Interview with Exhibiting Artist C.W. Brooks

C.W. Brooks || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Director of the Laboratory Research Gallery || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2016 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Grace DeWitt

 

To start with a little background, where are you from, and where did you study as an undergrad?

I’m originally from Chicago and I lived all around the Midwest. I went to Ohio State for a little while and then I got my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I went back to Chicago.

I understand that you went through quite a journey to get here, at Maryland’s MFA program. What eventually brought you to, or back to, art?

Really, it was that I’ve been compelled to keep making art. The need to then continue to develop and find critical communities in which to do that brought me back here. I happened to meet one of the professors here at a curling club and he encouraged me for a year or more than to come here for graduate school and I had a bunch of other friends who were also pushing me. Finally, I just gave in. So that’s how I ended up here. Previous to this, I worked in non-profits and politics for over a decade.

You’ve mentioned before that you’ve spent many years working with tape, and I think also index cards? Correct me if I’m wrong?

Well from 2004 to 2007– all of 2004 but not all of 2007– I worked exclusively with masking tape and 10″ x 10″ sheets of Bristol board. And that was all I worked with there.  After that I felt comfortable enough to sort of open up my materials list a little more, but I do find that restraint to be very helpful, at times. Other times, we need to do something else. But, the idea of placing somewhat arbitrary limits, or the practice of placing arbitrary limits on your art-making can allow you to more fully explore subtleties of what you make or of the materials or of the idea pretty effectively, at least for me.

So is that what led you specifically to the masking tape and the Bristol board?

That was just one step in it, there were others. I think part of that is I come out of a photography background. Because in photography you are pretty limited in that you use–  when I learned photography– you used film, and paper, and you go into a really dark place and do a lot of things there. So there really is that limit, and then going out from photography into more of, for lack of a better way to put it, a drawing-based practice, one that really considers mark-making, “thingness.” It made sense for me, it was a natural step really, to just then, you know, choose carefully and then use limitations as a resource.

Would you say control is a goal of your work? Or perhaps a method?

I’d say kind of the opposite. You know within those limits, I have to worry about control less, so within the actual making of the thing I can allow the process to take place organically. I don’t have to worry about a lot of things. Most folks around here, most of the grad students around here, seem to be very contemplative in their studio practice. I’m much more, I’m very impulsive, though. And so by setting those limits up front, I’m able to allow that to happen and at least have some coherence, sometimes. But you know, then I have to self-curate in what I show people at all, let alone what I put in a show, like this one.

We kind of got into this, but do you select your materials to serve the purpose of a project, or does the project present itself out of your preliminary manipulations with the material?

I do a lot of research, is what we’ll call it, which is just screwing around with these things, sometimes I get a good piece out of that. But a lot of time I have to develop a real intimacy with a material to understand how it’s going to work. And at that point usually things become apparent to me as far as what needs to happen. And again, it is a much more impulsive process. There isn’t a lot of deliberation, or contemplation about it. And if I’m doing that it usually ends up very frustrating. That’s not a bad thing to do, it’s just not necessarily what works best for me making my most effective work.

Are there any particular artists, art movements, or other concepts that inspire your current work, or your art overall?

Certainly the conceptual artists from the 60s and 70s are very impactful. And surprisingly, I’m very interested– well, surprising to me given my other background– but I’m very interested in social practice and activist art, which I don’t think really shines to the forefront with my material work. But certainly that has had a big influence on how I approach working.

In regards to the MIDPOINT piece, would you mind talking a little bit about the title of the series? And do you consider it a series?

The title actually is just something I pulled out of a Susan Sontag essay, which she was actually quoting Nabokov, I believe. And so that’s where the title comes from, I think it is effective in explaining how these are made in that the thing exists because I have this intimacy, because I have this strong familiarity with these materials and with these ways of going about making them interact, or altering them, or manipulating them.

Where did the idea for “The Pattern of the Thing Precedes the Thing” come from?

It was just something that I think was ripe, it was something that made sense to do you know these large set of multiples you know there’s a lot of smaller works, in fact there are smaller sets as well of work that do similar things.

How did you mentally and physically go about creating the piece?

To make this piece I drove out to Winchester, Virginia. I got a room at a Motel 6, and for five days, that was what I did. I sat and worked with these materials, it was real nice, because I could go out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I could go to yoga, but other than that I would stay in the hotel room and work. I took my dog with me, she just likes to sleep a lot too. So that was pretty much the process. But taking myself and these materials out of their normal studio context, I was able to focus on them I think a little tighter, focus on them more closely.

