Guild Hall Happening Puts Climate Change in the Frame at Main Beach
As renovations progress at Guild Hall’s historic home in East Hampton, the cultural institution continues its off-site programming with the final exhibition of 2022, Swept Away: Love Letter to a Surrogate(s), featuring art and performance at Main Beach over four consecutive Saturdays between September 10 and October 1, from 7–10 p.m. each evening.
Conceptualized by Los Angeles- and Berlin-based artist Warren Neidich, the four-day event continues what Neidich and his collaborators began with Drive By Art, a socially distanced exhibition experienced via car during the height of the COVID lockdown in May of 2020. While Drive By Art was a response to the lockdown when Neidich was staying with his brother in East Hampton, Swept Away turns the focus to climate change and healing together through a common cause.
Co-curated and co-coordinated by Guild Hall Museum Director/Chief Curator Christina Mossaides Strassfield, Los Angeles-based independent curator Anuradha Vikram, and L.A.-based conceptual artist Renee Petropoulos, the event’s main conceit asked 65 artists from L.A. to each write a set of instructions in the form of a love letter to an East End artist who would then interpret those instructions into a happening at the water’s edge on Main Beach during one of the four nights.
In the spring, the Hamptons- and North Fork-based artists will send new instructional love letters to their counterparts in California who will do their own interpretation and performances on the West Coast, at Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica.
The L.A. happenings will occur over two consecutive days instead of four days spread out over four weeks. Vikram and Petropoulos say the performances will explore “themes of deep ecology and the interdependence of humans with other living beings and ecological networks.” And participants “will be limited to using only what they and their collaborators can carry to the shoreline and retrieve at the close of their action.”
Works created on both ends of the country will focus on the effects of climate change and what inhabitants of this planet can do to put things right.
Warren Neidich on Guild Hall’s Swept Away
Chatting about his ambitious project, Neidich explains that the idea is to build solidarity between East Hampton and L.A. by creating a “transcontinental heartbeat” from artist to artist. “Unless we’re together, we can’t solve this problem. This problem is real,” he says of climate change, which continues to wreak havoc on the world, despite a shrinking cabal of naysayers who deny it exists.
“The love letter is a love letter to nature,” Neidich points out. “Technology cannot undo problems that technology has created. We have to find another resource, and I’m arguing that art is that resource, and that art gives us hope,” he continues. “There’s no field, nothing that anybody does that is about hope like art is. Art is always about the eternal spring of hope. It’s about changing the way that we do things and rethinking everything.”
With this in mind, Neidich says the exchange between artists will be one of freedom and interpretation, like a prompt that allows artists receiving instructions to improvise upon what they have been given. “Today, interpretation has real value,” he adds, describing the nature of each letter. “It’s soft, it’s gentle, it’s open, it’s up for interpretation. It’s about a collaboration. It’s not about a single person giving orders. … A discussion takes place between the two artists.”
But what does it all mean to audiences who attend these Saturday night happenings at Main Beach? Neidich says the concept of “performance” covers a wide spectrum. Indeed, there will be traditional performance artists, filmmakers, poets and visual artists participating, and much can be done before anyone sets foot on the sand.
“Work can be made in the studio — the performance is what happens when it leaves the studio and travels to the beach, and the event that takes place there,” he explains, noting that artists are being challenged to do new things with their work, to decontextualize their creations in a fresh space. “It takes it out of the studio and puts it in this new environment, and then it becomes performative because you’re installing it. Even the installation is performative. And then what you do with it there is performance.”
He describes ideas like building a sandcastle, picking up garbage, or projecting a film or artwork on the white foam as waves lap at the shore, or on a sheet as it flaps and contorts in the wind. “It’s not just what every single person does, it’s the whole event. We’re using multiple stages, like four to five different circles with things going on at the same time,” Neidich says. “You have to think about it as a whole experience rather than as individual work. Each artists gets one performance and we’re choreographing it.”
Participating artists will appear once during the four-nights, performing alongside three to four others and then breaking away to let the next artist step into the spotlight. And all of it will be documented for a pair of pop-up exhibitions, one local and one in L.A., that will allow visitors to watch a recording of the event and view all the related ephemera from the creative process and the actual performances. “We are filming everything, we’re collecting all the love letters, the phone conversations, everything we can collect,” Neidich says.
Hand-picked by event organizers, the long list of East End artists includes names with varying levels of recognition, ages and styles, such as Almond Zigmund, Darius Yektai, Scott Bluedorn, Kimberly Goff, Donald Lipski, Erica-Lynn Huberty, Matthew Satz, Toni Ross, Scott Chaskey and many others. And an equal number of artists are participating in L.A.
“It’s going to be really great. The artists are really excited,” Neidich says of the upcoming nights of art and experience set to the sound of the local surf.
Swept Away: Love Letter to a Surrogate(s) begins this Saturday, September 10 from 7:30–10 p.m. and will continue at the same time over the following three Saturdays: September 17 and 24, and October 1. Visit guildhall.org for more info, including a complete list of artists.