Informality’s New Mission

Two days into a new administration, the art world and the media have been directly targeted. We here at Informality will not stand for this. Our editors have been energized by marching in collective peaceful protests this weekend. These acts of solidarity and the warmth of hope put forth by the Women’s March across the world is an energy we don’t want to lose. We feel, in these times, it is apt that we adjust our mission statement and open our platform to writing that explores this shift in culture.

We have always focused on covering the conversation that exists in the Kansas City arts community. The pendulum of that discussion has shifted drastically in the last three months. We want to function not as a simple archive of who/what/where, but a catalyst encouraging contributions from a wide range of perspectives in the community. This platform we have built, we see as an opportunity; one that asks deeper questions of the arts community, and connects work being made to our shifting reality. We want to remain informal and informative, but we want to be radically critical through what we publish and the programming we create.

Our editorial staff is ready to focus on empowering new writers and growing what it means to be an arts and culture writer in and around Kansas City. We are at a crossroads. There is no time to be apolitical or mute. It is time for us to demand the world we want to see.

We want to support your writing. Please send pitches to editor@informalityblog.com.




Keys and Codes: Corey Antis’ Works and Days

This piece of writing is related to a review segment in Roof Chill Episode 2*

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Cellar Window by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

The labor of looking, slow looking, is a meditative process that has been pushed out of our daily lives. With the rapid pace of our social media feeds, patience has become a commodity. Corey Antis’ drawings, paintings, and books in Works and Days at Haw Contemporary, forced us to hit the reset button to stop, look, and listen to both the work and ourselves.  

On the walls in the round of the gallery were Antis’ human-scale drawings and books of various sizes. Each of the drawings became portals to explore the depth within the surface detail. You could choose to look slowly, moving closer in or farther away to notice the subtly shifting materials. Little flecks of paper reveal a treatment that could be sanding or a tear but the layers on top of a graphite-like material make the work shimmer in the light of the gallery.

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Installation shot of Works and Days | Image by Clear Bright Matter

On opening night, these books were displayed on counter height tables with one page open. Because of the material quality of the work and the presentation, people wanted to lean in and touch, feel the books, but they couldn’t. This aspect could throw off the typical audience of Haw Contemporary a bit, as the office space in the gallery near the back is filled with books and flat files that invite touch. As I looked further at the exhibition, it seemed there was a code to crack, hidden somewhere in the unturned pages, but what I didn’t realize was that key was right in front of me in the use of material itself.

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Daybook 1 by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

I was interested to see further how this work came about. Knowing that Antis is always full of bountiful information and cultural commentary as an Assistant Professor of Painting at The Kansas City Art Institute, I assumed there had to be an agenda. During my studio visit with him mid-summer I had the opportunity to see some early sketches of the watercolors that he had been sharing on Instagram. This practice of making watercolors is one that is consistent and of great importance to his work that Antis presented at Haw. There are stacks of books filled with these observational drawings. It made me realize that the books presented in the exhibition are simply referencing this practice; taking the poetic moments that he finds in these observational watercolors which become the underlying reference for his work as a whole.

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Untitled by Corey Antis | Image by Jordan Hooper

When the books were displayed in Works and Days they weren’t trying to be literal representations of that originally captured moment, but instead chances for the viewer to interpret something new. Antis’ work is pliable in this way it allows for one to come into it and leave at any point. The surprising thing is, that his work is something that is going to show more about ourselves than we may even be willing to acknowledge, rather than comment on larger theoretical narratives. It’s about pattern recognition. The place in which one can meander in the interplay of how things relate to one another. Antis is really astute in his ability to take these small parts of our human experience and convert them into visual art. These details often lead to a place that is a little bit scary, but a visual delight.

While in Antis’s studio he discussed how to find beauty in the mundane, and shared stories relating to the work like the search for a lost cat in a limestone basement window, or working with his father as a roofer. These narratives showed their subtle history in Works and Days. When you think about the manipulation of material it becomes clear that Antis has a romance with it and continues to ask new questions and pose new challenges. Both for the artist and the observer, the work of Corey Antis functions like a mirror and his pieces will show more about ourselves than we are willing to let on.

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Daybook 5 by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

Corey Antis: Works and Days ran from April 29, 2016 – June 11, 2016 at Haw Contemporary more info on this exhibition is available here

*link to Roof Chill Episode 2 will be available October 4th




Surprise Ceramics in A Tisket A Tasket at Front/Space

A Tisket A Tasket at Front/Space image by Timothy Amundson

Kansas City is about to host National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) a conference that works to engage a community for ceramic art, teaching, and learning.  NCECA is a convergence of the gatekeepers in the national ceramics community. These exhibitions were priming the showcase of local and national artists working within the confines of fine art ceramics, with some breaking those rules completely. As a medium, ceramics has had a tough time with this distinction between fine art and craft. Some relegate the medium entirely to an idea of elaborate plates, cups, or beautiful decorative objects but nothing more. This of course is a myopic viewpoint that doesn’t usually allow for alternative forms to be explored. A Tisket A Tasket is one exploration of how contemporary ceramics can confront this conceptual void and pull us towards a larger conversation about the way we interact with contemporary art as a whole.

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A Tisket A Tasket at Front/Space image by Timothy Amundson

Front/Space is a very small two-hundred-square-foot storefront on the west end of the Kansas City Crossroads Arts District. Bringing the street line in through its massive windows, the audience was seen exploring from both sides of the glass. A Tisket A Tasket filled every corner of the space with variably sized crudely taped rectangular cardboard boxes, these nod to the traditional display of ceramic objects, on perfectly crafted white pedestals. The work itself by artists Charity Thackston and Julia Six was a combination of both ceramic, and found objects that created a sampling and repeat of what would be found in a teenage girl’s bedroom. Ceramic alarm clocks grounded space on the pedestals also taken up by painted books, altered found postcards, a peppering of ceramic White-Out bottles, mixtapes, and miniature high school composition notebooks. In the moment of First Friday, I noticed there were already gallery patrons touching the work on the pedestal, normally ceramic work may serve as functional but never touched in a gallery. This exhibition only had four instructions for the viewer; ‘look, listen, pay attention, and choose!’ written on the gallery walls.

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A Tisket A Tasket at Front/Space image by Timothy Amundson

When I walked into the exhibition space Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time was echoing over a bluetooth speaker set in the ceiling. I kept exploring the show, opening the notebooks scattered about the floor and pedestals, picking up the multicolored ceramic mixtapes and feeling a little bummed about how these non functional objects reference a media format now starting to calcify in history. Inside of each notebooks were lyrics to cheesy pop love songs ranging in span from the mid 80s to the early 2000’s. The mixtapes and laminated “Blookbuster” video membership cards pushed a humorous failure of our desire to return to the past forward. Exploring the space became like a trip to the old corner video store; pulling titles that seem interesting and reading the backstory to see if it’s worth the watch.

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A Tisket A Tasket at Front/Space image by Timothy Amundson

The importance of A Tisket A Tasket  is the work’s slow read. The objects’ lingering irony may raise the question “why ceramics” but it is this time consuming crafting which allows for the artists’ riff on the status quo of the medium and its continual sobriety to occur. I took my time with objects in the show, in humor thinking how important their function was to us not long ago. It is this controlled slowness of observation with the work that put us back in touch with the slower speed and moment in life we crave.The time in which White-Out was CTRL + Z, alarm clocks were separate from phones, and our inner thoughts or desires were retained on paper notebooks or postcards rather than Facebook timelines. These ceramic pieces by Charity Thackston and Julia Six functioned as takeaways for the audience attending the exhibition, a physical thing rather than a photograph. These found objects that melded with the ceramic work were the guides for the viewer. A new narrative is created each time a composition book is open or any time a book title is read. The importance of read and the slowness of action in A Tisket A Tasket created a new playing field for ceramic objects to exist within.




