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Condom

 

This spring I received a donation of 1.2 million condoms from a distribution company looking to clear out a defunct client’s storage space.  The elaborately packaged boutique condoms were 4 weeks from expiration and though I tried to reach out,  no sexual advocacy group could accept, process and distribute the donation in such a short time-frame.  The distribution company was aware of my artwork, and contacted me in hopes of seeing the materials put to use.  The shipment, totaling 21,000 pounds, was delivered to a donated warehouse space I was able to secure in Milwaukee in October, 2013.

 

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Together, my friend Kim Hindman and I  have organized a group of 20 national artists to transform this shipment into Preservatif, an exhibition that focuses on the condom as a material to be re-imagined and reinterpreted. Opening on World AIDS Day, December 1st, 2014, Preservatif aims to raise awareness, eyebrows and horizons in response to this incredible material.

Meet the participating artists:

Amelia Toelke & Arielle Toelke, Angela Caldera, Chad Turner, Demitra Copoulos, Greely Myatt, Heath Matysek-Snyder, Heejin Hwang, Jennifer Zackin, Jill SebastianKayle Karbowski, Kim Dickey, Kim Hindman, LJ Roberts, Marina Kelly, Mark Rumsey, Niki Johnson, Tara Bogart, Timothy Westbrook, and Tom Jones

The artists selected for this exhibition come from a variety of backgrounds and material practices including: sculpture, jewelry, photography, performance art, ceramics, and interdisciplinary practices.

 

To learn more about each of these artists and their projects, please visit our exhibition website: http://preservatifexhibition.com

It is our goal to see the exhibition travel and engage a broad population in conversations pertaining to sexuality, materiality and design. We are actively pursuing support for this exhibition. For more information on how you can become involved in this groundbreaking event, please visit our support page.

And, if you have never seen how a condom is made, treat yourself to this video:

To Speak and To Be Heard

A couple of months ago I was approached by the Local IQ for an interview.  As I grew up in New Mexico, and this was the first interview I have been offered in my home state, I enthusiastically agreed.  For several days I wrote.  The questions were great, open ended, and I talked in greater detail about myself and my practice than I ever had shared with a publication before.

Today, the piece was published online, and while aspects of my interview are present, reading the article left me with a familiar disappointment that I often feel when my practice and statements are shoehorned into an easily digestible format.  While I understand a need to adhere to word count and a need to appeal to easily distracted readers, it’s difficult to read about myself as an artist who is, for example, “use to finding herself in sticky situations” or that I am, “making waves with her fun, contemporary spin on hot-button issues”.

The nature of journalistic writing is one that resists in depth explanation, which is at the root of all good art.  I think it is important to share an example of how mistranslation happens, as it does to most practicing artists at some point.

Below you will find my full interview, which I am proud of.

 

Let’s begin with your life in New Mexico. Could you tell me a little bit about why you lived here and for how long?

My parents packed my sister and me up in the winter of 1978 and moved our family from Green Bay to Albuquerque. I was 6 weeks old when we arrived, and I spent the next 17 years growing up all over and around the city. My sister and I joked that our parents must be fugitives, but in all reality they were hippies pursuing a horizon just beyond where we were. My memories of growing up in student housing at UNM, on a commune in Placitas, and in a smattering of 1970s pre-fab and rustic adobe houses in Corrales, Santa Fe, and the Northeast Heights are predominantly good. I attended Eldorado High School, yet graduated from Freedom. I went to UNM for a minute, and then spent a few years at New Mexico Highlands University and Santa Fe Community College before dropping out to pursue rock climbing and life in San Francisco in my early twenties. Since then, I’ve called Memphis, Tennessee and Milwaukee, Wisconsin home, but New Mexico is still where my heart is. I don’t see that changing no matter the time or distance.

Is there something from New Mexico that inspired you and your artwork? 

My earliest experiences definitely shaped who I am as an artist. I attribute my interest in incorporating materials and iconography from popular culture to my upbringing in New Mexico. My reasoning is pretty simple: the Cosby’s had a more consistent presence in my life than any set of neighbors we lived near. They were available as soon as the cable was installed.

Nights spent dancing to new wave and industrial music at Maxwell’s and UN offered opportunity for new friendships, no matter what school district I had relocated to. Listening to music has always been and remains a key factor in my studio practice, and those formative experiences with music in Albuquerque’s club scene influence my daily ritual today.

I began art school at New Mexico Highlands University when I was 18, and I attribute much of the studio work ethic I have to the close-knit group of friends I made while in school there. Matthew Eaton, Kirk Naegele, Joshua Woodlee, EIi Garcia, Ramona Lee, Aaron and Beth Juarros were all a few years ahead of me in the program. Each of them demonstrated a commitment to their studio practice and creative thinking. Their example fostered my own desire to both clarify what mattered to me, as well as to manifest those ideas through making things. David Lobdell was (and still is) the head of the sculpture department, and under his direction I learned how to mold and cast objects—something that I now do everyday.

Years later in 2012, my thesis exhibition for my MFA at UW-Madison drew from my experience of living between places while growing up in New Mexico. More specifically, the work emanated from my experience of feeling transient, displaced, and uprooted. Each piece in Mover featured a portrait of separation in which place and belonging mixed with apparitions of desire. The exhibition—mostly made of slip-cast porcelain, soil and moving boxes—focused on issues of fragility and fortification. Objects associated with house and home were recast as symbolic agents of crisis.

