I have this quote, pinned to top of my twitter feed and I come back to it often because it concisely explains what I hope to achieve with my art. It's my mission statement, in a way. It's by the author Junot Diaz, and it goes, "And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors." What I love about this quote is that it so brilliantly explains why I have been so electrified by his work, because a part of it reflects something deeply true and specific of my experience being half-Dominican, an immigrant and yet assimilated into modern American culture.
Fantasy is the exercise of imagination, to make visible a vision separate from reality and free from limitation. These fanciful mental images entertain children and adults alike with magical thinking. Secret personal dreams is a place where sovereign control can create fulfillment of needs and wishes. They can also manifest as a stress-induced retreat from reality, divorced from the standing realities of the world that results in never truly living in the moment. From innocent make-believe to morbid desires, fantasy encompasses it all.
In Atlanta’s most recent manifestation of the word, Fantasy is both the subject of a multimedia exhibition by five artists and the name of their loose collective. The group was born out of SOUP Experimental, which bills itself as “Tallahassee’s premier outlet for emerging artist and experimental art,” and is showing at the relatively new artist-run space Day & Night Projects. The collaboration between the two collectives will be mutually beneficial, as SOUP will be hosting Day & Night Projects in their gallery in December.
Matthew Lawrence takes fantasy down the dark and twisted road in his work All New Tuesday Night. The large banner takes on, according to the statement, “representations of abstracted celebrity archetypes as well as reveal what might be choreographed moments in domestic spaces.” Besides the title, obvious references to television or celebrity are not readily identifiable. There are three silhouettes, and out of their forehead words flow from one to another at a 45-degree angle that is demarcated in red. The words over top the red are rendered in a loose script with just enough information missing that you can’t see or really make out what it says. Like bad thoughts made visual, the cartoonish severed hands and dark intestinal squiggles give the painting an edge of vaguely murderous intent.
The worn domesticity of Home, Sweet Home speaks to the fragility of our habitats and homes not being made to last. Ashton Bird’s sculpture is a mishmash of weathered building material as if thrown away demolition debris fused in a dumpster. The work consists of a knocked over column, topped cracked Pale tile, the side revealing a sticky mesh under layer that transitions to a weather wood siding over top and mostly supported by concrete parking bollard, the gesture connected with a shredded Persian carpet. This column lays over a panel with tufts of black tar paper, plaster and concrete. Home, Sweet Home has a mortal, decaying quality from being left outside for some time, which left it with bugs stuck to the mesh along its side. The work reminds me of the variance between the way my childhood home looked like in mind versus the experience of it 20 years later.
Filling the gallery with the sound is the work Did you see them? Did you hear them? by Sierra Kramer. The whimsical work consists of four cloud-shaped puffs of pillows that beckon the viewer to lie against the wall and listen. A soothing, feminine voice tells vivid and nostalgic childhood stories with Mama Jean. Mama Jean’s way of interpreting reality infuses mundane with fantasy; moments of rain turn lizards into party animal, light spots into fairies that dance around the room and African violets that love music. One pillow’s sound is just that of ambient noise and the occasional twinkle of wind chimes and plays right into Chelsea Raflo’s work.
The Atlanta-born Raflo, who has exhibited in numerous venues across the city and southeast is working toward an M.F.A. at Florida State University. Like Kramer, Raflo’s approach to fantasy is playful, lively and childlike, presented by a series of mobile sculptures. Negotiation in Space stands out as my favorite piece in the exhibition and has the precise feel of an architectural drawing. Delicate enough to spin with the force of your breath, the mobiles are nested together to form a chandelier-like installation. Through spare geometric forms like lines, cubes and spheres, Raflo explores “the kinetic energy of suspended objects and the negotiations of balance that results in simple, elegant arrangements.” The piece is a contradictory mix of complex and airy with an effortless attention to detail.
