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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Miller 72 8_web

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.


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.

Miller 72 8_webb

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.

The Drowning World of Travis Pratt’s There/Then

Teetering on the knife edge of our ecosystem’s collapse, there is a slow-churning sensuality in There/Then, Travis Pratt’s new paintings at Greenlease Gallery  Are we through anticipating and ready to take honest stock of our environmental situation or will we remain ignorant to this plight? This is a deeper question to ponder. For right now, Travis Pratt is documenting how and where the effects of globalization and climate change are making itself known. Clues, traces and footprints of what is now at the ecological fore have been present for years. Pratt does not over dramatize nor does he minimize his impressions. They are straightforward, giving his audience a chance to see up close for themselves how the ancillary and tertiary effects of global warming are perceived.


Shack by Travis Pratt (Image courtesy of the artist)

Pratt initiated this conversation with The Joplin Paintings (Parts I and II) and this body of work continues the discussion. One can deny that something is happening to our environment if their belief system excludes the reality.  Is it willful ignorance or propositional knowledge? Each series of work espouses, whether intentionally or not, America as a decaying empire. Our carbon footprint is already manipulating nature’s Master Plan. Couple this with an incoming administration that considers global warming a fantasy and only then might we finally comprehend our limited choices.

There/Then culminates a six-week visit to Deep Creek off St. John’s River in Geneva, Florida, north of the Everglades, Pratt unintentionally approaches our ruin as a feeling of exhausted debauchery seen in long, swooping brushstrokes that dominate the canvas, sucking up all the oxygen in the room. It’s sensuous with a maw that is a bit used up, Not unlike the Everglades, or any wilderness, a fear of the unknown is instilled where one is curious, but trepidacious, before taking a first step inside. Still, it’s a place I wouldn’t mind spending an hour or two.


Caution and Deep Creek by Travis Pratt (Image courtesy of the artist)

Consider Caution as a detail for the larger tableau of Deep Creek, insomuch the mark-making in each bears similarities. The more I think about the way Pratt gives us color the less my insistence of the acid yellow strikethroughs were phosphorous fog from the Everglades and think instead of something closer to radiation.  It is keeping more in line with the void presented here; somewhat unearthly, or worse still, of a post-apocalyptic surface. Perspective changes in the heavy Florida heat and it becomes a battle to see your way through the sultry stickiness. Decisions are made stemming from how quickly one can get back to the shade. But in an ecosystem that goes from beach-like to swampy, one never truly disengages from the reality of warmth. A root system is shown here, tied precariously to the rising waters of the Everglades, illuminates how the local ecosystem is destroying vast land masses. This is related to the exact problem of rising tides faced by the state of Florida itself. Pratt captures elements that aren’t necessarily the most provocative; they are an ordinariness of dying pastorals and therein lies the full impact of this series.

The thing that Travis Pratt does so well is convey a sense of time through the flatness of his paintings. Each one is a perfectly contained record of time. Although impossible to fully discern, the first marks exist with the last marks. Wheels takes us in different directions while the truck remains grounded and the stroller floats off on its own. There’s a myriad of symbols here; the ethereal gravity of fatherhood while the drudgery of everyday living forces our feet (or wheels) on the ground.  Here too, are the effects of globalization and its adverse effects not only on the population, but the psyche as well. The Everglades, and specifically quiet enclaves when extended families can raise their clans without outside influence, are seen in their twilight moment of existence.


Wheels by Travis Pratt (Image courtesy of the artist)

Stop!  Let’s take this out for another spin and consider a different outcome. A long time is being spent envisioning “the forthcoming ‘breakdown of nature’”. What about the alternative; that we don’t go out with a bang but a whimper? Modest change, fashioned incrementally, is a stronger survival tactic and it’s an opportunity to forego, or at least acknowledge and understand the forces of eventuality are stronger than us. Therein lies the real seductive force; allowing change to occur. Pratt is portraying the slow movement of inevitability; a whimpering debtor rather than a gulping bankrupt. Pratt is a documentarian about the end of a life we assumed, or hoped, would last forever. And you can see how that’s not feasible or sound thinking. Even if we screwed up this planet, it isn’t permanently rendered fallow. We can prefer to think of this as preparing for the next wave of caretakers. Let’s hope they do things differently.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Happening, Not Yet: Justin Beachler’s Vibratory post/pre Performance Objects

