Potential Spaces: Candida Alvarez, Cristina Muñiz

Installation shot from Cristina Muñiz’s My Hand, Mi Mano. Image Courtesy of Kiosk Gallery

 

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Stacked Clouds (Nubes Apiladas) by Cristina Muñiz. Image courtesy of the artist.

Language is a universal way of understanding, it’s our ability to communicate, listen, acknowledge, and understand one another.  Abstract painting is a language unto itself and at its core, abstraction is a space for potential conversation. The potential for shared language was never greater than between Magnetic Fields at the Kemper Museum of Art and My Hand — Mi Mano at Kiosk Gallery.  In both, the similarities between the work of Candida Alvarez and Cristina Muñiz made themselves known.  

Both of these artists rely on our own brain’s faulty memory, its inability to perfectly recall a moment in time, but instead, a sum of its parts.In an era of hyperconnectivity, we share, discuss, and record everything quickly. However, there’s something inherently different about abstraction. While existing as an image, the paintings and drawings can be a space one can occupy.  Shapes and colors become onto themselves a place that opposes the speed of our current culture. Both the work of Muñiz and Alvarez highlight the space of potential in what a painting can reveal.

black cherry pit by Candida Alvarez in Magnetic Fields. Image courtesy of The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In Muñiz’ space at The Drugstore Studios one finds a room filled to the brim with drawings and sketches. As her studio neighbor, I notice how she leaves room for visitors interpretations. While there might be a familiar shape or slight reference to a specific memory, Muñiz always finds a way to move one’s eye through composition to a point of potential. Muñiz is a masterful communicator, always leading her composition to the point of potential where the conversation begins in earnest. Her images are listening tools.l. In My Hand — Mi Mano, there are flattened worlds through breakages in visual communication. These link up with the layout of the paintings; picture planes undulate from one assumed perspective to another. While the viewer thinks they have found a flat sense of ground, Muñiz throws in another shape or color to turn what could be a banquet table into a car mirror. The shapes and colors shift from muted and simple to bold detail, each new section building on top of and erasing the one before it.

Knowing of the show My Hand — Mi Mano, Candida Alvarez’s work in Magnetic Fields utilizes a very similar play with the viewer’s sense of perspective and ability to find a narrative. The small works on paper Puerto Rico, 25796, Puerto Rico 25781, Puerto Rico, 25791, and Puerto Rico 25787 have a bright sense of shape that also sits opaquely on the surface, allowing the viewer to piece together narratives in the spaces in between. Even Alvarez’s black cherry pit uses similar scratch drawing techniques that Muniz implies to subdue the flatness of surface and shape, encouraging the viewer to closer examine their relationship to the space created.

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Candida Alvarez’s Puerto Rico 25781 in Magnetic Fields. Image courtesy of The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

After seeing both exhibitions the most striking takeaway was the notion that abstraction isn’t necessarily a visual choice, but a powerful driving force of how memories and histories manifest themselves. This communication is articulated in a seemingly familiar manner, yet in studio spaces secluded from one another. The curators at Kiosk Gallery and the Kemper Museum of Art are both bringing these artists to light and extending the potential for them to create a new movement. The works don’t leave a need to consider a lack, the women artists of color are fluently writing their own narratives through this universal language. The work of Alvarez and Muniz is incredibly important in this cultural moment. With political hijinx on a 24 hour cycle, one can become numb to the constant barrage. Abstraction is loud yet contemplative; both exhibitions force you to stop and breathe, looking inward and trusting your senses.

 

 


Cristina Muñiz: My Hand — Mi Mano ran from June 16th – July 13th, 2017 at Kiosk Gallery. Magnetic Fields ran from June 8th – September 17th, 2017 at the Kemper Museum of Art and will travel to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. for more information on both exhibitions please visit kemperart.org and kioskgallerykc.com

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Candida Alvarez’s Puerto Rico 25796 in Magnetic Fields. Image courtesy of The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

 




Judith G. Levy’s The World Outside and the Pictures in My Head

 

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #31 by Judith G. Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #31 by Judith G. Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

For her latest series of digital prints, The World Outside and the Pictures in My Head (2017), artist Judith G. Levy has appropriated scenes from dozens of black-and-white, classic Hollywood films she grew up watching on TV such as “No Man of Her Own” (1932), “Dark Passage” (1947), “Cry Danger” (1951), to name a few,by capturing them through her iPhone camera. Reconfiguring the digital content into collages and short montage-videos, Levy’s images almost always appear smooth and seamless on the surface.

