An Interview by Randall Forte
Meet Eva Di Orio and John Mortensen, co-owners and directors of Soft Machine Gallery, located at 725 N. 15th Street in Allentown. I met this dynamic couple during the West End Alliance Oktoberfest in 2011and was impressed that they had set up a pop-up gallery in a bus to introduce themselves to the community. I was delighted they agreed to an interview.
Randall: What prompted you to open an art gallery in Allentown?
Eva: I moved here from Philadelphia in May of 2010 and found myself to be in a bit of culture shock. I lived in Philadelphia for nine years and saw that city really transform into a more culturally vibrant place with many galleries, restaurants, and a great deal of interesting things to do. I wanted to open an art gallery in Philadelphia; but then I met John and he convinced me to move to Allentown. We saw how much more a gallery seemed needed here.
Randall: What challenges are you facing in this economy and how are you meeting them?
John: We actually want to try to change people’s habits of going to Target, etc., and buying art and home decorations that are made in China, when they can be supporting someone locally and be involved in a more personal exchange. Owning a piece of artwork provides a story and a conversation with you, the artist, the community, and everyone who encounters the piece of artwork. We want to present art that is challenging, relevant, and at a high level, but also bring it to people who haven’t been exposed to the art world very much. With time and exposure, we hope the idea of going to a gallery becomes a more common practice for everyone. We both have part-time jobs and we rent a reasonably priced space. We ask for donations for beverages, etc., during openings and recently started a performance space (for music, performance art, poetry, book readings, etc.), which will hopefully add some revenue.
Randall: How did you choose the gallery’s name?
Eva: I thought of Soft Machine late one night. I was thinking about how things just keep running nonstop, like a machine—we’re constantly competing and trying to stay on course and often get lost. I find it important to take time to reflect and that is what art is about—it’s the softness. Art represents the heart and mind and reminds us of our doubts and our pain, our hesitations. It questions, it celebrates, it announces, it pushes, soothes, and encourages; it’s a place of reflection and imagination. It is the human part of the “machinery” of living.
Randall: What are the criteria you use to select an artist or curate a show?
John: We want to find work that talks about beauty; something well crafted or intentionally crafted; work that has a new perspective (could be shocking or surprising); work that continues to challenge the idea of how art is put together (new media, materials); art that challenges our expectations, is touching and moving emotionally, and speaks about contemporary life. We do not have any particular criteria in regards to background or education. We are aiming to exhibit local artists as well as regional and, hopefully, national and international artists.