Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community
The Displacemeant/Thisplacemeant group show at Paragraph Gallery and the adjacent Project Space featured painting, sculpture and installations from Charlotte Street Studio Residents Rena Detrixhe, Fredy Gabuardy, Adriane Herman, Melanie Johnson, Cristina Muñiz, Gillian Tobin and Lucas Wetzel.
Visiting curator Israel Alejandro Garcia Garcia (who runs the Garcia Squared gallery in the Crossroads) met with each artist throughout the preparatory stages in order to give the exhibit a visual and thematic cohesion. While Garcia’s detailed curator’s statement offered plenty of talking points, I believe the show’s title is the best clue to understanding how its individual components fit together.
Before the exhibit is too displaced from memory, I wanted to use this blog post to briefly look at each artist’s contribution to Displacement/Thisplacemeant, drawing from comments made by each artist during a public gallery tour in June.
On the gallery window, a giant photo of a butt in blue jeans (belonging to a man who lost 25 pounds after giving up junk food) drew the attention of visitors before they even entered the gallery. Next to it were photos of people cheering as others threw items into a dumpster, expressions of joy and encouragement on their faces. These images depicted the “freeing throws” choreographed by Adriane Herman, whose artist’s talks about letting go of burdensome objects (and behaviors) led to a full-fledged movement which has since earned her and collaborator Mo Dickens a Rocket Grant.
Adriane’s “Off-Putting” exhibit gathered individual stories of items left behind and the changes that these lettings-go inspired. While the items themselves were not especially remarkable, they had come to symbolize the profound personal changes experienced by the individuals who had relinquished them. Adriane worked multiple weekend shifts at the gallery following the show’s opening, giving her the chance to visit with guests about their own experiences in letting things go.
Her exhibit shared physical and thematic ground with a typewriter installation by Lucas Wetzel (the author of this blog post), who set up vintage manual typewriters on pedestals constructed by the show’s curator. Some of the stands contained Wetzel’s original writing about memory, identity and self-evaluation, including one scroll listing nearly 200 unanswered questions, a stream-of-consciousness attempt by the author to identify personal neuroses in order to cast them out. Two other typewriter stands (one outside and one inside) were left open for the public to share their own stories about change, letting go, or whatever they felt like writing at that moment.
The stands were designed to create a communal dialogue that would be anonymous yet intimate, and over the course of the show dozens of gallery visitors and curious pedestrians made use of the outdoor typing station. Put together, Adriane and Lucas’s tapestry of personal testimonies, narratives and objects/captions created an atmosphere of reflection and self-inventory that started with the artists and extended to the public.
Along the back left wall, Fredy Gabuardy‘s mixed media sculptures explored similar themes without requiring any words to do so. “Carrying Wood” resembles a hemispherical cactus that had been sliced open to reveal an intricate arena of sculpture, geometric shapes and miniature wooden chairs. A tiny white door set in a plaid column leads to the middle of a miniature forest of moss. Fredy explained that the sculpture was inspired in part by his childhood in Nicaragua, when he would spend hours in the forest innocently playing while his family members wondered where he had gone.
A second sculpture, “Together / Not Mixed,” presents what look like two laptops with trees growing where the keyboard would be, their roots exposed in mounds of earth linked together by a delicate suspension bridge. The details in each sculpture offer plenty for the viewer to examine, but the artist declined to speak about their meaning in too great of detail, preferring to allow viewers their own interpretation.
For painter Cristina Muñiz, whose vivid colors and overlapping shapes filled three canvases of varying sizes, painting is a way to translate her personal experiences into works of art. Cristina’s paintings illustrate memories of her life and childhood in San Antonio, and she said she is especially interested in how the stories we hear as children gradually become assimilated into our own narratives and sense of identity.
Cristina explained that one of the paintings represented a Sunday evening meal in which her family had gathered together to share food and conversation, a tradition that seldom occurs now that those family members are spread across the country. Another illustrated her visit as a small child to an aunt suffering from cancer, an experience in which the sole source of light in the room — a small candle — suddenly flared up and illuminated everything around them. The specificity of these stories would be virtually impossible for a viewer to pick up on without having them recounted by the artist, but they add a rich storytelling component to her work that puts it right at home in the larger thematic context of the “Displacement/Thisplacemeant” exhibit.
On the Project Space side of the gallery, Gillian Tobin‘s sculpture installation occupied a large portion of the floor and wall space, with objects that look like petrified latex pillows mounted on the walls or partially deconstructed on the floor. The unusual placement of pillow-like objects on a vertical surface — as well as the hard, uncomfortable texture of something we usually think of as being soft and pleasant — creates an intriguing disconnect between viewer expectations and the actual quality of the objects.
It’s a disconnect that Gillian created by design, purposefully making objects that refuse to be categorized as beautiful or pleasant to look at. As she writes on her Tumblr site, the forms are “bodily — wrinkled and bloated — yet static and quiet in their presence as objects. They are far from perfection.”
The contorted female figures in Melanie Johnson’s untitled painting look like they’d fit right in alongside the portraits by Viennese painters from the early 20th century. A technically stunning work consisting of two large canvases stacked on top of one another, the painting’s subjects are presented with a dreamlike intimacy, while the hidden faces and the height of the canvas establish a sense of distance from the viewer. Melanie had been creating large-scale charcoal portraits throughout her Charlotte Street studio residency, but she made a return to painting for this exhibit at the curator’s request. Although she said she has purchased several smaller canvases, she plans to continue painting on larger surfaces for now.
For Rena Detrixhe, what began as an exercise in collecting natural materials — in this case the fruit from a crab apple tree on the University of Kansas campus — resulted in an expansive tapestry resembling a handwoven fishing net. Rena’s original goal was to collect every crab apple on the tree, but winter weather and an inadequate ladder resulted in her gathering only about half.
In the installation’s construction, Rena utilized everything she had gathered from the tree, even saving the broken stems and drill dust for a separate display of meticulously preserved byproducts. Due to construction last year on the KU campus, this artwork is now all that remains of the crab apple tree. If that’s not a perfect example of “Displacemeant/Thisplacemeant,” I don’t know what is.
Show review by Charlotte Street Foundation writer-in-residence Lucas Wetzel. Photos of the show’s opening courtesy of the Charlotte Street Foundation and provided by individual artists.