World That Awaits: Amay Kataria, installation view, 2022. Photo courtesy of Jack Pontarelli.

Amay Kataria is a new-media artist working in the South Side of Chicago. His practice immerses the audience into interactive experiences by utilizing technology in new and innovative ways. In addition to his own artwork, Kataria is also a curator who sees curation as a natural extension of his creative work. 

From August to September of 2022, Amay Kataria curated, or as he likes to say, co-created an eclectic show of artists at MU Gallery in Chicago, Illinois. Looking back, Kataria took the time to discuss his curation process and the sympoetic nature of this project with me.

Jacqueline Lewis: Hello Amay, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your art and curating experiences.

Amay Kataria: Hi Jacqueline, I’m a new-media artist working out of Mana Contemporary in the South Side of Chicago. I have worked and studied here since I moved to the city in 2017 to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to get my MFA in Art & Technology Studies. During this time, I’ve created a diverse array of works that utilized media in groundbreaking and experimental ways. 

Consequently, my creative practice has become a form of laborious meditation to cultivate collective experiences. While crafting my work, I employ a systems mindset towards my subjects, which are mostly inspired from nature and its orgasmic intra-activities that we are a part of. The finished artifact often takes the form of a performative object, which manifests itself as a subsystem of warmth, empathy, and joy for the audience. 

My curatorial practice is an extension of my creative work. It becomes a site to excavate new ecologies that are sympoetic and correlated with the environment around us. My storytelling methodology is communal and my approach is open-ended. I curate with a sense of care, intimacy, and sensitivity towards the stories that I want to perpetuate. Fundamentally, with every work, I reflect upon the dynamic relationship between the self and the collective. 

JL: You mentioned the term Sympoetry, can you go into a bit more detail about what that means to you and how that translates into the theme of the show?

AK: The word Sympoetry is derived from Sympoetics (Sym – together, Poetics – creation). I first came across this concept in the book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene by feminist scholar Donna Haraway. Sympoetry ultimately became the inspiration behind curating this show. In the book, Haraway introduces it as a simple word, which means “making-with.” 

For World That Awaits, I imagined Sympoetics as a deliberate way to look around rather than to look ahead – an ethos of collective inclusivity – a co-created narrative of making-with, surrounding-with, thinking-with, and being-with. It’s a poetic entanglement of both living and non-living constituents in the world, which enables us to reflect upon our identities in an alternate way. It draws our attention towards an interconnected, intersubjective, and interdependent materiality that already pervades the world around us. Haraway communicates this complex idea in these simple words, “Earthlings are never alone. That is the radical implication of Sympoesis.”

JL: Thank you for that description, it is very helpful in understanding your work. So, you curated a group show World That Awaits for MU Gallery that ran from August-September 2022. Can you discuss the show’s framework and themes that weave the artworks together?

AK: World That Awaits is a group show that ran from August 26th to September 16th, 2022 at MU Gallery in Chicago. It presented the work of six interdisciplinary artists, Kayla Anderson, FÁTIMA, Scott Kemp, Cody Norman, Jungwoo Lee, and Sofia Fernandez Diaz, who collectively inspired us to embrace the trouble. Our present moment is a time of trouble – something that is self-inflicted by us. It’s a hyperobject (in the words of Timothy Morton), which needs a great deal of courage and patience to critique. Simply said, it’s a global narrative of climate change and other hyper-frameworks that is fed via mass media, leaving us in a state of analysis-paralysis. 

World That Awaits Poster, 2022. Image courtesy of Amay Kataria.

The intellect of science is in a war with religious propositions, with no real solutions in sight. There is an urgency that dawns upon us to meet this conflict today and arrive at a new approach to address this trouble. This idea became the premise, which World That Awaits responds to, by using Sympoetry as a philosophical framework to present a nature-culture assemblage of an entangled, interconnected ecology that we belong to. 

JL: The title of the show The World that Awaits suggests a look towards the future while mentioning the concept of waiting or slowing down. Can you explain the show’s title and its implications?

AK: There is an African proverb that goes like, “in order to find your way, you must become lost.” In such times of trouble, it’s tempting to use technological innovations that advent new solutions to our problems. However, these solutions are narrow and compartmentalized, which lead to unforeseen problems. The solution to a problem becomes the root of another problem. The title of the show suggests that we are living in a world that deviates from its assigned categories, a world that spills beyond meanings and attributes, a world that rejects trajectories, but a world that simply awaits to be accepted as it is. 

To find our place in the world, we must strive for being-with the world. Losing one’s way doesn’t mean we stop acting, rather we start conspiring with the world in a queer way. We become open to the unknown and the way forward becomes the way around us. We cultivate an ethos for living as a damaged world, cultivating response-ability – a collective ecology of practices for knowing & doing, living & dying, creating & destroying, observing & acting. By acknowledging the grief, we begin the process of healing. 

JL: Now that we’ve discussed the overarching concepts of the exhibition, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. What was your process for choosing these specific artists in the show?

AK: World That Awaits was a group show with six artists. I arrived at this number in a systematic way. I wanted to work with artists who were my contemporaries in Chicago, so I could connect with them on a more personal level. My primary source was the 2022 graduating MFA class of School of the Art Institute, Northwestern University, and University of Chicago. After seeing their shows, along with some other leads on Instagram, l shortlisted twenty one artists. I scheduled the first round of virtual calls with them to categorize their work according to their styles (design, installation, sculpture, ceramics, etc) as well as themes that they were pursuing in their work (body, space, surveillance, nature, anthropocene, etc). While I learned more about their creative practices, simultaneously the theme behind the show began to emerge.