Justin Beachler has maintained an internet persona that, through an endless visual and hashtag time suck, evokes an addict-like deadhead figure that oozes pitiful, basement masculinity. Over time, Beachler has formed physical manifestations of this persona through the immersive installation practices. However, the exhibition Old and in the Way, at Haw Contemporary, is the first time I have witnessed the conversation between screen/object occur under such “normal” conditions as the commercial gallery space.


Image Courtesy of Justin Beachler, documentation by Timothy Amundson

This collision, between internet-persona, artifact and white-cube gallery, is not an uncommon one; plenty of galleries are scouring Instagram art in order to produce new art show content. However, it is rare to come across such work at local commercially motivated spaces. Beachler’s show was in a small gallery at Haw Contemporary, and in the corner of the space was Scum Rigs: a tree of colorful bottles and La Croix cans, pieced together with tape, rings, and small totems. The sculpture sits below eye-level, it does not overwhelm you, and looks like garbage; the viewer literally looks down on it, and in doing so, one begins to find patterns at work. The flecks of trash are pipes, and their color and rigorous carelessness implore the viewer to touch them. These objects are slap-happy yet and quietly depressing: Where’s the party? Did it already happen? Is it going to happen? Like a college dorm filled with pasty bros and their empty liquor bottles, Scum Rigs is both a commemoration of consumption and a poignant showcase of the sad male. While both bottles and pipes get passed around, the construction of the Beachler’s pipes in Old and in the Way suggest attentiveness to the anti-social aspects of consumption, and perhaps addiction, that is both humorous and vulnerable. In this way, Scum Rigs simultaneously showcases the residue of Beachler’s persona, use/performance with the object, invitation for others to perform, and our own consumptive tendencies as viewers.

Beachler’s Instagram account is a constant and consistent report of “shit posts” that begin to speak back and with one another. The colors, objects, and forms begin to weave in and out of each screen, and develop compulsive compositions. These generate visual traces that work at altering loaded consumer content by way of repetition and erasure, yet produce a figure (persona) behind the work/posts that may well be a cis-het white divorced dad that believes The Dead never broke up, and is always trending “one step behind the kids” but ready for the apocalypse. Beachler imagines and paints a depressing, flattened, but constantly reworked picture of an internet breakdown as understood by someone who still believes Microsoft Paint is the best creative tool at hand. This figure, arguably, displays a kind of vulnerability that only the internet can produce: one that is unabashed about guilty/not guilty pleasures and uncomfortable personal opinions, all the while safely tucked away behind LEDs. And, this is where Beachler’s persona is complex: while he may be ironically gesturing toward the early-20s art bros who create internet-style Arte Povera, he still makes the work., Again, if the visual “fuck you” were a one- off, we may comfortably “locate” the process; however, Beachler’s repetition asks us to question sincerity, even in jest.


Screenshot of Justin Beachler’s Instagram


To see one Instagram post, on its own terms, may not mean much: one has to follow the work, see timecodes on posting, the serious rants on the art world mixed in with ironic cultural critiques. Yet in all of this crap, Beachler understands the medium of Instagram brilliantly. Knowing that these images will always display in a series of nine, as one scrolls infinitely on his feed, there is an aesthetic flow. In this way, Justin’s work requires time- between us- in order to understand the totality of his visual world. For me, interest in the Instagram/Facebook performance lies not within the seemingly shitty posts, but the performative logic behind the images; it is in this logic, that content and visual coherence emerges.
Similarly, Scum Rigs requires all of the objects/bongs to be present in order to develop visual content between them. It is in these interconnected relationships that the performative aspects of the work engender discomfort: because we begin to imagine the figure behind the work, the pathetic male who cannot quite securely understand his own stoner- meandering and making.


