Sometimes I ask myself “How can I let the world know that I’m winning at Art?”
Today I saw a (un-ironic) promotional picture of an artist that showed me the way. Picture it: in high contrast grayscale, a Serious Artist, challenging the camera with self-assured yet mysterious eye contact, his name whispering in the background while he holds a medium-to large trophy to let you know that he WINS at being an Artist.
The moment I saw him, I knew what I needed to do.
I hereby solemnly swear that I will hold trophies in all of my serious promotional photos, and at least some selfies.
On July 11, 2014, NC Governor Pat McCory has dismantled the NC art community’s long-standing jurying process for the state’s Poet Laureate position, insisting that “anyone who wants to should become Poet Laureate,” adding, “Why not? What the heck?” The NC Department of Cultural Resources has released a blank certificate form, inviting NC residents to fulfill their dreams of Laureate-dom by downloading and completing the awards on their own. The position’s $10,000 stipend is expected to be divvied up between all persons who mail a copies of their completed forms to:
Governor Pat McCrory
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
This is what happens when you shoot in panorama mode while riding in a car. What started as a way to pass the time on a trip to NCs Outer Banks resulted in some interesting images. In about half of the images have gotten enjambed and spliced in cool obvious ways; the rest of the batch have more subtle visual stutters. Favs: there’s one where the camera grabbed the shadow of a street sign but not the sign itself; in another the camera apparently seized on a boat’s off-board motor and dragged it across the shot.
Well, this will be a first! Next week I’ll be visiting the University of Alberta via FaceTime to do a short talk about the obeast project. Art History professor Natalie Loveless is using the MOCS project (and Stefanie Snider’s incredible article about it) in her Gender, Sexuality and Visual Culture class. During our preliminary chat yesterday Natalie said that her students are excited about the line up of artist visitors she has planned for the class, which include Annie Sprinkle, Heather Cassils, Jess Dobkin and others. How cool is that, to have the artists you’re studying actually pop in for a visit? I would have loved that in school! And with the magic of technology it’s easy, no big deal at all. (Note to self: do this in future classes)
I’ve also visited/spoken at Temple University and East Carolina University and really enjoyed these interactions with young, curious and sometimes contrary minds. Preparing for talks always makes me revisit talks and interviews I’ve done before– with varying levels of articulateness if I’m being honest. There are a few questions that always come up, so as an exercise for myself I’m going to post some ruminations here. I need to work on my soundbites, so I’m going to try to be plucky and concise. We’ll see how that goes.
FAQ #1: Where the heck did this project come from?
This project started as a daydream I had while trying to learn to sew muu muus. I was amusing myself during this long process by letting my brain ping around between current events, nature documentaries (which I’m obsessed with), dumb jokes, etc. At some point I imagined a version of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ (and Jane Goodall’s overall conservation efforts) that was ‘Fatties in the Mist’ and it kind of cracked me up. I envisioned concerned scientists rushing around trying to save this beloved, majestic, misunderstood creature from poachers and certain extinction. It was a skewed version of all the concern and fretting happening about obesity on the news and I found it very entertaining as a distraction from the tedium of sewing. I’d started making the muu muus because I’d felt compelled to do it as a fat person at odds with the media’s portrayal of fat; I didn’t have a specific plan for them afterward. So when I finished and tried to move forward with other projects, I found I missed my daydream, and I wondered: What if that daydream was real? Could I make this the art? It all kind of tumbled out from there.
FAQ #2: In what order did you make the museum’s collection?
Well, the muu muus came first because they were the tool that got me thinking about the project in the first place. From there I headed out into the wilderness with my camera and took photos of muu muu-clad me in nature using my camera’s timer and running into position. I was interested in creating a history for my creatures to establish the narrative’s plausibility, so I photoshopped obeasts into photos of hunting scenes from the Library of Congress. I followed these with scientific charts and obeast taxonomy. The taxidermied obeast diorama came a year later in 2011.
FAQ #3: Has this project been controversial?
Yes, MOCS has been controversial from the start for reasons that have sometimes surprised me. For one thing, there is a consistent assumption that a man has made this work. This happened the very first time I displayed the work in the Free Street Gallery in Portland, Maine in July 2010. A freelance writer for the Huffington post saw the exhibit and was absolutely furious. Because I never associate my name with the exhibit spaces themselves, she got in touch via some generic MOCS literature displayed as part of the show and demanded to know why I would do that to that poor woman. I diffused the situation over coffee and we had a nice conversation about the work, though the woman could not articulate why she assumed the artist was male. Since then, the male artist assumption has been a frequent thing. I have a couple theories as to why this happens: for one, I think that the world of science is still socially coded as masculine. After all, science has traditionally been a boy’s club, with few women able to gain access to the influential upper echelons of scientific research until the mid 20th century.
