Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eulogy From the Third Silo

One of the most talented artists I knew, Kris Strawser passed away recently. This is my Eulogy to her.

When I visited Kris Strawser in hospice I met her Sister, her partner, and her best friend for the first time. Kris was a very private individual, which I personally respect and appreciate, but meeting individuals who knew her in other contexts was equally heartening and saddening. We connected as Kris lay a few yards away losing her fight with cancer. If only we had met earlier, with Kris there to be the glue binding folks from the vastly different facets of her life. Meeting them gave me such a richer, broader, more complete image of who Kris was.

But again, as an incredibly private person myself, I totally get it. In fact, that's how Kris and I often related. When I saw her our interactions were marked with a simple, knowing nod. No need for small talk or catching-up, just a nod. I knew she was cool with that nod. We were often on the same page, whether politically or artistically, which is why I was drawn to her.

Her sister described this phenomenon as Kris' silos. She had a journalism silo, family silo, artist/grad school silo, and who knows how many more silos out there.

So here is my eulogy to Kris from silo number three, the artist silo.

I got to know Kris best when we exhibited together in the UAE along with 10 other artists from UArts. That trip was a defining moment for us and brought us all incredibly close. Ten ridiculous and amazing days we all now share. Kris being an integral part of my memory of those days in Dubai and Sharjah.

Kris also curated a show while in school and asked me to be in it. Again, a knowing nod to me and my work, an acknowledgment and validation that I can never thank her enough for.

Kirs is the type of artist that I just fucking hate. She's not just good at making things, she is better at things I also aspire to do. Her work walked that thin, thin line between politics and aesthetics. It succeeded and set the bar so high.

Her work was political without being alienating, clever without being snarky, subtle without being obtuse. And it was always nice to look at; graceful and powerful, imposing and engrossing. She really knew how to make a visual statement much like how she interacted with me, with a simple, knowing nod.

Just imagine what she would have made in the new politically climate. Man, fuck fucking cancer.

I will be returning to Dubai again with those who went before, all of us asked to contribute work to a show honoring another incredible artist who passed away, Hassan Sharif. I'm sure Kris had something in mind to send but was interrupted by her illness. 

Fuck cancer, by the way.

But I couldn't see this exhibit, essentially a sequel to our first trip, without Kris or her work. Her absence will be glaring. So I made something in her name (hope she doesn't mind). I couldn't begin to emulate her work, or succeed in making something that I could only assume she would have made. So I simply made reference to the work that she made for the first show which was a group of Mylar balloons with slinkies hanging from them, occupying an opening between two floors titled Trees of Liberty. Her statement about the work mentioned how humans so often get mulligans. My hope is that without seeing her name attached, people who knew her would recognize the mylar balloon I wrapped around a square piece of paper, and know that Kirs was there. Even though she doesn't get a mulligan.

I can't say it enough, fuck cancer.

Beyond the reference, I hope the work brings Kris to the exhibit. As the material is reflective people will see themselves in it, and see themselves in this new context that is missing Kris. Her presence will be felt,  her memory will enter the viewer's mind and she won't be completely missing from the world. Her last mulligan perhaps.

And my last, knowing nod to a remarkable person. 

Kris, I will do my best to make good art, and now that your silos are no longer isolated, keep your memory alive with the other incredible people so affected by your existence. 

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Mulligan (Kris Was Here)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Missing Objects: Edited

Official announcement:

I will be exhibiting with other artists at the Flying House in Dubai, in a show honoring the legacy of Hassan Sharif who passed away last year. He had a very specific and lasting impression on me, one that I have applied to my own students.

Joe Girandola, along with Cristiana De Marchi and Mohammed Kazem came up with the idea:
An exhibition of artworks created on 25cm x 25cm card stock to be exhibited at The Flying House in the UAE from March 1-March 31, 2017. The exhibition will feature works of artists/writers/poets from around the globe who have been mentored by or have been influenced by Emirati Hassan Sharif. At the close of the exhibition, the collection of artworks will be sealed and buried in the UAE desert site of Sharif’s first walking experiment. An archive of images will be created and be installed at the Flying House. In twenty years the "object" will be unearthed and exhibited again with other creatives invited by the original group presented in this exhibition to exhibit new works.
In preparation I combed through images I took during my first trip to the UAE, where my work hung with other artists including Hassan at the Emirates Fine Art Society's 29th Annual Exhibition. Searching for a reference to work from I found myself combing through memories using Hassan's influence as a filter.

This filtration left one image, which I pulled into Photoshop as is my usual starting point. Because of the size limitation (25cm x 25cm) the image was immediately cropped. To fit in the square, a compositionally difficult size, it was moved, enlarged, adjusted and edited.

This process of editing the image led me to think on how my memory of the event captured in the picture evolved over time, and how the act remembering was influencing my formal choices. I was emphasizing things that seemed more evident in the memory and cropping other less important things. So not only was creating a formally satisfying composition my goal, I now wanted to make my memory a primary component of the editing process.

Hassan's hands clasped, his mid-thought expression, and the can of Heineken on his desk dominate the memory. I don't remember what he was saying nor the questions coming from the 15 or so other people there, nor even the people themselves.

Once done composing the image I had to impose it on the required surface. I  experimented with Gouache as my default is to paint. However remembering Hassan redirected my choice. His biggest influence on my practice is to only do what is necessitated by the concept and to not bound by traditional art practices; painting, drawing, drafting. I had an image that needed to be transferred. So I simply transferred it using a color laser print and gel medium.

Transferring the image led to more editing. Flaws in this process only added to the sense that the memory was filtered, malleable, and plastic. Areas that weren't transferred led to a second image transfer Aspects became vague, sharp, completely missing, some purposefully and others accidental. I further edited using collage, taking an earlier photo-transfer experiment and pasting bits of it in areas that needed editing, basing my choices on formal needs as well as memory.

My earlier Gouache experiments were also added. They contained marks I had made. Our memories contain as much of ourselves as they do the subject, a feeling of our bodies in space in relationship to the subject. Plus, when contemplating the passing of a person, it is often with oneself in mind, how we exist in a new context that now lacks that person. The marks are additional edits, the means to include me in the memory, as well as considering myself in this new context.

Our memory is always edited and filtered via our emotions at the inception of memory, changed at the times of remembering, evolve over the passage of time and even be altered by what we choose to remember. The image, voice, and influence of Hassan Sharif will thankfully continue to be a part of my memory as I continue to make art.

Thank you, Hassan.

Edited, 2017. Collage, Photo-transfer print, paper, Gouache.