SERENITY NOW: MEDITATIONS ON HUMANITY
Lisa Sette Gallery 35 Year Anniversary Exhibition
March 7 – August 29, 2020
Lisa Sette Gallery, an internationally-recognized advocate of contemporary art, will commemorate its 35th anniversary with a March exhibition entitled Serenity Now: Meditations on Humanity. The midtown Phoenix gallery, housed in a strikingly renovated Al Beadle office building, has maintained its unique aesthetic vision and relationships with artists, collectors, and the arts community for over three decades, defying the notoriously transitory art market. Lisa Sette Gallery is recognized for its radical and inclusive curatorial vision, working with significant regional, domestic and international artists and exhibiting work that addresses urgent social and political issues. These essential values give rise to the gallery’s March anniversary exhibit.
The show’s title, Serenity Now: Meditations on Humanity, is both a plea for introspection and a reference to Seinfeld episode 159. The exhibition’s moniker reflects the curatorial philosophy of the gallery as a whole: fierce, poignant, and when necessary, unapologetically irreverent. The exhibition will open on March 7, 2020 and run through May 2, 2020, and includes works by David Kimball Anderson, Enrique Chagoya, Long-Bin Chen, Sonya Clark, Binh Danh, Claudio Dicochea, Ben Durham, Angela Ellsworth, Máximo González, Siri Devi Khandavilli, Mark Klett, Mayme Kratz, Carrie Marill, Mark Mitchell, Marie Navarre, Reynier Leyva Novo, Beverly Penn, Charlotte Potter, Ato Ribeiro, Mike & Doug Starn, Julianne Swartz, James Turrell, and William Wegman.
Works included in Serenity Now revolve around the notions of selfhood and introspection that are inextricably tied to our relationship to the world. Artworks included will examine the ways in which our own painful and exquisite awareness of others is what defines our own individuality.
Charlotte Potter’s hand engraved glass portraits and texts take on contemporary personalities and characters. The tension in her work comes from the interplay of traditional laborious handcraft representing modern day topics. In or through glass, familiar faces bend and warp, and our sense of recognition wavers with surface fluctuations and changes in perspective. Potter’s new work will chronicle a selection of world leaders in ancient Roman style glass portraits, the faces of these figureheads committed to perpetuity, for better or worse.
Ato Ribeiro’s Main Race speaks of the artist’s recent travels in search of American griot—the bearers of stories of cultural survival, from the industrial workspaces of Detroit to the Red Willow People of the Taos Pueblo. Ribeiro found himself collecting these individual narratives and ultimately joining the fragments together to create works that celebrate a timely new paradigm of American survival.
Siri Devi Khandavilli’s rows of inkblot-shaped mirrors, presented on traditional Hindu temple lotus-like padmapeeta pedestals, explore a sense of individuality as part of the much larger phenomenon of consciousness: “I am interested in mirrors not only as a medium, but also as an object with metaphysical connotations,” says Khandavilli. Each mirror, entrancing in its presentation, signifies a meditative moment, according to the artist, “a visual exposition of an otherwise unconscious thought process.”
In Detention at the Border of Language, Enrique Chagoya defangs the stereotype of Native Americans depicted as primitive savages in The Abduction of Daniel Boone’s Daughter by the Indians, the 1853 painting by Charles Ferdinand Wimar. The mask and the Mayan head team up with a third character to form a fictitious, original, trans-continental Border Patrol. This work is a humorous reminder that all nations in the Americas were created by undocumented immigrants from Europe. Today, some politicians call refugees from Central America and other countries “illegal aliens” but to Enrique, they are no different from the Pilgrims or Daniel Boone’s daughter. Says Enrique, “Xenophobia goes against the spirit of this great country I immigrated to and adopted as my home when I became an American citizen.”
In his Graffiti Map series, Ben Durham collects found graffiti imagery and transcribes them with graphite and ink onto handmade paper. Like architectural supports or internal skeletal systems, this crisscrossing of streets cut across the face of the drawn image visualizes the programmatic structure within our cities, neighborhoods, and selves. Consciously or not, our experience of place is embedded within us, inseparable from our understanding of self. To this end, graffiti acts as a visual memory of the experiential bonds between place and self. Like memory, these marks mapping movement through space begin to fade and are quickly crowded and overwhelmed by others, leaving only traces.
Overlooking the works of Serenity Now are Binh Danh’s supremely serene images of Buddha statuary. Danh’s daguerreotypes gleam with an otherworldly reflectivity, and viewers will likely see themselves in the silver surfaces of each piece; on the luminous expressions of these deities, Danh’s images record a secret energy at play in all human endeavors. As we contemplate the mysterious machinations of human destruction, we must also return to the generative mystery of the Buddha’s form.
With Serenity Now: Meditations on Humanity, gallery founder Lisa Sette turns from the daily crush of division and conflict that threatens to indelibly shape our lived experience, and instead contemplates our human capacity for introspection and perseverance, and how these qualities endure regardless of external circumstances. “I do not want the current political climate and torment to define us,” remarks Sette. “I’d like to think about how we move through our current adversity with hope and compassion.”