You use so many different types of mediums in each of your pieces, what is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

Wow, that’s a hard one. Right now my 99-cent cuticle pusher from Walgreens is among the most prized possessions I use everyday. It’s just perfect for creating clean parting lines for the separable-part plaster molds that I am waist deep in. Next week I will likely be singing the praises of plastic spatulas and how silicone rubber is so easy to clean up if you just walk away from it for a few hours. If you had asked me last year while I was inter-stuffing and triple folding nearly 17,000 condoms to produce a massive portrait, I would have told you that manual dexterity was at the forefront of my arsenal.

I suppose what shapes my practice is an intense material curiosity, which often leads me to working with unfamiliar materials, and calling friends who know how to coax the materials into doing the things I want. I don’t think I’ll ever be an expert in any one area or material. Perhaps then, laughter is my favorite tool, because when I’m trying new things, humor and tenacity are what get me through all of the set backs.

Why do you think that your work is so controversial?

As an artist, I strive to create work that encourages generative thinking about American cultural identity. I wouldn’t say I hedge controversy in my work, but I wouldn’t say I actively seek it out either. The very nature of the subject matter in my artwork, especially the pieces that address issues of gender, sexuality and race have always sparked debate. I never worry about the potential controversy a piece could make; rather I am more focused on bringing together material and form to instigate conversation about the complexities of contemporary life.

I believe the artwork that most specifically addresses this question is Eggs Benedict. When media coverage of that piece went viral last spring, my title transformed to “the condom pope artist” overnight, which is kind of like calling a pastry chef “a cake maker.” While all of the conversation the portrait continues to create is wonderful, working to broaden people’s understanding of my practice as an artist beyond the piece that put me on the map has been a job within itself. With that said, I feel truly fortunate for the community that has found my work through this experience.

When you are coming up with ideas for projects is the subject more important to you, or is the way it’s executed more important?

Idea and execution are equally important in my work. When I sandblast images off of found porcelain, it creates a silhouette in the preexisting image. The low relief that is cut into the plate physically manifests traditions that have been lost through changing cultural values. The cropping and scale of my large format photographic bookend prints shift the view of a common everyday object into a colorful display of architectural possibility. I suppose re-seeing the world around me is a big part of my practice. Execution and materiality are central components in making that happen.

Many of your projects are made out of “found” materials, do you find the materials first and pull inspiration from them, or do you pick your subject and then find materials?

It really depends on the project. Sometimes I’m drawn to altering objects I find. Other times materials and processes round out the overall meaning of the piece I am working on. And then there are the odd opportunities when materials find me—like last fall when a distribution company shipped 10.5 tons of condoms my way. The shipment is now being sent across the country to 20 artists, who are transforming the material into art. All of the artworks will later be shipped back to Milwaukee for an exhibition that Kim Hindman and I are co-curating called Preservatif. The exhibition opens on World AIDS Day, and all proceeds beyond the cost of the show will be donated to local organizations helping people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Did you have to make changes to way you normally work for your new residency at the Pfister Hotel?

The greatest challenge working in the Artist’s Studio at the Pfister Hotel has been smoothly transitioning between being a working artist and engaging patrons in meaningful conversations at the drop of a hat. I am definitely getting better at it, but I do have moments where my gears stick. In addition to the incredible support this residency offers, it makes discussing what you do second nature. It’s great to be in contact with so many curious people everyday. On a daily basis, it shifts up making my work into a community experience.

Beyond the social aspect of the residency, the studio has never housed a sculptor before. Thankfully, the garage is above the studio, and I’ve been able to use an air compressor as well as a number of saws in the space. Casting large molds and working in wax in a studio outfitted for a painter has required a bit of creativity, but two months in, my projects are ahead of schedule.

What do you think the future holds for you and your artwork?

I do have a few things on the not so distant horizon. First is a solo-show opening at New Mexico Highlands University in mid-August. I’ll be giving an artist talk, so please come if you can. There are solo shows held seasonally for the Pfister AiR, and I have three upcoming exhibitions in July, October, and January.

Beyond making art, I also curate and organize exhibitions. At Your Service, is an exhibition I’m co-curating with Amelia Toelke that is currently on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington. The show will be traveling to the Houston Center of Contemporary Craft in January, and then moves on to the Clay Studio in Philadelphia where it will remain through the summer of 2015. I am also curating Engendered opening at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in early January. This exhibition engages the contemporary experience of gender, identity and sexuality through an array of artworks made by national and international artists. And then, there is the condom show, which I mentioned earlier…

At this stage I feel like I’m planting a lot of seeds, and my hope is that good opportunities will continue to present themselves. There are days when I would really love to know how all of this is going to turn out, but when I start to think this way, I try to focus on the breadcrumb trail in front of me. My career has been an unexpected, if not somewhat wild ride. I would love to continue being able to make art at the rate I am for as long as possible.