As made clear by her well-known 2010-2015 series of digitally manipulated Panoramic Postcards exploring faux-sites of American history, Levy has a masterful ability to massage and finesse borrowed, conflicting, fictitious, and disparate content into composite images that appear “true,” or “normal,” or “natural,” or “real.” She does this in order to analyze the popular assumptions and underlying socio-psychological conventions that a public may bring to her images in order for them to appear as “true,” or “normal,” or “natural,” or “real.” How, and why, certain brains cohere certain content into something coherent – even when it absolutely is not – seems to be the “real” subject of much of Levy’s artwork.

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #1 by Judith G. Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #1 by Judith G. Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

Watch someone watch something. It can be deeply revealing. About a minute into one of the short videos Levy has produced as part of her The World Outside and the Pictures in My Head project you can hear the sounds of the artist quickly and pensively inhaling and exhaling over a fleeting cascade of Noir images and off-kilter jazzy audio. While we don’t see her, we are made aware of her watching herself re-watch collected fragments of these films. She is scrutinizing herself as she scrutinizes and re-works images from old motion pictures she watched over-and-over again as an adolescent into much more abstract, hypnotic, and lyrical compositions now as an adult. Turns out, these are self-portraits.

These are, potentially, queer self-portraits. With their anti-heroes, femme-fatales, effeminate villains, shadowy figures, dark alleys, and tragic sexual deviants, World War II and Noir-era films are largely considered, as argued by film theorist Richard Dyer in his 2001 book The Culture of Queers, to be tone-setting for the depiction and conception of homosexual and gender non-conforming characters and individuals within Western pop culture and, by extension, the popular imaginary. However, Levy doesn’t concern herself with the busy-work of debunking the obvious stereotypes that emerged over the course of the 20th century as a result, nor does she focus on any specific Noir characters or narratives and the impact they might’ve had on her own self-concept and personal development as a lesbian artist over time. While figures do appear, Levy instead seems primarily focused on exploring the moody aesthetic affectations of the genre itself, drawing largely upon silhouettes, angular interiors, vast and vacant landscapes, guns, and the occasional explosion.

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #8 by Judith Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

The World Outside and the Pictures in my Head #8 by Judith G. Levy. Image courtesy of the Artist.

Like memory itself, the work Levy has made for The World Outside and the Pictures in My Head is both deeply personal and deeply ambiguous. Mysterious, sexy, and aggressive, Levy’s new work may at first glance appear to be a departure from her signature sardonic style, but it may actually signal a return or restoration of something much more sacred than satire.


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 




Fumbling Toward Ecstasy: A Response in 3 Parts to the Work of Benjamin Rosenthal

The following is a para-fictional response in 3 parts to the work of Benjamin Rosenthal by Kate Bowen (Artist, Organizer + Exhibitions Director at Acre). Each part intersects with a different aspect of Rosenthal’s multi-layered practice, specifically focusing on the transmission, the transformation, and the technoerotic.

from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist

Still of from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist.

*

The hot expanse of a tilled potato field in Rigby, Idaho is said to be Philo Farnsworth’s inspiration for the invention of the image dissector camera tube which made possible the first all-electronic image transmission. Mimicking the long straight lines of the field, Farnsworth broke his image signal into a series of lines moving across an invisible frontier. In 1929, he sent the first live human image through his electronic television system; including a three and a half inch image of his wife, Pem. Transforming the human figure from flesh and blood to photoelectron transmission Pem is a signal sent and received. She lives, in that moment, as an image, a signal, and a physical body. A subject in three systems, transmuted through an electromechanical potato field, and trapped by the physicality of each form.

Still of from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist.

Still of from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist.

**

From the inside things are actually ok. It’s more comfortable than you would think. Not happy, but safe, because it is ordinary and because you know it well. Discomfort and unease are not always readily apparent, as everyday provides a vast expanse of white noise as cover to safely move through. Instead it accumulates by a magnitude, slowly and then all at once, building intensity and pressure nearing an anxious conclusion.

As a metaphor, white noise is used to describe the pure background clamor of the everyday that suspends our abilities to actualize our identity. As a signal it is random and has infinite power containing all frequencies, but can be used as a conduit or a filter to gain clarity. White noise could be a proposition to reveal the random, powerful, and infinite, as potential. Transformation is possible if we do the work to filter and repurpose the structures and systems that bind us and conceal themselves. If we confront the insidious qualities of what is normal. If we let go of control in favor of experimentation, and forego the familiar in favor of the uncanny. We may find the safety of our hidden  interiors unnecessary, and in their place build sanctuary.