Exhibition Opening reception with Carrie Marill Marill’s recent focus on walls and thresholds speaks of barriers and preservation, our human instinct to guard and separate, and our present moment of estrangement and division. In Marill’s works, the walls themselves become part of a process of acknowledging the need for guardedness and vulnerability, as well as suggesting the possibility of moving through that barrier in order to access interior truths. In some of these works, delicate vining flora can be glimpsed within a burnished bronze enclosure. Other paintings contain masonry-like surfaces, expressed in glistening lines with the exquisite clarity and patternwork that is a hallmark of Marill’s endeavors. Enveloped within these “walls” are likely hidden initial paintings, or series of paintings that are a foundational, if concealed, part of the artist’s process. “I wanted to show beauty in the depiction of vulnerability, but also to guard it.” – Carrie Marill The use of discrete strands of gold and bronze paint is a motif found throughout Marill’s work, and in the paintings at Lisa Sette Gallery this January, metallic hues become a primary medium, symbolic of the alchemical aspects of creative work: “I wanted to create a mosque or church-like space inside the gallery, all of the paintings glowing with patterning in gold or bronze, to create these almost sacred objects.” Marill recently studied Moroccan patterning at a traditional painting school in the UK, and remarks, “the uses of color, space, pattern, and reduction in Middle Eastern and Asian painting have always interested me. There’s meditative sensibility that resonates with me and is something I try to integrate into my pieces. Ultimately, I see the world through a patterned lens, and what I’ve learned is that much of the world sees through this lens as well.” In the Atrium:
January 7 – February 29, 2020
Saturday, January 11, 2020, from 7:00 – 9:00pm
Carrie Marill’s paintings seem to extend into a separate dimension, a place of form and color and clean, bright angles in sharp relief. These views of the essential matter of our physical world, organized into startling and compelling patterns, may appear crystal clear to the viewer, but Marill says her paintings are often the result of months and years in which unexpected geometries are allowed to agitate and resolve. In January and February, Lisa Sette Gallery will feature a selection of Marill’s new works, intricately detailed acrylic canvases inspired by the notion of fortifications and barriers—both their protective exteriors and the precious interior spaces within.
New works by Angela Ellsworth
Opening reception with Carrie Marill
Marill’s recent focus on walls and thresholds speaks of barriers and preservation, our human instinct to guard and separate, and our present moment of estrangement and division. In Marill’s works, the walls themselves become part of a process of acknowledging the need for guardedness and vulnerability, as well as suggesting the possibility of moving through that barrier in order to access interior truths. In some of these works, delicate vining flora can be glimpsed within a burnished bronze enclosure. Other paintings contain masonry-like surfaces, expressed in glistening lines with the exquisite clarity and patternwork that is a hallmark of Marill’s endeavors. Enveloped within these “walls” are likely hidden initial paintings, or series of paintings that are a foundational, if concealed, part of the artist’s process.
“I wanted to show beauty in the depiction of vulnerability, but also to guard it.” – Carrie Marill
The use of discrete strands of gold and bronze paint is a motif found throughout Marill’s work, and in the paintings at Lisa Sette Gallery this January, metallic hues become a primary medium, symbolic of the alchemical aspects of creative work: “I wanted to create a mosque or church-like space inside the gallery, all of the paintings glowing with patterning in gold or bronze, to create these almost sacred objects.”
Marill recently studied Moroccan patterning at a traditional painting school in the UK, and remarks, “the uses of color, space, pattern, and reduction in Middle Eastern and Asian painting have always interested me. There’s meditative sensibility that resonates with me and is something I try to integrate into my pieces. Ultimately, I see the world through a patterned lens, and what I’ve learned is that much of the world sees through this lens as well.”
In the Atrium:
Zulu! Contemporary Master Zulu Potter Mncane Nzuza
November 2, 2019 – January 4, 2020
Saturday, November 9, 2019, from 7:00 – 9:00pm
Vessels From the Far Away KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa Travel to Modern Desert Venue for Exhibition at Lisa Sette Gallery in Phoenix, Arizona
It is difficult to conceive of two more disparate situations; a sophisticated, urban, contemporary art gallery in Phoenix, Arizona and a traditional compound of earthen structures at the end of a road in a remote corner of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Surprisingly, however, these two contrasting circumstances of life on earth are closely linked by the common, intrinsically human impulse of aesthetic appreciation. In this case, regarding the hand-built clay vessels of Zulu potter Mncane Nzuza, whose work is both distinguished among her Zulu culture, and widely recognized in contemporary Western circles. From November 2, 2019 to January 4, 2020, Lisa Sette Gallery will exhibit a collection of Nzuza’s remarkable clay vessels.
Mncane Nzuza lives in South Africa in a kraal—the ancient, traditional compound of round, earthen houses, and she is 69 years old. Her grandmother was a potter who instructed Nzuza as a child in the labor-intensive and matriarchal world of Zulu ceramics. Traditional Zulu pottery created today links to deep cultural pathways: the blackened earthenware vessels function as potent connectors between ancestors and the living. Most are made for either brewing or serving a mild beer, which is communally consumed at important occasions. While Zulu potters work within this specific canon, there is considerable avenue for individual expression, and creating distinguished pottery is a primary vehicle for women to assert and increase prestige within Zulu society. Nzuza’s pots, which are exceptionally accomplished both technically and aesthetically, are a testament to this dynamic.
