Light and Dark, Sight and Sound: Janet Cardiff- 40 Part Motet Meets The Photographs of Dave Heath

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Image of Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan.

Walking through the Nelson-Atkin’s contemporary wing, you could hear the gently building reverberation of Janet Cardiff’s 40-Part Motet. This sound piece and Multitude, Solitude: Photographs of Dave Heath were advertised as a joint exhibition, but the synergy of both shows became a happy accident.

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Washington Square, New York City, 1958. by Dave Heath. Gelatin silver print, 12 1/2 x 8 3/8 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2005.37.207. 

Motet is the stronger of the two, creating a joyful sound experience which brightened Heath’s somber portraiture. His Multitude, Solitude are a collection of mostly black and white photographs from 1931-2016, that dealt with themes of human loneliness, “loss, uncertainty, pain, love and hope.” While Heath’s work awoke human despair, leaving me raw, Cardiff’s work functioned as a salve, restoring hope that even in this broken, violent world, we are still deeply interconnected.

The arrangement of both shows had Heath’s photography exhibition first. If one wanted to bolt straight to Cardiff’s sound piece, as I did, you still needed to pass by his work first which sets up an emotional tone for the viewer. Multitude, Solitude included photographs projected on the wall and torn out pages from a book. Framed portraits, also too small, hung wall to wall, and digital flip books of Heath’s work were presented at center.

Undeniably beautiful, Heath’s street photography captures the fleeting transition between emotions that can occur in public, but which most rarely witness; capturing a secret smile, a glimpse of joy or a moment of loneliness.

However, the weakest aspect of this show was its set up. Torn-out book pages were framed in such a way they cut off portions of several images and the digital archive of Heath’s photography looked like an afterthought. The curator crowded the room with similar imagery when strong editing could have made the very same points with more elegance. This abundance of repetition made it difficult to decipher the overall strength of his work, and was more likely a disservice to his keen photographic eye. Selecting a few of Heath’s strongest works from each decade would have been a simpler approach. Although it is unclear whether or not the two exhibitions were meant to be viewed in tandem, giving more consideration to an intended interaction between Heath and Cardiff’s work would have elevated the creative synergy from both artists.

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Image from Heath’s Multitude, Solitude. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The audience become voyeurs with Multitude, Solitude, witnessing archived loneliness in the faces of passers-by. With each wrinkled brow or teary stare, we get a glimpse of humanity’s  daily suffering, how one can feel isolated in a crowd, or even the task of getting through the day. These images tear into that part of our hearts where walls are built, the sensitive core that makes us turn off the news or avoid eye contact. Photography gets painfully close to the truth,  illuminating how frequently we gloss over moments of pain with desperate optimism.

Outside the 40 Part Motet, a wall of note-cards provided museum-goers an opportunity to record their thoughts right after any epiphanous moment. Overarching themes of connectivity and spirituality came through, despite the variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Though I am skeptical Nelson curators went into enough depth examining the conceptual interaction between the two exhibits, these notecard reflections epitomized the Multitude, Solitude of Heath’s work. “Motet” transcends human understanding of this world, of art, of music, even of religion. With Heath’s work, one begins to think one understands what it means to be human, and that much of the time it can be unpleasant. Cardiff’s work, on the other hand, takes us out of our deep-seated cynicism and competitive mentality without washing away our individuality or community.

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Image of Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet. Photo Credit: Maddie Murphy.   

My best friend and I entered the Motet space together, then quickly split up, allowing us to have separate experiences not influenced by our friendship. We walked in near the end of the recording, but it played on a loop every fourteen minutes or so. 40-part Motet is a collection of inward-facing speakers arranged in an oval, where visitors can sit on benches, stand, or walk around the interior. The speakers are arranged in eight groupings, for the eight different choirs recorded. Every speaker has its own a cappella voice from England’s Salisbury Cathedral Choir, singing in Latin. Surrounded by these speakers, the audience became a silent hive. It was refreshing in that the reverence for the music went beyond modern museum etiquette. No one had their phones out for photography or recording, an anomaly. It was as if they were in a place of worship. Some stood, meditating before one speaker, some walked methodically in thought around the room, some sat on benches, some even sat cross legged on the carpet, with closed eyes. I couldn’t find words to describe this energy yet, but it had something to do with peace, with connectivity, and it was transforming the space.

The combination of 40 voices struck me immediately, giving me goosebumps as the song swelled from a soft hum to a booming wave of vibration and sound. I stood at center for a moment, already tearing up, and closed my eyes to feel the energy of the room. Due to its circular arrangement, Cardiff’s work enveloped the audience, as if we had entered inside the music itself.

