Whitehot Magazine

December 2009, Interview with Elizabeth Dee, X-Initiative

Derek Jarman, Early Films (Super-8mm), Installation View at X Initiative, New York. Courtesy X Initiative and James Mackay, Basilisk Communication Ltd., London.


Interview with Elizabeth Dee, X-Initiative

As X-Initiative began to wrap up Phase 2 of their innovative one year program, founder and Chelsea dealer Elizabeth Dee was kind enough to share her thoughts on the project’s conception and how she sees it resonating in the future.  

Courtenay Finn: With X-Initiative’s first and second phase behind it can you share your reflections on its jump-start into the art world- talking also about how you see its impact thus far, as well as the impact you hope it might have as its programming continues?

Elizabeth Dee: That's a challenging question, we're more than half way through this process, and the second phase is now being examined and responded to. What I've witnessed is that the ideas of time and economy are now essential in exhibitions, yet the ambition and vision for urgent responses does not have to be quelled by the current limitations of resources. A braveness of approach is very effective. It is my hope that the project will serve as a resource and reference with a variety of potential models to follow it. What was once about space and preservation within institutions is shifting now to address impermanence, thus a discussion about time
CF: I am interested in how you see your role in the project and how it has evolved since X’s initial conception.

ED: My role as founder and author of the concept has transitioned to board member and primary fundraiser. Our board is a professional advisory board sourcing the actual content that you see on a weekly/monthly basis, so I foster support for the project around this activity. Cecilia Alemani, independent curator and critic, is X’s director and she's amazing at juggling the curatorial aspects with artists, events, public, her team of staff and interns and interfacing with the 50+ person board. Perhaps you should also interview Cecilia about this!

CF: I would also be curious to hear your reflections on how the concept for the project has evolved since the initial idea. Did you always intend for such a large group of contributors in terms of building creative content? What came first, the notion of a temporal space or the use of a consortium to guide and shape a space? There is a nice private/public back and forth that X embodies, having both what appears to be a dynamic series of debates and discussions amongst its board, and then mirroring this model in its public programs and weekly series. Was this something that sparked you in the initial concept for the project?

ED: Yes, the idea of bringing together and engaging over 50 people from the art world through this site was always the mission, and an experiment from the very beginning, and was always supposed to be something that we would all watch unfold. In advance of every phase of programming the board responds, evolving the content in tandem with X’s mission. I have been surprised by some things and not by others, which is how it should be, otherwise why do it? It will be interesting to see how it is viewed in retrospect, post 2010.

Warriors. Four Films by Luke Fowler, 2003-2008, Installation View at X Initiative, New York. Detail of The Way Out, 2003 (with Kosten Koper). Courtesy X Initiative

CF: X is integrally linked to the notion of time - in both its one-year life span and its emphasis on showing durational artist interventions and temporal/ephemeral work. Can you talk about the relationship between the idea for creating X as a temporary consortium and what has been shown (in effect, its content)? In this respect I would be especially interested in your reflection on X’s use of the public program (one night performance, lecture, screening) as a means of instigating dialogue.

ED: Like any other project, there is no cause/effect or literalness in the program’s connection to our consortium’s agenda. What you see is the result of conversations that are taking place in the landscape as a whole and with the board specifically. To detail some of our weekly events, May’s programs explored aspects of activism, with screenings on/about Guy Debord and William Kunstler. July was a growing combination of content driven events in relation to the new exhibitions and events proposed through the board. Luke Fowler and Lee Patterson did a wonderful screening/performance, Hans Ulrich Obrist did a book signing and we debuted Next Year’s Models, a musical performance and screening series that will consider the relationship between music and art - followed by a rooftop screening with a selection of films from the EAI archives. The weekly event space is more activated, certainly now than in the beginning stages and we foresee that it will continue throughout the rest of the project’s life.

CF: I have been thinking a lot about how the name X-Initiative relates to how the space functions. There is the reference to X marking the spot, and a subtler reference to this notion of a placeholder, a model, or a mathematical equation where anything can replace X, and in doing so cause a variety of different situations to occur. Where did the name come from?

ED: Because it was our intent to make this a one-year project, we decided to come up with a marker for the space that would not stay with the building forever. X stands for something that will be replaced with something more tangible or concrete and, because it also represents a crossroads, we thought it had resonance with the transitional nature of the site and the shifts that the art world began to experience because of the economic climate. The use of ‘Initiative’ was also equally important; we wanted to send a message that our international network has remained intact and that, from the very beginning, the community took it upon itself to take action and to realize an uncommon project. There’s an activism to the word that we liked very much.

CF: A curator friend of mine also remarked to me about the similarities between an X and a +, making the analogy that X-Initiative could be perceived as something akin to a band aid, or Red Cross treatment for the current stasis of the art world? Do you see the project as something that is addressing something critical in contemporary art, critical in the crisis sense? And if so, how do you see X functioning as a remedy or lifeline?

ED: I don’t know how I should take this question. Because everything that X initiative has done has come out of a spirited collaboration and the resulting positive activity, this Red Cross concept isn’t one that has directed the community within this organization. The art world isn’t a dying patient that needs emergency treatment. The art world has remained strong and vital through this last year (2008-2009) and has continued developing new ideas when the opportunities present themselves. X initiative is a vehicle through which this is communicated.

CF: We have touched on the issue of time and economy, both in terms of programming and in relation to the space's time line and you have said that you hope X will serve as a resource or reference for other projects to come. So why not continue? Why stop at the one-year of programming?

ED: It was never our intention to make a commitment for more than one year. Our ideology is based in time, and if one has a long-term vision, the temporary mission cannot operate. At the end of the project, we’ll be publishing a book which will chronicle the entire year and all of the programs, projects, performances, lectures and events that took place, in hopes that it will serve as an invaluable reference in the future.

Tris Vonna-Michell, Photography is my Punishment, 2009 and hahn / huhn, 2003 – 2009
Installation view at X Initiative, New York. Courtesy the artist and X Initiative.





Elizabeth Dee is the Founder of X-Initiative and Director of Elizabeth Dee Gallery. Elizabeth Dee has mounted numerous exhibitions by such artists Adrian Piper, Josephine Meckseper, Ryan Trecartin, Gareth James, Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, Virgil Marti, Mika Tajima/New Humans and Alex Bag.

X-Initiative is a not-for-profit that will exist for one year and present exhibitions and programming. Advised by a 50+ advisory board comprised of artists, curators, museum professionals, gallerists, collectors, art historians and critics, X features durational artist interventions, site-specific projects, historical in-depth exhibitions, one-night performances, lectures and weekly events


 Pool Noodle Rooftop" at X Initiative, New York. Courtesy of INABA Architects and X Initiative

Courtenay Finn

Courtenay Finn, currently works as the Programs Administrator at the Lower East Side Printshop, a printmaking studio and residency program in New York. She has a MA in Curatorial Practice from The California College of the Arts in San Francisco, California and a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies from The Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.

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