Lucia Riffel delves into questions of, “Where does the internet go when we aren’t looking?” and the intersection of digital, physical and psychological spaces. Cloud, a term used as a metaphor for the internet, is a video of a digitally rendered room from two angles reminiscent of early 3D video games. The reflections of the mirrored walls of the room extend the ambiguous polygonal landscape, making it look bigger than it is. The words “Is this Forever?” float in front of and then pass through a round portal. This wrestles with the idiosyncrasies of a system with a permanent-seeming way of capturing ephemeral moments. It brings to mind the self-censorship that can accompany the desire to share over the internet.
Fantasy is an approach, an interpretation taken in very personal directions at Day & Night Projects. In this exhibition it becomes the lens through which the subject is manipulated into work that looks very different from its neighbor, where things like celebrity, domesticity and the internet mingle apart from reality. SOUP Experimental is only a year-and-a-half old, but the DIY Tallahassee outlet has already proven itself ambitious with a prolific exhibition schedule and collaborative ventures with spaces like Day & Night projects. This intriguing Atlanta debut by the collective Fantasy is sure not to be the last we see of them.
There is a cultural rhythm to summer that transcends school, the heat slowing down our productivity, bright nights a little more lively than usual and a restless need to get away. Swan Coach House Gallery presented a summer pop-up and seamless combination of two curatorial projects, I SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING… curated by Jordan Stubbs and summer swan songs curated by Karen Tauches. With a teen vibe and Tumblr aesthetic, re:FRESH mixes equal parts shenanigans, effortlessness and boredom — appropriate for a show about tuning out.
Peak self-care can be found in Dianna Settles’ flat but sophisticated paintings. Daria meets Alex Katz in mundane scenes: characters sit around, eat Chinese food or apply a face mask. The “cannot-be-bothered” attitude fits reductive, confident construction of the works, which is amplified by the mix of matte and gloss, which lends the painting a just finished appearance. Small specific details, like the poster of 2046 (a Hong Kong romantic drama), disappear with a bit of code switching at play that “springs from the anxieties of both loss and reclamation of identity politics.”
Like two teens crashing a pool after hours, Jane Foley and Erin Palovick’s site-specific installation Silent like a Waterfall features the two artists swimming around while wearing athleisure. The two-channel video of the swim feels voyeuristic, the camera angles switch intermittently from body cam style to underwater CCTV. At one point, the video is refracted through a cut crystal bowl, which splits into a vivid prism of green rays — a gorgeous detail of the work. The peeping Tom feeling of the piece is amplified by interaction. In order to get to the upper level of the Swan Coach House Restaurant, where this temporary installation was set, viewers must be guided through the dark by Palovick and sent up the elevator with Foley.
Interiors_1.mp4 by Saige Rowe with Skylar Rowe is meta video of a video camera. The screen doubles its subject’s movements but occasionally syncopated and moves independently to the scene in front of the camera — images of the ceiling fan, of Saige sitting in a chair, of Saige being scooted around in the chair by Skylar. The sketches are infused with a feeling of anticipation. Equally opaque is Blare LeBlonk’s (a.k.a. Gently Yoused a.k.a. Blair LeBlanc) absurd video, Maggie, Morgan, and Tyler rub lotion on their leg. Three people are stuffed in one shirt, not quite Siamese triplets, more like three children dressing up as one adult. The two arms work in blind unison to lotion up one leg on a loop. It evokes themes of peer pressure or Bunraku, but besides that, I’m not sure what to make of the triune figure.
Meredith Kooi: summer swan songs (2017).
Perhaps easiest to miss is the funfetti flecked copies of Hypersigil by NicholasGoodly, if you generally follow the rule of not touching the art in a gallery. The stack of poems, lump of crystal and essential oils initially struck me as a simple installation, but with the encouragement of the show’s image list, I took one. It is worth it to go see this show to get a copy of this poem, which is so lovely, both as poetry and the paper it is printed on, that my instinct is to frame it.The title refers to a term used to describe a feedback loop between the self and an external presence, or in this specific case, the relationship with us and patience, “a lonely hue we become / a being into a lesson learned.”
Davion Alston takes on pop culture and sexuality in Another Body of/for Work. The image of a computer screen is divided into an approximate golden rectangle, a square of it containing a photo of Kim Kardashian climbing up a pile of dirt in heels on the internet (specifically from the Kanye, Juergen & Kim photobook), the smaller rectangle is an image on a dark background of Alston reclining nude in tall grasses. The work is full of contrast: male versus female, the light grey of the Chrome browser aligned on bottom against the dark grey of Adobe (Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge?), his nudity against her impractical fashion.
