Kara Hearn and Barb Smith on their duo show at Grizzly Grizzly
Wit chats with Kara Hearn and Barb Smith, two NYC-based artists who currently have a duo exhibition on display at Grizzly Grizzly. The show, Present Perfect Continuous, features the video work of Hearn and the sculpture of Smith. Tune in to find out how this exhibition came to be, how Kara views the power of her work, and how Barb imparts memory into her pieces. Catch the exhibition before it comes down on February 2, 2020. Grizzly Grizzly is located at 319 N. 11th Street, 2nd Floor.

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Kara Hearn (left) and Barb Smith (right). Photo courtesy Wit López, edited by Morgan Nitz.
Kara Hearn (left) and Barb Smith (right). Photo courtesy Wit López, edited by Morgan Nitz.

In this 32-minute First Friday episode of Artblog Radio, Wit speaks with Kara Hearn and Barb Smith about their first collaborative exhibition together, Present Perfect Continuous. Both multidisciplinary artists, Hearn and Smith works embody the multiplicitous nature of both of their practices. For this display, Hearn will be showing video work and Smith will have several sculptures on view. The two explain some of the through lines in their work, like magic and the mundane. Many thanks to the folks at Grizzly Grizzly for making space for the recording of this podcast episode.

Barb Smith & Kara Hearn, Present Perfect Continuous, December 6th, 2019-February 2nd, 2020

You can listen to Artblog Radio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thank you to Kyle McKay for composing Artblog Radio’s original podcast intro and outro! Thanks to Morgan Nitz for excellent photo and audio editing.


Wit López: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Artblog radio. I’m your host for today, Wit López, and I’m super excited to be sitting in 319 North 11th street. If you’re familiar with this building, it’s where Grizzly Grizzly is located. Grizzly grizzly is a gallery in North Philadelphia.
I’m sitting with Kara Hern and Barbara- Barb Smith. Excuse me… I’m over here making up names. (laughter) Barb Smith, who are having a duo show in the gallery at Grizzly Grizzly called “Present Perfect Continuous.” Welcome to the show.

Kara Hearn: Thank you!

Barb Smith: Thank you!

Wit López: No, thank you. So first of all, the two of you are both from New York, right? One from Brooklyn, one from Queens.

So what brought you to having a show in Philadelphia?

Barb Smith: Well, I guess it was, um, Amy Hicks, and Phillip, um, contacted me about, um, doing the show at Grizzly Grizzly and they, um, had mentioned Kara’s work to me and sent me a couple of Kara’s videos and then they proceeded to kind of have a conversation. Karen and I met in person, talked about ideas for the show and our sort of overlapping concerns. I guess, and then everything happened from there.

Wit López: That’s amazing. So that’s, that’s really cool.

Barb Smith: Completely organic, like one of those things that you really like to have happen when you’re an artist, I think.

Kara Hearn: Yeah. Yeah. Totally. Yeah. And it seemed like they were like waiting for the right pairing.

Barb Smith: Yeah.

Kara Hearn: For both of us. Talking about. Our work, you know, showing our work and were just waiting for the right pairing.

Barb Smith: I think it’s a nice pair.

Kara Hearn: Yeah.

Barb Smith: I feel good about it.

Kara Hearn: Yeah, me too!

Wit López: Oh, that’s so nice. That’s really exciting. I feel like as an artist, sometimes it’s difficult to find someone whose work you can pair with, especially because the two of you kind of work in two separate media.

Right. So. Barb, you’re a sculptor and Kara, you’re a video artist, right? Or am I getting this… Okay. (laughter)

Barb Smith: Yeah, we both work with m– I mean, Kara works with materials in her video in a similar way that I work with them, um, in physical space, I guess, to make objects and things. So it made a lot of sense, I think.

Kara Hearn: Yeah, definitely.

Wit López: That’s really wonderful. So what kind of materials do the two of you work with? Or each of you?

Kara Hearn: Um, well, video primarily, but in the, in the videos I seem to be attracted to like rocks, flashlights, paint sticks, string, yarn, um, water, salt. I don’t know. There’s sort of these elemental things that kind of show up in my work again and again Clay. Yeah.

