object / item / material / me

  • object / item / material / fontaine

    Fontaine during her installation piece Por La Mañana: A Community Café  at Hume


    Fontaine Capel is a Brooklyn-born, Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist, curator, educator, and facilitator. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object : something that has a shared culture

    • Item: Multiples, multiplicity, a list

    • Material: thematic and literal; dynamic


    While the focus of object / item / material / me is asking how people/artists utilize objects to explore and discuss their identities, a few questions keep crossing my mind: how do objects speak? How do we listen to them? The show explores identity through material culture, but what does it look like when an artist finds an object that ‘speaks’ to them? We use objects every day, but their presence tends to be ignored; they have no voice, and the only time that we seem to communicate with them is when we are utilizing them (and we only speak to them when it is from happiness in that we accomplished a task, or out of frustration when something does not go right).

    In her work, Fontaine Capel gives inanimate beings a quiet voice by creating a dialog around their presence. Fontaine is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice is focused on object-based projects. The term ‘multi-disciplinary’ refers to an artist whose talent is not focused on one medium, and this is exemplified through Fontaine’s works: she sculpts, she creates performance, she fosters experiences, and she installs. But, the word also implies other factors of being an artist; besides being a creator, the artist is a teacher, a curator, and a facilitator. All of these come together in Fontaine’s oeuvre.


    Installation for Por La Mañana: A Community Café, with a close up of the yucca root used


    Originally from Brooklyn, Fontaine creates works that examines her Cuban-Argentinian-American heritage, with an emphasis on the physical markers of heritage and identity, and what experiences occur around them.  During our interview, Fontaine explained that she straddles two worlds: that of her working class latin American immigrant heritage, and the culture of white wealth to which she's been granted access. And, as she describes it,  “ [it is] my job as a white-passing, Latinx person, and a person who doesn’t come from wealth but grew up around wealth and has access to people of wealth to bring these conversations together, and amplify the voices that are looked over by the majority.” By placing certain objects that are familiar to the Latinx community into a gallery, Fontaine is bringing voices and experiences into a space that may not otherwise be familiar with them.  She welcomes viewers to share in an experience that is personal to her and others.


    Outlets, 2017, mixed media


    Outlets is a sculpture that is composed of electrical outlets that have been painted over repeatedly with white paint. The holes that compose the socket seem to gasp for air through the layers of white paint that encompass it.  The piece focuses on the visual language of apartment living in Brooklyn. The light switches themselves are representative of how landlords, particularly in immigrant housing and lower income apartments, will just paint over the wall and all of the features on it when someone new moves into the space. Outlets and light switches are meant to be sources of power, but when they are painted over and over again, they become difficult to use; and Outlets poses the question: what does this action of painting over and over really mean for the individuals that have to deal with this on a regular basis?

    Fontaine’s definition of ‘item’ is that of multiplicity, and the replication of an object can be found in her cast of the yucca plant. She makes multiples of these and uses them for experiences and her performances. The yucca plant can be found in Latin grocery stores, but tends to be glazed over by people who are not familiar with the root. By casting it, and bringing attention to the shape, texture and use of the yucca, Fontaine allows those who are not familiar to be exposed, and those that are aware of the vegetable to share in the experiences around it. This is similar to her pieces in which galletas de mantequilla are replicated and placed within the gallery. People that are unfamiliar with the cookies, will enter the space, ask about and ponder them. People that are familiar with the Cuban sugar cookies will find a sense of home within a space that is typically made for people familiar with art spaces.


    From Por La Mañana which was a part of Part of 2nd Floor Rear 2017: RITUAL


    Speaking to Fontaine about objects as subtle signifiers causes me to pause and think about the dichotomous nature of objects. On one hand, they are utilitarian and dealt with every day, thus calling for attention. There is not a moment in which we do not interact with something inanimate. When we walk, our feet tread upon the concrete that was made for us to have a smoother walk. We wear clothes that have been spun from many different types of materials, and may have been passed through different hands. While we eat, we work around wrappings that have been made to protect our food or we are using utensils. We pass things in the grocery store that may not have use for a dish that we are preparing. We engage with them, we utilize them, but we do not give thought to them. Fontaine’s work shows how objects have quiet voices, and if you take the time to listen to them, you can hear many stories.


                                  Next up // June 1st: Artist Spotlight - Julia Arredondo


  • object / item / material / janelle

    Janelle with Building Virtue: A Study (2017 - cont) during her BFA show at School of the Art Institute of Chicago

    Janelle Miller is a multi-disciplinary artist and archivist whose work reclaims historical narratives rooted within Black communal structures while allowing for interventions of nostalgia and folklore to take hold. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object: Something that holds space; it exists. An object has a life force in that there is beginning, the creation of the object, and a technical end (but who is to say that an object is ‘done’?) There is a history within black culture and African culture in which an object has a life force that is bestowed by the creator. Ownership.

    • Material: The word that comes to mind with material is sourcing. In order to create something that is not fully realized resources are needed; the matter needed to create. The materials are what create the object.

    • Item: Not much connection to the term.


    Janelle understood her call to be an artist at a young age. She saw her growth into her artistic identity as an organic process that began with the encouragement of her maternal figures. These women came to influence Janelle’s aesthetic taste; her artistic practice could be seen as a connection to this maternal relationship to art. Her artistic practice is also influenced by print based media, such as the prints of Elizabeth Catlett and Margaret Burroughs, and she herself works within collage and prints. The ability of print media to communicate, to tell stories is what drew her into the medium. With print media being widely produced, it is easily accessible for many people. Through having easy access to the artworks,  people are able to connect through the stories being told, and this helped to influence her practice to focus on community and group engagement.


