Antonio McAfee || Baltimore-based visual artist || Black Maths October 31–December 10, 2016 at the Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Grace DeWitt
This is the second installment of the Black Maths artist interview series.
To start with some background, did you grow up in the Baltimore area, where you’re currently based?
I moved to Baltimore when I was 9. My father was in the army so my brother and I were born in Germany; prior to moving to Baltimore, I lived in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Where did you study, and were you gravitated toward art early on, or did you have to find your way to art-making?
As a kid, I gravitated to understanding how things worked and story-telling. I started out taking apart toys and other devices (trucks, Nintendos, stereos, etc.) just to exercise my curiosity of how things worked. I also wrote stories which was something I would get absorbed in. Drawing was another activity I did quite a bit for many years, but I was mostly captivated by technology and telling stories, which plays a crucial role in how I think and work in the study. As evident in Black Maths, deconstruction and narratives really drive my current body of work, and has since college.
Art-making came into my life in high school. I went to Carver Center for Arts and Technology which is a magnet high school that allowed students to major in primes. Officially, I was in the Culinary Arts program but during my second year I saw the work of two visual art students (Justin Blische and Johnny Rogers) who were doing experimental photography, and it completely fascinated me, in part, because I have not seen much like it at the time. I wanted to learn how they made their images, so I approached the photography teacher (Charles Schwartz) about taking a class and I have been obsessed ever since. Junior year I participated in the school’s Italian Exchange Program; during this trip I went to the Venice Biennale and it blew me away. Going to galleries and museums was not a big part of my life; seeing ideas presented on a grand scale was the turning point, and I decided to dedicate my life to art.
Right after high school, I studied at Morgan State University for a year, then transferred to the Corcoran College of Art and Design to be as immersed as possible in art. Right after that I attended the University of Pennsylvania to get my MFA in photography. While at the Corcoran I worked at numerous art institutions and learned a great deal about facilitating exhibitions, collections, and programs. This experience influenced me to study Art and Culture Management at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Your work in Black Maths, the Counter-Archive Project, transforms black-and-white photographs made for the The Exhibition of American Negroes organized by W.E.B. Dubois, Thomas Calloway, and Historic Black Colleges at the Paris 1900 International Exposition. How did you come across The Exhibition of American Negroes?
In graduate school, I was on a trip to San Francisco, while there I visited my aunt who was studying at UC Santa Cruz. She gave me a chapter from the book Photography on the Color Line in which the author dedicates a chapter to analyzing the photography of The Exhibition of American Negroes. This text was eye opening because it introduced Du Bois’ involvement with photography, and thinking about archives as something I contribute to, as opposed to something that is static and set in stone.
Can you explain how you encountered the ideas of Lucy Lippard, and how your work in Black Maths resonates with Lippard’s thoughts on intersubjective time?
Lucy Lippard initially came to me in an art theory class while I was a student at the Corcoran. As a feminist theorist, she offered a critical point of view that was new and exciting to me in that context, enabling me to think much broader about representation. Ms. Lippard presented the idea of intersubjective time in her essay Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship of an Image, in which she discusses different levels of personal attachment to a black and white photograph of a Native American family. Through stages of research into the photographer and the family Lippard developed a deepened affection for the photograph. An affection that transcended time and evolved the more she researched.
This mimics the engagement I have with the portraits from the American Negro Exhibition. Researching and understanding the back stories contributes to knowing the whys and whats of the portraits, which allows for personal points of entry I can relate to. Using photography to address misrepresentation and realigning it towards accurate representations struck a chord with me because being subjected to others’ expectations, assumptions, stereotypes, etc. is an on-going battle. Images are a profound way in which people understand each other, so it is pertinent for me to use that medium to counter those notions and take depictions of others to a different direction that a) deconstruct and reconstruct photographic portraiture and b) offer depictions that are influx, inexplicable, and play with static representations. It is through experimenting and remaking these images that I develop a deepening connection to these pictures, their time period, and the narrative behind their inception.
You mentioned at the Black Maths opener that a certain book also played a large role in inspiring the Counter-Archive Project. Could you go into further detail about that?
