A Conversation with april april | Brooklyn, NY

Ashlin Artemesia Ballif interviews Brooklyn gallery april april 

april april

by appointment: info@aprilapril.gallery


Current Exhibition: 

A Place for Everything

Bronson Smillie

12 FEBRUARY - 26 MARCH, 2023 


april april is a contemporary art gallery and poetry program currently operating out of an apartment in Brooklyn, NY. To schedule an appointment and retrieve the gallery’s address please email: info@aprilapril.gallery

Founded by Patrick Bova & Lucas Regazzi

  Bronson Smillie. Asterisk to Nowhere #5, 2022. Paper pulp, bar rag, artists frame. 12 x 11x 2 inches

Ashlin Ballif: 

Are the artists you work with generally based in New York?

april april:

Over the 10 exhibitions we've done, most of the artists actually don't live in New York, which hasn't been entirely intentional. Once we noticed that, it felt good to latch onto and to give space to artists mostly working in second cities. Definitely excited to provide a kind of nest for people that don’t get this experience so readily. 

It feels as though the affinities are drawn toward things that we're not seeing all the time in New York. And so for us, that's meant working with artists who are based in the US that live in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, or Los Angeles. We do want to focus on international artists and try to kind of keep a pulse on things that aren't so centered in North America. For example, we're doing a fair in a couple of months with a Singaporean artist. We're just starting to work with him. 

AB: When I visited the space, it felt like a nest, as you said. How did april april come about? What made you think to incorporate the element of poetry alongside exhibitions? 

aa: Lucas and I met back in 2018, through an Ekphrastic poetry publication that he and his friend Elora Crawford were starting that I submitted to. So there’s a root interest in writing around art, it’s always been present. We thought it was a ripe opportunity to integrate that on the level of exhibition making…It came from this fundamental idea about the writing that gathers around art. The way that it attributes meaning to the work is nefarious, so poetry felt like an answer as a form to that problem. In that, it is trying to speak in a language similar to art. Not to speak at it, or for it, but rather with it or around it. Trying to think about objects and art as a kind of container for language, that can be mined from or felt around. Of course, this happens through individual channels as poets have different styles and their own writing, but still, there’s a kind of fundamental belief that there are words in the work that are dormant. 

     Installation View

AB: In the press release for your current exhibition, A Place for Everything, you write, “Cassette tapes and letter presses are but media’s memory. Within these containers, as well as on found industrial ledger papers, Bronson Smillie charts color and form as topographical arrangements. Notation becomes a song.” ‘Notation becomes a song’ feels as if it expresses what is at the core of april april, much like Smillie’s work: the asterisks become the full body or central experience. Oftentimes, these are the elements that are overlooked. What challenges have arisen as you've been trying to highlight the poetic aspects of language?

aa: I think that's a really beautiful way to render the projects that we're gravitating towards: work that is paying attention to what could be overlooked in an everyday experience. Along with the idea of trying to access the feeling of the work through different poets as channels. The challenge is that it becomes quite abstract or conceptual at a certain point. As such, a bit intimidating in the end, maybe. It’s important to us but we also have been recognizing that it's a really particular exercise, to engage with this idea about art and poetry as a way of meeting the meaning that exists in the work. Because poetry is so vast, people have an incredible amount of ideas about the form and what it does. So I think we're meeting our own idea about poetry in this particular context in, you know, in contest with other people's ideas about it as well. So it's not always a surefire thing that people are as excited about the practice as we are. 

What feels important about it is in making the exhibition more polyphonic, decentered from our singular voice. It is a very particular ask of people, and our selection of poets for shows isn't always straightforward. It's just based on a feeling or a sense of affinity. And often, the artists and poets don't even live in New York so the way that they're able to experience the exhibition and work is mainly through documentation…Which is a very specific way to perceive the space because our understanding of it (as it’s in our apartment) is from, you know, seven in the morning to midnight. We experience being with the art, as we're moving about our day. 

    Luz Carabaño. llamas, 2022. Oil on linen on shaped panel. 10 x 9 inches.

I remember Rachel Oyster Kim, who wrote for our Poem Objects (2022) show, came in and sat down for 30 minutes and the poem was done. An example of a less ready-made experience is from poet CAConrad, they were very busy teaching during the course of our exhibition Unfoldings, but really responded to Luz Carabaño’s work. So they rifled through their archives and chose two poems they felt were akin to the work. So it’s not always “new” language.

Ideally, it is a commission of new writing. However, we're also coming up against the haste of the exhibition cycle in relation to the length of time it takes to process and produce a poem the poet is satisfied with. It’s a challenging task, and one that we acknowledge is challenging. Therefore, in the previous example with CAConrad, we tried to have more of a curatorial request for the poet to dive into their archive. Which is still a meaningful engagement with the show, providing a counter pose or a resonant node. 

AB: What are your thoughts on (Soma)tic poetry? I know CAConrad specializes in that form. The gallery, as previously described as a nest, lends itself to warmth and a comfortable space to hear oneself or feel more centered while working. 

aa: I actually attended a Zoom workshop around (Soma)tic poetry that CAConrad was hosting during the height of the pandemic. They walked through their process of creating recipe stations, which was really fascinating and beautiful. It’s interesting how this format, in a way, parallels an exhibition or the way that we're asking people to approach it. Beyond the fact that it’s situated in this very particular environment, an exhibition is a type of recipe station. 

AB: Like poetry, art as a medium is an essence of feeling and also holds the inaccessibility we mentioned earlier–particularly in the sense of abstraction, among other ways. It’s not always like this, in fact often the opposite, but language can be the only thing that people hold on to that makes sense of what they’re seeing. It goes back and forth in that way. How do you curate the poems as part of the exhibition so that it's available for people to read?

aa: It’s only online at the moment. Usually, the poems in relation to a show get released towards its end or at its very end. So there hasn't been an explicit experience of someone who has come for a visit having read the poem in relation to the show beforehand. So the poems act as and prompt a returning-to.