Also responding to internet phenomena is Aubrey Longley Cook’s translation of memes into cross stitches. This is an interesting subject because the medium strips the memes of their punchlines and casual ubiquity. Memes were first popularized by 4chan, which also gave rise to the toxic masculine alt-right, which Cook feminizes. In re:Fresh frogs face off in a side-by-side of but that’s none of my business, the meme of Kermit drinking tea hung next to rest in Pepe, an image of a frog dissection. The frog dissection is a not specific meme but refers indirectly to Pepe the Frog, the adopted mascot of white supremacists and alt-right, to the aghast of its creator cartoonist Matt Furie, who recently killed off Pepe in an anthology for Free Comic Book Day. In response to the use of Pepe during the election, Kermit memes were paired with #ImWithKer on a play on Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “I’m with Her.”
The opening night crescendoed with two performances. First, all attendees were ushered out of the gallery space to experience a spotlit poetry reading by Goodly as he stood on the outside staircase. Each poem was marked by anointing himself with the essential oils and then sharing with the crowd once he had finished. The show’s finale was a collection of EVP (electronic voice phenomena) ghost recordings by Meredith Kooi. She unveiled the instruments, previously shrouded, some propped up on green pillows, a kind of real-life ghostbuster. Kooi engaged with the Swan Coach House over the summer to make these recordings from the building, which according to Tauches is, “Rumored to be haunted.” The electronic buzz grew like the hum of cicadas, ever louder and creepily interspersed with pips of trumpet and trombone music, and speaking.
re:FRESH hinges on taking care of oneself and getting away, even if only temporarily and in your mind. Following the election, self-care became a buzzy overnight trend as a reaction to the daily onslaught of news campaigns. It can feel both necessary and suspiciously selfish. While putting on your own gas mask isn’t wrong, it’s a matter of what comes after self-care, whether it’s compassionately caring for others or staying perilously indifferent. In the uneasy balance between self-preservation and engaging actively with the world’s struggles, re:FRESH chooses to play it safe.
The still-without-a-permanent-home MINT recently presented a satellite show at the Downtown Players Club. In Touch: A Collection of Works by Past and Present Interns is as much a show about tactile work as it is about contact. The curatorial statement notes, “Touch can be a physical connection or bond with someone or something. It can also be an intangible presence, a latent imprint left behind.” Much of the artwork is fluid, reactive, and part of the show’s success hinges on the strength of the Downtown Players Club as a space.
Sarah Nathaniel’s process-based work focuses on line as the primary element of minimal black-and-white paintings. 4 Lines, 78 Lines is made up of drips of black ink that navigate either horizontally or vertically. A difficult-to-see layer of white on white grid underneath guides the indecisive lines in a jittery fashion, like an abstract expressionist etch-a-sketch. Although the frenetic feel can seem counter to the description that her works are “the function of simple meditations,” this can be attributed to the difficulties of soothing anxiety and clearing the mind. Untitled is my favorite of Nathaniel’s, the crackled paint resembling a burnt beam, the visual statement fully resolved. This piece echoes the peeling paint of the upper portion of the main gallery space.
In contrast to the regimented rules that characterize process-based art, the work of Lacey Longino plays with visual interest. Her large paintings knit together texture and a variety of marks in an almost map-like fashion. Balancing marks weave in and out alongside brads, staples, chicken wire, the wooden stretcher support and textiles. The ruffled roll of what appears to be an armchair forming the edge of LF, NF, 1 is a surprising gesture — stitched and ripped like a boldly feminine Rauschenberg. L, T, 1A is more delicate, the large work on paper tacked to the wall and framed with a gauzy pleated edge that gently blurs the edges between drawing and painting.