Photography on the Color Line by Shane Smith is an influential book in which the title of the project comes from. Dr. Smith outlines the context that contributed to the creation of this project by Mr. Colloway and Du Bois. To combat racist ideas and depictions of Blacks, The Exhibition of American Negroes was created to survey their middle class status from a lower social and economic status (slavery, sharecropper, etc.), using photographic portraiture as a counter move to reposition one’s self and others, to establish control of how someone or a group of people are to be seen, understood, and engaged. I think it is powerful to have a personal stake in history, in particular, a document that is locked in a time, place, idea and to take back some authority of history and rework it in a way relates more specifically that person. This process can reveal a web of connections that may not have been noticed before, ushering new directions, ideas, and relationships.
A Small Nation of People by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis (on display at the gallery) is also informative because it presents research conducted about the exhibition which presents more information about the people photographed and the backstory about how the exhibition came about and Du Bois and Colloway’s experience developing and exhibiting the exhibition. In general, literature plays an essential part in the ways I think about myself, others, and what I do: books from The Body in Pain: Making and Unmaking the World by Elaine Scary, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, to White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
Counter-Archive is photography-centered. Have your artistic endeavors always focused on photographic elements, or has this interest developed from projects in other media?
The core of my endeavors is photography. I also make pieces in video, drawing, collage, sculpture, and painting, but they revolve around photography and portraiture. My interest in other media developed from photography.
To what degree would you say that spontaneity, or an uncontrolled use of materials, play a role in your work?
Spontaneity plays a huge role in my process. Using glue as the initial method to alter pictures gives me a jumping off point I cannot completely control and allows for moves after that guide me in unexpected directions. It helps keep the images and process fresh, offering new challenges and problems to solve, but the more I use it the more I can understand.
“The Trickster” and the “Woman in Black” are recurring characters throughout the Counter-Archive Project. Was there a specific reason for repeating or revisiting these characters?
While I am working on one piece questions of “what if this or that happens” come up. So, I will make many versions of the same figure because I want to see my initial idea through, but I do not want to ignore the various stages along the way, especially if they are effective images. It is a matter of paying attention to what is in front of me and letting different stages and thoughts sit for a while to see what they offer.
Could you explain what led you to the incorporation of 3D elements into Counter-Archive?
The 3D portraits are an extension of The Trickster (In Motion) which is an image of The Trickster that has been duplicated and overlapped to give the effect as if someone is looking at him cross-eyed. I wanted to enhance that effect by creating figures that seem to
vibrate, shift left and right, and turn visible and invisible. One way to achieve this was to use a 3D visual that actually did that with the assistance of red, blue, and 3D glasses.
It appears that you explored a number of photograph manipulation techniques in your series. Could you explain your process in creating El Tarta, one of the more noticeably varied works in the collection?
El Tarta is a collage that is made of fragments from the 1900 studio portraits. I use a transfer process that takes inkjet ink from dried glue –- applied to the studio portraits -– to acrylic medium. From there I glue the medium pieces, holding the ink onto paper to build figures partially from scratch.
What about your process in creating The Abrupt Unmaking?
For The Abrupt Unmaking, I poured glue onto the inkjet print and let it rest there for three months. Over time, the print buckled and curled as a result of the hardening glue; then I peeled off the glue, leaving the wistful impression of a fading figure.
Can you tell me a little bit about your conceptual and physical processes in creating the three Unmaking and Making panel pieces in the show?
The process for creating the panels pieces is the same as El Tarta. After transferring the ink to acrylic medium I glue the pieces, building out the figures and simultaneously abstracting and camouflaging them amongst the black, white and grays tones of the photographs. These collages are a move towards more imaginative interpretations of these individuals, trying to see far I can push my interpretations. This process is closer to drawing than most of the work in the show. It has been a fruitful, challenging move away from the strictness of the historical aesthetic and image, to reconstruct the figures to numerous small pieces.
Were there any other particular experiences or connections that emerged from creating certain pieces in Counter-Archive that you’d be willing to share?
Woman in Black Cross Fade was an exciting, spontaneous development because I just happened to come across a three-eyed figure that had two heads blended together. I have been fascinated by three-eyes figures in Christian paintings for some time and always wanted to make some, but other pieces and techniques taking place in the studio superceded that goal. Once I came across the merged head with three eyes, I remembered immediately “I have wanted to create images like this;” it was an exciting surprise that felt like an accomplishment.
