It is a strange question to ask, but after being exposed to Nicole Osborne’s piece So We Color, I find myself often thinking about that question and how others would answer it.
This question first came up when a group of children came in to visit. Many of the kids paid little attention to the works around them and a few of them even refused to believe that what we were showing was art. While a majority just stole glances of the art or took turns listening to Tam-anh’s film Are you better off alone?, there was boy sitting by himself, deeply involved in the coloring of Nicole’s piece. A small conversation between another docent and the boy followed:
“Why is he in a locker?” the boy asked.
“Why do you think he’s in a locker?”
“…Maybe… he’s lonely”
“What color do you think loneliness is?”
The boy didn’t respond, but instead he paused with a thoughtful look in his eyes and then silently chose a color began coloring again.
I never knew what color he chose and he left suddenly after that, taking the page with him, but this scene has left me with a deeper understanding of Nicole’s piece than when I sat in that small wooden desk and colored a picture myself. I took a shallow stab when I colored my first piece and I thought that others wouldn’t involve themselves as deeply as well. A few weeks have passed since then and now I see that many of the participants have been brave enough to share their secrets and insecurities through Nicole’s art.
I have seen and experienced art generating conversations and eliciting strong emotions, but this was the first time that I have seen art persuade its viewers to share their own personal struggles. If you come by the gallery and color a piece, perhaps you’ll learn something about yourself and discover what color loneliness is to you.
Nicole Osborne’s “So We Color” ・ Viewer Submissions
Written by Karisha Rodrigo
The bodies we use to walk through the world are fraught with challenges – one of which is our very own mind. Whatever we struggle with, whatever we conquer, our minds are their own little complications. On the other hand, our minds can be our access point to creation, to emotional connection, and to a wide array of healing experiences.
The show of the moment at the Stamp Gallery is entitled “I’m Fine” – now we’ve all said or heard that before, fully understanding its cover-up abilities. The artists featured in the Stamp Gallery have explored what it is to cope and grow from tragedy, life, and larger societal realities through art and the process of creation. Our minds can create art and art can in turn bring about some sort of peace or understanding into the absolutely wonderful chaos that is our everyday.
Even the space itself, Stamp Gallery, is a spot for pause and for reflection. Watching over the art as patrons wander in to glance at or maybe even interact with the pieces, in a way, provides a feeling of balance. They experience the power of the artist’s mind in the artist’s creations. The mind of the creator in a brief moment interacts with the mind of the patron whether or not either party knows it. From watching a video of an artist pealing and scraping plaster off of her skin to listening to a woman discuss the burning down of her home with her mother while swaying peacefully in a rocking chair, observing art creates an entry point into a different life- a different world even.
The opportunity that places like Stamp Gallery provide to learn something about you through another person’s journey is something to be reveled in. With respect to some universal narratives, it is important that we each spend time examining the uniqueness of our existences and our own processes with which we cope and grow.
Written by Kat Mullineaux
This is the second installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.
Hugh Condrey Bryant || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman
Let’s start with some background: where are you from? What brought you to sculpture and the University of Maryland’s MFA program?
I’m originally from Greensboro, NC. I attended school at UNC Greensboro and received a BFA in art with a concentration in design as well as a BFA in theatrical set design. After that I did an internship at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, MN and ended up staying there for 2 years as the sculpture park manager. I met a lot of artists from all over the world at Franconia, made a lot of connections. It was there that I met Dane Winkler who just recently graduated from the program last year. When I decided that grad school was something I wanted to do I contacted Dane to inquire about Maryland. I was very interested in what they had to offer so I applied. The program is primarily studio centric and focuses heavily on developing artistic practice and the conceptual aspects of one’s work. It was everything I was looking for. The access to studio facilities here is great and the faculty’s accessibility is very helpful. I find it to be an engaging environment that has really helped me come into my own as an artist.
In all three of your MIDPOINT works, you convey a fascination with traditionally “masculine” materials. How do these gendered mediums inform the meaning of your sculptures in this exhibition and your art in general?
