Interview with ‘(Sub)Urban’ Curator Matthew McLaughlin

This is the first installment of the (Sub)Urban interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo.

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Installation view of (Sub)Urban at the Stamp Gallery. On right: Nick Satinover’s A Pink Slip Fashioned Flag (for College Park). Woodblock prints. 2017.

Matthew McLaughlin | Artist, Professor | Curator of (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt

Let’s start with some history. I understand that you’re a professor here, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Where did you grow up, where have you studied, and what brought you to this campus?

I grew up in Greenbelt, MD, just down the road from College Park and the University of Maryland. I received my BFA in Fine Art from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL and my MFA in Printmaking from Arizona State University. I became connected with UMD after meeting Professor Justin Strom at an opening and his inviting me to the campus to meet with Professor Richardson, the Chair of the Art Department. A few months later, I was contacted about my interest in teaching foundations courses for the department.

Could you talk a little bit about the curatorial process behind (Sub)Urban? Is this your first curated show? How did the exhibiting artists come to your awareness?

(Sub)Urban is my curatorial debut and I’m quite happy with its reception by the local community. My curatorial process has a strong connection with my personal interests and areas of research for my own artistic practice. My own work focuses on the human relationship to its environment, mainly focusing on suburban and urban spaces and our alterations. So for this exhibition, I was interested in bringing together artists I admire for their practice and their conceptual exploration of similar subjects to my own.

Some of these artists are friends I have gained since graduate school, like Benjamin Rogers, who went to ASU with me, and Amze Emmons, who I met through printmaking conference events. The others have been on my radar through the suggestion of fellow artists, conference exhibitions, and Instagram.

How do you feel your word choice in the show title connects to ideas about suburban and urban spaces?

I think my show title reflects on the connection that urban and suburban spaces have, even though many try to deny it. Whether the connection is through the white flight of the 1960s or the overlapping cultural connections of television, music, etc, these two spaces that try to be separate have a strong relationship, and I wanted the title to reflect that.

It seems that you provided the (Sub)Urban artists with a certain level of exhibitory freedom while curating this show. Did the decision to work in this way create any challenges for you?

The only challenge that came from this freedom was the challenge of bringing all the work together in a comprehensive exhibition, once I knew exactly what I was going to receive. When I contacted each artist, I had some specific ideas in mind, but knew there would need to be some flexibility because of availability. I have run into this issue with my own work and having it in multiple exhibitions close together, so I understood the hassle of giving them very specific requests versus generalities. Yes, there may have been a print or piece that I would have preferred, but if it was designated for another exhibition first, I was happy to get another from the same series.

You’ve mentioned in person that your practice exists in the same conceptual conversation as many of the works in (Sub)Urban. To what extent did your artistic practice play a role in the curatorial process of this show?

My personal practice and conceptual interests had a massive role in the curatorial process for the exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, all the artists in the exhibition are people I admire and have followed, in one way or another, for some time. Just as researchers in other fields read articles by colleagues at other institutions, artists pay attention to those creating art in similar conceptual and visual avenues to know what is being explored already and how it might inform their own work.

This show covers a variety of media, often within individual artists’ practices. Was it important to you to display, say, sculpture from self-described printmakers, or prints from self-described sculptors? Or did this element to the show come about organically?

This element of the exhibition came about organically as a whole, but was more specific for each artist. My intention in requesting some of Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptures was not to specifically present sculptures created by an artist traditionally trained in printmaking, but to show work that I found compelling and interesting for its conceptual and material ideas. That the exhibition has installation and sculptural works by artists with MFAs in printmaking and drawing, alongside their more traditional works, came about when I brought all the works together and realized what I had done.

Were there any subtler themes, phrases, or concepts not marketed with the show that you either intended to visualize in (Sub)Urban, or found yourself revisiting as you compiled the show?

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Yoonmi Nam’s Take Out (Thank You Thank You Thank You), from the Generally Meant to be Discarded series. Lithograph on gampi paper and cast glass. 2016.