I understand that the exhibition title ‘Black Maths’ was a joint decision between you and Adam. Would you mind explaining a little bit about how the title relates specifically to your work in the show?
The title Black Maths comes from the idea of reworking traditions, offering visitors the chance to take in styles of images and sounds that may be familiar or established. Through experimentation, Adam and I have developed process-centered methods, i.e., our own equations, to produce pieces that are rooted in the past or a certain event but offers new interpretations to what they mean or how they function today.
When someone walks into Black Maths, what is one thing you hope that person will grasp about your work?
The abstract/inexplicable is valid and powerful in its own right. No one has to bear the burden of proving his or her existence or normalcy, which is quite often the plight of people that are categorized as “other” and not a part of a dominant culture. It is quite all right having others put in the effort to meet you halfway to understand who you are.
Do you feel that the message or significance of either the Counter-Archive Project, or Black Maths, has changed since its state at opening?
No, I do not think it changed. It has just been presented holistically to showcase the range in which the message can be seen in the array I have been working and conceptualizing it.
In close, can I ask what you’re currently working on?
I am working on an 8 1/2 ft tall portrait collage of D’Angelo as Mary Magdalene with life-size photographic sculpture cut-outs the 1900 portraits. This month I am participating in two group shows as well.
McAfee’s work is included in Black Maths at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31–December 10, 2016. Read more about Antonio McAfee.
Adam Holofcener || Sound Artist, Composer, Performer || Black Maths October 31-December 10, 2016 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman
This is the first installment of the Black Maths artist interview series.
Black Maths embodies a visual and auditory conversation between the works of two Baltimore-based artists. Holofcener’s quadrophonic sound installation Upresting configures field recordings from the 2015 Baltimore uprising into a new sound installation that evokes a body navigating a protest. Visitors are encouraged to speak into a microphone to experience their voice join a multitude.
To start with some context, did you grow up in Baltimore? Did your upbringing and schooling bring you to art?
That’s a good question. Well I grew up in Baltimore. Nobody in my immediate family were art makers. Definitely grew up in a sports household. I’m a white suburbanite, I wasn’t good at sports so my angst sort of channeled itself by playing punk rock music. My first engagement with art actually was somewhat through my grandfather, he grew up in East Baltimore and he got me hooked on jazz and literature. My schooling: I was extremely fortunate. I went to a school in the Baltimore called St. Paul’s school. That school was full of fascists, but the academics were really good and the guy teaching jazz there (I believe he still teaches jazz there) his name is Carl Grubbs and he was actually John Coltrane’s cousin. Carl, he’s rich, he’s as sick as can be, and he’s also sort of an artist. He was wasting his time with stupid white boys; we weren’t worthy. I feel like the combination of literature and jazz pushed me into thinking of art making in a more concrete way. Having access to intellectuals…a lot of teachers in my high school were intellectuals. Part of my neuroses got me to this point where I needed to then hear, listen, read, and see everything. Then it was just a slow matriculation on the course of avant-garde (all art media), it’s more grounded in the more bizarre subcultures out there.
Your sound installation Upresting reawakens the 2015 Baltimore Uprising in a way that invites the individual to experience collective emotion outside of its’ original context. How does Upresting explore the relationship between the individual and society?
