It all started when I pulled into one of the giant concrete parking garages at the University of Missouri-STL, where I was headed to Gallery 210 to view the current art exhibit. After maneuvering my Mini Cooper into a tiny spot, I happened to look up and saw a surveillance camera with a bird’s nest built into it. Twigs and nesting materials were woven together with the camera’s cables to make an integrated and bizarre object. This strange, shocking, and thought-provoking juxtaposition of man-made technology with nature happened about 14 years ago. At that time, the proliferation of surveillance cameras hadn’t reached huge numbers. Or so I thought because I really hadn’t paid attention to them before. Right after that I started looking and was surprised to find them at every traffic intersection, on top of Walgreens, at the bank, and Quick Trip; everywhere. Cameras were recording virtually every moment of our lives in public. Since then, their numbers have only exploded (Proliferate)to the point that we are ‘on camera’ over 75 times per day.
I had no idea my newest art series had just been born or that it would still be expanding right up through 2020, with Eyes Wide Open: Surveillance Seriesat The Kranzberg Gallery. I realized that digital surveillance was seriously threatening our civil rights and liberties online too, in our most private activities, and that most of this was through government and corporate entities. In the time since I saw that bird’s nest, research has uncovered an overwhelming invasion of our privacy occurring with nearly every online activity including email, phone calls, texting, personal finances, photo posts, social media, business communications, political action, and location/movement (Off The Record).
Multi-faceted, Concerned, and Hyperactively Creative
Many artists focus on one style while specializing in a single medium; I often embrace a wide range of different looks and materials or learn a brand-new technique (such as laser cutting or 3-D design/printing) as I create each new piece. For the floor installation USofA Drone Carpet, I taught myself 3-D design software in order to print 109 tiny drone sculptures (based on the Black Hornet military surveillance drone) using selective laser sintering and nylon powder.
Arranged in the pattern of the American flag, but in grayscale color camouflage, the drones offer a somber critique of the United States. Juggling five or six different series simultaneously, my art deals with things that matter right now: surveillance, natural disasters, climate change, species extinction, our separation from nature, the Anthropocene, and gender issues. I look at connections between our contemporary culture, technology, and nature and try to understand our lives. These series don’t usually come to an end although sometimes I will focus on just one, letting the others hibernate until a new concept reactivates them. Infusing my art with the passion of my ideas is a challenge I love.
Infraredwas the first work in my surveillance series; it was directly inspired by the parking garage encounter. Noticing nature and surveillance cameras were intertwined in the real world, I started picturing them in drawings, paintings, and mixed media artworks. I hid cams in plain sight, assimilated into the natural landscape (Darkwoods I, Darkwoods II, Darkwoods III, and Surge).
Why It Matters
Someone asked me why they should care about surveillance. Right here in St. Louis, government/police surveillance with no oversight is an ongoing concern, threatening the civil liberties of all, but especially those of people of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and local activists. In July, a member of the Board of Aldermen made a resolution for St. Louis to contract for limitless aerial ‘spy plane’ surveillance. The Missouri ACLU websites states that when mass surveillance systems are deployed by local police, they are frequently used to target communities of color. “While the nation is discussing the demilitarization of police, St. Louis is considering turning wartime specific technology on its own citizens. This is a threat to liberty. This summer, Americans have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and demand change. During the protest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, officials in Baltimore quietly and secretly turned to the very surveillance technology now before the (St. Louis) Board of Aldermen to track protestors.”* After working with the citizens’ group Privacy Watch STL, I know that since at least 2017, our Board of Aldermen has failed to pass a bill requiring oversight, accountability, and transparency of surveillance practices by the St. Louis police. I think this matters. Earlier, our current federal administration overturned the FCC regulation that banned internet service providers from selling our private information without our permission.** Not long ago, my husband and I were sitting at our kitchen table talking about cats even though we didn’t have one yet; only a short time later ads for cat food appeared on our digital devices because our conversation was not private inside our own home. That conversation’s content wasn’t important, but I am concerned that our privacy is seriously impacted by warrantless and unconstitutional surveillance, even when our devices are switched off. Just last week, the news warned of Zoom hacks into email accounts. Events like these are what feed Eyes Wide Open: Surveillance Series.
