Facing Identity: I AM at Kendall College Fed Galleries

Currently on display at Kendall College Federal Building galleries are the second and third installments of I AM, curated by Michele Bosak. The first of the series I AM: Money Matters, was open as an ArtPrize venue, and rightfully received a lot of attention from the public and ArtPrize jurors. I AM: Assuming Positions, and I AM: Always New, feature works that explore the perceptions of self in relation to such considerations as body, gender, and age. The I AM series is possibly the most compelling display of contemporary art in Grand Rapids in 2014, and should not be missed. There’s a closing reception Friday, January 30, but if at all possible, visit when there’s not an event scheduled in the space, because some of the works, like those by Heather Cassils, Stafford Smith, include audio elements that cannot be fully appreciated in the presence of crowds. The first of the series, I AM: Money Matters, examined the relationship between consumption and identity. Visitors can still see contributions by Dan Tague and Wendy Kawabata, as well as Máximo González’, Tengo Hambre, and Sonya Clark’s The Hair Craft Project, the juried prize winners for the three-dimensional and two-dimensional categories. Clark will be speaking before the closing reception Friday, January 30 at 6:00 PM. While all three iterations of I AM investigate perceptions of self, Assuming Positions and Always New are markedly more challenging than Money Matters, perhaps because money and consumption are not aspects of our identity about which we are willing to see a correlation, or maybe because they don’t seem entirely beyond one’s control. Age and gender on the other hand, are characteristics of identity that are imposed-upon the individual’s corporeal self. Not surprisingly, all the works include the human figure, and with the exception of Yamosky, (and perhaps Smith), incorporate the artists’ own likenesses. Stafford Smith’s, provocative P.O.V./Priests of Venus, which has received some national attention, explores the precarious distinctions between subject/object, candor/artifice, vulnerability/power. The installation is comprised of full-scale nude photographs of men with cameras concealing their faces, accompanied by constant sound of clicking shutters. Upon entering the space we become the objects of scrutiny, exposed as voyeurs, and confronted with our own image reflected off the surface of the photographs. Heather Cassils’ contributions include elements from two series: Becoming an Image, and Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture. Becoming an Image was a multi-media project that involved performance and photographic documentation. Cassilis’ portraits from Cuts record the artist’s body as it was transformed over months of intense physical training. Cassils acknowledges  Eleanor Antin and Lynda Benglis as sources of inspiration, but Marina Abramović and Janine Antoni seem to have also informed Cassils’ work. The soundtrack is a recording of Cassils pummelling a giant block of clay, which was cast to create,The Resilience of the 20%, also included in the exhibit. KCAD has arranged a gallery talk by Cassils at 6:00 PM on Thursday, January 29 (location TBD). Jason Bard Yamosky’s video Dream of the Soft Look (2013), follows the morning activities of an elderly man, with flickering interjections of 8 millimeter film. Yamosky cuts between old home movies, and black and white footage, suggesting a curious inversion of cognition, with the past described in animated vivid color, and the present in slow monochrome.

Miller & Shellabarger Untitled Silhouette (conjoined 12) 2008

Miller & Shellabarger
Untitled Silhouette (conjoined 12)

The collaborative work of Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger include beautifully wrought items, some of which suggest practices associated with 19th century mourning, and the cult of death. The couple is depicted in tintypes, paper silhouettes, and cameos, and a there’s a series of handkerchiefs embellished with hair from their beards. The detail and scale invite the viewer to examine many of the objects at incredibly close-range, but there is an uneasiness about encountering the intimacy of the items, and by extension the intimacy of the couple, The experience is ike finding salacious love letters sent to grandma (by a suitor who was not grandpa), or encountering an antique baby picture that documents a corpse. Contemporary society’s discomfort with death has resulted in practices and language that sanitize and marginalize almost everything related to death. Miller and Shellabarger’s works imply that prevailing ideas about intimacy and sexual orientation are social constructs that have the potential to change.

Events scheduled in conjunction with I AM: Gallery Talk: Stafford Smith, 11:30 AM Wednesday, January 28 (in the Fed Galleries) Gallery Talk: Heather Cassils, 6 PM Thursday January 29 (location TBD). Gallery Talk: Sonya Clark, 6PM, Friday, January 30 (Federal Building, room 217), followed by a closing reception. Gallery Hours are Tuesday-Thursday 11-8, Friday and Saturday 11-6, or by appointment. Kendall College of Art and Design The Fed Galleries, Woodbridge N. Ferris Building (17 Pearl St NW)

by Tamara Fox

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