A plexus, by definition, is a network of nerves or vessels in the body, an intricate or weblike formation. Plexus is also the name of a new creative exchange located in upper Manhattan, where two 2012 Barnard graduates, Lucy Hunter and Shreya Subramani, seek to foster cultural and educational discussions outside of universities or a traditional art institutions. Free pasta and wine are mere add-ons to the vibrant discussion they hope to generate at these Plexus events.
Each Plexus event is curated around a theme, in order to have a comprehensive thread of discussion at each event. Even when the speaker finishes his or her prepared presentation, the conversation goes on spontaneously between the speaker and audience members.
The conversations at Plexus are not dependent on academic knowledge or professional qualifications. Rather, the discussion stems from the event’s theme, and audience members are encouraged to participate on an equal playing field with the speakers, Hunter, and Subramani.
Although Subramani and Hunter majored in two different disciplines—anthropology and art history, respectively—they contend that this difference brought them together. “We realized that there are so many ways we can shift the way we talk about our disciplines’ theories that can make them applicable and accessible to each other,” Subramani says.
Intrigued by the idea of interdisciplinary dialogue, Subramani and Hunter decided to combine that with their network of friends throughout the city and start hosting the cultural exchanges that would eventually evolve into Plexus. These discussions were on a university and museum level but were not constrained by the bias of an institution.
“We wanted to create a community space that could include the neighborhood as well as the student and academic community. Barnard College and Columbia University—whatever your sub-sect is—holds a lot of immediate intimidation for other people. We have all been trained to sort of express ourselves in a certain way,” Subramani says.
Hunter and Subramani wanted to host a discussion apart from the institutional discourse, by way of clear expression and interdisciplinary discussion. “We wanted to strip academic topics of their exclusivity,” Subramani says. This opportunity for personal reflection within academic topics—the kind of introspection that comes from participating in an intellectual conversation without hesitation—differentiates Plexus from the typical college discussion section and panels at the Museum of Modern Art.
Artist Melodie Provenzano, a former Plexus speaker, says, “It was the hosts of Plexus ... who fostered the conversation in unique and unconventional ways, by leading the discussion after my presentation.” Provenzano presented at the fourth Plexus event, held in January 2012, alongside journalist Buster Brown, painter Michael Farmer, and musician Brett Zweiman. Provenzano currently has an exhibition of her drawings and paintings at Lyons Wier Gallery on West 24th St., open until Dec. 22.
“I accepted the invitation to present at Plexus, because it was a way to introduce myself, share my experience of living and working as an artist in New York City, and promote my solo exhibition to a community of interested people,” she says. “I think Plexus offers people interested in culture an opportunity to become informed about a diverse spectrum of people working in creative fields, who they would have little or no access to otherwise.”
When architect Henry Fok and his colleague Jesus Yepez spoke at Plexus in November 2011, the theme was the interplay of image and text in visual media. Fok and Yepez discussed the relationship between comics and architecture. At the discussion, the collaboration between Fok and Yepez went beyond their prior research, as they began bouncing ideas off one another.
“I really felt the essence of Plexus to bring together people from different areas of study or interest and to share in a dialogue even before I spoke at the event,” Fok says. “Plexus really allows everyone involved to teach to and learn from his/ her peers, in a setting that has no barriers based on level of education and really allows people to connect across disciplines.”
Fok and Provenzano’s experiences reflect the goal of Hunter and Subramani’s mission to foster a new type of creative discussion that is nonjudgmental—a space without attachment to an institution, in which intellectual conversations can thrive between anybody and everybody as part of a never-ending learning process.
Not only has Plexus allowed its speakers to reflect on their work, but it has also caused Hunter and Subramani to reflect on their post-college lives. “The university is a place for knowledge, and knowledge is power, and power is often exclusive,” says Hunter. “I always felt like a scarlet letter about being a student. I think Plexus helped me figure out how to initiate contact and form new relationships outside of what is really an excellent program, and also a very safe one.”
“My understanding of Plexus is that it is really a discussion, a ‘community gathering,’ that allows presenters to share what they are interested in, what they devote their time and thoughts to, among a group of peers,” Fok says. “Regardless of whether he or she wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the topic or know absolutely nothing on the topic of discussion, everyone is invited to join in the discussion.”