Still of from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist.

Still of from this side by Benjamin Rosenthal. Image courtesy of the artist.

***

I’m running my finger over the usb port on my laptop. It’s warm in my lap and making my thighs blush. I try to push my finger into the opening, but it is too clumsy and fleshy to be satisfied. The hard edges and rounded corners keep the pad of my finger from entering the port and touching the pins. Even if I could touch them, the connection would be a technical failure. Though this fact only makes me want to attempt the connection more.  

And what is success, or “right”? Failure according to a technical specification, or command, or some design, something mandatory and lifeless and prescribed.  

My fingers press on, my lap still warm. As I bring the charger near I feel the anticipatory magnetic force between charger and dock. It gives that little *snap* when the connection is made and my computer responds with a gentle whir from the fan.

 

Is this real?


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 




Collective Textile Histories in Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmaker’s Daughter

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Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmaker’s Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

A snapshot of identity through recycled fabrics were presented in Lexie Abra Johnson’s solo exhibition The Rugmaker’s Daughter at PLUG Projects. Abra Johnson deconstructed and reworked old fabrics that can no longer be used in their intended fashion to explore personal family themes and anecdotes hidden in the materials that her work incorporated. By tying these memories to materials, she made me reconsider the state of rapid material culture through her presentation of textiles. This work ultimately reflected on memories that are intrinsically personal and aren’t as straightforward and beautiful as the memories we choose to romanticize. Instead the work focused on the experiences we choose not to share due to complexity or the messiness of human existence.

Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmakers Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

AA Step 4 by Lexie Abra Johnson.  Image courtesy of PLUG Projects.

Using scraps of denim in different washes, Abra Johnson reworked the material into abstractions that highlighted my own recollections. They sparked personal memories of all of the jeans that one might have owned throughout life, and fosters a sense of wonder where they ended up after the donation pile. The sewn denim collages presented in her AA series have a quaintness to them, while also appealing to a subconscious desire for organization. With the denim being worked into abstract shapes with contrasting patterns and washes, they took on a new aesthetic appeal, it showcases the versatility of the fabric and it’s longevity as a fashion staple.

Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmakers Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmaker’s Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

One of the large scale weavings hung on the left side of the gallery, while the other was stationed on the floor in front of it. The weavings, titled Reconstruction and Legacy of Destruction, dealt with interpreting reality differently than the denim. The incorporation of velvet, shag, wool, and other materials into weaving pushed the idea of memories further. The varied fibers provided viewers with more of an experience rather than considering the pieces individually. To me, it appeared as a segment of one large pile of laundry; in it’s messiness, there is something beautiful about all of the materials harmonizing as a singular pile. We all have a vivid memory of textiles like these in our psyches that we either chose to remember, or they affected our emotions so deeply that we can never forget it.

At the exhibition opening, I immediately noticed the experience the large scale weavings provided viewers. It’s placement within the smaller space enacted a strong sensory occurrence beyond the visual aspect. The works’ soft and porous materials created a sound barrier between my left and right side. As my left side was close to it, sound could only be heard from my right, creating a small moment of reflection and pause contrasting the pandemonium of the show’s opening. This directly contrasted with the current, rapidly progressing state of material culture and how because of that, our clothing is thought of as so disposable due to the fast-changing seasonal trends of fashion companies. I view the pieces as reflecting anxieties, only calmed in making a to-do list, I thought about the pieces as tasks I must complete. The complexity of the wall hangings were a haunting reflection of my thoughts during a panic attack, with each material making sense on it’s own, but becoming overwhelming when viewing all the materials at once without time to process them.

Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmakers Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Install shot of Lexie Abra Johnson’s The Rugmaker’s Daughter at PLUG Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

This work ultimately makes comments on the fashion industry, and how overwhelming it can be for consumers to keep up with the latest trends. The notion of fashion is a rapidly changing, with old trends becoming re-popularized and new ones showing up every season. From my time working in retail, Abra Johnson’s installations reminds me of the seasonal rearrangements; the constant juxtapositioning of items for maximum consumer consumption. Her work brings an anxiety that comes from how disposable fashion is in contemporary culture, but also the value that society assigns it as an overall aesthetic. Whether it’s denim, (something that never goes out of style, it seems) or another quirky material used, they both created a pause which made viewers think about why we value specific fabrics over others. The textiles take on a different meaning when wearing them, versus viewing them on a gallery wall. The dialogue they create between rapid material culture in the 21st century and the pause her simpler works provide highlight the current state of consumer culture in fashion.