 

 

NCECA 2014: Pritzlaff meets the Material World

WebHeader-CollectorTour2014 The annual conference for the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts descended upon Milwaukee last Tuesday and stayed through Saturday afternoon. In those few days, over 4,000 people came to the talks, demonstrations, and exhibits in the Wisconsin Center. The Milwaukee Art Museum alongside numerous galleries in the 3rd Ward hosted concurrent independent exhibitions, showing ceramic based work from local, national, and international artists. Potters, sculptors, collectors and clay enthusiast mixed and mingled. Perennial friendships were renewed and new connections were made.

If you have yet to participate in an NCECA conference, this annual celebration of clay takes place in a different city every year. While the rhythm of the programming (with staple events like the keynote speech, cup sale, student perspectives talks, emerging artists talks, etc.) remains consistent, the conference fully transforms and takes on the flavor it’s host city. It just so happened that this year I lived in that host city, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: home of beer, cheese, brats and two of my favorite ladies who know how to get things done:

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Paul Sacaridiz, my former professor, mentor and friend stayed in contact with me following my graduation from UW-Madison in 2012. He knew that I enjoyed organizing exhibitions and was quite familiar with my natural inclination to knoll like objects together from the semester I shadowed him in teaching Ceramics I. Late in the fall of 2012 Paul approached me about helping with the 2014 conference. I said of course. What began as a relatively minor role in helping out evolved over the next eighteen months into something much much larger.

By the fall of 2013, I had taken on the role of Lead Coordinator of the Concurrent Independent Exhibitions for the Pritzlaff building. My job was to help in organizing and facilitating 12 exhibitions featuring 70 artists within two large ballrooms. In order to wrangle a project of this scale in tandem with my studio practice, extracurricular curitorial endeavors, and sanity, I brought 10 student interns on board from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design for spring semester. 450 of the 900 hours they would spend with me would be dedicated to bringing NCECA to Milwaukee.

My interns (who are also my heros) are:  Ariana Vaeth, Cody Powers, Audrey Jerabek, Kayle Karbowski, Alyssa Anderson, CJ O’Connell, Luke Arndt, Tony Mau, Claire Hitchcock Tilton, and Ayla Boyle. Each intern agreed to create a website, business cards and forfeit their spring break in an effort to perform good works and professionally navigate while working with NCECA.

I encourage you to check out their work. These young artists are not only dedicated, they are brilliant.

This blog post is dedicated to my interns and the unprecedented job they did helping bring NCECA to Milwaukee. The following slide shows and writings will work to illustrate the many task this group took on leading up to and following NCECA 2014.

If you would like to use any of the images contained on this post, please be sure and include photo credits in your publication. Thanks so much!

 

MAPPING THE PRITZLAFF:

The bulk of my involvement with this project began in the fall of 2013, when Paul and I met at the Pritzlaff to create the layout of the exhibition space. We reviewed the selected proposals for space requests, thematic content and types of work that would be on view.  Over the next few weeks, we talked a great deal about the way the placement of each show would read throughout the entirety of the space. Once we settled on a preliminary map, I translated our mutual scribble maps into a legible map and sent it to the CIE leaders.

In an effort to help the CIE leaders better envision the space, my intern Alyssa Anderson and I visited the Pritzlaff a few weeks later to photograph the space. Alyssa then took the images and edited them, overlaying each photo with a graphic map. This new, more dimensionally friendly way of interpreting the space was complied into a pdf and shared with the CIE leaders.

After making a few minor adjustments, we were ready to draw up the exhibition map that would be on hand during the duration of the exhibition to help guests navigate the building.  Alyssa spent the beginning of her spring break designing, proofing and negotiating drafts with me, Paul and Josh Green. Her efforts were incredible. Not only was Alyssa reliable and fun to work with, she also has the fastest turn around I have ever seen.

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FLYERING THE CITY & WRITING REVIEWS FOR THE VISITORS BLOG- SPRING BREAK BEGINS:

Over spring break, I met with my interns and divided them into two teams: the Builders and the Flyers. The Flyers (Ariana Vaeth, CJ O’Connell, Kayle Karbowski and Alyssa Anderson) concentrated on creating a map of venues around town where information about the upcoming conference could be dropped off. After two hours of working together, they had put together one of the most through distribution maps out there.

Their next task was getting the materials to the locations. The Flyers split into groups of two and delivered the materials across the city. A race ensued, and while I have been led to believe that safe driving practices were adhered to, they completed their respective tasks (reaching over 50 locations) in roughly three hours. The next day we met back at my house to finish the restaurant and entertainment reviews we had been working on for the NCECA Visitor’s Blog. Like with the flyer, they first made a map and then set to work locating images and writing their own reviews of local bars, restaurants, coffee shops and places they felt visitors should see.

Once the reviews were finished, the group sat back in amazement at how awesome Milwaukee is. Our collective understanding of where to go, what to do and what makes this city an incredible place was truly invigorating. I sent our information along to Cindy Bracker and within a few hours all of their hard work went live.

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BUILDING STUD WALLS & CUSTOM PEDESTALS- SPRING BREAK BEGINS:

One of our largest challenges in preparing the Pritzlaff for a large scale art exhibition was creating several free-standing walls that could support hanging artwork. The Prtizlaff’s historical building’s walls, while beautiful, are primarily made out of cream city brick and were not available to drill into or mar in anyway. I connected Paul with my intern Tony Mau, a skilled builder and former marine, in developing and overseeing the of building the temporary walls we were going to need. Together Paul and Tony came up with a plan.