Image Courtesy of Justin Beachler, documentation by Timothy Amundson

[Viewers] Engaging in the digital and/or physical “present” may not be the best word to locate the work, nor is presence: both used to describe the performative moment; rather, his is a troubled, certainly not stagnant, art whose affect more aptly be described as objects “at rest.” They are in between: relics of performance practice, yet invite the viewer to pick up and hold, smoke, and throw away; creating a unique condition of physical intimacy with the work.

The relics that make up Scum Rigs are shrine-like, not quite tongue-in-cheek or a one-liner, as an overall attentiveness to the objects breaks away notions of imbued irony. Maybe Justin wishes they came off as more careless, but, like his Instagram posts, they don’t, and they can’t; the commitment toward making is too neurotic. We can see decision making in how color is applied, tape is wrapped, how the objects are balanced within the sculpture. In these moments, the relationship between performative hand and visual mark become clear, the divisively pathetic yet aesthetically acute fuse. So, with sticky vibrations, the work sadly rests. However, the presumed “pathetic- aesthetics” is not inherently a problem. Plenty of cis-het white male artists have worked with tensions of failed masculinity: Acconci, McCarthy, and Kelley (to name a few) have all performed “pathetic male.”

Image Courtesy of Justin Beachler, documentation by Timothy Amundson

Image Courtesy of Justin Beachler, documentation by Timothy Amundson

Scum Rigs’ corporate bottles-cum-pipes directly attends to the line(s) between the online persona and object materialization. Specifically, the use of La Croix cans makes mention to the company’s resurgence among both Millennials and those who are looking to “cut back” on drinking (Mary Choi writes an op-ed piece on her hilariously serious La Croix addiction here). Within the context of a for-profit gallery, Beachler’s dirty physical repository for an ephemeral practice dramatically calls attention to how “feel-good” and comfortable art culture can become gutted, gnawed at, and perverse. The physical object by way of durational online work, Beachler’s Scum Rigs pushes us to consider complacency within our aesthetic consumption practices: ways in which we perpetuate awful aesthetic styles through comfortable Kansas City buying power.

The white-walled, track-lit rectangular space at Haw Contemporary may actually provide an uncomfortable impact/humorous reflection on Kansas City’s aesthetic tendencies toward provinciality and normalcy. These performative “in between objects”—used up yet simultaneously imparting our attention by way of repetition and physical care—are the result/invitation of a persona that dives deep into a tie-dye highlighter palette of irreverence, fading, falling out, addiction, obsession, and regret; reminding viewers that we are not only complacent, but encouraging. A kind of shared solipsism often only reserved for solemnly fingering through shit-post archives while getting fucked up with “friends.”

Keys and Codes: Corey Antis’ Works and Days

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


Cellar Window by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

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

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


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

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


Daybook 1 by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

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


Untitled by Corey Antis | Image by Jordan Hooper

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

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


Daybook 5 by Corey Antis | Image by Clear Bright Matter

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

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

F**k the Lollipops, Justin Beachler Hasn’t Got Time for Suckers

I profess a bias in my analysis of Beachler; he became a friend whose work I have been following and discussing for several years, starting with Smut Compositions (loved it!) and Srimary Ptructures (not so much.). Since then, a respectful relationship has emerged. I began to care about what he was doing. He doesn’t simply choose images at random, he and I share a thirst for historical referencing as it relates to pop culture. There is imagery on his Instagram that runs the gamut of mainstream seriousness and absurdities. It is why I find it easier than others to pick at the intricacies he projects in his work and also why I believe he isn’t going at this willy-nilly; there is a long-running end goal that as the internet portrays, has no end.

Justin Beachler’s new work at Haw Contemporary, Old & in the Way, is a pastiche of cultural recognition synthesized for today’s mindset.  Beachler has a social media presence that is a bit like rummaging through a thrift store run by intellectual lunatics (Think Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Monkeys). He is simultaneously mocking and tossing out the old formalist ideas of how one might look at paintings and other media in favor of a heartier “hunter-gatherer aesthetic.” The progression of his work embraces a strong personal philosophy that examines how the ideas and objects found in cultural ephemera are affecting our psyche; the way we think, feel and act.


