Uncanny Chaos Under Control at Postmasters Gallery

Our current political climate has brought us to state of deliriousness. We resist these forces of political immorality while becoming passive to its effect or otherwise exhausted from the effort. Conversely, there are artists acknowledging and responding to our collective feelings by taking their work to a place of darkness, that surprisingly shines a light on these conditions.  Two ideas such conditions bring forward were recently shown in the dual exhibition at Postmasters Gallery NYC entitled In G.O.D. We Trust and CON-Figuration (March 18 – April 22, 2017).

The timing is right; these shows were deliberate and crisp as they prod what it means to be making work right now, while also collectively showcasing our media cycle’s lust after violence, absurdity, and darkness. These exhibitions posed some worthwhile questions: do we stay and wade in this grim shade we have surrounded ourselves with? This work offers the means to absorb the reality, giving stark imagery of the history of political disruptions, and although absurd, it is seriously no joke.

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Installation of  In G.O.D. We Trust. Image courtesy of Postmasters Gallery NYC

In G.O.D. We Trust  — G.O.D. standing for Global Obama Devotion—  is the title of a video and accompanying stills stretched on canvas by Chinese-American new media artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung. The room was filled with video game noises you’d hear in an on-screen battle. The sound activated the stills hung around the first room of the gallery, mimicking the motion of the viewer’s eyes as they bounce from one icon to the next in this vivid cut-and-pasted world. These icons included images of former Presidents Obama, Clinton and George W. Bush, along with seven religious prophets that Obama morphs into throughout the course of the video. This created a narrative that outlines the various global and domestic problems the Obama administration faced early on, characterizing one president’s specific struggles out of many others.

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Video Still from In G.O.D. We Trust by Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung. Image courtesy of Postmasters Gallery NYC

The work is loud; the frames were filled with tumultuous images, which had a hypnotizing effect, making one incapable of pulling away from this hyperbolized political reality. Moreover, the comparisons of Obama to seven prophets hyperbolizes him as an idealized savior, placing on the role of the president the duty to somehow save the people. This reliance we the people have on our president to be our “Messiah” is highlighted through this portion of the video, where he morphs into the figure of Jesus Christ and carries the weight of the country’s debt like a cross. To go along with the analogy, if we as believers continually place faith in one with the bigger plan, or a higher power with knowledge unknown to us, we will serve no purpose nor make any changes in this world if we do not act ourselves. Furthermore, in this world of people looking for change, we must be wary of creating and following false prophets, especially ones as human as the president.

In the neighboring room, CON-Figuration features five artists: painters Canyon Castator and Christian Rex Van Minnen, sculptor Agathe Snow, fiber artist Erin M. Riley, and digital media artist Shamus Clisset.

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Installation shot of CON-Figuration. Image courtesy of Postmasters Gallery NYC

While less politically direct, this room was filled to the brim with even more iterations of a deformed reality. At the room’s center, Agathe Snow’s sculptures balanced between the two pillars that cut through the center of the gallery. Insouciant (top hanging figure), Don’t Stress over the Turkey Daddy… (bottom figure in mangled chair structure) and Dad is always stressing about his job (figure on stilts) are uniquely positioned. These bodies reflect their titles of both indifference and stress, every figure weighed down by themselves, barely supported by the structures they lean on, exemplifying the potential apathy that rises out of the effect of stress or anxiety. These long limbed figures mimicked the positions the bodies hold in the paintings sharing the space, all sharing a similar body language that is paused in tension, even in a pose.

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Canyon Castator’s Tipping Point & Christian Rex Van Minnen’s Selfie In Casmate Beneath the Bridge to Better Days I Image courtesy of Postmasters Gallery NYC

Canyon Castator’s Tipping Point (left) contains distorted figures that echo the form of the ghastly figure in Christian Rex Van Minnen’s Selfie In Casmate Beneath the Bridge to Better Days I (right) just across the room. Both painters’ works are redolent of historical paintings which have been twisted into contemporary turmoil. Surreality and skewed perspective within the paintings enthrall me and deliver a space aberrant of typical depictions of the body’s anatomy.

