Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More thoughts from Kit White

Kit White's book, "101 Things to Learn in Art School", presents some interesting insights on some issues that have been on my mind recently.

That's me, looking smug, at my recent
gallery show. Photo taken by Lauma Cenne.
Doesn't she make the best images?
"#32 Context determines meaning.

The social or cultural space in which an event occurs or an object resides imbues it with particular meaning. Medium, also, carries its own historical baggage that shapes the discussion of its content. Context is slippery. A performance in a gallery can become political activism on the street. Context is a boundary changer."
A quilt hanging on the wall of an art gallery provokes a very different response than a quilt lying on a bed.

A quilt hanging in a local or even an international quilt show is seen in a different light, and by a different audience, when it is hung in an art gallery.

And a quilt that is mounted on a canvas or in a shadow box or stretched and put into a floating frame is seen differently than a quilt hung loosely on a wall.

Artists who choose to work in cloth are opting for a medium with the historical baggage of domestic utility, of "women's work". To what extent is this an obstacle to the appreciation of the work? To what degree does this add a welcome layer of meaning, of irony or complexity, to the work?

Blocks & Strips Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, 2002

Remember the Gee's Bend quilts? Made by disadvantaged African-American women from a tiny hamlet in Alabama, these quilts caused a sensation when they were displayed in prestigious museums worldwide. The Whitney venue, in particular, brought a great deal of art-world attention to the work, starting with Michael Kimmelman's review in The New York Times which called the quilts 'some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced' and went on to describe them as a version of Matisse and Klee arising in the rural South.

Remember the AIDS Memorial QuiltOn October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It covered a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels. Half a million people visited the Quilt that weekend.  The overwhelming response to the Quilt’s inaugural display led to a four-month, 20-city, national tour for the Quilt in the spring of 1988. Parts of it still tour today.

Kit White writes,
"#24 All art is political.

The choices you make in what you describe, and the medium you choose, will always be subject to an interpretation that has political implications. The choice to make work devoid of any explicit social content speaks as much of the maker’s world and aspirations as a work that carries an overt political agenda. All art is a reflection of choices made -- omissions as well as submissions. The world your work describes is the world that you, as a maker, promote."
The AIDS Memorial Quilt used the emotional associations we have with cloth to add a layer of meaning to this tribute. For generations, quilts have been made and received as a source of comfort as well as of commemoration. People all over the world, from infancy to old age, have a special, emotional relationship to cloth.

I think it is a mistake to overlook or to deny the impact that our choice of medium has on how our art is received, and I am still trying to untangle the complexities of this issue as it relates to my own work.

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