The Chapel Hill art community has gone underground during the pandemic. Well, at least into the BASEMENT.
Those looking for artistic inspiration, or who want to connect with fellow artists and lovers of contemporary art, can head downstairs into the cavern of creativity known as BASEMENT.
In 2019, a group of UNC MFA students and their professor decided Chapel Hill needed a place for local and regional artists to showcase their works and network with other creators. BASEMENT is an artist-run project space in Chapel Hill that aims to highlight unconventional art practices and provide an inclusive space for artists to exhibit their creations.
Laura Little is one of the co-curators of BASEMENT. She makes mixed media and found object sculptures that navigate the intersections of faith and waste culture in America.
“What we strive to do is offer artists a unique opportunity to share the research and process that drives their art making, giving them a space to have community exchange,” Little said. "We focus on local and regional artists with Southern ties from various backgrounds and in different stages in their careers."
To adapt to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to share artists' works, BASEMENT created a digital residency program.
Chieko Murasugi, a co-curator of BASEMENT and an abstract painter and mixed media artist who investigates various notions of transformation, said that the digital residency program was created as an alternative to having traditional exhibitions.
“The digital residency program is a pandemic project for us. We were planning to have a series of in-person exhibitions when the pandemic hit, and it seemed we were going to be closed for traditional exhibitions,” Murasuig said. “Since we couldn't have physical shows, we decided to have digital ones.”
The residency program features different artists each month. The artist takes over BASEMENT’s Instagram page to post their work throughout the stages of its creation and write about their practice.
This summer, the multidisciplinary artist Erick Benitez exhibited his mixed-media installations, a multi-sensory combination of performance, painting, sound and video pieces.
Sculpture and installation artist Caroline Bugby followed, drawing inspiration from her archaeology research in England to create works that celebrate everyday human experiences.
Aaron Turner, the current resident of BASEMENT, uses photography to tell meaningful and moving stories that feature family and resilience, underrepresented artists of color and history.
Little describes BASEMENT’s digital residency program as a way for the community to continue to connect with artists.
“(It is) a way to continue having intimate conversations with the artist where we can experience deeper insights into who they are and what drives them as an individual and as an artist,” she said.
Sarah Elizabeth Cornejo, another BASEMENT co-curator, creates sculptures that “propose a hypothetical future based in hybridity where humans have merged their DNA with animals and insects,” according to her website.
Cornejo said the program was created as a way to continue to showcase the work of artists despite the challenges caused by COVID-19.
“The digital residence program originated when we asked the question -- 'how can we provide support for artists right now and give them a place to show their work while everything is being hit hard by COVID,'" Cornejo said. “We thought this was a really beautiful opportunity to create a platform for artists to engage with our community and share not only finished work, but the research, influences and process that informs their practice.”
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