Senescence Revisited by Abby Bullard is fleshy yet ethereal. Giving it some time let unfold the tiny details like delicately frayed edges and tiny copper wire stitches. The pale and wrinkled sheets of framed paper are infused with subtle washes of color, the green and lavender of veins and bruises. Like pinned insect shadowboxes, there is a bit of death and morbid curiosity in these monoprints, like pale flakes of skin carefully preserved and arranged. The work evokes Eva Hesse’s latex and rubber works as they look now, yellowing, aging and losing something.
The highlight of the exhibition is It Goes On by Savonna Nicole Atkins. The raw edges of the venue manifested in a single missing ceiling tile form a kind of tonal and dark reverse skylight in Atkins’ work, an otherwise brightly lit and saturated installation. A patchwork of fabric, thread, paint and tape, It Goes On is like a tumble of laundry picked up by a tornado. Whirling up and out of the landscape of shaggy green carpet up the sky blue walls, the work captures some of the reality of our connection in an increasingly divided world — sewn together but clashing with the thin red line of fate and chance.
Savonna Nicole Atkins: It Goes On (2017). (Photo by Keri Weiland Photography, courtesy MINT Gallery.)
In Touch is a natural sequel of the previous show, Bipartisan, a performance that produced nonrepresentational, mark-centric formal murals. This influence is partially because the end result was left partly intact but also literal in the case of Jenny Fisher’s installation. Apparitions is composed of the black-and-white rubbings made from the colorful murals of Bipartisan before they were half whitewashed into gallery walls. The scrolls are draped in a black room, forming a curtain of black-and-white stripes. This echoes the geometry of the ceiling, which has the gridded frame of a drop ceiling sans the tiles. The overall effect is a strong visual statement, but the one-way collaboration is missing information in the way empty houses hold the energy of their past but not necessarily the stories.
This is how much of the artwork settles in so synchronistically to the total environment, alluding to the transformation of building, transforming and destroying. After a year and a half of operation, it feels like the space has built up enough history to have its own dynamism beyond the quirky low budget rehab of a dilapidated dentist’s office. Unfortunately, the venue’s future iteration is uncertain given the recent acquisition of the building by developer Newport Holdings.
I made this list of mostly local, potentially obscure, unrepresented artists for a friend of mine looking for recommendations. I decided to turn my email into a blog post because I do feel very strongly about the artists and feel like you should get to know these 10 killers too.
Iman Person (organic, wormy, mystical sculptress + drawings)
Christopher Paul Dean (conceptual, construction zone semotics, wood sculptures + paintings).
Kaye Lee Patton (photo paintings with a healthy dose of texture, nostalgia & beautiful installations)
Angela Davis Johnson (figurative paintings brightly rendered in blocky forms)
Manty Dey (acrylic paint pours onto plexi that dry into a sort of plastic paper, then manipulated into drapery)
Norah Zagorski (a ceramicist that has impressed with her conceptual and technical abilities since she's still in or fresh out of school)
Vivian Liddell (just a really incredible painter who sometimes incorporates embroidery into her work)
Truett Dietz (woven collages under resin and xxxlarge paintings of neon)
Stephanie Raborn (muted floral and lettering drawing / painting on paper)
India K (she makes banners and then photographs them in her room and in the environment)
EST ARS VITAE at Poem88
Carl Honoré lays out the heart of the Slow Movement in his book In Praise of Slowness like this: “Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto — the right speed.” Poem 88’s show EST ARS VITAE (Latin for “the art of life”), fits neatly with this concept of finding an appropriate tempo to maximize quality. At the root of this exhibition is an invitation to slowly contemplate small natural forms in detail-saturated images.
Sean Abrahams’ black and white stippled “Inky Freakout 3” is the sort of drawing that I could look at forever. The psychedelic landscape has a push and pull of positive and negative space typical of optical illusions. Similarly playing with positive and negative space is Zuzka Vaclavik’s painting “HWY A1A.” The painting’s history of built-up texture achieved through a multitude of layers, underneath meticulously taped-off flat color. In a different way, Mike Goodlett achieves this contradiction of form in “untitled (sculpture).” It has the plush appearance of a soft textile work, cast in pastel toned Hydro-Stone plaster.
