Cable Griffith + Josh Poehlein on ‘The Three Freedoms’
Note: Best viewed using headphones or external speakers.
Cable Griffith: Let’s try to end at the beginning and see what happens. So let’s begin in the future. You just completed your video project The Three Freedoms. What’s coming up for you this spring and summer?
Josh Poehlein: Haha oh man, the future is… uncertain? I run a small exhibition space out of my garage in Greenwood called SAD Gallery, and it’s finally getting warm/dry enough to start thinking about upcoming shows. I have a date set for the next exhibition, but it’s not totally official yet. I also really want to do something for/with Forrest Perrine’s “Outer Space” series where artists exhibit in non-traditional/non-art spaces. We are looking at spaces and possibilities at the moment, but again nothing is nailed down.
In terms of moving forward from this piece I feel like I’m pulling threads in a way; like trying to use the end of one piece as the beginning of another. I come from a really project/series based background, and I’m trying to both honor and move beyond that. I have some ideas that involve the moving image which are directly related to this piece, and I am also exploring still-life photography that I think shares similar concerns with The Three Freedoms regarding illusion/immersion/fiction. I exhibited some early attempts at this sort of thing at SOIL Gallery in November and want to move forward in that regard.
CG: So how did SAD Gallery come about? What are your goals for the space, and how do you decide on what artwork and artists to exhibit there?
JP: SAD Gallery was something I had in mind before even moving to Seattle, in fact I think I bought the domain for it while I was still living in Chicago for grad school. People kept telling my girlfriend (now fiancée!) and I that we were going to get Seasonal Affective Disorder, so that’s sort of where the name came from. It was wishful thinking for a while until we ended up renting a place with a garage and I was able to build out the space. The space acts as a literal garage, my studio, and it transforms into the gallery a couple times a year.
My goals for the space have always revolved around connection, which means connecting with new PCNW-based artists and re-connecting with artists and friends from the past. So far there have been three shows, and each one has been a 2-person exhibition which pairs work from someone I know pretty well with work from someone that I have met out here. The plan is to continue in this mode for the foreseeable future, trying to find more interesting combinations of work while forging new relationships and connections in the area.
CG: How do you see the gallery space as an extension of your own practice?
JP: To be honest with you I actually didn’t see it that way at first. My initial thought was that it would be a good way to meet people in a city I am new to; a way to get involved in the arts community without being enrolled in school or working in a museum or gallery. Recently though I have been thinking about how my work has been influenced by the space. The process has made me look deeply at work I thought I knew well, and to approach art I am unfamiliar with in a different light. I feel like all the shows have taught me a lot about installation and reception of work, and that bleeds over into decisions I am making about my own practice.
CG: In your own artwork, what attracts you to working in terms of a project or series?
JP: I’ve been struggling with this a bit recently, trying to define what I do and what I am attracted to and why. I think there are threads that run throughout my work, but distilling them into something concise has been a struggle. I know I have always had an attraction to fiction, science-fiction specifically, but also just the ability of a work to transport you somewhere impossible, maybe “magical” if that’s not too cheesy of a term. Previously I have done projects that, in a sense, sought to create these fictional worlds; looking into the past, documents from an imaginary disaster, a first-contact story, etc. With The Three Freedoms there is that thread, there is a possibility of falling into the piece, but it’s also analytical in a way, trying to work out what the impossible looks like, how do we depict it?
CG: Is there something in particular about working in a series that feels limiting? Why do you feel compelled to work beyond that?
JP: First of all, I think there is value in working in a series, in developing a long-term body of work, and I am interested in continuing to do that sort of work in the future. That being said, a lot of times when you are working on something like that, your little sketch ideas get put to the side. Like I have this idea, probably ingrained from 7 years of photo-school, that you have to have 20+ finished pieces, all framed the same way and displayed in a group, and that is what a body of work is. But then where does this video piece go in that? And do I now have to make more video pieces to go with this one? I mean obviously the answer is “no”, haha, I’m not doing this for a client, and I make zero money on all of this, but I do struggle with these questions!
CG: I’ve experienced the video piece both as a stand-alone video online (with headphones), and as a public installation, via Vignettes. When creating it, did you have an ideal location or format for experiencing it?
JP: That’s an interesting question, sort of wondering if there is an “ideal” version of the piece, or if it can inhabit multiple spaces/iterations. I had the idea for the video for a while, and when Serrah approached me about working with Vignettes, I used that as a reason to bring it to fruition. We got in touch with Common Area Maintenance and they were down to host the opening/viewing. So there isn’t necessarily a perfect place for it, although it’s kind of funny you ask because I almost don’t even want to call it “finished”.