That’s a good question. I look at all things on a continuum. On that continuum, things like the Uprising, they manifest the expression of the many and the expression of the singular all at the same time. For many of the people at the Uprising– there were a lot of people in Baltimore, they’re not from Baltimore, they don’t care about Baltimore; they weren’t gonna care about it later. Then, other people were not from Baltimore and trying to give a damn about something. For a lot of people it’s hard to separate their Ego (Ego with a capital E here): they are bringing to fruition whatever their compulsions are. Even myself to a certain extent, my whole career outside of art making has been in the public interest and I never even really did any protesting because a lot of my own pathways had put a narrative in my head that ‘well you know, you’ve got to use your skills and privilege to sort of operate within the system.’” Protesting is an extremely important part of that process, I just didn’t know if I was the one to do it. If you’re protesting I think you really need to be there as a vessel. You really need to remove your ego. It’s definitely one of those aspects of my privilege of white male-dom…It’s hard to really work in that space where you are just a vehicle. The Uprising was such that even those who didn’t feel compelled to act that way normally, everyone just felt crazy compelled. Everyone just felt like there was there was a magnetism in that way. It was an intense feeling. Then that sort of groupthink mentality that kicks in. I thought about it a lot: so much that got me thinking about Upresting while I was in the protest, especially the really long ones that would last all day long. It really helps me, the sound that operates in the protest is what joins everyone together. This exhibition is strange for me, when I first got funding to do the piece, it was sort of a community art piece. Nowhere really did I say “Upresting by Adam Holofcener.” The piece for me has kind of come full circle because I conceived of it as this very aesthetic, intellectual thing, and then I had the opportunity to make a piece of public art about it, and because those things interest me very much I took that opportunity. Then, when the opportunity came to bring it back into the realm of this more intense aesthetic it came back. It involved the many and the few; it gives you the opportunity to look at it from either of those perspectives. In contexts like this it’s worth diagnosing it from both sides.
People tend to dichotomize individual identity and society. Does Upresting suggest that collective voices can diverge from society’s message?
That’s an interesting question. Cecilia and I were talking about this before the exhibition. One of the things I thought a lot about is how you organize a collective message. What are the other opportunities that people have in such large numbers, you know thousands of people, to try to channel a good message at the same time. To me the most premiere counterexample is a sporting event; something like a football game. You have 60,000 people chanting in unison. They’re collectivizing their message but their message is a lot easier to package, and why I think that football games happen all the time and a protest happens a week after someone gets killed and then they dissipate. It’s hard to chorale the thoughts of two people of any complexity, let alone 60,000. The really amazing thing about protest or trying to organize collective people, like community organizing too (God bless anyone who truly is grassroots organizing), even people from the city council and they have to have meetings where they have someone come inside and they start screaming that the cracks in the sidewalk are yelling at them. It’s hard to chorale. Complexity, obviously, an honest protest or rally or something that is trying to bottle that very nuanced magic, I think that’s what adds to the heightened, almost spiritual nature of the event, but it makes it harder to contain. A lot of people there are there for a lot of different, but converging reasons. After the sports game people can be like “we all won;” “we all didn’t”. After you leave a protest and you’re like “what occurred?” Other times you might be like “I felt solidarity.” There’s multiplicity of feelings. It’s very important that people continue to act in that way–protest–it’s a very important part of the organizing process.
How do you think that that pairing your individual work with Antonio’s Counter Archive Project further investigates the relationship between the individual and collective? Is the message of Upresting different when in conversation with Antonio’s visual installation?
Another good question. I think Antonio’s work (this is my own reading of it), the photographs that he’s taking from Dubois really are attempting to not only distill the comments and the materialized form, between the whole category of people (individuals of color at the turn of the 20th century); they are primarily formulated by individuals. He’s commenting on the communal by exploring these individual presences. With my work, there’s a lot of different voices that come into play but it’s still somewhat focused on the individual experience. The opportunity for a singular voice to impress itself upon the environment that is embodying the many. When I first spoke to Antonio about working together we really thought a lot about–we both think a lot about process, these very academic ideas, sociological, anthropological, ethical, and then we were also like “how can we approach that from a unique form? A unique way of packaging that has a lot to do with conceptual processes.” My art is always based upon larger ideas and concepts. I’m not the type of person that if you gave me a cabin the woods, I’d be like “yeah!” I’d be like “I don’t know.” I don’t have an internal muse. I need to read five newspapers a day and be out with the people. I think Antonio is that way too, he’s really good at being inspired by all these amazing, ridiculous, horrifying wonderful things in the world has to inspire us. Being an artist is a very a selfish thing, you come at it from this singular solo page and then you attempt to take it back to your community and a larger whole.
By extending the life of the 2015 Baltimore Uprising beyond its temporal existence, Upresting challenges conventional notions of time. How is the ephemeral eternalized and universalized in your work?