Barb Smith: Yeah. I, uh. Always tend to, one of the foundational materials that I always use is memory foam, which is like the bedding material, um, partly for its associations with the bed. And then also because of how it holds the body and how it forgets. It’s like called memory foam, but it actually forgets you in a second and you up off of it, so. (laughter)

So I, I wanted to, um, find a way to break it. Which is how I started working with it, but it always appears in my, um, whatever I’m doing. And then, um, in the show, there’s also like a cast silicone piece and, um, some dust and bronze shins and maybe some ceramic pieces. See how it all comes together.

Wit López: That sounds amazing. So you said you break memory foam.

Barb Smith: Yeah.

Wit López: Are you open to explaining, (laughter) explaining that one?

Barb Smith: I, um, I conduct a wrestling match with the material, which, uh, which involves like, um-

Wit López: That’s amazing.

Barb Smith: -Uh, using a resin to… resin in the memory foam, and then I impress myself onto it. And whenever I do that, I have to hold my position for about 45 minutes. So it’s like this uncomfortable. Endurance test in a way, and I always think it’s going to fail. There’s always a moment where fail, fail, fail. It’s okay. Has it failed?

Kara Hearn: Has it failed?

Barb Smith: It has failed. But sometimes when it fails, I rip it up and use parts for other things.

So like it can always generate other work. But that material in particular for some reason for me, but yeah, so there is one memory foam piece in the show.

Wit López: Wow. So it’s not just sculpture, but it’s also part performance.

Barb Smith: Private performance. (laughter) Yeah. I sometimes tried to figure out if a public performance can happen, but I haven’t quite figured out how that works for me.

But yeah, there’s an awful lot of like playing and private performance stuff that happens in my studio. And then you see the remnants of it.

Wit López: That’s really cool. That’s super cool. So Kara, your work. You mentioned yarn, which I’m a huge fan of stuff.

Kara Hearn: It’s good stuff.

Wit López: It really is. It’s really awesome. It’s like, how do you take this string and turn it into an entire, whatever you’re turning it into?

Um, but so how is it. A part of your work, your video work?

Kara Hearn: Yarn specifically?

Wit López: Or just all the materials you make, the clay, the rugs.

Kara Hearn: Um, I think I really resonate with the idea of private, private performance. (laughter) Um, I think, uh, so I do, I basically create these sort of mundane, absurd rituals using the materials.

Wit López: Amazing.

Kara Hearn: And, um, yeah, so I for the work we’re showing here, there’s like some of these overhead shots and, um, and it’s basically my hands just in the frame doing stuff that I think, I think would… I’m always thinking about is all the, like the many things that people do to make themselves feel okay in the world.

And that meaning like rituals or like weird habits or, you know, even like spiritual practices or whatnot. And, um, and I’m kind of like. Have one foot in a sort of skeptical land and one foot in a like, maybe, maybe this, maybe this, this something? Maybe it’s doing something. Um, so yeah, so I’m, so I’m kind of like manipulating them and you know, holding that stuff in and out, but it’s, it’s basically like a ritual.

Wit López: I love that. I really love that. What made you choose ritual as something to represent in your work?

Kara Hearn: Um, well, I grew up Catholic. I think that there’s something deep there. I found that, um, but also I, I started, I re- I was, this might be a long winded answer, but

Wit López: That’s okay. Give us all the wind.

Kara Hearn: So I read this book years ago called “The Denial of Death.” Um, have either of you read that?

Wit López: No, but I’m going to write that down.

Kara Hearn: It’s from the, it’s from the 70s, and it’s like a Philosopher, Psychologist, Sociologists, who- and he’s kind of talking on a big macro level, but, um- about like, that everything that humans create is meant to distract us from the, it’s a very like, intense reality that we will all one day to cease to exist.

And, um, and you know, it’s that, or you’re like engaged in like in an immortality project, like trying to connect to something that will… To keep you, you know, make you feel like you’re gonna continue after you after your death in some way. Um, and so I, so I think I started that kind of blew my mind and this way, like, thinking about that.

And then I started thinking about it on a macro level. Like, what are, what are all the things we do to like self-soothe and to like. Like, especially in this current political climate and just the world, but where we are now, like all of these, like what is all this sort of like self care rituals that we do to try to like, um, basically stay sane and take care of ourselves.

