I know, I know.

I should be writing about an artist I don’t really care for or agree with because that would make for an interesting piece of art writing but this is an art diary (of sorts) and, well, I can write what I want (for now)! I’m sure my writing will go into varying directions in the next month or so with a studio class on the horizon. I digress (per usual). For those that know me well, I preface (quite a bit) but I did that (yet again) because I constantly write about artists that inspire and move me.

Ellen Gallagher being one of those artists. Being a fan of Art 21, I found myself engaged by her work. The ability to take imagery and appropriate it in a repetitious fashion but making all iterations worthy of a look amazes and excites me. A great example of her collaborative work is the ‘DeLuxe’ Prints series. She adds to an image of Isaac Hayes in such a way that the viewer is forced to re-imagine a narrative. Her re-telling of a history through painting over what is there, magically, uncovers what has long been concealed. Think of that contradiction? Covering up to uncover. Re-appropriating to make appropriate, inevitably be re-appropriated and re-configured in the viewers mind. Gallagher works wonders. I guess I wrote about her because I’m hoping to do some of my own magic in this upcoming studio art class. We shall see!

Learn more about Ellen Gallagher here

Some time ago, I was introduced to the work of Sonya Clark. It encapsulates the truth, which resides in our bodies. Hair, for example, contains information about our biology that we often neglect or forget. Our predispositions, if you believe they exist are engrained in every part of the body. Clark explores hair in such a way that brings her understanding and experiences to everyone (not just African-American men and women). One of the many reasons I love Clark’s work is in large part due to use of the body and the tools we use to maintain our bodies. The Combs Series evokes how something so simple and trivial can reflect complexities and intricacies of beauty and self-care. Clark’s utilization of simple materials to create visual complexity contrasts how combs are often seen as cheap, plastic, low quality tools used simply to groom unruliness.

Clark notes on her site, when talking about her projects entailing use of human hair,

“Deep with each strand, the vestiges of our roots resound. In this work hair is formed into markers of chronology, wisdom, and adornment”.

Much of her work resonates with me because in the past few years, I’ve had probably close to a dozen different hairstyles in the past couple of years. Co-workers even rumored that I had shaved my head, which is far from the truth. I merely had an extremely short pixie hairstyle someone misspoke and interpreted as a shaved head. In any case, it dawned on me the importance people hold on hair and beauty. Some women allow such an external characteristic to define their femininity. Yet, Clark doesn’t (only) re-make and re-interpret her body to create beautiful pieces of sculptural work. She believes in showcasing how the body itself can serve as a medium. She profoundly sculpts the truth in our bodies within her work.

Please visit her site here

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and watched Rottenberg’s new work entitled, Squeeze (2010). I titled part of my entry as ‘Interdependence’ because, coincidentially, I’ve been reading about interdepedence with others (and, even with inantimate objects) through a Buddhist lens and trying to incorporate that awareness within a meditative practice. Not only does Mika Rottenberg’s new work showcase the notion of interdependence, her entire body of work intermingles body image, use of the body, consumerism and labor. The women she incorporates into her film work (just to note, these women are not actresses) evoke gesture in such a way that is not only ritualistic but shows an end product in the ritualistic gestures and the women are, not only connected to each other, but to the viewer. Meticulsouly and brilliantly edited video installations create surreal manufacturing worlds for us to visually explore. In that viewing, the observer may see their connection to these women they watch. Hence, me bringing in the notion of interdependence because it is woven into her work seamlessly. She’s definitely an artist worth following. Even more noteworthy, she was a Whitney Biennele artist in 2008. I’m glad I found her sooner as opposed to later…

You can learn more about Mika Rottenberg here

Mierle Laderman Ukeles produces environmentally sustainable art. The emergence of words such as green andeco-friendly in our contemporary lexicon is probably due in part to Ukeles’ manifesto on maintenance art in the 1970s. Her recent lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute on May 3, 2010, included a discussion of ideas such as gesture, viewer participation, and intentionality. Ukeles’ lecture established her as not only an artist, but an archaeologist, ethnographer, and excavator of culture.

In her talk, Ukeles drew comparisons between sanitation workers, who occupy a very male-dominated field, and homemakers, who are generally female. This comparison was the beginning of her art practice, which she coined Maintenance Art. It also served as a marker for the evolution of feminist art at large. Ukeles’ Maintenance Art forces the viewer to broaden his or her scope of perception and understanding to a universal spectrum. The artworks Ukeles highlighted during her lecture provided the viewer with an intimate look into how she approached the granular notions of “self” and “other,” extending to the greater symbiotic relationships between the two on a universal scale.

In her work Touch Sanitation (1979-1981), she shook the hands of thousands of sanitation workers and thanked them for their service to New York City. Documenting the workers’ initial animosity, then curiosity, and eventual acceptance of her work, she showed the progression from this particular piece to other more participatory works. Ceremonial Arch Honoring Service Workers in the New Service Economy (1988) consists of an archway fashioned from a collection of gloves and steel pillars donated by New York City agencies.

Originally published to Art Practical for Shotgun Reviews May 2010