I know for a fact that there a lot of examples of the type of footage that I was looking for that are still out there, but there were time and monetary restraints that meant stopping at the point the piece is at now. Ideally I would pull from the film-prints of the films I am appropriating from and the master files of the tv shows, and have access to like all of Scarecrow’s database, and a team of people scouring through obscure made for tv-movies and foreign sci-fi films, and just have something that is ridiculously long, almost unwatchable all the way through, haha.
CG: It’s exciting to know of a growing number of independent, artist-created spaces around Seattle. For artists, this would seem to offer more chances to work with and to respond to interesting and new kinds of locations. Also, it’s nice to think that artists and artwork can connect maybe more directly to communities in different ways. Do you have any dream locations to work in or respond to?
JP: Yeah, I have been interested in DIY spaces for a while. Some of the best shows I saw while living in Chicago were in spaces that were not initially intended for art display. I’m pretty sure I have been to all of the less-official spaces in Seattle, and it’s exciting to see new ones pop-up as well. I would like to have shows a bit more consistently at SAD but weather plays a role, and I also use the space as my studio.
I really like the Glassbox space, and I have seen a couple shows at Two-Shelves that I thought were really cool (Max Kraushaar in particular), but I’m not sure if they are still having events there. I have some specific architectural elements I want to work with; a freestanding wall in a space, a lit and unlit room in the same space/building. Essentially anywhere with some subdivided spaces or a space that can be built out that way is something I’m interested in working with.
CG: I like to think of how an artwork has the potential to both transport you someplace else and keep you very much in the present at the same time. In terms of science-fiction, would you parallel art’s transportive power with a portal?
JP: Whoo, haha, this is a complicated one. I have been increasingly interested in exactly what you’re talking about here! I come from a photographic background, so the metaphor of art as window or portal is really strong in my mind.
Recently, I have been asking myself whether something can be an image and an object at the same time. To return to the photograph, do you have to mentally pull yourself out of the ‘image’ to consider the piece as an ‘object’ (the print surface, the mounting technique, the size, etc.), or can you hold both in your mind simultaneously? And furthermore, is there a difference when something is abstract vs. recognizable or figurative?
CG: That flux between the image and object is really interesting to me as well. I love thinking about how an object can ride the line between shouting its physical attributes while simultaneously vanishing all together, as a window.
JP: With The Three Freedoms, the predominant motion of the piece is pulling you inward. In the original film/shows the effects are meant to depict, quite-literally, portals, but since these things are inaccessible/unknowable to us, they are depicted using abstraction and usually a kind of one-point perspective. I was interested in what happens when those effects are pulled out of their narratives. When they are totally abstract, are they still immersive and transportive?
CG: I like how the piece transports me to a place of constant transportation. Sort of like being stuck in a wormhole. I get the sense that we’re being taken somewhere, but never know where the tunnel leads. But the journey is remarkable. I mean, what if you went through a crazy worm-hole through time and space, only to end up in your kitchen 10 minutes ago? Kind of anticlimactic.
Some might characterize science-fiction as escapism. Do you view it that way?
JP: Ummm, my short answer to this is ‘yes,’ but the genre is a large one, and to a certain degree all fiction is escapist. I am a legitimate fan of a wide range of science-fiction, from blockbuster hollywood films to lesser-known “hard” science-fiction stories and novels. I use the genre both to escape, and to engage on an intellectual level. The best stuff is all about the problems we encounter today anyway; identity, politics, how to build a sustainable future, how to understand those that are different from us, how to consider humanity from a different perspective, etc.
I think written science-fiction probably gets a bad rap because a lot of times the characters are pretty one-dimensional. In my mind, the world is the character, or the premise is the character, and the story is there more to show us around or give us a tour of the possibilities of this place. That’s not to say you can’t have complex characters and a complex world, but sometimes you have to read about a lone-wolf getting the girl and beating the bad guys to get a glimpse of something more interesting underneath.
I like the idea of taking an incredible journey just to end up back where you were. There is the cliché of “it’s not about the destination man”, but that actually holds true with this piece because there is none!
CG: I guess you could say that any artwork, song, or film, is something to get lost in for a while. I think we’re all after that to some degree. I mean, it’s exciting when something stops you in your tracks and completely captivates your attention from where it was a moment before. But if artwork has that power to ground you in a transportive state, then maybe it doesn’t seem so escapist?