Growing up, my father was sort of a jack of all trades. He had a lot of experience in many different fields of trade labor and construction. He was a mason, a carpenter, a metal worker, a crane rigger, and also worked within the field of nuclear power plant construction and maintenance during the late 80s and early 90s. From a young age he taught me many different techniques in masonry, carpentry, and later metal fabrication. He instilled in me a very strong sense of self efficacy and a mentality that I could build or make whatever I wanted. Learning these things from my father created a very strong bond between us. He taught me to appreciate the craftsmanship involved in skilled labor and to enjoy the accomplishment of a job well done. The fascination I have with these materials is very much associated with those early experiences.
My father is also a very loving, caring, and emotionally intelligent individual. So I also learned from him to move through life with grace and love, the importance of being in touch with one’s emotions, and of exercising kindness and compassion with others. I may not have known it at the time, but all of this would have a very profound affect on me later in life in regard to how I view masculinity. For me being a man is not about physical strength and stoicism as many boys are taught from a young age. I am first and foremost a human being before I am a man. To me that means understanding that there is a spectrum of ‘gender’ that can inform one’s identity. The designation of gender does not have to define how we behave or who we are as human beings. Masculinity, femininity, and everything outside and inbetween are a great part of human energy.
I associate all of the aforementioned with these materials. I see the traditional link of masculinity to the skilled labor involved with steel and concrete to be an antiquated sentiment. But it is that link that I find so interesting when it comes to applying my views regarding gender to the art I create with those materials. Skill and labor are genderless and the sculptures I produce are part of that belief. I use sculpture as a means to communicate through form and express the emotional aspects of my identity.
Tell us a little bit about your artistic process. Was it drastically different for the three pieces or similar?
Within my process and practice there are two distinctly different and oppositional creative impulses. One is the tendency to control material with a great intention toward the outcome, I generally apply this to steel. The other is to accept that I have no true or absolute control over the material and therefore I must respond to the outcome once I have executed a process. That is the impulse I attribute to the ways in which I cast concrete. The former is a very tedious and time consuming process while the latter is very quick and rooted in intuition. I associate that with the intuitive and with the unconscious to a certain degree, something that is latent and must be awakened or found. I associate the tedious and sometimes overcomplicated tendency in attempting to control the material absolutely to the overly rational parts of my mind. That tendency is obsessive at times and can even become irrational, which is kind of funny to me. I try to find a balance between the two but it doesn’t always work out that way, but I think that tension is what informs the physical tension of my sculptures. Sometimes a piece or even certain parts of a piece take a lot of time to work through, which was the case with A Constantly Persistent Moment (temporal portrait) and Of Ideals & Relics. Sometimes pieces happen at a rapid pace, taking very little time. This was the case with It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neurosis Will Go to Protect Itself, which only took a day to make. What is similar for all three sculptures is that each one is subject to both of these creative impulses to some degree, but I pushed myself to be decisive and intuitive in making and responding to the outcomes of all three.
What concepts inspired your titles: A Constantly Persistent Moment, Of Ideals & Relics, and It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go to Protect Itself?
All are inspired by the fluctuant nature of being. I make, respond, and contemplate. The concepts I apply to all my work come from a place within my mind that relies on the intuitive and emotional, a place where I am illuminating the unconscious and studying the point at which the internal and external meet. All three sculptures are expressions from that place. Once something is done the title comes to me as I analyze what I’ve created.
All three works, particularly A Constantly Persistent Moment, convey the sense of being suspended in space. Does this choice juxtapose the concrete materials with their fragile positioning?
To an extent, yes. I like playing with tension. Accentuating weight and mass through tension is a process of play that I have always engaged in. The juxtaposition of these can create a interesting dialogue between sculptural forms and engage space more effectively, especially when intervening with the architecture of a space, such as the way that It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself does with the columns of the gallery.
It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself seems to be situated in a defensive position. How does the smooth base, guarded by spikes, represent the mind?
