A time capsule, the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont was designated a National Historic Landmark for its Underground Railroad history. Between 1791 and 1961, the site was the home of the Robinson family, abolitionists, farmers, artists, and authors who lived a vision of America fading from present day memory. They were entrepreneurial and resilient. They cared about the land, community, and social justice. On the ninety-acre property, an 18th Century farmhouse is surrounded by various outbuildings and foundations, old structures that tell the story of how the land was used.
For the series “Finding Gold”, Kadour photographed the property around the Rokeby Museum. In the the studio, he decollaged the subjects and replaced them with 18-karat gold leafing.
In doing this, Kadour sets up a game with the viewer. One could view these pictures as a critique of how we are in the world, how as we move through the world, we can be so distracted by gold–a metaphor for money, time, media, gossip–that we may fail to see simple things that are beautiful and meaningful. One could also view these pictures as a instruction, a way of being in the world in an active state of attention. Kadour encourages the viewer to redefine for themselves what gold means, to notice the small, simple, beautiful things for ourselves…to find our own.
The prints of the 20” x 30” photographs are hand-embellished with 18 carat gold leafing and issued in an edition of three.
In his 1899 In New England Fields and Woods article, “October Days”, Rowland Evans Robinson wrote about the land around the Rokeby, “How sharp the dark shadows are cut against the sunlit fields, and in their gloom how brightly shine the first fallen leaves and the starry bloom of the asters. In cloudy days and even when rain is falling the depths of the woods are not dark, for the bright foliage seems to give forth light and casts no shadows beneath the lowering sky. The scarlet maples burn, the golden….”
In Fall, I walked the land around the Rokeby, down trails that run along the old stone wall and up to the ridge where a clearing was cut to lend a view of the rolling fields that spill out to Lake Champlain. New York’s Adirondacks towered in the background. What fruit remained from summer clung to branches and vines. When I walk with my camera, I tend to look at the land differently. I seek out moments: a blade of grass, an interesting pile of rocks. I try to look for what isn’t obvious. The pursuit of subject becomes a different kind of meditation. It becomes hunting and gathering rather than an exercise in art making. So many little rewards come to me when I engage the world in this way, when I move through the land with this engaged looking.
I call this series of photographs with applied gold leaf, “Finding Gold”, because it comes from this act of searching and prospecting, but it is also a message to the viewer, to seek out these things, to move through the land with an attentive eye and marvel at the lonely burst of flowers, the single apple dangling from a stem, the lone tree reaching up across a scene. Let your eye follow the rusty string of barbed wire over rocks and in between the brush. Find the old fence post, the woodpecker holes, and gold in the bar of the locust trees.
Rowland wrote with great poetry about this land. “Fields as green as when the summer birds caroled above them, woods more gorgeous with innumerable hues and tints of ripening leaves than a blooming parterre, are spread beneath the azure sky, whose deepest color is reflected with intenser blue in lake and stream. In them against this color are set the scarlet and gold….”
For Kurt Schwitters, MERZ was his manifesto. He explained it as “the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials.” His intention was to give anything from a used bus ticket to a piece of wire found on the street “equal rights with paint.” MERZ liberated artists by declaring anything potential material for their art making and, to illustrate this concept, he made hundreds of collages which he called MERZ pictures. Such forward thinking led art historian Isabelle Ewig to call him the “Father of the fathers of Pop.” Really, any collage artist working today owes a debt of gratitude to Schwitters, who not only legitimized the medium, but also established a working practice and aesthetic that is the basis of many artists’ contemporary practice.
Schwitters’ liberation of material was revolutionary to a world who thought of art as canvas, paint, and stone. In my work, however, I think very little of material. A child of the late 20th century, I grew up in a world where anything could be art and the true material of art was the idea. I think of Yves Klein having a spat with his gallery and declaring all of his paintings invisible. Or his Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (1959–62) in which the artist traded empty spaces in Paris for pieces of gold. If the buyer agreed to burn the certificate, Klein would throw half the gold into the Seine to restore the natural order. These are forms of ritual play, gestures no different than Malevich’s Black Square or any work of art that asks the viewer to consider more than what they can literally see.