To a certain extent I’m not sure. A lot of my practices involve improvised or aleatoric or experimental works. A computer program itself is on an improvisational journey. I think the universe operates on these types of irrefutable ephemera. I always get really nervous by anything that’s trying to put anything in stone. I really don’t want my reading of communal events or something like the Uprising to really have anything that is definitive about anything. It’s not my story to tell. Look, I’ve had these powerful experiences walking around the streets of this city that I care about and in which I live and work with a lot of other people, and I felt it this way and it was kind of ever-changing and different and to me, that’s interesting. In many ways, it’s inspired by an extremely emotionally politically and universally charged set of circumstances that demand a tremendous amount of respect from whomever is interested interacting with them. It all comes from almost the same impulse I have–it’s my kind of artistic practices. When I’m walking down the street and the car mixes with the sound of the, all the sounds mixing all the time there’s always that opportunity for you to sort, in an aural sense it’s without language so it’s tough. The mathematical complicated nature of the universe is such that when things sort of come together, to me that’s sort of like the closest that you’ll get to some kind of church of experience. Something like a protest is the closest you’ll get to a really intense of orchestra. There are so many opportunities and people and voices and places; things that are gonna make your hair stand on end. The form is very important.
What is the current relevance of Black Maths, especially post-election?
It’s really hard for me to even think about my own work right now. It’s been a little bit of a wild ride. We have our artists talk coming up and I haven’t really told anyone about the exhibition since the election. Anything I did is totally irrelevant. Even if this is possibly conceptually talking about something that might be Relevant (with a capital “r”) it doesn’t seem to be. How relevant is it? A lot of what I’m interested in…[being] on the vanguard of the newest most bizarre type of aesthetic criteria or a new media being created. I knew none of it really mattered because I disagree with most things that occur most of the time anyway. You fall really hard between “its pretty bleak” and the intense optimism–this is more important than ever people need to be thinking harder and empathizing more than ever. It’s hard to answer because everyone is still mining this particular existential crisis and will do for a long time. Something like the election is still so emotionally intense, a lot of work I was thinking about I wanted to not do anymore and I had a lot of new ideas for work I want to spend a lot of time thinking about now.
What do you hope visitors will gain or contemplate because of Upresting or Black Maths as a whole?
I think when you go to something like Black Maths, there’s part of me that’s like I don’t want to tell anybody what to do how to feel ever. What comes to mind if someone is like, really asking me. It’s one of the reason why I feel so obliged to try to utilize my privilege for other people. Black Maths does this pretty well, I think it might’ve done it better than I’ve ever done up to this point….My whole life of being an artist has just led from one continual opportunity after another to gain other perspectives. Every situation that you go in you should tear down into millions of perspectives that are attending to anything. It’s only been five years that I haven’t been outwardly hostile to my audience. I’m still on training wheels [laughs]. To me something like Upresting is just avant-garde music. It’s weird sounds doing weird stuff. It’s funny, especially coming from a music composition/performance background, I’m really used to standing in front of an audience and people coming in with a brain that’s like “I like when people make sounds that are either difficult to listen to and I haven’t heard before, they might be out of my sonic palette,” or it’s gonna be such a difficult thing. In a gallery context people are so much more accepting. Sound is a full body experience. There is part of me now that’s thinking less that every act is a political act. It’s easier for me to be like, I want everybody to go, because if everyone doesn’t go then what’s the point. It’s a challenge because I’m never not gonna do weird shit. I’ll always never prescribe anything to anybody. Everybody’s just got to think hard about everything.
Adam Holofcener’s work is included in Black Maths in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31-December 10th, 2016. Holofcener will be joining Antonio McAfee for the Black Maths Artist Talk Saturday, December 10th at 2pm.
The Stamp Gallery is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for “Monumental Form/Memorial Time: A Graduate Symposium in the History and Practice of Art and Architecture.” The symposium will take place on March 10-11, 2017, in association with the closing weekend of the Stamp Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, Collective Monument. Submissions for the symposium are due on December 15, 2016. Details can be found below.
