object / item / material / me

  • object / item / material / polina

    Polina by Branislav Jankic


    Polina Protsenko is a interdisciplinary artist and educator, entering her second year in the MFA Performance program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object: no strong meaning; anything tactile; art term; scale (landscape)

    • Item: Personal; differentiate; history + personal experience

    • Material: texture


    Polina is Russian-American born in Estonia, moved to Florida with her mother, and did her undergraduate program at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her undergraduate program, Studio for Interrelated Media, was based in production, social practice, community outreach, and all of the aspects that go into a performance. She has just currently finished her first year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the graduate program in performance studies. I opened this paragraph with Polina’s place of birth, and where she ended up and her schooling because they both speak to a crucial aspect of Polina’s artistic practice: her body and the need for physical contact.


    Pillow Series


    Moving from one place to the next can be an exhausting experience for the body; performing is a similar experience. Using her undergraduate experience, Polina found that she searched for others to experience artistic works with her. She found that performance was a medium that allowed others to become involved with her work, and to broaden that scope of interaction and relation to an artwork through having others participate in her pieces. She finds that using items in her piece, that individuals are allowed to take home with them once a performance concludes, has a lot of vitality. The emotions and experience(s) that occurred during the performance are still found within the piece that a viewer can take home with them, and the piece allows them to recall all of those aspects when gazing/touching the piece.


    The body is a powerful thing. While object / item / material / me breaks down the very objects that artists use within their practice, and how they come to embody an aspect of the artist’s identity. But, what happens when an artists uses their body to represent the embodied?


    Pillowcase Object


    Polina is interested in exploring the system and language that surround sex positivity, girlhood and the agency that the body has. This developed out of a search for what creates shame, why and where we experience it, by whom and how to alter the perception of one’s own place within the society to act and be the way we truly deserve to be seen and treated. There is an understanding of how shame about the body/sex come about, a cultural phenomena, but once this is recognized, how does one handle that shame and what are the next steps?


    Just a Nip2017. Live Performance, Video Installation. Collaboration with Genna Gmeiner


    In one performance, Just a Nip, Polina created stickers that resembled voting stickers that were different photographs of nipples. Along with this was a video interview series of different people, and it was just images of their chests (some wear shirts, and others do not). The piece was meant to create a discussion around the shaming of the female nipple, and by handing out these anonymous nipple stickers, there was a saturation of the nipple into the world that was a means of normalizing it.


    The use of the nipple sticker as object had the potency to bring about a discussion surrounding the shaming of women's bodies, and the similar idea of focusing on an object but using the body as a catalyst to bring the idea forward can be found in Polina’s piece Dearly Intimate. Intimacy is a concept that is tied to the timidness to voyeurism; becoming intimate with someone or with oneself, physically or even emotionally, tends to be a situation that is vulnerable. When one is vulnerable, there is a sense of urgency if things go awry to cover up those emotions; and with that, a shame complex can develop. Within Dearly Intimate, Polina (and other performers; Christopher Huizar, Sungjae Lee, Kyra Lehman, Celia Wickham) lie on the ground holding pillows. One of the main rules of the piece is to become intimate with the pillow. The association with the pillow being a space where ‘pillow talk’ occurs, a place for dreaming, place for soothing comfort through squeezing, malleable motion of inner pleasure, and its overall softness become integral to the piece as the performances begin to roll around with it, close with it - and an extension of that relational desire to someone’s touch. The caressing, the whispering, and the tenderness of the piece come together to speak about the barriers we place on intimacy, but how easy those come crashing down when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable by giving ourselves the time to do so.


    Dearly Intimate2018. Video Performance Projection and Collective Performance


    What attracts me to Polina’s performances, besides the concepts of intimacy and vulnerability being brought forward, is the idea of the body as object. I am interested in the body as medium and everyday site as the platform; the body as an artistic tool as well as a tool for action and social and behavioral change. The body, specifically a woman's body, is just as much political as it is personal. With that in mind, I see Polina’s performances, along with the use of objects, as a cacophony of materialism. The objects Polina uses are charged with an energy that she embodies within herself; they become a component of her as she performs. I think, in the most literal sense, Polina’s performances are a visual representation of object / item / material / me. It is showing how objects are an extension of who we are, and how we are in this constant state of dancing with them.