What makes all of the work in EST ARS VITAE so visually appealing, and why it feels so slow, is a result of marathon level of dedication to the image. At the opening, Vaclavik revealed that it took a year to finish the painting, working 30 hours a week on it. Hannah Adair estimated the total time spent on her three works at around 240 hours. Rejecting the cult of speed in favor of a felt circadian clock marked by seasons has paid off with dividends with beautifully fertile work.
FLORAL: Molly Rose Freeman and Erin McManness at Hodgepodge Coffee House & ArtGallery
FLORAL is a show of collaborative and individual work by Molly Rose Freeman and Erin McManness of Paper Raven Co. at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse and Gallery. Together, their differences coalesce in a balanced mix of precise illustration and more intuitive compositions built on abstract themes of propagation and interconnectedness. Freeman brings a lively moxie that complements McManness’s technical prowess. “Summer,” a collaborative work resembles blossoms, dividing cells and psychedelic bouquets, all at the same time.There is an analogous tension in the grid of natural and man-made ephemera around a densely filled in moon in “Things I found in the Moonlight,” another collaborative piece.
Separately, their individual work isn’t as strong, leaning on the decorative qualities of flowers as objects that beautify the environment. Freeman’s signature geometric forms become kaleidoscopic, cellular webs in works like “Moss Rose” and “What I Felt Like.” Despite the tight precision typically associated with geometry, Freeman maintains a painterly imperfection in her freeform line drawings. This stands in contrast to McManness’ flatter graphic work. Belying her illustration background, McManness’ contributions incorporate tiling patterning and inspirational quotations like, “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”
Some of the references here feel more like aesthetic choices rather than conceptual ones. For example, McManness’ “Otomi”is a beautiful flat pattern and well executed technically but Otomi isn’t an idea or a concept, it’s an indigenous ethnic group in Mexico known for their embroidery style. Overall, “Floral” aspires to attract viewers with its light aesthetic but fails to plant the right amount of depth.
Here and Now Here: Kaye Lee Patton’s MFA exhibition at Whitespec
Here and Now Here is a MFA exhibition and first solo show by Kaye Lee Patton. Presented atWhitespec, the SCAD-Atlanta student showed a collection of painting, installation and projection works influenced by retrospection and virtual reality. Essentially Patton attempts to preserve memories of experiencing place through screens, the work is composed from Facetime stills and video as a way to engage “a location halfway around the globe” (which can be interpreted as Patton’s native South Korea).
The video installation, “Snip Snap Slip – Remix,” is perhaps what I love most about the show. In it, a small pedestal holds a tiny projector, in front of which two pieces of plexiglass hang from the ceiling. Each piece of plexi is covered with holographic paper. The plexi gently rotates and bounces the video image, causing the projection to spin around the room. In turn, the viewer is left to reflect on the totality of our external environment versus the narrowness of our perception and the current limitations of our video recording capabilities (360˚ video exists, but it’s not quite perfected).
The video’s image, mostly abstract and heavily processed, echoes the low resolution of the photo transfer paintings as well as the drippy, popcorn ceiling-textured paintings. Though the paintings are overshadowed, the show is worth seeing, if only to experience this remarkable video installation that temporarily activates the gallery space into an alternate place.
Over the weekend I visited the studio of Shana Robbins with SEEK Atl. If you haven't heard of SEEK Atl, it's organized by Brendan Carroll and Ben Steele, and it's a way for artists and art afficionados to conduct studio visits outside of the academic realm. I was really excited to see Shana's studio because I've been aware of her work since ~2006-2007 when I got to see her MFA thesis show at Georgia State. Since that time her work has continued to evolve and become more complex. My favorite part of studio visits though, is seeking the work in context of the space of where it was created / lives.
We got to hear about some of her struggles being a mid-career artist in Atlanta, being called mystic barbie (and coming to terms with it) and transitioning away from her earlier career as a fashion model. Her description of her proposal that's she's currently working on for Field Experiment, a large grant from the Goat Farm was fascinating. I also found the story of her family history helped to enrich my viewing of the her work. For my part, I found her meticulously rendered spiritual self portraits diarist and reminiscent of Indian miniature painting. In the same way that a diary entry might not make total sense to someone else, her seemed full of stories that were obfuscated, somehow locked in her mind.
