Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA) is an artist run platform with locations in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles. TSA focuses on building a platform for artist-driven programming or projects for emerging and mid-career artists. The mission of TSA is to bring people together, expand connections and build community through artist-initiated exhibitions, projects, and curatorial opportunities.
TSA was recently mentioned in the New York Times article, “Galleries Scramble Amid Brooklyn’s Gentrification”. TSA projects have also been featured in numerous print and online publications such as Art F City, Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post, L Magazine, Whitehot Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Two Coats of Paint, Artinfo, Artnet News, Beautiful Decay, and the Artblog.
We sat down in TSA’s space in Bushwick to discuss their origin and vision. Included in the conversation are Vincent Como, Andrew Prayzner, Rachael Gorchov, William Crump, Alex Paik, Norm Paris and Naomi Reis. Jackie Hoving and Matt Phillips were not present, but are also members of TSA New York.
Brett: What triggered the launch on TSA?
Alex: I started TSA Philly in 2009 with a group of friends there. And there were a couple of motivations -- one, we were frustrated by lack of exhibition opportunities for ourselves and the work we liked. So we wanted to create a place for ourselves at the table, so to speak. The other impetus was trying to connect the Philly arts scene with New York and also other major cities, because we felt that there were Philly artists that should be championed but were somehow not getting that cross-pollination going.
And then New York happened because I moved to New York and I had already made all these connections through TSA Philadelphia. We thought, why don't we use these existing connections and keep that -- I hesitate to use the word "brand" but since we're talking about entrepreneurs -- entrepreneurial lens to keep that brand going. People already knew Tiger Strikes Asteroid, so we just tried to keep that same name. Then LA opened like a little over a year ago.
Brett: What led you to think of TSA as a network of spaces? Was that a conscious decision to amplify the brand across those locations?
Alex: I think it's definitely sort of an echo chamber type thing. It's that, but also if you look at the microcosm of New York, it's all ten of us curating on a rotating schedule, completely independently, but all working under the same moniker. You get a lot of different viewpoints, and you get a lot of really different work in each show, much more than if we all voted on the shows I think.
And then on a macro level, the sites function in the same way. They all function completely independently in terms of programming. Andrew and Vincent run this one (New York) -- they're in charge of organizing the day-to-day stuff -- and there are different directors at each site. They're taking that small little world and then making it grow, just seeing how it grows into something else.
Brett: Rachael, you curated the exhibition up right now entitled, “Conversation Space”. Do each of you have independent curatorial vision when you organize an exhibition?
Rachael: Right. We each have complete carte blanche to do whatever we want with our show. In some cases, we organize group shows, some solo shows, some two-person shows. We have really had a broad scope in terms of the work that's been shown.
Brett: While you focus on divergent projects, how do you work together to make group decisions?
Vincent: A lot of meetings and the nuts and bolts are really about collaborating behind the scenes, about deciding whether or not we're going to take advantage of a certain opportunity, deciding how we're going to move a certain project forward, that sort of thing. Aesthetically, as far as the individual shows, I think it just reflects our own aesthetic interests. And I think that for me, one of the things that was really attractive about the model was the fact that you do have free reign to do whatever you want. I think in the end, it usually reflects to some degree your own practice; it's intimately connected to your own studio practice. But it also brings in these elements from your past, from your other connections, from different exhibitions that you've been in and people that you’ve shown with, and it mixes it all up, to bring this other dialogue into play.
Alex: For me, the idea is that there is no house style; the brand of Tiger Strikes Asteroid is that we're focused on being a platform for artists to produce projects on their own, whether it's your own show, or just being part of your own exhibition space or doing something crazy like Artist-Run.
Norm: I'd also say say that, at our core, TSA is not about avoiding or embracing any particular aesthetic at all; it's about a divergent set of wide conceptual interests in art that embody all of our interests in different ways.
It was kind of a joke, but kind of true early on, Alex said, "I want to pick people that are stable people that know how to carry me through with the tasks that need to be done." Because without that, nothing happens. So I see us as a space where we create lots of opportunities and anything can happen. We keep things as open as possible.
