Equal hand: A correspondence between the exhibiting artist, Daniel Petraitis, and fellow artist Adelita Husni-Bey

Equal hand

A correspondence between the exhibiting artist, Daniel Petraitis, and fellow artist Adelita Husni-Bey

Adelita Husni-Bey:  Daniel, so you asked me to write about your work for Equal Hand and we decided that in order to do that I would somehow need to be able to look through your eyes. Part of me thinks I can do that simply by virtue of the fact that I feel I know you, part of me thinks that this process will actually engender more of a discovery, because we haven’t really written to each other in a while.

So I’ll start by telling you a story; I was in North Carolina for a few weeks in January working with a group of teenagers on a spoken-word piece. One of the exercises we worked on was to define word couplets; for example imperialism vs. development, disillusionment vs. defeat, and then we also came up with equality vs. uniformity.

During the discussion we figured these words are not as different as one might initially think. Uniformity is essentially something stable, something which conforms, something replicated but not necessarily the same. Equality is the state of being ‘equal’, especially when we look at its Latin root ‘aequalitatem’ which means likeness; yet the acceptation of the two words is so blatantly at odds. Cultural history twists itself into meaning.

When you talked to me initially about this show I was curious about what it meant for you, and you suggested it was more like the capacity to look at everything (animate and inanimate?) as equal. As if you could remove yourself from complex cognition, to strip down, to bare the essential qualities of things in the act of seeing. There is something quiet in the act of looking at objects like this, I’m trying to enter your position and look at the table I am sitting at now through your perspective, I look at the joints, the surface, the flatness, its use, common traits to the table in my room, in your room. Where are you sitting?

Daniel Petraitis: In response to the last paragraph. There is something innately pleasing in the act of looking very closely at things as they are. I think that is true. But, I also think that everything that surrounds an object defines it or reinforces its meaning. Maybe this is a stupid comparison, but I’m sitting next to my little space heater, it’s kind of half under my desk, half up next to my left calf. In my little room my space heater means one thing, in another bigger emptier room it would be seen/used/thought of very differently.

Maybe this is obvious, like how a car in a house is not really a car anymore. I guess there is something really different about less functional objects or objects with less specific (multi) purposes. I think what I’m trying to get at is how important the placement of things is to the meanings they produce.

Have you ever been to see an art collection in storage (where most collections are)? Racks and rack and shelves of wrapped up painting and pictures and such. I toured the largest American collection of “outsider art” (whatever that means). It was in Wisconsin at a warehouse run by an heiress in the Kohler family. I can’t think of her name. Hardly anything was packed up so the objects just sat in rows and rows of pallet racking:


image found by artist on the internet

image found by artist on the internet

I felt like I was supposed to care or be interested but really the interesting thing was not the individual artworks but whole scenario surrounding them, a clean white climate controlled old factory. It was very strange.

In my own experience the things I make don’t seem to become what they are until they leave the space in which they were made. I just worked on a bunch of mirror polished stainless steel shelves for shoes and handbags. In the shop they were just sheets and rod and circles. They didn’t really become what they are until they hung in a window and a handbag got dropped on them. Anyway… It feels kind of fucked up in some way. You know?

A: Dan, I am taking that image of the storage room with me. Statues veiled in plastic, stacked canvases, a sense of non-value, or a value that only gets actualized through placing. So I’m imagining this text in someone’s hands now (or on a screen), they can look up at your works, which were in your studio a few days prior, and think of them when they were steel circles, bound, bent, coming-into-being art objects. I don’t want to diverge into the rather boring terrain of the white cube making the object ‘art’, but rather into cunning. How these objects make you believe they are art, how the shelves for shoes and bags you made fool us into being shelves. Today I heard Paul Chan say that the best works ‘take you for a ride’.

In a sense then the whole system of objects is solidly based in belief as well as purpose. A shelf can be a shelf, or it can become an uncomfortable seat, or part of a lemonade stand, it can become expensive, it can become trash, the line is arbitrary, paper-thin and produced by belief. In this sense purpose is not objective, it is not rational (yet I am fascinated by how it always feels like it is); purpose is the object’s (or our) mission. Yet in truth no object has a mission, only the one we declared for it. So in many ways equality is based in a shared belief that such a thing exists, has existed or has yet to come into being, and that it serves a purpose. How do your objects speak to that? Also, I remember talking about a stone…

p.s. and thank you for sending me that link, it reminds me of the fact that you have always created a role for me that’s removed from your very material reality, i.e. from knowing what ‘pallet rack beams’ are. It’s a safe and comfortable distance for both of us I suppose.

D: The white cube does help make the art but it’s boring. “How these objects make you believe they are art” YES. You pretty much summed up what I’ve been thinking. I particularly like the word ‘mission’ and the fact the no object has one, it feels pretty factual.

About a stone: A small stone has almost no baggage, no pretext, no fixed meaning. I suppose all you can do with it is pick it up and move it. You can throw it or place it somewhere but that’s about it. I large stone could have a function, a stone house, a stone wall, a stone fortress, headstone. But a rock smaller than a watermelon, I don’t know, I guess it could be a doorstop. Maybe it’s just me, but I think throwing is the most common use of a stone. At least in my world you never want to leave loose bricks or rocks in front of your house. There is only one place they will end up, which is through a window. I guess I need to find a good stone.

You think?

p.s. So my brother pointed out recently that things always seem to fall apart right before I have a show. At least for the last few years. I get over worked and under slept, I let things slide end up in unfortunate situations. I never saw this pattern but now I can’t not be aware of it. This whole process of working this job three days a week then turning around and getting through my work for the next four is a little bit frightening. I am trying so hard to be careful with my mind and body. I’d like to get through one whole year without taking any steps back. This year I am going to break the cycle

A: I think this goes back to the title of this show; Equal Hand, which seems to me to be embodying two distinct yet related ideas: one is the equality implied in all objects, objects without a mission, stripped of their mission, objects that refuse their mission, objects that don’t have a mission yet, objects which have their mission changed; and the other reference is being dealt an ‘equal hand’ in life.  Constantly confronting the notion that one has been dealt an ‘unequal hand’ may drive one to give a loose rock a mission: going through a window. I am sitting in a Brooklyn library, almost everyone here is talking to themselves, staying warm, no one is really reading. One guy walked in a few minutes ago and started repeating ‘America rapes’ over and over. So I think I’ll wrap things up a little, as you would say. Being dealt an equal hand.


Adelita Husni-Bey (Italy, 1985) is an artist whose practice involves the analysis and counter-representation of hegemonic ideologies in contemporary Western societies. Recent projects have also focused on re-thinking radical pedagogical models within the framework of anarco-collectivist studies. Solo shows include: White Paper: The Land, Beirut (in Cairo), 2014, Il Principe, la Classe e lo Stato, Galleria Laveronica, 2014, Playing Truant, Gasworks, 2012 . She has participated in Really Useful Knowledge, Reina Sofia museum, 2014, Utopia for Sale?, MAXXI museum, 2014, Jens, Hordeland Kunstsenter, 2013, Meeting Points 7, MuKHa, 2013, 0 Degree Performance, Moscow Biennial 2013, Mental Furniture Industry, Flattime House, 2013, TRACK, S.M.A.K museum, 2012, Right to Refusal, 2012, Bregenz Kunstverein. She has recently completed the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York and will be presenting chapter II of ‘White Paper’, a project based on the analysis of the changing face of legislation in relationship to private ownership, at CasCo (Office for Design Art and Theory- Utrecht), in the spring of 2015. 

To download a PDF version of this essay, click Husni-Bey_Petraitis_March_2015



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