A Hidden Gem of Frieze Week: Housing Gallery’s One Night in London.
Deep into Frieze Week, on a Friday evening, I was enjoying a well-deserved pint in a pub in Belgravia. I received a text message from a man I met the previous night, just reading “room 311.” I walked up the street to Bulgari Hotel, only to be received in the lobby by a dressed-way-too-hot-for-Frieze gallery assistant, who invited me up to her hotel room.
She works at Housing Gallery — a relatively new but incredibly precise player on the scene, founded and led by KJ Freeman. In 2021 Harper’s Bazaar wrote that Freeman is here to change the art world — and from what I have seen, she might actually be succeeding. Housing, based in the Lower East Side, is dedicated to stimulating public discourse through the work of artists whose works show critical commentary and intent. The gallery strives to support artistic practices outside the mainstream, not being afraid of touching even the most radical artistic gestures.
She made a few awkward jokes as we exchanged eye contact a couple of times in the elevator on our way to the third floor — she later told me I was the first visitor that night. Her colleague opened the room door and she asked him to go back to the lobby to wait for the others. She showed me to the bed and offered me Champagne.
Freeman surprised the New York scene when she self-organized to crowdfund artists’ living expenses in the form of microgrants during the pandemic. Later, right after the uprisings around George Floyd’s death started, Housing inaugurated their new space with a ‘Vigil for Black Death’, transforming the gallery into a meeting point where protesters could restock their supplies and find a safe space to rest. In times of crisis, when the square meter is the highest valued commodity, galleries occupy incredible amounts of space. Gagosian, for instance, owns more than 20 thousand square meters. Freeman opened up her space to the people while still hosting art — an excellent gesture to repeat.
She sat next to me. Our champagne glasses touched. She turned the TV on. “Let’s watch some porn,” she said. Then, after a few minutes, room service came. And sometime later, some more people. Strangers at first, but we quickly got along.
Playing on the TV, ‘One Night in London: Erotic Videos’ was a compilation of video works investigating erotica/pornography and how it shapes our daily lives. Carefully chosen from the works of Housing’s impressive group of artists, that night presented us with three videos exploring the role of sexuality in art and the art market, as well as the position of femme and queer people of color in the current socio-cultural space.
Sofia Moreno presented ‘P o r n A g a i n Vol.1- P o r n A g a i n’ (2010, single-channel video with sound, 5:29 min). A distorted low-fi image from a camera shows the artist engaging in a sexual act with an unknown man. The highly aestheticized home sex tape is raising the critical question that stuck with me until the end of this Frieze week: Is art work sex work? One of my editors even decided she wanted a tattoo with it.
We were slowly running out of Champagne, so my friend Ross ordered some more wine. And I called back down to the reception to get some bubbles for the bath. It seemed appropriate as the bed was full of rose petals, and the vibe was becoming more relaxed. The shower was running for the last hour or so — KJ made sure of that.
Keioui Keijaun Thomas’ ‘In the Reflection of Ancient Tides’ (2018, single-channel video with sound, 5:14 min) is a video poetry piece. It seems based on the Ballroom tradition but manifests itself into a more internet-friendly collection of affirmations supported by a strong visual image. Thomas opens with a walk on a sandy ocean beach: “Walking through the sand feels like /…/ finding a path that leads to a history.” Thomas then stands on top of two black buckets with ‘ladies toilet’ signs on them, striking seemingly erotic poses, and continues: “You think you radical, but you not radical enough.” until she lifts the buckets in her arms and ends the piece: “I’ve dreamt of how to continuously rethink what survival skills look like and how to keep each other from being drowned, moving through the water on rafts built through our combined forces. Of the sisterhood. We were there too. Carved into the bark of herstory, on rafts on the frontline. We are here!”
A porter knocked on the door and apologized — they couldn’t find bubbles, but they brought us bath salts. And it seemed bath salts were just fine. In no time, a David Zwirner employee got naked and hopped in the tub. A few others joined her. The evening crowd was now effectively spread from the balcony, where I was having a beautiful conversation about Great Danes, to the bathroom, where a group of women was slurping wine around the bathtub.
The youngest of the three is Isaiah Davis with a short video called ‘Sex Machine’ (2021, single-channel video with sound, 2:17 min). We can see the artist crushing a cake with his feet, wearing a pair of leather boots reminiscent of ballbusting fetish videos. The sound of the boots hitting the wooden floor constructs a rhythm that sits between frustrating and arousing. As we progress into the video and the kicking pace grows more intense, images of extreme anal insertions and other fetishistic practices start appearing momentarily on the screen. Soon the artist climaxes with a fast set of kicks leaving the viewer unsatisfied. The most brutally pornographic of the three videos presented that evening is maybe also the most universally telling of them all, setting in motion a line of thought that is not necessarily conditioned by our time but speaks of sexuality as such.
As Bratton puts it, “The model is the message.” Screened in a hotel room at Bulgari hotel — room number only to be revealed on the premises through an encrypted text that night, this event undertook a new model of presenting art in the context of an art fair. A procedure that mimics the lives of individuals who come in and out of hotels to engage in sex work, clandestine survival, housekeeping, delivery services, and art sales. Housing Gallery is set to question the hegemony of the wealthy and their practices of suppressing and exploiting femme, queer, and people of color, be they artists or sex workers. Housing Gallery sends a clear message with a new model of art presentation by inverting the power distribution between the oppressor and oppressed.
I finished the night at 5 AM discussing slavery with my friend Ross in front of the hotel. After that, I took a night bus home.