My goal is to raise awareness of these issues, in the hope that viewers will be moved to support our right to privacy and even to advocate for it. My art looks back at government, corporate, and personal cameras — especially at the vast insertion of surveillance cameras into the natural world — and focuses on the secretive relationship between subject and spectator.
Footnotes: *The River Front Times, Luz María Henríquez, 7/13/2020 ** NPR, March 28, 2017
As an artist, I make things that explore concern about our place as humans living on planet earth. Over fifty galleries, museums and collections have exhibited my work; in 2018, my sculpture Riverbend was installed at the Gateway Arch National Park as Critical Mass for the Visual Arts’ Public Works Project. Botanica absentia – a memorial to future lost species- was at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2019, when I was also the recipient of The Regional Arts Commission’s $20,000 Fellowship Award. As the Nicholas Aitken Artist-in-Residence at The Forsyth School, my project became a permanent campus installation in 2020. This year, my solo exhibition Leaning on Nature was featured at The Mitchell Museum while more work is online at Wayfarers Gallery, Brooklyn. My multi-faceted career has included being a college art professor, historic preservation consultant, Fiscal Analyst for the Missouri State Legislature, self-employed cake decorator, box factory worker, writer, wife, and mother of three.
“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” will open Oct. 29, with full COVID-19 mitigation policies in place.
The popular adage that is often tossed around in show business, “the show must go on,” met its match this year as COVID-19 has practically shut down the arts and entertainment industries for months.
Since we made the decision to close our venues to the public starting March 13, 2020, we’ve been strategically preparing for the moment in which we are able to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
With cautious optimism, starting Oct. 29, 2020, we look forward to hosting The Midnight Company’s production of Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” at The Kranzberg.
We do not take the decision to host a production lightly, and we have spent hundreds of hours staying up to date with the latest information from public health officials. We recognize the gravity of the current public health situation and acknowledge our responsibility in maintaining the utmost standards when it comes to keeping guests, artists, and our staff safe.
In order for the show to be approved for our stages, The Midnight Company has gone through an exhaustive process including being vetted through our own greenlight plan, receiving certification from Missouri ArtSafe, and finally, approved by the City of St. Louis.
The nature of the production has also been taken into consideration. This one-act, one-person production eliminates potential complications with intermission and social distancing on stage.
The Midnight Company’s COVID plan, which was developed alongside the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and approved by the City of St. Louis, is publicly available on their website so that guests know what to expect when they walk through our doors.
“We’ve taken steps to help everyone — cast, crew, and guests — stay as safe as possible through extensive vetting and work alongside our public health officials,” Executive Director Chris Hansen said. “The Midnight Company is committed to ensuring best practices are in place including staging a one-act, one-actor production.”
Additionally, venue capacity will be limited to ensure proper social distancing of six feet or more between guests.
For organizations and artists interested in producing a show in one of our venues, you must be able to effectively take care of your cast and crew. A plan outlining your COVID procedures must be submitted and approved by the Foundation and the City of St. Louis.
“We look forward to welcoming the show to our stage, and will continue working to support the safe creation and presentation of art,” Hansen said.
As we enter the seventh consecutive month of venue closures, we are methodically working through ways in which we can continue to steward the vital infrastructure for artists and arts organizations so that we can once again say without hesitation, “the show must go on.”
“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Full disclosure: When I initially came up with the idea for Consider…, my vision for this show revolved around reaching a very specific group of people in my world.
You know these people. I’m sure you have them in your life, too. (Heaven forbid you are them…)
The people who are so nice when you meet them! They would bend over backward to make you feel at home in their space. If you only saw them every now and again, you would think them excellent friend material.
But then, you start to notice the weird things they say half under their breath to you…things that make you a little uncomfortable, cause that’s not quite how you see the world. But you don’t want to offend them.
You notice the things they post on social media. It’s like Facebook’s out to get you because suddenly the only posts you see seem to come from that person and your six mutual friends who think more like them apparently than you. You begin to notice those things they said half-under-their-breath to you at that graduation party last weekend, they are practically shouting now. Like, seriously, don’t they have anything better to do than be on Facebook all day sharing one salty meme after another?