Image by Tim Amundsen

This show in particular — part of the gallery’s Enable Program — was a departure for Haw’s normal commercial focus.  Instead, showcasing work of younger artists putting light on experimentation. The one concession given to Old & In The Way was the burning of incense that permeated the back part of the ground floor space and led you upstairs to Beachler’s work like a Greek siren out of Euripdes, but once they burned out were never re-lit and that’s a shame.

For Old & In The Way, I was expecting a continuation of his online menagerie of image caching, but here he holds fast to one train of thought that delivered. He offers an idea based almost entirely from Grateful Dead love, circa 1974, consisting of assorted media; including painting, found material and sculpture. This group of new work is probably the happiest I’ve ever seen from Beachler. There is less nihilism and a more focused tone that fulfills a statement on the state of things in this societal moment.

Here, he lays bare all the things we think are semi-important;  the business model of capitalism, foodie culture, cannabis culture, and stock imagery aglow with radioactive pinks, greens, yellows and blues. There was a lot of reminiscing; with wondering about the work’s meaning rather than observing it and moving on, with some exceptions.

Not Fade Away is the best example of such an idea; the creases in the canvas appear to have been screen printed, showing the concentration devoted to the celebration of an error in original form becoming something exciting to new eyes. And it also shows how many people, at the opening I attended, focused on this one example rather than standing back and understanding the idea in full. But if one looked closely, dead center is a hibiscus flower. It was so exciting to discover this beauty hidden in plain sight that I could not stop pointing it out to people who appeared more interested in the nostalgic spin art and tie-dyed elements. Beachler presents the rare Nudie in a closet of leisure suits, but few cared. There were several conversations about other works in the space and I felt it became a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.  Do not think of only the surface element, but the intent that can generate a conversation.


Not Fade Away | Image by Tim Amundson

The Haight presents a similar concept to augment this theory. Where t-shirts like this were found everywhere (I had a few!), now they are nostalgic, recalling what it represented and our longing for it; a period where getting high was an act of defiance in pursuit of personal freedom from a losing war being fed its young. Skulls & Roses and Alligator, with their recognizable context, play into feelings these harbingers are a constant. Slavery is Freedom. War is Peace.


The Haight | Image by Tim Amundson


Skull & Roses | Image by Tim Amundson


All of the materials for this show were either scanned from online sources or found/bought. By spending a long time in the space, I observed people of all ages having many interpretations. Several viewers wrongly mocked the  DIY-ness of Scum Rigs,  the multi-unit bong/sculptural piece made from plastic 2-liter soft drink bottles that was altogether serviceable. However, it is precisely the point of so much that Beachler observes. With this he presents a “Duchampian” readymade that is — as he would put — a “middle finger emoji” to the institutional machine itself.   I am afraid we are headed towards weed culture elitism similar to the foodie’s pedantic oration of “flavor profiles.” But here, Beachler heads it off at the pass, rallying against such nonsense before it’s even begun.


Scum Rigs | Image by Tim Amundson

The Internet is either a vast wasteland of ideas or a looking glass.  It has successfully bridged the generation gap and from this are to be found an enormity of concepts and a new way of thinking. Some web-based work that doesn’t necessarily propose a strong theory of ideas can appear random and not useful, either as knowledge or information. It is important this art making is considerate of the way we parse data online through Google Searches and endless headlines on the Huffington Post. This recognition of form is  I consider Justin Beachler’s ongoing practice  to be among the more serious artists; he presents a succinct visual language, not random data. When you examine his imagery, rather than scroll past it, he discusses the absurdities of the world from then and now. The things one takes seriously is ridiculous, while the serious is sometimes glossed ove

There was a time when I thought Beachler ought to shy away from the Dan Colen/Joe Bradley axis of low-culture ephemera. But after watching his theories develop and take root, he is headed in the right direction. Beachler sees truisms masking deeper, more contentious feelings as we confront a harsh reality and this may be the rationale one holds onto as they skim image after image. It is grim, almost pointless, if you aren’t willing to pontificate on its meaning. He isn’t trying to fool us; he shows us that we have already been fooled.

The hypocrisy is still there to be construed, differently orchestrated than before and Justin Beachler is the right impresario for this moment.