I wanted to ask about that actually, I remember you saying that you felt that this project differed so much from your previous work that you couldn’t do it in the studio space, and I was wondering if you had felt that way about any previous projects?

Not really, I only really brought that [strict studio practice] back since 2013. And in 2013 even, when my primary body of work was made, I had some terrible office  job so you know on my breaks I would make some work, and you know it all had to fit any piece I made had to fit in a number 10 envelope and I would address it and mail it to a friend of mine, in part for an accountability mechanism, because I was at a point where I was ready to rebuild a practice, and a regular practice, as opposed to kind of earlier where I spent a lot of time trying to get away from art and deny that as a part of my life, ’cause wouldn’t that be easier? So, previously, it was really about trying not to do this, trying to get rid of things, and I still have issues with the material object as an element, but if you’re going to sell you kind of have to accept that. Or it helps to accept that.

Do you feel like that kind of office-life frustration maybe in some way inspired the gravitation towards the index cards at all?

I wouldn’t… I had a show in 2010 and we did an interview for that and that interview was very frustrating because all the questions the person had were about how, you know, a terrible office job blah blah blah, you know, the job I had was terrible, but working in an office doesn’t bother me very much, you know. I like the order; I keep a lot of records, and I have personal archives, and I have various tracking mechanisms in my studio that make it almost office-like.  So I wouldn’t say there’s any frustration there. And by 2013 it was sort of becoming obvious that the work I was doing I was working on both campaigns and at non-profits then, was not going to really be a long-term healthy decision.

Back to “The Pattern of the Thing,” what was the greatest challenge you experienced when creating so many pieces within the larger piece, and all with such a high level of precision– or maybe you wouldn’t call it precision?

By the time I made this piece– the word I use is intimacy– I had such a high level of intimacy with these materials that it was just a question of sitting down and doing it. I’d love to be able to do this like once a month for a year, I think it would be fascinating. But really the biggest challenge was to actually get all the pieces in place. I had a set of materials I took with me, and then when I got out to Winchester I realized I needed this and I needed that, so there was a day of driving around town trying to find things… which would be relatively easy here except the traffic would be worse. But out in Winchester was a little more challenging, even though it’s not a terribly small town. But you know, really the challenge there was to really get myself set up, get going, what was surprising is that I expected to be able to do more of this each day. Initially I planned on being there for 3 full days, I ended up being there for 5 full days. The first full day I was there I did 300 cards and then the next day, I just slept all day. I was surprisingly tired from it. And for the rest of that time I did about 200 a day. I averaged about 200 a day in the end and the last two days I was there I did 200 a day and that was very effective. And I was surprised at how tiring this was though, really.

Was there a method to how you organized the cards after creating them, or did you create them with their arrangement somehow  in mind?

They were made in the order that they are presented by row first moving from top to bottom, and then by series. Until they were hung up, I had not seen them in any sort of relationship to one another. For the most part, as I made them, I would begin a row that would establish a theme for the row, and there would also be themes for an entire set. There is one outlier to that, but it actually is not included because of space here. But I think not having that, the viewer is not really going to miss it… but I think there is a little bit of richness that is lost because the piece is technically incomplete. But I think there is still plenty to engage with there.

When someone walks into MIDPOINT, what do you hope that person will grasp about your work?

I’m hoping that they’ll just engage with the work, I think that there’s– based on conversations I’ve had with people who’ve seen it– I think that there’s a number of ways to do it. And I’m pretty willing to let people direct themselves. I think some people will kind of glance at it, and this work may not be for them, and I’m okay with that too. My real interest though, is in the subtleties of the thing, as it is now, which in some cases actually are built off of subtleties of manipulation, or subtleties that already existed, that are sort of amplified through the manipulation. So there’s a lot of different kinds of ways in, I’m not sure how other people are necessarily going to do that. For me, the making of the thing is really the primary experience. I can’t say I’ve spent that much time looking at it since, I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it. Well I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about “Okay this should have been this way and that should have followed this,” but that’s not how it happened, and given, sort of my interest in this piece as a document as well as a material piece itself, I wouldn’t be willing to reorder it.

Can I ask what you’re currently working on?