I feel that in meetings we have a healthy self-critical dialogue that allows us to express what’s in the best interest of the gallery and how we would like to see things develop in the future. There is a common feeling that we are all trying to push boundaries with our shows.
Andrew: I think the word I think of is "thoughtful". Alex had selected all of us to be part of it. The roster became the people in this room, each being very thoughtful in their approach, whether it's their own art practice, or who they think about in terms of assembling their exhibitions. In a way, I feel it's also a rebuttal against some of the things we see in the commercial galleries; more cool and ironic.
I don’t want to say that we're sincere and they're not, because I don’t believe in that, and it's kind of silly. But I will say that one thing that unifies a lot of our shows, just thoughtfulness in terms of thinking of and considering an aesthetic and a conceptual approach.
Brett: The whole idea of the platform with multiple entry points is interesting. Are there core values or an internal culture you’ve developed that guide your day-to-day decisions?
Bill: It's sometimes easier to know what to avoid than what to go after. I think when we come together, we really listen to each other and talk through our ideas and where we see things going. We have a back and forth discourse in our meetings, as to where we want TSA to go, or what we feel the shows should look like. We don’t critique each other; rather, we do try to ask the right questions put forward our best ideas.
Alex: Which is a form of critique, in a good way.
Vincent: Personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the art fair model. So I was incredibly skeptical about us taking on a project like Artist Run. Once it was no longer being referred to as an art fair, it just happened to be going on while all these other fairs are going on; once it became this idea that we're providing an opportunity to other spaces, other artists, other ideas similar to our own, then it was, we can't pass this up. We have to do this. We have to be able to help facilitate this. I think that that drives the dialogue a lot further.
Alex: I think it's just that our values are such that we want to do anything that puts the artists at the forefront. I think that is what, at least for me, we're interested in. And the nice thing is that just because that's what I'm interested in, somebody else can be interested in something else. Generally, the way we work is that if you're really passionate about something, and you want to do something, we'll try to support it as best as we can. Which is a nice, unique thing about working in a collective atmosphere where you don’t necessarily have to vote on all the decisions; if you have a passion project, you're welcome to do it. Like Artist-Run; people thought we were fucking crazy to do it, and then it ended up being pretty all right.
Brett: It was fresh and experimental – I trekked out in that monsoon Miami rain storm to see it.
Alex: We can't control that yet.
Rachael: While there may be a varying aesthetic, or varying approaches to projects, if you're passionate about something or if you're interested in something, do it. I think it comes back to thoughtfulness. There's a wide variety of work that we show, but we're not driven by the same motives as the commercial galleries. In our last meeting, we were talking about works that aren't commercially viable but that are interesting nonetheless. Artist Run is an example of something like that. Alex and Vincent were doing a workshop series (on how artists can develop their professional careers); that's an example of a project that they were interested in, and they went with it.
Vincent: That really came about and speaks to a passion.
Brett: The sharing on knowledge and wisdom seems to tie very well into your mission of creating a platform and ecosystem for artists.
Vincent: Yeah, and a lot of us have spent decades just trying to cobble together the information for ourselves, for our own practice. And it's like, "Okay, I have this information, how can I share this? How do I aggregate this so that it's useful to other people? What are the real hallmarks of benefit to somebody else to help them move forward, to keep pushing, and for them to be able to stay in the game, because it's such a marathon?"
Brett: How do you think the curatorial work that you're doing has impacted your own studio work?
Norm: The last show that I co-curated with Jackie Hoving (another member who couldn't be here), Night Flight, was last May. The concept for it was partially based on an old TV show from the 1980s that was aired in the middle of the night. It was not frontally a part of my subject matter at that time. It was just something that came about in discussions with Jackie. And then later, more recently, those ideas foretold something that I was interested in; it just had to come out a different way.
A lot of us teach within various art programs; sometimes when you're teaching, you emphasize something to your students that you didn't realize was important to you and then it comes up in your own work. And you're like, "Oh, wait. That's something I'm thinking about. This is really important." That happens, too, in curating, in my short experience with it.
Rachael: Also, I think, too, what Alex was saying about part of the reason he wanted to start TSA was giving himself a place at the table, or creating a place at the table for a group of people. I think for myself at least, being a part of this group, and having this opportunity to make opportunities for other people, has given me additional confidence and faith in my work; not that I didn't have previously, but I think it's served to fortify some of these things.