It was deeply important that I absorb every vibration. Forty individual voices with unique inflections blended into sharp, clear sopranos, deep basses and baritones, and sweet tenors. I imagined the speakers were people, not technology and they were singing directly to both me and a higher power. I became the most emotional when the intensity increased and the harmonies hit full blast. I forgot where I was and who I was with, the beauty of the work stirred a sad, aching joy of happy tears. My fellow listeners and I became vulnerable, perhaps experiencing contemporary art of this genre for the first time. Looking around the room, people of all ages and ethnicities were present, many with the same misty-eyes I had. Just as the multitude of voices combined into one voice, never losing the variety of tones and voice types, we became one, never losing what made us uniquely ourselves.

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Image of Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet. Image courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan.

I recognized the potential for universality, especially after reading audience reactions, which ranged from “God spoke to everyone here,” to “Namaste,” to a nearly blank card with a tiny word, “Wow.,” written at the bottom corner. Performed in a language few know, the audience relied solely on emotional energy to comprehend the song.

I spotted one girl, likely near my own age, sitting cross legged on the floor, eyes closed and weeping. I sensed she was deeply spiritual like I am. But I let it go, understanding this was one of those fleeting moments similar to Heath’s work in the next room.

At the intermission, the recorded singers began speaking to one another, a different sort of bubbling chorus. We could hear a young choir member saying she had to use the bathroom. The other members discussed the weather, coughed, laughed, and warmed up their voices. It was these sort of breaks that changed the tone of the piece and the audience was pleasantly startled by this sudden inclusion of humanity. It also broke the tension in our atmosphere too;  people began speaking, our own voices united with the chorus. Based on Cardiff’s interviews, I don’t know that she intended this inclusion as an opportunity for the audience to relax, though it functions as such. Cardiff wanted to highlight the way run-of-the-mill human speaking voices can metamorphose into an angelic choir in a single breath.

During my research it became apparent how much this musical sculpture could transform its surroundings based on the work displayed. In The Art Gallery of Ontario, Motet was situated near a collection of spotlit abstract sculptures. At the Nelson, Cardiff’s piece stood alone visually, but the sound carried into different exhibits. Placing Motet on its own prevented visual distraction, but sound can rarely be contained between dividing walls. While other works could not disrupt Motet, Motet radiated out into surrounding galleries. I’m not certain Heath’s Multitude, Solitude would stay in memory when Motet washed over the room, but when I forced myself to see the photo exhibit, I couldn’t get the music out of my mind.

Though Cardiff’s Motet had traveled across many continents, it remained a remarkably universal, immersive experience. Reactions to the work touched on it’s spiritual nature, calling it “a choir of angels in heaven” or “a connection with God.” Other notes commented on how it united the room, even the world, reminding us how our different voices come together as one humanity. Most artists struggle to communicate ideas or emotions visually or through sound; Cardiff is a master of both. What makes 40-Part Motet so revolutionary is that it doesn’t require us to decipher by listening or by seeing, but rather requires us only to feel.  Multitude, Solitude also made us feel the  power in its honesty and leave us to ask, what is the solution to suffering?  Motet was cathartic, fourteen minutes of healing I wished could be a daily practice. Works like these offer a way to recover enough to find our own answers.


Janet Cardiff’s 40-Part Motet and Multitude, Solitude: Photographs of Dave Heath were temporary exhibits at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which ran from November 19, 2016 to March 19th 2017.




April 2017 First Friday Weekend Radar

FRIDAY APRIL 7:

Wounded Nature

Friday April 7th 6:00- 9:00 pm

Vulpes Bastille

1737 Locust St.

Kansas City, MO 64108

This exhibition features work from Crista Siglin, Andrew Lyles, Lauren Sobchak, Thomas Luna, Kelly Gazlay, and Sean Prudden. These artists work in a variety of media in conversation with ideas of instability and tension in their practices.

The Models Origin: Beyond The Core 

Friday April 7th 6:00-8:00

KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice

1810 Grand Blvd

Kansas City, MO 64108

In conjunction with the FATE (Foundations in Art: Theory and Education) conference, Melaney Ann Mitchell and Daniel Reneau juried and curated an exhibition of the work of North-American Foundations professors. It examines the internal and external influences that propel and challenge their art practices. Currently that trajectory is fueled by the political environment. Through understanding the core of their art practices, these instructors are able to set an example for their students socially, ideologically and in the classroom. The Model’s Origin: Beyond the Core explores this topic through the works of Gretchen Batcheller, Amanda Bulger, William Carpenter, Brandon Gellis, Katie Hargrave, Rachel Hayes, Garin Horner, Dahye Kim, Eddy Lopez, Guen Montgomery, Heather Szatmary, and Veronika Szkudlarek.