The positioning, gesture, and tension represents the unconscious constraints, limitations, and protective tendencies that occur within systems of belief we form in the mind. The title is something a friend of mine said to me one time. We were discussing the cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy that some people exhibit between their behavior/actions, their desires/expectations from others, and the systems of belief they construct. The propensity to say one thing and do another. A product of that is a protective and defensive mechanism that serves primarily to preserve the ego and avoid the pitfalls of guilt and shame. While this unconscious practice can keep the mind free of negativities regarding one’s self perception it can also form a prison built of beliefs that hinders realizations about (and improvements to) the self and the potentials of one’s existence. So… the spikes could perhaps be representative of those mental defenses that surround vulnerability. The cables an expression of the limitations and bonds that those defenses place on the mind; therefore, limiting its ability to experience growth and transformation into higher states of perception regarding how the self affects and is affected by the external world.
Was color a consideration when making Of Ideals & Relics? In what ways does its smooth, touchable texture communicate meaning?
The color is intended to exhibit softness, a kind of sensitivity. The texture coincides with that intention. The meaning I attach to that is there is strength within vulnerability. To acknowledge and accept vulnerability is to be in touch with what one’s inner strength can overcome. When one doesn’t acknowledge vulnerability it can sometimes hold one back from experiencing true and genuine connections with others. To put yourself out there is tough, but it is one way to overcome or rise above the unrealistic societal ideals and expectations that have a hold on us all. Through the material characteristics of texture and color I hope that people are inclined to interact with it, to have a more intimate and tactile experience with it. The smooth and delicate appearance is juxtaposed with the mass of the concrete, the reality that it is concrete… When the realization of what it is made out of occurs the viewer’s perception of what is possible is shaken. In a sense, I wanna drop cosmic eggs of knowledge on people’s heads, blow their minds in regard to material possibilities.
How do your three sculptures interact in conversation with each other and MIDPOINT as a whole? Do you think your work complements or questions Bekí and Jessica’s respective pieces?
With each other… I think they speak to the flexibility and openness of my approach while also communicating the multifaceted nature of the concepts I’m playing with. The mind and one’s internal emotional world are complex places. I like to think that these sculptures ride a line that exhibits both complexity of thought and simplicity of form. I feel there is also a conversation involving a sense of temporality that can be embodied in form. Whether it be a kind of potential for action to occur, a sense of stasis, or even sense of immobility.
I feel that there is a form of aesthetic or maybe visual complement to Bekí and Jessica’s work. There is a bit more visual complexity and intricacies to their work whereas my work utilizes simpler lines and shapes. I feel it may be a middle ground between what they’ve produced.
Your contributions to the MIDPOINT exhibition exude a sense of tension. Through the contradictions you explore, are you commenting on universal human experience or isolated, personal moments?
I think there is a little bit of both. I’m using concepts that work universally or at least incorporate a common thread of consensus in human experience, but I’m also using a lot of my personal perception and experience. So I’d have to say that to some degree I am commenting on both.
What and where are your sources of inspiration? Do your influences extend beyond the art world?
Hmmm… My former professor, Andy Dunnill, was a huge influence on me. He passed away a little over a year ago and that also inspired me in certain ways, especially how I think about making art. It made me realize that what I make my work about should be deeply important to me. Andy’s work and his continued mentorship post-undergrad had a profound affect on me. Even his passing and his memory continue to affect my work. I plan to dedicate the work for my thesis exhibition to him.
My friend Jemila MacEwan has also been a huge inspiration, especially in the expansion of the scope of my work and how I think about it. She is a sort of muse to me in a way. Her friendship and generosity are constantly pushing me to be a better person and artist.
Outside of that I look at the world around me and I read a lot of science fiction. The imagery that my mind creates while reading is a huge inspiration and part of how I envision things I am interested in making. Reading sci-fi has given me a library of mental imagery that I often pull from.
How does teaching and collaborating with other artists shape your artistic vision?
Learning is a constant thing for me. When I teach I am also learning from my students and empathizing with the way they see and perceive the world through art. Collaboration is the same way. I think learning and keeping the mind flexible and plastic is important to responding to what you make and improving upon it. The more perspectives I’m exposed to the more likely I am to maintain a mental plasticity that allows for transformation and growth in my work and artistic vision.