It’s those people. I have a lot of them in my life. They come from all walks of life; rich and poor, suburban, urban and country, Republican and Democrat, gay and straight, male and female, old and young. They have two things in common: they are always right, and they will fight to the death anyone who challenges their views.
Everything they do is driven by fear and pride.
Fear is a liar. Fear is a big, bad bully that comes up and steals your lunch, and then dumps you in the trash can for good measure. Fear takes all the beauty and glory out of the world around us, smashes it up, and then heaves us into the cesspit of suspicion, doubt, and comfort in the status quo. Fear makes sure we don’t ever stray out past the edge of our own worldview, like a dog wearing a shock collar. Should we even think about sticking a toe over the line, fear zaps us back with something that proves leaving our safety net of what we know and understand to be true is just not worth the pain.
I know this because I struggle with fear every day. I’m afraid of all kinds of things, real and imagined. I’m afraid of getting into a car accident on the highway, (which could happen), and I’m afraid there are monsters under my bed (which is a ridiculous fear for someone in their 30s, but here we are…). I’m afraid that people won’t like me, especially if they hear what I think or feel. I’m afraid of crying because I think it makes me look weak. I’m afraid of large crowds and tiny spaces. I’m often afraid of myself, of my own talents, and what my life could look like if I succeed or if I fail at the things I try.
I also know pride all too well…pride makes us feel like we are in charge, and being in charge feels good. Pride tells us that we are right, and anyone who challenges us is obviously either misguided, delusional, or else is a threat to our power and so must be silenced. Pride lets us play the gracious teacher, trying to lead that poor stray soul away from lies into the truth. But more often than not, pride makes us into the bully who will do anything to stay on top. Pride takes all the exploration and joy out of life, and makes everything about status, about appearance, about power and control.
I don’t like living with pride any more than I like living with fear. They are not welcome in my life, and it’s a daily struggle for me to send them packing.
So, when I see friends who struggle to see past the narrow end of their own noses, I understand. I get it. I’ve been there, too. I’m still there way too often. Sometimes things pop up in my Facebook memories that make me cringe. I can hardly believe that 18 or 21 or 25 or even 29-year-old me believed those things with so much assurance. I have compassion for those whose fear and pride keep them from being able to consider another person’s way of seeing and being in the world as valid and equal to their own. My heart goes out to those who look at the world around them and see only enemies and not fellow human beings.
Initially, this show is meant for them.
It’s a love letter to people who probably won’t come. It’s a call to come and consider others in a safe space. This show is a chance to take a deep breath, and then plunge into another person’s world and experience, even if just for a half-hour. It’s a call to come and consider how deepening friendship with people not like you can make you more human, more whole, and ignite a beautiful sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. This show is an opportunity to feel the complex emotions involved in learning to see a new way, to acknowledge it’s scary and hard to change your views, to see in new ways, to accept new understandings of the world, but it’s a beautiful struggle, and you will come out the other side ok.
I created this show with a specific group in mind, and my hope was that because they see me as a friend, they would trust me. They would let me guide them into a place where they could experience the grief and joy, the hurt and healing, the despair and hope, the fullness of humanity of others that they usually can’t see because of the blinders put up by politics, religion, tradition, etc. I earnestly desire to be able to lead them by the hand through each custom number painting, portrait, and collage, and allow them, even for just a second, to consider another person’s way of the world as equal, valid, and worthy of their time.
But, even as much as I want to bring them in, I also wanted to challenge them, or really anyone who comes to see my work. Last spring, shortly before I sent in the proposal for this show, I spent some time reading about the Impressionists in France during the later bit of the 1800s. They often tried to get pieces into the Salon, but the art world and society of their day mocked and ridiculed their work, and most often denied it entry. Even when they could get a piece in, it was often lambasted in the strongest possible terms by the crowds who came to see the shows. Claude Monet and the others who started the movement decided to have their own show, but those early attempts were no more successful. For quite some time they were written off as hacks who couldn’t paint.
It’s not the first time (nor was it the last time….Piss Christ anyone?) artists have caused an uproar with their work because it goes against what is considered appropriate and artistic by the not-so-silent, silent majority. But it got me thinking; what would it look like to create work that would cause uproar amongst all the “nice” and “civilized” people in my life? What would it look like to take risks that didn’t try to sugar coat reality, but would call people to action? What would it look like to ask people to empathize and try to understand people they often actively speak against? And how willing would I be to face their ire if they decided they didn’t like being challenged and turned on me?
