For our first Gotham Tour we visited The Java Project. This experimental art gallery space occupies the first floor of The Java Studios and the director, Dakota Sica, is preparing for their second year. In addition to offering more unconventional exhibits, Sica is preparing to launch CritFair, a series of public critiques where artists can have a large group of fellow artists look at their work and give them feedback. Sica graduated from Pratt in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in sculpture, and after our tour I got the opportunity to ask him about life after Pratt, the Java Project and art.
How do you think Pratt helped you prepare for your art career and what were your biggest challenges after Pratt?
I didn’t realize that when I took my classes and worked in residential life and woodshop and participated in sculpture club that many of those people I met were going to become part of my life after Pratt. So a big challenge for me was going from being really involved in a community to creating my own opportunities and then becoming an owner of a business where the pressure falls on me. I’m not part of large entity and it’s my responsibility to see the vision through and that can be scary. Along with the Java Project, I also work at Leslie Feely, an art gallery in the Upper East side, which focuses more on modern art Between my education from Pratt and working at The Java Project, I had the tools to overcome finding a job while still being involved in the arts.
Can you elaborate on how the Java Project came to being?
So at the time, Java Studios only used the second and third floor, and the first floor hadn’t been renovated yet. I used to have a studio in Java Studios, and I was curating small art shows with other people. Before they started renovating the first floor, Ori [owner of the Java Studios and a fellow Pratt alumni] and his colleagues approached me. They said they wanted to make the gallery space where the studio community could display their work and create more interaction between artists. My initial reaction was I didn’t know what to do and starting an art gallery wasn’t something I had thought about. Actually, that’s where the name The Java Project came from. I look at The Java Project as something that is evolving into a space where different artists contrive more experimental work that is judged on its artistic merit instead of its commercial value. Now The Java Project is going onto its second year thanks to sponsorship, Ori and the Java Studios.
How do you select artists to show at the Java Project?
My criteria is that the work challenges the space and the people who are viewing the space. How does an exhibit look? How does it feel? How does it smell and taste? When someone enters how do they feel: scared, happy, put on the defensive? And so far the process for finding artists has been self-selecting. I’ll put out an idea of a show, and it seems naturally someone will come forward or I meet someone and they have a similar idea. For example, for the longest time I’d been wanting to base an art show around eating or food but there aren’t a lot of artists who do food art. And sure enough someone was referred to a group called Table Table. They curate theatrical dining experiences around specific foods. A furniture maker will make the table and chairs, one person cooks, and other people do a series of performances. They served this big pot of soup in homage to how artists used to have peasant-like meals.
What’s the experiential difference between working in a traditional art gallery versus curating an experimental gallery? Is the installation process different?
At Leslie Feely, it’s a lot of auction houses, secondary art market, big businesses. The Java Project is more of a movement where the art gallery is more historical. But I think it's good to know both the history of art and the people that came before you while I’m creating this other culture. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next twenty or thirty years, but right now it’s interesting to be involved in artists’ careers at both the beginning and the end. As for installation process it is really the same process, different goals. The Java Project is pushing the boundaries of what people expect in an art gallery space. I’ve had artists carve, paint and wallpaper the walls. We have an upcoming exhibit where an artist is going to change the entire floor and another is going to work with live animals. At Leslie Feely the goal isn’t to rework the space but instead to make sure things make sense together historically; while at the Java Project I want to make sure found objects on the floor relate to a photograph on the wall or if two artists approach work in a similar way.
How do you set boundaries at The Java Project?
Because I worked at the wood shop, I got to experience how to make, break and fix things. We are careful though since we are fostering a public community, and we don’t want to promote something that is wrong. Work can be good when it is political or inventive, but it can’t be overt. And that’s tough. I’ve put on shows that I didn’t think were offensive and then I’ll get a complaint. But that’s a case-by-case thing. I’m not into the censorship game. The only thing I worry about is if the work being installed could physically harm someone. Like if objects can fall from the ceiling or if they are too sharp. We had an artist who wanted to freeze the entire floor when it snowed but we had to say no because it would have been too slippery.
Where do you see for the Java Project and yourself in these upcoming years?
We have a lot of exciting things coming up this second season. We’ve been reaching out to more curators and smaller galleries for more collaborations. We started going to art fairs. One of the things I am looking forward to is The Crit Fair where we are going to offer artists the chance for group critiques so artists can learn new ways of seeing their work as well as creating communication between artists, and hopefully more collaborations. We also have a new season with WORA.
Do you have any advice for Pratt students?
I would tell them to get the most out of their education now and to do the best work they can do. It’s a really beautiful place where creative ideas are constantly flowing and everyone is aspiring and on the verge of this breakthrough, and that is really fertile grounds. After college, I would encourage them not to forget all that creative energy and use it to propel themselves forward in whatever industry they chose. Start a small fashion line, found your own company, do your own graphic design thing. Those things pay off the most in the long run because there is no specific straight line to success.
The Java Project was an awesome Gotham Tour, and getting the opportunity to talk to a Pratt Alumni was invaluable. For more articles and to see what else we are up to connect with us on social media via Facebook and Twitter.
Written by: Bree Balsamo
Images provided by Dakota Sica