Nothing that I intended or found before hand, but upon installation, I made some connections between some of the work that I hadn’t previously. There was a subtle theme that questioned the reality of urban and suburban spaces through the reality of Yoonmi, Christine, and Amze’s sculptural pieces. Each of these artists made work that re-created elements of urban and suburban spaces and life, but with materials that alter the audience’s interaction with them. Specifically considering Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptural series, the two in the exhibition have such a life-like quality people easily think the artist is displaying actual takeout bags and containers, but once they approach the work, the reality of the material nature of the sculptures immediately alters their relationship with it. This subtle switch brings in larger questions for the audience about their relationship with their own environments.

In your own words, what happens in terms of the viewing experience when elements of the suburbs are taken out of context, like in Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack series?

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Amze Emmons’ Street Life Flat Pack (detail) in the Stamp Gallery. UV coroplast shapes. 2016.

To me, when elements of urban and suburban spaces are taken out of context there is a sense of importance that is typically glossed over when seen on the street, but also the viewer is exposed to the item and forced to interact with and consider it from a perspective they had not considered before. Especially when this is taken to the next level, by an artist re-presenting the known item in a new material context, as with Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack and Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded series.

It feels like Christine’s Clay Paper Chain comes from a different corner of the suburban experience. Could you touch on your intent in including her work in (Sub)Urban, or the area you feel that her work covers in a show that covers so much about the suburbia as we know it?

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Christine Buckton Tillman’s Clay Paper Chain (detail), ceramic, 2017; and Self Portrait, wood stain on model airplane, 2016 in the Stamp Gallery.

I chose to invite Christine because I felt her work touched on a more interior connection with the suburban experience, similarly to Benjamin and Nick’s works. Christine is a mom and a school teacher; I felt both works spoke to that experience and its personal nature, while also relating to Yoonmi and Amze’s works through the material nature of each and allowing the viewer to question both the reality of the artwork, but also question the idea it’s presenting.

Would you consider (Sub)Urban to be a critique of suburban or urban spaces and/or their social purpose?

No, I consider (Sub)Urban to be more of a survey of urban and suburban spaces, the concepts that we apply to them, and how we relate to each environment. I look at the exhibition as a tool to expose the audience to new ideas and perspectives of spaces they know, maybe rather well, and try to engage the viewers in re-thinking their own relationship with these environments.

This show is one of few in recent history at the Stamp Gallery that features multiple artists who collectively, and vastly, span across the U.S., and even includes some who work from international backgrounds and influences. What was your intention in curating a show here that comes from so many regions?

I wanted to expose the student body to a larger idea of the art being created in the country, and I wanted a greater representation of the work being created around the concept of the exhibition. The suburban and urban experience may be considered more universally understood, but there are subtle differences from regionally specific traits that affect the culture of suburbs and urban spaces around the country. I felt an exhibition of artists that spanned a larger swatch of the country would give a better overall interpretation of the suburban/urban experience to the audience.

I also prefer to see exhibitions that bring a more varied group of artists when considering their location and background. An exhibition of local artists on a specific concept or theme can have repetitive elements that make it only relatable to that region, while an exhibition like this can connect to a large contingency of the population.

A connection within (Sub)Urban that has fascinated me is the many ways that the suburban experience is outwardly homogenized, and yet remains internally idiosyncratic. Has this show, and seeing these artists’ work all together, expanded your perspective of suburban and urban experiences in any way?

Not really, as my own work has been examining and reconsidering the nature of these spaces through those idiosyncratic characteristics that many others gloss over. But it has expanded my perspective on how these ideas can be explored, and thus it is beginning to form new ideas on approaching my own artistic practice.

The exhibition vinyl in the Stamp Gallery contains two quotes: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination” (Henry David Thoreau), and “For to Thoreau the significant relationship is not that between [hu]man and [hu]man; it is the relationship between [hu]mans and [their] environment” (JB Jackson). Could you share some insight about your inclusion of these quotes in the show?

The JB Jackson quote was the main one I wanted to use for the wall text, but I felt it would be a little hard to understand without a little context about Thoreau. So I searched for a Thoreau quote that would give the best general insight into his thinking that could be expanded upon by the JB Jackson quote.

JB Jackson is a writer who, from the 1950s forward, focused on writing about the American landscape and the development of urban and suburban spaces. He greatly influenced the development of contemporary cultural landscape studies.