And you know, and for me it’s always very personal, like dealing with anxiety or depression or, or other things that the other people I know are struggling with.

And. Kind of like putting on display, like the ways we try to like contain and control those things. And the ways so that we succeed, and the ways that we fail at the same time.

And I love that kind of like the coexistence of those things. It kind of working and kind of not great.

Wit López: Wow. That’s really, I love that. I really, really love that. That’s amazing.

Barb Smith: It’s almost like it’s like self care before capitalism gets a hold of it (laughter) or like an antidote.

Kara Hearn: Yeah. Capitalism. (laughter) Yeah. Yeah. Totally.

Wit López: No, I love that. It’s very sobering sorta thing to think about, right? And kind of a way to like- not just think about self care as a ritual but also think about like self archiving, I would say. Kind of is this idea of like all the things that you do to continue on after you expire.

So that’s, that’s really, Hmm. I’m going to be sitting here thinking about this a lot now, (laughter) but I appreciate that. That’s really cool.

So you talked about the mundane as well. So how does that play a role in the rituals that you’re portraying in these, uh, in these videos?

Kara Hearn: I mean, I think, I think it’s the, it might be my… Delivery, like there’s nothing, it’s very dead pan. And a little, like Amy was saying, it’s a little awkward, um, the way everything’s happening. And so in some ways it feels to me like, like I’m using stuff that’s pretty much like in your house and available and it feels almost like cooking would feel, like as casual as that.

But with, you know, with these sort of like. Greater aspirations, I guess. Does that the answer that?

Wit López: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. (laughter) So when you say greater aspirations, what do you mean by that?

Kara Hearn: I think it’s the like, so there’s “The Denial of Death” side, but then there’s like this other side of me that like really believes in magic and, um, and that there’s like…

Some sort of order and organization beyond our current understanding of things that the, um, where these sort of like- where if you make something physical or even in your brain, like you can kind of like change something. On some energetic level or something. Um, so I think in my, yeah, I think I’m always trying to do that in my work and, and it doesn’t ever feel like that when I’m doing it, Maybe you [Barb] feel the same way, but like the actual act of making the videos like doesn’t feel like a sacred thing.

But I think the, like the finished videos almost feel like a, ritual object.

Barb Smith:Yeah. Like when you get to s- when it’s formalized, when you get to step back from it and you see what you did.

Kara Hearn: Yeah.

Barb Smith: That feels like it has power. Some other power.

Kara Hearn: Yeah, but you feel, yeah…. like standing on the memory foam. That’s not doing, that’s not, you’re not getting anything from that.

Barb Smith: (laughter) I’m very, I mean, I mean, there’s the endurance thing. Yeah. Well, that’s like, I feel like that’s a bit more about, well, in the moment it feels like about being in my body, which I think in like daily life, especially in New York, is sometimes hard to do. In a physical way.

Which then creates a different way of paying attention. In general, for me, anyway. Um, and there’s something about like bringing things that I’ve made into a space that I haven’t been in before, like Grizzly Grizzly, and then looking around for like the special things about the space to interject those- um- my objects into that space, and then kind of draw attention to something.

That feels like a bit of beauty and magic. I like doing that too. Yeah.

Kara Hearn: Yeah. Like letting it put itself together.

Barb Smith: Yeah. Like I’m like, I’m letting, I’m paying, I’m paying attention, which is some short, again for like the universe is sending me messages in which I am paying attention and listening and like.

I’m saying something back. Yeah. But not verbally. Yeah. Yeah.

Kara Hearn: I’m into that.

Wit López: I love this. I’m into it also. I like how this took like a little metaphysical, little metaphysical bend. (laughter) I love it.

So, in that vein, um, you mentioned, and I’m, I’m, uh- Why am I pointing as if people can see who I’m pointing at?

Kara, you mentioned that the actual thing that you’re doing isn’t. The thing that kind of holds the power, but it’s the power, the power exists once the object or the video is finished. Then the finished product is imbued with power.

So in my mind, what I was thinking of, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Nkisi, which are a, they’re an African object, African cultural object from the Congo Basin and there they can be like a person.Right? Just like a wooden person.