This tension hounded me all through the creation of Consider…; trying to strike a balance between wanting to help friends out of their fear and pride, but also wanting to slap them about the face a bit with the boldness and beauty of human beings they often seek to forget or deny. You’ll notice each painting features many layers of articles in the background. I choose articles from all the sides I see presented on Facebook and Instagram every day. There are conservative views, liberal views, progressive views, even the occasional anarchist or fundamentalist thrown in for fun. But, at the end of the day, people’s opinions on things don’t mean as much as their actions, which is why the articles are mostly covered over by paint and other pictures.
My mom is a wealth of catchphrases, but one, in particular, undergirded the work of every piece in this show. I first heard this phrase as a kid when fighting my brother for a toy, but it’s proven to be one of the most helpful reminders in my adult life, especially when battling fear and pride. She says people are more important than things. As a kid, it meant my relationship with my brother needed to be more important than my getting to play with some toy. She wanted me to see him as a human being, as my brother, as someone I love and care about, not as competition for something I want, and certainly not as my enemy. As an adult, this phrase took on a similar, but perhaps more nuanced meaning.
People are more important than things…things like national security, things like pride and tradition, things like religion, things like borders and walls, things like money and status, things like power and politics, things like the status quo or the desire to return to an old way of doing things.
Focusing on things will never allow us to consider others.
Focusing on things traps us, and allows fear and pride to wreck our connections to the world.
Focusing on things means that even when we try to be altruistic or generous to others, our actions will be hollow and meaningless.
Who cares if we packed a shoebox with toys for a kid halfway around the world when a kid just like him is sitting alone in a detention center on our doorstep? Who cares if we send money to build houses in third-world countries if we blame the poor in our own country for their poverty and make fun of them for trying to get assistance? Who cares if we voted for the right candidate if we spend all of our time demonizing our apparent opponents? Who cares if we are committed to being anti-corruption and pro-morality if we don’t listen to women who say they have been abused by men (or even other women) we like to have in power? Who cares if we invested in children’s education if the moment that they try to have a voice, we mock them, call them snowflakes, or tell them someone needs to give them a good spanking?
When what we believe, think, know, or understand about the world is driven by things and not by people, we lose our ability to have compassion, to be curious, to expand our knowledge of the world…we lose our humanity when we strip others of theirs and make them less important than objects, ideas, or beliefs.
I created this show with a few people in mind. They are the people who I prayed for daily and desperately, that they would come, they would see my work, and they would for even a second consider that there is more to this world than what they know and are familiar with.
As the pandemic descended, a lot of those people rediscovered that empathy muscle they don’t use often. When George Floyd was murdered, and the protests began, I saw an unprecedented number of them post sympathy and seem to actually seek to understand race in America.
For like two weeks it seemed that my show would land on hearts and minds open to the world, ready to be challenged to grow past their rhetoric and instead choose to love and embrace others as equal and human and whole.
But, like a dog returning to its own vomit, they went back to their old positions and diatribes. It felt like holding a bunch of marbles in my hands, and then someone jostled my elbow, knocking all the marbles out of my hands, and being unable to do anything but watch them scatter and roll away faster than I could possibly scoop them up. They quickly settled back into deeply held beliefs and trolling Facebook, thinking that will fix the world.
I say I created this show with one specific group of people in mind, but that’s not quite the whole truth. I also created this show for the people who I knew would listen; whether that’s because they can identify with one of my paintings because it represents some of their lived experience, or because they are like me, with a curiosity and a desire to know the world around them without the lens of fear and pride warping things.
Even as I thought about, prayed for, and mused on the first group, I thought about, prayed for, and mused on the second group. I considered how they would receive my work, I worried about telling stories that weren’t mine to tell, I obsessed over choosing imagery and symbols that could be triggering. I thought about those who are represented by the various paintings in my show, and I found the courage to not pull punches, but to also not lose my compassion in my frustrations with people who don’t want to listen and to learn. I prayed for those who would try to listen, to look at my work and understand it, that they would have open eyes to receive, and that the work would do mighty things in them.
