Credit: Tom Van Eynde

The nonprofit, artist-run network Tiger Strikes Asteroid has five locations across the U.S. in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Greenville, South Carolina. Their network of artists is vast, as they work to promote emerging, mid-career, and established creatives. “It feels like the first time,” a new show at Mana Contemporary in Pilsen, grazes the surface of the artists involved in the community.

Started in 2009, the roster of people connected to TSA is constantly evolving. Curators Teresa Silva and Holly Cahill do a substantial job of telling a story between the works in the way they display and situate them with one another. Typically, large comprehensive group shows tend to appear muddy—the works are disjointed and don’t have a sense of flow. That’s natural, of course, because organizing 50 individual artists isn’t an easy process. But “It feels like the first time” is cohesive and complementary as each work seems to build off of the last, either through color scheme, shape, or theme. In an exhibition this large, the artworks still seem to share a dialogue and build on one another to represent a shared sense of communication, a thread of commonality. The show also represents the network’s future and how these artistic relationships and methods of collaboration may grow together when exhibited side-by-side.

Works in the exhibition include sculpture, painting, video, drawing, photography, collage, and assemblage that touch on certain frameworks within the world (like intimacy, death, geography, and geometry). When I begin to travel around the gallery, I traverse past similar themes, color schemes, and shapes.

The large gallery space on Mana Contemporary’s fifth floor includes two rooms. The first room features various mediums of work. I’m immediately drawn to a video piece by New York’s TSA codirector, Brooklyn-based artist Daniel Johnson, entitled Simply Beautiful, 2020. A hand slowly inches its way from the left side of the video, dancing along with the music as it finally rests on the Black dildo sitting on a table in the center of the screen. The video is mesmerizing as the tension between the hand touching and not touching the dildo is amplified.

Mirroring this type of tension is Greenville TSA founder April Dauscha‘s video and physical pieces, Sash, 2020 and Ancestral Interaction (sash), 2021. For approximately one minute, the viewer watches tulle and silk with beads and thread being dragged over a person’s skin. Underneath the tulle, the viewer can see what appears to be a human body, but it’s unclear what area it is until the final reveal. The figure breathes as their body moves up and down and shadows dance on their skin.

Moving through the gallery, I see more links and bonds between the works. No Title, 2019 by Sun You includes blocks of color with polymer clay depicting a home, or physical structure with some sort of passage to look in (or look out). It’s possibly a map, or a wall from a bird’s-eye view. Regardless, I’m drawn to the choice in material that is displayed next to Vincent Como’s works, No Title, 2021, which are ballpoint pen drawings that are similarly square-shaped blocks. Reader Repository, 2017 by Suzanne Dittenber is an 8-by-12 piece made from wax—and carries on this movement of geometric square-shapes in the left back corner of the gallery. Dittenber’s work is a part of a larger series focusing on the ceramics and castings of blank books.

Once I round the back corner and make my way on to the back wall, I’m struck by the exhibition’s name-sake, It feels like the first time, 2021 by Cait Finley. Here, we see a nod towards the otherworldly aliens, also known as the grey people. Finley’s airbrushed painting looks like a tank top you buy from the beach stores on the strip—something you wear after a vacation to New Mexico, or Mars. Close by, on a pedestal, is Nichola Kinch‘s Souvenirs From the Apocalypse, 2019 where porcelain sculptures that appear like artifacts are housed underneath a plastic bubble.

It can be somewhat difficult to review shows with works from various artists. The exhibition can be too large, or too flooded with imagery, and the works don’t always coexist together. But for TSA, it’s a standout show. Each work, whether a video piece or an alligator head turning on a record player, is strong on its own. “Part of our goal was not just to mount an exhibition but to nurture the possibility for future collaborations,” say Silva and Cahill. The individual works don’t need each other to carry the show; however, as a collection, and as the voices of TSA, their collective side-by-side display illustrates the kinship of artists and curators.   v