Guerrilla Docents: Shifting the Carnival

– an earlier version of this essay was published in the Jan/Feb issue of Art Focus Oklahoma

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Guerrilla Docents talking with Participants in Front/Space’s exhibition More or Less. photo by Rebeka Pech Moguel

Kansas City’s First Friday is usually a passive motion where one follows along silently gliding into different galleries and gathering treats from differing food trucks. The Crossroads Arts District has established itself as a space for varied audiences to engage with art. In the heat of the summer, these First Friday’s erupt with people willing to stop and put their eyes on something. With Guerrilla Docents fellow Kansas City-based art critic Blair Schulman and I have a central goal; to take that passive looking and use it as a catalyst for conversation.

This surging crowd may have a lot to do with things beyond art; the prospect of free food, drinks, and a party atmosphere on a Friday night. It seems that culturally we have shut out the general public from the art conversation, but in Kansas City this crowd just grows larger. More often than not major newspapers have laid off their visual art critics on staff. The art world itself often buries its head in a language that is illegible to those without the education to discern meaning from it. Art education is slowly being pulled from the core curriculum of elementary and secondary schools, making talking about it or understanding how something is made a foreign concept. Culturally the arts are still vibrant, through music, videogames, and film, where the languages used in popular criticism allow audiences to interact on a deeper level. Yet in an image-based culture we are letting go of how deeply important an awareness of critical analysis can be.

The art of First Friday sometimes does seem to get pushed aside for the food vendors, fire breathers, and other entertainment. That’s where Schulman and I come in. On one of the most crowded blocks of the Crossroads Arts District we found our first post this July and established ourselves as Guerrilla Docents. This concept originated in an editing room, with fellow Kansas City art writers working on why it is we are frustrated with First Fridays. It seems like a great concept to get people involved, yes, but it also has a tendency to shut out any kind of vivid conversation or discovery. Most attendees eat, shop, and quietly watch the art through the window or pass it by. If someone spends more than thirty seconds looking, let alone talking, it is a rare occurrence.

Guerrilla docents is simple. Schulman and I stand outside in our all-black attire and ask First Friday attendees a simple question: “Would you like to come on an art tour?”

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Guerrilla Docents greeting “Art Tour Participants” on the corner of 18th and Wyandotte. photo by Rebeka Pech Moguel

Our first evening at this was in August of 2015. Kansas City-based artist Madeline Gallucci was exhibiting some of her new brightly colored abstract work at Beggars Table Church and Gallery. Located right in the center of the busiest First Friday block with an easy walk-up, this was going to be the perfect spot to attempt to engage people who were likely just out to enjoy their Friday night. Schulman and I began asking strangers, “Do you want to talk about art?!” which seemed to most like the entry to a pyramid scheme. One group of adults that had “never talked about art before” were prompted by the crowd to chug their beers and join in. With a simple question we had infiltrated the party atmosphere, convincing the revelers to do some thinking.

After climbing the stairs, we brought the group over to a series of Gallucci’s collages. Her work became the perfect world for these participants to explore. Bright pinks, teals, and lime green pepper a collaged surface, with a wide range of shapes and mark-making—the colors evoke memories of children’s advertising from the early 1990s. In front of these collages, we used a modified version of a museum educational strategy known as Visual Thinking Strategies; we turned the tour on the viewers to find context clues as to what the work is about. Rather than dictating facts, the group found their own answers to questions about what they saw in the work. This process of interpretation validated their opinions and observational knowledge.

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Guerrilla Docents talking with Participants in Front/Space’s exhibition More or Less. photo by Rebeka Pech Moguel

Our group started off just pointing out shapes. They found hidden images in the abstractions, uncovering sharks, ambiguous arms, band-aids, and pickles. Once we moved to another piece the group started to see their own personal experience in the work. “That looks like a sickle cell” and “… that one is totally mitochondria!” Our tour guinea pigs revealed their status as medical students through their observations. Group after group this same situation continued, with each new group following Schulman and myself up the flight of stairs and in turn discovering narratives in the work rather than processing through gallery after gallery with eyes half open.

Since our first Guerrilla Docents, Schulman and I have continued this practice on weather permitting First Fridays. Sometimes the environments we chose taught us lessons about how the space may or may not be ideal for conversation. Other times we realize that informally exploring the gallery with those already there yields the best result. During October’s First Friday we stopped by artist run alternative gallery Front/Space’s Exhibition More of Less featuring the work of Jessica Simorte, Max Manning, and Peter Shear. There we had a young boy tell us the narrative of his favorite artwork by finding the shape of a high speed train in the work and then running about the gallery, acting out his discovery. Visual art can make people come together and others completely come to life; it’s just a matter of how we’re able to continue to find meaning in the things we see.

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Guerrilla Docents talking with Participants in Front/Space’s exhibition More or Less. photo by Rebeka Pech Moguel

For more information on Guerrilla Docents or when the next pop-up tour will be SUBSCRIBE to Informality or email editor@informalityblog.com!

 




50/50’s Co-Host: Following Planted with an Unexpected Payoff

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On Instagram, scrolling down the timeline of 50/50 – a new alternative gallery built out of two shipping containers – I can follow each step of planning, construction, and studio visits through the artists that run the space. From adding insulation to graphic design decisions, hybrid artist-curators Cambria Potter and Hannah Lodwick, are pictured in these minimal tastes of progress. This transparency has allowed 50/50’s audience to build more than a year’s worth of anticipation for the arrival of their first exhibition, Co-Host.

The lengthy amount of construction photos showcase the sheer labor of building the space located in the West Bottoms just around the street from fellow alternative space Plug Projects and commercial galleries Haw Contemporary and Bill Brady. What stuck out on Instagram were images of studio visits with Kansas City based print and multimedia artist, Bobby Howsare, that planted a seed of expectation. Howsare is known for his pictured prints that play with optical illusions, moire patterns, and dynamic CMYK color phenomena. Construction documentation flowed beautifully next to this work. Because of the particular curation of 50/50s online Instagram space, I planned to encounter a completely different show dominated by Howsare’s work and its play on the newly constructed space’s architectural elements.

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Entering Co-Host it was Kristin Walsh – the visiting New York based new media artist and sculptor – who commanded the space with her installation. Walsh’s work is clean, sharp, and dynamic. Digital images that looked like a hybrid of Nintendo 64-style polygon environments and Google Street View – not far off in subject matter from curator Lodwick’s own studio practice – were projected on mirrored objects. Each of these cut at sharp angles reflecting the game-like images being projected, allowing for the work to refract the light and create other shimmering phenomena along the walls and ceiling.

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Rather than showing prints, Howsare showcased an installation based project utilizing analog dual projection film which viewers could see converging through a mirror at one point in the gallery. This projector-heavy show in a small space seemed to create an unintentional division between the two containers. Howsare’s installation felt stark in difference to Walsh’s work from color palette to spacial considerations, which made it hard not to wonder if his print-based work would’ve created a more dynamic conversation. Within the two-shipping-container-sized space any difference can easily become stark. Walsh created expansion and Howsare created compression. Maybe Walsh’s work not being previewed on Instagram allowed me to be surprised by lack of expectations, but I am anticipating even more out of the next two person show at 50/50.

 




All Is Fair on the Flipside: a Conversation with Peregrine Honig

Peregrine Honig, working with pattern designer Laura Treas, is forming a new line and store All is Fair in Love and Wear, a brand comprising binders, packers, tuckers and cinchers that allow the wearer to transform their body’s original shape. The new shop All is Fair is located in the Bauer building in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. The brand’s intentions on whom it serves and why has been brought into question recently.  In the interest of all fairness, Informality is presenting Honig’s perspective on the project. I stopped by Birdies on Tuesday afternoon to ask Honig about the venture.

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the future storefront for All is Fair

What is your concept behind All is Fair?

All is Fair in Love and Wear is a brand of middlewear binders, tuckers and cinchers patterned by Laura Treas. Treas has thirty years of experience in the post plastic surgery garment industry.

All is Fair is partnered with The KC Care Health Clinic. Bill Haw of Haw Contemporary, Sarah Baum, and Kirk Isenhour. Myself and these great collaborators are working on an annual series called Care Package with artists that provide limited edition necessities focused specifically on transgender teenagers emerging from the foster care system. Boxes will have basics: new pillowcases, a toothbrush, fresh socks, condoms, coupons implementing positive self-care, and information about local health facilities and regional transportation.The first boxes will be available in Spring at Bloom. an event that raises money for the hospice and the Kansas City Care Clinic.

