A Material Memoir: Gerry Trilling’s Narrative Atlas

Installation, Gerry Trilling 2016, Dimensions Variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

Installation, Gerry Trilling 2016, Dimensions Variable. Image courtesy of the artist.

When I first encountered Gerry Trilling’s artwork in her studio at Studios, Inc., I came face to face with a fuzzy pink rug that you would expect to find in the dorm of an art student, the proper setting for this material is definitely not in an art gallery. Or is it? Trilling’s work exemplifies her fascination with piecing together narratives through material culture. Her newest show, “Narrative Atlas,” presented viewers with the personal story of her family’s struggle assimilating into American culture after fleeing the Holocaust, winding up in St. Louis by way of Vienna. Using individual covered panels, she created large, multifaceted fabric paintings of unlike materials. Her investigation of people through looking at interiors from their personal spaces created a conversation about the role of material in personal identity.

Upon entering the show, the presentation caught my attention. Beside each installation, a snippet of Gerry’s personal family memories gave viewers insight into each of her relatives’ personalities. As I walked through the space, it felt as though I knew her relatives personally through both the stories being presented and the materials being incorporated.  From the story of Aunt Erna’s food hoarding habits to the broken wind up clock her parents has received as a wedding gift, I felt as though I was at my own family get-together overhearing my relatives talk about their own experiences growing up. I grew to understand the narrative through the presented materials, assigning personalities to them the same as I do people. The fuzzy pink rug began to become more than just a rug, it became my crazy Aunt Kathy who loves drinking copious amounts of wine and playing Battle of the Sexes at family gatherings, and materials such as wire act as a stand in for my grandpa who was in the Vietnam war.

Activated Shelter, Gerry Trilling, 2017, 58x48. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Activated Shelter, Gerry Trilling, 2017, 58×48. Image Courtesy of the Artist

I started to treat the gaps between artwork as a pause to process the story and the roles of the artwork that Trilling set them up to perform. Her use of multiple square and rectangular panels carefully placed in relation to each other function as visual poetry through the use of pauses and moments of reflection, while Trilling takes on a curator’s role through her specific arrangement of the panels.  Taking on both of these positions, what she leaves for viewers to decipher is a complex, personal conversation between her artwork and the text.  She questions how materials function as stand-ins for memories and draws connections between the life that the used material once had, while considering the aesthetic function it is serving in her artwork.

From these relationships, each one of the works can be thought about as a portrait of a person in Trilling’s life, or rather, a self portrait of a facet of her life.  As I think about the characters from the text on the walls, I feel Gerry’s artwork manifesting into a portrait of every family member mentioned.  I start to decipher the embellishment to her narrative the further and further I get through the show, providing comedic comments which give insight into her journey of establishing a life in America and giving an account of her assimilation into American culture.  The psychological link she has created between her life and the gaudy materials she chooses becomes fetishized as she takes into consideration the purpose of the materials outside her personal associations.  Using materials that would more than likely be found in the clearance section of Boca Bargoons, she chooses one-of-a-kind elements that people don’t normally go out of their way to pick out. Instead of curating groups of panels that already fit together due to their color palettes or textures, she chooses to rework them into a separate piece of artwork that incorporates multiple aesthetics from uncommon fabrics.  Choosing the materials carefully, she is rewriting her family’s history through her own eyes, using textiles to be reminiscent of her own family biases.  Like a family, none of the materials Trilling picks out are meant to fit together perfectly, making for a relatable view of family through the histories of the textiles used.

Installation image from Gerry Trilling's Narrative Atlas. Photo Courtesy of the Artist.

Installation image from Gerry Trilling’s Narrative Atlas. Photo Courtesy of the Artist.




Questioning Signs of Authority With Oli Watt

Modern day Dadaist Oli Watt is known for his comments on the current questioning many millennials have regarding the value of a college education by creating sculptural and 2D rendered parodies that criticize the establishment. In the exhibition Sensible Disobedience at Charlotte Street’s La Esquina Gallery (March 10th – April 22nd), Watt took a cynical stance on how accreditation and credentials are viewed in present day society by creating a facade that questions the contemporary system of academia.