Rimless and burnished to a deep hue, Nzuza’s vessels seem to have been inflated from within, not laboriously built by slab and coil. To anyone familiar with hand-building a pot, they are astonishing. The surface patterns of hundreds of tiny balls of clay, each individually applied, present vestigial remnants of ancient skin scarification traditions.
The appreciation of Nzuza’s remarkable vessels by contemporary Western audiences taps several recent currents in Western art. The Arts and Craft movement of the late 19th, early 20th centuries created a vocabulary of appreciation for technique, material, and function, and Minimalism, which formalized the estimation of pure form, unencumbered by superfluous decoration.
Nzuza’s vessels are created upon a formal foundation based on ancient Zulu traditions, which in most cases is unknown to contemporary Western viewers, yet her pots transcend that gap, remaining profoundly moving even separated from their cultural context. Their simple, inflated forms are subtle and understated, yet incredibly dynamic. These vessels don’t terminate in defined “necks,” but rather present an ambiguous opening—an oculus defining space. Their bodies are velvety dark, with a patina of use implying other histories and other lives. Like the opening, the foot is not announced but rather remains suggestive and utterly integral to the body above. Lastly, the surface treatment—the interlocking loops, arcs, and necklaces of hundreds of tiny clay nubs—are never bombastic, always just right. This is Nzuza’s genius, recognizable from South Africa to Arizona.
Luis González Palma
Luis González Palma
September 7 – October 26, 2019
Saturday, October 12, 2019, from 7:00 – 9:00pm
“For some years now I have been more interested in creating images than in taking photographs in the traditional sense of the word.”— Luis González Palma
Over the course of an accomplished, decades-long career, Guatemalan artist Luis González Palma has worked to distill the poetic from the photographic, altering and obscuring the formal tenets of the medium of photography while paying tribute to its profound historical and theoretical implications.
In September and October Lisa Sette Gallery will feature new works from González Palma’s three ongoing projects: MÖBIUS, in which romantic portraiture is met with the stark geometrical forms of modernism; KOAN, involving delicate and precise collages of early South American astronomical photographs, and HAIKU, a compositing of photographic scraps, geometric collage and digital manipulation that revels in the realm of pure abstraction. Each endeavor is underpinned by González Palma’s fascinating and deeply personal formulations connecting Central and South American history, philosophical schools, and cultural imagination.
In MÖBIUS, González Palma speculatively joins Central American romantic aesthetic of 1930’s magical realism with the rationalist concretism that emerged in mid century South America. In doing so, the artist seeks “to generate a symbolic ‘conciliation’ between the two artistic currents, activating tensions and creating relationships between two ways of representing reality from diametrically opposed perspectives.” The result of this experiment is a series of breathtaking sepia portraits of native Guatemalans—their serene visages often flourished with roses, wings, and other iconic imagery—that are bisected or framed by abstract geometric shapes in an eerie, intimate interplay of intellect and emotion.
Argentina’s Astronomical Observatory of Córdoba captured some of the first images of outer space from the South American continent, and González Palma centers his KOAN photo collage series on these historic photographs of cosmic bodies and spectral rays. Framed in an intriguing architecture of dichromatic spaces, these nonlinear collages bring to mind the notion of parallax—the effect of distance and the passage of time on our perception of the universe. This body of work represents for the artist “a way to access a more complex and deep conscience, the search for a reality related to the void and the sacred space, creating images that represent meditative visual spaces, uncertain and loaded with a mysterious geography.”
González Palma’s most recently initiated HAIKU series comprises “drawings made from fragments, scraps, waste from scanned 19th-Century negatives and negatives that have been exposed to light, combined with geometric images made on the computer.” While the artist classifies these works as “post-photographic,” their restless repetitions of angle and frame, light and dark, and delightful, unexpected surface ambiguities, speak of a commitment to the photographic process as experiment, muse, and cultural conscience.
At the Doors of Perception
May 11 – August 31, 2019
Saturday, May 11th from 12:00 – 5:00pm
Saturday, May 11th
7:00 – 9:00pm
The full realm of the human psyche exists beyond the technological shackles and mundane logistics so pervasive in the early 21st century. The artists of “At the Doors of Perception”, a group exhibition at Lisa Sette Gallery opening May 11, 2019, employ various mediums to present artworks as potential methods to escape the confines of the conforming ego and self-conscious brain, and access radical aesthetic and psychic transformation in worlds beyond the sublunary.
Brian James Culbertson creates portraits of subjects under the influence of psychotropic drugs; Culbertson’s startling photographic prints themselves are developed in a wash of these chemicals: “The incorporation of medication used to alter the chemistry of the mind into my salted paper print process yields unpredictable results from print to print – just as it does with our own bodies.”
In sculptural form, Julianne Swartz’s contribution to “At the Doors of Perception” presents a demure first impression. Her sculpture, Lull, consists of a precise and neatly-executed wooden box. When the gallery-goer ventures to open its top, a mysterious and strangely familiar soundtrack emits from the darkness within. The artist has remarked “I am interested in the intersection of the physical and non-physical, and making what is not physical somehow palpable.” The non-physical in Swartz’s work is as varied as the physical facts of the universe—light, memory, sound, kinetics, the passing of time and a sense of place.
