Some art practices are best flying under the radar.
I was reminded of this when I sat down with the Portland-based, women-run art collective New Fruit — in fact, a sit-down was necessary in order to learn anything about them. The group has a modest website (selling items like prints, posters, cassettes, bouquets, and a “misc. trash option”), little activity on social media, and prefer to keep their studio space unmarked and unadvertised. (All members also opted to remain anonymous for this article.)
Obtaining physical space before digital space feels unique in this era, particularly in cities like Portland that wrestle with gentrification and rent-hike concerns. For the members of New Fruit, who work primarily with installation and performance art, space has always been essential to their ability to make work.
Group projects may begin as the brainchild of one individual, but are put through a process of collective vetting, input, and reworking. One member claimed that in some instances, it felt most important to make art for one another. A larger audience was a secondary concern.
All members work or have worked in the service industry in some capacity, so themes surrounding food, hosting, consumption, and waste recur. A current installation features an opulent dining table covered with flowers, fruit, and candles. Lace hangs from the ceiling surrounding the table and chairs, creating an intimate, inviting alcove. Close encounter with the bounty provided turns uneasy, though, as it’s revealed that the visually decadent feast is full of pitfalls — some fruits are fresh and ripe for eating, others are plastic and fake. One ornate tray holds a pyramid of luscious clementines, but sits next to a molding, rotten pepper. It’s a play on expectation and excess set among the most familiar of scenes: a full dinner table laid out for guests.
Earlier projects also caught viewers off guard, often because of the group’s relative anonymity. Sometimes this meant sending out paper invitations for a New Fruit event with little to no information included — invitees would show up without much to go on. Other times it meant creating pieces in public alleyways, where people weren’t expecting to encounter art.
The collective also has a commitment to resource sharing, particularly with artists with non-traditional practices that don’t easily fit in mainstream art venues. They recently began an invite-only visiting artist series called Rare Fruit, which seeks out female, queer, and trans-identifying individuals to create temporary installations in their studio space. A dark room and screen-printing area will also be available for use through personal recommendation. These kinds of opportunities, and the sharing of hard-won safe space, still seem best circulated through friends or by word of mouth. Controlled exposure means reaching fewer people, but for New Fruit, it also fosters a community of allies devoted to artistic risk-taking and collaboration.
New Fruit can be visited at newfruit.net