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Degree, 2006, Oli Watt. Woodcut print of college degree 21 in. x 25 in. Image by E.G. Schempf

Watts’ cynicism is proven by the large number of millennials who come out of high school confused about their next decision. In 2017, we’re placing college graduates on a fictional pedestal, valuing them more than people in traditional work fields, such as manual labor.  With the diploma creating a class-based barrier, it makes it harder for people of lower economic status to obtain a degree, making it harder for them to obtain higher-paying jobs. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree in the United States is $127,000.  With a large number of people in the workforce having degrees, employers start looking past the degree for validation.  In making a fictitious diploma, Watt comments on the function of the authoritative document, making the viewer aware of its’ objective purpose, as well as the task given to this paper by society’s pre-conceived notion of importance.        

Watts’ cartoon-like drawing used in Degree blurs the line between levity and seriousness. He recreates widely recognized forms of success and pokes fun at them, making audiences question why they are even considered measurable forms of success to begin with.  Dear Prudence is a series of traffic signs displayed throughout the gallery. Their unusual placement calls attention to their sheer quantity, starting a conversation about why we obey them in one setting and not another.  Watts shows interest in making people question whether or not they are handling his content as fictitious or subliminal in this work by using a common object such as a traffic barricade but shrinking it down to an unrealistic level where it doesn’t carry out its intended purpose, and instead functions as a guide for the viewers to move through the gallery.  The small replicas serve as a reminder of one instance where we face subordination to material objects on an everyday basis, and how objects possess a different kind of authority in their numbers.  The traffic signs shift viewers’ mindset from believing they are freely moving, independent beings before they come into the gallery into realizing that they have limitations imposed on them on a daily basis which had before been unknown to them.  

Oli Watt, Dear Prudence, 2001 Acrylic ink on polystyrene Dimensions Variable & Business Cards, 1998-present Offset prints 9 in. x 12 in. Photo by E.G. Schempf

Oli Watt, Dear Prudence, 2001 Acrylic ink on polystyrene Dimensions Variable & Business Cards, 1998-present Offset prints 9 in. x 12 in. Photo by E.G. Schempf

Watt’s work calls upon viewers to recognize that symbols that command us and present a layer of control over us in every aspect of society, but calls specific attention to education. His work questions the nature of why we choose to obey and honor material things for their symbolic aspects. Oli Watt draws out purpose from common objects and makes a viewer question why we choose to revolve our lives around something as ordinary as a piece of paper or an orange traffic barrier, and makes audiences question the authority that inanimate objects seem to possess over society.  A piece of paper should not dictate your success or function to further the wage gap between classes, as assigning this authority to a mundane object takes the power away from the recipient.  Placing this level of value in education creates distinct barriers between potential employers and people of lower classes who cannot afford a higher level education, despite their capacity for hard work and dedication.  Societal barriers are starting to become unnecessary due to the pace at which our culture is spiraling downwards. Because of this freefall, all that these barriers accomplish is further dividing the socio-economic classes, instead of being used to create friendly standards for competition in the work force.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        




iPhones & Rembrandts: A Conversation About Advancements with Catherine Futter

Catherine Futter, the Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, spoke to me about her process of planning exhibitions and finding her personal inspiration to preserve the traditional methods of art institutions, while also being cognizant of the prevailing trends in museums and the contemporary art scene in Kansas City.  Sitting beside the Bloch Lobby Info Desk, she revealed the extensive planning that comes with being the Director of Curatorial Affairs, while discussing how she views the Nelson-Atkins as both a place of academic inquiry and one of inclusion in the current political climate.  Being on the board of Charlotte Street, as well as holding a high position at the Nelson-Atkins, Futter expresses interest in how technology and the advancements of society contribute to the accessibility of art, specifically in an encyclopedic museum setting.

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Rebecca Swanson (RS): How many years have you been working at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art?

Catherine Futter (CF): I’ve been here fifteen years this March.

RS: When you’re planning an exhibition, what is your process?