Call for Papers and Projects
The notion of monumentality—as an aesthetic, temporal, and existential category—is one of the most conflicted concepts in historical and critical literature on architecture and the visual arts. Efforts to create monuments are often perceived as fundamentally complicit in consolidating political power and ideological hegemony, and many critics have attacked the traditional concept of the monument as fundamentally incompatible with the context of global modernity. Others look to monuments as sites where—through collective production and preservation—an authentic sense of localized community might still emerge. The coordinators of the Stamp Gallery and the Graduate Art History Association at the University of Maryland, College Park, welcome graduate student papers addressing the topic of monuments, memorials, and monumentality across time and space.
Papers may consider topics including—but not limited to: the notion of monumentality in ancient societies; collective efforts to produce monuments or memorials respondent to (post/)modernity; the relationship between monuments and political power; the relationship between gender, race, and monumental representation; the production of monuments as a factor in global artistic networks; the aesthetic of ‘monumentality’ as a quality of objects not typically considered ‘monuments’; monuments and the monumental in literature and poetry; the commission and afterlives of controversial monuments; and the kinds of time or temporality produced in monuments and memorials.
This symposium is organized in conjunction with the exhibition Collective Monument at the Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland, January 25—March 11, 2017, featuring work by Onejoon Che, DZT Collective, and Nara Park. The symposium will be held Friday, March 10 – Saturday, March 11, 2017, with a keynote lecture by New York-based artist Lisi Raskin on Friday evening at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, Center for Campus Life, University of Maryland.
We welcome submissions from current MA or PhD students at all stages of their studies, working in any area, chronological period, or discipline. We also welcome proposals for presentations or performances by artists pursuing MFAs whose work deals closely with the question of monumentality as a form or concept.
Papers must be original and unpublished. Please send a paper title, an abstract (maximum 300 words), and a CV to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, December 15, 2016. Selected speakers will be notified before January 11, 2017, and are expected to accept or decline the offer within a week of notification. Papers, presentations, or performances should be 15 minutes in length and will be followed by a question and answer session.
Art appreciation can be a deeply personal, transformative experience. The different themes embodied in the work might meet a visitor on a minutely relatable level, or the visitor might have some sort of transcendental realization. Regardless of the magnitude of the emotional response, the discussion of artwork—especially in a casual sense—tends to be superficial. When I’ve gone to various galleries and exhibitions with my friends, the depths of our conversations regarding the art has been limited to a discussion of aesthetics: “I like how the artist…” and “This piece reminds me of…” are phrases that dominate my conversations within such artistic spaces. Talking about our emotions is largely ignored, and we would rather show off our ability to analyze what the artist is trying to say. Some might argue that there is a time and a place for such deeply affecting discussions, yet this interpretation discounts the very real impact that art can have on our everyday lives. Especially regarding the relevant social and political themes of the Stamp Gallery’s current show, Black Maths, these conversations must happen beyond the scope of aesthetic analysis.
I’d like to share my personal reaction to Adam Holofcener’s sound installation, Upresting, as an example. After spending a considerable amount of time with this piece, my emotions have ranged from uncertainty to empowerment. I am uncertain because the sounds of protest do not loop in a predictable pattern, and because I cannot anticipate the chanting or the screaming or the silence, I experience a loss of control. I am at the mercy of the work, and that is personally terrifying. This fear subsided, however, when I discovered the interactive aspect of Upresting: the microphone. I learned that my voice is amplified in the simulated multitudes and that my contribution has an audible (if only fleeting) impact on the sound. My voice became powerful, yet I had to continue to speak lest my voice faded away into the crowd.
For me, experiencing Upresting has given me the opportunity to admit my fears and embrace my voice, yet this personal sentiment is not easily relatable to others. I try to take these emotions home and discuss with my roommates, but often my words are as scattered as my thoughts. People are afraid to engage in these conversations because they fear either their interpretations are wrong or that they won’t be able to present their emotions cohesively. That is not the point of discussion. The point of entering artistic discourse—especially on such a personal level—is to work out the jumble of thoughts and emotions into something more cohesive. The uncertainty we might feel after taking in an art piece isn’t to be avoided, but celebrated. So I urge to engage in the discussion in any manner you like: express yourself creatively, take time to sit and talk with friends, write a blog post.
