Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

On February 17, 2009, less than a month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. A stimulus bill meant to jump-start the nation’s flatlined economy, the Recovery Act, as it was popularly known, promised nearly $800 million to state and local governments for the funding of “shovel-ready” projects.

The following year, the Ojai, California–based photographer Chad Ress stood on a dry lake bed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and watched a tractor maneuver boulders into totemic piles in New Hogan Lake in Valley Springs, California. He was there to document a project funded by ARRA. The resulting photograph is almost boring. The frame captures signs of California’s epic drought; what was once covered in water is now dust. The sky is nearly white. Yet that line of rocks was evidence of money at work.

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Last spring, as stay-at-home orders set in and consumers cleared out store shelves, we learned something that we probably knew all along: You don’t think about toilet paper until you are desperate.

And if the lowly roll is overlooked, the design of the toilet paper holder is even less considered — until now. The Echo Park gallery Marta is presenting “Under/Over,” an exhibition of more than 50 toilet paper holders by an international lineup of artists and designers.

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The works of artist, educator, and social justice activist Corita Kent are packed with slogans and scripture. Her silk-screen posters from the 1960s and ’70s crackle with the energy of a time of social unrest. She pulled text and images from advertising and media, recombining them into compositions reflecting on the Civil Rights and peace movements.

“GET WITH THE ACTION,” demands a 1965 silk-screen titled for emergency use soft shoulder, its primary colors reminiscent of Wonder Bread packaging. “HOPE AROUSES AS NOTHING ELSE CAN AROUSE A PASSION FOR THE POSSIBLE,” says another piece from 1969 in black block letters on a bright-yellow field. Kent’s Pop art style is often compared to that of Andy Warhol— whose paintings of soup cans she saw in 1962 at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles—often as defense of her legitimate claim to be part of the canon. Yet while the more famous artist traded in a cosmopolitan deadpan, Kent’s practice reflected her Catholic beliefs and humanity.

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The 2020 Exhibit Columbus Symposium: New Middles gathered national and international thought leaders in architecture, art, design, and landscape architecture together with Columbus stakeholders to explore the question, What Is The Future of The Middle City?

The Symposium examined this question through the lens of four topics:

Futures and Technologies: Dan Hill, Vinnova, Stockholm, Sweden; Radha Mistry, Autodesk, San Francisco CA; Moderated by Marcus Fairs, Editor-in-Chief, Dezeen

Resiliency and Climate Adaptation: Iñaki Alday, Tulane University / aldayjover architecture and landscape, New Orleans; Kate Orff, SCAPE, New York, NY; Moderated by Iker Gil
2020–21 Curator, Exhibit Columbus

Arts and Community: Paola Aguirre, Borderless Studio, Chicago IL; Matthew Fluharty, Art of the Rural & M12 Studio, Winona MN; De Nichols, Civic Creatives, St. Louis MO; Moderated by Anne Surak, Director, Exhibit Columbus

Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking: Chris Cornelius (Oneida), studio:indigenous, Milwaukee WI; Wes Jackson, The Land Institute, Salina KS; Joar Nango (Sámi), FFB, Alta, Finland; Ash Smith, Carson Center of Emerging Media Arts, Lincoln NE; Moderated by Mimi Zeiger, 2020–21 Curator, Exhibit Columbus

Each topic was explored weekly through Thematic Conversations, hosted in partnership with Dezeen, featuring international thought leaders. They were followed by Columbus Conversations featuring community stakeholders in conversation with 2021 Miller Prize recipients highlighting forward-thinking initiatives happening in our community of Columbus, Indiana.

These dialogues have served as foundational research for all New Middles participants—as a kind of Exhibition Design Brief and Community Design Brief — identifying topics, themes, and writings for community partners while growing exhibition participants’ understanding of Columbus’ culture and context as they conceptualize their commissioned installations for the Fall 2021 Exhibition.

Joar Nango’s identity as Sámi, the Indigenous people of northern Europe, is central to his art and architecture practice. Yet in terms of discipline or medium, he actively defies categorization, choosing instead to mobilize the space in-between and across worlds. This is partly to find breathing room within his creative practice and partly political stance — strategic evasion as post-capitalist critique. Through site-specific installations, video, and zines, Nango actively investigates intersections between Indigenous and contemporary architectures, traditional Sámi construction, and new media. The results have a way of escaping the present; instead, they create a kind of feedback loop between past and future architectural narratives. 

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For the Fall 2021 Exhibition, co-curators Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger have invited exhibition participants to create site-specific, future-oriented installations, which will be developed over the coming year in response to the theme: New Middles:From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City?

This 2020–2021 cycle of programming explores the future of the center of the United States and the regions connected by the Mississippi Watershed. New Middles speculates on the heartland, an ecology stretching beyond political borders—from North to South—from the Canadian Border to the Gulf, and from East to West—from Appalachia to the plains. Embracing a long timeline of cities past, present, and future, New Middles builds upon Columbus’ legacy as a laboratory for design as civic investment. In a moment when we most need reflection, creativity, and innovation to envision new ways of being, New Middlesconsiders Columbus a place to destabilize assumptions, and imagine new architectures and landscapes as a way to positively move our cities forward.