CF: First off, I ask what the idea will be.  From there, it’s proposed to the director, who then decides if it’s going to go forward or not.  Then if it is, he developed it more fully. After that, we have a group that’s called the strategic leadership group, who consist of education, administration, presentation, curatorial, finance, HR, fundraising, external affairs.  So they are given a presentation about what the exhibition would consist of and how big it might be, all while thinking about the schedule and the budget.  Then, it goes in front of the full curatorial division, who might have some feedback.  We get together what we call a “core team,” which is made up of an interpretive specialist, the curator, and designer who are the central core of the exhibition.  From there, we expand it to a larger group who handles external affairs, such as fundraising for it, graphic design, public programs, etc.  There is a progress report at 30% and another at 70%, which is typically wall colors or graphic design, proposed fonts.  After that feedback, they go away and finish the project.  

RS: So it’s a pretty elaborate process?    

CF: It’s elaborate, and takes us a long time to do projects.  A typical, big exhibition will take us around 5 years.  If it has a catalog, it has to go to press about a year ahead of time.  You need to handle that, plus the idea stage, plus the fundraising stage, so it is rare but we sometimes do exhibitions quickly, but quickly in our mind is around a year out.  We have an exhibition schedule, so we know now what we are doing until the end of 2019.  If something drops out for some reason or something gets added, we have to adjust but exhibitions kind of get locked into their schedules.  

RS: What would be the factors in those schedule changes?

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

CF: Sometimes we can’t get other venues.  We take traveling exhibitions, and sometimes we develop our own.  For instance, maybe we want something that’s going to travel and we can’t find other venues that might be a reason that the museum is now taking the full, financial burden of an exhibition as opposed to sharing it amongst other venues.  No exhibition comes free, as you can imagine, just as installation costs money, insurance costs money, so they all have budgets.  Large budgets.

We have Forty-Part Motet, which is a sound sculpture by Janet Cardiff.  The sculpture explores sound and music in an immersive experience unlike any other. We also have the photographs of Dave Heath, which are really beautiful and poignant, and very human in both their portrayal of the individual within the context of groups.  Admittedly, I was born pretty soon after he took many of those photographs and I grew up in New York City.  Many of the photographs are of New York, and I keep looking for my parents in the photographs, and I gather that I’m not alone in finding that very human thinking that you might know someone in them.  You make a really strong connection to them, as individuals who are part of a larger community.  He himself had a very hard life, so he really found art as a way to connect with people and find his voice.

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

RS: Are there any things in the current culture influencing you right now?    

CF: Absolutely. We are focused on making stronger connections to the community by promoting the fact that this is a free institution where you can come and see millenia of art for free. We also represent many communities here with the art that is in the collection.  It’s about opening that up, and letting it be a major message that we are here for all people.  We are also thinking about being a place where you can take solace while also having hard conversations about diversity, multiculturalism and globalism, all of which are big issues right now.  We are talking about increases in technology and it’s rapid acceleration. For example, the iPhone is only 10 years old, but imagine a world without it.  It’s almost inconceivable, and there is probably something else that will be released soon that none of us have thought about that could change the world, which we see happening more and more frequently.  So it’s about thinking about how the museum will adapt to that, and have it be a place of tradition, a place of the present, and a place of the future.  So we try balance those things, and try not to be a place of dead art.  We want to be a place where you can connect on many different levels.  We don’t want people to think we’re a place that’s ten years behind, we want people to see our relevance to today.  

RS: What typically motivates you personally to make a show?

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

CF:  I am very interested in the way that people interact with art in other ways besides just visually.  I’m interested in participation, whether that means conceptual participation, or purely physical.  We’ve had an exhibition where we’ve had a designer present a wavy floor, so people could sit on it, roll on it, and literally interact with it.  We had another exhibition where people became owners of a cup, and that cup was on view with their name on it, so they were lending it to the museum.  In that way, they participated through ownership, participated as lenders, participated in contributing to the history of the museum.  It also related to the permanent collection, even though they were done by contemporary artists. Therefore, it goes back to things provoking our participating.  For example, classical music reminds me of art, and vice versa.  So it’s about how we can have people not just look at a painting, but think about ways they can interact with it on a bunch of different levels.  