Right now I’m actually working on, well a couple of things, I’m working w some photographs, cause i still do that. and I’m working on some very large line drawings. That’s relatively new. I’m trying to figure out given what I’m doing and how I’m doing it what the process necessitates as far as inputs and outputs. and I’m just trying to form a model of how this is going to work in my mind. I’m not saying here’s a model, but that how I’m going to think of my mind working, so that I can work with this process and these materials relatively predictably. And even within a process and material set, that I feel I have well modeled in my mind, there are still, and in some cases there may even be intentional decisions to allow intentionally unexpected things to arise. A decision not to make a decision. Sometimes it is very consequential and important to make that way rather than to deliberate and then dictate every element. But there is still a decision there in saying these preconditions can exist, and it can go a number of different ways from there. But, create the preconditions and then allow that to happen. Preconditions for every one of these cards is basically the same. But the outcome is generally different. There might be a few that look very similar.

I know there’s a few that have not been altered.

Yes. And those are very similar. And you know in those cases the preconditions vary because two different material objects probably are not truly identical, whatever that means. But that’s okay.

Lastly, any advice for budding undergraduate artists? Or, anything you would tell a younger C.W. Brooks just entering the arts world?

Let me think about this for a minute… I mean as far as figuring out what work you need to be doing, often that’s a process of elimination. It’s important to engage deeply with whatever practice you are doing, but I think that it’s also valuable to switch practices every once in a while, certainly early on. And see if you actually come back to that initial practice, or that favorite practice, or discipline, you will probably have been enriched by that. When I moved from Ohio State to Chicago in college I went from working with some real capital “P” photographers, I was “zone system” blah blah blah whatever else, all the way. very quickly I was working Barbara Genevieve who is or was really a fantastic teacher and mentor and also really one of the best.. really a great artist in making semi-pornographic art and communicating activist cultural messages through it. My work is not necessarily cultural activism even though we worked very closely within a student-teacher, teacher-student, student-mentor relationship. But had I insisted that I was only going to work with more photographers, that would have been a real shame. Work with things that really make you uncomfortable.

 

C.W. Brooks’ work can be viewed at MIDPOINT 2016 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, until May 21, 2016. They will be joining the other artists of MIDPOINT 2016 in an artist talk in the Gallery on May 11, from 11am to 12pm.

For more information on C.W. Brooks, visit www.brooks202.com.

For more information on MIDPOINT 2016  and artist talks, visit http://thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery/current_exhibition.


Midpoint-Interview with Kevin Hird

This is the first installment of the Midpoint artist interview series.

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Walking into the Stamp Gallery, one cannot miss the pillars of blond lumber being displayed at the end of the room. The long planks are either covered with screws and the holes made by them, or cut into small slices that together make up curved forms. As the work occupies almost half of the entire gallery, one may wonder about the messages that the wood conveys to visitors. I asked the artist, Kevin Hird, for more details about his work in Midpoint 2016.

 

Could you please tell me about your work that’s currently on exhibit at the Gallery?

All of the works on exhibit in the gallery are 2′ x 6′ boards, which have been extensively altered through a repetitive action—either cutting or putting screws through them. I work with found objects, so I approached the boards from that direction rather than regarding them as a material one would use to make something, but reacting to the ‘identity’ of the object. The properties of the material such as the grain and knots, and the mental associations the board carries—the concept of work and blue collar labor, the manufactured versus the natural, organic material, and looking at the interactions you would expect to take place with the boards in their typical environment, of which to me the most prominent are the two I’ve employed, cutting and screwing. Both of these actions are misinterpreted, I’ve intentionally gotten the expected relationship of the action and the material wrong and repeated to a compulsive, total, absurd degree.

While I was cutting the slices of one of the Three eight foot boards cut exactly in half, someone came up and asked what I was up to and I told him I was cutting a board in half; he was confused for a couple seconds before it clicked.

I’m not sure how clear it is, but the Eight foot boards cut in half are cut into slices of wood that are the same thickness as the saw blade, so with each cut an equal amount of board is cut into a slice and consumed by the saw.  After another pause he asked me ‘…why? That looks really tedious.’ And it really, really is.  But in addition to the other ideas inherent in this work and the material, this process retains the grain pattern of the full length of the board, but compressed into half the space. Essentially, it’s pixelating a real object. I’ve seen images of people making pixelated renditions of classical marble busts—more so what you might think of when you imagine ‘sculpture’—but it’s all process and digital technology. So this is just using a board and saw, but relating to the language and visual output of digital 3d work.