The J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize is the centerpiece of Exhibit Columbus and honors the legacy of two great patrons of our community. The 2020–21 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize recipients represent practices that celebrate design and have a deep interest in research and making. They have been selected for their commitment to the transformative power that architecture, art, and design have to improve people’s lives and make cities better places to live. This year’s J. Irwin and Xenia Miller Prize winners are:

Dream the Combine, Minneapolis
Ecosistema Urbano, Miami and Madrid, Spain
Future Firm, Chicago
Olalekan Jeyifous, Brooklyn
Sam Jacob Studio, London, England

Seven University Design Research Fellowships have been awarded to leading professors of architecture, landscape architecture, and design from American universities who will create installations highlighting their research. University Design Research Fellows were selected for their ability to tackle specific sets of issues germane to the future of the city and the Mississippi Watershed region, such as sustainability and material reuse, non-human habitat, watershed ecologies, emergent technologies, and migration. The University Design Research Fellows for 2020–2021 are:

Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller, Texas Tech College of Architecture, El Paso
Ang Li, Northeastern University
Derek Hoeferlin, Washington University in St. Louis
Joyce Hwang, University at Buffalo
Jei Jeeyea Kim, Indiana University, Lola Sheppard and Mason White, University of Toronto & Waterloo University
Natalie Yates, Ball State University

New Middles introduces two Photography Fellows, who over the course of 2020–2021 will document parts of Columbus, the heartland, and the Mississippi watershed from social, economic, and environmental perspectives and present this work in innovative ways as part of the exhibition.

The Photography Fellows for 2020–2021 are:
Virginia Hanusik, New Orleans
David Schalliol, Minneapolis

Graphic Design and Wayfinding:
Jeremiah Chiu, some all none, Los Angeles

Plus the Columbus High School Design Team

I can’t stop thinking about refugia. In the years, months, and days before the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was confined to the literature and philosophy of climate crisis, referring to pockets of life that through geographic isolation or species resilience manage to hang on in spite of the environmental forces against them. Think of clusters of Pacific Northwest barnacles nestled high on coastal outcroppings to avoid falling prey to sea snails. Or old-growth forests insulated from rising temperatures in cool mountain valleys.

As self-quarantine set in earlier this spring, the word refugia, at least for me, expanded in definition from specific ecological condition to conceptual touchstone—a necessary leap to metaphor when faced with planetary crisis. The magnitude of this pandemic falls outside human comprehension, but for the luckiest of us, refuge is manageable: a place of relative safety, of sourdough starters and online Jazzercise classes.

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For his 2019 exhibition DAMNATION at Sprüth Magers, LA, Sterling Ruby presented a 33-minute video projection titled STATE. The piece compiles years’ worth of aerial footage of California’s prison system, which encompasses 35 adult institutions. The idea of incarceration and the USA’s prison system is something the multidisciplinary artist explored extensively for 15 years, with exhibitions between 2005 and 2008 before returning to the subject for DAMNATION; Ruby once described “Supermax penitentiaries as being an allegory for a contemporary hell … an inaccessible parallel world”.

Ruby’s studio, where his wide-reaching work is created – spanning ceramics, textiles, collage, drawing, painting, photography, fashion, video, metalwork, sculpture – is based in Vernon, California. And it’s here that the artist and his team were photographed by Mario Sorrenti for Another Man’s 30th issue, guest edited by Jo-Ann Furniss. “When I first moved to LA, I was fascinated by the extremely rural patches with people living on them, and then suddenly there could be a luxury high-rise condo. There are mountains with snow, the desert, downtown, and the beach – it’s a schizophrenic landscape,” Ruby told Furniss.

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“LACMA belongs to the people of Los Angeles County and it should reflect the tremendous diversity, creativity, and openness to change that can be found here,” reads a headline on the buildinglacma.org, a website ostensibly tracking the design and construction of the controversial, squiggle of a proposal by Swiss architect Zumthor.

Such marketing copy, written by the voice of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) director Michael Govan, is meant to rally support (public and financial) under a banner of shared values. But that last phrase – openness to change that can be found here – is suspect on two accounts.

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Envision an institution dedicated to making art. It is not a museum, nor is it a gallery. These are the spaces where art meets a public or, more crassly, where art meets its market and is given value. Instead, think of a studio environment. Can that same environment also foster in pupils the canny balance between creativity and pragmatism required to break into the art world today?

Artist Catherine Opie offers a hopeful yes, pointing to the new art center at UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, where she has taught since 1992. (She was named Lynda and Stewart Resnick Endowed Chair in Art this past December.) “Students are so incredibly vulnerable, and we live in a vulnerable time,” says Opie, whose work as a photographer often draws out the relationships between identity and place. They should feel that their studio building works for them, she adds.

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