Week Fifty Two

Art Talks

Posted in Art review, general interest by sarahbakerhansen on 9 February 2009

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I’m a little slow on posting this, but I attended the monthly Bemis Center art talk last Thursday with the intent of blogging about it. I used to be an art talk regular, but got out of the habit. After last week – and the thought-provoking post-talk conversations I had with some of the other attendees – I think I’ll do my best to get back into going regularly.

If you’ve never been to a Bemis art talk before, here’s the skinny: two (or sometimes three) of the Center’s resident artists give a slide presentation and short talk about their work, and the talk usually ends with some insight into the project they’re planning to complete while in Omaha. It’s one of the best ways to become familiar with Bemis’ artist residency program, which is at the heart of what the Center does. It’s also really cool to see what these Omaha transplants are bringing to the city; when they leave, their residency requires them to leave one piece, which sometimes pops up later in the Bemis Art Auction.

After I got my free glass of red wine (always a necessity) I settled in for an hours worth of art. The normal crowd of about 30 to 40 people filled one Bemis gallery for the talk, and Pablo Rasgadostarted the night by telling the crowd about his installations that deal with stopping time and space. The work he’s creating at Bemis uses a technique of removing paintings from their original spot – most look like they were once signs or street art – and bringing them into the studio. The labor-intensive technique he uses to remove the art from its original home dates from the Renaissance, he said, but today isn’t so respected, because art thieves have used it throughout time to steal masterwork frescoes and sell them to private collectors on the black market. Once he gets the paintings in his studio, he cuts and folds the paint, creating a new surface out of what was there before. The earlier work he showed plays with the idea of freezing time. He creates sculptures, from molten lead that, with sometimes dangerous scientific means, he “splashes” and captures with a photograph. The sculpture itself only exists for mere seconds; the documentation is what he shows. He also created a large installation of glasses filled with water and ink. Over time, the water evaporated, but the ink left traces of its presence. The piece, which sat on a light box, created an interesting picture of time, as some glasses, on the lamps, evaporated faster than those in the less intense areas of light. The questions and answer session was challenging. One audience member asked him if he thinks of the molten lead pieces as sculpture or photography; he said sculpture – after all, the real work her is the sculpture. The photograph is mere documentation of the moment in time, which is his true interest.

Next up was Susan Lee-Chun, who closed the night with a presentation of her visual/performance piece called “The Suz: They’re Faux Real!” She’s plays three parts: herself, Susan; “Sue,” a sort of goody-goody dressed all in plaid who usually plays the part of the person trying to “fit in” through age-old traits like good manners and meekness; and “Sioux,” a violent, nasty girl aiming to go against the grain. In one piece, “Sue” wears a plaid dress that blends in with the wallpaper behind her. In another longer performance piece, “Sue”, over time, becomes completely obscured by her plaid outfit that covers more and more of her body, and blends in with the hand-sewn plaid wallpaper, curtains and big plaid rocks around her. “Sioux,” the other character, is more of a snarky warrior with a big, plaid horn on her head. In many pieces, she destroys visages of “Sue,” and she is clearly the other half of the artist’s personality, acting out violently versus trying hard to fit in and become invisible. The most intriguing part of Lee-Chun’s presentation was her absolute insistence during her presentation that “Sue” and “Sioux” weren’t her, but instead that she is only herself, and the other two are different people altogether. A few audience members pressed her hard to break out of the mold during the question and answer session, and though she smiled and chuckled – it was clear she was in on the joke – she never broke form. Some found this amusing, others were clearly aggravated.

I’ve seen work like this before – where an artist pretends to be more than one person but won’t talk about why. I’ve seen this type of work done better, and more convincingly, than Lee-Chun; some former Bemis residents, in fact, have done this type of work quite convincingly. The people I spoke with post-performance all concurred: it would have been a much more interesting talk had Lee-Chun broke character, after her formal presentation, and given some insight about why she chooses to create this type of art, versus sticking to the shtick and refusing to answer any of the questions with much substance.

The next Bemis Center art talk is slated for March 5 at 7 p.m. and features residents Kate Tessa Lee, who makes maps from her own scars, blemishes and spots; and Joel Seah, who appropriates historical work to explore gay identity. The talks are always free. I’ll see you there.

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