The shipment of materials arrived at MIAD Wednesday morning. By Thursday afternoon the Builders (Tony Mau, Audrey Jerebek, Cody Powers and Luke Arndt) had constructed seventeen 2″x 4″ stud walls as well as cutting down lumber, patching and painting four custom pedestals.

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BUILDING OUT TEMPORARY WALLS IN A FLASH- SPRING BREAK CONTINUES:

Paul and I met all of the interns at 10am on Friday, March 14th to build out the temporary walls in the Pritzlaff. We had only 3 hours to place and secure the pre-fab stud walls, skin them up with drywall, and spackle the screw holes and seams.

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ARTIST INSTALL, SUNDAY & MONDAY:

With one day off, my team met back up Sunday morning to begin two days of assisting the CIE leaders and exhibiting artists in installing their work. This was one of the most anticipated days for the intern team. During their interviews each one expressed great interest in working with the NCECA artists and helping them in setting up their work. Over the course of these two days the interns forged new professional relationships with several of the artists on site. Amazing stuff.

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COLLECTOR’S TOUR- THE VERY NEXT DAY:

Paul introduced everyone on the Collector’s Tour to the CIE shows at the Pritzlaff early Tuesday morning. A number of the exhibiting artists were on hand to talk about their work. It was great meeting so many incredible people who are invested in supporting the arts. It was also pretty wonderful reconnecting with all of the exhibiting artists and friends I hadn’t seen this past year.

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THE CONCURRENT INDEPENDANT EXHIBITION SPACE AT THE PRITZLAFF, MARCH 20th – MARCH 22nd

Here is a peek at what the exhibitions looked like in their entirety:

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PRITZLAFF CIE OPENING EXHIBITION OPENING CELEBRATION- MARCH 22nd:

The opening celebrations at the Pritzlaff ran late. Our plan was to make the Pritzlaff everyone’s last stop on an evening filled with gallery openings and art galore. Ben Steckel and Paul Kramer performed live music throughout the night. With hundreds of people in attendance, the energy in the building was pretty glorious. Drinks were drank. Laughter abounded. At the end of the night, Paul and I did a victory lap and soaked in the success of months of hard work.

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INTERN INTERVIEW FOR NCECA’S 50th ANNIVERSARY, MARCH 22nd:

One of things I’ve enjoyed most about being a part of NCECA over the past three years is the way the organization fosters growth for people who involve themselves in it. Each year I have become increasingly more involved, gaining experience from each conference, and this year I was able to extend this experience to my interns.

When I was asked to share my story for the 50th Anniversary interviews, I immediately asked if I could bring my interns, as their participation has been integral to the success of everything I’ve been able to contribute this year.

That morning I watched my interns sit down with Cindy Bracker and give their first recorded interviews. I think I had what I can only call a mom moment (which is weird as I have no children). While watching them record their stories I became inexpressibly proud, and felt that perhaps this internship might just give them as much as they have brought me. I sat there and watched  them speak into a camera and take another bite out of professional practices.

A consistent thread in their stories was that though they had limited experience with clay, (MIAD, where all of my interns study, doesn’t have a ceramics department) each had gained an invested interest in the community they had come to meet through working with NCECA.

My hope is that MIAD will consider what the role of clay can bring to it’s programming. Perhaps the intern interviews will help make that change possible. Clay after all is the new black.

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DEINSTALLATION OF PRTIZLAFF EXHIBITION, MARCH 23rd:

After all of the festivities were over and the convention center, hotel rooms and rental cars returned to their previous order, we began to deinstall the exhibitions. Energies were low yet humor was high. Many of us were under slept if not a bit hungover. Hugs were plenty as were well wishes. The next NCECA conference in Providence was part of the conversational hum in the building.

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THANKS!!!

I just want to send out a huge thanks to all of the CIE leaders, Paul, the board members, and my friends old and new for making this conference the best untertaking I’ve had in quite awhile. Thanks again to my amazing interns. It has been an absolute pleasure working with each of you.

I am completely amazed by all that was accomplished through the shared vision of volunteers.

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The people who make this happen every year.

 

Fairytales, Plates & Porcelain

In early January I found out that I was selected as a finalist in the Pfister Hotel’s annual Artist in Residence competition.  Learning this has been wonderful news, adding another degree of excitement to what is going to be an incredibly productive few weeks.

Over the next three weeks I will have work on display in Gallerie M at the InterContinental Hotel as a Pfister AiR finalist, at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Aesthetic Afterlife, curated by Claudia Mooney from the Chipstone Foundation, and at the Bellevue Art Museum, just outside of Seattle, in At Your Service–a traveling  exhibition I am co-cuating with Amelia Toelke.

Basically, life could not be better.

This blog post is dedicated to telling a bit more about the events taking place at the Haggerty Museum of Art and through the Pfister Hotel’s AiR competition here in Milwaukee, WI.  I’ll be following up with information about the upcoming exhibition at Bellvue Art Museum in my next one.  Enjoy!