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How did you decide to use wood and nails, and is there a metaphorical meaning?

I actually don’t remember what got me started on the first board. I think it was just an exploratory piece, answering for myself, ‘how many screws can you actually put into a single board? What does that look like?’ But it incorporates ideas of work and the value we place on it, the tradition of construction and blue collar jobs within my own family, so seeing this work as a little bit of a self portrait; out of this blue collar background as a building material it gets reworked and winds up in a formal art setting.

These also bring up repeatedly this tension of the materials being simultaneously a processed industrial material and a grown organic natural thing. The Better give it the old spit polish series is displayed in a format intended to reference a forest and emphasize the organic nature of the wood, while the two components of Pucker are presented horizontally on saw horses, reinforcing the other side of this and referencing the industrial/construction material side of it.

But there’s more still—the force of the screws putting pressure on the wood resulted in some areas where the wood cracked apart pretty impressively, which is particularly interesting where knots are coming out of the side of the wood. This expansion reveals sections of the knots that had been grown over, buried within the wood but now visible because of the forces they were subjected to. The circles of screws and patterning of holes left behind where they were removed have some reference both to an insect boring into the material and clusters of moss or other growths on the surface of trees. And there’s definitely a sexual component, which shows up in possible interpretations of the titles, the vertical boards (anything long and upright, somebody is going to read as phallic), and the repetitive penetrative action of screwing in and out of the surface.

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How long did it take you to create and install all of the pieces? 

Installation seemed like it went really quickly, but actually took something like eight hours. I’m not entirely sure where the time went, but I know part of it was discussing placement issues with Gallery Coordinator Cecilia Wichmann and the other artists. As far as creation, it varied from within a day to make each of the three 8’ boards cut exactly in half, up to most of a month to complete one of the vertical boards.

Have you always been working with three-dimensional pieces? What do you like about them and what do you dislike about them? 

Yes, since I started making art I knew three dimensional was the way for me to go. I get much more satisfaction and sense of having physically made something when its 3D. I know, painting or drawing are also ‘physical processes’ but they don’t carry that same feel of physicality that I get in sculptural works.  So that’s definitely what I like about them, as well as being able to go out and find a physical object that starts the process and carries its own back story and implications that I feel obligated to respond to and incorporate in the work. There’s really one big thing to dislike about three dimensional work:  It’s big.  Sculptures take up a whole lot of space and don’t really store very efficiently. Smaller tabletop or handheld sculptures aren’t too bad individually, but they start to add up, and once you reach a certain scale your options quickly dwindle to either: sell the work, or take a lot of good pictures and destroy it.

What is your favorite material to work with and why?

I don’t think I really have a favorite material. Working in sculpture, and especially with a tendency toward found objects, I wind up working with new materials pretty regularly.

Is there a common theme for all of your work? Where do you get your inspiration from and how has your practice changed over time? 

There does seem to be a common thread going through much of my work of dealing with the identity of objects, altering things in small but fundamental ways, and a sense of absurdity or humor. I think part of the inspiration is definitely in the materials themselves; I think that I look at things a little bit differently than most people and through this artwork I try to show everyone these other possibilities within the things around us. That’s the other big part of my inspiration—I want to show people something new and hopefully give them a sense of wonder.

I’ve always been working sculpturally, but the work definitely changed when I started here with a little bit of a rough transition period at first when I was figuring out how exactly I wanted to work and what I wanted to work with. Before grad school I tended to have the entire piece figured out beforehand and then sit down and make it. Lately it’s been a lot more exploratory and responsive to the material

Why did you decide to attend the MFA program here at Maryland? Where did you study as an undergrad?

I got my undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio, where I’m from.  I actually started there in another major and jumped ship to art because I was really bored with what I had started in. Fortunately that school actually had a really great art program, and equally good teachers. One of the teachers was a close mentor to me and when I told him about my MFA choices, he knew one of the faculty here and said I’d enjoy working with him, so that influenced my choice a little. Other things that helped me make my choice were UMD has a bit of a reputation as being a sculpturally-focused program, which I liked, the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant which is really valuable if you want to teach after graduation (and I definitely do), and possibly the most important factor is location. As an artist the close proximity to both all of the art museums and galleries in DC as well as Baltimore, which has a really thriving art scene, is a pretty big deal. It means that you can expose yourself to a lot more artworks and culture, which can expand your own practice, as well as there being much more options and chances of having your work shown and seen.