I speak about my work as an artist, as a writer, and as a culture worker, but I think of my work as contiguous parts whose gestalt, I hope, makes a grander point about the liberation of humanity. People tend to get what I mean when I say I am a writer or an artist, but culture worker is trickier. If my art uses paint and fragments of paper and my writing uses words, the material of culture work is the people you engage: other writers, academics, arts administrators, press agents, gallerists, and, of course, viewers and artists. My projects would be nothing without the communities of people involved…and there would be no point to any of it without those communities. Like Erykah Badu said, “We’re just emerging into a new state of being altogether.”
2019 was a transformative year for me. I’ve worked harder than I ever had and got farther than I’ve ever gone. As we start a new decade, and as I push on into middle age, the urgency to make some statements before I move on to another life becomes heightened. I think this is a normal part of aging, particularly when one has been lucky enough to spend much of their life engaged in vocational work. I will spend the first two months of 2020 in residency at MERZ Gallery in Sanquhar, Scotland where I plan to finish some texts that have been building up in me for a few years now. I am grateful for the privilege and want you to be part of it.
Since 2009, fellow Schwitterite David Rushton has been turning an old lemonade factory in rural Sanquhar into MERZ Gallery. He describes where he started, “Imagine a quarter acre plot of rubbish-strewn scrub-land in the centre of a small town. Something discarded and abandoned. It is divided by two rights of way to allow access to gardens serving two cottages along the eastern edge of the plot.” From this he has built a mixed gallery and studio space, a bothy for housing visiting artists, and a residency program to support their work at the site.” In parallel to Schwitters’ assembly of text on paper and his name ‘MERZ’ for a body of work, I thought there were resonances in adapting his approach and providing description to a small abandoned landscape imprinted with industrial and domestic histories, and that’s why I thought to call the site ‘MERZ’.” Schwitters took “the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes” seriously and twice built immersive environments out of structures: MERZbau in Hanover and, later, the Elterwater MERZ Barn two-and-a-half hours south of Sanquhar in Langdale, Ambleside.
In preparing for the residency, I’ve been thinking how if Rushton could apply Schwitters’ philosophy to an old factory, I could apply it to my culture work. I often write about collage as a medium, a genre, and a community. More recently, I have been thinking of collage as a 21st century art movement. This is the idea I plan to explore while at MERZ Gallery. I invite you to join me and be part of the manifestation of the international collage community by sending a collage to MERZ Gallery. The collage will be documented and exhibited at the gallery in January and February. I will select one collage each day and share it online and via social media with a few words about how it connects to the work I am doing. And after the exhibition, the collage will become part of MERZ Gallery’s permanent collection, a forever stash of art marking the occasion that artists from all over the world manifested in Sanquhar. MERZ Gallery has agreed to maintain and care for the collection and to exhibit the collection in ten years, 2030, or give it to an organization that will do so.
Why? Because this is what we do in the collage community: we engage, we exchange, we manifest with one another. We emerge into a new state of being together. That is what makes art powerful. It connects us and takes us into the future.
How to Participate
Ric Kasini Kadour invites collage artists to submit a two-dimensional collage for inclusion in the Schwitters Army.
There is no theme. If you’re a ripper, send him a ripped collage. If you’re a digital artist, print and send a digital work. If you’re a collaborator, send a collaboration. Send a collage that shows what kind of collage artist you are.
The preferred size is 8″x10″ (20.3cm x 25.4cm) or smaller. The collage may not be larger than 14″x11″ (35.6cm x 21.6cm). Note: If you send something larger, Kadour will cut it in half. If you send something that isn’t collage, Kadour is going to cut it up and turn it into a collage. Mail Art with collage is welcome. Do not send framed work.
Once the collage is mailed, please send an EMAIL with an image of the collage and title. Also include the artist’s name, mailing address and website. If you want, you may also answer some questions, but it is optional.