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Installation shot of CON-Figuration. Image courtesy of Postmasters Gallery NYC

All of the works which surrounded Agathe Snow’s in-between space created an environment even more overwhelming; the walls of these bodies showcased as physical manifestations of the potential effects that a polluted world has on the mental and psychological states of a person. The stress is real. Erin M. Riley’s soft, pornographic weavings and Shamus Clisset’s 3D digital renderings of cyborg-looking figures are iterations of digital worlds that remain entirely different from each other. However, in each work I see an element of strength personified in the stances, positions and scale the bodies fill in their frames. The dominance of these figures potentially act a figures of indestructible resistance, although they are still under an affect of the twisting hypocrisy and dimness prevalent; all of the images participated in creating a setting submerged in surreality where the states of the figures became surprisingly real.

The materials and figures in both of these exhibitions twisted and turned in their frameworks; they carried weight. They highlight the dichotomy that exists in American media that can fetishize and normalize violence and demonize sexuality and intimacy. These works have been brought into this dark world, as these artists are perceptive of this reality. We are collectively enamoured with this dark side of reality that effectively transfixes humans into a place that may frighten us to a point where we want to escape this place, even if we have just dipped our toes in a little. When we leave, that is when we have the chance to respond to and resist these responses of darkness, and turn it into light.

These shows, in clear conversation with each other, very successfully iterate a world that has been soaked in social media and its proliferations from “fake news” to virtual reality that are so enticing we can’t tear ourselves away from them. Creating and becoming a part of a community that makes and embraces artwork under the hand of the leader that is taking away important resources, whom I would never consider a prophet, is a way to raise awareness, resistance, and the need for action.




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.




Exploring Cultural Memory in The Work of Lyndon Barrois Jr.

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Of Color by Lyndon Barrois Jr. @ Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis. Photo Courtesy of David Johnson

I first encountered Lyndon Barrois Jr.’s work at the CAMSTL where his installation Of Color was exhibited. In the gallery was half a basketball court: fresh, black asphalt with crisp white lines, a hoop, and a basketball. Complicating this construction were structures made of stacked toner boxes and adorned with fragmented halftone catalog photographs of shoes and clothing, each topped with a cardboard cutout of a hat or hair. These sculptures were both figurative, arranged like basketball players on a court, and architectural, like skyscrapers on a city skyline. As a physical space, the installation allowed viewers to move through the court and through the box towers. I interpreted this work as an assertion of legitimacy of the street court as a space for Black expression and culture.

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Of Color by Lyndon Barrois Jr. @ Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis. Photo Courtesy of David Johnson

Barrois’ new work, shown in the exhibition Sensible Disobedience, included a series of four collages, along with three small sculptural pieces. Unlike Of Color, these works didn’t command the entire gallery space, but shared walls with other artists’ pieces, thus creating new contexts. In fact, Oli Watt’s tiny traffic barriers interacted directly with the Barrois’ sculptures. The collages were each on brown chipboard, framed by dark wood: A National Geographic image of a small shirtless Black boy holding a monkey, paper marbled with blue, yellow, red, CMYK test prints, the well-known pangram “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog”—the elements of each collage feel deliberately chosen and arranged. Much like the sculptures in Of Color, these new structures were made of toner boxes and spent toner cartridges. But they were far shorter, and lacked a sense of figurativeness; instead they seemed more formal, bringing to the forefront their materiality as waste products of the printing process. Viewed together with Watt’s traffic barriers, I began to think about printing as means of accessing an audience and having influence, and then who is barred from that by what may feel like hundreds a tiny barriers.

Installation ofLyndon Barrois Jr.'s work in Sensible Disobedience at La Esquina. Photo by E.G. Schempf

Installation of Lyndon Barrois Jr.’s work (also featuring Oli Watt’s barricades)  in Sensible Disobedience at La Esquina. Photo by E.G. Schempf

Barrois evokes cultural memory–that is both collectively and selectively remembered. He allows his viewers to shift their understanding of familiar images, to see them in new contexts. The magazine pictures of the boy and monkey, the tribal women, and the mother and child are immediately recognizable as being from National Geographic. In recognizing the image, I had a number of immediate connotations: I was struck first by a sense of nostalgia for film photography and childhood adventure, then by the voyeurism and exoticization of the subjects of the photos, then by a sense of appreciation of the photos as intimate portraits. Each element in the collage evoked a series of immediate impressions. They were hieroglyphs that contained layers of meaning for each person who views them. Combined, the images can take on different meanings than they do individually. But whatever new meaning they take on, there is still an understanding of each elements on its own.