Tell us about any current projects or future endeavors. How has pursuing your Masters impacted the trajectory of your artistic career?
I’m really focused on developing my thesis. I want to start now because I know I’ll need a lot of time to come to a decision about the scope and ambition I want to apply to it, how big I want to make it. I have time though.
Besides thesis I’m going to participate in an arthouse residency this summer in upstate NY. I’ll be building housing+studio space for the artists that come to participate in residencies there. It’s always nice to build or make something that doesn’t have to do with my thesis work so that will be a nice distraction.
As for my Masters and how that has impacted my trajectory… I know now for certain that I want to teach. That gives me a lot of direction as to what my next steps might be and where they may lead me. I think teaching will also provide me with a means to keep pursuing my own work. If I can teach and still make art then I’m set. The future has a way of not conforming to expectations though so I try not to think too far ahead. Helps me a avoid unnecessary disappointment.
What do you hope visitors take away from MIDPOINT 2017?
I hope my work provokes inquiry and makes them ask questions. I like to ask questions or provoke people to ask their own. I’m not really interested in the answers though. As long as the work sticks in the viewer’s mind for awhile and causes them to contemplate possibilities. That’s the best I can hope for.
Bryant’s work is included in MIDPOINT 2017 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from March 29 through May 22, 2017
For more information on Bryant, visit http://hughcondreybryant.com
For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the first installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.
Bekí Basch || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 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 New Jersey, and I moved to Baltimore to study at MICA for undergrad.
What brought you to the arts in your undergrad career, and why the M.F.A. program at Maryland?
I started taking an interest to arts when I was about 15-16. From that point on there wasn’t a question as to what I would study in school, so what brought me there was just a sense of knowing that’s exactly what I wanted. I point this out specifically because after undergrad, I felt weirdly bruised, and after one large-ish project, I pretty much stopped making art for several years. My newfound drive to make work comes from healing those bruises and regaining that same high school-like sense of purpose to be an artist. The M.F.A. program at Maryland (in particular) was chosen for purely practical reasons. I didn’t apply anywhere else.
Having seen your previous work, can you share a little bit about the automobiles and puffins as a source of inspiration?
My work always draws from disparate sources, but the impetus is the same and it all comes from me. Puffins comes from back when I was 16 and writing a sort of myth about an island where puffins lived and floated around in balloons. They were these symbolic perfect creatures and in my story when two birds were in love, their bodies and the balloons would join together in a sort of reverse mitosis. Puffins have grown with me and I am always finding new ways in which their existence in my work makes sense. Automobiles came into play once I started formulating a narrative for a project in which the car represented my husband. It was going to be a video of him transporting a flag up a hill during a hill climb. I have since gone in a different direction with it, but ultimately cars are so multi-faceted and ubiquitous; there will likely always be inspiration there.
Moving into your MIDPOINT 2017 pieces, do you feel that the significance of either of these objects, or any others, has changed for you over the course of your MFA?
I think when you make work, you can never consider everything at play. Even the simplest pieces reveal truths over time that you didn’t ‘plan’ for. Right now, I am really enjoying the piece NEVER LET ME GO and in taking time to appreciate it, I am able to consider if I would do something similar again and how. For example, sometimes you think something is about your love for someone else, but then realize the duality is more within yourself.
Can you describe your physical and mental process in creating Reaper, and perhaps share some insight about the items used in the piece? (The hot dog has gotten some particular attention in the Gallery).
My mental process is connected to the physical process in that creating these photos was a highly intuitive process. I tend to plan a lot and I wanted to take this opportunity to present something a bit less planned and a bit more vulnerable. There is an artist I really love who works a lot with natural history and the combination of natural materials with man-made, especially contrasting contemporary imagery. I think she was in mind when I was dreaming these up. I had a lot of material in my studio that I had used or planned to use for one thing or another and I thought of combining them in a physical 3-dimensional way; to just take an overhead black and white shot would yield interesting and effective results. The images are edited slightly, but mostly to create that shrink wrap/wet effect and to boost the contrast, and place more focus on the center of each rather than any background.