PFISTER HOTEL’S ARTIST IN RESIDENCE FINALIST EXHIBITION-              GALLERIE M at the INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL:  January 17th-February 19th

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If chosen as the Artist in Residence at the Pfister Hotel, I will create a series of six sculptural child-sized bathtubs decorated to illustrate fairytales written by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.

Fairytales are the earliest narratives that join us culturally to one another.  This body of work re-imagines the bathtub as the place where children go before hear bedtime stories. It is my intent with these sculptural works to create dialogue about earliest stories we come to learn, as well as how daily rituals and self-care shape our everyday lives.

I envision my residency in the Pfister artist’s studio as a professional and inspirational experience, where I am allowed the opportunity to share various aspects of my practice with the patrons of the hotel.  During my 30-hour workweek in the Pfister artist’s studio, I will primarily be working in oil clay, sculpting and carving features for the bathtubs, and drawing detailed sketches for the components of each piece.  As the final sculptures will be made out of cast porcelain, I will be spending additional time in my home studio preparing molds and casting.  To encourage a holistic experience for the patrons, I will keep a few molds on display and will also regularly post photographic documentation of the work I do both on and off site on a digital display that I can talk about.

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In addition to the bathtub portraits, I will produce a line of limited edition commemorative plates to match each of these sculptural pieces. They will be available when I begin each tub, as both an aide to help patrons visualize the direction of the work in progress, alongside the drawings and sketches that will be on view.

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AESTHETIC AFTERLIFE- HAGGERTY ART MUSEUM:  January 22-August 8th

Last fall I was contacted Claudia Mooney from the Chipstone Foundation about the possibility of participating in an upcoming show she was curating at the Haggerty Museum of Art.  After a studio visit, we decided upon adding one of my plate based pieces in the the show. I spent the next two months working on a new piece titled Nest Egg for the group exhibition  Aesthetic Afterlife.

It opens to the public on Wedneday, January 22nd and runs through August 8th.  If you’re in town, please come and check it out.  All of the work in the show is great!

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Statement for Nest Egg:

I see this piece as an embodiment of the human desire to nest and place our experiences within the context of a natural world. As humans, we instill our legacies by passing on material items, traditions and stories. Ownership of objects, like lives, pass on. Heirloom objects such as plates connect communities of people together through ritual, tradition and touch.

The imagery in the second ring of plates features silhouettes of birds nesting, mating, grouping and migrating. I chose to alter those plates as a way to tease out the romantic overlay of life cycle behaviors that wild life commemoratives such as these encourage within a domestic setting.

The plates that comprise this piece were found in local thrift shops, a place that a majority of commemorative objects go to when the resonance of their message wanes, or they loose their original owners. This piece unites several incomplete sets of both practical and ornamental plates into one piece, making whole that which was once orphaned.

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AT YOUR SERVICE- BELLEVUE ART MUSEUM: February 14th-September 19th

More information to follow soon.

Between the Stacks

A hand reaches for a book. The book is added to a pile. Piles build on tables, next to armchairs, moved one by one to places where they can be opened up; leafed through.   For a moment, when resting upon each other, these collections of printed materials embody a kind of new disjointed ideation; the restructuring of which is limitless.

Shelving carts wheel between the sections: fiction, non-fiction, reference, large print. Arms outstretch to replenish the content on the shelves. Books scuff and slide across their metal surfaces, organized by subject, author and code.

Before I saw an empty library, I didn’t stop to consider much beyond the ease in which I could spend a quiet afternoon reading or research a question to my heart’s content.

It took bare shelves for me to see the bookends.

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In November of 2011, I toured the former Madison Central Public Library building, stripped of books and most of it’s furniture. The library was preparing for demolition with a two-year reconstruction project starting that spring.  I was one of hundreds of artists responding to a call. The city was hosting a one-night art-based fundraiser before the building was torn down. My tour guide was Trent Miller. The event would be called Bookless.

I had no way of knowing that my accepted proposal would lead to the best large scale installation experience I have ever had. The two weeks building up to the event spent with library staff and fellow artists bolstered my hopes of what the purpose of art can be.  To read more that experience, click here.

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Following Bookless, the city of Madison purchased two of my pieces: Daily Exchange (a portrait of the state capitol exhibited in the show) and Arch (a wall-hanging sculptural installation made out of bookends).  Over the next two years I worked with Trent Miller and city architect Bryan Cooper to situate the bookend installation in the new library.  One logistical hurtles we faced was building a reinforced wall to support the steel weight of the bookends. Another had to do with the shape of the piece itself.  Due to the available walls in the new building I redesigned the piece. To read more about that process, click here.

NEW ART FOR A NEW LIBRARY-

I installed my latest body of artwork into the new Madison Central Public Library this summer. The bookend is central to all of the pieces in this series.  Each artwork explores the bookend as an object to be stacked, reimagined and reinterpreted. Their colors and shapes speak to the evolving nature of spaces like libraries, designed to serve the changing needs of the general public-and in small ways, doing so in style. When put side by side they reveal portraits of both place and time. While bookends have helped organize  libraries for as long as they’ve been lending books, this series also points to their decreasing presence on the shelves. As the MCPL joins the growing number of beautiful, state-of-the-art public libraries it has embraced the demand for digital technology, which has reduced the number of actual books are onsite. Shelving has evolved into docking ports, a level of on-site stacks has turned into a large children’s area with a maker’s space.  The bookend is in many ways, symbolic of a new history being written today about the future physical landscape of public space.