The Rugmakers Daughter ran from July 21st through August 26th 2017 at PLUG Projects (1613 Genessee St. KC, MO 64102) for more info please visit https://www.plugprojects.com




Pictures Talking to Each Other: The Conversational Practice of Megan Pobywajlo

Megan Pobywajlo does not think of her photographs as separate entities. Although they can stand alone, for her, they exist relationally within the space of a publication or gallery. Narrative and gestures of communication are central to her practice; her collections of images rely on memory, time, and syntax in order to present a more fully contextualized story. Critical to her work is the democratization of knowledge about how a photograph is made. This often takes the form of workshops, gatherings, experimental programming and social media in which information about the photographic process is exchanged with an audience.

Red Chicken by Megan Pobywajlio. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Red Chicken by Megan Pobywajlo. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Deciding what each photo says to the rest of the images in a series is a process that can only be described as one in which the works get to know one another. Pobywajlo prints the photos out on cards and takes them around with her, occasionally pulling them out, shuffling and rearranging looking for associations that expand on their formal connections. Within those formal considerations ,the practice becomes less about what each image communicates to the viewer and more about what they say to each other. Her instagram feed offers a wealth of opportunity to discover this phenomenon of conversation between the images. From June 25th to July 3rd Pobywajlo posted a series of four photographs, that create a call to followers of her instagram account to explore the formal relationships around the image.

The fireworks tent, bathing its explosive contents in red reaches up to a triangular point that exclaims in one breath ‘Emergency’ and ‘Exit’. The following image is of a red chicken figurine that contains something but the form is elusive; I have thought perhaps it is a folded up drink umbrella but it has occurred to me that it is a firework. The chicken sits on a gray backdrop, curling at the right and the triangular shape from the previous photo is repeated but pointing in the opposite direction.The next two posts are of cherry tomatoes, first; three tomatoes in a sunlit hand posed in front of a ficus leaf and then three tomatoes (I assume they are the very same tomatoes from the first image) grouped around a previously snacked-on cucumber. The hand is open, ready to pop the tomatoes in a mouth but the next photo reveals that desire unfulfilled, made more striking by the inclusion of a cucumber that is nearly consumed.

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Tomato Eggs by Megan Pobywajlo. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Pobywajlo’s writing displays the same poetic tendencies that present a word or object, only to refer to some other idea in a verbal sleight of hand that makes full use of parens and footnotes. One of her lengthier pieces presents itself as something more like an administrative document. It is a script for a workshop that teaches its reader or participant to make a photo zine. The text does more than just describe the ‘first you do A, then you do B’ process, it proposes a connection between an audience, an art practice and the place of images in our visual world.

I read a lot of artist statements. I read them online, I see them in various applications and I sometimes edit them for inclusion in project documentation. They are intentions, a way to contextualize a set of works within the larger scope of an artist’s’ practice. Zines & How Pictures Talk to Each Other does the work of an artist statement but also functions as a work of art. It is a radical and democratizing effort at not just leveling the who of who can make art and what stories they tell but how art and images operate in our world.

Red Chicken by Megan Pobywajlo. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Thought Experiments by Megan Pobywajlo. Image Courtesy of the Artist


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 




The Healthcare Paradox, as Seen Through ‘Care, A Performance’ at La Esquina

The concept of ‘healthy’ contains a multitude of definitions; asking how human society defines the tools of normalcy for our physical and mental states. Pain is an individual sensation, but its resulting effects are felt by all. We see in this exhibition that one’s mobility, disability, debility, illness and institutional access are social. Returning to “normal” is a paradox as the very idea of wellness is reconsidered.

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Cellphone photo by Karl Marks taken in the New York subway system

The state of American healthcare is a series of negotiations and consolations. This exhibition put a human face on what healthcare does for a population; standing in opposition to the current administration. Their obsession with undoing an already existing system without reasonable replacement brings up the human and psychological necessity for human empathy and care.  The healthcare industry’s bottom line mentality concerning wellness doesn’t always jibe with the societal effects. It’s begs the question: ‘How much are we willing to spend on one another?’

At first look, the space was the standard curation of objects and materials; there really wasn’t any central focus on one piece or another. Who suffers more isn’t the right question to ask; pain doesn’t necessarily have a hierarchy. Eyes pitched towards the artists’ construction of new interfaces to existing ideas.  Negotiating a world that demands one-size-fits-all policies requires invention.  