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Left: Sang-Mi Yoo’s In Transition, pigment inkjet print, 2016; and Anomalous Traces, laser cut wool felt, 2015. Right: Benjamin Roger’s The Perfect Romance of Self-Reliance (detail), oil on canvas, 2014 in the Stamp Gallery.

When someone walks into (Sub)Urban, what do you hope a person will grasp from the show?

I hope they find the humor in the work, the intrigue in the material use of some pieces, but overall, gain a fresh perspective on suburban and urban spaces.

What is one thing you have learned from curating this show?

Solid respect for curators and gallerists who do this for a living. To come up with one exhibition theme, coordinate artists and the shipping of their work and then lay it all out is one thing, but to do it over and over again. Wow.

To close, is there anything else you’d like to promote here? Any current or upcoming shows you’re participating in, either as artist or curator?

I have a few new ideas for other curatorial exhibitions, but currently, I’m focusing on a residency to get a lot of work completed.

 

McLaughlin is the curator of (Sub)Urban in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30 through December 16, 2017.

For more information on Matthew McLaughlin, visit http://www.matthewtmclaughlin.com/.

For more information on (Sub)Urban visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.

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A Way to Understanding Art

Difficult Ordinary Happiness

Those Girls Clenched So Many Hopes, Dance, Dance, Dance, Thrice

Line Up! Take It Like a Man, But Don’t take it up with ‘The Man’

Lower the Pitch of Your Suffering, Soundless Invisible angels

As a fun experiment, I made a collage poem out of the titles of the artworks currently on display. The creative process was quite intuitive. Similar to how these artworks visually and conceptually complement each other, their titles happen to poetically complement each other and collectively take on a meaning that captures the essence of the New Arrivals 2017 exhibition.

I find that I like processing ideas in my mind through drawing, writing, or creating music playlists, whatever the subject matter is. It helps me gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for what I am trying to learn, especially when it comes to art. That being said, visitors are welcome to bring a sketchbook to the Stamp Gallery. Did any of the artworks remind you of a song? Tell a docent and perhaps it will be added to the playlist of Art Hour, Stamp Gallery’s own radio show. Whatever the case, getting creative and acquainted with the artworks is highly encouraged!

Come experience the New Arrivals 2017 exhibition in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through October 14, 2017.

Written by Cristy Ho

 


How Art Captures Time

Art has the intriguing ability of capturing certain moments in time. For instance, you may recall certain memories while watching a film, looking at a work of art, or listening to a song. This may happen to an artist when they look at their own work, which may function a bit like a time capsule. A lot of artists are compelled to create art when encountered with intense feelings or experiences. In this way, art may serve as a reminder to the artist of how things were in the past. Art tends to capture the experience of the artist through a subjective lens more so than an objective reality. Strong feelings have the tendency to distort and cloud memories, and creating art is a way for artists to navigate their emotions and make sense of the past.

Creating art can be a way to document important events. It can be similar to writing in a diary but without the confining nature of words. Consequently, art may serve as an ideal coping mechanism. An artist may choose to focus their art on their current hardships or choose to focus on occurrences that haunt their past. Artists may pour their emotions into an artwork to put their past to rest.

Artworks affect the artist who make them as well as those that view them and can relate to them, whether sympathetically or empathetically. Perhaps viewing the “I’m Fine” exhibition may stir up emotions and memories of a distant time, and cause you to reflect on your own growth.

 

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“Endless Impermanence” by Brandon Chambers

 

Written by Cristy Ho


Galleries: Rooms to Live In

DSC_0030Art galleries can be intimidating places. Walls of silence. No photography. Don’t touch the artwork. These unique environments can lead to some second-guessing, especially for those who are new to galleries. “Am I being too loud?” “Does anyone find any of this modernist furniture comfortable to sit on?” “Can the gallery attendant tell that I have no idea what that piece of art is trying to say?” If this sounds like you, take a breath, and relax.

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Art appreciation can seem like a high-brow hobby, but it certainly doesn’t take years of art history classes to react to something emotionally. Some artistic elements may not be completely accessible without an art background, but only in the same sense that the average person wouldn’t fully grasp a grad student’s final thesis without some context.Yet there is always a basic level in which art can be accessed; saying “I don’t understand” is still a response and furthers the conversation. Art is made to make people feel and think. So remember: a gallery isn’t just for the art majors or art collectors, it’s for you.