STACKED

"Stacked" photo credit: Eric Baillies

“Stacked” Bookends from the former Madison Central Public Library
photo credit: Eric Bailles

photo credit: eric baillies

photo credit: Eric Bailles

photo credit: eric baillies

photo credit: Eric Bailles

Below is a slideshow detailing the process of making Stacked. The slideshow can be paused and forwarded at your convenience by clicking on the selection keys at the bottom of the screen.

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CORRIDORS

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“Beige/Turquoise” from the “Corridor” series
Limited edition photographic print

While I was preparing the bookends for sculptural installation in early 2012, I realized that when grouped, the objects lent themselves beautiful images of abstraction.  This discovery began a two-year pursuit of photographically documenting the bookend in large format.  The Corridor series records bookends in four specific ways: in groups, in stacks, as tunnels, and from the top down.

Below is a slideshow detailing the process of making of the Corridor photographic series as well as finished images included in it. The slideshow can be paused and forwarded at your convenience by clicking on the selection keys at the bottom of the screen.

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With the sale of any photo in this series, I will make a donation of 10% of all proceeds to local library of purchaser’s choice.

PILLAR

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“Pillar” Bookends from Madison Central Public Library
photo credit: Eric Bailles

Pillar is the most recent piece I’ve finished from during this period of working with bookends.  Each layer of the sculpture is supported by a laser cut steel ring.  It measures eight feet in height and will be on display during the one night exhibition Stacked on September 19th.

Below is a slideshow detailing the process of making of Pillar. The slideshow can be paused and forwarded at your convenience by clicking on the selection keys at the bottom of the screen.

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With the sale of Pillar, I will make a donation of 10% of all proceeds to local library of purchaser’s choice.

CHECK IT OUT- MADISON CENTRAL PUBLIC LIBRARY

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To see more images of the new library click here.

A Vision in White

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A Vision in White views Michelle Obama through the lens of recent media coverage, capturing both her splendor and the limitations of its gaze. By distilling the media’s portrayal of Michelle Obama down to her most discussed features, this piece reveals the ways in which her national portrait remains partial and fragmented. What is visible points to what is invisible, ultimately showing how Michelle Obama, as a whole person, is publicly reduced into mere parts. A Vision in White underscores intersections and overlaps between power, race, and gender in American culture.

THE CONTEXT:

When the term “First Lady” is used apolitically, it describes a woman with an exceptional level of talent in a particular field (Aretha Franklin has been honored as “The First Lady of Soul”; Madonna is the “First Lady of Pop”). The First Lady of the United States of America, conversely, earns her title through her husband’s election. Stars in entertainment are celebrated for their unique gifts, while a First Lady is appreciated for her ability to assimilate into a role nearly identical to that of the woman who preceded her. She is championed as a wife, mother, hostess, and volunteer. It is the First Lady’s ability to adopt this persona that is key to her legacy: her dedication to politically non-divisive causes, ability to organize and attend ceremonies, and of course, to look good doing it all.

The few who have defied the prescribed role of First Lady by remaining meaningfully employed or by voicing their political views have faced intense public scrutiny. Interestingly, these “unladylike” activities have drawn attention to the First Lady as a cultural gague for historical shifts—and at times transgressions—in normative gender roles.  Over sixty percent of women in the U.S. are currently employed, a fact which would lead one to think that a professional First Lady would be celebrated in the White House—yet the nation let out a sigh of relief after the 2008 presidential election when Michelle Obama traded in her legal practice for designer fashions and the fight against childhood obesity.

Like a majority of Americans, I was excited to see Michelle Obama become First Lady in 2009. Obama, a black lawyer from Chicago, in many ways embodied an ideal portrait of the American dream. From her blue-collar upbringing to her graduation from Princeton, Obama was a bold choice for First Lady. Campaign interviews revealed her to be both articulate and driven.  She framed her marriage as a partnership, and her children as her greatest responsibility. Doubts about her ability to put aside her professional ambitions to assume the role of First Lady were quickly put to rest in the first term. During her celebrated tenure, it has become clear that Michelle Obama holds a specific cultural significance, unlike any other First Lady. Not only is she the first woman of color to become First Lady, she has become emblematic of America’s struggle to negotiate issues of race, power, and gender.

Cultural tensions have been visible in the media. For decades a First Lady’s fashion has been part of the inaugural blitz, but in early 2009, media outlets began reporting sightings of Obama’s arms, referring to them as the “Gun Show.” This unprecedented focus on her body crossed an unspoken line of civility; a president’s wife was being freely objectified by the media. Comparing the treatment of other First Ladies during their time in office makes this difference even more pronounced: Kennedy was celebrated as a fashion icon; Clinton for her many fashion faux pas; yet news coverage of the designers Obama wears runs second to how her figure looks in the clothes.

