Garry Noland makes himself known as a jolly scrimshander of trash, incising psychedelic patterns, maps, and portals into polystyrene, pieces of cardboard, and stacks of old magazines. He weaves textiles and gilts objects gold with polyetheyne tape, creates mosaics with shining tesserae marbles, and confidently posits that monuments can be dredged from polluted urban lakes. He wears a vintage mohair cardigan and is quick with a bad/dad joke. He has a rigorous and sacred studio practice, to which he shows up daily and works diligently, letting the materials he sources from dumpsters, sidewalks, and his studio floor guide his process with an almost religious faith in their ability to reveal underlying truths.
Across his varied artistic practice, Noland cites the abutments between boundaries—whether formal or conceptual, historical or contemporary, playful or serious, grand or mundane—as a reflection of human interaction with art and with each other. The phrase “living in the moment” is as banal and easily dismissed as Noland’s raw materials, and it functions to describe his practice and the resulting presence of the objects and images he creates. With borders and frames that are often fugitive and contingent properties that literally and figuratively lean into one another, these works are charismatic instigators that implore viewers to engage actively with the present physical, social, political, and emotional spaces we inhabit.
There is a palpable quality of stillness in the thirty minutes before rainfall: a suspension of atmospheric breath presaging an impending tearful confession, the calm before the storm. Eventually, this stillness is interrupted by slow winds rolling across a landscape, bringing with them the scent we’ve come to recognize as something soon torrential. The fresh, crisp smell is the aroma of ozone, a word that derives from the ancient Greek meaning, “to smell.” The pale blue gas is carried by downdrafts from the stratosphere to the troposphere where it reaches our noses. Unlike our senses of vision, hearing, touch, or taste, smell is not relayed through our brain’s thalamus—instead it travels through the olfactory bulb, which is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus. These are the areas of our brain that also process memory and emotion, and this biological pathway might explain why scent so easily triggers such intense and sometimes unexpected episodes of nostalgia.
The weight of footsteps on a damp forest floor agitates soil underfoot, and the wet, musty aroma that accompanies this disturbance immediately places one’s sensibilities in the natural world. Geosmin, a metabolic byproduct of bacteria, is the substance emitting this smell, and despite the scent’s association with growth, life, and generation, it can only be released once the bacteria have died. During droughts, plants exude an oil that is absorbed by the clay in rock and soils. This oil is thought to slow the germination of seeds, improving their potential to successfully grow when rainfall is more abundant. Once it does rain, water releases the oil into the air along with geosmin, and the combined scent of these compounds creates petrichor, or put simply, the scent of rain.
Leeah Joo is a Korean-American artist who explores cross-cultural experiences by combining Eastern and Western painting traditions to examine the act of looking. Her compositions often depict what is covered and/or what remains hidden. Presenting a vista of silk wrapped mountains and valleys, Sexybeast (2017) sets the stage for Korean folklore and history to unravel before a contemporary American experience. The drapery in this work is inspired by one of Kansas City’s most treasured American masterpieces Venus Rising from the Sea—A Deception by Raphaelle Peale:, which hangs in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Peale’s trompe l’oeil painting is the pinnacle of obfuscation both in its overt subject—a reinterpretation of John Barry’s 1772 painting Venus Anadyomene wherein Peale has painted a white sheet strategically hung to hide the nude Venus behind it—as well as in the evidence of an underpainting. During a Peale family exhibition in 1967, an underpainting with striking similarities to a portrait of Peale painted by his own father was discovered. The discovery of this pentimenti has lead historians to believe that Peale copied—and then painted over—his father’s work.
Peeking over the v-fold in Joo’s violet swathed hilltops is a traditional Korean goblin or dokkaebi in place of the Venus. The dokkaebi is a fearsome supernatural beast known for pranks that ultimately prove to be harmless. In this composition, the leering goblin stands in for a different example of patrilineal inheritance: Kim Jung Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This conflation of a contemporary figure and mythological creature can be read as a painterly incantation or binding spell, wherein the artist marks the megalomaniacal leader as impotent to inflict any lasting harm.
Sonya Clark draws on fiber craft techniques as well as performance to explore the complexity of material culture and stories laden within. The artist learned the value of storytelling from her Trinidadian and Jamaican family, and it was her maternal grandmother—a professional tailor—who first taught her how to sew. This personal history has attuned Clark to the narratives embedded within materials and their potential for telling powerful stories about history, politics, race, and class.
Gele Kente Flag (1995) is an elongated handwoven textile featuring fragmented elements of the American flag interspersed with sections of brightly colored and brilliantly graphic Western African kente cloth. Native to the Akan ethnic group of southern Ghana, kente (derived from the Akan word for “basket”) is one of the most recognizable of African textiles, known for its sumptuous colors and striking geometric motifs. Traditionally, it is woven with silk and cotton threads on a specially-designed loom, resulting in bands of fabric that can then be pieced together to create clothing and other goods. The pan-African colors of the Ghana flag (red, gold, green, and black) are often prominent in the design, though they are interpreted into a range of patterns established through centuries of practice and continually expanded upon by contemporary weavers. In making this work, Clark employed a European loom to create an African weave in which the stars and stripes of the American flag are interspersed with kente designs that convey ideas about prosperity, strength, endurance, advancement, and achievement.