We also all got a cd of her music! Thanks Shana!
So first, I'm still so grateful to have been a part of the Wonderroot CSA program. If you've never heard of this program, it's modeled after the agricultural CSA boxes that come straight from the farm with fresh seasonal vegetables. How it works for the Community Supported Art program is that the artists are selected and commissioned to make works for the collectors who buy the shares, work unseen. Each artist makes thirty pieces and each collector gets one from each artist for a total of six pieces.
The writing I did for the project was more in depth than I had gone before and that was one of the strengths. I kept a google document with all the arguments I was collecting, as well as the full script that became even more edited for the paintings themselves. Keeping it online kept it nimble, and working on the writing as a whole script kept it razor focused despite the variety of sources.
The project took longer than I expected and that's because it's hard to plan for failure. I had intended to cut the pieces down to 9" x 16" and accidentally made them 9" x 15" instead. This wasn't a terrible mistake, but it did make the video process more difficult because the pieces weren't in the correct format and it was an emotionally upsetting mistake. I've since decided that Sean McCabe's principle of striving for 90% perfection rather than 100%, is the more realistic approach.
Next time, I would plan the project a bit more rigorously. When making this list, it would be important to keep each action item verb oriented, so that each step is it's own action instead of a collection of steps (because ambiguous steps hinders action). In the last few weeks I got a bit overwhelmed with the amount of work left and I ended up setting a series of deadlines for each action item. Doing this helped keep me on track to finishing my project, so I would work with a plan in place from the beginning.
Do you have any tips or tricks for getting medium to big sized projects done & done well? Tell me your stories in the comments.
I think I was wrong when I wrote in my last post,
Here's the dig, I keep thinking about stopping all this fine art output, time and effort (not to mention expenses), in favor of a more practical career in lettering or calligraphy [or video production].
After I made something for Angela Davis Johnson, a friend of mine, she sent me this email reply. Probably my favorite reaction to a thing I made to date.
I've realized that over the past year, there has been this subtle internal accusation that what I'm making isn't worth buying. If I did believe it was worth buying, then I would be asking people over and over again if they would like to buy it and there would be some confidence there, in knowing the value of what I am providing. So this realization turned into an mental trap -- that it would never be possible in my current field to know the value of what I am providing and that I would need to switch careers.
Here's the thing, my work is worth it. I've spent more than a decade drawing and painting... why should I stop now? Why should I have to change who I am to break into a career that I haven't trained for? This is why its so important to have friends and peers who can encourage you to keep going, even though it's hard. When I look at someone else's success, and feel like it diminishes my own small successes, I'm discounting all the times they kept going, even though it was hard. I'm over-valuating the walls in front of me, pretending that its impossible to find a way.
So do you have trouble with this? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.
I need to write of it, because I can't get it out of my brain. It needs to go. Curbside alert, my thoughts are bothering me. Here's the dig, I keep thinking about stopping all this fine art output, time and effort (not to mention expenses), in favor of a more practical career in lettering or calligraphy. Design of a specialized sort, basically. Which I've always thought wasn't for me, but I've since grown to rather enjoy some of the projects I've gotten to do; the menu for Tony's, the sample boards for Mosaic Art Supply, the poster for The Variety Show. Beth Malone told me the curatorial strategy for Dashboard, is that they simply curate shows around whatever they are currently excited about. Currently, I'm excited about learning how calligraphy and lettering & it seems like my work has been moving in that directions whether I was conscious of it or not.
As I mull on this idea that saying yes diminishes the quality of every subsequent yes, it seems clear to me that I need to clarify what I want to say yes to, so that the quality of my work is undiminished. I mean, clearly one of the projects isn't what I wanted it to be, bent out of shape by someone who can barely communicate with us or set a meeting. As I try things, I don't want to have to commit to doing them forever. I should be able to kill off projects that no longer suit me. I think its merely a small detour on a long path, and that I won't be able to leave fine art completely, but who knows?
I've spent so much time and energy getting back into art in the last year, that I feel a bit drained, especially when I think of how much it cost me.
