Holly Boruck: Surrogate Gallery Projects Brings Art to Empty Spaces
By Genie Davis
Artist and curator Holly Boruck created Surrogate Gallery Projects in 2014 to unite empty commercial spaces with opportunities for artists. And she’s succeeded.
Boruck explains, “The mission of Surrogate Gallery Projects is to give voice to underrepresented artists, inspire youth participation in the arts, and to facilitate partnerships between unoccupied commercial spaces in the Pasadena area, creating exhibitions and projects that serve and energize community participation in the arts. Surrogate Gallery Projects is committed to presenting the arts as an ennobling and inspiring action that fosters deeper understandings about self and community, building bridges between cultures, ethnicities, social class and difference.” Embracing a ‘pop-up’ format, Surrogate Gallery Projects has produced a minimum of two exhibitions a year since its inception, “creating experiences that are unexpected, unique and captivating.”
Boruck feels that Surrogate Gallery Projects’s use of empty commercial spaces benefits local businesses by increasing potential consumer traffic, and contributes to the greater good of the community. “Besides re-imagining otherwise non-utilized spaces, Surrogate Gallery Projects is known for its outreach and presentations to area public and private schools,” Boruck says, adding that it strengthens the integration of the arts in the lives of students.
Her most recent exhibition, Poetry of Scale and Space, features Douglas Tausik, Fabia Panjarian, Kristine Schomaker, and Jennifer Gunlock, all highly tactile artists whose work hums with meaning that blossoms beneath and through the mediums that are used. Boruck selected the artists carefully.
“For me ‘poetry’ relates to the choreography of movement, which relates to space. ‘Scale’ requires context, often in reference to the human body. In this case, it’s also in context to the physical boundaries of the gallery environment.” She notes “’Space’ is conceptualized most often as a 3-dimensional construct.”
With this exhibition, she curated a dialog between the concept of space as 3D – as in Tausik’s rich sculptures, and 2D, as in Panjarin, Schomaker, and Gunlock’s visceral art.
“The expanse of spatial expression is illusive, evocative, and seductive. ‘Scale’ and ‘space’ form a duet, a dance of the senses, a poetic language that must be experienced in real time,” Boruck relates. “Choosing artworks that express a curatorial idea is one part of the exhibition puzzle and organizing them into a coherent conversation in a space is another.”
With this exhibition, Boruck was pleased with both. “I’m happy with the interactions of the individual works amongst themselves and with the space in total; how the architectural and organic nature in the structure of Jennifer’s and Fabia’s works talk to each other from across the room, while Kristine and Douglas’ work has figurative imagery and palette to connect them.”
The installation’s organization allowed the artists to define their own space. “Kristine was interested in setting up a ‘maze’ where her panels could be physically moved through, creating a kind of singular sculptural work. Fabia’s subtle and delicate works echo interior spaces as well as inviting the viewer to experience the lost and found physical separations in two of her pieces.”
Finding and vetting locations for this exhibition, as for all of Surrogate Gallery Projects’s installations, is a large undertaking for Boruck. She explains that while there are often many empty commercial spaces throughout Pasadena, finding willing property owners has proved a challenge.
“It’s taken lots of pavement pounding, phone calls, and dogged tenacity to meet the handful that I’ve worked with over the past 4 years. Using empty commercial spaces for pop-up exhibitions isn’t a new idea, and when I started out Liza Simone of Phantom Galleries was super helpful with tips on methods and approaches to property owners.”
Boruck’s way of operating has been to first develop a curatorial idea and contact artists – before she had a space. “In almost every case, the owners didn’t want to commit to the exhibition until 3 weeks or so prior to opening. So, for most of the exhibitions, I never really knew the quality of space before I developed the exhibition. Once the owner gave a green light I had to rush to sign the lease, purchase insurance, gather all the supplies and arrange installation dates, a process that was often nerve racking for everyone,” she asserts. “Similar pop-up formats in other cities work more directly with municipalities that interface with property owners and streamline lease agreements, but alas, Pasadena doesn’t have such a program.”
Boruck’s carefully curated exhibitions are an extension of her own art-making. The California native says her studio practice encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture and occasionally video.
“I normally have several bodies of work in progress at any one time. Currently I’m working on four: Zeitgeist Portraits, Marcus Durkheim – Is This Not, Musings, and Omni-Optic,” she attests. In the last couple of months, Boruck’s focus has been on Zeitgeist Portraits, as she has a solo exhibition with these works coming up next year at the Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles, Missouri.
According to Boruck, “I began working on Zeitgeist Portraits during a residency project last summer at The Andalucía in Pasadena, an urban commercial space open to the public where foot traffic is plentiful. I set up a temporary studio and invited the public to participate. They were asked to respond to the question “What is your outlook/frame of mind about the current state of the world?” with facial expressions and/or any physical poses, in any way they wanted. I took several photos of each participant and then worked from these photographs, adding my own additional visual elements to the final portrait paintings,” she explains. “Zeitgeist Portraits is my way of making sense and communicating most authentically about the ‘interesting times’ in which we are currently living. My goal is to capture the richness of the human experience through the gesture of our bodies, reflecting intellect, emotions and spirit simultaneously.”
Boruck perceives that she has a “consistent thread” throughout her work. She describes that as “a deep interest in the human psyche, earthly experiences, feeling a tender sensitivity toward the outcast, shunned, and darker corners of who-we-are. I’m interested in asking questions without needing to provide or find answers, pondering the idiosyncrasies of life,” she says. “My work explores human nature and the mysterious landscapes of the psychological inner realms.”
Although she feels ambivalent about it, Surrogate Gallery Projects will no longer be one of the ways she explores those realms. Poetry of Scale & Space will be her final exhibition.
“Since beginning this adventure, I’ve become a grandmother twice – a new and exciting personal enterprise,” she laughs. “I have felt that I need more time for my own studio practice. I’ve been enriched and inspired by the many artists I’ve met during this process, and thankful for their willingness to go along with me on this often-unwieldy venture of creating pop-up exhibitions.”
Boruck trusts that this process can, and hopefully will, continue. “My hope is that other artists and curators will have been inspired by Surrogate Gallery Projects, and will create their own pop-up exhibitions in empty spaces for the communities in which they live.”