Again, because the project is so new, we're still negotiating this method. It was important to have the show's run be the duration (in an ideal world) that the poet would come to visit the show, have an experience of it, and then could take that with them to create a poem. But there are ways to better highlight and centralize the poetry program rather than have it seem more like a footnote. We’re still workshopping it. And the intention has always been to take the accumulation of works and publish them as a book. Initially, we were thinking we should include documentation from the show in relation to the poems. We've since decided that it will just be the poems in the book as a way to highlight their singularity.

AB: Yes, that difficulty in balance is something I’ve been thinking about since I visited the gallery. On the one hand, as you just described, you want to figure out what work you're highlighting and who gets the public, visual experience. There’s also a desire I felt to view their combination as an experience: poems alongside the work. I think a publication would be special in that sense. What is the curation process like for you? Is it intuitive on your part or is the artist more involved?

    Installation View

aa: It is intuitive in nature, to the extent that it's a sensibility around the room, and in relation to the work. In this particular instance, the latest exhibition with Bronson Smillie’s works in A Place for Everything was more of an iterative, collaborative process where we were sitting with the work and trying to understand which needed breath. In regard to the asterisks in particular, in the bay window near the floor, it was sort of thinking through the multivalence of the work being that it's a symbol or icon that usually sits in the top corner of a word or some markup language. On the first wall of the show, in the top left corner, there is a work whose placement evokes that. 

At times it can feel like a really difficult space because of its size. It varies though; an artist who came to see the show today said the gallery has the perfect proportions for an exhibition and that it's an ideal space to work in, which was generous to hear. It was a curious task when we did our first big group show back in September, Poem Objects. We were working with seven artists to negotiate everything in the show. But I still feel like we haven't tapped the full potential of what can be in the space.

     Bronson Smillie. Felt Drawing #10, 2023. Found paper, polycrayon, pencil crayon, cork pad,        felt pad, stickers, framed. 14.25 x 11.25 inches.

AB: Also, as a side note, in Smillie’s Felt Drawing #10, the composition reminds me of sheet music. Does their work have any relation to music? Was this a theme that was intentional? 

aa: It was moreso in his last exhibition at a space called Maurice in Montréal. The exhibition is called tempo 85 (2022) and has some works that are interpreted as a deconstruction of a piano. Bronson has worked in the past on piano scrolls and within existing grids of these notational pages. In A Place for Everything, the notational becomes a thematic in the work, not necessarily as it relates to music, but as it relates to composition on a line or grid. So either music, math, or cartography. 

AB: Do you find that you use the little nooks and crannies of the space? Is it easier to experiment with in that way? 

    Nabil Azab, Untitled, 2021. Archival inkjet print. 52 x 41 inches.

aa: I think the first artist that allowed us to see the space in a more expansive way was  Mo Costello, who was in our second show along with Nabil Azab, Juliette, and they, over the course of like, two days, barricaded themself in the room. Did a lot of ritual performances, with objects and tools they brought from Georgia. We heard a lot of banging and clanging from down the hall haha. Mo was engaging with every sort of scene in the room. To this day, there's still sugar left over on some of the windows—residual Berry Bronco Sauce from Arby’s and peanut butter. 

We also invited Chris Andrews, a friend from Montréal, to curate a group show in the space over winter of 2021-22. That was really illuminating as well. Beyond each individual artist’s gestures and placement of works, Bea Fremderman made a site-specific work that was a curtain transformed at its tail into a dress shirt. There were also these two chairs adorned in gowns by HULFE. The show helped to highlight the different ways that artists could respond to the room, and what kind of objects suit the area or could be accommodated by the space. The curation is always collaborative with the artist. I think good curatorial work consists of and is conceived of as collaboration or co-conspiration.

         Top: Installation View of exhibition Rattling the Dags, December - February 2022

        Bottom: Bea Fremderman, Untitled, 2021. Cotton, buttons, cufflinks, curtain rod. Dimensions                 variable

AB: Are there often site-specific or commissioned works? 

aa: Not as common, however, Laura McCoy made some work when she was here. It’s definitely a goal for shows to come. I think it's also a matter of not having worked with as many artists that identify as installation artists. It’s a question that we were working through, even in this current show. It felt like what we were coming up against often was giving the impression of site-specificity in relation to the work when it didn't exist. So in some instances, we needed to acknowledge that the work can’t perform that way sometimes or shouldn't. A balance of pulling back, reading the work, and listening to the work. Always.

    Laura McCoy. The Rightness of the Right Petal, 2022. Acrylic paint, acrylic. 100 x 11.75 inches

AB: Are you looking for the gallery to be a collaborative or public space in terms of programming? 

aa: Yes! We hosted our first public reading back in August at Anna Sergeeva’s dear friend books. We’re hoping to do a new iteration of that this spring when it gets warmer. Our most recent one, La Cité des arts, another guest-curated event, was very heavily programmed with guest screenings. Mona Varichon invited other artists to show alongside them, including filmmaker Marie Losier. At the beginning of her screening, she addressed the audience in the format of a talk. She was explaining and contextualizing the work. We deeply want to have more dialogue and reason to incorporate people and their ideas and their work in relation to the space in programs–In the form of talks, readings, and events more broadly. We hosted a reading group as well, a couple of weeks back. A series organized by Darling Green Studio. We had pre-selected a series of texts that the curator offered up and they came by to discuss the screening in relation to the reading.