Art is the most honest way to deal with our inability to understand the world. Our knowledge of the world and its events is informed by biased media sources as well as the limited scope of our own individual experiences. Kimi Hanauer, founder of Process Collective, a curatorial collaboration based in Station North, calls this problem our "epistemic failure." According to her theory, art can draw our attention to these gaps because art itself is a failed attempt to express what is so deeply personal that it cannot be expressed in such a way that reveals its full essence to the world.
It's clear, then, why Hanauer is so motivated to bring art to the broader community. A native of Tel Aviv, Israel, Hanauer came to Baltimore from Pittsburgh in 2011 to attend the BFA program at MICA, where Process Collective originated as a series of independent student-run exhibitions in the studios of the Commons dorm complex. Over the course of three years, Process Collective grew into a multi-project operation that curates exhibitions, publishes zines, and organizes Alloverstreet, a monthly gallery crawl spanning exhibition spaces located in and around Oliver Street. Process is also currently working with the students at 901 Arts, where Collective collaborator Lee Heinemann teaches, to create an art book.
As we sit on the curb of a side street to escape the booms and crowds of Artscape, during which Process Collective occupied a booth at the Open Space Alternative Art Fair in the Charles Street parking garage, I ask Hanauer what she views as the strengths and weaknesses of Baltimore's art community. She hesitates, playing with a button on her overalls.
"The idea of saying 'the art community' is kind of messed up. What are you even talking about?" she asks. "There's so many different things going on here. I guess that can be said about other places; it's just something I've noticed especially in Baltimore. If you look at the art scene that I feel I'm a part of, it's a really specific population."
Hanauer lives in the Copycat building, where she directs and curates exhibitions for Penthouse Gallery, one of Process Collective's several ongoing projects. While the Copycat resembles an old warehouse from the outside and within its halls, stairwells, and tight bathrooms—and is known for its demon cockroaches—many of its residents have transformed rooms into professional-looking gallery spaces. Penthouse features the white walls and gallery lights of a professional exhibition space, but maintains its natural character in its worn wooden floor and beam ceiling.
While putting together a group show called "Yes And No But" at Penthouse last December, Hanauer began to feel something lacking in the gallery opening experience; specifically, being able to roam from one to another. She began making calls to gallerists, curators, and collaborators in Station North to synchronize shows.
Since the first crawl in December, Penthouse, Area 405, Gallery CA, The Monumental Quilt Studio, Springsteen Gallery, Lil' Gallery, and Bodega Gallery have participated, hosting simultaneous exhibition openings. Most of these spaces are located in the Copycat building. Anyone who's ever been to the Copycat—or has even just heard of it—knows that it comes with certain connotations: specifically as a party house. Residents are sometimes referred to—whether pejoratively or lovingly—as "Copycat rats." That aspect has drawn some people in and kept others away.
"I know the Copycat and the Annex might be weird to some people, because they are weird," Hanauer says. "It's a fucking warehouse; it's disgusting. But then you walk into Springsteen and it's beautiful! It's pretty strange."
Most "art scenes" inevitably generate a certain degree of exclusivity. Although Baltimore is known for cooperation between its artist communities, there are still noticeable gaps. For the most part, the same groups of people regularly attend the Copycat shows.
"I'm so not into this cool-guy attitude of being exclusive," says Hanauer. "I've encountered people who have been really negative to me about Alloverstreet. Like 'our space is super sacred.' And not that it isn't—I totally value that. That's why I want it to become accessible."
"At the same time," she adds, "I understand that some things shouldn't be stepped into and shouldn't be made accessible to broader communities because they depend on their independence, and that's what makes them what they are. There's a balance to be struck. But you never know what you might learn from people who are different from you, and may not be that different at all."
Dodging hordes of sweaty Artscapers, we made our way back to the parking garage, where Process Collective and Penthouse Gallery presented works by collaborators Audrey Gair, Josh Nukem, and Evan Price, along with some sculptures by Hanauer and several zines published by Process Collective. The crowds flowing in and out of the garage reminded me of the audiences I saw weaving through Alloverstreet the night before, filled with both captivated and confused faces amid marathon gallery visits.
"I think it's really great that people who've never gone to the Copycat or have never seen certain kinds of art can see it at Artscape," she says. "I would have no problem with people who have never been in a gallery before coming into Penthouse."
Despite Process Collective's growing presence, she doubts her efforts to unite disparate groups and draw in the broader community.
"I can't say that I'm really doing anything to bridge the gaps because these things are so deeply rooted in cities and historically rooted in Baltimore. But I'd like to be hopeful." She adds, "I am very aware that I work within a specific community and reach specific people and have a specific background which enables me to do so."
Maybe so—though bringing together radically different spaces like Gallery CA and the DIY spaces in the Copycat to organize simultaneous monthly openings is no small feat. Because of Alloverstreet, people who would not normally venture into the Copycat are invited to do so, and experience its walls in a different context.
"It's hard to create projects that are sustainable," she says. "I know from doing Alloverstreet and from running Penthouse, it's really hard to have a turnaround every month and do the same thing again."
She lights up as she explains David Joselit's concept of "the blob" from his book, "After Art." "It's basically an idea for an architectural structure that morphs and interacts with its surroundings and changes with them and in reaction to them. It's not just plopped down like MICA's studio center on North Avenue. I think this idea is a really good metaphor for the way that art can function and be democratized."