This understanding of the image by Barrois, both in popular culture and the art historical canon, allows him to subvert the visual representations of each to create other meanings and narratives. Throughout his body of work, he has explored the various methods of manipulating the image—cropping, collage, curation, and juxtaposition. He draws his source material from films, history and art history, popular magazines, and photography. By re-contextualizing found sources, he takes control of existing images and their attached associations and is able to forge messages of his own.

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Installation of Lyndon Barrois Jr.’s work (also featuring Oli Watt’s barricades) in Sensible Disobedience at La Esquina. Photo by E.G. Schempf

Our culture relies on the image to represent the abstract concepts and values that form our identities as individuals and as communities. We use images to define our version of history, to streamline events and perspectives too vast and inexact to capture. This makes the image a powerful tool. It designates within a culture, what is beautiful—and therefore what is ugly—, what is good—and therefore what is bad—, what is desirable—and therefore what is detestable. The image reinforces accepted aesthetic values until they are considered truth.

Barrois’ work reminds us that images, and our associations to them, are manufactured, not inherent, and the repeated use of the toner box and repeated reference to the CMYK process signifies that. It is possible to use the CMYK process to only ever create one color, but that singularity does not represent its ability to make many hues. In creating totems from the remnants of the process—the empty ink cartridges and packaging—he illustrates an ordinary origin of the images that our culture reveres. The printed words on the boxes, turned outward toward to viewer and that read “waste box”, describe warnings, and show illustrated instructions, invites us to question the ultimate authority of images, as they are created by people as fallible as ourselves.

 




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.




Woman’s Work: A Conversation with Misty Gamble on Decade

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Blue Sunday by Misty Gamble. Ceramic, pearls, rhinestones, beads. Image courtesy of the artist.

The invitation to peer inside women’s underwear is hard to resist. Strewn across the gallery wall, the ceramic artist Misty Gamble’s confrontational “Blue Sunday” stimulates a reaction of curiosity and repulsion. Shaped like they were just removed and left crumpled on the floor, the ceramic panties expose a strip of fabric rarely glimpsed in a public setting, sparkling and colorful with costume rhinestones pasted to the private interior. The installation suggests a body, and the inner functions of a body, without introducing the figure herself. A simultaneous desire to approach and avoid means “Blue Sunday” successfully interfaces with our own sexual desire, since we are not looking at newly shed intimates, but baked clay in disguise as lingerie. We find ourselves in the physical Uncanny Valley where the subjects of “Decade,” ten years of Misty Gamble’s agitated feminine expressions, become real enough to raise questions.

Forevermore by Misty Gamble. Ceramic, flocking, Ralph Lauren gold metalic paint. Photo credit: E.G. Schempf

Forevermore by Misty Gamble. Ceramic, flocking, Ralph Lauren gold metalic paint. Photo credit: E.G. Schempf

Our meeting at YJ’s offers an interestingly contextual  view of bright white BRIDE text in the window across the street, a falsely angelic glow advertising wifehood like a sought-after brand in the dark evening. It’s an appropriate backdrop for a conversation with an artist who spent her life thinking about desire, traditions, and what it means to be female. Across the small table, Gamble recounts the creation of her huge wall installation, “Forevermore.” “This was finished in 2016, but it took a year and a half and a lot of hands to make. ‘Forevermore’ is only a fraction of what we actually produced in the studio,” she lays her hand on the image of the lilac ceramic wedding cakes between snaking gold ribbons, installed vertically on the Leedy-Voulkos main gallery wall. “I did these in the symbolic colors of bridesmaids: lavender and white. I criticize conventional ideas of what makes people happy, such as being a bride, having glamorous weddings, the notion that more is always better.”

More is better in the case of the installation. Almost every piece in the show employs the use of multiples to overwhelm an idea and drive the viewer to consider what limits we will go to to have excessive wealth and status. At a distance, “Forevermore” becomes an illusion of wallpaper that has sprung up out of the second dimension. The gold material woven between the lilac cakes outlines an unmissable vulvar shape, locking in the inseparable bond between societal decadence and primal desire. Ceramic wedding cakes direct the conversation to a ravenous hunger for social authority, and one of the means of acquiring it.