I also think there is something about the way this work unabashedly examines the obeast that evokes the entitled ‘male gaze’. Since surely no woman would ever (seemingly) debase herself the way I have as the obeast, it must be a man doing this to her. Interestingly, a common reaction when people find out that I am behind the work is to feel sad for me that I despise myself so much. At a recent opening in Atlanta, I spoke with a woman who said that no self respecting woman would willingly depict herself as fat unless she was externalizing her shame. For her fat was such an obvious (and deeply internalized) negative feature that she couldn’t imagine thinking of it as anything but. I suggested that she was projecting her own judgments/worries about fat onto the piece, since there’s not actually anything in the work that suggests self-loathing and that this is exactly the sort of bias I was addressing in the work. To her credit, a light bulb when on for her, and at least for a moment she tapped into the meta-narrative of the work. It was a sweet moment.
Of course, there is also the controversy that comes from the work’s suggestion that fat might not be evil. For this sort of critic, the issues of the world seem to be neatly categorized as good or evil with no gray area in between. Therefore, when this work suggests that fat might not be evil what I must be saying is that fat is great and everyone should be fat like me. Frankly, I’m not interested in either of these positions. I want to look at the way facts and truths are formed through legitimizing institutions like science and the media and are then consumed uncritically by the public at large and manifested as stigmas.
(so much for concise and plucky)
FAQ #4: Is this supposed to be funny? Why does MOCS use humor?
MOCS is intended to be funny in an uncomfortable sort of way. The humor comes from being confronted with an arty hoax– a narrative that is simultaneously plausible and completely absurd. It’s the art equivalent of a deadpan joke delivery. The discomfort comes from the work’s obvious connection to issues both timely and deeply personal, which is why the humor buffer is so important. I want to make emotional space for people to think about what I’m driving at without feeling attacked or shamed. I’m pointing out a flaw in a system we are all personally implicated in; the least I can do it break it to them/us gently.
FAQ #5: What’s next?
I use art making as a way to understand and process the world. I’m not done working through these ideas of identity and truth formation, so MOCS still has work to do. Although I have various side projects and experiments I’m working on, the obeast project remains my primary studio focus. I’m currently drawing the obeast skeletal system for a large screen print series of the different obeast anatomical systems.
The opening reception for “Something In Particular” (which took place on April 27) was a blast and I have photographic proof.
MOCS @ SIP (View from entrance)
MOCS @ SIP
MOCS @ SIP
Entry way via MOCS
Kong Wee Pang + Heather Gordon
Jay Crumb, Kong Wee Pang, Cubby West
Danielle, Kong Wee, Me
Me, Kong Wee Pang, Cubby West, Matthew Thomas, Melonie Tharpe, Daniell Bernstein
“Club Pose”: Me, Kong Wee, Cubby, Matthew, Melonie, Danielle, Jason
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
This exhibition was curated by Cubby West and Melonie Tharpe as part of an overarching documentary project by the same name that they filmed along with James Martin in 2012 and are in the process of editing now. (Checkout their adorable Kickstarter video.) The hypothesis they are pursuing is that there is something in particular about the South (see how they came up with that name? Eh? Ehh?) that produces the unique art made here. They don’t know what that something is, or even how to characterize Southern art exactly, but they went looking for answers all over the Southeast last year. (A highlight of my trip to Atlanta was sitting with the girls in Cubby’s parents’ garden and drinking too much wine while listening to travel stories. I’m telling you guys, this film has all the fodder to be amazing.)
The “Something In Particular” (SIP) exhibition is a result of the experiences and connections they made on the road, and is the first in what will be a series of exhibitions of Southern art. Housed in the former cafeteria of an Atlanta telephone factory (painstakingly transformed into a gallery by the SIPers, Danielle Bernstein, and Jason Maris), SIP is a group show of ten artists from all over: Memphis, Charleston, Asheville, Durham, and Raleigh. The show is up through May 26 and open to the public Wednesday-Sunday 1-4pm. There will be a closing reception on May 26 from 4-8pm with most of the artists in attendance. See you there!