RS: So in a way, you’re trying to make art more accessible by reaching out to various kinds of people?

CF: Yes! Exactly.  We all connect on different levels.  For example, if I looked at the Lee Krasner painting that’s on loan over there you and I see completely different things.  What you may see is color, what I may see is motion.  Those aren’t exclusionary, but we’re also talking about finding our own interests in the same work of art.  You may hate abstract expressionism, but I love abstract expressionism.  You bring all of this stuff to it as a viewer, so you have to connect with it on different levels.

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

Photo by Brennen Zerbe

RS: Do you take an interest in the Kansas City art scene, or do you focus more on art on a national scale?

CF:  I’m on the board at Charlotte Street, and it’s something I support in many ways.  I go to first fridays a few times a year, and I try to go to gallery openings.  I’ve done studio visits with artists here, like in the Charlotte Street residencies, and I try to be available to artists if they are interested in me doing a studio visit.  I love doing it.

RS: Would you ever be interested in showing a Kansas City based artist?

CF: I think what we would say is, “if an artist is good, it doesn’t matter where they come from.”  The answer is yes, and we have some Kansas City artists already in the collection, and we are always interested in building that collection.  I also feel like we think that there are other museums in Kansas City that do that better than we do, so then it’s about how we compliment each other, not compete with each other.  The Nerman now has a Kansas City room.  The Nelson has always been individualized.  What you see here, you can’t see in other museums.  Whether it’s historical art or contemporary art, you see something different than other galleries.  We don’t want you to see the same thing when you come to the Nelson-Atkins.     

 




Misty Gamble’s Decade of Femininity and Indulgence

Placed around the gallery are sculptural forms of women that defy presumed standards of beauty coexisting with ceramic bedazzled panties. Within these offsetting representations of femininity lie truths about beauty, all held within a thick coat of Rococo pizazz.  Misty Gamble’s ten-year retrospective, Decade, at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, takes a critical stance on the problems of womanhood, indulgence, and modern day communication. A current professor at School of Foundations at the Kansas City Art Institute, Gamble’s work fetishisizes the cultural critique of women, while challenging the current status quo of communication in present time.  

The interesting part lies where these two ideas merge to create one societal commentary.  Women are used in advertising to sexualize everything, from hamburgers to high end cars.  Selling through the lens and seduction of the body activates the desire of consumers.  Gamble is taking our knowledge of this and exploiting it; we are aware of our tendencies to be attracted to things that look good on the exterior, while the interior tells a more haunting truth. The work also provides a disturbing look at the reality of women’s lived experience, mainly in the realm of body image and introspection.  There lies a strong contrast between Gamble’s figures and the thin, photoshopped celebrity ideals that are at the heart of American culture. These psychological connections bring about a disturbing, yet real narrative of the lives of women who exist outside society’s connotations of beautiful.

Photo of Nelly Has Scissors. Photo by Erin Woodworth.

Nelly Has Scissors by Misty Gamble. Photo by Erin Woodworth.

The superficial surfaces of seductive color Gamble uses wisely, making us get close, look deep, and see figures with truths that are haunting, painful and close to reality.  This work stands in contrast to the fixated realms of body image. Deeper psychological connections are brought to the surface and illuminate the lives of women who exist outside society’s strict rules of beautiful.

In viewing this body of work as individually, the themes of feminism, cultural critique, and capitalist overindulgence appear.  The celebratory use of gender-specific objects woven with glitter and sequins provide a flashy take on womanhood that we normally don’t get to embrace without the fear of criticism.  In all of Gamble’s depictions, they are sculpted with a hand of sympathy.  Gamble simulates the lived experience of womanhood through the facial expressions and body positionings of the figures.  The most emotion provoking and haunting gazes lie in the eyes of her full-body sculptures, depicting figures of different ages as sleep-deprived zombies.  Each one of these works provides a snapshot of the playfulness and compliance that every good woman is expected to possess.      

Photo of Indulgence & Succulence. Photo by Erin Woodworth.

Photo of Indulgence & Succulence by Misty Gamble. Photo by Erin Woodworth.