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Care, A Performance installation image courtesy EG Schempf

If there is a takeaway to be understood, it is the human capacity for adaptation. Amongst the Donald Judd-esque bathroom handrails (Constantina Zavitsanos), seeing eye canes (Carmen Papalia), hospital gowns (Hadley Clark) and care instructions (Lynne McCabe), were the aesthetics of human care and its evolution. In a sense, this room was a survival guide. Appropriately so, as there are larger issues at work; these objects of adaptation also prescribe the advancement of the human species.  Now that citizens of Earth have been handed a timetable, the effort to make ourselves into the next form that adapts towards overpopulation, conflict (political, social) and climate change, it is necessary to begin thinking about how the human form will continue to augment itself.

Ben Gould’s live performance, In Ballast, reflecting his experience with Tourette’s Syndrome, was by far the most powerful. It went directly to the core of living with difference. I was more interested in his balletic movement and whether or not he was going to be able to hold the water poured into his cupped hands (He did!).  In the spirit of Eva Hesse, it is important the viewer not “Ask what the work is. Rather, see what the work does.”  We witnessed his experience in stark reality, not perceived in the abstract, which highlighted to the audience that we have been invited to watch as both architect and observer. Do we sympathize or empathize? Our emotions must mitigate the experience to reach a pragmatic extension of Gould’s motions, acknowledging these specific limitations  tell us the limit does not exist.  Rather than focusing on otherness Gould says, “Instead of my spasms being like an engine stalling, they have become an engine.” And thus, is the evolution of humankind’s leap into the future.

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In Ballast by Ben Gould. Image courtesy Patricia Bordallo Dibildox

Photos of implants after the body has been cremated (Sarah Sudhoff, Precious Metal) gave thought to what this might look historically. Before I read the wall text, I assumed they were ancient objects and considered part of a dialogue on  how we’ve always cared for and about the infirm. But the afterlife of prosthetics and augmentations take different routes after death, so Sudhoff’s documentation became a conversation about the rejuvenation and conservation of these artificial elements.

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Face by Samara Umbral. Installation image courtesy EG Schempf

Conversely, the cost of living as yourself (Samara Umbral, Face), put into motion the idea that the human figure does evolve and change according to its personal user interface.  Curiously, it leaves us to wonder what happens should this particular body be cremated after death and what comes of all the secondary and tertiary implants when melted down? Umbral presented a banner highlighting the monetary expense of personal evolution, but it is difficult to discern what else is seen beyond that.  It doesn’t answer whether all these estimates were undertaken or how Umbral felt about the results. It is little more than a bleak shopping list that seems to skim past the psychological considerations of such measured steps.  Face does present a triumph of science that such progress can keep up with the human need for ‘wellness.’ Fitting into a society comprising itself out of matching one’s psychological foundation to these artificial gender binaries with its physical manifestation.

It is not merely enough to be physically on board insomuch as it is to be in sync psychologically as well. There is no such thing as a normal, as we continue to fight for the rights for those with needs, CARE presented this truth. We negotiate trust as a means of survival and the instinct for personal strength, with the capacity for acknowledging society’s needs, is stronger than ever.

 


Care, A Performance was an exhibition curated by Risa Puleo for Charlotte Street’s La Esquina Gallery (July 7-August 5, 2017)




Deconstructing Reality: Caitlin Horsmon’s Transformative Video Installations

Every Time I Go Outside the World Is Different by Caitlin Horsmon, 5 projector expanded cinema performance, 2017

Every Time I Go Outside the World Is Different by Caitlin Horsmon, 5 projector expanded cinema performance, 2017

“It is not necessary to create a world, but the possibility of a world”

Jean-Luc Goddard(( Jean-Luc Godard cited in Robert Stam (ed.), Reflexivity in Film and Architecture, From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc-Godard, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.))

What might you do if suddenly the walls of your beloved home began changing? Expanding and contracting, breathing and bleeding, altering without any sense of reason? In Caitlin Horsmon’s work Sense of Place, she creates an immersive video installation that works with these ideas.  Interested in merging reality with fiction to create experiences, Horsmon examines the idea of place through theatrical gestures within spliced video footage. She transforms place into space and back again exploring their histories and the objects they hold, altering their architecture and highlighting their quirks and imperfections.

