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PES Futures

Project For Empty Space Opens a New York Home with Work by Derrick Adams

Whitewall spoke with Jasmine Wahi, Rebecca Pauline Jampol, and the artist Derrick Adams about opening a brick-and-mortar home for Project for Empty Space in New York.

The arts organization Project for Empty Space (PES) has opened an intimate new exhibition space in New York City for the first time in its fourteen-year history. Dedicated to showcasing the work of marginalized artists, PES is located at 128 Baxter Street in Chinatown, aimed to function as a home for experimental projects, exhibitions, a hybrid residency program, a digital show space, and a new “PES Futures” incubator program that enables artists to realize their art.

“We wanted to create a multi-centric space where art could impact social change and create space for artists to play around with what art can be, especially in this moment. We are eager to disrupt monolithic historical narratives, and pivot our frameworks to be inclusive and expansive in thinking about various futurisms. ‘PES Futures’ will serve as an incubator and nurturing space for artists to think deeply about what can come to pass,” said Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol, co-founders of PES.

Project for Empty Space

Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol, photo by Rex Desrosiers, courtesy of Project for Empty Space.

Project for Empty Space’s Inaugural Show

For its inaugural program, PES invited New York-based artist Derrick Adams to present a collection of his latest works. On view through May 24, the resulting exhibition is “Future People… Take Off,” a stunning installation that centers Black culture through the lens of Futurism.

Timed to the gallery’s opening, Whitewall spoke with PES’s Wahi and Jampol, as well as Adams, about the importance of PES’s mission and how its inaugural exhibition is aligned with its ethos.

Project for Empty Space 2

Photo by Rex Desrosiers, courtesy of Project for Empty Space.

Finding a Home for Project for Empty Space

WHITEWALL: Congratulations on opening a brick-and-mortar location for PES! Why was this something you wanted to do? Why now?

JASMINE WAHI: Thank you! We started as a nomadic operation in the Lower East Side In 2010, a few years later we planted roots in Newark, NJ, which has been our primary hub for the last 12 years and first brick-and-mortar. This move to establishing a permanent home reinforced our commitment to our communities and gave us space to birth several programs that truly serve artists, from subsidized studios to granting programs, to free professional development and more. Our work in Newark is continuing to evolve, and we will be opening two new exhibition spaces this summer!

“PES Futures” has been in the works for some time, and when it came to finding its home, it felt good to place it in our original stomping grounds. We also felt strongly that it should be in a location (NYC) that brings folks together from all parts of the world. We acknowledge that shifts and real change do not happen in a vacuum or overnight. As an organization dedicated to the intersection of art and social activism, developing a permanent art space for exploring these ideas is integral to our mission. Today, we program nearly 50,000 square feet across three locations in Newark and New York City.

PES Futures

Jasmine Wahi. Photo courtesy of Project for Empty Space.

WW: PES is a women-run multifaceted arts organization. How does its involvement in the activism space support its role in the arts, and vice-versa?

JW: We believe that art plays an essential role in dynamic paradigmatic social and cultural shifts. Artists, as both storytellers and custodians of change, not only document what has happened by revealing a plurality of histories; but also envision new paths and potentialities for us all. We have oriented our programs around facilitating meaningful change. We are extremely intentional in the ways that we support and work with artists who have built their careers on socially engaged art.

This work is not always easy or comfortable. It is often physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually laborious to have authentic engagement, with that in mind, We are interested in creating a space that nurtures that practice, providing resources, and care. And hell yes, we are women-run.

A Fruitful Artistic Relationship Between PES and Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams Fall 2022 Harmony Issue

Derrick Adams in his Brooklyn, NY, studio, portrait by Steve Benisty.

WW: For the opening, an inaugural exhibition by Derrick Adams will open. Why Derrick?