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Warm Wishes

Imagine That!

Friday April 7th 6:00-9:00 pm

Imagine That! Kansas City

2010 McGee Street

Kansas City, MO 64108

Work by five artists in Imagine That!’s program are united by mark making, use of color, and manipulation of the human form. Each artist references pop culture, movements, history, and cultural products that have influenced them. The exhibition is displayed alongside the work of community artist Nika Winn.

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For One, In A Shared Room – MFA Thesis Exhibition

Ruben Bryan Castillo

Friday April 7th 6:00-9:00 pm

Haw Contemporary

1600 Liberty St

Kansas City, MO 64102

Castillo blurs the boundaries between private and public and creates empathetic spaces that embrace our failed attempts at work, home-making, and love.

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Imani Nixon: Afro-Jamaican, American Thesis Exhibition

Friday April 7th 7:00-10:00 pm

Front/Space

217 W 18th Street

Kansas City, MO 64108-1204

Nixon explores gender roles, heritage and the notion of “blackness,” through her own American and Jamaican heritage, and her African ancestry.

2017 BFA Exhibition

Friday April 7th 5:00-7:00pm

H&R Block Artspace at KCAI

16 E 43rd St

Kansas City, MO 64111

New work by students in their thesis year, ready to earn their BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute.

prINTERPOLATION: KCAI Printmaking Department Group Exhibition

Friday April 7th 5:00-7:00 pm

Centric Projects

1814 Main St

Kansas City, MO 64108

Opening reception and live printing event featuring work from the Kansas City Art Institute’s Printmaking Department.

For The Record: 2017 Fiber Junior Exhibition

Friday April 7th 5:00-8:00 pm

KCAI Fiber

4218 Walnut St.

Kansas City, MO 64111

Exhibition featuring the work of juniors in the Fiber Department, dealing with themes of identity, community, memory, history and place. Also showcased are a group zine of the 9 artists, interactive works and community programming.
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The Angel Project: Work of Lucas Wagner

Friday April 7th–Saturday April 8th 5:00-9:00 pm

4235 Walnut Street

Kansas City, MO 64111

The Angel Project employs images from religion and advertising to illuminate problems gay men face when using dating apps.

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Lizzie Green: Between the Front Door and the Kitchen Sink

Friday April 7th 6:00-9:00 pm

Runs: April 7–29, 2017

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

2012 Baltimore

Kansas City, MO 64108

Green explores familiarity and defining ‘home’ through abstract representational quilts, sculpture, free-standing works, and prose.

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ONE FIFTEENTH

Esther Leech and Ada Koch

Friday April 7th 6:00-9:00 pm

2016 Main St

Kansas City, MO, 6418-1920

ONE FIFTEENTH is a photographic exploration of the impact images have on our experience in making connections and how much of that is assumed. The series is two-part: framed images on a wall and a photo-book.

 

SATURDAY APRIL 8:

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Tributary: Opening + Artist talks

Saturday April 8th 1:00-4:00 pm

Runs: April 8th–April 22nd

Healthy Rivers Partnership

815 Woodswether Rd

Kansas City, MO 64105

Tributary at Healthy Rivers Partnership (HRP) showcases site-specific art installations about the Missouri River and its tributaries, both real and metaphorical.

 

 

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What’s Good With Alex Savage
Saturday April 8th 3:00-5:00 PM

la Esquina

1000 W 25th Street

Kansas City, MO 64108

Event celebrating the five year anniversary of What’s Good? – a late night talk show in the mid-afternoon hosted by Alex Savage featuring many special guests.

 

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Collective Toolbox Part 1: Exhibition and Workshop Series

opening Saturday April 8th 1:00-5:00 pm

Runs: April 8–May 4, 2017

Workshops: Select Saturdays and Sundays throughout April
Closing Reception and Artist Talk: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 6 pm

The Drugstore

3948 Main St

Kansas City, MO 64111

This exhibition and series of workshops focuses on craft processes, profit-free material exchange, and the sharing of personal histories. Collective Toolbox will culminate in a potluck closing and a talk by the curator and organizer Olivia Clanton (BFA 2017 Fiber + Social Practice).