Since acquiring the lease in June, I have used All is Fair as a classroom for patterning workshops offered to the public taught by Miranda Treas and as a studio for a visiting artist collaborating on All is Fair garments. I’m working on getting a 501c3 to eventually provide a micro residency, something Kansas City would benefit from.

I want All is Fair to be a space people can rent for a lecture, used for a show of someone’s work that is having a conversation about gender identity. I want it to be a shop for people who can pick up a garment that makes them feel better going about their day.

Images of various compression garments courtesy of Honig

Images of various compression garments courtesy of Honig

Are you collaborating with other artists on this project? If so are any of them part of the LGBTQIA community?

Yes. It is wonderfully unavoidable, Jennifer Neihouse, Teddy Tinnel, and Theodis William among many. I have met many times with Neihouse and both Tinnel and William are models of the garments for the Kickstarter. Luckily Teddy agreed to be a part of the project. He is in the film for the kickstarter- I can’t use him as a model for binders anymore since he has had top surgery with the assistance of an indiegogo campaign- you know- false advertising. Teddy has taught me a lot about contemporary masculinity.

space for potential residency at All is Fair

space for potential residency at All is Fair

Im curious to how these shops – Birdies and All is Fair – relate to your studio practice. Birdies especially as your work is always very feminine.

My work is about public and private behavior. I am really interested in how people tell a story with their body. I am a watcher, I watch people and their bodies and I am really comfortable being with all different kinds of women. I opened Birdies as an installation and it has become a successful business. Our first day was Valentine’s Day, people were grabbing their coffee at YJ’s Snack Bar and I was printing birds on cotton panties and hanging them from a clothes line. That was thirteen years ago.

I used to really try and separate my studio practice from my store. I would get really self conscious and annoyed if someone would bring up my business when talking about my work because it is a pink collar job. I was self conscious that I had to work really hard and I had taught at the Kansas City Art Institute but that was not necessarily my calling. In terms of a super regulated schedule, it took the same amount of energy to teach as it did to be in studio. I don’t think that is true for everyone, but it was for me. When I opened Birdies I had already been familiar with how to sell things because of the Fahrenheit art space. I took the highbrow alternative gallery language and brought it to a tiny retail space that was 150 square feet.

I don’t really like to think about money when I am in my studio. I really want to be able to fail and experiment and try different things. In retail it’s much more regulated.

You said you prefer critique of your artwork and have a hard time with a critique of your business, why is that?

I rely on my business to pay for my studio and my rent. I want to have a personal experience with my customers. I want this relationship with my collectors too but I think when somebody says they don’t like a direction of my artwork, I am more familiar and comfortable with this situation. I am newer to business than I am to art. No one can make my artwork but me, I am responsible for that. If someone isn’t into my ideas I am cool with that. On the business end, I want to provide a service for people that feels comfortable for me and my customers.

shop in progress at All is Fair

shop in progress at All is Fair

What made you chose to take on this venture of All is Fair?

My friend was transitioning and I saw what was available to him, and it was gross- not built for his frame and poorly constructed. It wasn’t like I woke up in a sweat knowing what the space was going to be. I got the space first, my amazing intern and employee of many years Chelsea Huff was going to open up a makeup store and then decided to travel. I was able to take over that lease, everyone in the building agreed that it was a good fit.

Do you feel that is what you are doing with All is Fair, applying that studio mentality to the new space?

I think that working with Laura Trease and knowing what potential can come out of the West 18th Street Fashion Show. When you have a business, and you realize something is missing from your industry, you have to use the Keep It Simple Stupid mentality with it. When you make art, you want people to believe it happened flawlessly. Same in business. For sure, All Is Fair has been a challenge. There is no Rosetta Stone for how to speak the language of the transgender community. Everyone is learning, hopefully now, at a faster piece. This is inspiring to me, we are living in a time where science and social structures are allowing people to become what they want to become and we are living in a time where people are demanding that they be addressed in the way they prefer to be addressed. This is great, because the more comfortable someone is in their skin, the better life someone is going to have. That’s what I really would like, through my artwork and through Birdies and All Is Fair, my intention and umbrella for all of these projects is to make things a little more beautiful and interesting.

garment detail image courtesy of Honig

garment detail image courtesy of Honig

 

How will the garments for trans men differ for those for trans women?

So far, All is Fair has four binders in two colors for trans men. Laura and Miranda Treas are developing tuckers and cinchers for trans women. We have plans for packers as well. Compression fabric is pretty limited so I hope we can get some custom colors in our inventory.

You said that you are seeking out online forums to discuss with transgender people what their needs are?

Yes for years. So, Jody Rose, a very socially established transgender man that advocates for the health and spirituality aspects of it, he and I have had long ongoing conversations. There are established female to male men who are early advocates of being spiritual and being sexual, getting to know that history has been really important.

I hope the kickstarter is successful, so that I can make a lot of these binders, send them out to transgender boys and say “Take a Selfie, keep the binder” because who is better to document the transgender community than the community itself. If I’ve learned anything from my last exhibition, if you document yourself and you send it to someone else you’re being directive and telling the other person, “This is how I want you to see me.” It would be really nice to have at least 15 of these binders to send to have self documentation by those who would wear them.

shop in progress at All is Fair

shop in progress at All is Fair

 

Say there is a transgender person who cannot afford to buy a $75 binder. Your promos that are planned would allow them to get one of these binders and use it rather than the current methods – like compression tape –  that are less comfortable?

I think what’s important is that giving things away isn’t the answer. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat forever. It’s a much bigger conversation than giving away binders for free. The idea is that I’m trying to make something that feels good, looks good, is middle luxury, and accessible. If I have a successful kickstarter I can make enough that people can have them for less, because the yardage is expensive for compression fabric and patterning. I’m sure there is a luxury focused population of transgender people. A campaign of trans boys in selfies in trade for binders would be fun and create immediate diversity.

Do you hope to employ members of the transgender community at the store?

Yes. It is a moment where it is just another step in the right direction. I am interested in meeting transgender people who are really good at retail. Undermining the project in an attempt to try and make everybody happy is not smart. It has been really interesting learning the etiquette and the language of transgender culture. You don’t want to walk up to someone and say “Hey you’re transgender, do you want to work at this store?” Life is a lot more sensitive and complicated than that.

A question I have asked myself with this is “How would you do a campaign of transgender boys and girls” A lot of them have invited me into their forums. When I enter that space I always post “Hi I am a cis-woman feel free to take this down if I am stepping on your toes.”

Have the recent rise in transphobic attacks in Kansas City influenced you to reach your customers in a new light?

Declining an interview with The Kansas City Star to avoid having All is Fair be the counter article to the misgendering of Tamara Dominguez was stressful but it made a statement. Jenee Osterhelt, a columnist from the Star, is now writing a cover article that will include interviews and perspectives from the transgender community set to be published in November. There is horrible violence in Kansas City, and we could focus on that but we could also shift our focus and make people feel cared for.

Owning a small business and being an artist both involve a lot of work and labor. Using Kickstarter to launch the idea of All is Fair and raise money for material has been a part time job. The transgender community was rightfully upset with the published misinformation about Tamara and it was a real forest for the trees moment for me. I knew it might cost me losing the battle to win the war, even if my battle was building the funds for better weapons. I knew my fear of not meeting my kickstarter goal was far less important than not advocating for the community I was advocating for, but failing publicly scares most people.

One core argument that has been posed toward the shop is the financial situations of the trans community – with the income disparity and discriminatory laws in both Missouri and Kansas. Do you worry that the core community that would love to purchase your undergarments will not be able to afford them?

Just like everything, the higher the demand, the larger the production run, the cheaper and more inhumane the labor, the less cost to the consumer. Our landfills are full because we demand bulk items and create massive overstock. I am not sure what the supply and demand will be for All is Fair. It’s 2015 and Laura Treas expects ready-to-wear garments to fall between $45 and $100 with custom pieces taking longer and costing more.

I am exploring filling a niche because I saw what was available to the transgender community and the garments I encountered were not built for trans bodies. I saw sportswear and compression fabric masquerading as binders.