I dedicate and give this show to anyone who will come and consider. Let those who have eyes to see come and see. Let those who have ears to hear, come, and hear. Hear stories that are not your own. See ways of being in the world that may be different from you. Hear the cries, the joy, the pain, the determination. See the love, the fear, the courage, the need. Come and consider what it feels like to be passed over and forgotten about. Consider what it feels like to be denied your full humanity. Chances are you already know what that’s like…we’ve all had experiences where we are new in a strange place, not unlike refugees who flee to uncertain shores looking for a new home. We’ve all have times when no one listened to us when we were gaslit into thinking our emotions or needs were ridiculous, not unlike victims of sexual assault. We’ve all had times where we just needed to be loved and accepted for who we are, like folks who are in the LGBTQIA community.
We are all human, and at the end of the day, more connects us than separates us.
So, if you come to my show, welcome! I’m really glad you’ve come. I’m glad that you took the time to consider my work. But what I hope is that you take even more time to consider the people in my work. I hope you approach each work with the question, “What don’t I know about….” and fill in the blank. As one of my favorite U2 songs says, “We thought we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” So, start with the place of not knowing, of being curious about another person, of genuine desire to learn, to listen, and to understand. Don’t let fear or pride keep you from discovering something beautiful in someone not like you.
But, consider not stopping there. My hope is that at least one of the pieces in this show will grab you by the heart as well as the mind and that it will prompt action.
The simplest action we can take is to approach everyone we meet with a willingness to listen; a willingness to see a friend and not an enemy. Not everyone we encounter will allow for this; there are some people out there who we may not be equipped to listen to safely. But, if we start with considering others as equal to us, as valuable as we are valuable, as worthy of our time and attention, we’ve made a huge first step towards healing our communities and our country. This is why, though that first group of friends frustrates me, I refuse to see them as my enemies. They may not listen, they may lash out in their ignorance, their fear, or their pride. But, at the end of the day, they are people too. Until we can see all people as our brothers and sisters, as our neighbors, as humans, we will continue to polarize and divide.
Perhaps you are ready to do more; in which case, I would highly encourage you to look up resources for the particular painting you are interested in. In the coming weeks, I will be posting a resource list to my website with books, podcasts, Instagram accounts, documentaries, and other types of resources I found to be helpful in my journey. These are just a starting place, but they might help you focus your search and your journey into understanding others.
One resource I highly recommend if you loved the painting What She Has Done Is A Beautiful Thing is the Netflix documentary Athlete A. Rachel Denhollander is one of the ladies interviewed for the documentary, as well as being the central figure in my painting, and her work and words both in the documentary and in her memoir, What is a Girl Worth? are impactful and incredibly helpful at understanding victims of sexual assault and what we can do to make sure no one has to live through that sort of trauma. If you were interested in my painting Love Your Neighbor, then I highly encourage you to check out the documentary 13th, which is currently on Netflix and is free on YouTube.
Perhaps you are ready for action and are looking to connect personally with people. In the resource list, I will be posting, there will also be organizations, local, national, and international, that I have found to be reputable and who have a variety of ways you can practically get involved with listening, loving, and knowing your neighbor, be they in your city, your state, your nation, or the world. Most of these are continuing to innovate and find ways to safely serve others even in an age of social distancing, and there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved. Again, it’s not an exhaustive list, so please feel free to do your own research, and find something or someone who is doing work that you can get excited about and participate in.
By way of getting you started, if you loved Fishers of Men, you should definitely check out Welcome Neighbor STL. They work with local refugee populations here in St. Louis and provide some awesome ways to connect people so they can learn about each other’s cultures, including a supper club that they now do as a drive-thru event in this season of pandemic and social distancing. Another group that I found (and whose members inspired the painting I Thirst) is No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes. They are an organization that provides aid to migrants along the border, and they have dozens of ways for people to get involved in helping migrants. Their Instagram account is also full of lots of helpful information and opportunities!
In the coming weeks and months, both before and after the election, our nation is going to need us to be the kind of people that can say no to fear and to pride, and instead consider others and create moments of connection and community even with people we disagree with. Our world needs us to be willing to know something beyond our view of the world and to be willing to love people before things. It won’t be easy…in fact, it will probably only get harder as we go along. For whatever reason, loving our neighbors as ourselves is a more revolutionary act than it should be. You might get called names. You might have tough conversations with people who think your priorities are crazy. You might feel all alone.
