Fire Island Artist Residency Comes Into Its Own At Cherry Grove, Part One

by Alex Fialho on August 21, 2012 Rise Up

Nicolaus Chaffin, working in his Fire Island Artist Residency studio

“It would be awesome if [prominent artist residency] Skowhegan was here, and just for homos!” Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR) co-founder Chris Bogia told AFC recently, recalling his initial reaction to Fire Island. It was with this impetus that Bogia and co-founder Evan Garza founded FIAR, the only artist residency in the country devoted exclusively to queer artists. Bogia quickly added, “But I think that Fire Island Artist Residency is becoming something wholly unto itself, which is really exciting.”

Located about three hours outside of New York City via train and ferry, the residency houses five emerging artists in the Fire Island neighborhood of Cherry Grove. Now in its second year, the organization’s growth is visible. Not only did applications jump from 75 last year to over 200 this year, but the length of the residency was extended from two weeks to nearly a month, and residents now get a stipend to help cover material costs. The “pop-up residency” format of FIAR also moved from a more remote location last year to the centrally-positioned Holly House, just minutes from Cherry Grove’s pier and with larger makeshift studio spaces.

Co-founders Evan Garza and Chris Bogia

Connecting Fire Island Artist Residency to the island’s long lineage of queer history was a particular imperative for both Garza and Bogia. The island has a storied visual arts history as a site where celebrated queer artistic figures such as Paul Cadmus, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Peter Hujar once sojourned. Describing themselves and the residency as a conduit between previous generations and an emerging group of queer artists, Garza said, “I view Fire Island Artist Residency as being about preservation; it is totally about acknowledging what happened before and using that as a means to preserve it, and add to that.”

Garza and Bogia become more somber when the topic turns and we begin talking about the promotion of a collaborative network in the wake of the AIDS crisis. “Fire Island incurred a tremendous amount of loss during the AIDS crisis. A lot of really important artists who would have been our teachers, we will never know them.”

In order to facilitate this sort of intergenerational dialogue, FIAR hosts a series of artist lectures; this year, the roster includes Lia Gangitano, Nayland Blake, Marc Swanson, Joe Mama-Nitzberg, Jim Hodges, and AA Bronson.

At Nayland Blake's artist talk

Work made by the alumni of last year’s residency in the year since was a result of connections made on site (a separate post will be dedicated to the 2012 residents: Jade Yumang, Kris Grey, Nicolaus Chaffin, R.E.H. Gordon, and Brendan Fernandes). These recent works from previous FIAR artists-in-residence and visiting artists reflect an interest in collaboration. Last April, on Friday the 13th, visiting artist AA Bronson and FIAR alumni Ryan Brewer and Elijah Burgher collaborated on a performance piece titled Who’s Afraid of the Red, White, and Black? at 1:1 gallery. The piece involved the three artists transforming the gallery into a candlelit space of ritual, séance, and ceremony through painting and performance in order to “construct a conversation around suicide, sexuality, ritual, healing, and art.” The work was a “secret” performance, executed privately without an audience in the space of the gallery.

Who’s Afraid of the Red, White, and Black?

Additionally, A.K. Burns and Katie Hubbard, both resident alumni from 2011, continued collaborating after the residency, most notably in a performance and screening in conjunction with Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Brooklyn Museum. Both Burns and Hubbard also returned to Fire Island this year to show work and discuss their experience with the residents. Travis Boyer, the fifth and final resident from FIAR’s first year, returned to Fire Island this summer as well, engaging the community of The Pines (a small hamlet on the Island) by asking participants to pair up and close their eyes. The pairs would make blind portraits, while touching each other’s faces to guide the drawing.

Now, with the conclusion of the Fire Island Artist Residency’s second year, Garza and Bogia have ambitions to expand the residency. The two co-founders are considering doubling the program’s sessions to match increasing demand and opening up the residency to include other disciplines, such as playwriting, poetry, or filmmaking. In so doing, FIAR will be able to continue reanimating a narrative of visual art production on Fire Island, while also tapping into the strong literary history of the island as well, which includes extended stays from authors such as Edmund White, Janet Flanner, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden, and Frank O’Hara (who died after being run over by a dune buggy on Fire Island). Finally, and perhaps most ambitiously, Garza and Bogia are particularly excited about the possibility of acquiring a property for FIAR, with the hope of creating a permanent live/work space for a rotating group of artists. The residency currently rents its spaces.

The co-founders’ passion for their residency is palpable, “We are here to stay,” Bogia told me resolutely, with Garza immediately repeating the sentiment: “We are really in this for the long haul.”

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