Alex: I think it's very easy for me to be very, very negative. And doing something like this is an active way to keep that in check, do you know what I mean? We're all artists, and we've all gotten rejection letters; we've all been the victim of random fate or whatever. Doing something like this really helps me to keep that in check. I suppose that's kind of a hokey thing to say.
But on a more tangible level, we can show our own work here. We have some rules about what you can or cannot do. But for me, the last show I did with Debra Ramsay, I felt weird about showing my own work here. And then I said, "I will do something I have never done before. I'm going to try a big installation." And that just opened up a whole new world for me. I wouldn't be able to do that probably at the gallery that I work with in Philly, but having this place where I could be like, "I could try something; it might be horrible, but that's fine. I'm going to take the risk and do it." It really pushed my practice forward, I think. That's more of a tangible example.
Rachael: A few of us have done that, and I think for all of us -- I don’t know if it makes sense necessarily to show our own work in the future, but I think that for those of us who have done that, I think it's catapulted our work into new directions that we wouldn't have had the opportunity to do otherwise. I think each of us have done that, taken on an ambitious project.
Naomi: I have 1,000 things that this conversation is bringing to mind. I grew up in Japan as a “half,” the term for mixed-race people in Japan, a minority group along with others in Japan that are not publicly acknowledged much. (The idea of Japan being homogeneous is largely a self-propagated myth that continues because of the (Asian) taboo of calling attention to yourself.) I didn't start making artwork until my mid-20s when I realized contemporary art was a thing. I moved to New York after college and fell in with a group of artists; it was the first time in my life I felt like, "Oh, these people think like me." Up until that point, I was on this track of growing up in Japan where you're expected to follow the rules, go to college. You accept your fate, get a corporate job, keep your thoughts to yourself. I found myself at age 23 with a job in human resources at a Japanese corporation, and feeling absolutely fucking miserable - I felt like I had been performing a part my whole life and was increasingly unable to keep up the act.
After I became friends with artists, I realized that is the only way I know how to be in the world. I built a portfolio outside of any art training, got lucky and into grad school. The school I went to happened to prioritize Western painting, which was largely an unfamiliar aesthetic to me. Not knowing how to engage in a language I didn’t grow up with, I followed my curiosity and made weird architectural collage-drawings and and was mostly outside of the central discussion of Serious Art, the tradition of (white/male) Western art.
When Alex invited me to join TSA, it was the first time I felt encouraged to explore an alternative vision--something about having a physical space within which you can externalize your interior mindscape that until now had not been given air time--was incredibly empowering. The first show I curated there last summer included artists that didn't fit into a linear narrative of Western art history. Their aesthetic, or their practice, reflected a hybrid of the places they grew up outside of the West. Their work didn’t fit in neatly to the kinds of shows that I was seeing a lot of in Bushwick, for example; I was able to curate a show outside the trends of what else was going on in New York.
Brett: The more I'm hearing you guys talk, it definitely rings true that there's a certain diversity from creating a platform that is a core advantage. The TSA model benefits from multiple streams of vision and thoughtfulness – there is a force multiplier effect.
Alex: We have 30 different artists across the country as members of different TSAs. Even just looking at the three different sites, they all have very different things going on, and they all focus on different things. But the whole thing is just built around trust. For example, we all trust Naomi 100 percent, and she put together this knockout show. We all trust each other to put together great shows. You don't even need to tell us about it. We'll give you some advice, or give you some suggestions, but it's totally your thing.
That's why I think it's cool. We know that we're all thoughtful and really thinking about our own different things, and we also know that we all have our own blind spots that we can't see. So by being a collective that's built around individual voices, we're starting to chip away at some of those blind spots that we wouldn't be able to see if we're trying to build on everything.
Andrew: It's almost like a competition, too. "I saw what Norm did. Well, I'm going to take that and raise you. I didn't do that in my last show, I'm going to do it in this show." With each successive turn here, we happily build upon what we did. And everyone in this room has done a really strong show. They pulled out something different and interesting, whether the artist or the medium they used, or the curatorial theme that they used. It's great because you can always be like, "Great. They did that; maybe I can do this."