    Next up // Dear Reader from Graham & announcement of exhibition details!

  • object / item / material / jenn

    Jenn Sova in her studio (with bootsy)


    Jenn Sova is an artist, curator, and arts advocate. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object : Holds weight; physical and nostalgic/emotional weight
    • Item: Massed Produced, no weight, but used.
    • Material: Has direction and accumulates over time.


    Jenn has always been a creative at heart. When she was younger, she was always performing little plays, rearranging furniture to suit her needs for the day, or working on a new craft. When Jenn was ten years old, her aunt and uncle took her on a three week long trip out West. Among the things they packed for Jenn, activities to do when they had down time in the car, was a camera and ten rolls of film. Not even half way through the trip, did Jenn ask her aunt and uncle to find more film; she had used all ten films already! During the summers of her childhood, she attended day camp in her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana where they frequented the Indiana University’s Art Museum. It was here that a connection was made for Jenn: that there was a way to create and have an artist’s work be visible.


    These events, the art museum and the trip out West, formulated some of Jenn’s passions that she carries into this day. Her introduction to photography allowed her to begin to think about family and memory; about how the physical photograph  weight in the past and how its tactical nature allows it to be present. Her visit to the art museum fueled the concept of how artists have gone before her to produce work, and have it shown.


    One of Sova's images from her trip out west, 1997


    Jenn took these interests and ideas and attended Columbia College Chicago, receiving her BA in photography and minors in gender and women’s studies and business. While in school, Jenn learned that the technical side of photography, lighting and digital editing, was not for her. It was the dirty work, the conceptual, the act of shooting and making, the thinking and arranging of photography that drew her in. She kept returning to the actual presence of the photograph. Photographs, in their very nature, are a form of memory. We capture a moment, and it is as if time has frozen; that second that was captured is going to live on on the piece of paper. But, what also happens is that over time, the memory may become slightly altered. The moment was captured, but we may forget the details that composed it. Jenn began working with her own family photos in a series titled “Memories of my Father” in which photographs from Jenn’s childhood are placed next to stories from other people about their family. The piece invokes questions about reality and the stories that are told around photographs. Jenn was working through this idea of memory and the physical makeup of the photograph,when she began to transform her practice from making photographs, to amassing photographs that she came upon.


    The Hug, from the series Patriarch


    Photography has long been dominated by men, a field whose history is based on an argument between two men who are claimed to be the ‘father’s of photography’, and for Jenn has been working through this dense field of male energy to reclaim space. Jenn takes this patriarchal presence, and encompass her collection of photographs on explore the presence of men. Similar to her series Memories of my father, the photographs that Jenn collects are apart of her ongoing series men with children. The photos she finds, online, in thrift stores, gifted from friends, are what the title of the project is: photos of men, with children. The children range from infants to young adults and no adult women are present in the photographs. The man is within close proximity of the child, and the relationship of the man to the child is always unknown.


    Pouty, from the series Memories of my father 


    In men with children, the exploration of familial ties becomes apparent when the relationship of the man and child comes to mind. Why do some of the men stand with their arms around the child? Why do some stand slightly apart? Are they fathers? Uncles? Friends? Who took the photographs; was it the mother of the child? Where was the photo taken? Where did it exist once it was printed, and how did it end up online or in a thrift shop? The piece also invokes the very nature of photographs. Jenn is interested in the weight objects have; how, as photography is becoming a digitized practice, there is this sense of sacredness around the actual photograph. Jenn’s work allows the viewer to be engaged with the physical thing; it allows for a vast idea to explored, the idea of men and their relationship to the children in the photographs, but it also allows to ponder the actual photograph. Who took it? Where was it for years? Who looked at it? How did it end up where it is currently?


    Photographs from Sova's men with children collection


    Jenn’s practice brings to mind many concepts of what object / item / material / me is working through: she is exploring a facet of herself, her familial memory, through found photographs. She is exploring memory and the creation/reiteration of it through objects that, over time, may not have a presence anymore due to digital photography. Her work makes me really think about how objects are embedded with memory. How that, over time, an item so dear transforms itself because of the way we pass down memories. Objects are encompassed in ones reality; I bring my own ideas of fathers, thinking of my own, when I look at Jenn’s collection of photographs. But, someone else brings their own ideas/experiences. And I believe that is what Jenn’s research/practice into found photographs is about: exploring how our memory, and experiences, impact and change our idea of the photograph.


    Photographs from Sova's men with children collection


    Next up // August 15th: Artist Spotlight - Polina Protsenko

  • object / item / material / river


    River Ian Kerstetter, is a queer, indigenous print and fibers artist who just graduated with their MFA from Columbia College’s Book + Paper program. Their understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows: 


    • Object: A tired artworld ‘thing’; a readymade because the idea of making objects is out
    • Item: No strong feelings for the word; more of a normal understanding
    • Material:  A strong connection to the word. Printing causes the questions: What am I using? What is the history of this? What type of material and why?


    Growing up in a semi-rural area of New Mexico, River saw artistic creation through familial ties. Their grandmother was a potter, and their mother a painter. River went to New Mexico University and studied in the art + ecology program, an interdisciplinary program that that allows students to develop conceptual art practices with an emphasis on land and literacy construction. Within this program, River did not focus in a specific practice, but instead flowed through multiple media, and near the end of their studies, found themself focusing on printmaking. River was drawn to letterpress printing, a technology that is descended from the printing press (invented in the Western world by Johannes Gutenberg), and the process is most often texted based. The letter press allowed River to work with both of their interests: text and printmaking.


    Alter/native Headlines installation


    After entering graduate school, River began to work with fabrics. It was here that they started to make soft sculptures. Through working with fabric, River began to explore the nature of the medium. Fabric began to embody their queer identity. Fabric, in its own right, is a queer material: it is moveable and suggests transformation just from its very nature. This use of fabric as a queer material can be seen in River’s soft sculpture of Boy Scout Pocket Knife. Long associated with straight masculinity, the Boy Scouts have encouraged young boys to live within the constraints of a hetero/cis view of the world. In using fabric and making a tool and symbol of the Boy Scouts into something soft and malleable, River has queered the tool, pointing to a reconstructed narrative of gender and childhood.


    Hats for Protection


    From working with soft sculptures, River began to work with quilting. Quilting, for River, began with a question: Who am I borrowing this from? River has indigenous roots; their family comes from the Oneida Nation, which originates in upstate New York and was displaced to Wisconsin  in the 1830s. While quilting may have a specific cultural origin, which varies from culture to culture, it has also moved across cultural and geographic borders to become a global craft. Quilts are a way of displaying stories, such as Harriet Powers’s quilts of biblical stories, of showing the talent of the person making the quilt, or a communal process of creation. Through quilting, River began to explore  their native and queer identity. Typically, they would encounter a barrier between race and queerness. In their practice, River wanted to bridge that gap. By combining quilting and printmaking, they began to create a dialog between race and queerness. In their piece “From Earth”, the title of the piece is printed on a quilt over and over again, suggesting queer and indigenous peoples’ shared diversity and origins on planet Earth. This speaks to how queer and indigenous peoples are from the same planet and using the quilt speaks to a universality found in existing as a marginalized body.


    Blanket for Home


    Thinking of fabric as a queer item, quilting as a means of connecting identities, and the power of text, River’s practice has caused me to take a step back and think of the potency of materials and objects. River combines text with fabric, weaving together a story with the actual words they are printing to the use of a specific fabric and the history that surrounds that. Object / item / material / me is about focusing on the objects that constitute meaning for someone; about exploring how artists discuss identities through the things they use in their practice. River’s practice makes me take a step back and to think about all of the materials that are used: how each has a history on its own and how together they speak of a new history. 


    Boy Scout Pocket Knife



    Next up // August 1st: Artist Spotlight - Jenn Sova

  • object / item / material / megan

    Megan Cline, image from Moth Oddities article


    Megan Cline is a sculptor whose practice focuses on mimicking materials and exploring memory. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object: External to the human mind; is entirely physical
    • Item: A specific object within a larger whole
    • Material: What constitutes an object; the very thing that makes up an object


    Megan Cline creates pieces that speak to the tenderness and comfort of youth. In those delicate years, when an individual is beginning to interact with the world on multiple levels, the very basis of who one is begins to take shape. A child may not know who they will become, as I believe many of us look back to our younger selves and wonder what they would think if they met us now, but there are the beginnings of defining oneself. The identity of oneself begins to take shape in that juvenescent time.


    Monkey on the Ground, installation


    With childhood, comes the idea of a home. When Megan was an artist in residence in Thailand, and living out of a backpack, the idea of ‘home’ was ever-present up to her. While homes vary globally, so do the materials that constitute them. There are basic signifers for the home: carpets, beds, tablecloths, cleaning supplies. No matter where she was, Megan always came  back to these basic signifiers that reminded her of home. Throughout her work, using materials that remind individuals of childhood and the home, her pieces call forth the memories associated with the objects she uses to piece together her sculptures.



    Spoon-Fed Tomb Head


    In Megan’s piece Spoon-Fed Tomb Head, two slabs of painted concrete are cradled on pieces of carpet protection tape. The concrete is a replica of a blanket. Steel tubing is set up to hold the tape as they balance the concrete. On the lowest slab, a sleeping bag lays slightly unfurled. Fish food flakes are sprinkled on the tape that holds the lowest portion. From this lowest section, a string reaches out and at the end a vacuum nozzle clings to some fabric. On the top piece of concrete, a piece of Wrigley’s Big Red gum twists back and leaves an imprint where it sits. Megan uses concrete because of its imprintable nature and it references the concrete homes that Thomas Edison tried to build to replace wooden homes. The piece may seem to be a very lose bunk bed, or may be some odd jungle gym, but it is meant to play on the term ‘cradle’. Cradle has three definitions: a small bed for an infant, a form of a support that holds objects (think of a phone cradle for a landline), or a space where something was nurtured during its early existence (the cradle of civilization). When looking at Spoon-Fed Tomb Head, all of these definitions come to fruition. The sleeping bag refers to the cradle as a place for a baby to nap, the placement of the concrete on the tape makes it a form such as a phone cradle and the piece, all together, encaptures the basic ideas of memory from the earliest stages of human life (the cradle) to death (tomb).


    Spoon-Fed Tomb Head, detail


    In another piece, Monkey on the Ground, a piece of painted concrete sits on top of stacks of Wrigley gum, and placed on a rug. A curtain rod stretches across the top of the concrete, with a necklace twisted around it and just hovering above the surface of the slab. Placed around or near the piece are kneeling pads.  Megan brings forth the communal aspect of the home by offering viewers to take a kneeling pad and to sit around the concrete. It is a space to ponder; to reflect upon the piece, upon the memories that come forth, and to think about being together with others.


    Monkey on the Ground, detail


    Part of object / item / material / me is to discuss how artists explore their identities through the objects they use in their practice, and how other people interact with these objects. In Megan’s sculptures, she presents us with the very beginnings of ourselves. She wants us to reach back and to think about the moments that brought us to where we are. Using gum, a bed, or the communal nature of home, Megan is asking the viewer to pause and think about growing up.



     Next up // July 15th: Artist Spotlight - River Ian Kerstetter


  • object / item / material / kimberly


    Kimberly English is a fibers artist who just received her MFA from North Carolina Chapel Hill. She works with the idea of fiber as a means of relating to a larger history of the invisible labor women placed into working with fabric. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object: A finished product. It has a sense of mass and form.
    • Item: Connotes something sterile or serial. The term brings to mind numbers and inventory; a product of capitalism. Object and item tend be used interchangeably, but with emphasis placed on item as a utilitarian concept.
    • Material: Preface to a resolution; unquantifiable.


    Fibers, and the things that they create, are ingrained into our history. Flax fibers, that are 34,000 years old, were discovered in 2009 in a cave in the Republic of Georgia; making them the oldest example of fibers used by humans (this is not to say that fibers may have been used before this, but due to the organic nature of the fibers, they most likely deteriorate over time). Synthetic fibers were a product of industrialisation; a means of keeping up with consumer demands. Fabric was a way to protect oneself from the elements, and it become a way to show status. It also became associated with women. Women worked with fibers to create many things, and the practice of weaving become understood as ‘women’s work’. But, while it became associated with women, the actual women behind the labor became invisible. 


    Getting the spots out (detail)


    Kimberly was first introduced to fabric when her mother taught her to sew at a young age. She practiced by sewing buttons onto old diaper cloth, while her mother watched. Her grandmother would look through children’s fashions magazines with her, talking with her about the clothing, and then would purchase an outfit for her birthday. Both of these moments encouraged and fostered Kimberly’s exploration into the sartorial.


    Kimberly’s work speaks to hours of intensive labor that are placed into fabric. Her work wants viewers to engage with how women, who have historically been the ones to work with fabric, are the invisible force behind the material individuals wear. During our interview, Kimberly discussed how in the past, women would sit in groups, tell stories and weave together. It was a moment of bonding, but also a moment that came to symbolize the lineage of working with fibers: the stories told together were passed down, along with the tools of how to work with fabric. While the process of creation may have been passed down, the figures behind the garments people wear, or the fabrics they utilize on a daily basis, disappear. They become forgotten. The labor of the women that worked on the garments goes to the wayside as individuals look at the finished product. Kimberly utilizes the process of deconstruction: undoing what has already been done. Through unraveling the material that makes up the entire item, the process of creation is revealed. The amount of time it took to construct the garment, the various hands that may have touched the piece, and all of the details that went into the piece come forth through this process of deconstruction.


    Love is install and detail


    In her series titled over/under, Kimberly asks the viewer to ponder how does the deconstruction of garments reflect the body and its relation to capitalism. In her piece Getting the Spot Out, a large white sheet is hung on a wall. The surface is spotted with little polka-dots that have been cut into the fabric. In the left hand corner of the piece, a single, red dot pops out among the empty dots. In this interplay of empty spaces on a white sheet, and leaving a single red dot, Kimberly explores the relationship between a capitalist structure and the body. The areas of white can be understood to be the producer, a sort of space on which consumers make the their mark. The red dots, in this regard, are the consumers. The spots come to represent the body: the red is reflective of menstrual blood, sex, and the overall concept of the domestic. The fact that the single red dot remains is a symbol of power. It is a message of hope in a sea that is overrun by capitalism. While the spots that have been removed are a meditative study on the removal of the body in labor in the mind of the modern consumer, the single red dot makes the viewer aware of this. In her piece Love Is, also part of over/under, the outline of a shirt remains. The outer hem is the skeleton: all the other fabric that made up the shirt is now gone. But, attached to the hem, are a few price tags. These track the many places the shirt has been, and how its value has diminished over time. It comes to represent how the value of the work, over time, has deteriorated; the price continues to go down. The work that was put into the piece has been completely neglected. The price goes down, and no one acknowledges the labor that was placed into it. The red fabric comes to represent the body that would inhabit the piece along with the person that made the work.


     over/under exhibition


    Speaking with Kimberly and seeing her work that discusses the idea of deconstruction to understand construction and the bodies that help to produce, asks the question: what is an object’s beginning? Kimberly’s work helps to me ponder how objects having a beginning (and an end. But who defines this?), and the idea of a body behind work. Thinking about Julia Arredono’s practice, that explores the structure of production from the artist and the way it works within capitalism, and Kimberly’s exploration of the invisible labor of women/other bodies, I have been thinking about the other person/people in an object’s creation/distribution/use. An object may end up in my hands, but it had to pass through others. It became embedded with their feelings towards it, their memories with it, and their thoughts. The object may have traveled far to end up with me, and it becomes part of a larger network of relations. And I think it is important to always consider this: that there is another person behind something. The object may be embedded with meaning for yourself, but itself is on a journey. It has a beginning, and an (possible) end, and in between, there was another individual helping it along the way.

      Getting the Spots Out


     Next up // July 1st: Artist Spotlight - Megan Cline

  • object / item / material / julia

    Julia in her studio

    Julia Arredondo is a print media artist who is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas and just finished her first year towards her MFA in Print Media at Columbia College Chicago . Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:


    • Object: Something physical; solid; made; precious

    • Item: Linesheet, quantity listed, unit, not as precious as an object. There is a sense of generality surrounding the word.

    • Material: Exists at the beginning of the manufacturing process. It can be understood as the raw makeup of item and object before they take shape.


    During my studio visit, Julia described what it was like to grow up as a Latinx individual. Her Mexican-American identity informs her artistic practice, it bring together a discussion of different cultures that Julia has been exploring her whole life. A lot of Julia’s work is influenced by botánicas or a storefront that offers spiritual goods, oils, candles herbs and various services. In a general, Western sense, a botánica can be understood as an alternative space where individuals seek physical/spiritual/emotional help. Under this surface level understanding, and using the Western approach to such spaces, a botánica can be seen as taboo. The Western understanding of spaces that use alternative methods of healing/spirituality/guidance (some may even say “magic”) tend to be demonized due to a major disparity in ethnographic understanding of practices. Julia finds strength in connecting with botánica culture; they are spaces in which she attended, utilized, and found herself reflecting upon her Latinx identity. It is from botánicas that Julia borrows objects that come to symbolize her Latinx identity, and she alters them to embody her current needs.



    Working within the context of punk-DIY culture, Julia created ViceVersa Press in 2011. The press originally began as a publisher of zines, but slowly evolved into a lifestyle brand that helps to distribute affordable alternative lifestyle goods. In 2016, Julia founded Curandera Press. Curandera became a space exploring the Latinx identity, how it evolves, and the goods that tend to be associated with the Latinx community. Working with objects that tend to be associated with botánicas and other Latinx spaces, Julia began to produce altars, veladoras (votive candles), ritual soil, and prayer books/zines. Julia crafts each of these to work for current needs: student debts, supporting local botánicas, bad hair day, heartbreak, anxiety surrounding the current political climate in the United States, or finding bandmates. Using Curandera Press, Julia is able to sell these products widely. After working with zines and seeing how punk culture produced handmade objects that required lots of time and energy from someone, she began to take an interest in how commodities work. I have found that Julia’s pieces are personal and genuine. While her products are duplicated (mass produced?), Julia ensures that each piece remains true to her practice, herself, and the ideas she upholds.


    Student Debt Be Gone Veladora as a gift (left) & Trump Burnable Sigil (right)


    Artist have the potential, to make us aware (or to create awareness) of the dual nature of objects by transforming them into art. Marcel Duchamp overturned a urinal to question what an art object is, Tracey Emin placed her bed into a gallery to embody depressive episodes, Senga Nengundi danced with tights that were stretched on a wall to discuss oppression, Felix Gonzalez Torres took pieces of candy and embodied his lost lover in their sweetness. The objects in the examples above still maintain their original form (some are altered by the artist), but their original meaning has been changed. Objects have multiple personas, similar to how humans have characteristics that seem to evolve with a situation or change over time. Or, the object may retain multiple understandings for one individual. Julia’s artistic practice embodies this understanding: she takes pieces that are important to her, to her Latinx identity and community, but changes the products for her daily needs.


    Zines from Vice Versa and Curandera


    After meeting with Julia in her studio, I have also come to think about how objects create relationships. As a present, Julia offered me one of her veladoras: Student Debt Be Gone. And in giving it to me, she also taught me how objects, no matter what way we think of them or how many meanings they may hold, are still ways of connecting to each other.


     Next up // June 15th: Artist Spotlight - Kimberly English

  • 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.