 

 

 

 

 




A Reflection on Cord Spinning (Working Towards Patching Holes in the Veil) A Performance by Goo Witch

This piece was part of Part of FLESH CRISIS: Pop Up Performance Series at The Drugstore Thursday, January 19, at 7 PM – 9 PM


Everyone was clumped in groups around the periphery of the Drugstore’s front gallery. The mood was jovial, except for a ritual-like circle of woo in the middle of the space where no one dared to stand, as if it was a cursed or holy ground. Between the multi-colored tufts, there were spice jars, containing what appeared to be herbs, onion skins, smelling salts, dirt, and some unidentifiable natural materials. This stage for the impending performance kept the audience holding up both walls.

During this pop-up performance series, several performances took place simultaneously, including works by Christina Silvius and Wolfgang Bucher. Musical artists Valerie Kuehne and the Wasps Nests performed, as did King of Herrings. These layered performances brought its own level of energy that wound up impacting the intensity of one another. I particularly connected with Goo Witch’s piece, her Cord Spinning performance and practice as a whole.

Two people dressed entirely in black entered the circle. They began spinning the wool into yarn on handheld spindles made with a slice of tree bark. The artist, the Goo Witch (Shelby Burchett) began speaking in a calm, even voice, “We are making a spell. Grab some materials and we will spin it into yarn.” The rest of the piece was silent.

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Shelby Burchett, “The Goo Witch,” Photo credit : Maddie Murphy

Glancing uneasily at one another, we hoped someone would make the first move. Someone did step forward, and the crowd soon began carefully treading nearer the circle, in reverent fashion. We crushed onion skins and lay them in the wool, presenting a crackling sound and a bitter smell you could almost taste. Someone put what looked like salt in the wool. As more people participated, the spell’s ingredients created an intoxicating scent, sharp and bitter at first, then sweet. My head rang, and I felt lightheaded, reminding me of incense used to create an augmented spiritual state.

Watching the artists spin became hypnotic. As more people engaged the work, the scents and smells intensified, and we all became part of this ritual. The audience interaction played an important role, keeping the performance from becoming overly precious and inaccessible.

Fellow witch and Fiber artist Robin Cossel spins wool into yarn. Photo credit: Maddie Murphy

Researching Burchett’s work, I discovered her choice of materials for this event made sense. She used animal fibers, plant matter, and human hair, all natural materials linking her rituals to the earth. However, I had a hard time uncovering meaning from the ritual’s spice jars. Their uses were not readily clear. Perhaps the artist intended to preserve some mystery and labels might make things too literal. However, any symbolic meaning of the onion skins and herbs needed to be read in that moment. Keeping information intentionally obscure does ask the audience to take a leap of faith, but this point is where audience ought to rely upon her expertise.

Cord spinning is a very old form of magic where chords are braided while concentrating on a desired end. Burchett’s spell focused on “positive and radical change, inclusion, and feminine power.” Printed pamphlets that explained her spiritual practices and detailed the materials’ symbolism were placed on tables at the back of the room. They were very helpful in understanding the symbolic ritual of Burchett’s piece, but their placement was not optimal. The audience would have been better served if she had them either consult the handouts first or place them in closer proximity to her wool circle.  So, while we were asked to place trust in Goo Witch that her rituals would resolve the questions she presented, we were also reliant upon these handouts for exposition.

Meeting in my studio, Burchett described art as “the act of making something that needs to be shown.” Historically, she has focused on time-based installation work, such as her Goo Corridor, but this was the first piece she expressly labeled as performance. “I realized I needed to be making performance work when I was working toward my MFA,” Burchett explained, “when all my time based work required me to be physically present and interacting with the piece.”

Burchett also explores the mythology and Magick rooted in textile crafts, relating her role of female maker to spiritual femininity and the making of one’s own alchemy.  Magick is another word for spiritual power, a force of nature like gravity. There are different views as to whether or not Magick violates the laws of nature, or is a law we cannot yet explain scientifically. Witchcraft is highly personal, and often requires devotion to research, meditation, along with trial and error to discover what works best for each witch. This is a spiritual practice about harnessing the power inside of a person to influence the world around them. Witchcraft exalts women, says Burchett, and is structured towards equality as a fluid system of beliefs. Burchett’s interest in femininity came through by employing two femme-presenting people as performers, and by titling herself “witch,” a traditionally female-gendered term.

The audience participates in Burchett’s spell. Photo credit: Maddie Murphy.

