“First, swap out the baby. Then we’ll talk.”


On Monday my co-work space, The Grove in New Haven, Connecticut, toasts this occasion.

Navigate Complexity 

Nov 2013-Feb 2014

a visual exhibition 

& open sourced catalogue

produced by E. Slomba Arts Interstices

Navigate Complexity Invite (1)

The artists included are Amy Bock, Tracie Cheng, Christine Chiocchio, Ellen Cochise Corso, Giada Crispiels, Jennifer Davies, Bryant Davis, Daniel Eugene, John Fallon, Alexis Granwell, Luke Hanscom, Jaime Krikscium, Mark Krueger, Judy Rosenthal, Joanna Schiff, Rashmi Talpade, and Mark Williams.

My friend and associate Stuart Scott asked me to share some of the “lively messiness” of curation.  This he contrasts to the “sanitized order” of most gallery settings.

Curation is mainly a game of association.  The game mirrors the theme of this particular show.  I like to find out what artists are already thinking about, what’s floating around out there in the ether.

First I guess.  Then I check and see if my guesses are relevant.  I do this by talking to artists.

I play around arranging works by artists who’ve been thinking about similar things.  Then I stand back, squint and see how it all looks.

In this way, an exhibition creates opportunities for artists to become curious about new things and see their work in new contexts.  This is fun and messy, sometimes frustrating and anxiety producing, always surprising and inspiring.


Daniel Eugene and Jaime Kriksciun on Installation Day

Since I do not own the spaces in which I curate, there is also that relationship to consider and negotiate.  Slate Ballard, founder of The Grove, was extraordinary to work with in this regard.  Here is a conversation we had during the process of putting together this show.

Me: I’m afraid to ask you this, but can we drill into the wall?

Slate: Not the concrete ones.

Me: Okay, which ones aren’t concrete?

Slate:  (Shrugs.) Probably this one. (Knocks on the wall to doublecheck.)  Yeah, that one would be okay.

Me: Cool!  Thanks!

Mark Williams Grove Diorama

The work in question is a peephole piece.   A few years ago, artist Mark Williams ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to tour Luray Caverns so he could draw upon authentic, first-hand experience using cave imagery in his work.  

I met Mark visiting Erector Square, the former Erector Set factory now housing the studios of hundreds of artists.  I asked if he’d be interested in creating a site-specific peephole similar to the one inside his studio door.  

I didn’t get around to asking Slate about this until the day before Mark was scheduled to come take some measurements.  That’s what you call the “last responsible moment.”  

Here’s Mark finishing up with the wall in question.  I had taped one of his cavern postcards there as a place saver so he would know where to start cutting and drilling.


And  here is the wall now, after StartUp Weekend took place in the space.  I hope Mark won’t mind.

As you can see, I’m not possessive of the exhibition’s real estate. We did take that stuff down, though, for the opening.WP_000880

So that’s how I like to curate.  This does in fact create a lively messiness.  Another case in point is Ellen Corso’s Kissing Project.


For six years she’s been taking pictures of couples kissing outdoors.  Her motto in documenting these moments is “There are more good people in the world than bad.   There is more love in the world than hate.  The world is not a dangerous place.”

All of the feedback was positive until we installed some of her Kiss pictures above the urinal.  Immediately I began hearing comments from men’s bathroom users who were uncomfortable with their placement and content.

el u

I mentioned it to Ellen, to which she replied, “it’s good to make them feel something.”  To date, we haven’t moved the kisses from the urinal area, but it’s still an open question.  Exploring the viewers’ feelings of discomfort, one coworker revealed, “first, you have to swap out the baby.  Then check back and we’ll talk.”  We discovered the trigger!


Italian artist Giada Crispiel’s work is an amazing transformation of newsprint into an elegant, twining organism.  It breathes into the space and adds a touch of whimsy.  Another coworker posted to our community Facebook page:  “really adds a buzz to the place. Well  sited!”

Time to work on the catalogue, which will be posted on LinkedIn for open source comments on the theme.  Below is the starting blurb…

Navigating complexity is all about patterns.  Selectively reducing the data we absorb is an act of creative intention.  The world has become a fiercely complex competition for headspace, so we must design criteria for engagement.  The quality of the paths we find and the sense we make reflect not only trust in our relationships but also our orientation to uncertainty.  

watch decreased

Joanna Schiff, Watching

The theme of complexity showed up at this year’s Drucker Forum #gpdf13.  Toronto-based thinker, author and strategist Roger Martin kicked off his Plenary session on How Leaders Should Embrace Complexity.

In response to the event, complexity theorist Esko Kilpi tweeted, “It is time for the science of uncertainty in management.”  In an essay titled “Complexity, Patterns and Links,” Kilpi writes “Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. There is absolutely no linearity in the world of human beings.”  http://eskokilpi.blogging.fi/2012/03/27/complexity-and-links-2/


Luke Hanscom, from the Van Dyke Series

All for now as we navigate complexity.  I can’t wait to toast the artists at the opening Monday night.  It’s open to the public at 760 Chapel Street in downtown New Haven, 5:30-7:30pm, where the works will be for sale.   And if you feel curiosity, enthusiasm or desire to contribute to the catalog essays, please know you will have an opportunity very soon.


Tracie Cheng, Relief

Yours in artfulness,