Excessively adorned hairdos and desserts exude a passion for wealth, status, and sexual parading. Figures are grotesque and out of proportion, but still decked out in facsimiles of the finer things. Gamble’s unflinching criticism is rooted in her formative years. Rather than damn outright the norms of wealthy Palm Beach and Los Angeles trophy wives, Gamble adopts the role of cultural anthropologist to observe the ways consumerism and lifestyle are inextricably linked by status, which changes color and shape in each location. Palm Beach is garish and bright. LA is fashionable and severe. “I used the Kardashians for some of my research to find out what women of a certain status want from the world. But it’s odd to be commenting on it, and to come from it, make work about it, satirize it, and want to sell it,” she considers. “I always knew I would make the work I wanted to make, and nobody was going to stop me, because the only thing I want to be is authentic.” Authenticity itself is under the cultural microscope of Gamble’s studio. The disheveled piles of pastel pumps borrow imagery from every women’s department store in the nation. The artist’s name in a Kate Spade-esque font inscribed on the inner arch denotes factory-processed shoes at an affordable price. As style consumers, we too can wear cheap and reasonable heels out into the world, provided we don’t mind them coming apart after their factory set sturdiness has worn off. Lucky for us, fashion is easy to replace.

Tan Hands by Misty Gamble. Ceramic, resin. Photo credit: Dan Wayne

Tan Hands by Misty Gamble. Ceramic, resin. Photo credit: Dan Wayne

The same fascination with the lifestyle of the rich and vapid amplify “Tan Hands,” a series of nineteen hands sticking out of the wall, showcasing gaudy faux diamond rings, in a manner a woman with such a rock might exhibit to her friends. Prim and dainty, fingers stiff and angled down to give the admirer a better look at the towering stone atop a gold band, “Tan Hands” explores the culture of pride that comes with following convention. But even with a rotation of studio assistants through the years, Gamble cast her own hands for the piece, uncovering another layer of personal history in the procession of wives-to-be. “I’ve been one of them,” she says, flexing her retired piano hands. “I’ve come from these worlds, but I was always the outsider.” As an outside observer, Gamble’s comments could be misconstrued into bitchiness if one neglects to consider the intellectual analysis the artist subjects herself and her topics to. None of us are really outside the reach of pretty things, of being liked by our peers. “Tan Hands,” like other work in the show, examines a type of solution to our cultural insecurities in a personal manner.

Betsy After School by Misty Gamble. Ceramic. Image courtesy of the artist.

Betsy After School by Misty Gamble. Ceramic. Image courtesy of the artist.

Misty Gamble grew up in Los Angeles, where the lines between culture, class, and kitsch are more blurred than in the Midwest. While she was pursuing her MFA in San Francisco, she earned the reputation as a troublemaker in the male dominated ceramic program. “I did different things to antagonize my professors. I set out to make work that was so beautiful and terrible in its horrendousness, that it couldn’t be avoided. Women are told throughout their lives: be pretty, be smart, get educated. But for god’s sake don’t make any waves.” The figures in “Decade” evoke a visual puppetry without the strings, but the gesture of her subhuman figures recall the unsettling weightlessness that animates a marionette. Metaphorical strings attached to each woman and woman-like caricature are socially imposed by the greedy clamoring of society to have more, to prove more with frivolity. “Sweet Terror” came out of this drive to challenge what society expected of women and women artists. The childlike figures in “Sweet Terror” are at once humorous and terrifying, like demonic waifs escaped from a personified version of daily insecurities. The green teen on roller skates, “Betsy After School,” reacts to her environment by messily eating dessert in the middle of the floor, one hand stuffed underneath the folds of her pleated skirt. All the figures in “Sweet Terror” linger somewhere between real and imagined, on the cusp of becoming human, but denied by their desires and the imposing expectations of the environment they were born into.