Can you speak about the choice in materials for Reaper?
There are a lot of odds and ends in my studio and it’s nice to have an opportunity to use many of them without getting too focused on their structural capabilities or any other properties. Simply composing objects and snapping a photo is a really liberating process, since I usually plan a lot and don’t often make something quick the central focus of a piece.
How about your process in creating Core Samples?
These pieces were concrete cast into trash bags into a long box each. Then I added objects and resin interchangeably to make some sunken treasures.
Never Let Me Go is currently located in the Tawes fountains. What led you to this installation decision?
I had created two concrete pieces last year that I put in the fountain for a couple of hours and took some photos and made a little photo book out of them. The book was a linear transition of photos that showed the pieces clear through the water but with their hard edges made wavy by the ripples, and then slowly progressing to images where the pieces are totally obscured by harsher waves in the water.
You’ve mentioned that your practice is project-based. Working in this way, do you ever struggle to know when you’re “done” with a project?
The short answer is yes. Before I came to UMD I was struggling a lot with never having deadlines. I was working on a project and yet watching the world sweep past me, wave by wave by wave. My sense of time was, and maybe still is, by nature, super slow. If there was nobody around and nothing to do, I would be happy just napping in a field all day. That being said, I now recognize the advantage of having deadlines and I use those to ‘know’ when a project is ‘done’ but that’s just for whatever needs to be ‘done’ at that time. I think you let the idea work itself out and then you work with it and then leave it alone, but I don’t feel like I will ever have it all figured out, and especially not by any deadline, so I just do the best I can by the time something needs to be done, and then one day, I figure something else out and work on it more, or just feel pleased by that.
Are there any other events, concepts, particular artists or art movements not yet mentioned here, that also inspire your work?
Everything. Not even sure I could list them. I see little bits of every source in everything I do. The artist I was mentioning before though is Camille Henrot. I am not particularly inspired by other artists though − it feels a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am of course inspired by them, but not much more than everything else out there − comedy, nature, music, mythology…
You wrote a really beautiful statement for MIDPOINT 2017, which you read at the opening reception. Without putting any words in your mouth, do you feel that that such an interaction with your audience was helpful to you, or essential to exhibiting such vulnerable work − if I may call it − as that in MIDPOINT?
We were required to have a little artist talk, but the last time I did something like that, I really screwed it up, and I was working with a friend and I really screwed it up for her too. Unfortunately, I still live so much inside my head that it’s still rather difficult for me to say what I want. I am also generally in disbelief that anyone would really want to listen. Writing a statement and reading it aloud is a bit of a cheat, but I figured since this is a learning environment, it could be a good lesson for myself to try to bridge the gap between thinking-writing-speaking.
When someone walks into MIDPOINT, what do you hope that person will grasp about your work?
If there is anything, I hope it would only be that they take a minute. Putting anything in a gallery is a signal for you to take a minute. It’s important to do that anyway and just appreciate the formal and conceptual elements of everything around you, but I have specifically composed this work out of the things around me and put them in the gallery because I cared to do so. If you come in and take a minute and try to find your own entry point, you might connect with the work. But it’s okay if you don’t.
Can you tell me a little about your upcoming show at Current Space, or what you’re currently working on?
My show at Current Space is a deadline for the project I couldn’t finish before I came to school. I am mostly working on that right now. I am also slowly planning for a project in Iceland this summer where I have a one month residency coming up. It’s funny but the Current Space show has a car sculpture in it and the piece in Iceland will largely be about puffins. I swear these are not my only interests.
You’ve also mentioned to me about an up-coming expedition to Iceland you’ll be going on to work with live puffins, can you explain some more about that opportunity? Do you have any insight about how it will impact your work?