But then each time somebody needs something or somebody has a prayer or a concern or something, they hammer a nail or a piece of glass into it. So by itself, it’s a wooden person. Right. Or wooden shape or something. But it’s not until people start to hammer their concerns into it, people start to put the glass into it- and also some of them have a container on them where like, uh, a poultice can be put inside or something that’s magical, right? That’s holding more magic can be put inside of it- and so when you mentioned that, like the process is not where the magic is, but the finished product is what has that power?

It made me think of that, because it’s like, it’s the same thing with the Nkisi where it’s like. This wooden thing, right, this wooden person or this wooden statue is not by itself, is not what has the power. It doesn’t have the power until it’s blessed with the power or with the poultice inside of it. The herbs, or the whatever goes inside, but then also when people come with their concerns.

So I, I appreciate that you brought that up. Like that was, it was like one of those art history moments in my brain. I was like, Oh, there’s other things like this, but I love that your work is like that, like the finished product is where you feel the magic exists. That’s really cool.

Barb Smith: I love the idea of it being, of it being like a bunch of different people’s concerns. That sounds really powerful. Is it like different people coming to the same one and they’re hammering?

Wit López: Yep. Yeah. Like a whole town, a whole tribe, folks can just come to hammer their concerns into it.

So yeah, it’s, yeah, like if you see one that’s been, uh, fully used, it looks almost like a porcupine. Like it’s just like on every side, it’s filled with nails and pieces of glass, and sharp objects that had been hammered into it. Oh yeah.

Barb Smith: I think I’ve seen one. I’ve seen it well only with nails, but they have them with glass and stuff.

Wit López: Oh, definitely. I think there’s a, I think there’s a couple in the Penn Museum at their, uh… so if you’re in the city a little longer than just for your show, feel free to stop by down by the University of Pennsylvania to their museum. They think they have a few on display. So that’s really awesome.

Kara Hearn: Yeah, I mean it, that reminds me of something that Barb was talking about about. Did you say embodied? or maybe…

Barb Smith: That seems like a word I would say. (laughter) Yeah.

Kara Hearn: I think that’s another aspect of it. And with this new work, I was thinking about that a lot cause I’ve been, I work at a, in a college and think about pedagogy a lot and have been reading this book about mindfulness and anti oppression pedagogy and um, and the whole. I don’t know. This one is one chapter that really stuck out to me is, is all about like the- How. Um, hold on. Let me try to formulate this…. oh shit. (laughter)

Oh, like the, the, the, that- that we can’t be dominated if we’re connected to our bodies and to each other. And so I love the… and I think I’ve been thinking about that with like this action and this sort of like embodiment of some sort of like mental shift that needs to happen. Um, and also like the community aspect of that and like being connected to one another.

Wit López: That’s beautiful. So do you feel that you put mindfulness as a practice into what you’re doing when you’re making the process for these videos?

Kara Hearn: I try to, I don’t know how, I mean, this was the thing, like I don’t feel like I am mindful when I’m doing it. But I’m, but there’s a lot of like breathing and the, you know, there’s a lot of things that are, are designed to encourage mindfulness.

But I think when I’m actually making them, because I’m shooting and, you know, there’s a lot of trying to remember what I’m doing next and stuff. I’m not like super present in the moment, but I think it, I think it comes through in the final thing. I hope that’s, I hope,

Barb Smith: I mean, there’s also a lot of repetition. Which is a way to meditate.

Wit López: True. It there repetition in your work, Barb?

Barb Smith: For sure. I don’t know. I mean, in this particular, um, iteration of things, there’s, um, like there’s some. Um, little air drag clay, like squares that I made, which looked like miniature dye, which I applied to the piece as if I was throwing down a handful of dye, but I made them all, I was listening to a podcast on depression actually, that was like, I was like, I need to do something with my hands… (laughter) and now I will make these cubes, because that was what felt appropriate in that moment.

So, but it was like this. It’s a rec- It becomes a record of listening. Whether anybody knows that that’s what it is. It doesn’t necessarily, they don’t need to, but that’s what it is for me. Um, and then there’s, there’s a lot of like, like cups and, um, different forms that will repeat like craft- Like, I think like part of my practice has a lot to do with craft processes and there’s a lot about repetition and, um, procedural ways of working that I find very meditative. In, in craft in general. And then its relationship to sculpture is a whole other layer like that I like to… try to deal with in some way.