Works by James Turrell document his ongoing celestial and earthworks project at the Roden Crater site. In “At the Doors of Perception,” Turrell’s aerial view of the project site is executed on mylar, and overlaid with the artist’s architectural markings. Turrell’s project embodies the artist’s power to break free from the confines of conventionally-received time and space, and think in terms of of the galaxies and millenia contained in the human psyche.
Philip Augustin’s stark, revelatory bichromatic images originate from photographic processes, but serve as vessels, in which each viewer may find both problem and resolution. Elizabeth Stone creates assemblages of discarded 35 mm slides and large-format film produce dream-state horizons and unknown landscapes, radical alloys of light and dark that generate immersive sculptural photographs. “I consider both the ‘negatives’ and ‘positives’ … Structures become apparent reminiscent of the buildings from my dreams as I wander from room to room. Landforms also emerge from the edges and I think about how we define the landscape. The transition zones transfix me.”
French photographer Gilbert Garcin starts with the construction of fantastic aesthetic realms and alternate mythologies. He then tenderly inserts his human subject into these strange new worlds. In this manner, human perceptions are tested against the hypotheses of different chronological and physical schema. Human experience on earth is both echoed and distorted in these charming and troubling photographs; we sense the possibility of countless previously unconsidered dimensions within our own worldly experience.
“At the Doors of Perception” will include works by Philip Augustin, Enrique Chagoya, Brian James Culbertson, Binh Danh, Gilbert Garcin, Maximo Gonzalez, Carrie Marill, Marie Navarre, Luis Gonzalez Palma, Fiona Pardington, Hunt Rettig, Gregory Scott, Doug and Mike Starn, Elizabeth Stone, Julianne Swartz, and James Turrell.
March 2 – April 27, 2019
Saturday, March 2nd from 12:00 – 5:00pm
Saturday, March 2nd
7:00 – 9:00pm
White contains all wavelengths of visible light, and in turn humans have deposited within it our multitudes of meanings, reflecting opposing and essential facets of human experience. Inspired in part by James Baldwin’s observation that “Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality,” Subversive White presents a response to a specific strain of white that has permeated our national dialogue: the ugly, enduring premise of white supremacy and the host of oppressive systems that it engenders and enables. The artists included in Subversive White pull at the veil of whiteness, investigate the tendency of white to imply both beauty and menace, take aim at the false notions of ethnicity and biology, and the presumed opacity of white and its ability to cover, obscure, or erase. Throughout the show, white reemerges as a purifying flash of light and heat, a conflagration with the potential to reveal the phantasms within. Artists include: Enrique Chagoya, Sonya Clark, Claudio Dicochea, Ben Durham, Angela Ellsworth, Rob Kinmonth, Carrie Marill, Trina McKillen, Mark Mitchell, Ann Morton, Fiona Pardington, Ato Ribeiro, Julianne Swartz, and Hank Willis Thomas.
The painter Claudio Dicochea employs the format of 18th century Latin American Casta paintings—diagramatic schemes depicting Colonial family units, from the palest-complected to darkest—but substitutes archetypal figures from comics, science fiction, cinema and popular culture in a riot of associations connecting us all in a common generative flux. Dicochea’s 081217 is stark and wraithlike, referencing the date of the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dicochea cross-breeds three iconic automobiles: the 1917 Ford Model T, 1969 Dodge Charger, 2010 Dodge Challenger, and explains his haunting family portrait in this way: “The bottom portion is the vertically compressed 2010 Dodge Challenger, after it was used to maul peaceful demonstrators at the Charlottesville rally. The driver injured 19 people and killed 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer. The Dodge Challenger is the updated version of the Dodge Charger, which was a model made famous by the television series The Dukes of Hazzard, which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985. The vehicle is more famously known as the “General Lee,” an enduring symbol of Confederate pride. It is named after general Robert E. Lee, who himself was born less than two hours from Charlottesville. The top is a Ford Model T, which was produced on August 12, 1908. This was the first automobile to make full use of Henry Ford’s famous factory line production method and was intended to generate a mass consumer market for automobiles in the US.” Dicochea depicts the embrace of American consumerism and American racism, an intertwined history of violence and coercion that has given rise to this ghastly present-day progeny.
The photographer Fiona Pardington addresses generations of racist pseudoscience in Phrenology Head, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre Hospital, Paris 2011 (With thanks Musée de l’Homme (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle), Paris), a striking portrait of a 19th Century phrenological bust. A system of cranial measurement that supposedly corresponded to character traits, or “mind organs,” phrenology was primarily a method to justify pervasive and immoral notions of ethnic superiority. Pardington, a native of New Zealand who scours cultural institutions for these obsolete medical models, found this pale, mustachioed visage abandoned “in the car park storage of Paris’s Kremlin-Bicêtre Hospital, along with a group of other casts; they’ve basically been forgotten.” While the models have been discarded, the pernicious habit of generating scientific facts as a rationale for existing biases reaches deeply into our present moment. It’s a form of delusion that is aptly represented in the unblinking eyes and methodically gouged, segmented cranium of the Kremlin-Bicêtre man.
Rob Kinmonth’s eerie, intriguing photograph of George Washington’s dentures on display at Mount Vernon, are similarly representative of a nightmarish moral schema that yet permeates our contemporary discourse. The dentures—a tortured and weathered shade of ivory, screwed into a brass structure—are conjectured to have been made from teeth pulled from the mouths of slaves on Washington’s plantation. Remarks Kinmonth, “Over the years, people have recreated Washington in many different forms to satisfy their own purposes and desires. Our collective memory of him, real and imagined, is forever entwined with our lives as Americans.”
