No Place: Utopia Vendor

Saya Woolfalk

No Place: Utopia Vendor

Mixed media installation and performance

Jamaica Avenue is a well-known shopping district which is frequented by local consumers as well as “shopping tourists” – bussed in from as far away as Detroit, Michigan – looking for the latest offerings in hip hop fashion. For her piece, No Place: Utopia Vendor, Saya Woolfalk responds to the consumer tourism along Jamaica Avenue by setting up her own vendor’s cart stocked with souvenirs and other trinkets based on, according to the artist, “local beliefs and desires about negotiating cultural difference.” Drawing on the etymology of the word utopia, which, in Greek literally means “no place,” Woolfalk’s objects pose important questions about the postmodern notion of “place”: How do we distill an experience of a culture or place into one object or image? And how do we re-visit the represented place/culture through these reductive knick-knacks? Woolfalk’s work, which is inspired by ethnographic, feminist and psychoanalytic theory, culminates in a costumed drama, which activates the site of the vendor’s cart as a performance. Dressed in masquerade, her alternate persona is simultaneously monstrous and playful; her delivery bordering on the carnivalesque. J.D.

Saya Woolfalk holds an MFA degree from The School of Art Institute of Chicago (2004) and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program (2006) and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2004). She is a recipient of the Fulbright IIE Grant for Brazil (2005) and Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Fellowship (2004). Her work has been shown at Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY (2006), Scope-NY (2006), Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY (2006), and PS1 Contemporary Arts Center (2005). Informed by feminist and culture theories, her work explores “one-dimensional and commoditized representations of desire” in mass media that construct and reinforce social and political hierarchies.