Sunday, February 4, 2018

Grappling with Politics in Art

My newest installation of work, dealing with politics and using a form and format I have been using for years, is currently on display at the Yakima Maker Space.

The Maker Space installation is a part of the local Nasty Woman show. This work (all of these pieces plus some that didn't fit in the YMS display) will be going to Hood River in March for the Columbia Center for the Arts' "Raising our Voices: Art as Activism" show. 

The shows I've mentioned before, but the new part of this, for me, is that I am also going to be presenting on this work for Blinc 20/20 at the NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conference in Pittsburg in March. 

The First Amendment of the Constitution

The Blinc 20/20 format is like the PechaKucha format that people might be familiar with from events around the country. I presented in roughly this format for the International Sculpture Day event last spring. Of course the pressure wasn't particularly intense presenting in Yakima and with all familiar faces in the audience.

Systemic racism means that systems in our country are set up that privilege one group of people over another. When some people pointed out that black people's lives don't appear to matter in this country, based on the evidence that they are being shot and killed by police at an alarming rate, some other people were offended at being asked, as a country, to examine the systems that have led to black people being more likely to be killed than white people.

Last year's topic was also significantly less intense. I was discussing the evolution of the form that makes up my bulb installation and this simple form's presence in my sculpture and installation work. This year's work is based on that form and that same installation, but the topic of the talk is "Grappling with Politics in Art."

Nasty Woman at Yakima Maker Space

I proposed this topic because of the urge I felt last year, after the election and the first few months of the new presidential administration, to begin making work that was more direct and overtly political. My work has always been abstract (or occasionally functional), but I've never felt the need to be explicit in the stories I was trying to tell.

Who is the person in prison? Statistically, this is probably an American, since 25% of the world's prison population is right here in the USA, and a black man is 6 times more likely than a white man to be jailed in his lifetime.

Until this past year. 

Sandra Bland #sayhername
The frustration and feeling of powerlessness I felt as I saw decision after decision being made with apparent intent to harm the people of this country made me begin calling my congressman and senators regularly and attending activist events and meetings, but I felt like I needed to do more.

The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing, causing extreme weather events, which in turn damage our country's "crumbling infrastructure."

Some of this feeling of needing to do more came from feeling like I was trying what was available. The march was fine and the meetings, too. I called my senators and they mostly agreed with what I called about and my congressman mostly disagreed, but it didn't feel like I could make a dent.


It also felt, and continues to feel, like the serious issues themselves shouldn't be all that controversial. It doesn't seem controversial to me that all women should be able to live with the expectation of controlling access to their bodies and not being forced to be groped, grabbed, raped, or touched at all if they don't want to be. But I'm one of those radicals who thinks that women are people, with the same inherent rights and autonomy over their bodies and lives as male people are assumed to have.

The pussy hat is a pink hat with cat ears, a reference to the offensive use of the word "pussy" in a different context by a sexual predator who ran for office in 2016. Hats like this were worn at the Women's March by people who are offended by sexual predators winning national elections. 

It doesn't seem like a stretch to think that regular people can agree that all people should have the same access to clean drinking water, paid for by our taxes, and that when the local or state government fails to provide clean drinking water, maybe the federal government should step in and make that happen.

Systemic, institutional racism is a real thing in this country and it leads to real threats to the health, livelihoods, and lives of real Americans. Like when an entire US community is deprived of clean drinking water for more than two years.
I also feel a strange combination of hope and powerlessness when it comes to climate change, evolution, and vaccination. It seems like fairly reasonable educated people can learn and understand how science works and what sorts of information support a scientific theory. In a related direction, it seems like education can be the tool that helps people begin to sift through the mess of hyperbolic, fearful, click-baiting, and fear-mongering "information" available for a lot of these "controversial" topics that aren't controversial to experts in their respective fields.