The information from my research material, combined with the images of the works that I was seeing, organically paved the way for creating a shortlist of ten artists. From there, I began imagining the story and the movement of the audience through the space using the help of a 3D model of MU Gallery. As I started arranging the works in this virtual space, a cohesive layout was in sight for the final exhibition. 

Using the approximate dimensions of these works and the overall theme that tied them together, I further narrowed the list down to six artists and scheduled a follow up meeting to introduce them to the exhibition layout and to other artist works in the show. This turned out to be useful for Sofia Fernandez Diaz, who prepared a site-specific installation with beeswax, glass, thread, and copper wire. Circulo no.4 by Diaz evoked the feelings of an underwater ecosystem arranged in an organically planned rhythm on the wall. The conceptual elements of this piece along with its visual undertones were in direct conversation with Scott Kemp’s piece Influent Body, which presented a macroscopic view of the organic bacterial underworld.

Kayla Anderson, “Night Shift,” glue and cellulose, size variable, 2022. Photo courtesy of Jack Pontarelli.

JL: The artists involved created pieces with themes that all lead back to your overarching concept of Sympoetry but through varying media. How did you bring these different works together in a visually cohesive way? 

AK: The theme of Sympoetics behind the show also seeped into the process of curation, which made it a phenomenon of co-creation. It became a tool to imagine a show as a fusion of mind and matter – a complex entanglement of the discursive with the material that was constantly evolving in its essence throughout its development. 

To bring this show together visually, credit goes to the artists who patiently sent me all the information about their works like dimensions, materials, images, etc beforehand. This allowed me to create the story in the theater of my mind, and experiment with it in the virtual gallery space. I believe this initial preparation saved me a lot of decision making during the final week of installing the show.

The story felt like it had a beginning with Kayla Anderson’s work Night Shift, who introduced us to the fleeting nature of trouble with a series of houseplants made up of glue (cellulose) and wire, lit with white LED lights from the bottom. These appeared charming and glass-like from outside, but slowly deteriorated from the inside. Whereas, FÁTIMA’s light sculpture AXKAWA I concluded the experience by inviting the audience to shift the narrative of the self from a bounded individual to a collectively producing system that is part of an abundant whole.

FÁTIMA, “AXKAWA I,” light, steel, 48” x 48”, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dmitrii Gretchen.

JL: I see that preplanning and conceptualizing the space before installing really helped, along with utilizing the virtual gallery space. That seems like a great new way to use technology in the art sphere. Speaking of which, your art often examines the crossroads of art and technology. Did you notice these themes appear in your curated show?

AK: World That Awaits was an interdisciplinary show curated as a single body of experience for the audience. There were definitely artists in the show who used a technological medium to communicate their point. Since this was my first curatorial experience, I learned about the mediums and materials that I’m attracted to. Along with new-media like robotics, video, and 3D printing, I’m also inclined to traditional and alternative mediums. In fact, these materials are not empty. Before human encounters, they hold lives and purposes. They tell stories of the places from which they come from. Therefore, to set a compelling narrative and an engaging visual experience, I approached the exhibition with a sense of material balance – an equilibrium between the hot and cold mediums. 

Apart from their conceptual integrity and significance to the concept of the show, the new-media works like Kayla Anderson’s video work Arion Vulgaris and Jungwoo Lee’s robotic piece Am I A Flower add a certain kind of rhythm to the visual experience. It engages the audience, compels them to slow down, and see the work evolving itself through space and time. The phenomenology of this experience is of course different from seeing a static object, which creates an internal movement in the viewer’s mind as they explore its sculptural tendencies. 

Cody Norman, “Ruga ignis & Ruga glacies”, hand dyed recycled PET #1 plastic, 14”x16” x 27.5”, 2022. Photo courtesy of Jack Pontarelli.

Perhaps, another work that utilizes new-media but strongly ties into the theme of the show are the sculptural pieces Ruga ignis (fire) and Ruga glacies (ice) by Cody Norman. A material that deceivingly looks like glass is actually recycled plastic from local households, and is processed through custom-built industrial robots, to be 3D printed into aesthetic vessels emulating organic beauty. I believe this hybrid materiality of the show was critical for its visual appeal. 

JL: As an artist yourself, how did your curating methods differ from your artistic methods? Was it the same in any way?

AK: In terms of methodology, I approach all my creative projects (curation or artistic) in a similar manner. I’m a firm believer in planning my work. Benjamin Franklin once said, “failing to plan is like planning to fail.” I create a plan to work a plan, and along the way, I change it to accommodate any deviations. For every project, I begin by creating a vision log, which is a summary of how I envision this project in the future. Then comes the goals that I want to achieve by undertaking this project. And then the milestones, which are like checkpoints that I need to hit along the way to complete it. Together, they create a blueprint for the project. If at any time, I’m unsure about my decisions, I go back to my blueprint and automatically correct my course. 

A group show is an experience and it has a lot of moving parts. By curating World That Awaits, I improved my communication, marketing, logistics, and operation skills. I also became comfortable to take up creative control and create a fun, engaging, and instructive experience for the audience. 

I want to sincerely thank MU Gallery and Lee Mosser for inviting me to curate this show.