Where do you see your work in the future, and what does art mean to you? 

To me art is an outlet, a way to show other people something new or get them thinking about things differently. I think it also gives a unique look into someone else’s thoughts and personality. Looking at the artwork in this show, I think you can extrapolate from the artwork and learn quite a bit about the artists from the work. I think for the foreseeable future the work is going to continue being centered around the found object and the identity of things. In the future I’d like to see my work at MoMA, but I think you have to work your way up.

By Yvette Yu

Kevin Hird presents a series of investigations into the results obtainable through an expected interaction being repeated to unreasonable lengths on a common construction material.
Learn more about Hird’s work: kevinhird.tumblr.com.
Questions or comments? Please reach out at Kevin.Hird@yahoo.com

 

Other work by Hird:
KH Copy

Copy, bone and treat, 2014

                                                 Untitled, picture frame, electrical tape, wheels, 2014
KH jedi mind trick

Jedi mind trick, bamboo skewers, nylon strap, fasteners, 2015

KH relic

The last remaining relic of J Edgar Hoover’s eternal hunt for the perfect bourbon, wood, 2015

KH handle

Handle, handle, chair base, 2015

Images are courtesy of Veronica Nolen.

When Pretty Hurts: Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s Depictions of Daily Confrontation

There’s a feeling of unrest in Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s work. It takes the form of twisting and turning strokes, flattened, into layers upon layers of translucent media that seem to perpetuate out of the paper from which they seep. In no more than two dimensions, a viewer finds incredible depth.

What Ilchi has done, these movements, render a more precise portrayal of the subconscious than of the figures and landscapes that comprise her illustrative narratives. Her paintings somberly remind a viewer that every moment has its layers, and every scene is embroidered by a powerful inner dialogue, and, that sometimes this inner dialogue speaks so loud, that it drowns out the visions of reality.

If She Only Belonged is such a painting. It offers a snapshot of the subconscious layers that alter, cover, or construct– and sometimes in very real ways– a scene. Tucked underneath translucent strokes of paint, colored pencil, and ink on Mylar is not simply a crisp day at the park. It is a crisp day tainted by post-traumatic visions of a different country’s warfare; diverted by an invisible eruption of emotional turmoil herein suppressed like lava beneath tectonic plates; and made both sweet and fragile by a juxtaposed symbol of beauty: a faint and colorless layer of ink petals in this chaos.

Or, perhaps, the images recorded here are those of a girl standing in the middle of a battlefield, yearning for the peace that comes from a life with flowers, trees, grass, and people at ease: talking calmly to one another, doing nothing more than standing. Or running, for leisure instead of survival.

Beneath the bleakness of an empty “sky” and drips of watery paint that melt into bare Mylar, it is unclear whether the nightmare or the dream is reality in this captured moment. But whichever is, the other surely was before it, depicting the perpetual weaving of interpretations one experiences within a moment. Regardless of the location of this moment in time or space, one thing holds true: our protagonist is a victim. She is as much a victim at the foot of a smoking volcano, or beneath volatile military aircrafts, as she is in the shiny and safe suburbia, alienated by her own memories and identifying experiences. Dressed in mourning, we see here the heartbreaking inner dialogue of a girl trapped between worlds.

And yet, there is an eerie hope to be threaded out of If She Only Belonged. Ilchi illustrates here our complex world: one in which confusion, clarity, longing, peace, energy surmounted and energy drained, can exist within the very same frame, or the very same second. A day at the park does not always have to instill the typical feelings of a day at the park, and nor should it. Layering emotions onto a scene, though at times painful and alienating, produces a multifaceted way of viewing the world that makes us human. And it is a viewer’s hope that, like the gossamer-fine floral etching that peeks through smoke and fire in If She Only Belonged, the interconnectedness seen here can serve to heal, not harm, the victims of everyday beauty.

By Grace DeWitt


What We See is What We Are

Ernst Haas once said, “The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” A photo can be great in many ways: the lighting, the subject, the angle… However, a great photo always has limits, that there is only one of them, and it is always subject to the viewpoint of the photographer.