Recently in a community that I belong to, someone asked a question "Does anyone find themselves trying to make art they know will sell?" Here are my thoughts on the subject.
The basics of business is to make something people want; then can they pay, will they pay. How do you know what they want? Ask them. Interviewing potential customers is generally considered one of the best ways of testing market value, although its not infallible. Try to figure out why people buy art, and then find your people. I'm of the opinion that there are artist who disdain viewers and act like their taste is an affront to their refined sensibilities. It seems to me that you should be always interested in how other people view your work. Better not to aim for work that sells, as if you can predict when styles will swing but rather try to make work that other people find interesting. Try to make other people feel something.
That being said, my Art isn't for everyone. It's not supposed to be, because trying to make something for everyone is an insurmountable task. I think about books like "The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao", and it feels like it was written just for me. That is because it was, according to Junot Diaz,
"It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And part of what inspired me was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors."
In addition to making mirrors, I think you never can't get too good at talking about your work. I've come to believe that your artist statement is a hypothesis that the words you have written will complement the work. As you test that hypothesis, the words should evolve and change over time. That doesn't mean lie. If the art is about nothing, say it's formal. Defining it, limiting it to words: That's a huge struggle, but the idea is to tell a story about your art that gets people wanting to see it.
Practically speaking, it seems straightforward enough to prepare some words to describe the work. There are so many times when you have to explain to other people what you do without the work being present, those complementary words come in handy. I take that opportunity to experiment with the phrasing and context to find the best combination that's both interesting and helpful. As we move into an phase of social media and content marketing, the need for intriguing, expository words will not diminish.
So often, it can be easy to discount the viewer, when you are an artist. I see it, in artists disillusioned. They despair that people don't buy art, or how they didn't get any press on their last show. What I hear loud and clear, is a disdain of the viewer, their audience. In focusing so deeply on themselves, they fail to consider the value proposition of the art they are trying to sell. In short, what's in it for the viewer?
In the Creative Loafing interview on Sprawl with Michael Rooks he says that, "A really powerful work of art is something you can look at every day." I would take this further to say that a successful piece of art is something that inspires the viewer to feel something. I saw a Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living some years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and finally understood what this iconic shark tank art was all about. To walk past it was to feel the shark animate and swim past you. It was arresting. Whatever emotion it is that a piece of art provokes you to feel, joy, pain, disgust -- its the reaction makes the work a success. Failure in art, makes the viewer feel nothing, just indifference.
It's not enough just to be decorative. Pretty things are available everywhere, and at a cheaper price point if you find it in a department store. In a Hyperallergic interview, Pam Longobardi said it best, "I like art that does work — all kinds of work, from intellectual work to emotional work to work in society. I think art has a job to do, as opposed to being expensive and passive luxury objects."
Do the job & make artwork that means something. Let people tell you what they see in your work, and let every interaction be an opportunity to test whether they see it the way you do. You might learn something.
One of the more resonate performances I've seen this year was by Danielle Deadwyler over the summer entitled “Muhfuckaneva(luvd)uhs: Real Live Girl.” Also known as Didi Xio, she completed three back to back performances presented by Ladyfest and Eyedrum with the backing of an Idea Capital Grant. Highjacking the self-aware hashtag MNLU from Drake, the multimedia, endurance based performance was set on corners where the shadow of strip clubs looms large. Out on the street, the nighttime event was infused with the illicit tone of prostitution. In a city tarnished by sex-trafficking, the effect is provocative. While the hip-hot music, exotic dancing and video projection more inline with the elements of a music video, “Muhfuckaneva(luvd)uhs” is more than a spectacle. It's one in which the audience is complicit, consuming it like heartless deadbeat.
The contradictory roles of the Mother and Fucker, derived from elements African-American female experience are rooted in devalued feminine work. The character of the Mother is in the looped, projected video. Cycling through routine, Deadwyler focuses on the painted breast and hair styling. Flashing over this alternate the words “MOTHER” and “FUCKER.” The repetition of the projection is compelling at first, but after time fails to hold your interest. The private performance of domesticity is overshadowed by the live component of the Fucker.