Examining the present-day structures of our national bureaucracies, and the way they perpetuate this legacy of oppression, Ben Durham’s Chain-link Fence Portrait (John) portrays one of the artist’s adolescent acquaintances whose mugshot ended up in the public domain. The subject’s likeness is executed in undulations of handwritten text on handmade paper, and the entire composition is systematically contorted by an underlay of chain-link fence. Durham describes the person he once knew with a series of associative memories, his words the only delineating line. “I strive to find some way to tell the subject’s story and yet I know I will fail to do so,” says Durham. “Whiteness in painting and drawing is not neutral or a blank slate but always for me an absence, a record of what we can or cannot see. This balance and the question of who deserves visibility and attention and what attentions are valued and facilitated by our culture is at the center of my ongoing inquiry into memory, representation, and the criminal justice system.”
Hank Willis Thomas’ lenticular work, Le Blanc Imite Le Noir, requires that its viewers alter their location and vantage point in order to perceive the work, as the image shifts and the text changes. The piece is simple at first glance—black text on a white background. Yet no single view grants access to the sum of the composition; its simplicity is a riddle, and the message contained within and projecting from its white lenses is in a constant state of flux.
From the insistent protuberance pushing beneath the skin-like surface of Julianne Swartz’s Stretch Drawing (Thick Jut), to The Gaze, Carrie Marill’s still-life in which a chalky, stolid embankment is fractured by blasts of organic growth, white becomes a method of resistance and a cipher; a place where meanings may turn radically below the surface. In her Proof-Reading series, Ann Morton’s white handkerchiefs include a disclaimer: a careful inspection will reveal the false claims of purity permeating our current conversation, from the bleached dentition of so-called leaders to the straightjacket of our criminal justice system.
Taking aim at the repressive gendered iconography of white communion and bridal dresses, Mark Mitchell instead honors the unsung work of those who counter such prescriptive notions, often through the very fact of their existence. Wrapped in white silk and sweetly embroidered, with a braided cotton fuse, Mitchell delivers a bomb from the past in Cracker Party. Remarks Mitchell, the piece is “a tribute sculpture to the George Jackson Brigade, an intersectional armed resistance group of the late 60’s and early 70’s active in the Pacific Northwest. They were comprised of two gay ex-cons, two lesbians, a sex worker and a Black Panther. I made this bomb to celebrate their legacy.”
With similarly delicate sensibility and explosive implications, Trina McKillen’s The Children (Communion Dress) is a souvenir of the generations of sexual abuse committed by the Catholic Church, the garment’s symbolic childlike innocence forever connected to the immense perversions of patriarchal power. In Subversive White these ritual objects reverse the dynamic of repression and themselves become powerful storytelling objects. Angela Ellsworth’s intricately patterned Seer Bonnets, head-coverings comprised entirely of pearl-tipped corsage pins, recall the transcendental gatherings of the plural wives of Ellsworth’s traditional Mormon heritage. Beyond the censored and officially-sanctioned accounts of history and religion, secret stories are pulsing, forging new forms from the rituals of the past.
Textile and performance artist Sonya Clark tests the interactions between elementary human materials: textiles and text, storytelling and symbols such as flags, beads and human hair, and fuses stories both universal and personal. In Whitewashed, tones of Sherman Williams paint (titled with the actual paint colors: Incredible White, Storyteller, and Natural Choice) create the ghostly impression of an American flag, a symbol rendered nearly invisible. The work is remade in each exhibition setting, a continuous bodily investment in this pale version of our country’s banner.
Craft as an iterative function of the American experience is integral to Clark’s experience as a first-generation immigrant—raised in Washington DC by a Jamaican mother and father from Trinidad and Barbados, Clark’s distant ancestors had in turn, survived the carriage from West Africa on a slaver’s ship; a Scottish great-grandfather connected the family to Europe. Clark’s Octoroon is a rectangular, flag-like juxtaposition of African braids; the piece’s title refers to Clark’s 1/8 Scottish heritage, just as in the context of human slavery the term “Quadroon” was once used to describe persons of ¼ African heritage. Clark’s Slave Collar addresses the legacy of slavery with an unflinching look at its historical origins. Words that encapsulate the practice of dehumanization and slavery are inscribed by a series of punctures through handmade cotton Khadi paper. Clark explains that these works, “are based on the parallel legacies of Empire building through slave labor in the Roman Empire and in the USA. Many of the enslavement practices of ancient Rome were employed in the Americas, including things like slave collars. ‘Tenemefugiafugio’ is text directly taken from an Ancient Roman slave collar. It translates from Latin as ‘Keep me so I do not flee.’” For Clark, addressing the violence and iniquities borne by African-Americans in our society is only the first sentence in the story. “Anger is justified, and then what? Because anger is simply an emotion. I’m much more interested in what happens next. How do we move forward? And how far have we moved forward?”