DSC_0016DSC_0012If you’re interested in visiting such a place, the Stamp Gallery—found on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union—is a conveniently located art space available for students and visitors alike to stop by in the midst of a busy day. Aside from the new exhibition, a few other changes to the gallery have been made this semester. A lounge area provides seating apart from the art. This is an ideal place to do homework, chat with friends, or to browse our provisional library and read one of its books, all of which are in conversation with a piece in the gallery.

DSC_0008DSC_0010A chess table has also been moved into the space, providing a place not only to play chess, but also a variety of board and card games made available through the gallery staff. And if you would like to save and share your experience in the gallery with your friends, we allow non-flash photography of the art.

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So, why all these changes to the gallery? A common viewpoint towards galleries is that they are refuges from the day-to-day grind. While the gallery staff wants to make the area a more welcoming environment, we also want it to be a place where you can both appreciate the art yet also retain your identity. We want a person to feel like he/she can coexist with the art rather than just stop by and visit. We want this space to be comfortable enough for people to do homework, go on dates, have arguments. A gallery should not be a place to escape life, but rather to live it.

So sit down and stay awhile.DSC_0075

Written by Christopher Bugtong


Installation Revelation

So you’re walking by the Stamp Gallery one afternoon. Peaking through the glass exterior, you see that there are boxes and packing paper scattered throughout. You see some power tools on the benches, and a ladder leaning against the corner. You notice random walls that seem to be hanging out in limbo in the middle of the space. Walking past the entrance, you find a sign taped to the door: “Closed for installation, please come back for our opening next week!”

Ever wanted to know just what goes into the installation of a gallery exhibition?

The past week at the Stamp Gallery has been quite a busy one, with the installation of our current exhibition featuring new arrivals for the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP). As a docent, I get to take part in this installation process. As such, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into a few of the more subtle, never-occurred-to-me-before-I-started-working-here types of things that go on behind the scenes of an installation.


Vinyl

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When you first walk into the Stamp Gallery and start reading about what the exhibit is about, you are reading the vinyl. I’d like to start off by admitting that, before I started working at the gallery, I was under the impression that someone had to come and actually hand-paint the words onto the wall…which I’m glad is not the case! After the exhibition overview is typed up in a Word doc, it is sent to be blown up in size and then printed out on a kind of sticker-like paper. Before sticking this onto the wall, we measure the length/width of the sheet, take a ruler to the wall, level it, and make light pencil marks for guidelines. Next, we peel off the outer layer of the sheet, which uncovers the sticky part that goes onto the wall. Once we have the sheet up on the wall, we smooth out any wrinkles and press it against the wall as much as possible – this makes it easier to peel the paper off without peeling the actual letters off as well. The final step is to do the actual peeling!

Walls

In the gallery, we have “moveable” walls that are stored in the back. The wall holding Titus Kaphar’s The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XII is a moveable wall.

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These walls allow us the mobility to create new, smaller spaces within our existing gallery space. They also provide extra surface area to accommodate more pieces, draw attention to particular works, as well as provide general interest and variability to the eye. For this exhibition in particular, we added a wall behind the podium holding Wafaa Bilal’s Perseus Beheading Medusa and Pink David in order to direct focus onto the pieces, since they are relatively small objects in comparison to the space.

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Lighting

Tracks along the ceiling of the gallery provide grooves that the lights hook into. There are three tracks spanning the length of the space, and five tracks running widthwise. The lights themselves consist of a bulb attached to a frame that can be maneuvered to adjust the angle of the light accordingly. In addition, there are metal bars within the hook of the frame that conduct electricity and make the light turn on when attached to the track.                                                                                       Depending on the needs of the exhibition/pieces, the lights can be placed so that they either “spotlight” or provide a softer, glow to the work. When spotlighting, the lights are generally placed closer to the piece, which provides a very direct focus. Setting the light farther back creates more of an atmosphere and harmonization for the piece as well as the space surrounding it. Other things to keep in mind when setting up lights is reflection, shadows, and the color casted by the bulb. For the pieces that contain a glass covering, we had to consider the effects of possible reflections caused by our lighting choices. In addition, we can control the degree and location of shadows by light placement. For Ellington Robinson’s Oath of the Imperialists, we played around with the distance of the lights from the work in order to “shift” the shadows around.

