Planning For A Future That We’ve Already Seen: Mark Raymer Constructs Dystopian D.I.Y. Narratives

Katie Hargraves discovers hopefully timeless cultural cues and science fiction as a potential site for renewed communication in her analysis of the work of Mark Raymer

In 1992, a report was commissioned by the Sandia National Laboratories and the Department of Energy (DOE) in the United States. This report has a particular challenge: the DOE was developing a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a location deep below the surface of the earth that would store the radioactive waste leftover from developing nuclear weapons for the cold war. Their challenge, and the reason for the report, was to highlight the danger of the site for 200,000 years into the future—the amount of time it would take the nuclear waste to become inert. They were planning for the fall of our civilization.

Mark Alister Raymer Hoopla, 2017 Textile, printmaking, drawing 7 ft x 5 ft

Mark Alister Raymer
Hoopla, 2017
Textile, printmaking, drawing
7 ft x 5 ft


Although less than 250 years old, the United States government constructed and continues to uphold a narrative that this country is an enduring institution. In commissioning this report, the DOE was acknowledging an inevitable fall. They brought together an impressive interdisciplinary team that included linguists, anthropologists, architects, geologists, and engineers to answer the question: How do we communicate meaning in a time when language cannot be deciphered, when the Rosetta Stone of our era has yet to be discovered? We are curious beings. Even the curse of the pharaohs inscribed on the entrance of a tomb was not enough to keep explorers from opening it thousands of years later. How then could the DOE develop an appropriate marker for WIPP that could be read 200,000 years from now?

I wonder often about the motives of science fiction. Why is it that people wanted to escape into a fictitious future when there is so much to work through in the present. While we must plan for reality rather than envision a dystopian future, sometimes that reality requires us to imagine beyond what we know.

Mark Alister Raymer Untitled, 2017 Textile, printmaking 8 ft x 7 ft

Mark Alister Raymer
Untitled, 2017
Textile, printmaking
8 ft x 7 ft

Mark Raymer’s artworks create a fantastical science-fiction future where “wildlings” (as the artist refers to them) scavenge the middens of a long gone society, one we might recognize as our own. These post-apocalyptic, intersexed humanoids have evolved as the children of men; their naked creativity is well suited to surviving in our wasteland, reusing satellites as indiscriminately as beer cans. His mountainscapes depicted in the pieced together fabric wall hangings are reminiscent of the concept art created for the WIPP report by architect Michael Brill: sharp stalagmite formations that protrude from the landscape with people wandering through them. The caption to one of Brill’s images: “We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture…. This place is not a place of honor…nothing is valued here.” What would these post-apocalyptic humanoids think of our world? With Raymer’s work, we get a glimpse into how they might react, what they might value, and the potential danger therein.

In exploring Raymer’s artworks, I begin to understand science fiction. Science fiction is a dark metaphor for our times, not escapism. His sculptural installations, prints, and fiber works explore the act of translation: both the translation from printmaker to fiber artist, and the translation of late-capitalist society to science-fiction future humanoids. Raymer’s work is ultimately about narrative, each piece building upon the next. The same fabrics and imagery are repeated, a detailed illustration of a beer can is used as a collage element in a wall hanging and developed into a larger than life soft sculpture made of cast off scraps of fabric.

Mark Alister Raymer Burlap Beer Can Landscape (group), 2017 Textile, printmaking 12 in x 5 in x 3 in (each)

Mark Alister Raymer
Burlap Beer Can Landscape (group), 2017
Textile, printmaking
12 in x 5 in x 3 in (each)

Raymer’s materiality performs the worldview of the narratives he has created, attempting to forget the meaning of found material he uses to construct the work. A burlap sack is used for its tactile qualities, but stripped of its class and labor material histories. Quilts are cut apart and collaged for their color palettes while attempting to ignore their gendered history. Detritus, and the cultural baggage that comes along with his chosen material, is decontextualized and expected to be experienced right alongside the preciousness of the printed image. The material construction of the works play out this desire: the prints are meticulous and detailed, where the fiber works are hacked together, appearing to be made with urgency. Yet, Raymer’s work misses a richness by not engaging with the cultural meaning of materials and their context. We only have to look to history to know there is risk in decontextualizing material—the risk of the pharaoh’s curse and the risk of WIPP.

This essay is part of a series commissioned, in collaboration with Informality Blog, for the exhibition YET, UNKNOWN at Paragraph Gallery (23 E 12th St, Kansas City, MO 64106) open from July 27 through August 26, 2017. These pieces, co-edited by Melaney Mitchell (Founder & Senior Editor of Informality Blog) and Lynnette Miranda (Curator-in-Residence at Charlotte Street Foundation) focus on a shared goal of bringing the eyes of national writers to the work of Kansas City-based artists. 

