"Urban Aesthetics 2003"
By Sandra E. Rowe
An Internal Memo for CAAM
The following is essay is a response for Mar Hollingsworth and CAAM to discover the "connections" between the six artist's works in the exhibition titled "Urban Aesthetics." This essay discusses the "connection" between the artists and my selection process. It can be used by the museum and docents. It is not intended for publication in a catalog or journal. It can be referenced. Please contact me if you have questions. Sandra Rowe
"Individual Entrances. The life of an artist is rightly a unit of study in any biographical series. But to make it the main unit of study in the history of art is like discussing the railroads of a country in terms of the experiences of a single traveler on several of them. To describe railroads accurately, we are obliged to disregard persons and states, for the railroads themselves are the elements of continuity, and not the travelers or the functionaries thereon.
The analog of the track yields a useful formulation in the discussion of artists. Each man's (woman's) lifework is also a work in a series extending beyond him in either or both directions, depending upon his position in the track he (she) occupies." By George Kubler , The Shape of Time pp 6
Almost all exhibitions try to bring together artists working in the same materials and methods. In my selection process, I disregarded the notion of a theme that would link the artists through the use of similar materials, ideas or traditional presentations. I also ignored art movements and art histories as known in most art history textbooks. However, the artists in this exhibition use issues of histories, art and life in similar ways by deconstructing language, cultural identity and other issues as they reconstructs ideas to provoke new ways of thinking and looking at art and life. None of there work is easy to "get" for the viewer unless one is willing to spend some time with each work. Although materials were not a consideration for selection of the artists, the methods and methodology of developing ideas for artwork were. While the research is the guts of the process and takes months, the building or making of their final solutions may only take a few weeks. I wanted smart artists involved with meaning, concept, context and new ways of looking at the world and art. The above ideas were part of the "connection" I looked for in the final selection of the artists.
" Railroad Tracks" relative to George Kubler's comments are relative to the idea paths of each individual artist in this exhibition. The idea path represents each individuals work from the beginning to end of her art making. I wanted to find work that indicated the maturity and conviction of strong ideas by the artists. If I were to take six separate " tracks" relative to the art of the six artists, I could find a point on the each track that would indicate the collision of vision, maturity, intelligence, ideas, and strength resulting in equally strong work with many differences. Edgar Arceneaux, Charles Gaines, Kira Harriss, Adia Millett, Rodney McMillan and William Raines make work that fit my above description.
A connection to one another can be made because they are from and live in urban environments. When one reads their biographies, you will discover that they all graduated from Cal Arts. However, the Cal Arts connection is not why they were selected. The connection of the artists to books they have read in common is an obvious connection. But when they left graduate school, they were on their own too manifest, lose and invent new ideas. There is however, one thing that elusively can be called a major "connection". The common denominator that ties together all of the artist's works is time, time as concept, time as elusion, time as a determinant, time as a memory, time as an invention and the replication of time. In all of their works, time plays a major role in the understanding of the questions that each artist proposes.:
Edgar Arceneaux in his proposed new work is planning a response to another artist's work. In it, he plans a discourse between him and the artist that engages us in real physical terms (imagery and possibly video). At the same time Edgar will allow the generation and degeneration of materials within the work. Time and chance play a role in this work as it did in work he did with sugar crystals. Over a period of time Edgar expected the sugar crystals to change and dissolve.
Charles Gaines is a master artist whose work demands that one view it on multiple levels. He intentionally uses histories, implied and imagined, and identifiable imagery that demands a discourse of today and yesterday. Time is real and implied in his recent works through photography, objects, sound, movement, and photography. Charles has also been a mentor to all of us.
When one looks at Adia Millett's rooms and you see life sized objects on the outside and miniature objects on the inside, I imagine that the visual differences are somewhat startling. Memory and the history of the things she puts in the "rooms" become part of a timeline of where and when.
Rodney's work in this exhibition focus's on the structures and ideology and ideology implied within structures. Within the word ideology is idea which implies the word essence. Essence cannot be defined by time, it can be ephemeral….out of touch and just beyond. Time can be just that, the minute that you think it, time has passed that you will never ever regain.
Raines's work involves art and science and as he paints his magnified views of once a recognizable biological thing, he questions reality. In physics, I remember that there are no definitive lines if you are looking at an object from the atomic view…an older theory, but very real, especially if you are trying to describe a line as an edge in drawing. The squeeze paintings are about chance and control. When he applies paint and squeezes it between sheets of plexi, the origins of the imagery change as they create new images.
Anytime one uses time-based media in an installation, time is an issue. Kira's work uses sounds from yesterday that will be heard today, visual images that were yesterday that will be seen today and tomorrow…the passing of time.
Last, all six of the artists are Black. They know about and communicate with each other. Today's group of Black artists seek out other Bblack artists and support one another in their quest to get their work shown and recognized. The numbers of Black artists graduating from MFA programs have increased from the 1980's and 90's perhaps signifying what was once considered a "minority" population of Brown and Black people becoming part of the "majority" population. Opportunities for exhibition and jobs in the arts are increasing as the older generation of artists are retiring and leaving those positions once held in academia and other institutions by what once was called the "majority". We are no longer the "other" and with that comes the territory of power, which we have always had within ourselves, families and communities. But now, that power comes with more than a possibility of economic gain and recognition in what is still called the "mainstream". The color of that stream is changing.