By NOAH BECKER March, 2020
COVID-19 was not yet at its peak here in New York when I got the invite. Natalie White's collaborative photos with Issa Salliander opening at Wallplay was spectacular. All the work and expense put into this show, even in the face of the unknown, is brave on the part of Natalie White, Issa Salliander and Wallplay. The massive Williamsburg space also offered us social distancing from other atendees... But I gave Natalie a big hug and kiss on the cheek - we decided intuitively that we would gladly die together for art. The same feeling carried over to our "End of the World" brunch at a diner the next day. Days later the actual gravity of the situation is more real - terrifying for everyone. I recorded the following conversation at the diner in Brooklyn Heights, long before the shutdown. We all called her show "The Last Art Opening" and "The Last Art Show" - which is perhaps true in this time of crisis - it's really difficult to know what will happen. Since the shutdown I've been going to private viewings at other galleries where I am the only person there (other than the dealer) and maybe essential staff members.
I'm not sure if Wall Play is even open during this crisis and I'm not endorsing that people gather in galleries at this time - it may be forbidden by the city? Thankfully you can't get COVID-19 from looking at and reading about art here at Whitehot Magazine, enjoy...
Noah Becker: Okay, so how did you, guys, meet?
Issa Salliander: We belonged to the same group of friends in New York for a long time. And then I think eight years ago, we bonded in Miami.
Natalie White: Yeah. So, we had hotel rooms directly sharing the same wall. And one night, which was a very spirited night, I made a hole. I punched a hole through the wall in the hotel room to make my own entrance into her room, because I really wanted to see her.
Noah: This was during Art Basel Miami Beach?
Natalie: Yeah. It was during Art Basel Miami Beach. And after that we have bonded and she also... Issa, do you want to tell him the story about taking the call? You saw me taking a phone call on the beach.
Issa: Oh. I was watching her crawling through the sand on the beach.
Natalie: With Larry Warsh.
Issa: Yes, Larry Warsh was there and he got this author on the phone, the guy who wrote Glamorama. And Larry handed her the phone and she suddenly had a very interesting discussion about Norman Mailer. While I was completely wasted, I had this moment of intelligence - so that's what really brought Issa and I together.
Noah: And when did you get to the point where you decided you were going to mount a show of photography that features both of you in the photographs?
Issa: I've been painting Natalie for some time. I'm a painter. Well, seen as a pure painter. And we thought, well, it's always a good time for me to try and bring it to be in your frame, to have you to collaborate on the actual being in the picture.
Natalie: Yeah. So, Issa is a painter and she's made a lot of paintings of me, they're really fabulous. And she's a very skilled technical, beautiful painter. This was a chance for me to make portraits of Issa and for us to collaborate together on this project. I was looking for a space to curate a show of her paintings and Laura Riley from Wallplay came to mind. I reached out to Laura and I said I'd really like to curate a show of paintings for my friend and stuff.
And Laura says, "Oh, we have a space opening up in a couple of weeks." And I'm like, "Oh, great, we'll take it." Because I thought that it was one of the smaller galleries on Canal Street and we could just put up as those paintings up on the wall. And then a few days later I went out to Williamsburg to view the space and I was kind of surprised because I thought she was going to give me one of the smaller galleries on Canal. And then, I was like, "Oh, which address would you like me to meet you at?" And she said, "25 Kent, Williamsburg." I was like, "Oh, that's interesting.'" I get there, the gallery space is 8300 square feet and it's mostly glass, fully glass walls. So I'm looking at it, going, "We can't hang paintings here."
Noah: So, you wanted to do something of epic scale because of the size of the space?
Issa: Well, why not use the size of the space when it's offered?
Natalie: Yes. So we were kind of working within the space. The space inspired us to make these massive works. And we had about two weeks to do it.
Noah: I want to ask you a question about the photographs themselves because there's some of them have green light on part of the body, some of them have blue light, some of them have a combination of red and green light, and some of them are very kind of monochromatic, almost like brown tones. Some of them are almost not figurative and have like some elements in them where you can sort of make out the figure. Is there something to that color and light treatment that you got from a different source, like cinema? Or where did you come up with that sort of treatment of the photo where the lights are shining on the figure in that way?
Natalie: Well, so what we do is we put colored gels over these very powerful lights and about every three to four times the lights flash, we have to replace the colored gel because it just melts through it. That's how powerful those lights are. And with the giant Polaroid process, it's just like this magical process of where you don't know what's going to come out in the double exposure. You could have the same exact lighting, the same exact way and with the same exact figures in the same exact place, and it will double expose completely different.
Noah: I see. So, how many pieces are in this show?
Natalie: Well, there's the three large billboards.
Issa: 16 giant Polaroids, three billboards. Then we have three videos.
Noah: And how long is the show up?
Natalie: I think this is going to be the last art show of all humanity. We were originally supposed to be up for 10 days, but now it looks like we're going to be up for the next two months. And also, I know that there's a lot of gallery closings and stuff, but anybody wants to come check out the show, all they have to do is email me and I'll give them a private tour.
Noah: Okay, thank you WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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