Yeah, this has been a long time coming. Like I said, the puffin thing started a long time ago for me. I don’t know why I liked them at first, to be honest, but when I learned they were Iceland’s national bird, things started to fall into place a bit more. In some ways, I expect it will be incredibly anti-climactic. You just can’t engineer these things. I have been on this side-quest to see puffins in the wild for years. I’m not an active birder or anything, I just find myself in places where puffins live, over and over and over again and never see them. You could call that fate, but who knows really. There is almost no way this upcoming trip could live up that − but I feel myself going to this happy place where I can keep myself open to beautiful experience. For example, last August I went to Maine and went on a puffin watching boat and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Nobody could have planned it, but the water, the fog, everything, was silver and still and surreal. I think I romanticize certain things and then when I am in their presence I am reminded to be extra conscious of the beauty and symbolism present in everything.
More broadly, do you see your work heading in a particular direction over the remainder of your Masters, or beyond?
Sure. I have some sense of the future, but I think it’s mostly to keep myself going. Like I said, I have a problem with momentum. I just get too existential about things. I would love to keep working so I get more and more practice and I keep growing. Before I could see that I wasn’t growing much or being challenged for a long time. In some ways my lifetime goal might just be to write an artist statement that makes sense, but then again who really cares.
Lastly, any advice for undergraduate artists? Anything you would tell your younger self as you entered the arts?
Yes, of course. I am still very much that self, or at least I try to maintain it. I don’t understand this thing where art is a game you play, like some petty argument. It’s too earthly. The best thing you can do is shake off all the rules you know and start from square one every time. I think art needs to be a fulfilling, spiritual practice, and you just need to let it lead you places sometimes. I think art is an expression of the divine within, and surely everyone has that.
Basch’s work is included in MIDPOINT 2017 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from March 29 through May 22, 2017.
For more information on Basch, visit www.bekibasch.com.
For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
Last fall, when I was abroad in Hong Kong, I immersed myself in the vibrant art atmosphere of Asia’s world city. Among the numerous art spaces, galleries, auction houses, and artists’ studios, there are always opening receptions, artist talks and interesting conversations going on. It was eye-opening to see art from not only Asia or the rest of the world, but a fusion between the two.
Out of all the shows I visited, the most unforgettable one has to be “This is not an Art Show.” The show presented exhibitions of different media, and together they questioned the practice of mass classification, labeling ideas and promoting boundaries. Walking into the art space and looking through the photographs and videos, I was intrigued and confused. I was expecting a common reception, where they serve wine and crackers, present big tangible pieces of artwork, and an easy theme to be understood. This was nothing like that. I was surrounded by stories, statements, and photographs and I could not figure out why they were there. Why was there a picture of the bricks, why was he telling me this, why were pictures placed outside of the frame, why could I not understand what is being captured in the photos… While I was drowning in my thoughts, the background music suddenly stopped. All the attention then shifted to two dancers, on the other side of the room. We gathered in the center, facing them. They stood there, silently, staring at us. After a long pause, the music began again. The two performers then started stripping. After another pause, they started moving towards us. I could not recognize the moves, which looked like a combination of walking, falling, dancing, and crawling. What I did feel, was the symphony between the bodies and the music. I felt that I was moving with them, traveling through time and music notes. As the music went on, they kept moving towards us. They moved as if we were not there. I stood at the very front of the crowd, and as they got closer and closer, I was anxious. What are they going to do, are they going to stop, what should I do, should I move?… While my brain was confused about what to do, my body automatically made the way for them to pass through. Silently and concurrently, we made way for them. In the crowded little space, they were moving inches away from us. We were so close to them, yet we were in two different worlds. In their world, we the crowds did not exist. In their world, they were not performers but living objects moving. They kept moving, in the same direction, to the wall on the opposite side from where they started. Eventually, they stopped as they reached the wall, where pictures hung with statements:
This is NOT you. This is NOT relevant. This is NOT a gallery. This is NOT finished. This is NOT unique. This is NOT progressive.
Then the music stopped. After a long pause, everything went back to the state before the performance started: videos and background music playing; people walking around and chatting. I also went back to where I was before the performance: asking myself what do these exhibitions mean, and is this an art show? I lingered around and talked to other visitors. At the end, I realized that there is no perfect definition to what an art show is; there are only perfect definitions.