To assume there isn’t a wealthy or luxury-focused transgender population is small-minded, assumptive and incredibly disrespectful. I am curious to find out who my customers are, what they need, and how they spend.

Will there be ways for these garments to be made available for those who cannot afford the price point?

Providing a discounted or free compression garment to someone is not going to change employment laws or help with issues of discrimination. Working to educate people and navigate helping transgender youth emerging from the foster care system with the help of The Kansas City Care Clinic will. The KC Care Clinic is the second oldest free health clinic in America. It’s on 35th and Broadway and if you come in with health care, your insurance essentially pays for someone who doesn’t have any.

Is the fundraiser you did with the panty auction for Planned Parenthood something you hope to do with All is Fair?

Yes, not a panty auction but the boxes I mentioned earlier, they will help transgender teens in foster care in Kansas City. I thought how nice it would be to make something that both art patrons and people emerging from the foster care system could use. We can partner with different artists and make limited edition objects, so that essentially it will work like Tom’s Shoes, you buy one and give one. Toothbrushes, clean socks, etc. I want to be associated with this box that makes people have a great day.

interior of Birdies panties

interior of Birdies panties

Can you elaborate on your difference in decor from this space here at Birdies to that of All is Fair? You say Birdies is meant to feel like a romantic turkish bedroom, but All is Fair- in its current state, has a very stark art gallery style feel to it. What is your intended mood for that space?

Sterile, healing, cold and there is no such thing as neutral but minimal. When I look at how long it has taken birdies to get closer to my dream state of how it could be, when I think of All is Fair, I think about a swimming pool that hasn’t been built. I want to treat the floor that way, blue and bright. But everything else pale green and white and crisp. I need the space to remain open and sparse.

At All is Fair the furniture is very crisp, asian-inspired, mint colored, and linear. The curtains we are going to make are all going to be pale nylon. I like this idea of it feeling clean. The light in there is so different and the space is so tucked away and underexposed.

Do you worry about the fact that is in an alley?

I don’t worry about that at all. There are weddings most weekends at the Bauer. It’s not a conventional alley. Its beautiful, and lined with flowers. Maybe in a space of the city that was less developed or if it had a different feel, it may be burdened. It’s not suburban but it is quaint.

Do you think that is important for your audience? To have it tucked away?

The space itself inspired me to open All Is Fair. It told me what it needed to be. You don’t get to walk into a space and tell it what it is. I did not come to All is Fair from a business standpoint thinking hmm… how much money can I make off the transgender community, get a commercial lease and navigate like an imperialist. Instead I found a space that was really clean, tucked away and safe. Everyone at the Bauer is on board. From the hairdressers and aestheticians to the wedding venue. There is a feeling in that building that I know is a safe and welcoming space. I wouldn’t open All is Fair if I didn’t think that it was open, friendly, and considered.




Revisiting Past Through Drawing: an Interview with Jonah Criswell

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“At Work” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist) 

Earlier this summer I visited Jonah Criswell’s studio in downtown Kansas City before work was shipped out for his upcoming exhibition, Fernweh, at ReTramp Gallery in Berlin. The converted warehouse space had the walls lined with small shelves holding various scales of paintings, still life setups, and drawings. These tiny piles were organized like groupings of photos in a camera roll, some with a seemingly sequential narrative and others experiments in capturing one’s visual fascination in that moment.

Criswell just returned from co-teaching a summer workshop in New York City to students at the Kansas City Art Institute, the institution where he teaches full time in the Painting Department as Assistant Professor. The workshop revolved around a larger idea that seemed to be pulled right from the conceptual organization if his studio practice. Asking that students see their world in the same way they do the museum. Finding “moments in life to cherish and describe through picture making.” 

Jonah Criswell was born in Springfield MO but raised in Warner Robins, Georgia and Pensacola, Florida. He graduated with a BFA from KCAI in 2005 and an MFA from Pennsylvania State University in 2008, he has been teaching in KCAI’s Painting department since 2011. In 2008 he was awarded a Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project Residency and in 2014 he attended TaktProjekt, a residency in Berlin.

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What are the larger ideas that your work is exploring?

Nostalgia, longing, and there’s a concern with parts of my own life, I am interested in the things that I’ve made in the past as objects to think about. Making a little painting, or finding things like a mix cd, or these photographs I took while in Vancouver; using those as a symbol for an unnamed emotional condition or desire. The drawing with the leaves is about me thinking about where I want to live and whether or not I just long to live in that place, or would I actually like living there. The cd playlist is more of wishing a person were there as opposed to the CD but yet the CD is all I have. Longing, not necessarily regret but a sense of having missed something is definitely something I think about a lot in the work.

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“The Window” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

 What about the different mediums you’re using? How do you work between these ideas in both painting and drawing?

I don’t think the paintings are anywhere near where the drawings are. That’s why most of the time I show drawings. Amanda Lechner, who’s a painter I really admire visited my studio in October. She said “everyone’s drawings are always going to lead the way, it’s an older skillset allowing for it to be a more rapid and intimate thing” I think that for the drawings I am using a lot of straightforward materials but I like the fact that a drawing is never quite as real as a painting. A painting has a greater capacity for illusion making, while drawings stand outside the presence of reality because it is a tonal thing. I like that with the conceptual and emotive forces that are at work in my studio. They implicitly are considering the ideas of longing, the inavailabilty of something, and also a kind of historical presence. A thing that is temporally located outside of the present but not quite in the past.

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“Make A Call” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

 What have you been listening to or reading while making this work?

 I listen to a whole lot of narrative podcasts, lots of science fiction. I can’t wait for them to come out every week, so in the meantime I will go and download older podcasts from EscapePpod which has years worth of stuff. I heard the Screwfly Solution by Alice B. Sheldon recently and it was just a heartbreaking story, very Margret Atwood-ish. The woman who wrote it worked for the CIA and was this fantastically complex and fascinating person who then wrote this story. I listen to a lot of horror, sci-fi and weird fiction online.  

For the work, I had been reading a bit about nostalgia but that wasn’t very helpful. I read an article called Tourism and The Semiotics of Nostalgia by John Frow and that was really interesting because he kind of talked about modernity and the simulacrum and the way in which the binary of the genuine and the artificial is an insufficient binary paradigm to explain what actually being in the world is. That was really helpful because it gives you a little bit of latitude to think; Ok, so nostalgia isn’t just a kind of lame force that happens to you when you’re in your mid thirties but it’s a part of living in a world that is constantly evolving. 

As you get older you become more and more orphaned to the world.  The world changes and all the familiar things disappear and are replaced by things that are more helpful, more scary, and also more interesting. I read Alastair Reynolds Slow Bullets which is sci-fi which is great in the summertime after teaching all year reading theory, and talking about it all the time. Fiction is really exciting because it’s easier to read and think about in studio because it doesn’t turn your brain on the same way that theory does and so it doesn’t gobble up your mental faculties.

When the studio work starts getting really tedious, i’ll take 10 minutes and read a few pages and that reboots my whole mind. Which is really helpful. I also listen to a lot of history podcasts and a lot of Skinny Puppy, a fantastic industrial band from the early 80s and lots of other intense industrial music.

 

What about the change in the work’s scale, it is moving larger and then smaller?

The smaller drawings were an exercise in creativity. When I work on something really time consuming I get fatigued really quickly or get hungry for something novel so the smaller drawings were me watching the X-Files a whole bunch, taking screen shots from every episode and then trying to have a conversation with the picture I liked so much. Far less a description of the image that I saw and instead a superimposition of some other kind of logic. These were kind of like fun holidays from the larger, more time consuming and craft conscious pieces. There are almost thirty of these but I only show about seven of them

With the larger drawings, I didn’t want anything to be too much bigger than fifty inches, then I found that I really love drawing on bristol paper because it takes marks superbly and it’s pretty mutable. So the drawings of the paintings, I want them to be about three to four times the size of the originals. That way the detail is still recognizable but at the same time it is not so compressed that it feels impenetrably dense. The smaller these things get, the smaller marks you have to make and then for me I wanted there to be more breathing room.