Gamble’s ten year retrospective is presented at the perfect time, and every piece in the show is worth seeing. Today, femininity is continuing to be redefined by strength and courage, and the bold figurative work in “Decade” is a reprieve from the enigmatic conceptualism that dominates a male-driven scene. “People are so scared and fearful, and that’s the last thing we should be right now. I’m going to keep making this work because I won’t be bullied,” Gamble says of recent political events and the timeliness of the show. I nod in agreement, recalling the stoic busts “Decadence” and “Luxuriant,” two perfectly styled figures whose hair denies each a chance to speak or listen.  


Misty Gamble “Decade: Selected works from 2006-2016” is on view through April 1st at Leedy-Voulkos Main Gallery (2012 Baltimore Ave, KCMO  Hours: Thurs-Sat 11-5)




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




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




Where is Nuance Found? A Review of Arterial Echoes: Three Generations of Creative Mentoring

Arterial Echoes: Three Generations of Creative Mentoring, at UMKC’s Gallery of Art , which ran from September 8th through October 28th 2016, presented a series of work shown in eight groups of three: one UMKC faculty member, their mentor, and a student (the faculty member taught). With a diverse representation of drawing, painting, print, and digital media, cohesiveness was achieved through presenting these triad relationships.

The carefully crafted title, Arterial Echoes, was meant to showcase parallels in the highly diverse works. That diversity as a whole lessened the specific emphasis on these shared connections.  Our ability to trace the routes these artists followed to conjure their own work stopped short when we only got to see one piece from each artist in a grouping.

Installation image of Arterial Echoes image courtesy of UMKC Gallery

Installation image of Arterial Echoes image courtesy of UMKC Gallery

For instance, with the work of Ricky Allman, we saw only a single painting from his larger body of work, and only one work plucked from his mentor’s and student’s portfolio. This relationship is narrow.  The problem is that the works chosen were too distilled; they did not seem to be carefully decided and consequently destroy the contextual oeuvre of each artist. They focused more on comparing directly to the professors than to the mentors and students as artists with broad practices themselves. The show would have been stronger if  it focused on more work from one or two triads of artists and allowed conversations to occur within the gallery.  There is simply not enough to compare, and ironically, too much.  

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Works by Timothy App, Andy McIlvaine, Davin Watne. Images by the author (left) and courtesy of the UMKC Gallery (right)

This show did not showcase all three artists’ works made concurrently, which could have better represented practices in adjacency to each other. The years in which the work were pulled appear random and unconsidered.  Within one triad of works, professor Kati Toivanen’s has work from 2015, mentor Stephen DiRado’s was from 1987, and the student Sarah Kraly’s was from 2009. Contrarily, in another triad, professor Ricky Allman’s work was from 2015, mentor Hyunmee Lee’s from 2015, and student Sopearb Touch’s from 2016. Logically, with narrowed time gaps between more current works, routes are more accessible and cohesive. This particular grouping of  Allman, Lee, and Touch was one of the strongest in the show in terms of how it highlighted the formal kinship between the artists.

With an intent to emphasize a route where the artists gave themselves permission to use the tools their predecessor provided, connections became apparent formally, moving from surface to surface of each piece in the show. The oil paintings of UMKC professor Davin Watne, his mentor Timothy App, and Watne’s student Andrew McIlvaine did strongly represent this route. What becomes evident in this grouping is that we often overlook the impact of our influences. The similarity of the monochromatic color palettes were obvious. After recognition of what else exists within the frame of view, the rest of the linking elements became clear. While content is broad in this group, compositionally, the paintings were very similar through the treatment of the frame. The atmosphere, dull and thick, surrounded the illuminated centers of each work.

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Image courtesy of UMKC Gallery

But these were three works out of twenty-one. The other eighteen were not necessarily linkable to these three. If they were — it is a stretch.  There are photo prints, etchings, and video work; all of which don’t necessarily talk to any of the other groupings. This show is full of separate micro conversations, without a focus on the whole. Unlike a museum, that sections off works in expansive rooms by time period  showing a large breadth of a particular movement, this show was doing too much with too little space.  If this had been eight mini shows with more work, and more room it could have been more exciting — and also more specific.  The goal of the exhibition, to exhibit three generations of mentoring, lost its luster when too many connections were trying to be made

This exhibition found success in how these relationships echo one another formally. We expand our ideas through being influenced by those around us. This particular exhibition complicated this intent with its broadness. There were many disparate pieces that made the show like a garment unraveling a broad history. One could find the thread between the work of Stephen DiRado from one triad, of Elija Gowin from another, Andrew McIlvaine from another, and so on.  These possibilities made it apparent that there were an infinite amount of threads to be traced without the support of a solid thesis beyond formal comparisons.

