Callicoon Fine Arts presents Jason Simon’s Request Lines are Open, an exhibition of sound, photography, sculpture and video generated by Simon’s relationship with an upstate radio disc jockey. With roots in rural Sullivan County, home to both Simon’s barn studio and the starting place of the gallery, the exhibition takes a sharp country road turn towards the area’s prisons. This is Simon’s third solo exhibition with Callicoon Fine Arts.
Simon’s artworks often combine recovered artifacts with documentary portraiture. Presaging the exhibition, and on view in the gallery basement, is In and Around the Ohio Pen, a Super-8 film, shot in 1990 and edited in 2014, on a wandering tour of a derelict prison in Columbus, Ohio. On camera is curator and writer Bill Horrigan, and on the soundtrack is the piano of the late filmmaker Chris Marker. In the middle of the film, Horrigan improvs: ‘It’s our future: incarceration.’ Horrigan and Marker’s working relationship has been a theme for Simon in previous exhibitions.
In the gallery, an enormous 1948 horn speaker removed from behind the screen of the Callicoon Cinema, in Callicoon, NY, has been restored to play a 1970s soul and funk radio show. Soul Spectrum now airs on Thursday nights, 10pm to 1:30am, on WJFF, a public radio station in Jeffersonville, NY, not far from Callicoon and approximately two hours North-West of New York City. Liberty Green, the host and creator of the show, includes a segment in the second hour of shout-outs, letters, call-ins and poetry, to and from the inmates of the region’s prisons, their friends and their families. Simon re-mastered a thirty-five hour sampler of Soul Spectrum for the exhibition.
Green’s personal archive includes approximately eight thousand letters, all sent to her from a dozen federal and state correctional facilities in the station’s listening area. She never anticipated the audience or the scale of the response, but over the years and through their correspondence, the inmates collaborated on the evolution of Soul Spectrum’s design.
Simon photographed WJFF and Green’s home, showing the environments where the music and the broadcasts come from, in images that are depopulated and intimate. By depicting the sites of the sound, they pose a question of how we show, and sense, what is in fact unseen. That same question can be asked of cultures and economies of mass incarceration, and was never far from Simon and Green’s conversations.
Jason Simon: Can you take me through a typical Thursday, preparing and airing the show?
Liberty Green: At home I have a room with nothing but my records and equipment. At 9:00 in the morning, I put away all the music from last week. As I'm unloading the bag and putting things away, I'm thinking about the first hour, and what ‘fast music’, in quotes, am I going to play? I'm looking at the records and it's this subconscious thing where stuff starts just jumping off the shelves. I'll put it on and listen to plan the first hour.
JS: The first hour is musically distinct.
LG: It's not always dance music, but it's faster. The first hour could be ‘70s hits, disco, or jazzy and funky. Once I'm completely cleaned up I'll start mixing, sequencing the fast music, usually until noon to get that first hour down. And then I start thinking about the Basement, the slow music, for the last two hours, and try to at least get an idea of where it might be going.
JS: A reader won’t know what the Basement refers to, so can you describe what the Basement is?
LG: I associated it with this blue light in the basement image, from house parties in the '60s suburbs. And then I found a sound effect of walking down stairs. So that all became the start of the second half of the show. Kevin Joyner came aboard as a prominent listener at a maximum security facility, and he decided we were going to renovate the Basement. He would write every week, describing white shag carpet, how we're going to paint everything, with two pit bulls, named R and B, a couch. Other people started writing in and giving us other pets, glow in the dark fish, a bird called Money. And I ask Kevin to take the records downstairs while I’m reading the mail.
JS: So the second half of the show - the Basement - has been group-conceived and collectively imagined over the air, and everybody has it in their memories and in their imaginations of what this space can be. And, after lock-in, this is where slow jams get played.
LG: And it's a two-hour segment, starting at 11:30pm, if the mail finishes on time. The slow songs naturally tell a story, a ‘break up to makeup’, always ending on a good note. By about 12:30 we're clearly broken up: it doesn't always work out that way, but I try. And then I have to figure out how we're going to get back together, and then we'll just love, love, love.
JS: Even though you are planning the music down to the minute at home, you don’t yet know what will be in the mail.
LG: Right, at the end of the day I go to my mailbox at the station, and the computer to print the emails. Now the guys in the federal facilities can email me through a website called CorrLinks. [State prisons provide no email access.] At around 8:00, people will start calling the station and leaving messages for their loved ones. And by 9:30 it's all done and hopefully between 9:30 and 10:00 I can just relax and prepare to go on the air. And that's my Thursday. The show's over at 1:30, I'm home by 2:00. It's a very long day for me.
Complete interview available at gallery on request.
Jason Simon’s work is currently in to expose, to show, to demonstrate, to inform, to offer. Artistic Practices Around 1990 at mumok, Museum of Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, Austria. Recent exhibitions include In and Around the Ohio Pen at Sismografo, Porto, Portugal; Theory of Achievement at Yale Union, Portland, Oregon curated by Paris-based gallery Castillo/Corrales; and green postcard at Ibid, London. His first two shows at Callicoon Fine Arts have both traveled to Artexte, Montreal. Other recent exhibitions include Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart, at Artists Space, a collaboratively curated traveling exhibition on the art collection of Julie Ault, 2013, and Simon and Moyra Davey’s Ten Years of the One Minute Film Festival at Mass MoCA, 2013. Simon was represented by the Pat Hearn Gallery from 1994–99 and was a founding member of the cooperatively-run gallery Orchard (2005–08). Simon has appeared in the Whitney Biennial; Neue Gallerie, Graz; the New Jersey Arts Annual; the Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; The New Museum, White Columns, and The Kitchen, NY.
Callicoon Fine Arts is located at 49 Delancey Street between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. The nearest subway stops are the B and D trains at Grand Street and the F, J, M and Z trains at Delancey-Essex Street.