Wit López: So that’s really cool. So the, the title of the show is “Present Perfect Continuous.” Is that part of like, Hmm… Is that kind of embodying your practice?

Barb Smith: It’s, um, I mean, partly, I’m trying to remember how we arrived at that exactly, but I, I feel like I, um, I think a lot about language and communication and, um, specifically I think sometimes experiences that one might have that you can’t put into words very easily, that you still want to try to communicate.

Um, and, and because of that, I think that I, um. I dunno, we were, I was looking at some like, um, grammar terminology and then we got together and had a discussion about it. And I think the thing that is nice about that title is that it involves like all kinds of time. So it’s past, present, future. Like everything is like happening. Um, and that’s, that was why we, we chose it

Cause it’s, it’s like my, you know, my work has a lot to do with memory. So I’m, I’m looking back, but I’m also looking forward, um, at other things, and then I’m trying to be present. It’s like all of that is happening.

Kara Hearn: And it also has the component of like, that, that an action that has until now continuously done, (laughter) there’s a better way to say that, but yeah. But yeah, I like the, there’s something sort of desperate.

Barb Smith: Yeah. It’s like “I’m trying, I’m trying, keep going!”

Wit López: Yeah. I love that. I really, I really, really do. Uh, I’m, I’m very excited to see your show when it’s up. Um, because I love how the two of you are weaving this kind of story together that includes like magic, and mindfulness, and ritual and, you know, and material culture. Um, but also, like I mentioned early, kind of like the self archiving too, right? Cause you, uh, Barb, I’m pointing at Barb currently (laughter) I gotta stop doing that.

So you mentioned that your work, uh, has memory aspects to it. So you mentioned the memory foam earlier, but are there other aspects of your work that also embodying memory?

Barb Smith: Yeah, I mean, I, I’m, I’m really drawn to, um, materials that are very responsive to touch. Um, and so I make things like, um, lead baskets, where I’ll take sheet lead, make my own tubing and then weave a basket.

And that stuff is like flopping around. Again, it’s like this, there’s like a struggle element in my work as well, which sometimes is like more overt than others. But, um, as I weave the basket, the basket twist and follows me around and it, has that memory to it.

Um, so, so there are ways in which, like a process I use or the way that I handle a material, um, is, it’s like stuck in there. And it has that memory to it. Um, and so there’s that. And then there’s also like things that I might be attracted to, um, that I want to pick up on the street because it reminds me of something, um, very abstractly from my childhood or something like that. And I’ll take it back to the studio and let it sit there and sort of like accumulate studio, um, energy until it makes sense for it to go into something else.

So there’s, there’s a lot of time, like slow slowness is important.

Wit López: Absolutely. Absolutely. So you mentioned memory and how your objects kind of, uh, hold onto the memory because you choose objects that, or you choose materials that are responsive to touch so that they end up holding things. So that means that people who come in later can also kind of step into that memory with you.

Barb Smith: Yeah.

Wit López: A little bit. I mean, they won’t know what you did to get to that point, but they’ll be able to step into like a portion of your memory or the memory experience.

Barb Smith: That’s what I try for. Like, I try generally to have something- like if I do an installation that has a lot of objects in it, I always try to have an entry point that’s like a common entryway, like a, um… like a mass produced recognizable object.

Like the one that comes to mind right now is that I had like this like. I had bought like this lot of ballerinas, like a little plastic ballerinas. Cause I was thinking about like this jewelry box that I had and I was a kid, and about ballet is like the only thing I ever quit, and I like couldn’t handle like how girly it was, and like all this like stuff. And I felt inadequate and then like “What’s wrong with me? I can’t do the ballet thing!”

And then, so I bought all these, I bought all these classic ballerinas and they were all the same except for this one ballerina. And it was the most beautiful ballerina. It’s like paint was flaking off, you know? And that was like in the this one show. And that was like the entry point where it was like, Oh, there’s a ballerina. And then there’s like the “Nike of Samothrace” sculpture, which is like kind of related. And then there were some other materials like. Pink, like I bit into a bunch of pink wax, but it related back to the ballerina.