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Superlinear Living by Caitlin Horsmon (2015) from The Center is a Moving Target at the Kemper Crossroads. Image courtesy of the Artist

Like artists before her, Horsmon highlights the visual and emotional relationships developed between the domestic space and its occupants. The histories embodied in the home and the interactions with the bodies that inhabit them rise to the surface in the artist’s work. In a way, the work is in conversation with Gordon Matta Clark’s building cuts into domestic spaces. His work would highlight the textures and layers of the space—exposing what lay underneath while also creating a new history to a space before it was demolished.

In Horsmon’s work, utilizing a hybrid of found and constructed footage and sound, she also adds to the history of the space by projection. In Sense of Place, her space is created through the combination of installation and video. The gallery wall is no longer perfect—it resembles a living organism with bulges and fissures. The footage is spliced and stitched together. The content is familiar—images from a freshly finished home makeover television show juxtaposed with scenes spewing the heightened awareness of a horror film. Details from wallpaper patterns and elaborate molding glide across the wall and occasionally fall into place with its new shape. At certain times, the artist’s body enters the frame—adding an additional architecture to the work. “Houses hold memories—what these are and how we remember them are variable and impacted by storytelling, documentation and time.”((Caitlin Horsmon’s statement for her work _place _plateau))

The work elicits tension and nostalgia simultaneously. Through creating these installations filled with potential, like Matta Clark’s building cuts, Horsmon introduces the possibilities of deconstructing reality by transforming our consciousness and the way we perceive our world.

Every Time I Go Outside the World Is Different by Caitlin Horsmon, 5 projector expanded cinema performance, 2017

Installation shot of Practical Optics at Front/Space by Caitlin Horsmon, 2016


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 

 




When Viewing Molly Garrett’s Artwork, Consider This

Still from Steps to Balance 1-5 by Molly Garrett (2017) Single channel hand-drawn animation. Image courtesy of the artist.

Still from Steps to Balance 1-5 by Molly Garrett (2017) Single channel hand-drawn animation. Image courtesy of the artist.

Congratulations! You’ve done it. You’ve made it out of your house to this show. You’ve peeled yourself from the warmth of your bed, put on some decent-ish clothes, hopped in your car, and made your way downtown, faces past, and you’re art-bound. Or perhaps you made it here today after work. You put off that deadline, bolted from exhausting colleague chatter at the snack counter, and escaped an office that is always too cold. (Expense a space heater. That’ll teach ‘em).

You did this to be here today at Against the Screen and you are either about to, in the middle of, or have just concluded walking through the current collection of artwork before you.

Still from Steps to Balance 1-5 by Molly Garrett (2017) Single channel hand-drawn animation. Image courtesy of the artist.

Still from Steps to Balance 1-5 by Molly Garrett (2017) Single channel hand-drawn animation. Image courtesy of the artist.

Have you seen Molly Garrett’s piece I’ll Come To You / You Come to Me (Human Error Loop) yet? You should. Before you do, here are a few musings to consider as you spend time with the artwork. Consider this a guided meditation through the installation.

  1. Notice Your Surroundings
    1. First things first: note the objects, sounds, and sights around you. Acknowledge any passing thoughts or emotions that the installation provokes. Sit with them, but not for too long. You’ve got a few other things to consider.
  2. The Artist’s Process
    1. Garrett’s animation work requires that they trace each frame you see by hand. This rotoscoping process may seem tedious, but such repetitive work can be a meditative practice that allows one to spend time knowing and learning how the body moves, how certain poses and weight shifts are articulated, and how these movements all flow into the next.
    2. As you view these animations, consider the range of movement represented onscreen compared to your own as you stand still or walk about. If your movements were captured through Garrett’s animation process, what would the individual frames of your walk look like?
  3. Your Body
    1. Become aware of your body and the space it occupies against the monitors. Consider the way the body is fractured within the different screens and their relationship to one another. Consider how your body complements and completes the images onscreen. Just as parts of a person are fragmented here through the monitors, so is the identity we project through our own screens. We show only fragments and snippets (usually only the best) of ourselves through our online personas. Our computer and phone screens reflect back to us just a small portion of our selves and that is what we experience of others too.
  4. Time
    1. Consider how Garrett’s animation, with all its individually hand-drawn, and therefore different, frames all constitute the same body part. It changes throughout time as the video progresses, but still remains the same. Thus are we. Our body and our self is not continuous throughout time. We are not the same person throughout all our lives as we undergo deep psychological and emotional changes, as well as physical ones. And yet you are still you. When was the last time you changed?
  5. Balance
    1. Garrett’s past work includes a series of animations featuring them and their partner lifting and balancing each other. That visual acts as a metaphor for the inevitable balancing act that happens once you enter a relationship. You ultimately start to balance the parts of your identity that are yours and yours alone, versus the parts that have been influenced by your loved one.
    2. Consider opening yourself up to the artwork as you would a partner. Do one last loop. Let yourself fully, openly, and unabashedly feel and think what you need to feel and think about the artwork. Consider the balance and dialogue between your identity, your current mood, and what thoughts or bias you carry into this exhibition versus the thoughts, feelings or ideas Garrett is presenting you with here. Spend as much time with it as you want. As you try to lift and balance it on your back, let it gently try to support your weight too.