Questioning Signs of Authority With Oli Watt

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

50/50’s Co-Host: Following Planted with an Unexpected Payoff


On Instagram, scrolling down the timeline of 50/50 – a new alternative gallery built out of two shipping containers – I can follow each step of planning, construction, and studio visits through the artists that run the space. From adding insulation to graphic design decisions, hybrid artist-curators Cambria Potter and Hannah Lodwick, are pictured in these minimal tastes of progress. This transparency has allowed 50/50’s audience to build more than a year’s worth of anticipation for the arrival of their first exhibition, Co-Host.

The lengthy amount of construction photos showcase the sheer labor of building the space located in the West Bottoms just around the street from fellow alternative space Plug Projects and commercial galleries Haw Contemporary and Bill Brady. What stuck out on Instagram were images of studio visits with Kansas City based print and multimedia artist, Bobby Howsare, that planted a seed of expectation. Howsare is known for his pictured prints that play with optical illusions, moire patterns, and dynamic CMYK color phenomena. Construction documentation flowed beautifully next to this work. Because of the particular curation of 50/50s online Instagram space, I planned to encounter a completely different show dominated by Howsare’s work and its play on the newly constructed space’s architectural elements.


Entering Co-Host it was Kristin Walsh – the visiting New York based new media artist and sculptor – who commanded the space with her installation. Walsh’s work is clean, sharp, and dynamic. Digital images that looked like a hybrid of Nintendo 64-style polygon environments and Google Street View – not far off in subject matter from curator Lodwick’s own studio practice – were projected on mirrored objects. Each of these cut at sharp angles reflecting the game-like images being projected, allowing for the work to refract the light and create other shimmering phenomena along the walls and ceiling.


Rather than showing prints, Howsare showcased an installation based project utilizing analog dual projection film which viewers could see converging through a mirror at one point in the gallery. This projector-heavy show in a small space seemed to create an unintentional division between the two containers. Howsare’s installation felt stark in difference to Walsh’s work from color palette to spacial considerations, which made it hard not to wonder if his print-based work would’ve created a more dynamic conversation. Within the two-shipping-container-sized space any difference can easily become stark. Walsh created expansion and Howsare created compression. Maybe Walsh’s work not being previewed on Instagram allowed me to be surprised by lack of expectations, but I am anticipating even more out of the next two person show at 50/50.


HOTEL ART: An Interview with Madeline Gallucci


image courtesy of the artist

Hotel art isn’t usually considered a part of the larger contemporary art dialogue, but in downtown Kansas City the Hotel Phillips is host to an artist-in-residence program. This year the program featured Madeline Gallucci in their store-front window studio space and in a new artist suite. Gallucci’s work in the space was responding to the day-to-day activity of the hotel. The staff and guests at Hotel Phillips became a crucial social component to the work she was creating. When Gallucci is not at in her studio, she is Co-Director of Front/Space in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District.


Melaney Mitchell: Let’s start with the big picture one what questions do you try to answer in your studio?

Madeline Gallucci: This has changed tremendously over the course of my residency. With this being such a public position, a lot of my studio practice and the ideas that I had investigated for a long time have dovetailed into a new conversation with a different audience. My studio has been situated downtown for the past three years which has lead to a lot of exploration of this area along 12th street between Walnut and Wyandotte. I had my Charlotte Street studio for two years in Town Pavilion. I have done projects at Paragraph Gallery and at Oppenstein Memorial Brother’s Park. I’ve had a lot of experience with this area and now feel that the questions I ask in my studio are more centered around answering ‘what is the role of an artist in a hotel’?

The residency is running parallel to the lives of guests who have may have never really interacted with art before  or are intimidated to start or maybe they’ve never seen an artist in this context. Being situated in the giant window overlooking the valet becomes a very performative way to make work, especially at night.


MM: So your work has gotten larger since you have been here?

MG: Yeah! It has gotten larger but I also have been making a lot of smaller collage pieces as well. It’s a new experience with the window space, things like keeping tidy and keeping work on the wall, it becomes a balance between what people think an artist does and what an artist actually does in the studio. The residency is just as much about the debris that accumulates on the floor as it is  interacting with the hotel staff, valet, front desk, housekeepers, and the guests.   I’m definitely learning a lot about the hospitality industry. So back around to the biggest question for me is ‘why art here’ and ‘why is this important’. Though, this has always been a crucial question and conversation for me in my practice.


