postcard-sized art created by a Signs and Symbols-affiliated artist. The art is a mystery until it arrives in the mail.
“Then you can write back, and (you and the artist) can social-distance connect,” Khorasheh said.
She plans to keep working on new virtual projects for as long as is necessary.
“It’s day-by-day right now,” she said. “It’s been a challenge.”