Enrique Chagoya seeks a template for change in a reflection upon our disparate human narratives and our shared human experience. His accordion-folded painting Aliens in Borderlandia borrows its shape from pre-Columbian codices, prehistoric Mayan and Aztec books in which figures and events are depicted in graphic, nonlinear form. This compositional strategy, and the tongue-in-cheek “everyperson” stereotypes populating Chagoya’s bright unfurling of pale handmade Amate bark paper, present the possibility of cultural retelling and remaking through our shared stories. Chagoya remarks: “When we live within borders, everyone is a stereotypical alien at either side of a border. In this codex I diluted ethnic/gender stereotypes from many places (Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America)… Walls dehumanize us with stereotypes. However, the fact is that we are all coming from the same genome, and we are the same species. Our differences enrich our life and in history, when those differences mix and integrate, they create new cultural legacies.”
Despite our various cultural precepts, ultimately concepts of whiteness and darkness are subsumed in the interplay of elements and electricity, sensation and understanding, that underpin our shared human experience. Ato Ribeiro’s works, like the early African-American quilts that influence them, contain forms that shift and expand as our eyes adjust to repeating variations in line and shape. As a Ghanian-American artist, Ribeiro’s artwork embodies a vocabulary of histories and materials compiled across continents and cultures. Ribeiro’s marqueted geometrical forms, hand-fashioned entirely of found and discarded wood, present a coded language, contemporary evidence of a shared heritage that is independent of words and has existed for centuries. Between You and Me, Ribeiro’s work for Subversive White, was, remarks the artist, “designed by blending a series of communicators inspired by African American quilts from the Antebellum South, Kente Cloth, and a hybrid fusion of the two… Through collecting, joining and refining salvaged pieces of wood, the work’s composition has been organized by separating woods that resemble specific skin tones. Darker pieces of wood are totally surrounded by lighter woods and framed by a fusion of the two to reveal a message communicated through an Adinkra Symbol entitled ‘Nea Onnim No Sua A, Ohu’—‘One who does not know can know from learning.’ Though I understand that all human beings are created in the same manner; by piecing various histories together, our current political climate reflects a desperate need to be reminded once again. Between You and Me remains optimistic, focusing on how bodies of color have and will continue to overcome dealing with various forms of quotidian violence. We should never feel the need to justify why we are who we are; simply being will always be enough.”
Dark is Light
January 12 – February 23, 2019
January 12 – February 23, 2019
Opening Reception with the Artist
Saturday, January 12, 2019
7:00 – 9:00pm
In December 2017 Bears Ears National Monument, which comprises over a million acres of Utah canyonland and contains an estimated 100,000 Native American archaeological and ancestral sites, was reduced by 85% to allow for resource extraction and other commercial activities. Three lawsuits have been filed and the fate of the monument is currently in limbo, as the desire for exploitation and profit is weighed against the existence of protected land and cultures.
This January at Lisa Sette Gallery, Mayme Kratz explores the significance of Bears Ears National Park with Dark is Light, a timely exhibit of limpid, expansive resin panels and sculptural arrangements that underscore the area’s spare, severe beauty and the pervasive presence of ancient human cultures.
During a recent visit to Bears Ears, the artist noticed how evidence of ancient human civilizations was ubiquitous, evoking an unexpected sense of urgency in Kratz and an unquestionable directive: “It’s not an undiscovered landscape, but it is still so full of mystery and spirit. I am overwhelmed by a sense of longing when I think in terms of what might just…go away. At this moment it feels that if we don’t speak about it, no one is going to.”
Kratz does not contrive to replicate a given environment or expound a specific narrative about the wild places that she explores. Instead her works present a personal catalogue of the humble particulate assortments exhaled from the vast systems of the natural world: the small bleached spinal segments and rib bones of animals who died in the brush, the roots and seeds and splinters that result when organic systems live and die, multiply and ascend. Her practice is not exclusive or precious: Dark is Light contains collections scooped from the periphery of a construction site, and from the side of the road outside a Bears Ears campground.
Kratz’s arrangements of biological matter in resin form majestic, glowing tributes to the foundational matter of the Earth’s biological systems. The Bears Ears site: the high desert scrub, severe canyonlands and sandstone buttes are one of many wildland constellations in the peripatetic artist’s orbit.
Kratz was further impelled by a poem titled “Culture and the Universe,” by the Puebloan writer Simon Ortiz, which concludes:
Without knowing why culture needs our knowledge, we are one self in the canyon.
And the stone wall I lean upon spins me wordless and silent to the reach of stars and to the heavens within.
It’s not humankind after all nor is it culture that limits us. It is the vastness we do not enter. It is the stars we do not let own us.
“From the last line of the poem I understood this austere sense of things at Bears Ears, of how small we are as human beings and also how destructive we are. It was so clear that I had to try to capture what I could from that landscape and bring it back, celebrate it, and commemorate its disappearance.” -Mayme Kratz
November 2, 2018 – January 5, 2019
Opening Reception with the Artist
Friday, November 2, 2018
7:00 – 9:00pm
Now is an urgent moment for conversations about American identity and the ongoing role of racism in our culture. This fall, Lisa Sette Gallery will exhibit works that present a new scholarship of American identity, a matrix formed by our disparate human narratives and our shared human experience. Textile and social practice artist Sonya Clark tests the interactions between elementary human materials—textiles and text, storytelling and visual symbols such as flags and currency, beads and human hair—as a method of revealing our national history and collective character.