    It is through the introduction to her collection/installation Building Virtue: A Study (2017-cont.), that the idea for object / item / material / me began to form. The collection is an array of fans that depict black folks in various scenes: a boy and girl praying, a mother and child tending a garden, a young couple playing the piano together, and a mother with her children as they celebrate one child’s birthday. The fans were placed on pews in churches to be used during services. The images portray a message of virtue; they show individuals being pious, in love and enjoying their time together in a form of wholesomeness. On the back of the fans are advertisements for funeral homes and insurance companies that were in the local area of the church. She connects the front, an image of virtue, with the back, an advertisement, as creating a sense of trust through the ideal family; the family would be like the individuals on the fans, and use the services offered on the back. But, that is just one aspect of the fans that drew she in. The fans, to her, became a way of looking at the black community in a larger scale. The fans have a targeted audience; the audience of individuals within the black community who have seen the fans or used them. Building Virtue is about displaying the dialogue that the fans have with their setting as art objects within Janelle’s practice, and with their historical meaning.                              

    Janelle began collecting the fans in the summer of 2017 while she was a studio assistant to the artist Maria Gaspar. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, she is an archivist. Through her works, she is building an archive that is meant to retain memories and stories. She does not alter the pieces that she collects. She leaves no stamp of herself upon them. Her goal is to “let the works breathe” as they are; to allow them to speak for themselves. In this process of archiving, Janelle is a curator; she wants viewers to become a part of a collective expressions. The fans in Building Virtue are part of this process.


    object / item / material / me came to fruition from my introduction to Building Virtue in that I saw the power that these fans held. The fans retain a sense of values within the black community; they are pieces of the community’s history and identity. Building Virtue is an ongoing project as Janelle will continue to collect the fans, display them, and research them. As Janelle and I were finishing discussing her collecting process, and looking at her fans, the waitress at the restaurant we were at came up to us upon seeing the fans and was overwhelmed with nostalgia. “My grandmother would use those during service.” This moment allowed for a reflection upon Janelle’s practice; it allowed for the work to speak for itself.


    Next up // May 15th: Artist Spotlight - Fontaine Capel

  • object / item / material / me

    Dear Reader,


    In the preface of her book Vibrant Matters: A Political Ecology of Things Jane Bennett, a political theorist and philosopher at Johns Hopkins University, opens with the following idea:


    This philosophical project [this book] is to think slowly an idea that runs fast through modern heads: the idea of matter as passive stuff, as raw, brute, or inert. This habit of parsing the world into dull matter (it, things) and vibrant life (us, things) is a “partition of the sensible,” to use Jacques Rancière’s phrase. The quarantines of matter and life encourage us to ignore the vitality of matter and the lively powers of material formations, such as the way omega-3 fatty acids can alter human moods or the way our trash is now “away” in landfills but generating lively streams of chemicals and volatile winds of methanes as we speak”.


    In the age in which “things” (dull matter) permeates our lives, and some can even say control (i.e. technology), it is not far off to claim that inanimate objects are very much so alive. Objects may not inhale the smell of the earth after it has just rained like us, may not laugh with friends over coffee like us, may not stroll through the afternoon light like us, may not understand the tumultuous political era that we are in like us, but they do form a part of us and become a vital force for us. Whether it be the objects that help with the daily tasks of being humans, the objects that are important for our pleasure, or the objects that we hold dear due to the memories that are embedded into them, objects can be seen as alive just like you or me.


    This curatorial project, object / item / material / me, is about exploring that connection; it is about dissecting the critical moment when an object stops just being an inanimate piece of matter and becomes a volatile force for an individual. This project wants to explore how individuals have found themselves through objects. How someone has come to find their racial, sexual, gender or political identity through an object. This project will also explore how an object still has the vital force to continue to grow and change over time and or how it changes with a person as they evolve.  


    This project will span four months. From May-August, on the 1st and the 15th, I will publish a piece of work (an essay, a photo, a reading) that correlates with the show. And, at each publication, I will introduce an artist that is working with objects. These artists come from various backgrounds; each person went to a different school, each works with different materials, each understands objects differently. But, the connecting factor to these artists is that they have found an identity within objects. Whatever the artists association with an object may be, there is something to be said about the objects that helped foster the idea and message that each of these artists are exploring within their oeuvre.


    I want this show to also be understood as each of us being part of a larger collective. Objects have this appeal that draws us near to them. The objects that will be explored in this show may not have significant meaning to you or I, and may only speak to the artist and the community they are part of, but there is an understanding that these objects allow us to learn and grow together through understanding their meaning.


    Thank you for being with me as I begin this journey of curating object / item / material / me.  This will be the first show that I have curated. My background is in art history, with an emphasis in queer, performance art, and I will be beginning graduate school in the Fall of 2018 to pursue a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art History. This show will challenge me to think critically of how to be a curator and what it means to be curator for myself; of what it means to work closely with artists and the very material that makes up their practice, and how to tell their story.


    With all the best,

    Graham Feyl

    Next up: Artist Spotlight - Janelle Miller

  • Curator in Residence: Graham Feyl

    Curator in Residence: Graham Feyl

    We are excited to Introduce our very first Curator in Residence, Graham Feyl! Graham will share his writings, research, studio visits, and artists participating in his curatorial project, object / item / material / me, here on our website over the duration of his 4 month residency, which will then culminate into an exhibition in the Fall!


    Graham Feyl is an art historian and curator. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago in Art History. His art historical research focuses on modern and contemporary art with an emphasis in performance and queer art. His research incorporates queer theory, embodiment, and performance theory to better understand the body as a medium. Feyl will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Fall of 2018 to begin a Master's in Modern and Contemporary Art History.