For the more tonally realized drawings on the oil grounded paper again I kinda wanted them to reference the everyday but re-scale the eye of the viewer to make them and the reference of their body much smaller so they can be invited to something thats a little bit overwhelming or a little bit larger than life. Scale for me is in relationship to the rendering of the image and the image has to scale the eye up or down a little bit. In the smaller paintings that I make just out of a kind of habit, I like the intimacy that those bring and the fact that you can be incredibly confident in some of those and you don’t have to second guess yourself. So much of my work is about craft on command so its nice to take a holiday from that periodically.

 

So in these you’re making reference that are far less direct to pop culture while in the small drawings, the images are hard to recognize?

The titles were hard for that. I wanted to title them “season_1_episode_3” or how you download it off the internet “x-files_s01e03.mpv-hackers” Titles are kind of tricky because I have a lot of saccharin heavy handed impulses so it was nice to kind of push the cultural reference a little bit to the side. That gives another narrative so that when I tell people “These come from X-files” that becomes a point for them to see how an artist sees something nowadays is about a conversation with a subject matter or an influence, history etc and not just a re-translation of it.

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“Over The Hills” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

 

This is from a scene where there is just fog rolling in while Mulder and Scully are lost in the woods and there are these bugs just trying to kill them. The fog rolling in was such a romantic image. I wanted to capture just the things that I thought were beautiful and then discard everything else that’s not relevant.

In a lot of ways that’s how the other drawings were, trying to essentialize an inspiration and then just highlight things that inspired me. Sometimes it can be just the texture of the paint on a surface.

 

Yet these smaller drawings are really pixelated so did you physically distort them?

Yes, there’s this thing called an Ames lettering guide and it’s awesome. I used to draw all of my grids by hand which was time consuming, frustrating and really tedious. Ames lettering guides used to be used by people who made isometric and orthographic drawings. It allows you to draw a grid really fast because it has an adjustable dial that lets you change from metric to standard.

I would do a loose sketch of the picture and then hide that away by putting different kinds of grids at different widths down on top of it. Then I would just think, oh how do I want to massage the essential qualities of the image away from its source into something I thought was more provocative, more strange, or interesting. When you see something you’re really interested in for the first time there’s always a sense of rupture. There is always a sense that you’re not looking at something familiar and that’s why it is special. I wanted to double fold that special thing that I saw and make it new again.

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“His Sister” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

 You can see it really clearly in this one the grid that underpins the whole thing. You can also see the changes in the width. I have a few rules where I was embracing the consistent error. Its interesting to see how you can communicate with that. This image was where Mulder looks down off these stairs and he sees a kid who is trying to make a picture through this binary language of his long lost sister.  I like that the grid allows you to abstract something which gives you a little bit of freedom. Craft itself is like a cave and you can go really far into it but there’s a nice moment where the wall of the cave is more shallow. I dont need to go into drawing every eyelash on a person’s face, I have a limit. That limit allowed me to think about design — drawing a line and then responding to a previous line. These were thinking about different kinds of playful structures and how you can respond to each one of those.

 

I thought those were glitched in a computer?

No, however I did that for awhile I have maybe 3gb of data moshed images, I would take trailers from movies I was really excited about seeing and then datamosh the trailer and do screen shots and pick the one I really liked, then doing a really uptight drawing of that. It seemed a little too gimmicky. I still love looking at those pictures because when I was doing the TV drawings I had to learn a little bit about CRT televisions, the way they have a certain refresh rate and the way the pictures are structured and the fact that they have only 3 green dots per 8 dot space. I liked seeing the thumbprint/failure of technology on this newer image. You would see the subtle moire pattern which was really beautiful. Sometimes the thumbprints on the glass are really beautiful even though they might obstruct the purity of the image.

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“I Like Your Owl” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

There was a thing you mentioned earlier about “appropriation as karaoke” can you explain that metaphor a little and do you feel that it relates to your work in any way?

Yeah Angela Dufresne gave a lecture at the college (KCAI) and she said her work was a lot like karaoke. I thought that was a really exciting premise which is basically being really honest about what we do as artists. We’re in conversation with history and the present, Dufresne said it was like singing a song from Tina Turner, and so she’s pushing that song through her body and its changing. At same time she is using a format or a structure that has a shared narrative. So with my drawings now, I am thinking a lot about a painting that takes an hour to make, then spending 3 months drawing it. There is something about paying very close attention to a really ephemeral organic moment of “oh I’m going to make a painting of a cottage” but then when you meticulously look at every brushstroke that you made there is something about looking at the performance of each mark and thinking about where in that performance lies some kind of beauty, excellence, excitement, passion of those things.  So when I was going through and drawing the paintings, they are all earnest attempts to understand why this thing is beautiful to me. The drawings of objects are much more staged, and that’s more like trying to write a song or changing words around in a song to make it do something different. Theres the one part where you’re trying to make something that explains a certain emotional condition and your using objects and then pictures to do that. Then the drawings of paintings are more like doing something amazing once and then figuring out again, how did you do that? The thing that I’ve learned making art for so long is that controlling the instrument of your own psychology when you’re making something is really important. Thats been the subject of my thoughts for the past year. Dufresne’s lecture made me realize that she has a lot of control over her instrument of performing a painting.

 

You just taught a class in New York over the summer. What the focus there?

The second week in June I taught a class on “what is the museum” Being next to a museum is nice because you can go over there and see something that is a controlled presentation of a really beautiful thing. Museums hold information and cultural anomalies of relevance. They are also places you go to see something extraordinary. The premise of my part of the class was “where are the boundaries of the museum?” In a lecture at KCAI, Dawn Clements commented on how she found some rubbish on the ground walking to some place and then made drawings of it. She was inspired by a little wrapper and in a lot of ways the museum for her is anywhere that she needs it to be.

The thesis of the class is a question of can we pay attention to our lives as an undecipherable and complex museum? When we go into a museum were going into a place that – for all of its problematic qualities –  if we take it at face value, we see that the museum is a place. That there are not singular locations that we can be inspired by but when we leave the museum we take the walls with it. Every place is the museum. Thats one of the things that I love about contemporary culture is that people are shooting photographs of things all the time. They’re collecting things that they found impressive or noteworthy. When you look through and see the highlights, that’s like an artistic practice. Its subconscious in one way, or one might say culturally ubiquitous but I think that one of the best things for teaching people to appreciate being is making everyone photographers with their phone.

It may be a little bit lame if someone sits down and shoots a photograph of what they’re going to eat and yes you can question, “are they just shooting it so they can brag on facebook” but at the same time these people are really paying attention to something that we might not share or something that we might overlook.The class was challenging student’s thoughts regarding the museum experience, and then bringing that back to their lives. There is something about looking at our lives, being able to appreciate that and find a way to describe it through picture making and that’s what i wanted students to think about.

 

How did the class go overall?

It went well actually! The students in some cases were very autobiographical and in other cases were definitely looking at their previous works and thinking about how they can present different aspects of their experiences, instead of staying in their comfort zones. I only had them for about a week but I think for an exercise such as that one, a week is good enough to plant a seed. Personally, I was also interested in how I could see the city, New York, as one continuous aesthetic experience, which is basically a cheeky way of saying I spent way too much money on food and chocolate! I was really impressed with the students’ commitment to being in New York and making the most of it.

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“The Cottage” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist) 

You have an exhibition coming up this fall in Berlin, what is the work in that exhibition about?

These drawings for me are an act of longing for a better self. Using personal artifacts as still life subjects, I work to find and converse with my youth. Additionally, some of the works reference television shows that I watch. The conversation between my visual language and the “returned image” in all of these works describe the exchange between a strange world and a fragility that I find exciting and humane. Its new work and it feels strange to have it not in my studio. I miss it but I am thrilled to see it in an exhibition space, which often reveals a lot that I couldn’t see about it in my studio.

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“Greek Storm” (image by EG Schempf, courtesy of the artist)

Criswell’s upcoming exhibition Fernweh will be presenting new work at ReTramp Gallery, Reuterstrasse 62, Berlin, Germany on October 2nd, 2015. For more information on his work visit http://jonahcriswell.com/




Art Hidden Beneath The Sugar Sweat: KC First Fridays

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Cotton candy treats at Front/Space

This summer Kansas City has once more filled the streets of the Crossroads Arts District with cotton candy hauling, iPhone selfie taking, snap-back wearing, sweaty too-close-for-comfort crowds. The few miles of mixed use real estate area the Crossroads makes up contains everything from traditional commercial galleries, pop ups, and artist-run spaces. While there are a lot of bodies to weave into the tight gallery corners and form food cart lines down the streets, it leaves me to wonder if they are here to be a part of Kansas City’s art culture or to just be entertained.