Any examination of American identity must address the legacy of slavery and the ensuing, ongoing mistreatment of African and African-American bodies. Clark’s Slave Collar series is an unflinching look at slavery and its historical origins: words that encapsulate the practice of dehumanization and slavery are inscribed in a series of punctures through handmade cotton rag paper.
Clark explains that these haunting works, “are based on the parallel legacies of Empire building through slave labor in the Roman Empire and in the USA. Many of the enslavement practices of ancient Rome were employed in the Americas, including things like slave collars.”
With a methodical approach and clarity of purpose, Clark’s works manifest the exchange of stories and skills that are fundamental to human connection across time. The deconstructed flags of Clark’s renowned Unraveling project resulted from hours of work alongside volunteers from the public, who shared their reflections and their labor to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War by unweaving the threads of a tightly woven Confederate battle flag.
A continuation of this project, Interwoven presents the deconstructed fibers of the current US flag interwoven with the deconstructed flag of the Confederacy. The result is eerily not one thing nor the other; a shadow image reminding us of the difficulty of separating out the strands. “It’s not really about an oppositional relationship,” remarks Clark, “But instead to try and discern the complexity of the symbol, the complexity of the history, and work—or unwork—it together.”
Community and craft as an iterative function of the American experience is integral to Clark’s experience as a first-generation immigrant. Her story encompasses a vast breadth of identities that exemplify a resident of the American continents—raised in Washington DC by a Jamaican mother and father from Trinidad and Barbados, Clark’s distant ancestors had in turn, survived the carriage from West Africa on a slaver’s ship. A Scottish great-grandfather connected the family to Europe, and these days Clark travels widely among these diasporic branches of her family: to Europe and the Caribbean, Africa and the US. It is a family story with a unique vantage on the notion of American identity: forged through slavery, immigration, love, and an intergenerational linking of cultures.
In our family stories, Clark says, “the most personal becomes universal,” and at the present moment of our American story, this rendering from the personal to the universal feels particularly urgent. For Clark’s part, addressing the violence and iniquities borne by African-Americans in our society is only the first sentence in the story.
“Anger is justified, and then what? Because anger is simply an emotion. I’m much more interested in what happens next. How do we move forward? And how far have we moved forward?”
This exhibition is part of For Freedoms’ 50 State Initiative, a non-partisan, nationwide campaign to use art as a means of inspiring civic participation in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.
Since 2016, For Freedoms has produced special exhibitions, town hall meetings, billboards, and lawn sign installations to spur greater participation in civic life. Building off of the existing artistic infrastructure in the United States, For Freedoms has developed a network of over 300 artists and 200 institutional partners who will produce nationwide public art installations, exhibitions and local community dialogues in order to inject nuanced, artistic thinking into public discourse. Centered around the vital work of artists, For Freedoms hopes that these exhibitions and related projects will model how arts institutions can become civic forums for action and discussion of values, place, and patriotism.
Trina McKillen: Confess
September 15 – October 25, 2018
Opening Reception with the Artist
Saturday, September 15, 2018
7:00 – 9:00pm
When Trina McKillen embarked on the creation of her resplendent, intricately detailed life-size glass confessional, Bless Me Child For I Have Sinned, she encountered responses ranging from denial to recognition, and throughout, a stark awareness of the unchecked power of the Catholic Church.
Deep institutional resistance was the context against which McKillen, who counts herself as “a shy person, not necessarily wanting to stand out,” formulated the immersive installation work that comprises her stunning exhibit, Confess, at Lisa Sette Gallery this September. Starting out with a vivid idea but minimal experience in the building trades, McKillen spent several years constructing her exquisitely confrontational transparent confessional booth, a transportable structure fabricated entirely of glass, metal, marble, and wood. Accompanying it is a ghostly cohort of embroidered antique vestments titled The Children once worn by children in the Catholic Church, and a series of illuminated linen “poultices” titled Stations of Hope.
In The Children, McKillen uses vintage First Holy Communion dresses and altar boy vestments to represent the seemingly invisible nature of the crimes of the Church.
Every garment and embroidered symbol signifies that each child suffered their own unique pattern of abuse in silence and secret. McKillen said she felt “compelled to create something that would make the children visible”.
Early in the confessional’s production, a glass technician and a draftsperson both left abruptly upon comprehending the content of the piece. One of them, recalls McKillen, “Saw the chair in the booth, saw what I was doing with this piece, said ‘Oh my god, I grew up with this shit,’ and ran down the stairs from my studio and never came back again.”
McKillen realized that it was necessary to conceal the intent of her project. When subcontractors came to her studio she removed the confessional’s delicate, child-sized upholstered chair, and, on the other side of the booth’s intersecting panel of glass, the corresponding priest-sized confessional kneeler, with its steely cushion of nails. “Most of the people who worked on the components for this, they do not know to this day what they helped me build.”
McKillen possesses a unique awareness of the denial and secrecy built into society’s proscriptive power structures: growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic family in the sectarian Belfast of the 60’s and 70’s, her father, a respected businessman, clandestinely engaged in peace negotiations with the British. In response, McKillen’s childhood home was ransacked; bombs exploded outside her front door. When her family moved to Dublin to avoid further retaliation, McKillen sensed an unwillingness to confront the realities of Northern Ireland’s troubles and the not always beneficent role of the Catholic Church.