If a work of art makes a statement that affects you, the least you could do is respond.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
In the wake of last Tuesday’s election and its results, The Stamp Gallery’s exhibit, Black Maths, has become more relevant in processing the emotions and opinions of the Gallery’s audience. The election’s results have left people angry, upset and afraid. But what can these feelings solve? If I can conclude anything from the horrific news of racial tensions on both sides, these feelings solve nothing, these feelings save no one in their rawest forms but these negative emotions can be transformed into mindsets that are productive, mindsets that can produce real change instead of promoting or repeating acts of our past. So, have your conversations about how hurt you feel but don’t turn that hurt into hatred. Instead, use your emotions and turn them into something productive, something progressive.
When people typically think of an art gallery space, I would assume that they think of paintings, prints, sculptures, and the like. The rules are unspoken but evident: no touching, no flash photography, mindfulness of the space. A very present connection between the artist and the art piece is established, and by setting the aforementioned limitations, the exhibitors and curators reveal part of the artistic intent.
So what happens when the artwork and the experience becomes democratized, where the only boundary presented is your imagination? What happens when the visitors in the gallery are invited to not only touch the artwork, but to participate in the process? These are the questions presented to visitors as they experience Paradise Now. Over the past seven weeks, the Stamp Gallery has exhibited a show in which guests have reshaped the topography of the space, embraced the subversion of everyday life, and put themselves on display. Yet this show has meant so much more.
After activating multiple sessions of Paradise Now, I’ve seen a variety of different responses from our visitors. Some boldly push the limits of what they are allowed to do, others are paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty, and still others simply play and give themselves to the experience. Each person’s response is wholly different but equally valuable, giving them a self-understanding with which they are able to leave the space. These emotional and intellectual reactions are not traceable to a single object, but rather to the ethereal moment of experience. The visitors are invited to put themselves into the process, so the relationship is not simply art-informing-viewer, but instead self-informing-art-informing-self.
Despite my praise of the alternative Paradise Now format, I am not discounting the traditional gallery experience. By no means has the Stamp Gallery given up on exhibiting artwork in the conventional sense. Both types of exhibition engage their audiences differently, and both aim to confront the participant with some sort of thoughtful engagement. Some subjects that an art piece might reflect are love, social dissonance, artfulness, etc., but part of what Paradise Now reflects is the audience, and that aspect is the crux of why we were interested in curating this show. This exhibition has been a stark reminder to our University of Maryland viewership that art does not have to be transcendentally significant.
Art can be about you, too.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
Paradise Now is truly more than a game. Beneath the fun interactivity of the exhibit lies a profound commentary on humanity. Like everyday life, the gallery offers a broad space where visitors can make decisions based on their circumstances. The game is shockingly liberating: patrons are encouraged to manipulate their horizons however they please. Through that freedom, visitors encounter an accepting environment where wearing a milk carton on your head or screaming through a megaphone is welcomed enthusiastically. In many ways, Paradise Now has created a safe space and a creative habitat.
Ironically, the liberation of game is also one of its constraints. Immersing oneself in Paradise Now is a surrender to limitation: the clock is ticking, self-consciousness is looming, cooperation of a partner is crucial, and the kindness of others is variable. Unless the circumstances are optimal, the freedom of Paradise Now can be its most daunting restriction. In many ways, the paradoxical nature of the game serves as a microcosm for life- choices and the question of free will.
The tension between fate and free will in Paradise Now is a testament to the philosophical, psychological, and creative power of the exhibit. This dimensionality inspired me to reconfigure portions of the score into a poem. The first section of the poem reflects suffocation, while the other savors in release. In the same way that Paradise Now embodies freedom and restraint, so also does my poem represent creativity in the midst of limitations. In life, we also have to stick to the Score, no matter how beautifully vague it may be.
Only At Arms Length: A Reconstruction of the Paradise Now Score
Have you ever closed your mind?
Like a bad habit: stop. scream.repeat.
Down at the ground
when the stages are stacked
Holding onto any moving object
Somethings cannot be learned or granted for your hard work.
Just an infinity of impeccable restraints–
A hunger to know something for certain
How did we get here?
Pick a player
Follow your lead
Face the inward windows
silently now, start to
Fill your body
Foam on top of foam
Only at arms length.