Well, how was it? What did you think?

Counterweight by Molly Garrett. Laserjet print collage (2017) Image courtesy of the artist.

Counterweight by Molly Garrett. Laserjet print collage (2017) Image courtesy of the artist.

 




Encountering the Black Everyday in William Toney’s Photography

“The black aesthetic turns on a dialectic of luxuriant withholding – abundance and lack push technique over the edge of refusal so that the trouble with beauty, which is the very animation and emanation of art, is always and everywhere troubled again and again. New technique, new beauty.” The Undercommons, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney

Clippers by William Toney (2016) Image courtesy of the Artist

Clippers by William Toney (2016) Image courtesy of the Artist

In photographer William Toney’s Clippers (2016), a set of multicolored clipper guards, the artist’s own, are arranged before a black background, their teeth at some points intersecting —each guard in some way touching another. The blackness of the background feels almost infinite —it isn’t quite clear if the clippers are at rest, suspended in space, or falling together in a cluster. It’s an image that has likely been incidentally reproduced on the counters of countless barbershops. But in extracting these tools from their original context and placing them quite literally into the black space of a studio backdrop, Toney’s still life imbues these objects with a sense of wonder. Through this, a full recontextualization of the quotidian, he doesn’t raise the mundane to the state of beauty but rather troubles conceptions of beauty itself.

Toney’s work is an intensely personal exploration of the spaces and traces of black life. He describes the recent shift in his practice—which occurred after returning to his hometown of Kansas City from Columbia, Missouri where he studied photography at Mizzou—as a rencounter with the language of urban spaces, a re-immersion into the familial and the familiar. Left without the resources and support of his undergraduate art department, Toney turned to making work in his bedroom studio meticulously arranging “scenarios” to capture, some of which involved his family and friends, others which incorporated found objects and personal items. In triangulation with his studio-based work, the artist approaches his street photography through a similar lens. From his de Bechers inspired typological cataloguing of car sun screens across the U.S. to moments of flux or visual irony captured on the streets of Kansas City, Toney crafts a narrative of movement through space.

Still Life White (2017 by William Toney. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Still Life White (2017 by William Toney. Image Courtesy of the Artist

He considers these images to be in a state of interdependence, each a vignette standing both on its own and together which Toney compares to the relationship of tracks on a mixtape. Thematic refrains reappear in their full presence or in a gesture toward their presence. The clipper guards reappear in Stilllife White (2017) in the sculptural shrine-like arrangement of wilted and wilting flowers and leaves lit by a reddish light. Amongst the plants Toney places objects that ring of black urban life. The heel of the Jordan sneaker peeks out in the left part of the frame. A folded white “tall tee”— popular in the snap rap era of the mid-2000s — sits propped at the base of the arrangement. Elsewhere in the sculpture one finds detritus that Toney has collected from the streets of Kansas City: the face of a Newport carton and a generic styrofoam cup one would find at corner convenience store. Toney refuses to overlook that which is considered waste/discarded, whether in the form of cultural passe or actual objects that people have thrown away, instead bringing the viewer to an makeshift altar of blacknesses past, present, and future.

Here, his embrasure of refuse runs against expectations of beauty, distancing us the everydayness of the black everyday. It is this that is Toney’s act of refusal—a rejection of the terms of what is considered passe, ‘dirty’, or unworthy of an attentive eye.

Far from the Tree by William Toney (2010) Image Courtesy of the Artist

Far from the Tree by William Toney (2010) Image Courtesy of the Artist

The presence of the clipper guard echoes again in Far From the Tree (2010), a studio portrait of two closely shaven heads—Toney’s and his father’s—leaning into one another, the shadows of the crowns of their respective heads eclipsing the other. The image captures not only the physical similarity of the heads of a father and son but an orchestrated, nonetheless, palpable moment of tenderness and intimacy between two black men. The image acknowledges both the black familial space and the space of black masculinity as spaces in which there is the possibility of refusal of their imposed/supposed limits and acknowledgment of their beauty and complexities.