While her work draws references to physicalities and bodily deformations, Gamble also sheds light on the psyche of women.  In her sculptural busts, the identity of the figures is taken over by the unrealistic standards imposed on them.  These pieces usually contain abstracted cranial deformations or something the audience can grasp as concrete, such as cupcakes. Gamble’s work reveals private conflicts inside the mind of a woman, mainly in her use of gesturing and sexual objectification. This creates tension between the viewers and the work, as some of the pieces are hard to face for long.  It is important to witness is the extreme, personal connection viewers form with each one of these works.  We can either relate to the emotional state of the figures, or to the trance you’re brought into as you’re encompassed in them while you come together with various states of the human gaze.  

Photo of Betsy. Taken by Erin Woodworth.

Betsy by Misty Gamble. Photo Credit: Erin Woodworth.

Overall, Gamble challenges the stereotype of women by exposing the underlying fetishes and their flirtation with disaster.  By exploring the psyche of an individual, she distinguishes the various levels of consciousness we possess, and acknowledges the struggles we face ethically as humans capable of change.  Gamble’s exhibition has a conversation with the contemporary political climate, as her work shifts throughout this showcased decade.  With the ethical stances held by the majority of America seemingly shifting backwards in progress, we face the problem of gender equality being exploited even more than it was under previous administrations.  Gamble’s work shifts the conversation from the acknowledgement of the divide and it’s prominence within a contemporary context, to making a comment on the emotional tolls that challenge has on women and their individual psyches.


Misty Gamble: Decade runs from January 6th, 2017- April 1st, 2017 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. More info on the exhibition can be found here




Context is Everything: A Look at Two Photography Exhibitions at Sherry Leedy Contemporary

Stop the Violence by Francois Robert was an exhibition at Sherry Leedy Contemporary that utilized overt symbols of oppression and violence.  In the next room, Transformed by Art Miller had a more subtle conversation about the symbolic. In the latter exhibition, Miller created a strong dichotomy between these two shows commenting on the expansion of religious institutions and materialism. His work directly countered Robert’s upfront  approach to looking at conflict. The work of Robert and Miller’s contrasted in tones and style of taking a critical look at the importance of symbolism, while setting the stage of reflection on contemporary institutional decay.

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Francois Robert, Gun, photography, 22″ x 28″

In the space of Francois Robert’s Stop the Violence, the first things encountered were large prints of bones arranged particularly. Upon closer look, the images being depicted with the arrangements represented those of oppression and hate, including the numbers 911, a grenade, and various guns. Using the heavily weighted symbols, he drew one in through the acknowledgement of the overtly controversial.   

Robert used actual bones through which was an attempt at making a direct connection to the human interaction which is involved in the conflicts escalated by these images.  The stark, black backgrounds created a sense of urgency but also seemed to desire a viewer to experience both mourning and contemplation in these documented miniature installations.

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Art Miller, (former Light Industrial building), Earth City, Missouri, 2014, Photography, 24″ x 34″

In the room next door, Art Miller’s Transformed featured medium scale photographs of churches repurposed for commercial use. His work posed questions to the audience’s perception of the money being poured into religious institutions and suburban sprawl. The contrasting tones between the two bodies of work existing in the space, one being these politically charged works with the other being a subtle critical look into religious symbolism in suburban/rural America, left one with questions of the nature of the true meaning of societal metaphors to compare and contrast.

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Francois Robert, Money, Photography, 28″ x 22

The prints themselves were well crafted; high quality printing with deep blacks that achieved crisp resolution of the details in the bones. The decision of printing these images was bold, yet it put the viewer face to face with these politically charged ideas that we tend to stray away from due to their violent nature.  However, the ideas being incorporated by Robert felt too overt, and left viewers with nothing to explore further conceptually.  Instead of expressing empathy with this body of work, I believe that Robert was more concerned with shock value, and easily attainable imagery.  

Back to Miller’s Transformed, it seems as though it existed as an explicit parallel of Robert’s photographs. In these images, the symbolism of the cross embraces subtlety, and there is room for the viewer to create their own assumptions. Miller is hyper aware of how the images flow create a contextual narrative about the state of religion in America. In a stark look at the blurred lines between commerce and religion, Miller takes a position on the critique of institutionalized religion proposed by modern America.