Naomi: I would say it's almost opposite competition. I sort of feel like it's in a way irrelevant, whether we believe that everyone else is going to put together a strong show. Here's a platform for you to do whatever you want with. I don't think anyone's put together an awful show, and it doesn't matter. Maybe if you put together this show that obviously you care enough to make it happen, and maybe I personally think it's awful, it's just …
Norm: Just say it. It was my show, wasn't it?
Vincent: It's funny because everyone has this opportunity. Everyone has their own aesthetic wheelhouse, with their own studio practice. But I think the unifying factor is that for me personally is I don’t have to walk into someone else's exhibition of black paintings to say that this is a good show. It can be a completely different thing. It can be a show of landscape paintings. I can respect that. I understand, after however many years of just working and being an artist, and working on your own craft, you understand what goes into it. You understand that there's a thinking process, that there's a learning curve. There are all these different inspirations and things that go into it, and you respect that about other artists. I think that's really the way that we are able to let go of our own aesthetic handicaps that we're so locked into within our own studio.
Once it becomes a space like this, we're able to let go a little bit and allow these other things to happen. I think it really takes off.
Bill: I think that a lot of spaces, if they grow up, they tend to become more internalized almost; and a lot of times that turns into surface things, like aesthetics or the way that they’re set up. But I think with TSA, it expands, rather than goes into itself.
Norm: There's a healthy amount of not knowing exactly what we are. In a way, that is on purpose.
Another thing I'd like to say, first off, while we give each other the ultimate freedom to do what we're going to do -- at least my experience is that I've worked with every single person here on my show either informally or formally.
And there are structures that reinforce that. I think that, beginning with Alex, but moving through everybody here, including our current co-directors, there's a firm structure that allows, that necessitates dialogue and getting things out there. I worked with Rachael on a couple of my press releases - those conversations helped me fine-tune my ideas, facilitated by the fact that the text needs to be in a certain format with latitude. But there is a dialogue through the development of our exhibitions that is important.
Alex: The other thing -- just back to the expansion/contraction thing -- is that we don't need you to come up with any particular, "Oh, we deal with strictly minimalism, or we deal with strictly painting," because that's more of a commercially-driven decision. We don't need to brand ourselves in that way.
Brett: It appears the thought process goes far back into the system. It’s ingrained into the culture that you guys have developed.
Alex: I agree with that. I feel like all the results have been very good. But it's like that's not necessarily the most important thing. It was never a political stance, but as it grows, it's becoming political just by existing, and not in any real intentional way. That's kind of interesting to see and think about those things at this point.
Bill: Especially in the current environment where you've got a lot of emerging and midlevel galleries disappearing, and now you have these mega-galleries. I think this particular thing that's going on right now is especially important.
Vincent: That's something that was really intriguing to me about becoming a part of TSA because when I was first out of art school, I moved to Chicago. I went there for almost ten years. There were a handful of interesting or good commercial spaces, but the really interesting stuff were the artist-run spaces. They were in people's garages. They were in basements of people's apartments and things like that. They were ridiculous, but they were awesome. It really provided a platform for young artists, out of the gate, to experiment, to do something, to take something on, to be responsible for the work that they're presenting, and do it in this environment where everyone comes out and supports them.
One of the downfalls, though, of a lot of those spaces was they were also artist-run, but it was usually only a couple of artists. And if they actually hit a five-year benchmark, they pretty much imploded. They either went commercial, or tried to go commercial and it didn't last, or they just burnt themselves out, because it was just so much work turning up for shows and doing the whole thing.
Alex: What year was this?
Vincent: That was late 90s, early 2000s. And it was really interesting, talking to Alex initially about TSA's model because with like nine or ten members, the workload is spread out so much, it makes it so much easier to be really invested in it, to do a solid job, and to not just be completely fried when you're done.
Bill: I was just going to comment on that. There's a thread of our history that goes back to these artist-run spaces in New York, and the responsibility of fostering new ideas. But I think the one thing that gives us the strength is that we're not trying to usurp the power from a gallery. We are simply a model for openness and new ideas, and expanding on those, not following the trends. I think we're basically trying to push ourselves a little bit each time that we have a show.