 




Paying Tribute to The Everyday in Yoonmi Nam’s Fall Exhibitions

Last September, Yoonmi Nam had two exhibitions back to back. The first, Temporary Arrangements, at HAW Contemporary, and the second, Momentarily, at PLUG Projects. Both dealt with typically discarded everyday objects. The two shows had similar conversations with a different approach. One exhibition, proved stronger through its material presentation and interactive draw with the viewer.  

Installation of Temporary Arrangements photo from @yoonmi_nam on instagram

Installation of Temporary Arrangements  at Haw Contemporary photo from @yoonmi_nam on instagram

In Temporary Arrangements, prints of drawings hung on the wall in white frames that separated the pieces from one another. Each print depicted a plant arrangement inside different containers.  The limited existence of the plant-life parallels the temporality inherent to those disposable containers. The death of the flowers is just as certain as the containers, ending up in the trash. Yet through the print, Nam preserves them both, keeping them in a holding state of balance between existence and not.

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Installation shot of Yoonmi Nam’s Momentarily. Image courtesy of PLUG Projects

A stack of newspapers to the right of the entrance leads into the Yoonmi Nam’s show, Momentarily, at PLUG Projects. Directly to the right is a table with styrofoam cups and one of the newspapers folded in half. Throughout the gallery there are pedestals which hold different types of disposable containers. The small space is crowded and a little too warm, the thin paper of the takeout bags rustle slightly as the viewers make their way through the gallery. The buzz of voices filling the small space emphasizes the supposed cheap and prosaic appearance of the pieces placed throughout the space on pedestals. Seeing the crushed container in Take Out (Csirke-Fogo) creates such a realistic illusion that it transports you to a place with a familiar greasy specificity; where the food is so good it doesn’t even matter. The elevated value of takeout boxes, disposable cups, and plastic bags creates a tension where the viewer feels the desire to touch the pieces in order to analyze their materiality. This is accentuated by the materials Nam used such as lithographed gampi paper and glass. The contradicting nature of the ephemeral transformed to a more permanent state. 

In Momentarily at PLUG Projects, the transformation of plastic bag to carefully printed gampi paper, styrofoam containers to ceramic, and cups to cast plaster, allowed for the same delicate and fragile aesthetic found in her prints. Their deceitful appearance challenged the viewers to question what it is they are looking at and even to think, possibly, of their own fast paced, transitory lives. In this translation of these objects, they occupied the same space as the viewer, creating a familiar environment to anyone who has ever had takeout or simply had disposable food containers littering their college apartment. The wooden floors of the gallery space coincidentally tied everything together, something a gallery as ‘slick’ as Haw Contemporary could not have done.

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Installation shot of Yoonmi Nam’s Momentarily. Image courtesy of PLUG Projects

Additionally, the inclusion of the prints transformed to a seemingly disposable newspaper which visitors could take home. This reconstructed the idea of transience that was present in the prints in Temporary Arrangements. The delicacy of the linework and colors became gritty through the newspaper gray. The self referential subject matter of the junk mail was humorous. What would just be considered trash becomes interesting to look at, you almost want to flip through the mail itself. The ephemerality is monumentalized yet simultaneously returned to its original state. Transforming the prints into this newspaper form created a clever way to include them in this exhibit. Its physicality and the ability for the viewer to pick it up and handle it pushed the creation of a specific atmosphere.

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Yoonmi Nam’s Momentarily Publication cover. Image courtesy of PLUG Projects and the artist.

The long processes in creating each piece honors these types of containers and what they represent. Maybe an ode to our fast paced lives and the fast food culture this generation is so heavily identified with. Looking at this from a cultural aspect, the topic of status and class begin to come up Some of the particular disposables Nam uses such as the styrofoam container and the plastic bag are often used in carryout. From this perspective the containers can be seen as a kind of self portrait, a way in which she identifies herself. She creates a connection between herself and her own cultural background, her home in Seoul, and even her family.




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.