Tag Archives: Bemis Underground

A Space of Their Own

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Theirs was a passion born from a common frustration framed by a Great Recession America, one that had stricken Omaha with a bounty of empty storefronts and too many starving artists.

So when visual artists Joel Damon and Josh Powell began to liaise the two under the collaborative guise Project Project—a roaming, repurposing art gallery that now has a permanent home in the heart of the Vinton Street Historic District—it was to help those left behind in the local arts community. They had no idea that they’d be transforming the act of showing artwork into an art form all its own.

“I was getting really upset about the level of support for young, emerging artists in the city,” Damon, 32, says in reflecting back on the 2008 epiphany that would eventually launch the initiative. “And so I decided to find some artists who were super rad and put up an exhibition of their work.”

The former curator of the Bemis Underground says one of those artists happened to be Powell, 34, a Myspace friend (or acquaintance in real-life speak) whose artwork caught his eye and whose ethos resonated with his own.

ProjectProject2“While he was setting up his work,” Damon says, “there was this immediate sense of collaboration with other things happening with the show. We just hit it off.”

Most events, Damon recalls, gave local aesthetes the opportunity to appreciate artwork from virtually unknown Omaha-area artists.

“You were also given the chance to go into these vacant, beautiful spaces that you probably never would have had a chance to,” Powell adds. The duo would go on to co-curate a half dozen pop-up art shows in unlikely places across the city over the next half decade before landing a space of their own last year.

The repetitively named Project Project gallery doesn’t stray much from that sentiment: It’s a former alley—about the width of a covered wagon—turned butchery, with a floor that intentionally declines 3 inches on one side so that blood would flow away from work areas. The “horse door,” as Damon jokingly puts it, connects the gallery to a pseudo-atrium, which was once a livery stable.

“It was just going to be another one-night deal,” Damon confesses about the space. “After we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot next month,’ and then the next month came, and then the next.”

After a year of free rent, the gallery held a $100 art sale last summer to finance their 2015 campaign. Damon says they met their goal in one night after hosting a turnout in the hundreds.

That kind of support, he believes, is a testament to the public’s desire for an art space whose very nature—just like in their pop-up days—is defined by an element of risk in showing “stuff that can’t be sold or stuff that probably wouldn’t sell.”

“This is not a business,” Damon says. “This strains both of our pocketbooks. This strains both of our times with our wives. This is some stupid compulsion. I don’t know what this is, but it’s what we enjoy doing…we enjoy helping other artists.”

Visit projectprojectomaha.com to learn more.

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Performance Man

December 25, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By day he’s a mild-mannered assistant director of learning and development at Omaha’s Hyatt hotels. By night and during weekends, though, Doug Hayko is one the city’s most well-known—and perhaps most infamous—performance artists, one who frequently makes people uncomfortable in the most thought-provoking ways.

The 44-year-old became interested in performance art while studying theater at Creighton University. “It was pretty basic,” he remembers, “but I had an affinity for unique performance pieces.” He continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he again focused on theatre as well as the history of theatre and its more academic side. “I was interested in techniques that did something to engage the audience in different pieces,” he explains, “and I was really interested in doing and embracing and watching pieces that were fused with societal issues. Here were really profound, engaging issues.”

But Hayko found that performing in a university environment was doing so to a limited audience—one who already understood what performance art could deliver intellectually—rather than to the general public, with whom he could more profoundly engage. For that reason, he left graduate school and put performance art on hiatus and instead moved to southern California where he began working for Hyatt.

In 1998, though, Hayko returned to Omaha and in 2005 staged an ambitious adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Bemis Underground. It involved layers upon layers of text, with each audience member taking something different from the experience. That’s something Hayko strives for with every performance he gives. “Even though we can’t catch it all,” he emphasizes,  “we all carry away something unique.”

Since then, Hayko has offered numerous such experiences, each exploring a situation designed to create provocative encounters, such as East of 72nd: Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts (2007), Toxic Lawncare (2010), and Experts at the Museum of Alternative History (2013), each of which represents a small selection of his work. At times, Hayko’s performances have been controversial, such as Sickened at the Shelterbelt Theatre in 2008, which featured the artist curled in a fetal or a kneeling position smeared in fake blood while holding a doll.

Controversial or not, each piece has Hayko’s inimitable sense of intensity. The artist remarks: “Even if it’s a one-time performance, my hope is that it sticks with people and continues conversations long after the piece is over—not the next day, not the next month, but something they recall, and talk about. Isn’t that what any artist wants —for art to have legs and continue to be talked about?”

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Tana Quincy

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The phrase “I really don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t paint,” is a bit modest coming from Tana Quincy. Faced with the prospect of truly not being able to paint thanks to chronic muscle pain, this Omaha artist found out what she could do. As a result, she’s putting the finishing touches on her next body of work, Tents, which will show at Maud Boutique on 33rd and California through December.

It will be the first show since 2010 for the adjunct art instructor, who teaches figurative painting and drawing at Metro Community College, UNO, the Joslyn Art Museum, and Kent Bellows Studio. While her previous show, SODZO, at the Bemis Underground focused clearly on the human body with her small paintings of plaster anatomy casts, Quincy makes a subtler but intensely personal nod to the frailty of humanity with Tents.

The tiny cardboard tents, the oil paintings, and photographs of the miniatures—all encourage viewers to consider their own temporal, almost nomadic, existence. “We’re here in this temporal place, in these temporary structures. What’s your attitude; what’s your focus?” Quincy asks.

“After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth.”

Her own focus is that she must make art. Somehow. Always.

While pursuing her MFA at the New York Academy of Art in 2008, she hit a roadblock. “I was sick,” Quincy recalls. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d get really tired.” She continued to work as a professional muralist after graduation but eventually injured both of her arms. “Holding a brush was painful.” She supported herself with babysitting and nurtured a need to do something with art. “I couldn’t paint. And that’s a pretty big obstacle for a painter,” she says. “I ended up making these little sculptures because I could tear paper and tape.”

She would spend perhaps 20 minutes a day creating tents from teaboxes she saved and has since created photographs and paintings of the tiny domiciles.

Wait. Paintings? So the pain is gone?

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Quincy’s next body of work, Tents, will show at Maud Boutique in December.

“I didn’t tell you a detail of my painting process,” Quincy admits. “After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth. All these are paintings with my mouth.”

During the first stages of making Tents, Quincy would listen to NPR. “There were all these stories of these people who had overcome insurmountable obstacles,” she remembers. “[I heard] story after story of people overcoming these physical or mental handicaps. And then just being a painter, I’m thinking how can I paint? If I can’t use my arms, what can I do?”

“I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”

Trial and error have brought the artist to her current solution: Nailing a hole in a clean cork, Quincy puts her brush into the cork and clenches it between her teeth. “My teeth were getting sore because of biting on the wood,” she says. “The cork absorbs the movement of the brush, too. It’s my home remedy. It’s very genius,” she adds with a laugh.

Typically, Quincy keeps her unusual painting method quiet. “I don’t want it to be about that. I don’t want it to be a circus.” But after coaxing from people who know her and her work, she’s decided to talk about it in her artist statement and show the entire collection of Tents from start to finish. “The process is very important, too. I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”

Lynn Mills, the owner of Maud Boutique where Tents is showing, said she’s been very excited to host Quincy’s work. “I found it amazing how she worked through her emotional process through her art. It resonated with me as a woman,” Mills says. The boutique opened last August with a mission to educate people about the talent of the community with a shop in the front for local clothing designers and a gallery in the back for local artists.