You are not alone. I am not alone. We are not the only ones in this world who are willing to come and consider. I hope the artwork I have created for this show inspires you, challenges you, and gives you the opportunity to consider others, to find your neighbors in a variety of places, and gets you pumped to love your world a little more. And, if you are someone who identifies with one of the paintings by number I created, I hope you know how loved you are, how worthy you are, how gloriously human you are, and that we need you! I hope you are encouraged and energized to keep speaking your truth, to keep looking for those who will embrace you, and that you don’t get discouraged by the haters out there.
And, if you are one of those people I initially set out to create this show for, if you somehow managed to set aside the fear and the pride for a moment to come and consider, I praise God for it! I’m so glad you came too. This is a safe space for you to try to understand, to be challenged. I hope you consider how you can make a change in how you see the world, and in so doing, help make this world a more loving and less violent place for all of us.
I created Consider… as a way to try and shake us up, to challenge all of us (myself included) to change how we see and how we know, to bridge the gap between those who see enemies everywhere and those who just wish to be seen. I tried to honor the vision I received for this show, to make it a place where people from all backgrounds and persuasions can come and consider, and find each other, even if just for a short moment. In the process, I learned how to better listen to, love, and forgive my neighbor. I learned how to lament with those who are still weeping. I learned how to not make people a monolith, and to take the time to listen to individuals and try to understand. I learned how to find joy, even in the midst of hardships. And, I learned that to be a peace-maker means dealing with the violence that resides in my own heart first before I attempt to bridge the gap between people, to be truly able to look at others not as enemies but as human beings like myself. I remembered daily the wisdom of my mother; that people are more important than things, and I looked for ways to root fear and pride out of my life. It’s been a crazy journey, and it is my joy and honor to share it with anyone who is willing to come and consider.
I dedicate this show to those who have the courage, the creativity, and the conviction to consider others as just as important as them, who are willing to look past differences, who are willing to listen and to learn, and who are willing to take steps to make this world a place of real peace and true joy, where everyone is welcome, and no one is unloved.
So please, come and consider.
Peace to all,
Megan Kenyon is an artist and grad student living and working in St. Louis. Her primary medium is oil, but she loves to dabble in everything from pen and ink to ceramics. Her work focuses on making space for empathy and understanding between disparate groups and/or ideas, looking for common language in both words and pictures. Her work draws on religious and cultural imagery to create pieces that are accessible and yet complex, allowing the viewer to set aside presuppositions and prejudice to experience something new. She has shown work with Webster Arts, being one of the selected artists for the Connecting Communities: Meacham Park show, as well as in their Small Works XII show. Megan also leads The Makers Art Group and helped to host its first art show at Crave Coffeehouse, MADE TO GROW, in 2019. Megan is a graduate student with Fuller Theological Seminary pursuing a degree in Theology and the Arts. You can check out more of her work on her website, or on Instagram and Facebook @servantscrystudios.
Prior to the pandemic, the two artists were scheduled to hang their show centered around caregiving and parenthood at the end of May. As everything began to shut down, Jessica and Christine were given the option to reschedule for the following year or follow through with their show as the first physical show scheduled since the shutdowns occurred. The second of these two options would pose several unknown challenges for public viewing and the logistics of creating a collaborative show while social distancing. Both mentally and physically exhausted from homeschooling their children and working remotely from home, the artists had to make a decision. Christine called Jessica that evening and said, “I think we should do it. When has our subject matter of caregiving and parenthood been more amplified than in this current situation?” Both of them decided to sleep on it and make their decision the next day. Ultimately the two friends motivated each other to take on the unknown along with making new works, and the exhibition “It Hits Home” was born.