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Mainstream media discourse suggests that the American public is both mesmerized by and terrified of Obama’s strength and beauty. It is as if our nation is transfixed with the otherness of this First Lady of color. The convergence of the role of First Lady and the black female body have evoked a form of overt, sexual objectification never before directed at the office of First Lady. This focus on Obama’s body has sexualized what has been a historically sexless role encouraging a type of “parts and pieces” dialogue reminiscent of both auction blocks and meat markets in this nation’s not-so-distant past.

While some backlash against The Administration is expected in any presidency, the level of sexism and racism directed at this First Lady by men in power is astonishing. Attempts to overshadow Obama’s extensive education, professional experience, and value as a human being further reflect the unique struggle this First Lady has faced in overcoming social and cultural prejudice.

RELATED WORKS:

A Vision in White is part of an evolving series of artworks I have made over the past five years that explore the cultural intersections of the role of First Lady in contemporary society. As national role models, the ways in which each presidential wife negotiates the issues of marriage, identity, and power have historically correlated with normative gender trends for women and girls in the United States. Mrs. President, a piece I made in 2009, engages the obscurity of what it is to become a historical figure through marriage.  This piece features silhouettes of each first lady’s head with her corresponding husband drawn on top. The Great American Bake-Off features cross-stitched portraits of the 2008 democratic candidates’ spouses framed in bakeware. This piece focuses on the cultural interplay of gender, race, and domesticity that permeated political discourse during this historic election. To see more of these and my other works please visit my site.

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While making A Vision in White, two sculptures continued to resurface in my thoughts: Fragments of a Queen’s Face, from the 18th Dynasty of the Amarna Period of ancient Egypt, and Claes Oldenburg’s London Knees, 1966.

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A Vision in White draws from the formal arrangement of these works, as well as from their aesthetic, which is both minimal and refined. From the jasper lips, I drew inspiration to create a likeness of Obama that was well crafted and reflective of her beauty. Casting the arms out of glass not only gave them a diaphanous quality, but also created a resonance with sculpture from the Classical period in ancient Greece and Rome, as did the draping of cloth across the armature that forms Obama’s invisible body.

A Vision in White and London Knees share the use of a hem line to delineate what part of the body is represented in the sculpture.  Similarly, they speak to a moment in the fashion continuum. What is true of Fragment of a Queen’s Face, London Knees and A Vision in White is that they are all informed by what is missing.  It is by recognizing what is not there that each portrait becomes whole.

Other artists who also make great work about the First Ladies worth checking out: Martha Wilson, Jean-Pierre Khazem, and Sarah Ferguson.

PROCESS IMAGES:

The slideshow below details the many steps taken in creating this artwork. You can pause it and scroll through by clicking at the bottom of any image.

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A Vision in White took approximately 400 hours to produce over the course of four months in three cities.

THANKS:

Many thanks to Martina Igerbraese-Cole, Angela Caldera, Jill Sebastian, Steve Feren, Matt Pipenbrok, Brian Nigus, Qiang Liu, Rory Erler and Mary Hoffman for the various ways you helped to make this piece happen. This portrait is a success thanks to you and your generous lending of time and knowledge. Thank you to Lea Johnson, Ginny Johnson, and Brandi Rogers for being my faithful editors. Your eyes and ears are invaluable. Thanks to Eric Baileys for the beautiful photographs. Finally, thank you to Debra Brehmer for including A Vision in White in the current exhibition at the Portrait Society Gallery, The Personal is Political: Martha Wilson & MKE.  I am ever thankful for the opportunity, support and risk your gallery takes in the name of fine art.

A Vision in White is now on display at the Portrait Society Gallery through July 14th.

Eggs Benedict: Part 2


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A translator relayed this quote from Pope Benedict during his trip to Africa in 2009:

“I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”

In 2009 I began working on a portrait of emeritus Pope Benedict, a latex embroidery made out of approximately 17,000 non-lubricated condoms. I completed the stitching just as Pope Benedict entered retirement in March of 2013. Eggs Benedict is currently on display at the Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This post covers my experience of having Eggs Benedict go viral, riding a wild media wave (or two), and engaging global conversations about the importance of interventionist artwork.  I also discuss how the events of the past month have inspired me to auction off the piece in a relatively unconventional manner, in hopes of raising money to benefit AIDS advocacy worldwide.

GOING VIRAL:

It has been just over a month since I posted Eggs Benedict on WordPress, and four weeks since I gave my first interview. In this time I have talked to numerous print reporters in person and on the phone and I just completed my third televised interview. News coverage has crossed the oceans. My thoughts have been translated into languages I cannot speak. Story lines (factual and otherwise) have caught like wildfire giving rise to an onslaught of activity on comment boards worldwide.

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When the first articles hit the internet the portrait began to take on a new life; one that was relatively indifferent to my practice and completely within the context of the daily grind. Due to the unusual nature of the story, it found shelter in an array of news sections from Arts & Entertainment to “Weird News,” and from Religion to the front page of various publications. Bloggers began blogging about it.

My age was misquoted by one source, which then was piggybacked by numerous other news agencies, making me 10 years younger in only 24 hours. While such a shot at rejuvenation might be a welcome chance for some, I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks emphasizing the full 35 years of my life, while being ever amazed at the laxness of fact checking that can take place at the high speed of modern journalism.

