Our General Society

OUR GENERAL SOCIETY: Pablo Helguera with 
Chloë Bass, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful, and Martha Wilson

Saturday, May 5, 2018
1 to 4pm

The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York,
20 W 44th St, between 5th and 6th Avenues

The Lure of the Lock , John M. Mossman Collection, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, page 182.

The Lure of the Lock, John M. Mossman Collection, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, page 182.

Pablo Helguera led a program at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, one of the oldest free technical schools in this country. The program included a roundtable discussion among socially engaged artists Chloë Bass, Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful, and Martha Wilson, reflecting on current and historical notions of an open society and of the social role of the artist today. Our General Society began with a performative reading of texts related to this subject at the John M. Mossman Lock Collection, a historic museum display outlining the history of 19th and 20th century locksmithing.

*Please note that the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen is partially wheelchair accessible. The upstairs space where the performance is being held accommodates wheelchair access, however the library, where the panel is being held, does not. We regret that primary seating for the panel is not wheelchair accessible, however, the event can be experienced from the balcony seating. Unfortunately, the bathrooms are not wheelchair accessible. Additionally, this event will be audio and video recorded, which can be shared upon request. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact info@the8thfloor.org.


Chloë Bass is a multiform conceptual artist working in performance, situation, conversation, publication, and installation. Her work uses daily life as a site of deep research to address scales of intimacy: where patterns hold and break as group sizes expand. She began her work with a focus on the individual (The Bureau of Self-Recognition, 2011-2013), has recently concluded a study of pairs (The Book of Everyday Instruction, 2015-2017), and will continue to scale up gradually until she’s working at the scale of the metropolis. Bass has held numerous fellowships and residencies; 2017’s included Triangle Art Association, The Center for Book Arts, and Antenna’s Spillways Fellowship. She is currently the Recess Analog Artist-in-Residence. Her projects have appeared nationally and internationally including recent exhibits at The Kitchen, Brooklyn Museum, CUE Art Foundation, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, James Gallery, and elsewhere. Her forthcoming monograph will be published by the Operating System in Fall 2018; she also has a chapbook forthcoming from DoubleCross Press. Writing has also appeared in Hyperallergic, Arts.Black, and The Walker Reader, among others. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at Queens College, CUNY.

Pablo Helguera was born in Mexico City in 1971. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, both an art school and a museum, working in the museum education department while earning his B.F.A. He has since held positions in education at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Guggenheim New York, and is currently the Director of Adult and Academic Programs at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Helguera has performed and exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the Americas. His works have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; and the Guggenheim, NY; among others. He is the recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation/Fideicomiso para la Cultura Mexico, Creative Capital, Franklin Furnace, and a Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art from A Blade of Grass.

Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful treads an elusive path that manifests itself performatively or through experiences where the quotidian and art overlap. He has exhibited and performed extensively in the U.S. as well as internationally at venues such as Madrid Abierto/ARCO, The IX Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05 and 07, IDENSITAT, Prague Quadrennial, NYU Cantor Film Center, The Pontevedra Biennial, Queens Museum, MoMA, Printed Matter, P.S. 122, Hemispheric Institute of Performance Art and Politics, Princeton University, Rutgers University, Anthology Film Archives, The Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, The 8th Floor, Casita Maria, The MacDowell Colony, Provisions Library, El Museo del Barrio, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, The Center for Book Arts, Longwood Art Gallery/BCA, The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Franklin Furnace, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others. During the past seven years Estévez Raful has received mentorship in art in everyday life from Linda Mary Montano, a historic figure in the performance art field. Montano and Estévez Raful have also collaborated on several performances. Residencies attended include P.S. 1/MoMA, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. He has received grants from Art Matters, Lambent Foundation, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Printed Matter, and the Puffin Foundation. Estévez Raful Holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, where he studied with Coco Fusco, and an MA from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. He has curated exhibitions and programs for El Museo del Barrio, the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, Cuchifritos, The Center for Book Arts, and Longwood Art Gallery/Bronx Council on the Arts, New York, and for the Filmoteca de Andalucía, Córdoba, Spain. Publications include Pleased to Meet YouLife as Material for Art and Vice Versa (editor) and For Art’s Sake. Born in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros, Dominican Republic, in 2011, Estévez Raful was baptized as a Bronxite; a citizen of the Bronx.

Martha Wilson (b. 1947) is a pioneering feminist artist and gallery director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity through role-playing, costume transformations, and “invasions” of other people’s personae. She began making these videos and photo/text works in the early 1970s while in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and further developed her performative and video-based practice after moving in 1974 to New York City, embarking on a long career that would see her gain attention across the U.S. for her provocative appearances and works. In 1976, she founded and continues to direct Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artists’ books, installation art, video, online and performance art, further challenging institutional norms, the roles artists play within society, and expectations about what constitutes acceptable art mediums.

Wilson is esteemed for both her solo artistic production and her maverick efforts to champion creative forms that are “vulnerable due to institutional neglect, their ephemeral nature, or politically unpopular content.” Described by The New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s,” Wilson remains what curator Peter Dykhuis calls a “creative presence as an arts administrator and cultural operative.”

Written into and out of art history according to the theories and convictions of the time, Wilson first gained notoriety thanks to the attention of curator Lucy R. Lippard, who placed Wilson’s early efforts within the context of conceptual art and the work of women artists. Commenting on Wilson’s first projects, art historian Jayne Wark wrote in 2001:

“In her conceptually based performance, video and photo-text works, Wilson masqueraded as a man in drag, catalogued various body parts, manipulated her appearance with makeup and explored the effects of ‘camera presence’ in self-representation. Although this work was made in isolation from any feminist community, it has been seen to contribute significantly to what would become feminism’s most enduring preoccupations: the investigation of identity and embodied subjectivity.”

Wilson’s early work is now considered prescient. In addition to being regarded by many as prefiguring some of the ideas proposed in the 1980s by philosopher Judith Butler about gender performativity, many of her photo-text pieces point to territory later mined by Cindy Sherman, among many other contemporary artists.

As a performance artist she founded and collaborated with DISBAND, the all-girl punk conceptual band of women artists who can’t play any instruments, and impersonated political figures such as Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore. In 2008, she had her first solo exhibition in New York at Mitchell Algus Gallery, Martha Wilson: Photo/Text Works, 1971-74. In 2009, Martha Wilson: Staging the Self, an exhibition of her early photo/text work and one project from each of Franklin Furnace’s first 30 years, began international travel under the auspices of Independent Curators International (ICI); this exhibition concluded in New York in Spring 2015 with her personal artwork shown at the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York University and original art and documentation of Franklin Furnace artists at Pratt Manhattan Gallery. In 2011, ICI published the Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces and in 2012, Specific Object named the Martha Wilson Sourcebook its 2011 Publication of the Year.

Martha Wilson joined P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, and mounted a solo exhibition, I have become my own worst fear, in September 2011. In 2013, Wilson received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. In 2015, she received the Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence, administered by the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; the College Art Association’s Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award; and mounted her second solo exhibition, entitled Mona/Marcel/Marge, at P.P.O.W Gallery.