JP: Hmm, yeah that’s an interesting point. I think it might have to do with intentionality or maybe criticality? I remember I saw Avatar in the theater when it first came out. It was the first 3-d movie I had ever seen, and I made a decision before I even went in to just fully let go. I knew from the previews that it was likely to be a “bad” movie, but I decided to treat it more like a roller-coaster than a “film.” It was totally escapist, I was consciously trying to keep critical thought at bay and just fall in. At the time, it totally worked. I really enjoyed the pure experience of escaping into this world, but I don’t even remember the film that well. I couldn’t discuss plot points, or dialogue, or any issues regarding its merits as a piece of art.
The thing I do remember though is that whole experience, how I really felt like I left this world for a bit. When I came out into the parking lot everything seemed a little dull, like I was disappointed that I was no longer flying around on another planet, fighting for true love and freedom. I was poking around online afterward and it turns out a lot of people felt that way. There were even “Post-Avatar Depression” groups popping up. I may have even talked to you about this at the opening? Haha, maybe not, I guess this was an important experience for me because it always comes up.
CG: You mentioned having 7 years of photo school under your belt. Do you remember what initially attracted you to the camera?
JP: Specifically I’m not sure what the initial attraction was. I was and always had been drawn to art classes and creativity, but I was also not super talented in terms of drawing, so maybe that was the attraction. The fact that I didn’t actually have to render something by hand to get it on paper was nice. I know I got my first “real” camera because my mom bought a Nikon SLR and she kept dropping it, and finally got frustrated and I inherited it. I think that camera is still around somewhere.
CG: How has your relationship to it changed since then?
JP: I think one of the main things is I rarely just go out and “shoot” like I used to. I actually miss that and want to start doing it again, but maybe just for the fun of it and to keep my eyes sharp. Over time it has become more and more about realizing a specific vision, be it in the studio, or out in the world. The photographic process for me has less chance than it used to. There is still discovery and little changes, but it’s rare that I make an image that I wasn’t already planning on making in some way.
The other thing that has changed is that I am now interested in making photographs, and work in general that is about the medium itself as much as it is about what it depicts. I want images that are about images, but also about something more than that. Still thinking about this one at the moment…
Through A Window, Down A Portal
Essay by Kim Selling | Photographs by Lynda Sherman and Sierra Stinson
Beginning this year was a piece of simple distinction, plain text projected over a heavily trafficked corner of a rapidly changing neighborhood. Small collective phrases like singular light bulbs, one alit each night for the birth of 2017. To create something from nothing at the turn of a linear time cycle means that all context from previous cycles have been mined to give this current one a deeper meaning before it has had a chance to play itself out. Lynda Sherman’s The Usual Window uses the peculiarly traumatic experiences of her childhood to create a scene of power dynamics, represented by her chosen avatar, text, in a way that is immediately translatable and digestible for modern viewers. You see the phrase, it is now yours, and will hopefully be used in your own illustrations of self.
These phrases can be read in any way the viewer chooses, but, in any case, are as follows:
MISBEHAVE MASTURBATE RIOT // AND FALL IN LOVE UNAFRAID
KEEP HEAD OUT OF OVEN THUMB OUTSIDE FIST // HEART OUT OF POCKET STITCHED BACK UPON SLEEVE
RAGE FORBIDDEN GLEE // AGITATE FEROCIOUS PLEASURE
CRACK SPARKLE PEEL // UNRAVEL ALTER FOMENT
glimmer gleam growl // wage and devour
And the 8th day “bonus track,” DEFLOWER THE PATRIARCHY
As a child in Bremerton, Sherman grew up in a classic prairie rambler with her family. Her bedroom window, the usual window of this show, was pink, framed by pink checked curtains and a white vinyl shade, and distinct not only in its Pleasantville-like appearance, but in its openness to the outside world. One of her neighbors, a non-descript bus driver, would take it upon himself to look through this window often, peeping at Lynda in this room and others throughout her house. She never told her parents, instead internalizing these trespasses as a child, and informing her later experiences regarding safety and consent with these early incidents of voyeurism.
Starting as a literal experience and slowly morphing into an extended metaphor, the “usual window” continues to serve as a direct illustration of Sherman’s treatment of her own body and mind as dual and separate entities. When pressed on her attitude towards herself, Sherman responded: “A lot of artists think about ‘the voyeur’ and that’s something that makes me very uncomfortable, to be seen physically. And I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but I exist mostly in my head and not my body because I don’t want to be just seen as that, and that’s the thing I can control more, is my mind. And that’s mine, that can’t be taken from me by anyone trying to insert themselves into my life or into my mind.”
Infiltration by outside actors is impossible when you’ve proved yourself capable of both severing and filling the spaces between your body and your mind. Sherman mentioned her ability to dissociate often without even realizing, operating both within and outside of herself as she goes along. She remarked on the confluence between the two states within the act of printing: “Even though you’re tuned in [to the printing process], you’re still hyper aware, and I guess that’s the only way I’m aware of my body — is when I don’t wanna have it chopped in the machine. That’s how I know where my hands are.”
