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Bret Figura’s home is one of those houses where the doorbell is always ringing, where neighborhood kids come over to see who’s around to play, and where a huge extended family gathers to celebrate holidays, birthdays and nothing in particular, too.?Bret seems to thrive off the energy, laughing easily and taking all the interruptions in stride. With a small, wiry frame and hair to match, he sits cross-legged on a stuffed chair covered with fabric in a musical instrument motif. His pug, Stella, snores impressively loudly on the chair behind him while Nanook, a giant white puffball of a dog, naps near his feet.
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I was impressed with James Carpenter from the beginning. Not merely because of his body of work or that he brought great ideas to our project. Quality speaks for itself. It was because he was open and approachable. That he was free of the need to impress is what impressed me the most. At the time I was living in Qatar, working on a fancy urban redevelopment scheme with teams of accomplished architects, engineers, planners, and construction-related consultants of every stripe. Among this esteemed, designerly crowd Jamie’s approachability was a rare trait, which made it all the more notable. We only met briefly but this impression stuck with me. When we fortuitously crossed paths a few years later in a TriBeCa coffee shop I had no reservations about re-introducing myself. And when I pitched him on it, the fact that he agreed to take part in this new Deviation thing was testament to his openness.
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It was a discovery, even though I was looking for it. While scouring the streets of Manhattan, a total outsider to the city’s art scene on a quest to write about the people in that scene, I encountered a simple black and white banner that said Postmasters Gallery. It was pinned to construction scaffolding near two understated, residential-looking doors. A plywood interior wall obstructed the view through the bottom half of the gallery’s front windows, above which a flatscreen displayed an image of a shadowy man standing in a street. The caption “…Art is lost in this town…” was stamped along the bottom of the frame. Despite my lack of familiarity with the terrain I knew enough to recognize an outlier. Inside was Magdalena Sawon, one of the gallery’s founders.
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A huge Puerto Rican flag hangs on the wall of the dark room as DJ Shyboi plays her set. I can barely make out Christina and Felton dancing next to me through the thick fog, each also donning shirts emblazoned with the flag. Techno music booming through the speakers vibrates my chest. I’m sweating, hypnotized by the pounding drums that form a lump in my throat. I don’t even notice that the DJs have switched. I pause for the time it takes to hang my jacket on a nail. Then my body continues to move to the steady, hard beat. Tall light-rods behind the DJ change from green to blue, red to white in a symbolic display for Puerto Rico. It’s the first time I’m raving for a cause.
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Kosmo Vinyl speaks with a richness that immediately draws me in. He’s energetic, in tone and cadence. A personality. As he describes his childhood — bearing witness to mod culture, his family, and the liveliness of the people in his community — a full and vivid image takes form in my mind. His words paint the picture for me and I gain a lucid sense of where he comes from, or where he’s coming from. Kosmo lives a rich life and I believe that the two are not separate, the richness of his experiences and the richness of how he speaks about them.
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Rad Roubeni was born in Iran in 1978, the heat of the revolution. “And, being Jewish and being supporters of the king…” Weeks after Rad was born his parents sought refuge in Israel, then settled in West Germany where several of his uncles were established in life and in business. His father held no delusions about their circumstances, saying to Rad’s mother on the flight out that they would never be able to return. So Rad grew up in Hamburg.
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Laura Sallade’s first commission happened in art school, not long before her graduation. I use the word “happen” because that’s the impression I get in hearing her talk about it — that it appeared from the ether. Laura was working in a materials shop, she helped a woman who looked a little bit lost among the supplies, and the woman ultimately made a visit to Laura’s studio.
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Some people aren’t cut from the same mold as the rest of us. They operate by entirely different notions of what it’s all about, inhabiting a space largely beyond that of contemporary customs and culture. It’s not that they’re odd or quirky. It’s something deeper and more nuanced than that, possessing a spiritual quality. I see them as mystic outsiders — those who were never indoctrinated, or were indoctrinated but fought their way out. Precisely because their minds are not molded by bourgeois propriety mystic outsiders have clarity. If you happen across one it’s a special day. You will be seen for who you are. Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of meeting a handful of such people. One of whom is Coconut Rob.
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Solveig Galbo punctuates her sentences with laughter. Particularly as she’s describing her obsession with flowers or her unusual upbringing in remote forests. Her laugh is full, but casual and light. It shows humor and self awareness — or the humor of knowing and embracing one’s own quirks. More than anything it’s her laugh that proves she’s not weighed down, even though she’s willing to fight for a worthy cause. Lacking a genuine sense of purpose or self one can easily be consumed by the troubles of the world. But Solveig is fine. With a light heart and a positive outlook she’s able to fight the good fight.