It is not until I saw Exposure#43 that I realized how subjective and limited photography can be. Exposure #43 by Barbara Probst presents viewers two photos of same scale but different content. The first part is black and white. A woman appears striding across the screen. The background is full of landscapes tightly packed against each other. Her hair flows in the wind and her face is blurry. The  composition of clear buildings and blurry figure suggests that our subject is in motion, just like how city life never slows down a second. On the other hand, the second part of the art exhibits a beautiful scenery: deep blue sky, tranquil waters, and boundless valley. At the center of the image, there is a group of people. It is hard to clearly see what they are doing because they are so small in the picture in comparison to the the mountains and pine trees, but one of them is holding a camera so it is assumed that they are taking photo shoots.

With the strong contrast, Probst investigates the potential range of impressions of a single time and place. The two photos are completely different from each other: one is black and white, one is in color; one setting is urban while the other is in nature; one gives viewers a fast-moving mood, and the other creates a peaceful moment that is impossible to interrupt. These two images were taken at the same time to record a single scene, but two or more cameras were used to record from multiple angles. It is very hard to pull these two parts together and think of them as one, and the juxtaposition made me think outside the photo, of not only what is presented in the image but also what is around the camera at that moment.

Observing the artwork by Probst made me think. Now whenever I see a photo, I always try to imagine what else is happening at that instant, what are other possible perspectives, what are the photographer’s intentions, and what are my hidden biases.

Yvette Yu

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Barbara Probst, Exposure #43: Barmsee, Bavaria, 08.18.06, 4:02 p.m., 2006
2 parts, 44 x 66 inches each
Image © Barbara Probst, Courtesy Murray Guy, New York


Banishing Stereotypes

I love all kinds of music. I have a playlist on Spotify in which I am creating a massive collection of the songs I like. The genres included in this playlist ranges from TINCUP’s bass -bumping electronic trap to Bon Iver’s calming folk music. While I am extremely proud of this ongoing playlist, for years I have been ridiculed for my diversified taste in music. Oftentimes, friends and even strangers will comment on my musical interests wondering why I listen to “white” music. This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Classifying a genre of music based on race just does not make sense to me. Music is created by people of different racial backgrounds for people of different racial backgrounds;musical preferences should not be assumed based on the color of one’s skin.

Jefferson Pinder addresses this issue in his work, Juke, a video installation that shows African Americans lip synching songs stereotypically classified as “white. The people featured in this artwork, including Pinder himself, lip sync songs performed by white musicians such as Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and Patti Smith. Through his artwork, Pinder hopes to address these racial issues, “in the most unfamiliar way.” Pinder hopes to start a discussion on whether or not music can be black or white and whether a song can be used to “provoke a conversation about race.” Pinder believes that the lyrics in all of these songs can be sentiments felt by African Americans and I believe they can be felt by anyone regardless of race.

Pinder’s work is only one of many aiming to banish stereotypes created by insinuating musical preference is based on race. While it may not be able to rid our society of these stereotypes on its own, Pinder succeeds in his efforts to start a conversation on why these stereotypes are created and what we can do to eliminate them.

Shay TyndallJuke_installation viewJefferson Pinder, Juke (still image detail), 2006. 10-channel digital video installation


The Punch Line of Wafaa Bilal’s “Lovely Pink”

On a small pedestal stand two even smaller statues– part of the newest additions to the Stamp Student Union’s permanent art collection — a Barbie-pink David eyes a slick and shadowy Perseus. Both in casual stances, weight shifted to one side, seeming to bear little burden under the objects they grasp, the two figures could be catching up at a cocktail party.

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Pink David and Perseus Beheading Medusa, Wafaa Bilal, 2015

My immediate question inquires the depth that such a seemingly playful visual experience can deliver. In simpler words, why are these, what could be easily mistaken for toys, here? It’s an off-shoot of a much larger question every piece in any gallery, museum, or exhibition, entails about the significance of its featured work, and a question that contemporary galleries continually struggle to simultaneously answer and leave open.

But perhaps the better question is, why does one imagine this comical scene when viewing one of Michelangelo’s greatest gifts to humankind, and Cellini’s illustration of a deeply harrowing moment in Greek mythology? What is the source of the humor seen here? Was it intentional, and if so, why?

In all honesty, any humor that comes from how the pieces are positioned on their shared pedestal is likely beyond the artist’s intentions. The two statues were initially placed facing towards each other, so that Perseus holds out the decapitated head of Medusa towards David, each other by the gallery’s installation crew: a light-hearted reference to Medusa’s ability to turn humans to stone with just a gaze. However, I believe these included, certain pieces from the series present a whimsical air even when isolated.

