Portraits of a Place
So many of our perceptions of places, organizations, and individuals are now formed through stereotypes, social media interaction, digital images, likes, and comments. These digital identities can be carefully controlled and filtered or highjacked by trolls and detractors. In either case, our digital identities rarely tell a full, deep, and true story. When looking at groups, organizations, and places in real life, individuals create the change and meaning that make up the whole. So instead of this digital format, I am engaging with the idea of representing people and the places they create through objects with a call and response process.
Portraits of a Place is a socially engaged, collaborative project series seeking to build new concepts of places or groups through representing the individuals that make up the whole. Each individual portrait is made up of a ceramic portrait object, writings, a photograph, and a handwritten response and/or multimedia response artwork.
As the originating artist, I collect written descriptions from the participants about themselves or something they are passionate about. I then create a ceramic portrait object from each of these descriptions. These objects are hung with the original writing, a picture of the participant with their piece, and a written response to the process and/or an art piece by the participant responding to the object. My hope is that each set of four representations will create a unique and personal portrait of each person, and in turn, of the place they live and work or the group of which they are a part. In the end, the objects go home with their owners and the portraits become the documentation I have archived either in printed or digital form.
I started to develop this project, “Portraits of a Place”, in the summer of 2016. At the time I was busy making work for a different upcoming show, and my depression and distress over the presidential campaign was making it hard for me to focus. I was so sad and angry at the open hatred that was now the norm of political news. The acceptance of bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and racism was too much. It was/is tearing communities and the country apart. I needed a way to make a difference, be happy, and feel connected to the people around me. I got the since that many people needed that feeling too. I decided I was going to put my love of serving others into my art practice for the first time.
I asked everyone who worked on my campus to write to me about something they loved or were passionate about. With these descriptions I would create portraits, and in exchange for each person’s reflection, the piece was theirs. In the end 25 people participated, and the connections the show and experience made in the community were beautiful. The joy in the gallery was something I had never experience at a reception before. I knew I needed to continue the project.
While this project can ( in a small way) redefine and re-image any group, the ultimate aim is to work with groups who are marginalized based on stereotypes of appearance, ability, race, religion, gender, etc. The goal of this is to portray the uniqueness and humanity of each person in these stigmatized and marginalized groups.
The most resent iteration of the project is a depiction of and collaboration with a group of artists with disabilities from Midwest Special Services, a licensed day program. Since 1949, MSS has been helping individuals achieve their full potential as vital and contributing members of the community. Participants learn new skills, gain employment, participate in community outings and the MSS’ Arts Program which began in 1999. MSS artists are able to explore a variety of art mediums including: painting, printmaking, screen printing, weaving, ceramics, and more. MSS is dedicated to offering community arts opportunities and fostering organic relationships. The faces of these artists are grayed out to protect their privacy.