REBECCA PAULINE JAMPOL: Derrick helped us shape our core program, the PES Artist In Residence program, in 2015 (along with alumni Nina Chanel Abney and David Antonio Cruz). This cohort created a trajectory for the residency. They set a precedence for the types of artists we work with (artists interested in social engagement, discourse, and/or activism) and the particular career moments that we’re in. They also shaped the ways in which we ask artists to think about empowering and engaging our many intersecting communities. As we break ground on a new space and program dedicated to futurism (however they choose to interpret that term), we are excited to be back in dialogue with many of our past Artists In Residence. How fitting to start with Derrick, whose work has long addressed future ideas. The body of work “Future People…Take Off” was built in 2017, nodding to many creatives and activists whose legacy was built on imagining Black culture through the lens of Futurism.

PES Futures

Rebecca Pauline Jampol. Photo courtesy of Project for Empty Space.

WW: What does this show say about the spirit, the ethos, of PES?

RPJ: The exhibition invites audience members into a spaceship, with immersive artwork, video, and sound. Viewers can sit in the spacecraft’s chairs, buckle up, and launch into Adam’s “imagined environment meditating on past, present, and future ideas of Black culture and its interest in futurism and African roots.”

Our curatorial practice has always involved a level of imagination, and engaging audiences who maybe are not necessarily interested in art or think art is for them. From the very beginning, our work has been about giving artists a platform to experiment and play, and audiences the opportunity to explore, and dream.

Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams, “MLK’s Tropic Interlude (Martin and Coretta),” 2021, mixed media on paper, courtesy of the artist.

Centering Intersectionality at All Turns

WW: You mentioned, “PES Futures is a space for artists interested in how parallel and intersecting potentialities can be realized.” How so? What will happen there that facilitates that?

RPJ: Intersectionality is the foundation of our programs, acknowledging and incorporating the complexities of human experience across various dimensions of identity. As we shape, or rather ‘reshape’, the narratives surrounding us, we perceive these complexities as our strengths, empowering us to flourish collectively and forge promising FUTURES. The artists who will collaborate with us at PES FUTURES have long been engaged in this dialogue, each cultivating a visual language that resonates with the vision for this space.

Our first two years will be primarily focused on exhibitions by artists who have already been in our orbit, such as previous AIRs and other artists who we’ve been in dialogue with for sometime. This initial phase will be a time for us to develop and launch a few incubator-like programs. The first is a hybridized group-residency that is both virtual and in real life for artists interested in workshopping future-forward visions. And the second is a curator-focused fellowship for independent curators interested in drastically shifting the way we showcase culture.

Inspired by Nostalgia and Afrofuturism

Empty Space.

Derrick Adams, photo by Rex Desrosiers, courtesy of Project for Empty Space.

WW: Derrick, tell us about your exhibition “Future People…Take off” for the opening of PES. How does it embrace the expansiveness of the future?

DERRICK ADAMS: “Future People… Take Off” is an imagined environment meditating on past, present and future ideas of Black culture and its interest in futurism and African roots. From sci-fi references to a simulated spaceship;  I wanted to pull inspiration from all the things around me that evoke nostalgic happiness while also helping us to embrace what life can look like years from now.

PES Futures

Images from Project for Empty Space x Derrick Adams 2016 show Culture Club from the inaugural Artist In Residence program.

WW: Why is PES an organization you wanted to support and what do you have in common with their overall messaging in the arts?

DA: My professional relationship with PES extends back to 2015. We have been supporting each other for a very long time and it is important for both parties to continue to support each other. PES is an organization founded on the artist first principle and has built its reputation of facilitating exhibitions and conversations surrounding ideas that are projections of a world we want to live in.  I’m also an artist who believes in these concepts and values, which are essential to the growth of the creative community and those who benefit from these modes of operation.

WW: How do these works mirror that community?

DA: My exhibition at PES Futures is an offering to those who can imagine a shared world beyond the constraints of contemporary society. I see pathways to better futures through education and research. This exhibition highlights these findings and presents them as an out of this world experience.

PES Futures

Photo from Project For Empty Space x Derrick Adams 2016 show Culture Club from the inaugural Artist In Residence program.




Minjung Kim




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