In a world where representation of blackness in the mainstream remains important, it fades as a goal or interest for both artists and mass political movements. Toney’s photographic practice enacts a practice of refusal, asking his viewers to encounter the black quotidian and its intersections and divergences with a mainstream on its own terms, in its own language in its full wonder and beauty.


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 




Journeys and Cross-Generational Narratives in Barry Anderson’s The Janus Restraint

A labyrinth evolves before us in Barry Anderson’s The Janus Restraint, the ongoing multimedia project begun in 2012. Anderson has created a kaleidoscope of epic semi-narrative proportions, which merges mythology, romantic landscapes, and personal symbolism.The project could be considered an extended portrait of the artist’s son, who’s featured heavily in the work, although such a simplification would do a disservice to the richness of the piece.         

Barry Anderson Come as You Are. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Still from Barry Anderson’s The Janus Restraint. Image Courtesy of the Artist

In 2010, Anderson took a trip across the American landscape, visiting national parks and landmarks with his father and his son. The journey extended for weeks, becoming the catalyst for a tradition that connects three generations of family and laid the foundation for the project that would become The Janus Restraint. Through these experiences, in addition to a solo sojourn to Iceland, Anderson has generated works of cinematic beauty and moments of transcendence in what is ultimately a metaphorical reimagining of boyhood rites of passage. 

The Janus Project shifts across disciplines, incorporating video, digital construction, black and white photography, and sculptural installations that progress and build on one another. They culminated in a series of exhibitions with a variety of these elements shown. Each form complicates and layers the work, recording time in different ways as we witness Anderson’s public and private experiences coalesce. In one moment the camera pans slowly across a deserted Icelandic mountainscape and takes our breath away, in another, we watch candid images of Anderson’s son investigating new terrain in a style that suggests home videos. In the midst of the majestic and the intimate, all is permitted.

Still from Barry Anderson's The Janus Restraint. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Still from Barry Anderson’s The Janus Restraint. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Collectively these videos reveal the Icelandic landscape and the Aurora borealis. As the Northern Lights and additional visual cues to Scandinavian lore accumulate, Anderson establishes a link to Norse mythology. Here we come to see the Bifröst, a bridge to the gods, and understand the natural relationship between a simple baseball bat carried by Anderson’s son and Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. For a contemporary audience familiar with Marvel comics and immersed in a pop culture, saturated with their corresponding superhero movies, these connections provide us access and a vernacular through which to approach the work.

Anderson uses music as a vital element in his practice, one that he pushes as he experiments with different narratological structures. In addition to creating his own soundtracks, he has been working with a variety of musicians to score his videos. Like the unfamiliar influences from which his scores grow, Anderson’s symbolic language provides a slow burn: noticeable but not obvious, intimate but also indirect. The more time we spend with The Janus Restraint, the more the symbols reveal themselves and generate unexpected connections—from Icelandic mythology to Americana—establishing a visceral and psychological space that brings together disparate narratives. The Roman god Janus was two-faced, looking towards the past and the future, and was also known as the god of beginnings, transitions, time, duality, passages, and endings. The restraint Anderson references in his title may be a loose metaphor for the eternal search within the work for himself and the viewer, on various but akin journeys.

Still from Barry Anderson's The Janus Restraint. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Still from Barry Anderson’s The Janus Restraint. Image Courtesy of the Artist

Anderson’s pristine video quality and cinematic approach create a surreal experience when presented on multiple screens in front of the viewer, challenging the expectation of single-channel narrative. Seen across screens or broken up on individually, Anderson requires viewers to divide their attention and eventually experience all the images simultaneously. It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of imagery and psychedelic colors, to lose your grounding in the shifting patterns, or to get caught in the symbolism and density of narrative. Anderson and his son reveal themselves to be adept collaborators and guides, however, inviting us to accompany them across unfamiliar terrain through private experiences which always just elude our understanding. Their shared vision welcomes the viewer into their journey of monumental scope, suggesting that even when you’re not exactly certain where you are, you might perhaps stay awhile and enjoy the view.


This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition Against the Screen at La Esquina Gallery (1000 W 25 Street KCMO) open from August 25 through October 7, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists.