Painting as Sculpture: Unique Art Display Methods

Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt from February 12th to March 28th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Kayla Conklin

When you walk into a museum, what do you expect to see? White walls. Golden frames and canvases hung neatly in a line. A few (uncomfortable) benches to sit and look. Brightly lit rooms. Quiet, docile guests. Some young people snapping Instagram shots. However, if you walk into Neuro Blooms, a Mixed Media Art exhibit featuring the works of Leslie Holt, you may be surprised. 

Holt’s work is largely displayed in a traditional fashion, canvases hung neatly on a wall. However, there are three pieces in the show that employ a new display technique. “Depression Stain (Glimmer)” (2016), “ADHD Stain (calm focus pause)” (2016), and “Bipolar Stain (steady)” (2016), are suspended in air with two tension rods per piece (pictured). The metal rods are hollow square tubes that are welded to threaded rods and the circular “feet.” The rods stretch from the ceiling to the floor, providing a space to support the large canvases and allowing viewers to see both the front and the back of the works.

 

 

This tension rod method was custom-designed and produced by a team. Margaret Boozer was an important member of the team who designed the tension rod display method. Interestingly, she has a piece in the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP) collection that she installed herself in The Stamp Student Union (“Difficult Ordinary Happiness (with thanks to Adrienne Rich),” 2017). This work can be seen in the stairwell to the student involvement suite.

The beauty of this display method is that the artworks take on a sculptural quality, as viewers are allowed, and encouraged to circumnavigate the canvases. The ability to view these mixed media pieces from multiple angles is vital to the experience of the work. In many cases, embroidered words and painted brain-stains occupy the back of the canvas as much as they do the front. Additionally, these rod-suspended works are displayed outward, facing the windows of the Stamp Art Gallery. This allows people passing by, who may regularly never enter an art gallery, to view the art. In this way, the rod-suspension display method invites people into the space, creating a warm and inclusive show that people can view inside or outside of the gallery.

Art display has a considerable impact on the way that we consume curated shows. They can invite audiences in, or shut them out. They can invert our expectations of artworks by transforming paintings into sculptures. They can allow us to see art in new and unique ways. I encourage all art-viewers to be conscious of the ways that art-display methods are harnessed and the ways that these methods impact the experience of the art itself. 

Leslie Holt’s work is included in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 12th to March 28th. 

For more information on Leslie Holt, visit https://www.leslieholt.net/


Representations of Mental Illness Through Media

Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt from February 12th to March 28th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Balbina Yang

Mental illness has always been stigmatized, considered by the general public as something to be ashamed about. Through the decades, however, mental illness has gradually become more accepted or, at least, more known. However, mental illness covers an even wider spectrum than just depression and anxiety. Through a variety of media such as embroidery and chiffon curtains, Leslie Holt’s Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art embraces the variety of mental illness itself. 

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A common theme through the exhibition is Holt’s use of embroidery. Depression Stain (knotted) is exactly what the title suggests: various colored threads are knotted in order to show how depression appears in the brain. Most of the knots are shades of blue, but some of them are vibrant, such as the yellows and oranges. These brighter spots allow the viewers to understand that depression is not all gloom. Furthermore, the knots give the piece a visually stimulating appearance because it provides texture. This texture renders the work 3D, which is tantamount because it gives the piece an organic feel and thereby heightens it from a sterile image of a brain scan to a more human one. 

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Another piece that utilizes embroidery is Bipolar Stain (steady). This piece is juxtaposed by acrylic paint of pinks and yellows. Unlike the previous artwork, however, Bipolar Stain (steady) isn’t knotted. In fact, in frontal view, the embroidery seems to be arbitrary marks stitched throughout the piece. From the back is a different story: these marks are actually the words “Steady.” This duality not only requires active participation from the viewers, but it also challenges the viewers on their perceptions of mental illness: superficially, mental illness may be indiscernible but through its depths, there is clarity. 

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While embroidery is a motif in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art, Holt also takes advantage of oil paint in order to portray her message. Anxiety Scrape is a small square of canvas that features a brain scan of greens, oranges, and blues against a backdrop of pink. Just like Depression Stain (knotted), this piece relies on texture. The paint isn’t smooth but rather streaked across the canvas. Although streaked, there is a kind of placidity apparent in the piece holistically. This technique seems to reflect the state of anxiety; that, although there may be blips, there is also a sense of order. 

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Embroidery and painting aren’t the only media featured in this exhibition. Chiffon makes a special appearance through Holt’s chiffon curtains of the brain scans. This piece is wholly different from the others in that it acts as both an interior furnishing and a barrier from the outside world. Mental illness may be more acknowledged in this day and age, but it is still stigmatized. Sometimes, too, people with mental illness may just want to escape from reality and just reflect in the privacy of their own mind. These curtains surround the back nook in the gallery where visitors can come and lounge in the bean bags and just relax in peace. 

Holt embraces a variety of media to celebrate the wide spectrum of mental illness. She doesn’t shy away from combining these media in order to emphasize that mental illness is just as varied as the people who have them. Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art is not just a display of colorful brain scans; it celebrates – accepts – mental illness in a place that doesn’t always do so. 

Leslie Holt’s work is included in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 12th to March 28th. 

For more information on Leslie Holt, visit https://www.leslieholt.net/


Seeing the Mind in Art

Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt from February 12th to March 28th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Fiona Yang

A visitor came into the gallery last week and asked, after walking around the gallery, if I was the artist. I replied that I was not. The visitor looked briefly disappointed.

“Did you enjoy the show?” I asked.

He did, he said. What he particularly enjoyed were the pieces hanging in the center of the gallery (Depression Stain, ADHD Stain, and Bipolar Stain) that allowed the viewer to walk around the piece and view it from both sides. “I love how you can’t see the words from the front,” he said, “but then you walk to the back, and it’s like you can see what the brain is thinking.” 

Leslie Holt’s Neuro Blooms provides an unparalleled glimpse into the minds of those afflicted by mental illness through both the medium of art and neuroscience. Her work is meticulously researched andglimmer square objective – viewers who come into the gallery are welcome to take a coloring book, which has information on most of the disorders Holt pictorializes. The actual subject of her art are PET scans, usually seen as clinical, cold, and objective. But she uses that clinical material to create emotional and subjective moments. On the backs of those center pieces, Holt has embroidered text that relates to the pictured disorder. For instance, on Depression Stain, Holt embroiders the word “glimmer” over and over again in bright thread, contrasting sharply against dark blue paint. When the visitor referred to being able to see what “the brain was thinking,” that was what he meant – the text becomes the thoughts of a person with depression. Being able to attribute that text to a mind, to a person, allows us to humanize the disorder.

That literal glimpse into the psyche is a unique experience in art. More often – usually subconsciously – viewers have to search for the mind behind the art. In one psychological experiment, a Harvard researcher showed a group of people pieces of art – some made by professional abstract artists, some by children, and some by animals. People were asked which ones were made by professional artists, and were able to consistently pick out those made by artists. When asked to explain their choices, they said it was “more planned out” and “more intentional.” When looking at art, even unintentionally, we are looking for evidence of thought and substance behind the piece. 

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Holt creates a unique psychological perspective for each of the center pieces by weaving text into the sketches of brains. Viewers are confronted with the reality and psychology of those with these disorders. ADHD Stain, for instance, has the word “focus” embroidered over and over around the sketch. Several of the words are unfinished, running into a tangle of thread at the border of the brain. The unfinished text echoes the effects of ADHD – an inability to finish or follow through on projects, and an inability to focus. In addition, the word “focus” over and over sounds like a thought an ADHD person may have. In this way, Holt allows us to attribute thoughts to those with the disorder – to get a glimpse into their psyche. 

When that visitor came to Neuro Blooms and viewed the art, getting an insight to an unfamiliar mind, his first instinct was to ask whether I was the artist – as if to get a look at the person whose mind the work was a window into. The viewers’ ability to empathize through art is especially important for the purpose of this show. Mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder still face serious stigma in today’s society. What is most important is being able to empathize, reach out, and be kind to those who face these conditions. The first step to that is letting ourselves see from their perspective. Holt’s show does just that.

Leslie Holt’s work is included in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 12th to March 28th. 

For more information on Leslie Holt, visit https://www.leslieholt.net/


Starting the Conversation

Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt from February 12th to March 28th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Erin Allen

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The Stamp Gallery’s newest exhibition, Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holttakes a unique approach to combating the stigma associated with having and treating mental illness. Through her “Brain Stain” series, local artist Leslie Holt combines clinical PET scans with experience-based representations of what different mental health conditions look and feel like. Showing the intersection between the cold, often impersonal depictions of mental health seen in medical settings and the individual, emotional accounts of what living with a mental illness is like, Holt brings a sense of nuance and humanity to a topic that is often stigmatized and silenced. Through a variety of colorful wall pieces and sculptural paintings, the gallery becomes an engaging place to discuss the meaning (both literal and emotional) of these mixed media works. In addition, Holt continues to expand the conversation by creating a safe space for visitors to share their own experiences with mental illness, or to lend a thoughtful piece of advice or motivation to those struggling with their own mental health.

While perusing the mixed media “Brain Stains” positioned throughout the space, you may stumble upon a note stuck to the wall that reads, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Walk a little further into the space and you’ll see another that says, “Spring is coming. The sun is coming. It will be warm again.” Written on specially designed Neuro Blooms sticky notes, these short quotes and sayings have been left in the gallery by visitors wanting to leave their own mark on the space and support those who come after them. IMG_6489.jpeg

Holt further encourages visitors to engage with the exhibition through her inclusion of a reflection area in the back of the gallery. Shrouded by curtains adorned with their own Neuro Blooms, this space provides a quiet corner where people can journal, draw, and color while reflecting on their own mental state or their experiences in relation to mental health. Provided with reflection journals and coloring sheets depicting brains experiencing illnesses ranging from depression to ADHD to schizophrenia, this space serves to educate visitors and remind them to care for their own mental well-being. The next time you stop by the gallery, take time to reflect upon the meanings of the various colors and forms present in the Neuro Blooms, and feel free to add your own voice to the conversation.

Leslie Holt’s work is included in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 12th to March 28th. 

For more information on Leslie Holt, visit https://www.leslieholt.net/


The History of the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS from October 29th to December 7th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Fiona Yang

quilt dc.pngThe AIDS Quilt is a poignant, heart-wrenching piece of art that serves as a reminder of the impact of the AIDS crisis. Conceptualized by activist Cleve Jones, the quilt had its humble beginnings in June 1987. Jones asked permission for the first five panels of the quilt to be hung from the mayor’s balcony on Gay Freedom Day in San Francisco. After that, people began donating panels. A quilt of 1,920 panels was unfolded at the National March for Gay and Lesbian Rights in October 1987. The quilt being displayed in such a public space inspired many more to donate; the quilt now consists of over 49,000 panels. It also raised a quarter of a million dollars for AIDS organizations around the country. 

As a piece of art, the Quilt symbolizes many things. It represents an item of comfort, for example. Jones wrote in his book that it reminded him of grandmothers, generations of women sewing something “beautiful, useful, and warm.” It represents healing; Jones hoped that the making of quilt squares could be therapeutic for the LGBT+ community, which had been traumatized by years of death. Most importantly, Jones wanted the Quilt to represent the humanity of those who had died from AIDS. He wanted to “humanize the statistics,” to make it apparent that those who had died livedvibrant lives and were grieved.

Jones hoped that by humanizing victims of AIDS, the media would be able to use it as a tool to better advocate for the AIDS crisis, and the Quilt was very effective to this end. The Quilt was just one of many pieces of protest art during this time that were utilized in the same way. During the 1980s, at the worst of the AIDS crisis, LGBT+ activism was on the rise in response to a governmental inaction. The most prominent on the activist scene was ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Chapters of ACT UP staged protests outside the FDA, the CDC, and on Wall Street. Their protests actively changed the medical landscape; research on a cure moved along much faster with momentum from ACT UP. 

Along with the organization’s powerful message were powerful visuals. For instance, one famous poster simply reads “Silence = Death.” The slogan is iconic now; the quote even features in Antonius Tin-Bui’s “Not Sorry for the Trouble” paper cut pieces here in Stamp Gallery. “Silence = Death” is referring to the lack of action by the administration, along with public health institutions, to address the AIDS crisis. The slogan does not mince words; it links the silence of the reader and governmental institutions directly to the many deaths attributed to AIDS. It speaks to a feeling of deep anger, frustration, and hopelessness in the LGBT+ community. In this way, it is a deeply emotional piece, much like the AIDS Quilt. 

silence.pngHowever, it was meant to be more than just a gesture of grief. Avram Finkelstein, the creator of the poster, posits the slogan and iconography of “Silence = Death” as urging direct political action. He writes in a post for the New York Public Library, “In order to ‘sell’ activism in an apolitical moment, the poster… needed to be advertising. So the poster was strategically wheat pasted alongside commercial posters by professionals. We chose this context to signal an “authorized voice,” and to hint at resources and a level of political organizing which were non-existent. The font was graphically on trend. The black background carved its own space in the urban clutter of commercial advertising.” The tag line was picked up by ACT UP and made its way into the public sphere, where it has since defined a generation of LGBT+ activism. 

The art surrounding the AIDS crisis has been deeply poignant and meaningful for victims of the crisis, as well as members of the general public. But these pieces serve as more than just an emotional outlet. They are calls to action. In this way, these pieces of art attain true iconographic status. 

The AIDS Quilt is included in Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 29th to December 7th, 2019. 

For more information on the AIDS Quilt, visit https://aidsmemorial.org/theaidsquilt/.