This ability to give and receive your own sentience makes for compelling dictations on action. The statements put forth by The Usual Window play with directness, with providing a to-do list of constant vigilance in how you care for yourself. And Sherman separating her selves allows for her to direct her body and her mind in different but dovetailing causes. In discussing action, Sherman said: “Most of the things I print are like daily meditations, and it does start with me. It is a mental health plan.” Using these disembodied statements work chiefly as a to-do list for both the artist and the audience, clearly outlined for each desired action, to be interpreted differently by each viewer depending on their own mental and physical duplicity. “I think it’s a mental health plan, because otherwise the words just spin in my head. It’s like an energy that you can then release.”
That energy can’t exist in a vacuum; it exists within the realm of Sherman’s larger understanding of her own capacity to effect change. This faceless, body-less narrator can usher art consumers into a new understanding of themselves by virtue of its mutable and truncated message format. She claimed: “A lot of people don’t wanna have to participate in their own understanding but those that do, it could be another portal to use something differently or use something more in depth. Even though there’s so few words I think that each one of those words is its own portal that you can go into. I know that there’s some people in my own life who have such a resistance to that, they don’t even wanna go in those portals.”
Sherman’s deep-seated connection to these portals, each word she used in the show serving as their own vehicle, is more than just message-related. In response to a question about action in creative communities, she mentioned that “I see much more participation and less consumption now, sometimes literally. And I think that’s an important move, to take your own narrative back. And to see people taking their own narrative back through sadness and anger and action, also seeing people realize that it’s not an energy that dissipates into nothing.”
Choosing to take back your own narrative in these trying times (read: really all time, not just this one) involves plunging yourself into the portals of Sherman’s words, which in itself is an almost divine action of shooting for your highest potential as human. So utilizing Sherman’s statements for pointed improvement and increased agency brings us to this central question: can you truly divorce your self? Can mind and body exist separately outside each other? And is this possible without trauma being the vehicle for separation?
Trauma forces us into a compacted uniqueness. We must compartmentalize to remain above what pains us: what to keep and what to throw away, what defines us and what creates a version of us we’d rather not know. In an interpretation of a Usual Window phrase: wage war on your character, and devour what is lacking. Is such divisibility of spirit possible without the definitions of trauma? Without the trappings of guilt or overcorrection, could you ever simply be just a girl at the window?
Of course, the answer is a singular moment only to fit a framework; what matters is the process of separation, realizing one’s agency in solitude, and deciding upon a course to follow, now free (or lonely) of one’s self. Once the body is no longer there, the mind can communicate without boundaries or limitations. The weightlessness of a mind freed from its physical constraints, now able to act or project in any desired way, say, to masturbate-riot as loudly and frequently as possible. Since a freed mind can’t corporeally do that on its own, it can, at the very least, compel everyone else to in its place. So it is, in its way, a figure of universal nature, joining together all of its audience, each of whom have decided to look through the window.
Not to drag this into a Hot Topic echo chamber of neopagan trutherism from which we can never recoil, but this current time of year (typically March 20-April 1) was previously celebrated as the beginning of the new year — a separation of seasons at the vernal equinox allows the world to be born anew for the next cycle of time. This phase of year that we’re in lends itself to separation of the selves — a lifting of the metaphysical veil between soul and body — and re-commitment to physical and emotional goals.
Lynda’s piece was presented at the beginning of the Roman Calendar new year, the beginning of January, so this connection is not totally out of nowhere. A traditionally pagan tradition of this time of year was to write your intentions upon an egg, visually setting your hopes for this new year onto a symbol of impending creation and thusly, subsequent delivery. You bury the egg, and then plant seeds of your choice into the plot of dirt where the egg is buried. The seeds then suck the nutrients out of the egg as they grow into the plant they are meant to be, thereby expanding your hopeful intentions and becoming a tangible representation of how you, yourself, hope to grow.
Each day of The Usual Window, Lynda wrote her intentions on these windows, soon to become actions of hers and of ours. We must promise to and go forward with misbehaving, masturbating, and rioting, inciting delight, requiring desire, and actively deflowering the patriarchy. This is our to-do list now, the explicit actions that will spell out our future.
March 17, 2017
Common AREA Maintenance
2125 2nd Ave
“Using appropriated footage from popular film and television, The Three Freedoms constructs a film of constant movement. Graphic and abstract depictions of faster than light travel, time travel, and interdimensional travel flow endlessly into one another. This winding, spinning journey inward echoes the “Phantom Rides” of early film history while imagining an improbable future.”
soon our bodies will be buildings
February 25, 2017
Viewable from outside 1605 E. Madison Street
In times of grief I turn to the idea of the body as a collection of materials. Our bodies exist for only a brief moment: a coincidence of molecules, soon to disseminate into countless other forms.