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Art Miller, Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, (former K-Mart), Grandview, Missouri, 2008, Photography, 24″ x 34″

All in all, I would praise the proposed idea of Stop the Violence, while taking a critical look on the blatantly obvious methods of execution utilized to carry his viewpoints to his audiences.  These artists have an interesting dialogue and counterbalance with one another, while presenting an opportunity to participate in a larger socio-political conversation. Art Miller’s Transformed serves as a strong, conceptual basis for questioning the major institutions of contemporary society in a profound way.  His photographs leave one wanting more, while using photography as a platform for telling the intricate narratives of deconstructed locations as sites for reflection on institutional decay.




Trey Hock Wants to Take a Selfie With You in The Mirror Self.ie

Image from the opening of The Bathroom Self.ie by Trey Hock. Image by Megan Pobywajlo

Image from the opening of The Bathroom Self.ie by Trey Hock. Image by Megan Pobywajlo

Trey Hock’s recent exhibition The Mirror Self.ie was curated in a space centered around one particular, yet unlikely public installation of a makeshift two-walled bathroom. I had the chance to view this show during the opening on First Friday, while also speaking to spectators and watching Hock – a local critic and Filmmaker –  interact with the work himself.    

At first glance, this was a show that exploits the contemporary practice of taking a selfie, and asks viewers to question the very act of these selfies as both a private and public act of self reflection and narcissism.  Viewing these works on a larger scale rather than a cell phone screen allowed one think critically about this practice in a way they wouldn’t on a social media platform. The prints presented on the gallery walls shared the same quality as cellphone photos, which was evident in the resolution. As this would normally distract from what was being depicted, and written off as a technical error, Hock made an interesting connection using the low resolution to make the means of capturing the image evident to the viewer.  

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Image from the opening of The Bathroom Self.ie by Trey Hock. Image by Megan Pobywajlo

The selfie can be dated back to 1839, but is still frequently utilized in our current culture through the use of social media.  This practice of presenting yourself in a certain likeness has gone from Robert Cornelius’ daguerreotype to the ease of a quick Snapchat.  With this evolution of the selfie within media comes a question of reproduction regarding the identity, self-representation and how we fit into these social constructs we build for ourselves.  Trey Hock addresses this by presenting numerous amounts of selfies taken in an environment that is less ideal, a bathroom, a space that is now seen as passé after its heavy use in the early 2000’s on Myspace.  While this subject matter is extremely relatable, it possesses some dark undertones of self reflection and modes of questioning the authenticity of the reproducible digital image.  In Roland Barthes “Camera Lucida,” it is said that every time a photograph is taken, it steals the soul of the subject.  In the case of a selfie, does channeling your appearance multiple times start to affect your essence as a person in real life? Hock answers this question by presenting these prints large scale, as a personal take on questions of vulnerability and how the effects of social media makes us more susceptible to these insecurities.
The prints themselves also carry a dissociative feel.  In the photos, the act of taking a mirror selfie is apparent, but the location is not.  The same bathroom is present in multiple photographs, but the construction of the composition is reliant on the other sense of location that is being explored.  The set represented in the photographs was positioned to resemble a normal bathroom. However, as the viewer moves through the exhibition, the location of the constructed bathroom becomes clearer.  The photographs were taken outside or in unrecognizable places.  By prompting the larger question of private action in public locations, it showcases that Hock thinks about the act of voyeurism in both contexts.     

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Aside from the various prints, viewers were engaging with the space in a way that was already familiar.  With the presence of the same bathroom that is apparent in the photos, it pulled the audience into the context in which the artwork is being made.  By initiating a hashtag on Instagram – #tmsbeco –  the work lives in an online environment as well as in a gallery space.   

Trey Hock’s Instagram persona with middleagedbathroomselfie puts a context to this work.  With his entire feed bombarding the viewer with nothing but bathroom selfies in various locations, he turns a social media outlet into an outlet guided towards a specific performance.  Whether it’s on Instagram or in a gallery, Hock escalates the meaning of self-contemplation to new heights with this body of work.