With that said, I have been very pleased with the type of coverage given by the reporters who have interviewed me. It is through their interest and skill that this story has gained traction.  Barbara Munker at the German Press Agency broke the story worldwide, while  Mary-Louise Schumacher and Kat Murrell contextualized the artwork within the broader scope of my practice.  Television reporters Stephanie Brown and Angelica Duria did an incredible job crafting as much depth as possible into two-minute stories for their respective news programs.  The list goes on, but in an effort to not laundry list I can say that all of the reporters I spoke with were careful not to stir additional conflict in this story or sensationalize the piece.

Not surprisingly, some factual fabrication has surfaced. A few conservative publications claimed that Eggs Benedict was proof that federal funding for the arts should be cut entirely, which I found ridiculous. No federal funds were spent on this project. I paid for it all out of pocket, like most artists do. However, I see no reason why this piece or any other piece of artwork  gives reason to condone censorship, or the removal of federal funding for the arts. Good art often makes people uncomfortable as it asks viewers to reconsider aspects of their lives that are often accepted, denied, or just plain taboo.

The online comments have been incredible. From the anonymity of their computer armchairs, commenters have both celebrated and condemned the artwork. Some have celebrated or condemned me as a person. From what I have seen (and yes, I have peered into the small infernos of disagreement) the majority of response to Eggs Benedict has been overwhelmingly positive. While admitting this may dampen the cry of controversy from the media, I believe it makes room for the greater conversation that is at stake concerning the accountability world leaders must face when their statements put the greater good of all at risk. Over the past five weeks I have witnessed a global conversation about safe sex, scientific fact and the place of public health in relation to moral platitudes. Further, I have witnessed how important and necessary art is in creating room for these difficult conversations to happen.

MOST ASKED QUESTIONS:
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Over the past month I have been asked a number of questions about Eggs Benedict. While most of the key points of my answers have been published, I feel it necessary to take this opportunity to address a few of these questions more fully.
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What do you think of all of the attention Eggs Benedict has generated? Was it expected? Was this piece a media grab?

I think the global response to Eggs Benedict signifies that people are ready to engage in a conversation about the issues the work brings up. No single person could craft the level of media interest that this artwork has received. It is a welcome surprise to me. As an artist I have very little control over how far the story of a particular artwork will travel. I simply make art because I need to. I write about it because that is part of my process. My contribution to this experience has been making artwork, writing a blog and granting interviews. If there was any media grab at all it was the media grabbing my story.

What do you say to people who think this work is disgusting or disrespectful?

I can respect that not everyone will embrace this artwork. There are also communities of people who see Eggs Benedict as a necessary and brave statement. We all may have differing opinions and ways of looking at the world, but the freedom of expression is central to who we are as a people. Respecting someone else’s perspective is civilized, and engaging in thoughtful dialogue (even if it’s heated) is healthy.

I dedicated a great deal of time crafting this portrait in a way that it is immaculate in its presentation. I encourage all of the people who have taken offense to see it in person. My guess is that you might just be surprised by what you see.

Who is your next condom portrait going to be of? Any other spiritual leaders on your list?

I would like to encourage everyone who has wondered this to visit my website. Perhaps it’s natural to think that condoms are my specialty with the amount of coverage this piece has gotten, but if you take a look at my other bodies of work you will see that I work in a wide array of materials. Each project I begin usually demands learning how to use materials I have little experience with. Material choice plays a central role in each artwork I make and is necessary in helping create the total meaning of each piece.

While looking at my other bodies of work you will also begin to notice that the people I have chosen to depict are from popular culture. I am not particularly interested in taking on spiritual leaders nor do I have issues with Catholics or people from any denomination. What I am interested in is bringing focus to a number of public figures whose statements, life decisions, or personas are reflected in the personal challenges we face as participants in our current cultural climate.

If there was one thing you could say about this Eggs Benedict what would it be?

Art starts multiple conversations at a glance. Eggs Benedict encourages dialogue about our world leaders and their responsibility to public health. It also presents condoms in a festive and positive way. Further, Eggs Benedict incorporates the plight of the poorest of the poor; women and children, in that the portrait itself is made through embroidery, which is a form of women’s traditional craft. Family planning and sexuality are woven into the very way the artwork was made. AIDS prevention and advocacy are the central to concepts to Eggs Benedict, but included in it’s message are notions of sacred sculpture, ritual and reverence.

ART FOR A BETTER WORLD:

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The events of the past month have brought me to make an unconventional decision concerning the sale of Eggs Benedict. I have decided to open the sale of this work to the world through an online auction. My hope is this will continue the global conversation this artwork has generated.  I have also decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to help fund AIDS advocacy and relief.

Eggs Benedict, which began as an intervention will now to evolve into action. Through the power of contemporary art and philanthropy this artwork will bring positive change to the world. The more generous the bid, the more good will be done. My hope is that Eggs Benedict will be purchased by an institution or collector who envisions this work on public display with the possibility of seeing it travel.

The percentage of the sale that to be donated and the organizations to be awarded funds will be decided in collaboration with the highest bidder. Once the piece is purchased the details will be made public.

I look forward to reporting back on the results of this auction! Thank you all for your interest. Without all of you, this would not be happening.