Artist Christine A. Holtz shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”
I make all my artwork in my living room — which transforms into a studio once everyone else is in bed. When the pandemic started, I began furiously jotting down inspiration and conceptual ideas in my notebook/sketchbook. My emotions about the pandemic needed an outlet. My dining room table, now a schoolhouse and home office, caused stress just looking at it. To add insult to injury, I would step on Legos at the base of our stairs almost daily (which inspired “One Step from (in)Sanity”). A huge part of my artistic practice is a reflection of the absurdities endured during my everyday life. The pandemic provided an abundance of absurdities. In the evenings, my husband and I would work out in our living room after the kids were in bed as a way to relieve stress. We often elbowed or kicked each other due to lack of space, but it made us laugh. It helped us stay connected. Exhausted and feeling defeated from the day, my living room transformed from family space to workout room to studio, where working on art provided me with a release for my flood of emotions.
“Covid-19 Work Blazer” is a work uniform for the pandemic. The blazer has three sets of sleeves to show the extra arms needed to take on the additional job of homeschooling while also transitioning my job of teaching to a remote format. I plan to wear it this fall while teaching on campus.
“Up a Creek Without A Paddle” filled up my entire living room floor during construction. It is made from an old set of bed sheets out of necessity and to symbolize the home. Due to tight quarters and the size of the piece, I had to actually sit on the floor and move my sewing machine instead of the fabric to make each of the seams. I needed to make this boat. I needed to do whatever it took to keep my family safe. I know it is absurd — so is the situation. It is also a very raw display of how helpless the pandemic has made me feel.
More people being confined to the domestic environment due to the stay-at-home orders has amplified the uneven division of labor in the home. I wanted to follow through with this exhibition in hopes that the work would resonate with more people right now. I can’t help but wonder if our show would have been received the same way without a pandemic.
Artist Jessica Witte shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”
As soon as we made our decision and connected again to talk strategy, Christine shared her idea for a huge mask/boat titled “Up a Creek Without a Paddle.” Her idea was inspiring and could be an anchor for the show’s new direction. Christine added, “I know it will be hard, but I think we will both feel better if we can process this while it is happening.”
With the baseline anxiety of everyone being so high, I definitely felt the stress on my students, myself, and my family. I began hard training again with running to exhaust myself physically as well as emotionally and help me sleep. Even though I have resources and support, every so often the stress of the situation would leak out and emotions would run high at home. “Smoke and Mirrors: everything is fine” captured those moments when small accumulations of stress exploded into outbursts. To create these little bombs, I inserted wicks into wool and laundry lint felt balls. Stabbing the felting needle repeatedly to form the ball and seeing the works take shape was cathartic, (Christine was right, again).
Witte: Thinking of the viewer at the window
Many people would see the show from the windows on Grand Boulevard, so how could we arrange “It Hits Home” to make the artwork most visible from the street? We placed Christine’s embroidery artworks close to the windows so her intricately detailed drawings would not be lost. “Up a Creek Without a Paddle” and her “Covid-19 Work Blazer” were timely, personal, and still humorous so they were close to the title and window. My new artworks needed to attract the eye with contrast and size but be light enough to be handled by myself alone (due to social distancing during install). Once I had spatial parameters in place, I could start sketching ideas.
What did I most want to say about the pandemic? I worried about my Grandma Rose isolated in her nursing home and my sister-in-law undergoing radiation therapy being at high risk for the disease. Encouraging others to realize how their behavior affects some of the most vulnerable (and to see their value) was my aim for the floor works in “It Hits Home.”
I decided to convey the bright, sunny colorful spirit of Grandma Rose — and make her comfortable and safe during this health crisis. I brought out her pile of quilts to inspire me. How could I also convey her vulnerability? Grandma Rose could have visitors through the glass of the lobby but was too fragile to have close contact in the same room. A drawing on the floor would be similar — easily destroyed by a misstep in the room, but safe when viewed from the window. How could I make the patterns as bright as the colorful quilts and clothes my grandma made for my children? Drawing in sidewalk chalk with my kids between teaching, or drawing some painting by numbers, furiously cleaning, and home-schooling helped answer the question.
Witte: Selecting and learning a new medium
I made lap-blanket-sized powdered chalk drawings into bold quilt patterns. The chalk came in vibrant colors and with the thick application could catch a viewer’s eye from the street. I had a tight timeline to learn how to use this new material, as my previous floor drawings were in seed, with a limited color range. I tested various chalk brands and how to grind and apply a consistent dusting. I made small laminated paper and foam-core templates to quickly stencil and layer the colors.