Above: This is NOT an artshow. 2016. LIGHTSTAGE Arts&Events, Hong Kong.
On the day of opening reception for Collective Monument, I spoke with artist Nara Park. Her artwork Never Forget was made of plastic packaging boxes and vinyl, which imitated the stones that build monuments in DC and the mosses that grow on them. I asked, why plastic boxes? She told me, both plastic boxes and the stones to build moments, are all purchased disposable objects. What’s interesting is that, while the plastic boxes are meant to be thrown away, plastic itself lasts forever while statues come and go, even though they are meant to be built forever.
Preconception kills art, and to follow a single definition is to limit. What does ‘monument’ mean? Is it a statue? Is it tangible? Does it have to be monumental? Is the object’s physical presence in accordance with its purpose of existence?
There is no perfect answer, only the perfect answers.
By Yvette Yu
Above: Nara Park, Never Forget. 2014. Plastic packaging boxes, vinyl. The Stamp Gallery.
When I first stepped through Nara Park’s Never Forget, I experienced a strong and unexpected cognitive dissonance. Shiny, striking, beckoning, Park’s work stands familiarly in our dimension, and is undeniably dynamic. My mental hesitance was not immediate, but seeped into me with closer inspection of the piece and its label. Park builds with “bricks” that are hollow, that have nothing natural about them, that have no part that ever came from earth or should ever return to it. “Moss” exists in a stagnant state that does not begin or end in growth, only geometry. I walked through “stone” that had no history beyond a factory print date and folds under Park’s hands. All of her work is made of mylar, plastic, vinyl, and patterned with ink printed off-site.
And I felt truly alienated. I felt an alienation that was amplified by my weeks spent with Never Forget, working in the site of its stature, and so I began to articulate a ‘why.’
I walk through Park’s work and am forced to recognize the bounds I tie to the trueness of materials. I have begun to recognize how much of the things that I love, I shamelessly love for their grounded nature. Grounded: I love not the space things occupy but the matter with which they occupy that space. Nature: I love not the things alone in this moment, but the things as a part of moments before and moments to come. It is not a realization of materialism in the traditional sense, but a sudden awareness of a strange attachment to materials nonetheless.
In other words, I was not rudely asked to reflect on how much I love to possess things, but rather asked to reflect on why I love the physical things I love. I love the buttery texture of oil paint. If you were to hand me an aerosol can of oil paint, I would not love oil paint. I grew up in a world of true-false questions and Holden Caulfield’s crises over phoniness, and so I grew up hating fake and loving transparency. And somewhere along the way, as I loved the transparent and honest and real, I either created or found the romance of those characteristics. These vinyl shipping boxes before me that held nothing but contained “PROTECTION,” “DIGNITY,” and “LOYALTY,” were completely artificial and completely without romance.
Really though, that’s the point. Like a poem you write and then find online in Comic Sans, my experience with Park’s work is not my own, and what Park is saying is not romantic. And despite how my staggered impression makes it seem, Park commits no crimes in her studio practice. She is openly and wholly un-aggressive about the altered realities she builds, and in a way, her written words seem to express greater humility towards her materials than many of those uttered by sculptors who wield the very materials she mimics.
Her goal is not to deceive, her goal is to understand. She asks us to figure out something with her. What really matters, to us as persons, and to us as a people? What about the things that matter, actually matter? What about the things that matter, should?
In the present, I continue to fall in love with the unique character of materials, the behaviors they practice that you take away when you only offer their image. I am still greedy: I want to experience an item with all of my senses, and am betrayed by the option of only using one. But I am also at times made humble by the way in which I consume the visual, tangible world. Here is Never Forget, filtering objects through one sense. Here are “inscriptions” that purposefully encourage dissonance. Here are items I have trouble connecting with because of their materiality, serving as a list of attributes that have no materiality at all.
Transparency is not about things that are true to their form, nor does it blindly communicate a harmony. Transparency is the champion of alienation, dissonance, discomfort. Because in this discomfort, we are made to reflect, and to grow.
In this way, there can be nothing more transparent, more honest, more real, than massless boxes building massless ideas.