Typically, art gallery openings are stages set for artists to meet collectors and celebrate a specific duration of the artists’ work. The scale of First Friday is far from that cocktail party atmosphere. Instead it has become an attraction for tourists and suburbanites, and rightfully so. A free event with the opportunity to experience something outside of cul-de-sack lifestyle. Kansas City is transformed on the surface into an active bohemian metropolis filled with people willing to engage with art.

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remnants of the art party near Leedyville

In the latter part of the 20th century most industry shifted internationally. With the movement of jobs, most midwestern cities experienced a large suburban flight. Cheap rent drew Kansas City artists back into these downtown spaces that were once left behind. Now the Crossroads is booming and reactivated through art’s creative placemaking; however, that “place” has become less about artists and more about promoting real estate, along with the plethora of other corporate enterprises. The engagement with culture is left to the bystander. I spotted a woman outside a flower shop gallery peering in through the window to look at nude figure drawings. Her friends in matching Royals jerseys were busy perusing the craft table outside; potentially purchasing reclaimed wood pieces painted to cheer “Jayhawk Rock Chalk”.This woman on the other hand tried to usher her friends to join her in the space to no avail. Modern and Contemporary Art has a tendency to make people feel as though they just don’t get it or that galleries are sacred spaces where they don’t belong. Perhaps, First Friday is about creating a different experience. Among the impromptu DJ sets, fire breathers, and hula hoop dancers it seems there is an opportunity here for artists and critics to turn this hodge-podge into something better than what we have grown to expect.

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street vendor “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” sign

There was a lot of hype around The Art of Data exhibition in June at the new Arts KC building. Inside it, the exhibition was designed to visually showcase data utilized in large-scale decision making by city planners. An attempt for politicians to engage critically with artists, and thus, the community. However ambitious this potential conversation strived to be, the exhibition was thrown completely out of balance by classic cars placed in the center of the gallery. Looking at the work for longer than twenty seconds was impossible due to the conveyor belt of people pushing everyone along. With each short glimpse, the data felt like it was being used no different than a disjointed powerpoint presentation. All the work was so visually disparate from the content it appeared more like a loose prompt for the artists with little consideration of outcome. Thoroughly dividing the space and removing the cars could have made for an opportunity to be more critical of how the individual works flowed together. When looking at The Art of Data as a whole, an immediate comparison is drawn to You Can’t Hurry Love, an exhibition last summer at fellow Crossroads’ gallery Front/Space.

Off center from the main drag of Southwest Boulevard and Baltimore, Front/Space is an incredibly small artist-run gallery. Because of it’s size Front/Space was able to take advantage of curating a data microcosm.You Can’t Hurry Love, featuring Sean Starowitz, Matthew Hayden, Nate Kautzer, Andrew Lyles, Taylor Pruitt, and Jessica N Rogers, showcased city data that highlighted real world problems. Food deserts, abandoned homes, and a lack of important public spaces, such as parks were all part of the exhibition’s conceptual engagement. You Can’t Hurry Love presented data in its raw form next to the artists’ own experimental solutions in formats such as public art projects, new community organizations, and the release of a book on art, literature, and civics. It seems that artist-run spaces or galleries allowing full artistic takeover are the places that create experiences that keep First Friday from spiraling into a complete carnival.

Another instance of successful artistic takeover occurred on May First Friday at Leedy-Volukos Art Center. On a street lined with food trucks and photo booths, hidden amongst the hovering crowds is Leedy Voulkos Art Center. At the Art Center, many different exhibitions are presented throughout a conveyor of galleries with no clear curatorial conversation. Typically what I see here is the work of every Kansas City Art Institute Foundation year professor mingled next to unknown artists that are thematically the polar opposite. Art placed in close proximity needs to have some similar thread of visual or conceptual content. Non-linear can be interesting but this is usually just confusing. All gallery rooms at Leedy Voulkos are connected by doorways that lead you from one gallery and into another but with no specific flow to that movement. Some exhibitions starting from one end, others ending opposite the entryway where wall text is placed. All of these disparate choices continue a disappointing mission to experience great art.

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Laundry Day was Last Week image courtesy of Kadie Nugent

Leedy-Voulkos recently opened up the downstairs space specifically for local undergraduate student work. This windowless unit was transformed this May by fiber artist Kadie Nugent into a large-scale interactive drawing sculpture hybrid of a woman’s bedroom. With black and white objects breaking up the scale of the marks, it was easy to become immersed in this monochromatic world. The depth of the mark-making was intense and overwhelming. One could not even step into the space without first putting covers on their shoes and greeting the artist.

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Laundry Day was Last Week image courtesy of Kadie Nugent

It was found, an exhibition in the middle of all the chaos with a clear entry point, a limitation on number of people, and a truly curated story to walk through. Nugent’s installation shifted my perception. Maybe First Friday isn’t all bad, and quite possibly there are situations to participate and interact with these diamonds in the rough. Regardless of what kind of side show entertainment exists and what people’s motives are for coming, I think First Friday is an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to take it for what it is, and maybe flip it on its head. With thousands of people flooding the streets, there have to be some, like that woman at the flower shop, with a genuine interest in engaging with art.

Art and artists are still going to exist in this district. Even as it pushes artist-run and alternative spaces further from the centralized action, there are opportunities for great things to be found. The party of First Friday isn’t going anywhere and while these

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two separate camps seem divided there is potential for crossover. A curated conversation that merges these groups could be the space in which they find balance with one another.




Blanket Undercover Uncovered : an Interview with Megan Mantia and Leone Anne Reeves

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Image from Burning Man festival courtesy of the artists

I recently started a conversation with Megan Mantia and Leone Anne Reeves to talk about their immersive performance practices as Blanket Undercover, and their most recent performance series The Year of Dreams. Known for their unique costuming and travel locations, their work has led them to make discoveries about fringe subcultures. This duo recently received a Rocket Grant from Charlotte Street for Mini Vinnie Bini to create a citywide experimental dramatization of the 56th Venice Biennale across the Kansas City metro.

 

Image from Papa Look-a-like Contest  courtesy of the artists

Image from Papa Look-a-like Contest  courtesy of the artists

 

Melaney Ann Mitchell: In this project, you are both travelling as a team and immersing yourselves in different subcultures, how do you go about that?

Megan Mantia: We start by doing extensive research about an event that seems to draw a global or specific attendance. Costuming is essential for mass-gatherings and becomes our “packaging,” so to speak.  Leone is our costume designer, and she’s genius at boiling down the most significant elements from our research, then thoughtfully and creatively twisting the ideas to make completely original pieces. Then we test out our interpretation and see how/ if we fit in.

Leone Reeves: I think we both are the kind of people who automatically feel open to any way of being, so it is impossible for us to not seek these things out. Also, this project is affirming our existence in a world that has more possibilities than being white, straight, and working class.

Image from Mardi Gras muses parade courtesy of the artists

Image from Mardi Gras muses parade courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: What has been the most rewarding event to attend? What has been least?

MM: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade was one of the most perfect, not-creepy, completely fun days I’ve ever had. I would say the most rewarding event (overall) would be our Burning Man excursion. We read every resource we could find online, and it’s one of the most organized mass gathering you’ll find on this planet. There are guides and rulebooks and recommendations, blogs with stories of how to photograph in the dust of the desert, how to not scorch the desert floor while building a fire, and even how to make your own temporary shower. Many people were shocked we were first timers and we didn’t have any ‘oh-shit’ moments where we were really unprepared or uncomfortable while camping in the inhospitable desert for a whole week.

The least rewarding so far was New Year’s Eve in Times Square because it was our first trip and we hadn’t really developed our method yet. Exhausted from a previous project,  we embarked on the trip with little research about how to find your way to the center of the event, and by the time we actually made it through security, the streets of people were backed up seven blocks in all four directions. So we could see the live glitter of thousands of cameras all going off at once in what looked like a very exciting middle of Times Square. We started that trip too exhausted to care and left feeling like it was a do-over.