(I dropped a stone into a lake and for a moment, where the two surfaces met, a sound existed—)
Composed of found footage, text, and personal videos, soon our bodies will be other buildings is a meditation on the transient nature of matter and the constant cycles of molecular and contextual re-formation.
Drawing from the musical technique of phasing — similar to choral rounds — two video sequences loop at different tempos, so that the relationship between frames are realigned with each repetition. Over time, the piece is split open and reconfigured so that we can see it in its various possible forms.
Image Info: soon our bodies will be other buildings (found footage still), video, 2017
What Feels Most True: A Dream Hypnosis for Radical Awakeness
Laura Sullivan Cassidy
with found + collected family slides and digital images + audio
by Erin Sullivan
December 29, 2016
This exhibit is located outside on the corner of Bellevue and Pine Street on Capitol Hill. We will stand gazing into the windows of what once was the beautiful furniture store known as Area 51.
“When I was 10 a man calling himself a magician showed up in my hometown and took to the stage, pulling rabbits out of hats and “hypnotizing” citizens who then quacked like ducks and tasted vinegar when they were given plain water. Upon the backwards count of three, they remembered exactly none of it in accordance with his bellowed instructions.
From the 1800s to the ’80s, performative hypnosis was a mostly harmless hustle; in this current reality it’s a sort of assisted self-help. Just dial up a sleep induction on YouTube or download a podcast to stop smoking. Or drinking. Or eating. Or needing.
What Feels Most True is somewhere between performance and persuasion. Under a black no-moon sky, outside an urban ghost town at the dead-end of the year, images like strobe lights and words like wands are meant to rearrange natives, immigrants, and passersby alike. The quasi-narrative, two-channel, glass-enclosed slideshow will reimagine the villagers; remember them, forget them, and return them … back to where they were when they started so long ago: Pure and whole, tough and tender. Home. Alive.
And I’ll be there with them—making those return/transformations, too. Because I need to shift out of this bad dream just as we all do, and because like the magician and the hustler, there’s something I have to prove, not only to an audience but to myself.
All sickness is homesickness.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.”
Frontiers: Embodied Space & Bodily Intelligibility
Essay by Anisa Jackson | Photographic Stills from Mel Carter’s When the Caustic Cools
I told Mel that I would write her a love letter. This is certainly not a love letter in any traditional sense, but it is impossible for me to engage with her work without acknowledging our closeness. Through our friendship and shared inquiry, I have often cherished how we care for each other. In the weeks following the election, I noticed how our friendship (or more broadly, how love and care) cannot necessarily eliminate mourning or grief, but there is certainly something about care that makes these events feel more bearable.
Post-election, I question if I have fully mourned, or what it would look like to put limitations on such mourning. I think within that process is accepting the loss as one that changes you. We know this loss is really not a loss at all, but an affirmation of the extent to which white supremacy contorts itself as commonsensical at the expense of those who exceed the normative categories of race, gender, class, etc. and ultimately individualizes our pain and grief. Throughout the violent processes we endure as womxn & femmes of colour, validating, caring about, and caring for each other is a radical and political act. It is an insistence that honors the way that we are relational beings. It is a form of care that exists in resistance to neoliberal tendencies which seek to depoliticize and decontextualize our experiences and emotions. And that is what makes the spaces that womxn & femmes of colour carve out for ourselves in this city even more meaningful.
I’m reminded of Johanna Hedva’s wisdom,
I used to think that the most anti-capitalist gestures left had to do with love, particularly love poetry: to write a love poem and give it to the one you desired, seemed to me a radical resistance. But now I see I was wrong.
The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.
Mel started the piece on a trip to Joshua Tree while witnessing repeated negligence and violence to the natural environment by the desert’s visitors. She described how visitors would break branches off the Joshua Trees to ornament their photoshoots, or to construct their imaginary of a “pristine landscape” (paradoxically, free of human traces). Furthermore, as a protected site this violence was even more incontestable. Joshua Tree, among other national parks are surrounded by the rhetoric of safe spaces, yet these environments are anything but “untouched,” “pristine,” or other descriptors of natural environments through a romanticized settler-colonialism. Rather, these sites bear quite violent histories of displacing indigenous peoples in order to build large-scale playgrounds for the white elite. We are continuing to see the various ways that a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy perpetuates the genocidal colonization of indigenous peoples and environments, most discernibly through the construction of the Dakota Access and Kinder-Morgan pipelines. Moreover, the management and valuation of national parks rely on similar attitudes of environmental domination and distribution, and are in fact, yet another institution of colonization. We should question who has access to conservation areas and why, which bodies are read as environmentalists, and where caring about the environment includes and excludes caring for all human life.