I’m in the process of packing my volvo wagon (named Spanky) full of obeast for the “Something In Particular” exhibit opening this coming Saturday 4/27 @7pm at the Telephone Factory Lofts in Atlanta. To create a little buzz for the show I did an interview for Burnaway magazine (my new favorite site) about the project and about the Triangle art scene in general. Check it out!
Anyone have tips of places to eat or art to see in Atlanta while I’m there?
I have very few memories of my biological father from my early childhood. In fact, I have four: the first (and favorite) is walking in the woods together and him showing me a wintergreen plant and giving me a leaf to bite. The second is standing next to my mother in the driveway as he backed his green truck out to leave for work; he paused with the window down to wink at me and hand Mom some cash with instructions to buy my brothers and me Happy Meals for lunch (a big deal for a farm kid). Another memory is just a glimpse: him standing in his green work clothes and cap at his work bench in the shed, working quietly on something I couldn’t see. The last memory I have is a man with rough hands singing “You are My Sunshine” as I fell asleep.
He disappeared for some complicated (and unsatisfactory) reasons when I was three or four. I reconnected with him at age 16 when he reached out upon being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I visited him in the nursing home about two weeks before he died. He was restrained to the bed to keep him from trying to chase the cows he could see had gotten loose, or the deer that were bothering his orchard. I can’t remember if I was brave enough to hug or touch him in any way. In the moments of lucidity, he knew who I was and was very happy I was there. He said repeatedly that I looked like him, and although I didn’t see that myself I was shocked to observe how many mannerisms and expressions we shared. Mostly little things like scrunching up our noses when speaking.
Another trait that I get from him, so my mom tells me, is a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. Apparently he used to walk through fields and come back with handfuls of them; I can do the same. Usually I find them without looking for them specifically–just catching flashes of them out of the corner of my eye. However, the process of intentionally searching has its pleasures too. I inevitably think about my father whenever I find one; it makes him feel like a part of my life. In a way this ability is his most tangible legacy to me.
Recently I decided that I wouldn’t pick the four-leaf clovers I found anymore, but instead let them go on to pass the gene that produced them on to another generation of clover. This spring I decided to start photographing the clovers I find (when I have a camera handy). So far I have taken 38 photographs, but some of these have multiple four-leaf clovers in them. I also found two five-leaf clovers.
Not sure if there’s an art project in here beyond the clover documentation. For now it’s just for fun. More on this as (if ) thoughts develop.
I’m heading back to NPR’s The State of Things this Wednesday, April 10, at noon– but this time I’m going with a posse! My husband, book contributor, and smartie extraordinaire, Carl Dyke is coming to speak about his wonderful piece on meta-activism! (And other contributors may chime in remotely if technology allows.) If you are in North Carolina tune into WUNC to catch it live! If you’re not, you can stream it live online HERE.
A Guide to the North American Obeast by Rachel Herrick
This two-book set explores artist Rachel Herrick’s cuttingly humorous obeast project from the inside out.
Obeast: A Natural & Unnatural History, the first book in the set, is a collection of (fictional) scholarly articles about the biology, history, and conservation of the endangered North American Obeast, a genus of bipedal ungulates performed by Herrick to satirize the everyday dehumanization of fat bodies in our culture’s current frenzy over the “obesity epidemic.” Further, by placing obeasts within a scientific context (via both these pseudo scholarly articles and her elaborate Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies (MOCS) installations) Herrick explores the power dynamics inherent in information dispersal, fact creation, identity formation and stigma.
Obeast: A Broader View, the second book in the set, locates the obeast project in a wider cultural context through a collection of (real) scholarly articles by seven contributors writing from the places where their current research and interests intersect with Herrick’s work. The obeast project incorporates many academic fields (including science, cultural identity, satire/hoax/comedy, fat activism, and feminism), and appropriately this academic range is reflected in the backgrounds and topics of this book’s contributors, which include fat activist Marilyn Wann, art historian Stefanie Snider, philosopher Chuck Dyke, comedian Jenny Hagel, political scientist Jennifer Denbow, historian Carl Dyke, and curator Rebecca Duclos.
$35 soft cover; $17.50 DRM-free ebook
Set of two books, book one 75 pages, book two 91 pages pp.
7.5″ x 8″
View sample pages: 1, 2, 3, 4