Early in her life, McKillen, one of nine siblings, felt that the Church’s purported reverence for children was in fact a proxy for a simple war of numbers with Protestants. “This idea of children being important… I knew, as a child, that it was this idea of outnumbering the other side, in order to bully them the way they bullied you. From the beginning I always had a deep feeling that actually, the children themselves did not matter.”
As she entered young adulthood, McKillen found herself visiting a friend in the psychiatric ward of a Dublin Hospital; the once-spirited and talkative girl was curled into a fetal position, nearly comatose at the foot of her bed. It was only then that McKillen was informed that her friend had been habitually raped in childhood by an uncle, a respected Catholic priest.
McKillen hastened from Ireland to an expansive life as a set designer in Los Angeles, but an unease with the Catholic Church that shaped her childhood simmered in her subconscious, hinted at in lush photographs and assemblages of the small, symbolic items that McKillen reflexively collected: babydolls, textiles, and religious paraphernalia, objects imbued with both ritual beauty and shame. Intrinsic to these lush and often lovely works is a sense of aesthetic evidence-gathering, a secret recordkeeping. McKillen’s works exhibit a keen recognition of objects that reveal a hidden story.
As the child-abuse within the Catholic Church was uncovered in revelations of increasing horror and magnitude, and as the Church continued to evade culpability and transparency, McKillen’s subject matter came into stark focus. “I had the idea in my head, of what would God do if he came down and saw this… And then the glass confessional just came to me. I thought, ‘I’m going to make the Church kneel in front of the child.’”
McKillen’s immersive exhibit at Lisa Sette Gallery — a meticulously constructed installation that ranges across the gallery, required that the artist reconcile not only with problems of construction and engineering, but of her own internalized fear of standing out. Now, however, she says,
“I’m mainly just very excited about this confessional, this gigantic piece of work, finally making its maiden voyage.”
May 5 – August 25, 2018
Housed in a partly subterranean modernist Al Beadle-designed building, Lisa Sette Gallery’s physical space is a study in angles and lines; the real estate website Curbed has referred to Beadle structures as “beautiful boxes.” A serene exemplar of a “white cube” gallery space, Lisa Sette’s expansive gallery is a cool white square angled around a central, altar-like alcove made up of right angles, into which brilliant desert sunlight pours from above.
In this setting, however, form is not an extension of content; denizens of Lisa Sette Gallery know that its curatorial adventures are anything but square. This summer the gallery celebrates the paradox with Circle / Squared, a group show featuring works that revel in concentricity, bending the straight line toward experimentation and aesthetic gyration. Included in the show are the delicate ceramics of surreal objects by Li Mingzhu; eerie photographic portraits by Bettina von Zwehl and Tami Bahat; fantastic and phantasmagoric photo constructions by Luis González Palma, Kahn/Selesnick, Liu Xiaofang; stunning industrial landscapes by Yao Lu; and portraiture mementos in the form of glass cameos by Charlotte Potter, among others.
One of Circle / Squared’s more conceptually startling works come in the form of Yao Lu’s landscape photographs, which in color, theme and composition somewhat resemble the Japanese 18th Century Ukiyo-e (or “Floating World”) genre of paintings and prints. Lu’s landscapes, however, are photographs documenting vast topographies of industrial detritus. The photographs’ circular form is a subversion, as the viewer arrives expecting a quaint historical work: Lu’s images instead show in shocking beauty the toxic material of human industry–mountains of rubble and boundless fields of soot, billowing and undulating before our eyes.
The works of von Zwehl, Bahat, and González Palma hearken to nostalgia in a more ornate and atmospheric mode, presenting timeless figures or images in round or oval compositions. González Palma’s theatrical portraiture shows a deep play between presence and absence while expressing complex emotions and melding them with public and private symbolism. Von Zwehl’s mysterious, close-up portraits of people and animals are circumscribed by a heavy black frame, while Bahat’s disturbing tableaus present figures in gothic or medieval garments as though they were still-lifes, caught posing for eternity within their gold-leaf frames.
Also referencing aspects of nostalgia is Charlotte Potter, who makes explicit the inextricable connections between glass and photography, as well as the applications of these media toward an essential form of memory: the portrait. These small, glowing identities are the obvious descendant of an ancient form of personal memento carved in glass or shell—the cameo.
A circular view may suggest eyeglasses, telescopes and microscopes, binoculars, or peepholes: intimate methods of viewing scenes that may otherwise be beyond our sight. Kahn/Selsnick’s staged photographs portray a post apocalyptic world in which humans–unchecked by societal expectations–pursue their own odd social and creative impulses. The viewer becomes time-traveller/voyeur as Kahn/Selesnick’s Truppe Fledermaus, a group of travelling performers, engage in mystical antics among the overgrown landscape, and the circular images come to resemble unsettling specimens in a textbook on human behavior.
The camera’s-eye view is used to much different effect in the photographs of Liu Xiaofang. Composed nearly completely of blue sky, Xiaofang’s works present distant figures, often children, in stark settings and simple poses. Portraying an essential, ever-receding view of the past, Xiaofang’s work captures nostalgia in heartbreaking clarity.
The works in Circle / Squared often relate back to past portraiture and landscape as well as the circular form found throughout art history.