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Tag Archives: Visual Art

01 Dec 2020
US of A Drone Carpet by Margaret Keller
By Margaret Keller

The Beginning

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.  

Still Growing

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 Series at 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. 

A Realization

Infrared was 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 IIIand 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 Hope

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.

Click here to explore the gallery exhibition virtually.

Click here to schedule a private appointment to view the exhibition.

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, BrooklynMy 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.

22 Jul 2020

Videos and process behind the artmaking for “It Hits Home”

By Christine A. Holtz and Jessica Witte

In March 2020, this New York Times headline grabbed readers’ attention: ‘I Feel Like I Have Five Jobs’: Moms Navigate the Pandemic. Simultaneously, artists Jessica Witte and Christine A. Holtz were responding to these exact same sentiments through artmaking.

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.

https://www.katebackdrop.de/
Daughters of artist Christine Holtz sit inside “Up a Creek Without a Paddle”

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.

Related: “It Hits Home” virtual exhibition

01 Aug 2019
close-up of textile pieces arranged on the floor of The Gallery at The Kranzberg

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.

three black frames hanging on a wall for "The Riot Show" at The Gallery at The Kranzberg
works from “The Riot Show” by Michael Faris and Unique Hughley at The Gallery at The Kranzberg

“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.

photography backdrops
work from “Astigmatism” by Victoria Donaldson at The Dark Room

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.”

https://alopainting.com/
works from “I am there” by Orlando Thompson at The Dark Room

“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.”

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