I dedicated “Targeted Treatment” to my sister-in-law Lori and her fight with breast cancer. I interviewed friends and family who had battled cancer about symbols that best represent their treatment. Caretakers and patients mentioned a new sense of time after a cancer diagnosis. The pattern has seven columns and four rows like a calendar page. A ring of cancer-awareness ribbons surrounds crosshairs in each block. Bullseye targets are peppered throughout the “calendar page” of the pattern to make one think about being an easy mark for the virus.
“You Are My Sunshine” is patterned in bold blue and yellow sunburst shapes centered around archery target centers. I left every other square bare except for the center target highlighting the isolation of the residents of nursing homes.
Please wear a mask in public, reach out to your neighbors and loved ones, work out, get sunshine every day, and be kind.
As four striking exhibits recently proved, visual art can be both deeply personal and challenge viewers’ perceptions.
By Melissa Meinzer
Even during the most challenging times, art has a way of speaking to our society, of reflecting a certain resilience of the human spirit. To embody that spirit, The Gallery at The Kranzberg is hosting a year-long, five-part series on chaos.
The gallery’s first exhibition of the year, The Riot Show, explored historical and contemporary Civil Rights struggles. The theme’s long been a focus for artist Michael Faris, whose collage-like images were paired with the poems of Unique Hughley, a spoken word artist from Kansas City.
“My childhood in the 1960s was filled with images of Civil Rights workers being beaten by cops, bitten by dogs, and sprayed with pressure hoses,” says Faris, an assistant professor of art education at Northwest Missouri State University. “Then Ferguson happened, and it occurred to me that things might not have changed.”
Faris worked closely with Director of Galleries Diana Hansen and other employees to create a show that spoke to both the past and present.
“There are many curators who will not show my work,” he says. “Censorship is based on fear and chauvinism. Consider a world without The Kranzberg. Imagine a place with only oppressors and cowards. There are places like that, but we need to keep our space free.”
This spring, artists Saj Issa and Kiki Salem addressed another form of chaos with their exhibition Back Home in Our New Home (pictured above). Using traditional tapestries and ceramic dinnerware, the first-generation Palestinian-Americans explored the human cost of struggle in their homeland. “We didn’t withhold presenting any vulnerable details about our third-culture identity as Palestinian-Americans,” says Issa. “The Kranzberg was so kind and generous to allow us to be as provocative in our own creative ways.”
Issa was pleasantly surprised by the community’s warm response, including from a local doctor who dedicates his summers to improving medical facilities in the West Bank. “It was so wonderful for someone to take the time and effort to reach out to me,” she says.
Artists often challenge viewers to see the world in a new light—literally. Take, for instance, two recent exhibits at The Dark Room, inside the historic Grandel Theatre.
Victoria Donaldson is the co-founder of Sonic Arts United, a nonprofit that addresses issues of gender and race inclusion through education, technology, and the arts. This spring, though, she displayed her own art in her first photography exhibit, a process that she describes as nerve-racking.
“A lot of my photography is very intimate portraits—and when I say intimate, I mean not just in the sense of closeness of the person or figure that’s in it. I mean the subject matter as well,” she says. The strikingly personal photographs included Donaldson’s friends and family, as well as her colleagues in the music industry and people she’s met while traveling.
Even the show’s name, Astigmatism, was personal. “Even though I’m a photographer, I have astigmatism,” she says. “Sometimes my shots come out clear or they don’t come out clear or they have something that isn’t quite right about them. Astigmatism is so common.”
“Photography is kind of a spiritual practice for me,” she adds. “This is what I see—this is literally my eye and my vision of who I am.”
For Orlando Thompson, photography is also deeply personal. His exhibit last December, “I am there,” incorporated large-scale prints of photographs from his travels. “Traveling is interesting to me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s not something that always felt available to me,” he says. “In some ways, having black skin sort of bars you from these places—not physically, but in my mind I sort of bar myself from some places. There are all of these places that are shown in the images, and it’s like I’m not supposed to be there, but I’m clearly there.” Thompson’s 35-mm, half-frame cameras mean every photo is a diptych, with two images in every frame, creating haunting, wry, beautiful juxtapositions.
“You don’t always know what you’re going to get until you lay them down,” he says, “but there’s a story in all of them.”