Growing up, Burchett began to find power in the feminine while struggling with her own identity and this strengthened her spirituality. Magick offers women power where other systems or entities fall short, thus, witches are not stuck in the patriarchy of Western ideals. Magick upsets the notion that women are subordinate to men, and actually asserts that femininity has its own unique strength. Historically, female witches or those perceived as witches have been persecuted for their beliefs, even killed because of them.  Shelby uses textiles processes once dismissed as “women’s work” as a source of power, combining them with Magick, which draws on the energy of her feminine spirit. Is seems possible that the reason female witches were and still are seen as threatening is because of how they embrace their feminine power, which dismantles the status quo.

Burchett and I openly discussed our own spiritual experiences and ideas of a higher power. I could feel the energy exchanged between us as two spiritual women, and felt respected and validated by Burchett. It was surprising how similar some of our spiritual experiences had been. As a devout Christian who in some ways rejects my traditional “religious” upbringing, I could relate to Burchett’s experience of growing up “very Christian.” She explained that her spirituality didn’t go away, but eventually found her place in Magick. Though we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on this subject, I found comfort in a shared passion for our beliefs. Our traditions look very different, but we both felt the presence of a holy force, one she felt was divinely feminine. Whether we call it the Holy Spirit or Goddess, I knew we were both chasing the same thing.

Details of Burchett’s wool and herb materials. Photo credit: Maddie Murphy




Informal Studio Visit: Anna Van Gheem’s Ongoing Discovery

Maddie Murphy met with Anna Van Gheem — a 2017 BFA candidate in the Kansas City Art Institute’s Fiber department to discuss her playful and larger-than-life collection  from the 2016 West 18th Street Fashion Show, Wild Summer, and her current thesis work.

First hearing about the annual Kansas City fashion event from a classmate, Anna Van Gheem remarked, “I thought, [the show] is outside of school, I can reach a larger audience. I recommend that anyone do it, it’s such a huge platform. I sort of had to be a secretary for myself. It took so much time planning. I had never made enough items for a collection before.  To make five really coherent looks was difficult at first. I probably changed my mind at least ten times for each look. Sitting in the [KCAI Fiber] gallery, staring at and playing with different combinations. I asked anyone and everyone walking by what they thought, and those outside perspectives helped.”

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Anna Van Gheem’s Studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

Perusing her Instagram account, then glancing at Van Gheem’s studio space amidst a pile of sparkly fabric swatches, she embodies an enchanting and refined sense of style. Her past work hangs neatly on a rack, while materials and more tests were found piled on her studio desk, overflowing the long-arm quilting machine. Mood boards and scraps of inspiration collaged the wall behind. Van Gheem’s work is a more extreme version of her philosophy, a juxtaposition of silly and satirical but still seriously invested in and responding to current fashion.

“[Aesthetically] I have been always been inspired by Valentino. Last year, Marry Me Jimmy Paul. was huge for me, these super gaudy Dutch designers… this year it’s more Prada, Miu Miu specifically, because it is super quirky and girly.”

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Van Gheem design. Image courtesy Ryan Swartzlander 

Her process of making is pretty unique. “I have to be working on twenty things at once with ‘nests’ everywhere so I can see it every day. A mood board is the most important thing in my practice. It’s a subconscious thing, those colors and influences are burned into my brain and find their way into my work.“

In terms of material choices Van Gheem gravitates towards the hardest; enjoying the challenge of mastering vinyl and pleather. She believes the point of her undergraduate education is to foster experimentation, noting she doesn’t take herself too seriously but is ready to build a business.

“Last semester pushed me to think about who my client was and to be more relatable. So much was in my head that was hard to express with words. It was a challenge to be more inclusive, and not just make my work a personal diary of my feelings.”

I asked if she could change anything about her work, what would it be? She thought for a moment, and replied, “Craft is the biggest struggle. Patience is a huge thing that I struggle with, taking the time to do things, versus being impulsive.”

When asked what advice she has for Kansas City artists interested in pursuing fashion, and she replied, “There are lot of independent artists here interested in fashion, so Kansas City is unique in that way. Art is well supported in this community, so a lot of local fashion has a basis in fine art. That being said, don’t be afraid to move on and expand your horizons, if you can be more successful somewhere else.”

Van Gheem has begun working on her senior show, which is planned for April. She is planning sizes, focusing on equality and diversity of models, as well as meeting with collaborators, including photographers, graphic designers, accessory designers, and videographers. “I want to work with as many people as I can, make it a huge thing,” She expressed excitedly, “I have my own little bubble, but there are people out there with bigger bubbles.”