It’s like, like, I don’t know, I try to give like a doorway in to the world that’s being created where there’s enough recognizable things that one might be able to start making associations even if they’re not like my specific associations, but it’s a little bit like a dollhouse or something like, like I’m like an abstract sculpture making a doll house with cubes and rectangles and like the random ballerina. I don’t know. Something like that (laughter)

Wit López: So amazing.

Barb Smith: Sometimes. Not always (laughter)

Wit López: That’s amazing. Um, it brings to mind for me, kind of, um, I don’t know if you read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved?”

Barb Smith: Yes. I love that book, oh my god.

Wit López: I do too. It’s so good.

Barb Smith: That book is genius.

Wit López: Right. It really is. In, in part of the book Setha talks about re-memory. Where like stepping into like a space kind of like brings back the memory of that space, even if you weren’t the person who, whose memory it was originally.

And so I like that you’re talking about how like you’re associating things with like things that other people can recognize so that even though they’re not… going to step into your memory, it might trigger a memory for them when they encounter it in the space.

So I like that. Like I really liked that idea, like that’s really cool because it kind of brings in like this performance aspect for the audience to! Where like, you know, you did this performance that we don’t see right, (laughter) this, this private secret performance, but then later when folks come in, like they’re also, they get to perform themselves in the space too.

Barb Smith: I actually love watching people look at those things. Like it is so good. They’re like down there like looking, and pointing, and kids always want to touch, you know? Cause it’s like, little balls, or little cubes or like.. and it’s great, I think! IIt’s like they’re connecting into it on some level and every once in a while someone will come up to me and say something. Or they’re like, Oh, this reminds me of that. Or this reminds me of this moment in my life. You know? That’s like perfect. The best.

Wit López: Wonderful. I’m very excited. I don’t know if you can tell since I’m nerding out about like both of your practices.

This is a really exciting show. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. And also being able to kind of weave together the parts that, uh, that I see that are reminiscent of the others’ work in the others’ work, if that makes that sentence even made sense.

But yeah, since you both, you both mentioned things, a lot of concepts that are very similar in your work, so I would love to see how your work bridges those gaps.

So I’m very excited. Very, very excited. Um, so this show is running from December 6th this Friday to Sunday February 2nd in 2020.

Yeah. That’s wonderful. So folks have a lot of time to see it. If you’re in Philly or if you’re passing through Philly, you do not have an excuse to miss this show. It will be. (laughter)

It will be up from first Friday, December 6th until Sunday, February 2nd in 2020 so make sure you stop by Grizzly Grizzly at 319 North 11th street on the second floor to catch this show.

The opening reception is going to be first Friday, December 6th. From 6 to 10:00 PM so I’m going to ask the two of you, do you have anything planned for after this?

Anything in New York or some other random state?

Kara Hearn: Oh no… not really (laughter)

Barb Smith: It’s application season. I am working on, um, some little pieces for a show at September Gallery, which is in Hudson, New York, in the Hudson Valley. Not to be confused with upstate, apparently. Right? I don’t know. It’s sort of upstate, but people get really weird about that.

But there’s a show called “Tiny Things.” Or, I think it’s tentatively called “Tiny Things” and It’s like seven, six or seven artists making really small work, which the point of which is to get people to slow down.

Kara Hearn: That’s awesome.

Barb Smith: So that’s in February.

Wit López: Amazing. Thank you for sharing that, Barb. Well, you heard it folks. Barb’s going to have a show in the Hudson Valley and “not to be confused with upstate New York” (laughter)

But many thanks to the both of you for sharing today and for really getting down into the nitty gritty of what is behind your work. I’m super, super appreciative and I’m sure that the audience is going to be appreciative as well.

I’m really looking forward to seeing your show in person once it’s up on Friday cause I will be there and I promise this time I won’t bring a large can of nuts with me (laughter)

Barb Smith: Or do! (laughter) That’s fine!

Kara Hearn: Thank you for talking with us.

Wit López: Oh, no problem. Thank you.

And for those of you who are out there listening, you can listen to this podcast on Artblog’s website. You can also listen to it on Apple podcasts or on Spotify. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you soon. Bye y’all.

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art, artblog radio, barb smith, blog, brooklyn, grizzly grizzly, kara hearn, Memory Foam, mindfulness, performance art, podcast, queens, sculpture, video art, wrestling

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