I think Alex's idea of being open, and not dictating what we do has given us all a unique platform to stand on and execute those visions. I think that's pretty much where we are as members. That's what works for us.
Rachael: And to your question about how we collaborate -- I think it's key to this idea of not burning out. Everything is not falling on each of our shoulders. We're not flying by the seat of our pants trying to figure out the next show. We have a schedule in place. We have tasks in place. It all grew organically, and I wanted to come back to your initial question about the network and how we formed as network, and how we formed as a brand. I feel like it happened very organically, where there was a TSA in Philly; Alex had the idea that he wanted to do something similar here.
In the very beginning, we talked about whether we even wanted the name TSA, and we weren't sure we did. We were initially concerned about whether we would even have an audience. So we thought, let's use the name and see what happens. LA happened very organically. It was somebody who we knew from New York who relocated, Chris Ulivo. And then all of a sudden, he's had 30 artists renting these vastly different, but similar spaces, and that they follow the same model to provide this platform.
Brett: Since Artist Run is your latest venture, could you share a few thoughts on its origin and vision?
Rachael: Alex was the mastermind of that.
Alex: So Mark Brosseau (who is co-director of the Philly space) and I were basically given the opportunity to have a derelict hotel.
TSA Philly had been kicking around the idea of doing an art fair of just artist-run spaces, and there had been a similar one in Baltimore. Mark and I did a lot of the admin stuff, but the Philly space, they really did a lot of the nuts and bolts stuff behind the scenes -- it was their passion project. In New York, frankly, we were all completely burnt out because we had done some fairs, and we had been curating two shows at the same time for a while. But that's the cool thing about having a dispersed group.
So the hotel was two floors. I think it was like 39 artist-run spaces, 38 separate installations. We invited different artist-run spaces from around the world to apply, and the theme was they had to change their hotel room into some sort of installation/environment.
It was really cool. It felt very authentically alternative in a way that I feel like you don’t see anymore. I don’t know if lightning can strike twice again. It just accidentally became this great thing.
Norm: There was a sense of camaraderie, a sort of drama. Everybody knew the hotel was going to be derelict. It was definitely a capital D, not lowercase D.
Naomi: That was a little traumatizing actually, personally. The cockroaches and the dead birds.
Alex: The zombie birds.
Naomi: And bird poop and all kinds of really gnarly things.
Vincent: People talked about it being like a five-day residency, which goes back to this idea of the process being the seminal thing. For a lot of people, I think the experience and the process, all the back-end stuff which led to the show -- the show was also powerful in a lot of ways, but the process, I think, was really unique. I think everybody was either remotely supporting it or there. But it was certainly spearheaded by this guy (Alex) and Mark.
Brett: I could feel great energy there.
Alex: It was weird to think about. There really was an energy there, and you just wanted to keep working. It was just addictive.
Rachael: I think it was a nice metaphor for what we've been talking about with TSA being a platform for artists, to showcase artists because like you said, there are a lot of pop-up spaces during that week. But it was a pop-up project in a way, and I think it felt like there was real conviction behind it, and that lent it a certain energy that allowed people to take it seriously in a way that maybe not all pop-up spaces are taken seriously.
It's like a system was in place to allow it to happen in that way, which I think is the way TSA operates. There's a system in place that allows these other things to happen.
Andrew: It was actively transgressive, as opposed to when you go to an art fair and you see something that's supposed to be transgressive, but is really very commercial or a clean white space. But you go to this thing, and there were people in every room doing stuff. There was performing, and all kinds of different politics going on. This sounds really cheesy, but it was real. It was actually transgressive, as opposed to like a false production transgressive at an artists' art fair.
Rachael: At the other end of the spectrum, like someone having an idea about doing something and throwing it together, that maybe feels very thrown together, and is intending to be transgressive and maybe falls a little flat.
Brett: I liked the fact that it was in a derelict hotel. Are you in the Fontainebleau? No, you're in that place that no one else is probably going to be in.
Vincent: And in another weekend, it will be just another …
Norm: Cardboard box. Seriously. A cardboard board box.
Alex: Philadelphia did one in a parking garage.