A nearly-naked woman with bright green hair winks at me from the walls of Disclaimer Gallery. “This looks so goooooood!” JinHee Kwak exclaims as she leads me through the closet-sized space in the back of Bushwick’s Silent Barn. This is the first time she’s seen the new show, which opened to the public in early February.
Kwak, 27, is one of six “Disclaimers” who pay $360.58 a month to rent this small space as a mini art gallery. A three-paragraph mission statement hangs nearby: “Run by low income people to showcase low income people and other marginalized groups. Low income as in low income, zero assets, zero trust funds, zero fucking beer sponsorships.” Shaina Yang, 29, and O.K. Fox, 25, join us. Yang leads the tour, her long rat-tail braid waving behind her. I quickly learn that Disclaimer is a complex organism of ideas, unable and unwilling to be parsed down or simplified.
Fox: There are so many artists, but there’s nowhere to put them – it’s not sustainable. We want to help the folks that are most affected by that instability. No one wants another gallery that’s just run by white people. You don’t want to be encouraging that. We specifically discriminate against cis white men.
Yang: Well, but, I think a lot of the time we’re gravitating towards the art. We always keep ourselves open to seeing the work. It’s a balance.
Fox: This specific project was going to be one thing, but then she got fucked over by some idiot guy who was supposed to distribute it, so she was like, “let’s do a show around this sort of thing” – “Power V.H.S.” [title of RAFiA’s exhibit]. That was great because we had this television – it looked nice!
Yang: We have a very specific community we’re trying to support. We try to focus on local artists, and people like us: women of color, queer folks – and we’re not closed off to artists in general, but those are our main focuses. It’s like community empowering each other, lifting those who don’t have that access or ability to speak. And if we have the platform, we should be able to share it. We’re humans first. We value people and not profit.
Kwak: There’s no mystery of Disclaimer. When I went to galleries in Chelsea, it just seemed so exclusive all the time.
Fox: And we should just stop supporting these institutions that aren’t balanced and supported at the local level. Why do we keep carrying on like it’s fine? There’s so much other stuff in the world.
Yang: I did ask them if they identified as new media or digital or internet, but they chose “conceptual,” which actually makes sense. With “concepts,” there are no literal mediums. And even if they’re working on the internet or social media, it’s very ephemeral, and they only have these printouts [hanging in the exhibit]. These things are the last tangible remnants of their actual art, which is coded in the web somewhere.
Fox: They’ll make different [Facebook] accounts and they do different things to the accounts, and they’ll take on other people’s accounts.
Yang: I did that! I paid them to take over my Facebook account, and just post whatever and make visual content, and they just sort of ran with that for a day. That was an interesting reflection because it made me feel like, “Wow, my Facebook entity is really what people think I am,” and now when this other person’s pretending to be me and doing all these crazy things, people think I’m going crazy!
Kwak: Can I give an idealized answer? I wish – if there are any investors out there who want to give us a shit ton of money for whatever reason – a great space, like a warehouse space, would be so sick.