At the very least, it seems like people just aren't pausing to think about what is being said, what is being implied, and what is being enacted into policy by our current administration, but really by many of our leaders prior to the current administration. If people would stop and really consider how the same comments and policies would sound if applied to white people or men instead of to people who, for some reason, are seen as the non-standard color, status, or gender, it seems like the frustrations of the left, the women, the minoritized peoples wouldn't seem so surprising.

knot of tension/things Trump says

As I try to articulate my frustrations, in advance of the conference presentation, I realize that I'm letting my naivety show. I'm making this art out of frustration and that stuck feeling of not knowing what I can do. In the immediate moment, the art I make is an outlet for me. In the next part of its life, showing in a safe space, like a liberal venue or show, it is an object, a snapshot, and a focus through which like-minded people can connect. But what I'd like it to be is more.

trump tweets

I live in Yakima, in central Washington, a staunchly conservative part of the state that I've heard referred to as Reagan (in contrast to the liberal West side of the state, which can, apparently, hold onto the name of our slave-owning founding president.) Living in this part of the state and in this city, I am constantly reminded, and constantly surprised, by the divisions in ideology between what I believe is most important in our country and what some of my neighbors and students and friends believe.

And, yet, I still have to believe that we aren't just opposites who naturally believe in contrary things. We all want to be safe and healthy, we all want our city to be better than it is. We all want to be reasonably happy and successful in our lives. We all have some interest in seeing our friends and/or family also safe and healthy and reasonably successful and happy. What constitutes success and happiness, probably, is the cause of most of our disagreements, but in all that shared humanity, shouldn't there be some common ground on which to build?
the opiate epidemic, insurance lobbyists, rich and powerful pharmaceutical companies, life saving medicines accessible only to the wealthy or the insured, insurance coverage of ED pills, but not birth control
When I first started making this work, I was illustrating events, controversies, policies, or statements that I think are fairly straightforward in their wrongness, visually striking, and fairly unambiguous to look at. Sandra Bland's traffic stop at gun point, Trump's most offensive tweets, and Flint's dirty water.


But after I had been making pieces for some time, I started thinking about where there were places of ambiguity. There are some issues that maybe most people recognize as a problem but that have complications that make solutions more difficult that it would immediately appear. For example, I think it is pretty clear that gerrymandering is a problem, but there's a little more to it than just cutting up districts in a grid.

A woman who is not allowed control of her body, cannot control her life.

There are also issues I chose to represent as an image, but without a necessarily straightforward one-way interpretation. I included a birth control pack because women's rights and women's ability to control their own bodies is obvious. But, I suppose, someone could look at that and see birth control as a bad thing. (No, I don't quite think real people with think that.)


I also included several images of general control or silencing: rope wrapped around the first amendment text and lips crossed out in tape. I'm not saying who is doing the silencing, which means the viewer can interpret the imagery themselves, though in context with the other images, the overall theme becomes a clue. And the tape is orange.

tent city, USA

I also included some imagery that is meant to be more specific locally, though not much, yet. I included what was meant to represent the tent city where a significant number of Yakima's homeless spend their summer nights.

Unfortunately the tent city is one of the least effective images, because the tents look like mountains. A related piece has a man in layered sweatshirts, hunched over against the cold with a shopping cart next to him. 

pollution, EPA, emissions standards, big business, tax incentives

I want the pieces, particularly the more ambiguous pieces and the installation as a whole, to encourage the audience to think about an issue. In most cases, I think I'd rather not have the pieces work as simply a quick code to reference a side on a two-sided competition. Ideally, people looking at the work will not recognize every image immediately, or at least not immediately recognize which side they're supposed to fight against.


I kept the colors intentionally muted compared to my typical work. Because the motivation for the work is so dark and depressing, it seemed wrong to make the pieces themselves bright and shiny. 

St. Basil's / Russian Interference

The pieces are sometimes pretty, as in the Russian interference bulb, which is just a depiction of St. Basil's in Moscow. I think the pieces as a group are visually pleasing and maybe pretty, but that initial attraction is, hopefully, a lure to a closer, more thoughtful interaction with the works and maybe with the audience sharing the experience of looking at the work together.

the rich getting richer, monopolies and lobbyists, corporatocracy 

I wish, as I look at the work now and write about the intent, that I'd had time to do more before the conference. There's whole swaths of topics that needed to be included that either hadn't happened yet or I just didn't get around to making. I'm presenting on this work at this awkward early stage, when I haven't figured things out and I haven't even created all I want yet. To be continued, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. Hope this place turns out good. It’s great that this venue offers services such as catering, lighting, tables and chairs, table linen and parking. I am here to choose venues in NYC for my event, glad to know that they do not put any restrictions regarding music played.


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