“A community is essential to what we do”: Fortnight Institute’s non-traditional, multimodal gallery model

For Fortnight Institute’s founders, Fabiola Alondra and Jane Harmon, collaboration forms the bedrock of their undertaking as curators and publishers.

Having met while studying art history at graduate school, the pair then worked together on various projects under the employment of artist Richard Prince at Fulton Ryder bookstore on New York’s Upper East Side. Their vision for a collaborative, cross-medium artistic space began as an informal apartment salon which brought together, artists, bookmakers and publishers. This venture ultimately outgrew the walls of Fabiola’s Brooklyn apartment and found a permanent space in East Village. Now, Fortnight Institute exists as an initiative which transcends its physical location; it is not only an exhibition space but an initiator of conversations, an artistic community, a publisher and a shared ideology.

The term “fortnight”, indicating the passage of time between the full moon and the new moon, denotes the character of the Institute as an initiative based on dynamic, ever-developing conversations between artists, curators, audiences and the wider community. Fabiola and Jane approach their work with artists with an openness and fluidity which allows for ideas to evolve collaboratively, and for projects to come together organically. Fortnight Institute’s group shows embody this spirit; past projects such as Dicks (2016), Only Small Paintings (2017), and Antifurniture Store (2018) take the specificity of an unconventional central concept and expand this via an artist-led dialogue to create multimodal exhibitions and published editions. With their shared background in arts publishing, Fabiola and Jane are emphatic about the importance of bookmaking as a key element in the Institute’s undertaking. Their publishing imprint offers an additional space and medium in which to conduct new conversations with exhibited artists, with the book as a material object capable of disseminating the artists’ work and ideas in an accessible format.

For Fabiola and Jane, community takes precedence over commerciality. A self-professed “non-gallery gallery”, Fortnight Institute’s model eschews art world elitism and profit-motivated mainstream gallery culture, instead fostering a sense of inclusivity and kinship. Situated in East Village, New York, the Institute considers itself to be a community space, always receptive to its local cultural environment.

AMM: Hello Fabiola and Jane! Can you talk us through the history of your collaboration?

F&J: We met over 10 years ago at graduate school in London. We have collaborated together through projects at Fulton Ryder in NYC where we put together presentations that included art, books, and ephemera in unexpected places. We also did Salon Society at Fabiola’s apartment in Brooklyn where weekend-long presentations were organized around specific themes, and artists, rare book dealers, and publishers were invited to bring things to the apartment and we would all curate something together, collaboratively.

AMM: You’ve referred to Fortnight Institute in the past as a “non-gallery gallery”; why is the non-traditional gallery model important to you as an artist-led initiative? 

F&J: We wanted to find a space to turn ideas into reality and work with artists and other creatives, such as writers, booksellers, and curators. We wanted the spirit of Fortnight Institute to not feel like only a commercial undertaking, but also a place where ideas can be shared and collaboration is key. This was a sincere motivation and we are often mistaken for an artist-run space or even a non-profit which is always a compliment.

AMM: How does Fortnight Institute’s name relate to its ethos and undertaking? F&J: Our personal names were deliberately not included as we wanted the focus to be on the artists and the program. Instead, we were inspired by the terms Fortnight and Institute. A fortnight is better known as meaning a period of two weeks, but for us, its astronomical definition was the appeal, the mean time between a full moon and a new moon. And instead of using the term ‘gallery’ in our name, we chose Institute. We liked the idea of being a society or organization, which not only sets in motion or establishes a particular program, but has particular common goals in mind.

AMM: Can you tell us about the Institute’s publishing imprint? Is the art publishing side of things very closely connected to the exhibition space? 

F&J: We always knew we wanted to publish artists’ books and it’s something we have done from the beginning and will always do so. We find that bookmaking, when possible, is an important component and extension to an exhibition or body of work presented. And from our experience, the book medium and the process of making one can often lead to new ideas or alternative ways of thinking about art. Books are also a beautiful way to share art and ideas to a wider audience in a more accessible manner.

AMM: What do you look for in an artist and their body of work when seeking new talent to represent and nurture? 

F&J: We are often guided by our instincts when it comes to an artist and their work. We feel a magnetic pull of sorts and we want to learn more and think deeply about what we are seeing and feeling. We are interested in ideas, potential, longevity, and a relationship to nurture long-term.

AMM: How would you describe your specific approach to working with these artists? How do you maintain these creative working relationships? 

F&J: The approach has been very conversational and takes place over a long period of time. It’s a pretty simple recipe that involves trust, honesty, communication, and an ongoing conversation about the work. It’s also important to maintain curiosity and excitement by doing new things and never stop getting weird! It’s a relationship like any other that involves all these things. We think of our artists and our program and everyone involved, as a family.

AMM: What is your process like when it comes to curating group shows? 

F&J: This can vary from show to show, there is not one particular process, but it usually begins with an unusual idea that we wonder if we can pull off, like our group show Dicks from 2017. Once an idea sticks,  we develop it further, we have conversations about it, and we start to think about the work and artists. 

AMM: Do the Fortnight Institute’s publications and exhibitions tend to adhere to an overarching aesthetic and identity? Or is your approach more fluid and dynamic? 

F&J: Our approach tends to be more fluid and dynamic and followed by our instincts! 

AMM: What does community mean to you in terms of your work and the relationships you cultivate with both art practitioners and art audiences? 

F&J: A community is essential to what we do. The idea of community can be expansive too, beyond one city, and into more international audiences and relationships. To thrive, we must engage with the local community as well as beyond. This can be as simple as making your space welcoming to all who walk in, a sense of belonging within the cultural fabric of our city, and having conversations with people and hearing what they have to say and how it may transform something within them. It’s interesting to think of the etymology of the word “community” which comes from the Old French comuneté, which comes from the Latin communitas, “public spirit.” We love this idea of keeping the public spirit alive through our projects. Lastly, part of the reason we love having our space in the East Village is because of its strong sense of community among its residents and as evident by the various community gardens around, including one across the gallery that is part of the halfway house next to it. We hope to be able to do a community-based project with them at some point. Covid has of course changed many aspects of gathering, but the spirit remains.

AMM: What, for you, defines the New York art scene?

F&J: Energy, community, and resilience.

AMM: Which emerging artists are you most excited about currently? 

F&J: Mayumi Nakao and Shanique Emelife.

AMM: How has Fortnight managed to adapt during this time of global uncertainty? 

F&J: We have been very lucky and grateful to be able to adapt really well to global uncertainty. We have recently opened a new larger gallery space in the East Village. One must adapt and get creative and be conscious of how one can continue to develop as global circumstances beyond our control will only become more and more recurrent.

AMM: Do you have any advice for emerging artists seeking recognition and looking to find their place in an artistic community? 

F&J: Our advice is to focus on making the best work you can make and not focus on seeking recognition. Find other artists and a community to help you expand your ideas. And to remember that slow and steady wins the race.


 Interview by Rebecca Irvin for ArtMaze Magazine.

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