Drinking from the Snake’s Mouth: Studio Visit with Steven Frost + Steven Vainberg

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The third floor of the Sullivan building at the School of the Art institute of Chicago is a white-walled labyrinth, consisting of rows of MFA graduate studios where the smell of paint and indiscernible noise emanate from behind canvas covered doorways. Steven Vainberg’s studio is near the end of the second hallway to the right. Last Sunday, my roommate and collaborator at the Plaines Project, Alex de Leon, and I stopped by to meet with Steven Vainberg and Steven Frost about their upcoming show at our space.

I couldn’t tell you what Steven Frost’s studio is like. He graduated with his MFA from the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC in 2010 and now lives in LA. We chatted with him via Google Hang Out from Steven Vainberg’s studio and when we talked to him, he was calling from a breezy looking patio in California, wearing a light cotton button down and sipping an afternoon bourbon cocktail. California livin’ isn’t all leisure though (or so he claimed). The two Steven’s met at ACRE this past summer and have been maintaining a consistent studio collaboration ever since.

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The two artists come from different backgrounds both materially—Steven V is getting his MFA in painting from SAIC, and Steven F has fiber arts background, as well in content—Steven F’s work focuses on exploring queer history, often incorporating bright colors and a variety of materials while Steven V has a punk attitude and utilizes minimal symbolic forms in flat painted color fields in his work. Despite these different vantage points, there is a common ground between the two artists’ work. They are both exploring subculture, semiotics and their roles as egotistical males. After meeting at ACRE, they learned that they would be exhibiting at Plaines Project together and decided to collaborate, which became a starting point for them to develop work together.

Since meeting at ACRE, the Stevens have met every two weeks via skype to talk about the show. As a part of their collaboration, they made mixes for each other to listen to in the studio, the mix from Steven F to Steven V consisting of a lot of dance music, while Steven V’s mix listed mainly punk tracks. They also sent reading assignments to each other and began a tumblr page to share images that were interesting to them or related to the content of each others work. For their upcoming show, they have selected their favorite images from the shared blog and are including them in a publication that will be for sale at the opening. Their tumblr, D.F.T.S.M., can be viewed here: drinkingfromthesnakesmouth.tumblr.com, and contains some explicit content.

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We talked to the artists about the work in their upcoming show. Every piece in the show is collaborative and consists of a range of sculpture, video, performance, installation, photography, and painting. Some of the works have been completed in the individual artists studios, but some video and photo works are being completed while Steven Frost is in Chicago this week. The work in the show takes the concept of peeing, both in act and form, as a jumping off point to explore ego, sexuality, and spirituality. The pee is seen as an expression of ego while at the same time as a release of that ego – peeing on something marks territory and status, but the act can also be  release of control and a mode to build trust, as in a fetish community. The two artists try to find a tender place for the male ego in their work through this act that is at once gross and compassionate, as aptly described in Dr. Andy Campbell’s essay which accompanies the show. The peeing becomes a metaphor for their collaborative process, a symbol of trust in the artistic practice and a shared authorship of the work.

The collaboration has been beneficial to the individual studio practices of both artists. It offers a way for Steven Vainberg to step out of the bounds of his work and explore new ideas while connecting with an artist outside of the grad school bubble. For Steven Frost it has been a way for him to come back and re-examine the modes of working as a grad student and reconnect with a life style he’s been away from for a couple years. The artists described their collaboration “like a side band” to their individual practice and they plan to continue working together after this show.

Drinking from the Snake’s Mouth is an exhibition of new collaborative works by Steven Frost and Steven Vainberg. The culmination of a seven-month long dialogue initiated during their time as residents of ACRE, in rural Wisconsin, this exhibition looks at the crossroads between the tender, the holy, the profane, the creative ego, aggression, “watersports,” and punk rock through paintings, sculptures, videos, photos, and a Tumblr blog.

Coinciding with the exhibition, a small catalog –developed from a collaborative Tumblr, D.f.t.S.M [Contains Explicit Content]– will be published, including an essay by Dr. Andy Campbell (Senior Lecturer, Texas State University; Art Editor, The Destroyer Magazine).

Drinking from the Snake’s Mouth will run from April 14-28 at the Plaines Project – 1822 S Desplaines St, Chicago. The opening reception is from 4-8 PM on April 14, open hours after the reception are by appointment. To read more about Steven Vainberg and Steven Frost, check out their work previously featured on Make Space here and here.