Thursday, August 6, 2009
Stopping to smell the roses
“…I encountered a work in the A.I.R. exhibition that snapped me out of making snap judgements.”
The best time to traverse the Brooklyn Bridge is immediately after a thunderstorm. The temperature plummets and few people are out strolling, so you can cross in record time. On Sunday, I walked two-and-a-half hours from the lower east side to D.U.M.B.O. via the bridge and back again, to check out the new A.I.R. Gallery exhibition. Curated by gallery director (and alumna from my workplace, Purchase College !) Kat Griefen, tART @ A.I.R. features a diverse array of works from the tART collective, ranging from formalist to feminist. I was disappointed to learn that this group of artists is pronounced ‘tee-art’ rather than what I had mistakenly assumed: ‘tart’. The latter would be so cheeky (and I must admit, I have the convergence of feminism and baked goods on my mind because I’m about to make a shadow box of fibre cupcake sculptures for a Canadian fundraiser).
Just as I enjoy walking briskly in the city, I tend to breeze through galleries. It might be the result of having worked at a commercial gallery and observing gallerists and collectors make quick, intuitive decisions. During this time period, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario with my friend Melanie and was amazed by the amount of time she spent with each piece, carefully considering all aspects. It made me aware of how ruthless I was. The problem is, my ‘speed viewing’ has made me somewhat resistant to media that demands a set amount of the viewer’s time, like video art and sound art. Interestingly, I encountered a work in the A.I.R. exhibition that snapped me out of making snap judgements. It made me realize that maybe art doesn’t demand time from the viewer so much as it rewards the viewer for investing an adequate amount of time. I am cognizant of the hypocrisy in my behaviour, as I sometimes include subtle contradictions in my work* and hope that viewers will take the time to notice. I want my own audience to work hard. Shouldn’t I be expected to do the same?
The work in question is Hvalreki (2009) by Rebecca Loyche. Allow me to describe the work as I encountered it: I put on the headphones and watched black and white footage of a woman signing in ASL as an impassioned male voice, perhaps a politician, played in the background, dominating the sound of crowds. The silent woman juxtaposed against the booming male voice was very effective indeed, from a feminist perspective. Not familiar with the language, I wasn’t inclined to keep the headphones on for long, but as I was about to disengage, the voice switched over to an impassioned female voice. Was it an opponent of the man? A colleague? Suddenly my assumptions had to make room for new possibilities. The work couldn’t necessarily be reduced to a male-female power dynamic at the woman’s disadvantage, at least not in the way I had imagined. I became curious about the work so I looked up Rebecca Loyche. She did a residency in Iceland where she joined the Women’s Emergency Government group and was inspired by protests, some of which are related to a shortage of information, piquing my interest as a librarian. When I researched the Women’s Emergency Government group, I read about their use of a pink dress to drape a political statue. Lesson learned. Pink dresses are the mainstay of my artwork. Who knows what I’ve overlooked in the past that is not only interesting in its own right but that could contribute to my own development as an artist?
After I left A.I.R., I made it a personal goal to be more open-minded about art that takes time to view. So far so good: only three days later, I went to a show of video art curated by Kate Gilmore. Stay tuned for more about that exhibition.
*In my Aberration sculpture series, I depict an abstracted cocoon, made of baby clothing and fabric, at various points in time. They appear to grow from left to right as they increase in size. There are more elements of embroidery on the clothing replicated on the outer surface of fabric, so it’s like the babies are developing new features or at least their existing features are becoming enhanced. I like to include a few anachronisms for good measure…bits of embroidery that suggest a reversal of time from left to right. I’m not trying to be difficult. Rather, I am responding to the tension of not knowing whether the cocooned forms are breaking free or becoming further bound.