The first of Mel’s two projections came out of the second-floor window of El Capitan. The series of text Mel wrote atop of blurred movement is affective, reactionary, confrontational. In gray text Mel poses:
It could be hard to hear anything above the racket that has become your guilt and loneliness.
I am not sure if it is simply the delineations of bodies that renders the pain of others illegible. I suspect this unintelligibility is furthered by the myth that pain can simply exist on one’s own, that pain can exist autonomously and has nothing to do with mutuality. Snapping off branches of yucca, watching them splinter, “you yelp and pull yourself away quickly, examining only your own injuries while simultaneously sucking your thumb” as Mel describes in her brilliant essay accompanying the videos. Insofar as egoism obstructs us of understanding the pain of others (even as the perpetrators of such pain), it refuses to consider a new ontology of the body in relation to the bodies of others.
These affective positions are communicated as the camera spins, blurring the background, first quite rapidly, then slowing down. While the text is certainly reflexive, its ability to draw you in is furthered by this dizzying presentation- my view is constricted and I’m forced to look inwards. The text transgresses the divide between the self and its situation, behaving as both the voice of an interrogative narrator and setting, by virtue of pulling you in so you can sit with it intimately. The conveyance of such ambiguities and tensions both symbolically and literally bears some resemblance (and admittedly, somewhat facetiously) to the widely circulated Mr. Krabs meme. The image of the commodity fetishist bewildered and isolated by a blurred vignette situates and confronts the viewer with its self. My association with Mr. Krabs and this particular presentation of the text, while perhaps guided by a phenomenological approach to my nearsightedness, stems also from both the subjective crisis and violence that results from notions of the clearly demarcated, autonomous neoliberal subject.
The transition to Mel’s second video, projected onto the face of the apartment complex behind El Capitan, is intuitive. Its transgressions live in-between the boundaries of violence and care. Here, Mel is seen throughout Joshua Tree embracing, caressing, and caring for the desert dwellers. Even as she lays on boulders, it is done with a softness and attentiveness that questions any form of dominance. The projected images of Mel circling the the yuccas leads her head through the windows of the building’s inhabitants, a radical softness demanding consideration. The task of caring is gendered, racialized, and associated with a subjugated people. While this socialization (and thus its devaluation) is oppressive, the task of caring is nonetheless essential to the fabric of our social and ecological well-being. Well-being, not as a capitalist construct referring to value-production, but rather a configuration in resistance, one which necessitates the reciprocity of care and ontologizes the subject through the social for a shared embodied existence.
A feminist ethic of care refers to approaches based in the centrality of caring for the self and others. Opposing presumptions of ahistorical, apolitical, and individualized subjects, a feminist ethic of care relies on mutuality and interdependency, contextualizes the caring and the cared for as essential within the basic composition of wellbeing, and offers a relational approach to ethical questions and issues. This conception of care contextualizes moral relations as interdependent, and within that interdependence, there is an economic, social, political, and personal responsibility to care for others, by virtue of being beyond the immediate self. An environmental ethics may push us into considering caring for the needs of both human and nonhuman life, as our ecology certainly relies on a similar form of interdependency.
Combined, Mel’s two projections call into question the boundaries of violence and care. As Judith Butler notes, “violence is surely a touch of the worst order, a way [vulnerability] is exposed in its most terrifying way, a way in which we are given over, without control, to the will of another, a way in which life itself can be expunged by the willful action of another.” When we consider subjectivity as radically open, challenge individualized formulations of self and recognizes the ways in which we are constituted by one another, for one another, that which delineates our relationality, certainly reveals sites risked to violence. It can also be argued that care necessitates such vulnerability. Accompanying a relational social ontology are the political implications of acknowledging responsibility, accountability, and concern to live for another. Solidarity is built on risk. Community is built on risk. Though the boundaries of the body expose us to violence, they also expose us to care.
Ahmed, Sarah. Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
Gordon, Elyse. “Radical Vulnerability: Towards Stronger Alliances.” Relational Poverty Network, May 12, 2014.
Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask, 2015.
Lawson, Victoria. “Geographies of Care and Responsibility.” Annals of the Association of American Geography, March 13, 2007.
Luna, Caleb. “Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We Are Single?” The Body is Not an Apology, November 30, 2016.
