It takes ten staff members to gingerly install each nasturtium plant in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s magnificent courtyard. “The vines are up to 20 feet long,” explains Stan Kozak, the museum’s chief horticulturist. “So, it’s like a bridal procession, with one person taking the pot and everyone else carrying a section of the plant with arms out. We walk from the truck, up the stairs into the museum, and then slowly hang them over the third-floor balconies.”

For Bostonians, the annual appearance of the 20 nasturtium plants every April is the first sign that spring is on its way. Propagated from cuttings of the preceding generation or germinated from new seeds starting in June, then coddled through the winter in the museum’s greenhouses in nearby Hingham, the vines with their extravagant vermilion flowers only alight for three short weeks. Their brief, dazzling appearance, like the rest of the beloved museum’s flora, has been Stan Kozak’s work for his entire career.

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Photo: Sean Dungan/Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

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Namsa Leuba is an unapologetic thief. “I take what I want from each culture and each thing that I experience in my life,” she says. Indeed, the photographer has made a lifelong habit of syncretism—hand-picking traditions and practices from every society, religion, place, or person that her quick-witted lens encounters. Her compositions are cleverly conjured deceits grounded, at least for now, in the heart of Africa. Each image plunges the eye into an imagined world while evoking the commanding feel of photojournalism. This is docufiction at its trickiest with exaggerated voodoo rituals, invented acts of statuette worship, and tattooed acrobatic spirits plodding through the tall grass on stilts.

Born in Switzerland to a Swiss father and a Guinean mother, Leuba studied photography at ECAL, the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, and currently splits her time between Africa, Europe, and French Polynesia. At the moment she works in the garden of her rented bungalow in Tahiti, pumping Pink Floyd into the trees for laidback vibes. When we spoke over Whatsapp, Leuba had been trekking through the Andes for days and had just arrived, totally exhausted and with banged-up legs, at a little hotel in Lima. Her grandmother had passed away just before the trip began, but navigating dangerously narrow passes with her head (literally) in the clouds had helped Leuba to slowly make sense of things.

When European photographers trudged through West Africa with their clunky cameras in the 19th century, their contrived documentary shots of “the natives” were often used as a tool for proving African primitivism and consequent justification for colonial domination. But in reality, many of these images were staged to deceptively portray Africans as white Europeans wanted to see them: as savage, weak, exotic, and backwards. Leuba critically responds to this history by creating her own staged portraits, forcing viewers to question personal perceptions of fact versus fantasy.

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Image: Courtesy of Namsa Leuba and Art Twenty One Lagos

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With the rise of trendy co-working spaces like The Wing and WeWork in recent years, the benefits of such environments have come to the fore. While these companies promise opportunities for networking, career advancement, and off-the-charts idea exchange (not to mention stylish digs), compelling research has found that the people frequenting co-working spaces—like freelancers, entrepreneurs, and remote employees—experience enhanced creativity.

But can the same creative benefits be felt when artists share a studio? You might think the answer is yes, but it’s not always the case. Shared studios can help enhance creativity, but only if the artists are frequently interacting, swapping resources, and exchanging feedback.

Dr. Thalia R. Goldstein, assistant professor of applied developmental psychology at George Mason University, has noted that under the right circumstances, the benefits of coworking spaces can also be felt by artists sharing a studio, by virtue of the fact that it fosters collaboration, as well as the “freedom and time to engage with others,” she said.

Multiple research findings back up this notion. At the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the first phase of an ongoing study on co-working spaces (chaired by Dr. Gretchen Speitzer, Dr. Peter Bacevice, and Lyndon Garrett) found that the freedom to think and create independently, with self-defined opportunities to join in community, led to a heightened sense of achievement. (The study surveyed descriptions of several hundred co-working spaces in the U.S. and Europe and interviewed their members.)

To test out how this theory applies to art studios, we spoke to four different pairs of artists who have shared workspaces for various reasons in recent years. Though distinct in their careers, these artists found that their working arrangements made a profoundly positive impact on their respective practices.

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Image Credit: Francis Upritchard, Purple Urn, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery. Pots runs at Anton Kern Gallery in New York City through 30 June, 2018.

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“Are we going to celebrate the last barrel of oil that leaves the region or are we going to despair?” Jalal BinThaneya’s photography relentlessly poses this same question from conflicting angles as he trawls cannibalized industrial landscapes of the United Arab Emirates for answers.

Classifying himself as “an accidental artist,” BinThaneya fell into a serious practice entirely by chance when in 2013, he looked on as workers began to unceremoniously demolish the historic watchtower on Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port. Built in the 1970’s as the export of petroleum reserves supercharged Dubai towards globalization, Sheikh Rashid famously held meetings in the stronghold during the 90’s. At first, BinThaneya stood by with hands clasped together as though paying his respects to the dead. “That’s a piece of our history just gone” he thought, fiddling with the iPhone in his starched white pocket. “So I began snapping hundreds of photos.”

He has gone on shooting to understand—and even at times— to provoke ever since. ‘Industry,’ an ongoing series, gains rare access to, examines and contrasts obsolete and active refineries, pipelines, and oilfields. By making dormant industrial ghosts his subjects, Bin Thaneya aims to jolt viewers into an awareness of how oil is synonymous with material culture, added to everything from nail polish to aspirin, water pipes, and asphalt roads. Like an irrepressible sugar craving he says, “we are hungry for it but don’t realize. Everything would come to a standstill without industry. We can’t live without it.”

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Image Credit: Ahmed Mater, Courtyard of Paradise, 2012. From the Deserts of Pharan series. Courtesy of the artist and Tribe

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