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Finally, some bulbs are older than others and cast a softer, more yellow hue than the newer ones, which typically cast a very bright, verging on greenish tint. We usually try to match the shades of light throughout the exhibit.


Of course, there are many other aspects that go into a gallery installation that I haven’t mentioned here – each show is unique in terms of the methods used to bring it together. For a closer look at the results of our installation, be sure to check out the opening reception of CAPP New Arrivals 2015 this Friday, September 25th between 6-10pm.

See you there!

Carmen Dodl


Perception in Motion

One of my absolute favorite pastimes is people-watching. That may sound creepy; yet, it’s something that never becomes boring, since no two people will look or act exactly the same. When I people-watch, I feel as if I’m a receiver of information rather than a creator. To put it simply, I enjoy people-watching because it can be an entertaining, passive kind of activity.

At the same time, there have been days when I chose to add a new aspect to my people-watching game. I was recently sitting on a bench at Dupont Circle in D.C. with a friend, and we decided to pick a passerby at random and “invent” a life for him or her. It’s astonishing when I think about the number of attributions we were able to come up with, based exclusively on our first impression of this stranger.

Since “Looking Black At Me” has been in show, I’ve been thinking about the difference between simply observing a person versus actively making assumptions about them. I think that there is a very fine line separating the two things, and this line falls in different places for different people. In my own experiences, I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to even be aware of crossing the line. It just seems to be a natural human inclination to attach a personality and a characterization to an unknown face.

When I stand in front of the monitors in the gallery and (seemingly) make eye contact with the people in the video, I challenge myself to ignore the impulse to characterize them right off the bat. I particularly like the notion that the person in the screen is essentially looking right back at the viewer, but without making any sort of judgment. It really gets me thinking about the give-and-return that comes with making judgments.

Even when I feel positive that I’m not characterizing someone on first sight, it sometimes happens subconsciously. I think this is why it’s so easy to develop an impression of someone and then stick with it. Something that I’ve taken away from Larry Cook’s work is the idea that perception can be considered fluid. Larry’s exhibit has reminded me that our immediate characterization of someone isn’t set in stone by any means. When visitors come to this show, I like to think that they walk away with the awareness that perception is changeable.

Carmen


Colorful Conversations

The current exhibit at the gallery showcases handmade tissue paper made by the very talented Maya Freelon Asante. Noted as the first person to make art such as this, she uses special paper and dyes to make her tissue paper. She uses the result materials to make grand statement pieces. The gallery is doing something new called AIR or Artist in Residence. The goal was to make art something hands-on and more accessible to the people who visit the gallery. Freelon Asante brought her tissue paper to the gallery and is allowing people to come in and either contribute to a quilt that will fill the length of the gallery, or to add to spiral designs called Peace by Piece

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(http://www.prweb.com/releases/spelmancollege/museumoffineart/prweb9817249.htm)

Naturally, I was really interested in the concept of Freelon Asante’s vision for her exhibit in the gallery. Her exhibit is titled Volume; she is emphasizing the importance of the space between the community that is helping with her art and herself as the artist. Almost as if the large scale quilt being made by the community is slowly filling that volume between them and her.

I expected visitors to also be excited in participating in the art and making whatever they want with such interesting material. What I didn’t expect was seeing community form in front of my eyes so organically. I have had people come in who maybe keep to themselves and mediate while adding to the piece, but what has struck me is the conversations I’ve been able to have with visitors that I haven’t had before.

One visitor and I talked about the career fair, his major, and what he wants to do with his life. Another visitor and I talked about the profound nature of secrets, and how she likes to incorporate creativity in her own home using chalkboards and games.

I have not been able to have these same connections with other exhibits we have had at the gallery. People would often quietly come in, look around, and leave at their own pace. Here and there I would have a brave soul who would talk to me about gender during Queer Objectivity, but other than that  this is a brand new experience to me as a gallery worker.

I always like to tell people that art always has a purpose, whether its obvious or not to the viewer, there is always something. With this art, I thought I knew the message behind it, but slowly it has revealed to me it’s true purpose: bringing together people that normally would never have the opportunity.

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Credit to one of my great co-workers (sorry I don’t know who exactly took this-whoops)
 
Ashlyn