Lopez, Patricia J., and Kathryn Gillespie. “A Love Story: For ‘Buddy System’ Research in the Academy.” Gender, Place & Culture, November 09, 2016.
November 29, 2016
“It does not take many words to tell the truth”
― Sitting Bull
There is a river within each of us. An endless flow of matter and molecules, a perpetual cascading of ideas, hopes, transgressions, and fears. We Enter Earth through water, and without clean water we will Exit.
These are the water protectors.
Since April, over 200 indigenous tribes have gathered at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, if built, will cross beneath the Missouri River through sacred burial lands, threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, as well as tens of thousands of people downstream.
The pipeline was originally planned to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck however during an environmental review The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered the pipeline posed a threat to Bismarck’s water supply, among other issues, and rerouted the project to run downstream.
These photographs were made at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Standing Rock, North Dakota in November, 2016 and printed in Livingston, Montana using the gelatin silver process. All proceeds will go to support the Mni Wiconi Women’s Health field clinic at Oceti Sakowin.
when the caustic cools
Vignettes Marquee is pleased to present the solo work of Mel Carter
October 27, 2016
outside of 1617 Yale Avenue
see you on the street
what do you do in a place where everything rejects your touch?
let your guard down, go quiet / silence, don’t draw attention, try to listen anyway
she stands her ground, her quiet blooms saying “i need a little privacy”, and her defenders react the way they should when another unexpectedly breaches her privacy. you yelp and pull yourself away quickly, examining only your own injuries while simultaneously sucking your thumb (lmao a.k.a. lamenting my anguish online) and exclaiming “FUCK FUCK”. a brash kick directed at her trunk, you shuffle away uncaring and pissed with a “why do these things always happen to me/woe is me/this place is stupid” mentality.
No one will miss you here.
She blatantly warned you, how could you not see i do not know —
she exists solely for herself and tries to hold enough water to continue as always, with a little extra for friends/passersby (what’s the difference when you’re both going through the same thing). she provides for others, a selfless act in a place where she is her only defense.
Why was your immediate response anger to another who overtly advised caution? when she has been conditioned for these harsh environments why would it be her fault to exist just as she was created, because another was being thoughtless? Tell me how it’s different from your broken skin. why solidify that anger by adding insult to injury, memories swelling like skin around your actions; her only defense as she grows towards the sun is further preparations for future hurt. it’s these small things that seem to affect me more and more these days; if you’re doing this to something you seemingly don’t care about, what will you do when something really angers you? similarly to you (maybe, but your lack of sensitivity makes me doubt this) and your injuries, why would i not prepare myself for your own negative potential?
how can we care for, how can we caress and support these solitary beings, unused to touch or affection. how can we be tender — there are many things words cannot do. the language of careful touch, our first introduction and most primal language, feels so natural to me. it’s not just about lovers or specific partnerships, more of a how to provide genuine affection and non-verbal support in everyday context, so it doesn’t feel so foreign when it’s given sincerely. pulling away, is it me or is it the standardized lack of nurture here? leaving the sun and returning to cold, how do you find that tenderness and care you require? maybe others don’t crave that which you do, but wouldn’t it be nice to try a little tenderness?
IMAGE: when the caustic cools, (Still) Single Channel Video, 2016
Towards a Radical Honesty
Exhibition review of ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Sad’ by Steven Dolan
A crowd has gathered in the parking lot of the El Capitan on a Thursday night in mid-May. It’s Capitol Hill Art Walk and with the continuation of the MARQUEE series, this humble patch of concrete is buzzing with energy, but absent are the pretension and soulless schmoozing you might experience in a gallery. This feels real. There are drinks in hands, some snacks being passed around, and the vibrations of conversation encasing the crowd as they look up towards projections filling two windows separated by a floor.
One projection, “a short looped film on sadness,” displays the featured artist, Kim Selling, posed in her bedroom in variations on a slump, her fat white body demanding attention from the street and I-5 travelers. Some poses see her face down, while others are more fetal, her body communicating a limpness and a pain, disrupting the bank of images many of us have in our heads filed under nude. The screen beneath it is a loop of text pieces Kim wrote, white text on a black background called “it’s just noise.” These projections are looped in tandem for a piece called “Portrait of the artist as a young sad.”
The text begins:
IT’S JUST NOISE
IT’S JUST NOISE
IT’S JUST NOISE
NARCISSISM AS COMMUNITY GIFT
is it still a panic attack if it’s yr entire life
put on clothes & eat something
Kim started the piece as a private photo series examining the toll of chronic depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD on her body. “Sometimes you just wanna take a bunch of photos of yourself and feel like a human and not like a lizard,” she said over drinks at Pony. Set in her bedroom, her “#1 comfort space,” the photos are an intimate peek into a private experience of pain, isolated but no doubt affected by the wider, more chaotic world. “I am posed in that way because I can’t think of myself as upturned with disorders that make me feel so downtrodden,” she said. “I’m not taking in anything, I’m actively repelling everything around me because I don’t have enough space in my body to absorb anything.”
