We recorded this episode on Randall’s Island, in front of a small tented performance space on the great green lawn outside the North entrance of Frieze New York. We’ve come to meet Israeli artist Naama Tsabar and Tom Tom magazine publisher Mindy Abovitz to learn about their collaboration. Theirs is literally an outsider project: Without is a free 4-day outdoor music festival featuring 17 bands. You’re about to hear how the artist and the publisher brought music to meet an art fair.
Sound Editor: Kris McConnachie | Episode Sound, in order of appearance: Tigue, Felt Band, Honey Ear Trio, Doble Pletina, Laila, Balancer | Photos: Amy Sherald and Naama Tsabar, credits in image captions
CATHY BYRD: Today we’re on Randall’s Island, standing in front of a small tented performance space on the great green lawn outside the North entrance of Frieze New York. We have come to meet Israeli artist Naama Tsabar and Tom Tom Magazine publisher Mindy Abovitz to learn about their collaboration for Frieze New York. Theirs is literally an outsider project: a free four-day outdoor music festival featuring seventeen bands. You’re about to hear how the artist and the publisher brought music to meet an art fair. It’s so great to have a chance to talk to you here at Frieze, and to participate as an observer of your project here on the lawn outside the fair. Tell me what gave you the idea to do something called Without.
NAAMA TSABAR: Well, even though the live part of the project is outside, it was generated from the inside. Frieze gave me a booth inside the fair, but then I cut the floor out of it, leaving a three foot hole in the fair, exposing the grass underneath. This brought the outside in, brought the scenery into the fair, and then I took that floor and put it outside, in a different landscape, different location. That floor shifts from being a floor to display art on, to being a stage to perform on. Then that floor became a stage for a music festival. Once I understood that sculptural, or architectural, dynamic of taking something out of the fair and rendering it for another use, for another kind of cultural expression, I approached Mindy Abovitz of Tom Tom Magazine. Tom Tom is the only magazine in the world that’s dedicated to female drummers, and I asked her to create the festival that would be on this fair booth floor because I wanted her to put her agenda on stage. For me, it was about the inside and the outside. The inside is about showing art objects, something that’s the aftermath of an action, of a sculptural act, of a painterly act. But outside, it is actually happening in real time. So it is performative, it is durational, it has a start and an end and that tension between those two worlds is really interesting for me to explore. And without the borders of the art fair tent, it’s also something that is there, and not there, at the same time.
CB: How does this connect with your previous projects?
NT: A lot of my art explores overwhelming, all- encompassing environments, specifically nightlife and musical environments. I zoom in on the materials and objects that serve a functional purpose within these environments, but are many times hidden; they are kind of behind the scenes. Here I took out the floor from inside the fair, which is this all-encompassing environment that you go into, and you get sucked into it. It’s a very specific world. Without a floor you can’t show art, it’s very basic. It’s cutting the floor beneath your feet. For me, sculpturally, that made sense within my practice to use that element as the stage for the festival.
CB: How is it unlike everything you have done before?
NT: I have never had a music festival with seventeen bands. It’s overwhelming. It’s ridiculous. It is everything that I felt I could never do. So it’s in a way like a dream that I never dared to dream happening. I think it tells a lot about Frieze, as well, that they are backing this. It is outside of their comfort zone in terms of having live bands here, which brings a different kind of aesthetic, a different kind of sound aesthetic. It’s bringing in another world that’s really different from the art world—although it is a cultural world—into its playground. It’s the most ambitious project I have done to date.
CB: What is your history with art fairs?
NT: Professionally, I did my first art fair in 2007 in Basel in Switzerland with a very big project, an art statement called Encore. From the get-go, it was a very big, hard-to-sell project, which made it ambitious. Through the years, I have been showing in art fairs in a regular booth, doing things that are more market-oriented, and then also projects that are a bit bigger, thinking about the context of the art fair itself. This again is by far the most specific project I have done in an art fair, for an art fair, about an art fair.
CB: And how did you meet Mindy?
NT: I came here from Israel, six years ago, in 2008, and very early on I met Mindy. I love what she is doing. I love her magazine. I love her agenda. I love what she is promoting and that she is promoting it wholeheartedly. And we started collaborating very early on. She put a piece of mine in her magazine, one of my earlier pieces that deals with the drum kit and the drum case. Then, very naturally and organically she became a musical collaborator with me. A lot of my sculptures can be musically activated, and I work with musicians to activate them. Specifically, Mindy is part of a band I call the Felt Band, which is the activation of big felt sculptures that I make. The Felt Band plays them, performing in galleries, in art fair settings. It’s an ongoing collaboration.
CB: Mindy, how did you get to New York City? And why is this a good place for you to be?
MINDY ABOVITZ: I got here via a van, in 2002. I got here without realizing why I belonged here, and that has been unfolding since I got here. I’m here because I am a musician, I am an artist, I am a media maker, I am a freak. And that’s who I think makes up New York. So I am in the perfect place.
CB: I’m wondering about percussion. Why Tom Tom Magazine? What is your goal with the publication?
MA: I am a drummer and I am feminist, and I was a riotgrrrl when I was a teenager. I took for granted that that movement would have made enough changes that by the time I was in my mid-twenties I would be in a more egalitarian music world. I have worked in the music industry since I was given a bass guitar when I was fourteen years old. I remember just being surrounded by music. I have worked at Main Drag Music, East Village Radio, I did live sound recording. I was at this point in my late twenties where I looked around and realized that there was still a large disparity between men and women in the music world. Being a drummer, I could see the disparity in drummers the most. I set out to change that by starting the magazine, both online and print. Through events, through talks, and workshops, we try to increase the number of girls and women drummers worldwide. That’s my goal. Period.
CB: And how is it going?
MA: It’s going really great. In the four and a half years that I’ve been working on Tom Tom, I’ve had the ability to collaborate not only with artists, but also with many music industry movers and shakers. They are all helping make the changes that we need to, so that one day everyone can play whatever they want and not think twice about their gender when they do so. That’s my goal.
CB: And are you meeting that goal through this festival, the way you curated the projects here?
MA: Every single thing we do within the magazine is to promote women and girl drummers. So in that regard, yes. But also, this is a place for me to be creative and to do what I do every day. With the magazine, the promotion is usually very pragmatic, and here at Frieze, with Naama, I am able to step back a tiny bit and use it as a place to comment on the work we do within Tom Tom. So yes, this is promoting female drummers, but usually we do so in a very straightforward way. This is in a way in which people can contemplate it a bit more.
CB: Do you feel like you’re going to get the attention of fairgoers?
MA: Yeah, we already have, and we will continue to. We are presenting really great music and all the bands happen to have female drummers in them.
NT: And in fact, there is an echo of the project inside. Even if fairgoers don’t come to hear the music specifically, the content is there already. Or is not there.
CB: Naama talks about the disparities she sees in the art world and how they are represented inside the art fair tent.
NT: I also wanted to make a comment regarding the art world and the music world, and the inequality in both. Because this project is also a mirror held out to the art world, specifically what’s going on inside that big tent. Whereas we are displaying around 70% female musicians, inside they are presenting probably 70% to 80% male artists, because that’s what dominates the art market. Also, this is a free festival that anybody can come in and listen to, while the fair requires a paid entrance. I think all of those kind of dividers— invisible dividers, yet so present—these are things we are touching upon and we are taking small steps and big steps to change. I think this is one of the steps.