The storytelling potential of Gele Kente Flag can be understood through the interwoven iconography of American and African material cultures and even further through the performative iteration of the project. Clark—who describes the head as “a sacred place, the center where cultural influences are absorbed, siphoned, and retained, and the site where we process the world through the senses,”—invited fifty African-American women to be photographed wearing the kente flag as a gele, or traditional Nigerian head wrap, and, further, invited the women photographed to share their feelings about kente cloth, the flag, and the term “African-American.” Through enacting the cloth in a functional way and giving lived dimension to its hybrid physical structure, Clark imbued the textile with an even more layered composition of hybrid identities and interlaced desires, beliefs, and notions of cultural pride.
Allison Smith is internationally known for her large-scale performances and installations that critically engage popular forms of historical reenactment and traditional craft, such as quilting, pottery, and wood-carving, in order to redo, restage, and refigure conceptions of history and collective memory. Often calling attention to uncomfortable aspects of American culture, such as slaveholding, war mongering, and white nationalism, Smith offers material re-interpretations of the past in order to inform both our present and our future, reminding us with urgency that craft is never neutral.
Commissioned by the H&R Block Artspace for this exhibition, Allison Smith’s A Hatespun Flag: The Prepper’s Blindspot (2017) is a large flag composed of hand sewn piecework linen digitally printed with images the artist sourced from Ebay, Etsy, and other consumer websites selling resources that support Viking, American Colonial, Revolutionary War, and Civil War reenactment culture. The items featured in the printed images range from hand-sewn clothing and props to traditional quilt-making calico fabrics and Civil War reproduction sewing kits, the latter two making reference to the making of this work. Mimicking the structure of a quilt, Smith’s flag calls to mind the history of quilting as a gendered communal activity and site for social exchange, but here notions of warmth and mending inherent to needlework are interrupted by a sinister darkness: the homespun has transformed into the “Hatespun” in this flag made for a fictitious paranoid survivalist “Prepper.”
By sourcing images from the Internet, Smith calls attention to a contemporary economy of these goods and lifestyles. The aesthetics of the fundamentalist/survivalist/historical reenactment costumes, objects, and practices—which might easily be mistaken for hipster/artisanal craft/DIY aesthetics—read as authentic and homey, but the extreme devotion to—and ilk of nostalgia manifest in—reenactment culture can be viewed in alignment with the significant rise in conservative nationalist attitudes and agendas seen recently throughout Europe and the United States.
Several of the images in Smith’s flag refer to fire-starting materials: flints, newspaper and herb bundles, red candles bundled like dynamite, and improvised bombs made from Mason jars. These can be read as allegories for paranoia, fear, gaslighting, survivalism, violent protest, and flag burning. But, alternately, these images might illustrate a protest strategy Smith noted in a November 2016 lecture at the Kansas City Art Institute, immediately in the wake of the election that put Donald Trump in office: “Ignite a light, be a catalyst for powerful thought and ideas.”
When James Woodfill was a student at Kansas City Art Institute, he made a living sewing for a local commercial flag company. This particular arrangement informed a twenty-year investigation of functionality, materiality, abstraction, and modes of signaling in both visual art and flags. With a resistance to producing static objects and an objective to “collaborate with the built environment,” Woodfill’s installations and public art projects use light, sound, video, and/or kinetic elements to activate the space of the everyday in the time of human perception.
Invited to create a site-responsive installation for this exhibition, Woodfill delivered a portable kit of handmade flags, weights, tethers, and hardware. Flag Kit – Dispatches 2-5 allows for multiple compositions or “dispatches” that can be easily scaled and quickly altered to suit a given environment. Flag Kit began in the artist’s studio as Dispatch 1, has since grown into Dispatch 2, and will continue to transmit messages as Dispatches 3-5, appearing at regular intervals throughout the exhibition. The first configuration is a sharp horizon of flags hanging from the ceiling, stationed at a diagonal to the walls in the alcove it inhabits, revealing itself slowly to a viewer as they enter the gallery space. This creates a surprising encounter that courts both the familiar: we recognize the flag as a form; as well as a sense of uncertainty: what do these strange flags represent? The functional apparatuses and hardware are revealed and in full view; however, the artist’s conceptual aims remain more elusive.
Each “dispatch” references systems of flag signaling without ever fully adhering to the parameters of the system. These flags are made of unusual materials and deviate from standard sizes. They may have individual significance, or perhaps they only function in concert, each reliant on its position relative to others in order to convey a larger meaning. While they do appear to relay some kind of free association—one can identify formal relationships, visual rhythm, abbreviated symbols, and even text; the rows of flags never quite materialize into fully-articulated communication. Instead they read as noise or chatter. Woodfill invites his audience to intercept this chatter, examine it, and deduce information from the patterns he presents. Questions proliferate about what each flag implies, if there is a flag code that corresponds to this kit, and whether these dispatches will reveal information about hidden intentions and actions.