She then paired the images with a collection of short textual phrases, “detritus” she had collected over time. As with the photos, the text is to be understood as output from the artist’s brain, which functions solely within the framework of mental disorder. With “young sad,” Kim invited viewers to take part in a communal experience of empathy. “It felt great to just be like, here’s a long daisy chain of bullshit that is just floating in my brain miasma constantly and now you get to stand here in a parking lot and stare at what the inside of my brain looks like all of the time, because guess what, it’s really dumb and gross and exhausting being me, and I bet it’s really dumb and gross and exhausting being you, so let’s just stare at it together.” In this way, Kim’s work is a vehicle, a recognition of the ways in which we are all hurt by the brutality of existence, filtered through her own experience. “Our world is survival in the face of unrelenting suffering,” she said. “We all exist within this place at different levels of such harm, and more suffering happens when we refuse to see these connections.”
This piece is unequivocally an extension of Kim’s greater body of work, which is not centered around a specific medium or even creativity per se. Her presence on the internet, and on social media in particular, engages with current events, intersectionality, social justice, and various forms of art with biting criticality and necessary humor. A mutual friend has called her an “internet witch,” speaking to her ability to meld fields of engagement in a way that is overtly political and disembowels oppression, transforming experiences like street harassment into quips that incite laughter while the ever-present specter of a violent world hides in plain sight. Kim embraces the digital world as a venue to hone a sensibility in a space where she says “you can’t do anything wrong [creatively]. It’s just recensoring or reediting or recarving over and over again into the same space… I see it as limitless.” And whether you’re “unsure if it’s art” or not, it is creative labor that sees its continuation in “young sad.” In recreating moments of discovery she experienced through social media, Kim extends the visibility of fat queer bodies, representation that is life-affirming. Further, in utilizing the language of digital relationality, a kind of distanced, oblique authenticity, she speaks to a deeper truth.
By adopting the formal qualities of advertising via its projection, “young sad” steals from capitalist strategy to advance an ethic in which the market is absent. Within a capitalistic gaze, Kim’s body and words are antithetical to production. By employing them in this framework, she subverts this gaze by “selling” a radically human way of relating, one that is based in honesty and critical of conventional power structures. In the same way, “young sad” offers an alternative to the arts community’s self-propagating obligation to the production line. In directly connecting art and depression (see: “‘nobody cares’—a support group for young creatives,” “the loudest voices in yr head are always the ones that don’t support u”), Kim critiques the idea that one both should and can be constantly productive as an artist: you made me feel guilty for not working hard enough, here you go.
In experiencing “young sad,” rigor and tenderness coalesce. Kim is assertive in her use of vulnerability as a tactic, though it had not occurred to her as such given her identity and the emotional labor that it regularly demanded of her. “I think that for my own purposes, I’ve militarized vulnerability and I am so actively emotionally compartmentalizing everything that comes within view of my forcefield.” It is through the reclaiming of her narrative that this vulnerability becomes harnessed, rather than left to the vultures. “You are often sharing without even realizing it. Especially as a fat femme, my body is public domain and I didn’t choose that, but it’s always been that,” she said. “I choose to own it and steer it as I may, rather than myself being steered by public opinion.” It is in this space of volition and self-revelation, gifted narcissism if you will, that we are able to connect with each other at our most essential.
Artwork by Kim Selling
Images of Installation by Lindsey Apodaca & Sierra Stinson
By CL Young
Wednesday April 13 – Sunday April 17
Sunset (7:54PM) To Sunrise (6:25AM)
This Wednesday through Sunday a new poem written by CL Young will be viewable every evening when standing on Melrose Avenue across from 1617 Yale Avenue
Look up west.
“THIS SERIES OF POEMS IS LOOSELY TIED TO A LARGER PROJECT THAT INVOLVES BEING HALF-ASLEEP.” – CL YOUNG
CL YOUNG WAS BORN AND LIVES CURRENTLY IN COLORADO. HER POEMS CAN BE FOUND IN GLITTERMOB, PEN POETRY SERIES, POOR CLAUDIA, POWDER KEG MAGAZINE, AND ELSEWHERE. SHE IS FROM BOISE, IDAHO.
Special thanks to Estee Clifford for constructing the Marquee
Image: Photograph by Sierra Stinson of reflection from Photograph by Doug Newman