MM: It seems that with your job as Campus Events Coordinator at KCAI and being one of the new directors of FRONT/SPACE do you feel like the work is relating to the idea of a party or being a hostess in any way?

MG: Yeah, I had a studio visit last night where someone mentioned I make very social work and I had never really thought about it in that context. I am the only artist here at Hotel Phillips, so it is not like in the Charlotte Street residency where I was surrounded by a community of artists. I like that idea  of “social work” because I am a very outgoing person and have to interact with a lot of people in every job that I have. Thinking about my work like a party is very fitting for me since I have had a lot of moments where I am making work with other people or friends are hanging out in my studio. My practice is a very socially minded process whether I realize that is part of the work or not, it is something that I enjoy doing. I like that it is feeding into the work visually, thus giving other people that perception.


MM: So this space becomes so much more important to you than being in the corner of some west bottoms studio?

MG: That is something I really like about this position, demystifying how an artist makes work. People come through here and they expect someone in a dark corner brooding with a beret. It’s great to shift those stereotypes and show them that artists do many things and wear many hats.


MM: What helped you transition out printmaking and into painting?

MG: Printmaking is still important to me and my practice. Many traditional painters that come into my studio tell me I paint like a printmaker. Which is true! The way I layer paint and isolate colors is definitely in line with how one would lay out a silkscreen. Painting is still very new to me and every day is an experiment, which excites me to come into my studio. I treat my painting processes like drawing, challenging the flat surface whether it’s paper or canvas. I also think about my work in comparison to collage as being reactive and process driven. Transitioning out of printmaking from undergrad, one of the most influential things the department had on my practice was learning about collaboration. The print studios at KCAI are communal by nature and printmakers need many hands to help hold clean paper, ink blocks, and crank the presses. I was always interested in collaborating with others, and has inevitably fed into the projects I am doing here, at KCAI and at Front/Space

image courtesy of the artist

image courtesy of the artist

MM: Has your work changed at all after creating the artist suite?

MG: The room was a perfect next-step for my work, as I have had experience with wall painting last summer in my show Confectionary at Plug Projects and wanted to explore that further. It was the first time the hotel ever did something like that and they put complete trust in me. They hope that later down the line other residents may do something like that as well and they’ll have a whole collection of suites. When I talk about my time spent working in the suite I always tell people how conducive it is to making art. The bathroom is right next to you with a shower, you have a bed to take a nap in or stay over if working late, there is cable tv, wifi, room service. It was an awesome experience in the middle of January dead of winter and I could just work obsessively and watch HGTV. The ideas I had when working on the room are still feeding into my other work and I’m thinking about other spaces that could translate into. I’ve always been interested in making my own patterns for objects I paint and print on. Another exciting partnership is that a portion of the cost of this room goes back to Hello Art, cycling back into funding artists projects and programs.


MM: You have this piano covered in a painting too?

MG: The piano is part of an event sponsored by Keys 4//4 Kids and the KC Music Teacher’s Association called Pianos on Parade. Artists from all over the city are paired with a corporate sponsor who purchase a piano for them to transform. The event is happening all over the city this summer so keep a look out! This is an example of the kinds of charity events that the hotel is involved in and I get to participate as being the Artist in Residence. It definitely made sense with my work since I am interested in wrapping my paintings to transform objects and spaces.


MM: What are your feelings on normal hotel art?

MG: Since being in this residency I have become much more observant to art in “uncommon” places including hotels and other corporate settings. It’s hard to say whether it’s better to have bad art than no art at all. There is some good stuff out there, some businesses who are trying to appeal to more art-savvy customers and others that just buy from a catalog. A lot of boutique hotels are looking towards collecting artists or curating rooms and suites.

Hotels are catching on to how art can really transcend their guests expectations and experiences. It gives them something to talk about and tell their family and friends.

There are some wall pieces designed by an interior decorator at Hotel Phillips that live alongside my work. When you exit the elevator there are giant painted faces of women, and some people assume I made those as well since I am the Artist in Residence. As you know I paint a lot of portraits of people (chuckle). Guests love them though, and when I search the Hotel Phillips hashtag on Instagram, a lot of people take pictures of them alongside studio shots of my work. It gets really interesting how people start noticing art or other things outside their expectations of the hotel and begin to lump them into the same experience.


MM: At least its not leaves!

MG: Definitely. Going back to your original question, when i think of bad hotel art I visualize  a landscape with two trees in a soft brown hue. When you think about the gamut of what hotel art can be there is definitely a huge aesthetic differences between Best Western and the W.