From corner of Moreland and Memorial, Deadwyler danced barefoot, intensifying the labor of the performance. Image courtesy of Haylee Anne.
In front of the video, Deadwyler twerked wearing black and white bikini, under the eye of the police, both bodyguard and bouncer. Veiled in a fashion after Minova rape victims, her mask renders her anonymous like a fake name. When she feels the fantasy, she lets out an orgasmic scream. Startling the unaware, street traffic brought another layer of spontaneity to the performances. This created a protectiveness in the audience, possessive of the artist and their entertainment. Yelling, “Knock it off,” like a suspicious neighbor, the passerby demanded an end to be put to the performance, and threatening to call the already present police. If only we could put an end to societal pressure demanding well-coiffed beauty, thick sexuality of African American women, while also saying this labor is not worth respect.
So in June I applied for MINT's Leap Year, because my studio space is my dining room table. Then I moved on, because the best way not dwell on a sent application is to start on the next one.
When I got in to the Leap Year Application show, I was thrilled but you know, nervous. I had heard mixed reviews as to whether getting into the show was any indication that you were a finalist or not, but regardless, I was happy to exhibit a piece there. While I felt an initial insecurity in my small, formal & not flashy painting, the reception that it got at the opening was positive.
I pushed it out of mind again, until I saw the event for live announcement of the three Leap Year winners. Immediately, I thought, "Oh, no I'm not going." I imagined that it would be like an award show, with a camera zooming in on my face, disappointment written all over it. My friend urged me to go while my husband agreed that my fears were reasonable.
I convinced myself that there would be no camera looking for me & that most people probably wouldn't recognize me. Unsettled & undecided, I did not have peace until I realized that the only right thing to do was to push out envy with encouragement. Unity is a better option than a you versus me mentality.
When I went to MINT that night, it was dark and crowded. Candice Greathouse (the curator) got a spotlight to make then announcement and confessed that she was, "Nervous even though I already know who won." She recapped the award's prizes and the news that the winners would each get a solo show at the end of the year instead of the group show from years past. Curtis Ames, Hez Stalcup & Ashley Anderson, previous winners each opened up an envelope with a winner's name and announced it to the crowd.
Two emotions, that in my opinion, are not particularly useful in art are fear & envy. Today I'm going to address the first, Fear & perhaps talk about envy in another post.
Melissa Lee, who I recently did a show with at Pecola wrote in a recent blog post about finding her voice, some of the struggles that she had. "Too shy to approach people at shows, I attended arts events by myself and failed at the whole networking thing." I'm totally felt this way in the past, especially when I was fresh out of college. I've gone to art openings, slithered around the room looking at the work and rushed out, all without saying a word.
I tried a couple of things, specifically in regards to art openings that's made the experience immeasurably better. I still look at the art, but I'm usually more at ease while talking to strangers.
1. Go with a friend, mentor or teacher who is more experienced and can introduce you to people. This introduction can make following experiences easier. Don't forget to extend the favor to other artists once you become more comfortable.
2. Have grace for yourself. Set the bar low at first, try talking to one person who you don't know. I'm an introvert, so I find social interactions to be quite draining overall, so sometimes when trying to improve my abilities I would fail. Its okay, though.
3. Come up with some questions. Develop some icebreakers that anyone can answer, whether they are an arts professional or not. A really simple question that I like to fall back on is, "What's your favorite piece in the show?"
4. Practice talking about your work, background & job before you go. I find that practicing talking out loud by myself to be my secret weapon. This helps when trying to explain in a social situation, it can really ease the nervousness of the setting.
I hope that you find these tips helpful & tell me about any tips, tricks you got to make fear disappear at openings.
I've been hard at work on an animation, so this week I'll leave you with a set of art rules.
"Follow your Love.
Know what you are good at.
Get help with what you are not good at.
Make decisions that allow you to make work for the rest of your life.
Create an art family.
Help each other.
Fantasize about the viewer.
Don’t be too narrow at the beginning.
Don’t get too good at making something.
Work at the edge of your capability.
Take a position.
Make rules and them break them, slowly.
Question every gesture in the making