 

LR: I have really loved each event we have attended for different reasons. Most of the time it is because I proved myself wrong on a preconceived idea of what the event would be like. Sometimes, like in the case of the Juggalo Gathering, I loved it because it scared me. That event was really out of our normal habitat. Also, I did have a life changing moment at Burning Man. I realized I was exactly who I was supposed to be. I know that Megan and I both felt this way, because we went to bed early every night in our tiny tent and laughed about how hard people were trying to be different, and how easy it was for us to be ourselves at burning man or at home or at work. Thank god. So I realized I’m in the right place, and I loved it for that.

 

MAM: How do you deal with the line between voyeurism and authentic immersion into these events/subcultures?

MM: This is something we discuss a lot. We’re all aware of a fairly healthy stereotype attached to tourism. It gets a dirty rep in general when people whine about never getting to go anywhere, but when they do they’re face-down in their phones, or won’t go without all the amenities of home, or just want the fast-food version of traveling. We hope that the lengths we go to fully join the ranks of the gatherings that fascinate us are evident to our audience. We do not attend these events to deliver a snarky Vice.com-worthy report, to be amused at attendees’ expense. We document extensively, and are often surprised by things we encounter. There are times where we are not always comfortable with who we interact with or some of the traditions inherent to these events but that’s the whole point. With this project, we hope to exemplify how much fun can be had during the unexpected, how many weird pockets of the world exist and how there are no substitutions for experiencing the world IRL.

 

LR:  I’m not totally sure that we aren’t participating as voyeurs, but even if we are, there’s an authenticity to our complete surrender and immersion into these eyewitness experiences. I also give us permission to be eyewitness, because everyone is a voyeur with a tiny window to the world that they carry around with them all day, or have in a bag, or have at home. These little windows to the internet have evolved us into a Voyeuristic culture. I know voyeurism gets a bad rap because it’s about sexual pleasure really, so I would like to replace Voyeurism with Spectator.  

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Image from Burning Man festival courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: Does it ever come off to those around you at Burning Man or The Gathering that something is different about you?

MM: We generally don’t pretend to be something we’re not when we attend these gatherings. Especially at the Gathering of the Jugglalos, people would ask us how long we’d been in ‘The Family’ or if we were huge Insane Clown Posse fans, and we’d just say that we were new the whole thing, but fascinated and were there to learn what it was all about. All of these events have tons of newcomers every year who were either brought by ‘lifers’ randomly or who’d dreamed of attending for years and finally made it. At Burning Man we had tons of people marvel at the fact that it was our first year, because we seemed so prepared. It made me feel like we fit in and regulars were excited about our presence. We always tell people that we’re from KC and make all of our own costumes and proudly wear the KC fountain symbol on almost every outfit. They always think it’s amazing. And it is. That symbol was just made to fit over boobs and butts on clothing. It’s perfect. 

 

LR:  I think these places were created for people to be themselves, which is different from the norm of society. I think we fit in because of that. Though I will say in our most recent travel to Spain for the Running of the Bulls, we choose to dress as American tourist, and we did not fit in at all! Ha! It was an experiment to throw into the regular immersive way we conduct these performances, and part of it was because of thinking about this question from your interview Melaney.

Image from The Gathering  courtesy of the artists

Image from The Gathering  courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: I remember speaking with Megan about how you noticed women being treated within these spaces – specifically at The Gathering- can you elaborate on that?

MM: The GOTJ was the most threatening to women of all of the events we’ve attended. It was the only time we chose to bring boys with us “as accessories to our outfits” but also as documentation assistants and as bodyguards if needed. In our research, it seemed pretty clear that the Juggalos were a predominantly heterosexual group where if you weren’t paired off, you were fair game. 90% of the photos you find online are of guy-girl couples, or topless girls. So from our research, we felt like we might stand out in a way we didn’t want to if we came just as two girls alone.  

There was an underlying vibe of chivalry that came with all of this oddly enough. I walked away from the whole event feeling that if one guy had tried to assault me in public, 10 other Juggalos would have stepped in and beat the shit out of my assailant. But then I would have maybe, owed them, if you know what I mean. It was very strange. And we did meet a few really nice guys. But one of our more regular encounters was a near-by camp-mate “Clifton” who had a wife, and 2 girlfriends, one who knew about all of them, and one who knew only about the wife. I told him it sounded like he did a lot of “juggling”.He didn’t laugh.

We witnessed both a Juggalo wedding and a Miss Juggalette Pageant, where in the pouring rain people stood in the mud to watch 11 women brag about how much weed they smoked, and show as much skin as they dared to try to win a framed gold record type thing and the love of every Juggalo for 20 miles. During the swimsuit portion of the pageant, I heard one guy say (in what sounded like all seriousness), “Man, I’d like to take a shit on her.” and no one laughed. I shuddered.

We all left feeling pretty gross about being party (even if only in part) to such grotesque and antiquated (yet still so prevalent) sexism and degradation. On some level, there was a strong vibe of love at the GOTJ, every man kept saying “I’d be dead without my woman, I don’t know how she puts up with me- I owe her everything” But then they (and their ladies) would scream every word to the ICP song “Red Neck Hoe” with lyrics such as

Bitch, we can take a walk

But I hate the way you fuckin’ hillbillies talk

So keep your filthy ass mouth shut

And don’t say shit, nasty slut

Bitch, I wanna hit it

So I can drop your ass in a New York minute”

So it was a very confusing place, to say the least.

 

LR:  At the Gathering I could not stop thinking about the dark ages. I think the mentality at that event was this barbaric – post Roman Empire – strict christianity – fear of “other” – living in nihilism because life is Dante’s Inferno. So, eat whatever shitty high fructose disgusting thing you want, and drink till you’re liver falls out of your body, take all the drugs, and treat everyone like a disposable object. Women were revered for being fat slugs to be taken care of but also hated, and Men were self-identified useless containers of overflowing Monster Drink fueled testosterone. No one was spared.

Image from The Gathering courtesy of the artists

Image from The Gathering courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: Do you think that any of these events are safe spaces for women (specifically women travelling without men)? Is sexism rampant or non existent in any of these spaces?

MM: GOTJ was the most rampant sexism we encountered. I would say that Burning Man was 2nd in line with creatively-named clubs  such as “Slut Garden” and the “Little Crackwhore Camp”. Most of those places were all in good fun and our general interactions were (mostly) non-creepy. We had one incident when we were walking around “patrolling” (our theme costumes for the week were “Party Patrol”) and we encountered a ‘Sobriety Checkpoint’ where a camp of crazies (men and women) decided to block the road and spank all people who weren’t appropriately inebriated. You had to take shots and get spanked with leather whips and it was sort of forceful and not fun to try to play along with. We did not enjoy it, and it wasn’t really possible to opt out without retreating the way you came.

We also heard stories from some older Burners who had seen people spiking watermelon slices with date-rape chemicals and passing them out. Gifting food and drinks is a very common thing there; we were eating cantaloupe handed to us by two half-dressed strangers within ten minutes of arriving in the desert. 70,000 people attend Burning Man, many are families who bring children, and there are AA camps for those who don’t drink and safe sex seminars and tantric workshops etc and the Cuddle Dome for those who are looking for a consensual partner. So out of that many people, obviously there will be a few bad apples, and some apples who only go bad on drugs/ in a seemingly lawless place. On the whole we met a lot of respectful, nice people. And we met a huge number of men who were just excited to get to walk around in the nude. They weren’t creepy, just wanted to be without clothes in public and not be seen as lecherous just one week out of the year.

 

LR:  I’m not sure if there are any universally safe spaces for anyone. We generally have good experiences on all our trips, but there are always those “ick” moments. Years ago I was reading this book called “Skin” and it was all about understanding identity through our biological visual representation, and touch as communication. Our skin is visible, and we literally touch and feel things all day everyday. So it got me thinking about how we decide to process what information is communicated to us because of our skin and touch, and how I get to decide when I am and or am not affected by what is happening to me. As a defense mechanism, I have developed myself into someone who ignores a lot of things that should make me more upset. It has helped me navigate the world, but it has also made me desensitized to how the world views and treats me. So now as a woman in her 30’s, I am re-evaluating my experiences, especially while on our Year of Dreams trips,  and that is why I say I’m not sure if there are any universally safe spaces for anyone.

