Space for Discussion: A Conversation with Chris Fernald
For the artist, curator, and musician Chris Fernald, creating space for artists is his passion. And not just in the way of providing a physical space to show artwork- his detailed and holistic approach to high level curating, is evident from his hand in pop-up art galleries to organized artist talks. “I put artists together based on what would serve both their practice and the curatorial model,” he explains. “The result is artists from different corners of the creative community coming to a new space and interacting with one another when they wouldn't normally do so.”
After signing on as curator to Argha Noah (2017), a pop-up community art space located in Grant Park, a creative rebirth ignited within Chris. “The concerns I had regarding my own visual art practice became addressed through curating,” says Chris. It was a welcome change from the quiet and solo endeavor he had been accustomed to. The collaborative process and exchanging of ideas drew him in. Chris shares, “my art practice felt like an unsustainable farm. It was as if I’d stripped the soil of its nutrients. Whereas by bringing in the energy of other people, there was a continual replenishment.” Argha Noah was a temporary site-specific space located in the former Harp Transmission shop off of Memorial Drive. Creative Director Kyle Morais along with Chris executed a variety of interactive events such as exhibitions and programs for both the local community and Atlanta. The transformation of the vacant transmission shop and activation into a civic-minded creative hub demonstrated the ability to enhance the creative identity of Atlanta.
Born in Boston and raised in Atlanta, Chris’ ambitions led him to earn his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013. After completing an art residency program in Dumbo Brooklyn, Chris made the official move to the city to pursue his artistic career. Although he felt he was on a career path towards finding success, it was not one without uphill battles. “There is this idea at RISD that everyone just packs up a van and drives four hours to move to New York when they graduate. For a number of reasons, some practical, some totally irrational, I felt like I couldn't be anywhere other than New York” said Chris.
From the outside, most would consider Chris’ post graduate experience a dream- an apartment in the city, secure work, and even his own art studio. During that time Chris largely continued the work he had been exploring his senior year of school, work that dealt with questions of embodiment in contemporary art and culture. Through the lenses of modernist painting tropes, the image-sharing economy, dance music, the afterlife, and the digital. As a self-taught musician, Chris was particularly interested in where the digital and the spiritual intersect and the transcendental potentials of mass media and pop music.
However the outsider perceived Chris’ career and status, it was irrelevant to the internal conflict he was facing. Chris reveals, “I’ve had lifelong issues with anxiety. Prior to this particular moment of living in New York, my anxiety was something that would come up and then it would go away.” He continues, “I experienced a severe episode where I was basically in a full blown panic attack for over a month and I just could not get out of it.” After weeks of experiencing what he describes as sheer terror, Chris made the decision to seek help. He decided to take a break from the city and move back to Atlanta where he had his family as a support system. “I remember so distinctly when I was on the plane ascending above New York, I looked down at the city below and as I did, I felt this enormous sense of relief. It was in that moment I knew part the relief was that I was going to get some help, but more than that it was a release of this built-up pressure I had placed upon myself.” As the pressures to live society’s standards of an artistic life melted away with the skyline behind him, Chris unknowingly embarked on a journey that would bring about his most inspirational work to date.
A few short years after relocating to Atlanta, Chris is living a creatively fulfilling life, free of earlier hardships. At the conclusion of Argha Noah’s stint in Harp Transmission a new opportunity arose. After receiving an email from scholar Joey Molina, his soon to be Discrit partner, the two met to discuss Joey’s pitch to start a book club. After several discussions, the intention transitioned into cultivating a knowledge-sharing discussion-based group. With the support of Murmur Media, Discrit officially launched in early 2018 as a kind of “free critical theory course,” using various texts and cultural artifacts to conduct seminar-style discussions covering a range of theoretical concerns indispensable in deciphering and decoding our current moment.”
Over the past year and change, Discrit has organized lectures, discussion groups, screenings, panels, and performances on topics ranging from examining 21st-century feminism to multimedia explorations of “strange forms of love.” Both co-organizers Chris and Joey moderate conversations to, “provide structure and guidance to ensure that discussions stay purposeful, strives for inclusivity, and touches on salient topics embedded in the materials” The series is ideal for artists looking for a refresher on critical topics they may have encountered in school, or for any individual hoping to both add depth and complexity to their practice.
The organization has grown from the initial support of Murmur Media to also include partnerships with The Bakery and an ongoing residency at the Atlanta Contemporary where Chris and Joey have provided educational programming since September of last year. Speaking to the growth of Discrit, Chris shares that through conversations with Atlanta artists during his role at Argha Noah, he was able to harness his perceptions as an outsider of the city and implement a deeper framework of engagement throughout the creative community. “My initial hunch was that the arts community was widely divided and disconnected. Because I was unfamiliar with the social dynamics of each artist, I was able to put artists together based upon what would best serve their practice” said Chris. This is also a driving force within Discrit. He replies, “my goal is to raise the bar of curatorial excellence. It’s important that there are spaces that are democratic where anyone can show their work in those spaces to more elite institutions. I see my role as bringing people together to bolster rigorous critical conversation.”
For Chris, art comes alive with conversation. His past full of doubts and uncertainties and even at times experiences of anguish has unquestionably instilled wisdom in which he applies expertly into his current role at Discrit. When reflecting on his success, Chris beams, “I feel so much gratitude to the Atlanta community. There have been so many people who have been curious to come to the events, leaders that have been generous with their time, and institutions hosting us- we really couldn’t have done it without their support.”
Information for upcoming Discrit events can be found by visiting their Facebook and Instagram pages below:
To see what else Chis Fernald is up to art or music related, visit:
Images courtesy of Chris Fernald
Words Aileen Farshi
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.