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AXIOMATIC: HEIDI KAYSER & PHAEDRA SHANBAUM

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By MATTHEW NASH


Axiom Gallery is a survivor. The past two years have seen them in three different venues, and while their exhibition record only boasts nine or ten shows, they are becoming the most talked-about space in the city. Their recent move to the Green Street T station, after James Hull ended the run of Green Street Gallery, has given Axiom a stable and visible gallery space, and an opportunity to pursue their agenda in a larger format than their previous spaces could support.

Axiom began in a loft in Allston, as a collective of artists showing work that interested them. Things changed, however, when Heidi Kayser, one of the members of the collective, started thinking big. “For the last Cyberarts Festival,” she says, “I had gone to Chuck Lewin and asked him for advice on how to run an artspace, because I liked what was happening at Art Interactive. I also talked withDenise Marika and Dana Moser, and they all told me that if I wanted to curate something formally, the Cyberarts Festival was the perfect opportunity.”

Artist-run collectives are hard to maintain, though, Kayser says. “There were four of us in this collective, six really but four who were paying rent to be there. The three other people I was running it with decided they didn’t want to keep it going. They didn’t really use the studio space we had – it was part gallery and part studio – and it wasn’t that critical to them to keep it going. I wanted to keep it going, though.”

Kayser moved Axiom to the former Zeitgeist Space in Cambridge, and continued programming. In July, Phaedra Shanbaum became her partner. This past January, they moved again to the Green Street space.

Axiom is a “gallery for new and experimental media” – generally shortened to the term “new media” that is kicked around as the current buzzword. Asked when it was decided to focus on new media, Kayser says it was never in question. “It was always that way. My friend, Christian Miller, and I had both talked about having a space where we could have multimedia work. If we wanted to have computers and monitors and wires everywhere, it would be a good thing to do. Plus, we really wanted to show the work of our friends, who were working in the same kind of media, but at that point I didn’t know exactly what new media was as an academic study. So, I’ve been learning. Learning from Phaedra, too.”

“It is something that is still being debated, and formalized,” says Shanbaum. “You can define it loosely. The definition that we use is ‘artists and artwork that employ new technology and theory through practice, process and presentation.’ That encompasses a lot. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a piece of traditional work that is not new media, and that’s why we use that definition of it because there is room to wiggle."

Pressed to pin down what the “media” of “new media” might be, Shanbaum makes clear how flexible and varied the use of that term can be. “That’s why we say ‘practice, process and presentation.’ An example of an artist we show is Michael Rees, a new media sculptor. His process is new media, but the output is a big iron sculpture, which is very traditional. It’s traditional sculpture, but the way he goes from his idea to his finished product is very new media.”

The current show at Axiom, “Selected Works From Aspect Magazine,” features some heavyweights of the genre, including Whitney Biennial artist Jim Campbell. While it is only the second show in the new space, they are already looking to adapting the gallery for the specific needs of the type of work they show. “We are going to do some arranging,” Kayser points out. “We want to put this main wall on wheels. We’re trying to get our power supply more consistent, because we’re having some weird magnetic issues with CRT computer monitors. There are some questions about which outlets we can use and where we draw power.”

“We’re also going to start having performances again soon,” says Shanbaum, “so we want to start small and see what we can actually do, how many people can we have in here. There will also be performances from MassArt students, which will take place during theSIM show we do every year. That will be interesting. We’re also thinking about a new media festival, which is still in the works, and that will definitely be a construction project.”

As one of Boston’s few alternative spaces, and focusing exclusively on new media work, Axiom promises to be an exciting space for artists and viewers alike. They have proven their resilience and have created a lot of buzz. Asked for a final thought, Shanbaum summed up her hope for the Axiom experience: “You really never know what to expect when you come here. That’s what we want.”


Axiom, Inc
Boston Cyberarts Festival
ASPECT: The Chronicle Of New Media

"Selected Works From Aspect Magazine" is on view April 6th - May 6th, 2007 at Axiom.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Axiom.


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About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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