Laundry Art Rises from the Suds

Abby Hawkins and Julia Hubay

Oberlin residents passing by the East Lorain St. Laundramat on Friday, Nov. 30 were greeted by a surreal sight: the windows of the normally drab establishment were aglow with blue light, undershirts suspended in air over rows of machines filled with objects one would never think to launder. This was not, in fact, an extra-terrestrial takeover of the laundromat, but the first exhibition by the brand-new student-run collaborative art group, the Quarter Collective.

The meaning of this name is threefold: It not only represents the four elements members strive to incorporate into exhibitions — fine art, sound, installation and DIY — as well as their goal of putting on four shows a year, but is also a subtle nod to the site of their debut show.

The Quarter Collective, or Q////C, turned the space into a laundry-themed dreamland with installations throughout the space. In one piece, socks crawled out of the door of a dryer, providing a surreal explanation for all of those socks that get lost in the wash. Other pieces used yarn webs, sheets hanging from the ceiling and looped video of spinning laundry, and while many were interesting uses of the space and theme, some pieces lacked the spark to make them more than cheap riffs on clothing.

Q////C formed organically based on its members’ conversations and passion for site-specific DIY art. College sophomore Claire Read’s experience working in a cooperative art storefront, as well as her and College sophomore Ellen Giddings’s time curating student shows in high school, inspired them to bring a collective group to Oberlin that would work on unconventional, location-based shows. Upon discussing their ideas with friends, the pair discovered that Paris Gravley and Aria Dean, also College sophomores, had similar ideas brewing; Read’s visit to College junior Gabe Kanengiser and Conservatory junior Myles Emmons’s DIY space in Los Angeles this summer drew them into the project as well.

“We all got to talking, feeling that our past experiences in similar types of work could bring together a successful collective here at Oberlin,” said Read. These six are currently the core members of Q////C, but the group worked closely with the Exhibition Initiative to set up Part One: The Laundromat. In their planning stages, Kanengiser and Read reached out to ExI chair and College junior Dessane Cassell, proposing a partnership to help both groups more effectively run events.

“Exhibition Initiative has a huge contact list,” said Cassell. “That’s our biggest resource, the fact that we have all of these people — we have about 80 or 90 names — and send them e-mails letting them know about events.” ExI uses its listserv as a communication hub for the Art and Art history departments, field trips, exhibitions, grants, scholarships and artist talks. By partnering with them, Q////C now has an effective way to reach out to art faculty and student artists — several ExI members helped them connect with people to set up Part One, create a policy on others getting involved and plan for future directions of the collective.

Read explained that the members of Q////C are not interested in exhibiting individual artists or specific groups of artists. Rather, Q////C aims to unite artists interested in working together in designing a thematically cohesive show. This means that every step of the process — designing, assembling, installing, critiquing — is shared among artists, and no one piece in a show is credited to an individual artist. Artists interested in working with Q////C must be “open-minded, hardworking and excited about the possibilities of collaboration,” said Giddings.

While it seemed that the concept behind the collective was more compelling than the art itself, by working in conjunction with the Exhibition Initiative, Q////C’s possibilities can only expand. Cassell mentioned that the group hopes to start a grant, funded by the SFC and fundraising projects, that will allow artists to submit proposals for exhibitions, installations and performance events. Tentatively titled the “Artists’ Project Grant,” “it would be a structured fund that artists could use to realize their projects,” she explained. “We want it to be a serious endeavor with a rigorous proposal.” Without an official budget yet, this grant, along with the ability to fund future exhibitions, is only in the planning stages. The laundromat show was entirely funded by Q////C members, but drafting a budget will give them more liberty to set up event sites and be more creative with materials.

As for the immediate future of the collective, “We’re trying to be cautious with our next steps,” said Emmons. “We’re meeting with students who have expressed interest in the collective, and will be working to organize our next event with the hopes of featuring as many new artists as we can while still preserving the original spirit and direction that the group started out with. Things are looking to become more diverse as we begin to feature the talent of a wider scope of student art.”