“Danielle Steels” Press image courtesy of the artists

“Danielle Steels” Press image courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: Now you two are heading to the Venice Biennale as part of your new Rocket Grant-funded project as Blanket Undercover. What is the story behind that?

MM: We are going to Pamplona, Spain and Venice, Italy for new Year of Dreams installments and then separately,  while in Venice, we’ll document the Venice Biennale for our city-wide Rocket Grant exhibition The Mini Vinnie Bini. We’re going to recreate the exhibition in KCK and KCMO so those who can’t travel to it can still experience it. Pieces will be installed on and around buildings and houses. In addition, we’re going to compile and make available creative interpretations of contemporary theory, criticism, and discussion growing around the show. Once we return, we’ll  take August and September to confirm who will be assisting us and set all of the venues and collaborative forces that will make this dramatization come to life. The project is a perfect opportunity to create a lasting document of the experience here in KC, the people who are part of it, and how we made this significant exhibition our own/ more accessible.

 

MAM: So a lot of what you guys are doing with this project is giving the audience a chance to become a member of the group? And then as Blanket Undercover you’re taking that experience from elsewhere and recreating it here?

MM: We are always Blanket Undercover. The Year of Dreams is a series within our body of work. Our Rocket Grant isn’t for Year of Dreams, it’s specifically for bringing the 56th Venice Biennale to Kansas City. The grant isn’t for our travel to Venice so that we can see the Biennale, it’s specifically for recreating the exhibition in KC. The nature of the Mini Vinni Bini relates to the fact that Kansas City is this very DIY, make-your-own-fun type place. KC is also a collaboration-friendly city, so we think that it is a perfect place to have everyone be a part of something that they may not even know exists yet.  

We’ll secure pieces inside and outside businesses and friends’ residences and create a detailed map that will lead visitors to locations as if they were winding around Venice tracking down each pavilion. A large percentage of the Biennale is free to the public, but this exhibition will be entirely free to the public, as will recreated didactic materials and our own catalog presenting curated highlights of our experience and more in depth information on blockbuster emerging contemporary artists. An exciting aspect of this installation process is that it will include neighborhoods that typically have no connection with the insular art community that exists here. Members of our community always act like they want art to reach beyond the designated art neighborhoods, but the majority of exhibitions put on here exist in spaces and events that can be intimidating to those outside the insular art crowd (and rarely off the beaten path).  

When Charlotte Street held panel discussions about how we could improve art in the city…Melaney you were present at the session I attended…

 

MAM: Yes

MM: … I was pointing out our art scene’s lack of diversity and asking why artists/organizations here don’t invent new methods of showing work that go beyond the same cubes they always end up in? The Rocket Grant program states that its aim is to fuel the energy of the Kansas City regional visual arts community by encouraging and supporting innovative, public-oriented work in non-traditional spaces.And though I don’t think every project they’ve funded fulfills this, it’s an inspiring and necessary example for an organization to set to help push the democratization of art experience and education in KC.

The Mini Vinni Bini will provide an extremely public, inviting way to interact with art for over 3 months and will breed new connections to our art community in new areas during our fun, experimental programming.  

   “Bored Meeting” performance image courtesy of Bohemian Magazine

“Bored Meeting” performance image courtesy of Bohemian Magazine

MAM: When you go to the Biennale are you two going to be yourselves or are you going to be a character you take on?

MM: Us visiting the Biennale is not really meant to be a performance- we are there to gather the materials for our Rocket Grant project. However, we never pass up an opportunity to thumb our nose at the art world we love/hate so much. So we are going to wear all black like SERIOUS ART CRITICS and we have little turtleneck insert “dickies” added to summer dresses so we still look SUPER intelligent and SERIOUS yet ready for hot Italian summer at a moment’s notice. And we’ll have fake black super intelligent glasses so we look well-read next to all the art nerds. For the Year of Dreams installments on this Euro-Trip, we are going with an overall theme of “American Tourista” and dressing like matching little-kid siblings on family vacation. But we’ll also have moments playing the All-American summer dream girl/ All-American Olympian touring the world. At the Festa Redentore (July 18th in Venice) we’ll be dressed as rats because it’s a celebration of the end of The Plague. For Running of the Bulls in Pamplona we’ll dress out in the classic red and white, but our fans will want to keep social media scanned for sightings of a couple of familiar faces!

Image from Burning Man festival courtesy of the artists

Image from Burning Man festival courtesy of the artists

 

MAM: Overall, what do you hope your audience and those you attend these events with take away from the experience you’re creating?

LR: I would be thrilled if someone had a change of perspective about the human experience after viewing our work, or talking to us about Year Of Dreams, or other ideas we work on. I always think about the artists who created Dada during WWI. I feel that same sense of disillusionment, but instead of being horrified by war, my horror is spawning from the way we westerners live our lives. Totally blind to our prejudices, and privileges. It makes me want to take a sarcastic tone, or do something illegal, or stupid, or hurt someone’s feelings. You know? I think that is where Blanket Undercover art projects start for me. Megan and I also talk about the idea of doing our Year Of Dreams project as something of an anthropological study. We are both aware of race and gender inequalities, and hatred towards non whites or non heteros or non christians in our current climate, and we want to be artists who are trying to make a change. We are also aware that as two white women, we run the risk of assuming a cultural identity to give it a voice and point out issues in the world, even when do not have ownership of those cultural identities. So, for me this is an adventure into the culture of “whiteness”, and how to understand what we are so we aren’t always trying to misrepresent and oppress everyone else.


MM: I hope people see us going to THE place and doing THE thing and realize that there are things that they can’t live without seeing. That making sacrifices in their daily routine could be worth everything to stop dreaming about how they’re going to experience that thing one day and actually do it. We live in a land-locked place and it’s easy to feel trapped and lose that feeling of wonder that life can give you. I find that wonder most while traveling and nothing has made me happier/feel like I’m learning more than to make travel part of my artwork. To save my money and spend it on experiences instead of stuff. To get out of KC enough to appreciate what a great home it is and that I want to return to it. The title Year of Dreams is also a joke on the “bucket list” concept- (a term I’ve come to hate)- because it’s taught this idea that once we’re retired or before we croak we need to spend a year seeing all the things we can’t die without seeing. But it’s like this limiting, last gasp approach that I don’t understand AND saving it till you’re too old to learn as much/ too wise & careful to want to explore or do anything dangerous. We believe every year is the year we’re going to live out our dreams and NOTHING is going to get in our way. One day we’ll be the only people who have attended every mass gathering in the world and can speak about them in the first person. And just so you know, we’re saving Spring Break in Cancun for when we’re 80 so we can really freak everyone out. It’s gonna be a good one!! So stay tuned….for life.




Why Are We Just Standing Here? Dean Levin at Bill Brady KC.

dean_levin_pic

Bill Brady KC is a brightly lit white cube that looks like it was taken right from New York and tucked into Kansas City’s West Bottoms. This spatial frame allows for a close inspection of monumental artworks. Dean Levin’s exhibition features human-sized rectangular steel cages with offset rows filling the space not already taken by the gallery’s two main columns. Following those on the stark white walls are black semi-circular paintings hung at the eyeline which don’t demand that you get closer. His paint lies flat and dead along the stretched canvas. The work echos minimalism in a way that is underwhelming. Viewers stand like at a middle school dance between the walls of the austere space and the work that increased the cold presence.

Almost formulaic in nature, the work stays rooted in being as reductive as possible to avoid engaging with any sort of cultural narrative. Levin’s exhibition will be photographed beautifully and look great as an ad in ArtForum, and it seems as though that is as far as it needs to go. Apolitical work is incredibly appealing to the Patrick Bateman-esque art collectors of the world. Just like a logo-coated handbag, it takes pride in the surface level.  Levin’s work is emotionally detached and will continue to find its place on the opposite side of the wall from the audience.