While flag signals were invented to solve the problem of communicating over great distances, Woodfill’s flags reward physical proximity. The configuration provides pedestrian space to move in and out of the installation; and tactility, color, transparency, and light summon an intimate investigation. These signals do not aim to breach a spatial distance, instead they endeavor to connect temporal intervals. An established flag vernacular has been reiterated into a present tense that anticipates future communiqués. Will the impending transmission be a memory or a message? And do we expect it to deliver an idea or an event?
A glistening gold carpet of foil-wrapped candies lies directly on the gallery floor in the shape of a rectangle, inhabiting all but the walkable perimeter of the long, lower-level space. The perceived luxury of glistening gold is belied by the humble, remarkably horizontal arrangement and the fact that the material itself is banal, ubiquitous, and hardly untouchable. In fact, a gallery assistant is likely to invite you to not only touch the artwork, but to take a piece of it.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) is known for employing the evocative potential of minimal forms, and for offering pieces of his work to viewers as a means of dispersal. "Untitled" (PlaceboLandscape-for Roni) is the largest of Gonzalez-Torres's "candy spills," a series that consists of replenishable piles of commercially available sweets. These can be installed in various formations determined by the exhibiting institution, and will be altered over time by the audience that consumes the work. The title of this particular work-the last candy spill created before the artist's death due to complications from AIDS—contains references to both a perceived medical cure and his close friendship with fellow artist Roni Horn, whose compressed gold sculpture Gold Field ignited a recognition of their shared sensibilities.
Gonzalez-Torres's allusive title reflects the way that one creates meaning through perception and sensation. The shrinking and swelling topography of gold cellophane-wrapped candies beckons a downward gaze, encouraging the body to take on the posture of reverence, mourning, and supplication. This Eucharistic gesture seems at odds with the the base gratification of tasting some thing sweet. Drawn by the desire to take a candy, a series of actions then unfold that include choosing it, unwrapping it, ingesting it, and discovering its flavor. The body transgresses here by not only touching the artwork, but by sucking it, and by contributing to its gradual disappearance. The work is an invitation to acknowledge action as a symptom not only of desire, expectation, and pleasure, but also of consequence. What does one do with the empty gilt wrapper, after all?
A gallery assistant asks each visitor these two questions, writing the information with a black felt pen directly onto the wall. The answers become the last line in a neat sequence of handwritten columns, one for every day of the exhibition, framed by a red mason line anchored by two plumb bobs. Clockwork by Roman Ondak (b. 1966) transforms one of the Pulitzer's galleries into a visual representation of time's passing, wherein visitors become the unit of measurement.
Roman Ondak often creates participatory and immersive artworks that stage interaction between museum staff and visitors in new ways that investigate social codes, rituals, and forms of exchange. In the tradition of art that engages the public as both viewer and performer, Ondak aims to question expectations of the museum-going experience by revising a gallery assistant's role and by playing with the convention of didactic timelines and diagrams. In Ondak's Clockwork, time is measured by people, whose arrival generates the marks intended for both a present and future audience.Time is often measured according to an accumulating past, as seen in geologic maps of sedimentary shifts, and Ondak's version of this model simply reorients accumulation by depicting human presence in a growing vertical stratification. More than just an instrument of horology, the performance also acts as a gauge for other possible records and measurements. One wonders if rainy weather, for example, influenced the length of the column created last Thursday. The work also asks questions of networks and connections among its participants: who, separated by only a minute, came together, and who were simply strangers with corresponding schedules?
Clockwork creates an ever-changing composition that allows viewers to become part of the artwork. The museum's walls assume the role of a guestbook, but they enact a form of benign surveillance as well, reminding visitors that reporting one's presence or "checking in" populates a public ledger of behavior and activity. As a collective display of communication, memory, and place, the performance reveals the relative nature of measurement and asks the viewer to recognize how time influences observation.
Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, this volume explores representations of skin in literature, art, art history, visual media, and medicine and its history. The essays collected here probe the symbolic potential of skin as a shifting sign in various historical and cultural contexts, and also examine the material and organic properties of the body's largest organ. They deal with skin as a sensual organ, as an interface or contact zone, as the visual marker of identity, and as a lieu de memoire in different periods and media. In its material characteristics, skin is regarded as a medium, a canvas, a surface, and an object of both artistic and medical investigations. The contributions investigate representations of skin in sculpture, painting, film, and fictional, as well as non-fictional, texts from the 16th century to the present. The topics addressed here include the problematic representation of racial identity via skin colour in various media; the sensual qualities of the skin, such as smell or taste; the form and function of tattoos as markers of personal, as well as collective, identity; and scars as signifiers of personal pain and collective suffering.