MM: Do you feel like you are taking from what you are doing in your studio at Hotel Phillips to what you are doing curatorially at Front/Space?

MG: With Front/Space the decision making is split equally between myself and Kendell Harbin, my collaborator and fellow co-director. We try to show work that we feel is thoughtful, exciting and challenges the idea of the traditional Crossroads and First Friday experience. I feel like there is definitely some conceptual and aesthetic overlap with the projects we facilitate at Front/Space, however all artists we’ve selected for our 2015 season have been found through our Open Call. I try to treat my studio and FS as different entities as the decision making process with Front/Space is much more administrative for me. However the most common thread of course is that the space is also in a store-front window! With the Cissy Room back in March, I could see some overlap while I was working on the hotel suite and the most recent show with Dana Lynn Harper there was a very similar shape and color palette to her work. Moving forward with Front/Space, we hope to create a diverse program schedule with everything from performances, workshops, publications, music, conversations, and traditional exhibitions.


MM: You both went to the Open Engagement conference this year and that was all about social practice, is that a medium that interests you?

MG: Kendell and I were awarded a staff development grant at KCAI that allowed us to travel and participate in the Open Engagement Conference. It was an opportunity to expand ideas for the new Social Practice certificate program at KCAI, strengthen what we do at work and inform our continued interest in these types of practices. Also traveling as Front/Space we were able to talk to people about a variety of projects and share ideas. It was a new experience for me, as Kendell comes from a background of social practice art making and I have a more traditional studio practice.


MM: Yet you are playing host a lot in your studio. If your traditional practice is becoming more and more social, isn’t that a type of social practice?

MG: Yes. This residency is extremely socially engaged. I host public programs and conduct workshops with the hotel guests as well inviting them into my studio just to see what I’m up to. There is a full spectrum of what can be considered social practice, which is why I enjoyed the conference and could relate it back to my residency. Often times I feel like the word “facilitator” or “ambassador” is more relevant that “resident” when it comes to this position in the hotel. A lot of my  conversations circle back to why is art important and how it relates to Kansas City and how it supports our community. It’s always interesting when people come in from different cities and they have never seen anything like this. Its great to see how people are responding to this residency.

I went to Milwaukee recently and stayed at the Pfister Hotel where the program originated and there was a very different feel to their program. Here I feel lucky that it can be understood that things can get a little messy and that an artist is part of a bigger community. We are very fortunate that this program is rapidly evolving and is happening right here in Kansas City.


To close her year long studio residency, Gallucci will be exhibiting new work in SOFT-SERVE  an exhibition opening Friday, July 3rd 2015 from 6-9pm at Beggar’s Table Church & Gallery (2010 Baltimore Ave KC, MO) For more info on her work or the residency please visit and

August 2014 Final Weekend Radar!

This weekend has quite a bit going on in bbt on clomid the art community spread out over a few days. Make sure you are there, our list is chronological this week to keep you in the loop. See you out!



August Crit Night

Thursday 6-8pm

Plug Projects

1613 Genessee St.

Kansas City MO 64102

Plug Projects Crit Night continues with new moderator, Garry Noland and guest moderators Kelly John Clark and Diana Heise. They will be looking at and discussing the work of Luther Kroman Jamie Rovenstine and Maria Ogedengbe.


10@BNIM: Ahram Park’s Temptations

Thursday 5-8pm


106 W 14th St.

Kansas City MO 64105

Opening reception to celebrate a new installation of Ahram Park’s photographs.



Thursday 8:30-10:30

Vacant Farm

3333 Roanoke Rd.

Kansas City MO

Vacant Farm, as part of their Psychotronic Film Series is screening Beyond The Black Rainbow.



Jenny Harp: Rough Comprehensions and Shifts in Matter @Wonder Fair

Friday 6-9pm

Wonder Fair

803 Lexapro 1/2 Massachusetts St.

Lawrence KS 66044

Jenny Harp’s work is exploring how one might synthesize the realms

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of digital and traditional printmaking.



ARENA Showcase

Saturday 7-10 pm

Haw Contemporary

1600 Liberty St.

Kansas City, MO 64102

New local creative center ARENA partnered with Haw Contemporary to bring a show that includes 40 artists, curators, and designers that demonstrate fresh perspectives.


The Art of Shredding with Escapist and The Innovation Lab

Saturday 1-3pm

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

4525 Oak St.

Kansas City MO 64111

Local skate shop gallery hybrid Escapist partnered with the Nelson-Atkins Museum to bring skateboarding inside historic Kirkwood Hall.


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