My initial reasoning for the humorous thread to the two works is the size of the statues, perhaps a more startling deviation from the original works than the bold colors with which they’ve been coated. David stands at nearly seventeen feet in L’Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, and Perseus with the Head of Medusa stands at about ten and a half in the same city’s Piazza della Signoria. In The Stamp Gallery, they stand under twelve inches, closer resembling items from a tourist’s kitschy souvenir collection than great artistic and cultural icons of the classical Western era.

And yet, something small is not without beauty — miniature artwork is an emerging practice that offers scrutiny of the world with just as much conviction as its larger-scale contemporary counterparts. And yet, it seems that the Lovely Pink series does not offer its message through details, as smaller works often do, but in the opposite: a deliberate obscurity.

Much of Wafaa Bilal’s work as of late has seemed to play with the disconcerting experience of assumptions, by way of subtle images with a subsequent bite. The photographs that comprise his Ashes Series (one of which is also joining The Stamp’s permanent collection, and is currently on display in The Stamp Gallery) appear to merely capture structures of Iraq’s destroyed buildings; they are in actuality, shots of miniatures of buildings that Bilal created and destroyed himself, and then covered with a dusting of human ashes.

Similarly, the petite statues of Lovely Pink are not wrapped in plastic, acrylic, or any other cheaply traded material, as I and many others first derived from their synthetic color and texture. David and Perseus are shrouded in shrink wrap and crude oil: two Iraqi resources that have historically pushed competitive markets into imperialistic ones. And the effect is just that: a shrouding of details. Bilal’s Perseus does not hold the head of Medusa, he holds a deformed, dripping mass.

Ironically, these materials have great financial value, and yet, they strip the two classical works of art that they coat of their original cultural, artistic value.

Is this Bilal’s civilized form of vandalism? A lesson in the mechanism and art of destruction, like The Ashes Series may be? Or, does he offer commentary on the value systems that humans construct?

Like the touch of humor that David and Perseus present, these questions explore elements of Bilal’s work that I and any other viewer can only speculate upon. What is the overall visual effect of Bilal’s unusual, unexpectedly pointed, choice of materials to create the Lovely Pink? A cartoon-like, “puffed” appearance to the figures that demotes these objects to a lesser degree of power than we have attributed to them throughout history. The punch line of these pretty little mocks is a dark, maybe uncomfortable one. In more than just a physical sense, Bilal is practicing the act of belittling.

When contextualized, I have come to understand that Bilal’s message resonates deeper than simple material experimentation, or art history banter. These pieces come from an artist deeply affected by the destruction of more than just public and personal property by ISIS presence in Iraq. Throughout his career and within projects arguably more controversial than that presented in The Stamp Gallery, Bilal’s voice is one riddled with a sense of dark hum
or towards humanity, but, it is one of both unapologetic passion and conviction as well.

Perhaps, then, Bilal’s playful presentation of global criticism is the bite of Lovely Pink, and it’s anything but sugar-coated.

Grace DeWitt


Black Royalty

Every Tuesday and Thursday I clock in for work and as a routine, walk past the iconic images of a king, queen, ace and jack in a medieval coat of arms . In addition to the immaculate 23.5 carat leaf gold layering, the prominent and untraditional black skin on these kings and queens speak volumes to self-worth and praise of the African-American identity. In today’s social media, I have witnessed constant reminders to the Black mind that we are royalty and our existence should never be looked at as anything less. Without say, this ideology applies for all races and ethnicities but in the art piece, “Game Changing” by Derrick Adams, I believe the artist explores what it means to be black royalty.

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In this piece, Adams uses blue and reds hues, which in my opinion resonate with ruby red and sapphire gemstones. Ruby and sapphire are known as two of the four most precious stones in the world. Coincidentally, these highly beloved gemstones are found in abundance in the continent of Africa. Rubies are considered to be a symbol of power, royalty and vitality while sapphires represent destiny and clarity. These elements makes one wonder about all the triumphs and obstacles endured in the Black experience in order to reach this level of hierarchy. We are all familiar with triumphs such as Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president in the United States; and obstacles such as the ongoing police brutality experienced by African-Americans. But to say the least, with all our triumphs, we are still making progress on ladder of royalty.

Through my lens, “Game Changing” by Derrick Adams opens the portal to engaging conversation and various opinions about the Black experience in the past, present and the future.

Written by Fatoumatta Tunkara