Further reading:

Cleve Jones on the AIDS Quilt: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-one-mans-idea-for-the-aids-quilt-made-the-country-pay-attention/2016/10/07/15917576-899c-11e6-b24f-a7f89eb68887_story.html

Avram Finkelstein on “Silence = Death”: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/11/22/silence-equals-death-poster


The AIDS Memorial Quilt

Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS  from October 29th to December 7th, 2019 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Gabrielle O’Brien

In the current exhibit, “Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS”, the Stamp Gallery is lucky enough to feature panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Currently comprising over 50,000 panels and weighing 54 tons, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is the largest ongoing community folk art project in the world. The Quilt began in 1987 in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS epidemic as a way to remember and honor loved ones who died from the disease.

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Since then, thousands of panels from around the world have been added to The Quilt by family members, partners, and friends, each one a unique and personal memorial to someone who lost their life to AIDS. The Quilt brings humanity to the AIDS epidemic, a crisis that is often clouded by stigma and impersonalized with science. The panels featured in the Gallery include panels for those who lived local to College Park, including some UMD alumni. Each panel is distinctive with some integrating photographs, others including articles of clothing, and many with handwritten messages.

quilt 2.pngYet the love and the pain and injustice of loss is obvious throughout all panels. This not only makes the crisis feel all the more real, but also highlights the universality of the AIDS epidemic. Having panels of The Quilt here for the first time in 30 years emphasizes the fact that AIDS still constitutes a crisis today and is not a thing of the past. In fact, 770,000 people died from AIDS-related illness worldwide and 37.9 million people were living with HIV in 2018. In an age where scientific knowledge expands each day and biomedicine advances at a rapid rate, it is unacceptable that we are allowing so many lives to be taken by a potentially curable and treatable disease. This is where the AIDS Memorial Quilt may serve its most important purpose—to remind the world of the souls behind the numbers and motivate those with power to finally bring an end to the crisis.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is included in Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 29th to December 7th, 2019. 


The Interconnections of Media: From Frank O’Hara to Hop Along

Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS from October 29th to December 7th, 2019 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Maddi Rihn.

During the summer before my sophomore year of high school, I wasted endless hours in the makeshift studio space that was my bedroom, spreading acrylic paint amateurly onto canvas. I distinctly remember listening to a select few albums over and over, one of which was (fittingly) Hop Along’s Painted Shut. Image result for Hop Along Painted ShutThe cover, a semi-exaggerated take on the traditional still life, features a large stack of fruit on a blue background, skillfully rendered by the lead singer (Frances Quinlan) herself. Not only did listening to this album while painting draw an inextricable attachment for me between experiencing art and making art, but it also led to a certain realization. As a newly budding musician and a longtime visual artist torn between genre, I came to understand that I didn’t have to choose a single medium to devote my energy to; mediums across the artistic spectrum – whether it be music, painting, dance, or literature – overlap, influence each other, and work together in a very important and necessary way.

There are countless other examples of this relationship, especially when it comes to art and literature. In 1964, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights published Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, a collection of poems infamously written during O’Hara’s breaks while working at the Museum of Modern Art (where he later became a curator). Currently, an exhibition in the MoMA features the work of O’Hara and artist Larry Rivers intertwined and in conversation with one another. In another example of the art-literature line being blurred, Jack Kerouac’s Book of Sketches was published posthumously in 2006, containing a number of documentary “spontaneous prose poems,” – what Kerouac liked to call “sketches,” – written during Kerouac’s travels across the United States. Language is so often used as media, in the way that paint is used for a painting, to create a work of art. 

In the current exhibition in the Stamp Gallery, Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS, two of Shan Kelley’s pieces, Self Portrait III Shan_Kelley_Self_Portrait.jpgand Count Me Out, break down the art/literature barrier. Count Me Out reads like poem meant to be spoken aloud, while Self Portrait III reads more like art, like how Jenny Holzer’s Truisms read. Within the realm of a single medium in both of these pieces, Kelley creates two different distinctive mediums and subsequent meanings – that is, what is generally considered to be “art,” and what is generally considered to be “literature.” Rather than drawing a distinct separation, he blurs the line between them.

In the past couple of weeks on the Stamp Gallery radio show, Art Hour, I’ve been hoping to get a further grasp on the connections between these three artistic mediums. Each week, a playlist is curated by one of the docents at the gallery in relation to the current exhibition, along with a short description of how the songs go along with themes, ideas, or images of the exhibition. Though some pairings might be more obviously fitting than others, it’s been interesting to see the many interpretations of how songs relate to artworks in the gallery. Though I have yet to arrive at a particular definition of this relationship between art and music (or between any other mediums, for that matter) I continue to witness examples of it almost everywhere I go, taking the form of comics, film, music, or visual art. 

Shan Kelley’s work is included in Still Here: Art on HIV/AIDS at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 29th to December 7th, 2019. 

For more information on Shan Kelley, visit shankelley.com.