Mail the collage to: MERZ Queens Road Sanquhar DG4 6DH Scotland, United Kingdom
NOTE TO ARTISTS OUTSIDE THE EUROPEAN UNION: Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, items valued at more than $100 US may be subject to customs fees, charges, and value-added taxes. Those charges are ultimately the responsibility of the artist. Should we be assessed custom fees, charges, and value-added taxes, we will contact the artist for reimbursement of these fees or the work will be returned.
January 31st, 2020
The collage may arrive at any time, but collages should arrive before January 31st, 2020. Any that arrive after February 15th will not be processed. Consider the time it takes to mail art from your country to the United Kingdom.
What Will Happen
Upon receipt (beginning January 8th), collages will be documented and registered. The collage will be exhibited at MERZ Gallery through February 20th and then the work will become part of MERZ Gallery’s permanent collection. MERZ Gallery has agreed to maintain and care for the collection and to exhibit the collection in ten years, 2030, or give it to an organization that will do so.
Between 2010 and 2012, I made 226 photographs under a project I called “These Lights and Shades.” I took inspiration from the lines of a Walt Whitman poem, “These lights and shades, this drama of the whole, This common curtain of the face contain’d in me for me, in you for you, in each for each,… This heart’s geography’s map…” One of Whitman’s last poems, he wrote it upon seeing a portrait of himself by the English illustrator William J. Linton. Though not Whitman’s intended meaning, I’ve always preferred to read “Out from Behind This Mask” as a poem about two former lovers passing in the street. On seeing each other, they remember the lifetime they shared. Passion flashes between them and then memories and then they move on.
The moment stirred by Whitman’s poem is akin to those moments when I want to take a picture. Some bold colors, an interesting composition, texture, light, mood…all these things come together and I pull out my camera and take a shot or two. This is not as much art making as it is visual journaling. It is a way to move through the world, to acknowledge a moment, and to move on through the day.
As an affordable art product, I printed these photographs as postcards and put them into packs of 18. The brown envelopes had a white sticker on the front and one of the postcards on the back. I’d always select one of the better images for the outside of the package.
These were sold at various fairs and pop-ups and though ARTSHOP. In 2013, when I started doing INSTANT ARTSHOP, a version of the ARTSHOP project as an intervention outside of an art context, I took 18 Random Postcards to flea markets, grocery stores, malls, and other public spaces that are separate from contemporary art spaces. Each pack of postcards contained a random selection. Because it was impossible to collect all of them and because people never knew what was inside the envelope, the act of selling led to some great conversation. The purchaser needed to perform a leap of faith to commit. Many did.
The Complete Set
This collection of 226 photographs is the complete set of postcards. Only five complete sets have been made. The Complete Set of 18 Random Postcards is available at ARTSHOP here.
Each postcard is 5.5″x5.5″. The full set of 226 photographs exhibits in a grid that is 105″x105″ or in a long presentation that is 35″x315″, 26 linear feet.
Single Random Postcards & Packs of 18 Random Postcards
Packs of 18 Random Postcards are available at ARTSHOP here. If you would like a single postcard sent to you (for free), send an email with your complete mailing address.
Historically, Kunstkammers were magical places. A precursor to the museum, they originated in the castles and manors of European nobility in the sixteenth century. They held collections of various, dissimilar objects that demonstrated the owner’s curiosity about the world. The rooms were places for contemplation, but they were also often the site of meetings where people could come together to share ideas and discussion. In Renaissance Quarterly, Francesca Fiorani wrote, “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater,” and in this sense, my hope is that the viewer will engage with installation to consider the viewer’s place in the world.
Operating from Year 2199, “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” bends time and history by blending historical fact and imagined fictions to tell a story from the future about the present. The stories and perspective 180 years in the future will be different than what we know today. Knowledge will be gained, but it will also be lost. “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” invites the viewer to employ what writer Alexis Clements describes as art’s great technology, “to inquire about the world without being limited to facts or logic or notions of objective truth.” The installation also takes a nod from John Green’s Looking for Alaska, in which he observes, “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” We use our memories to imagine the potential of what may happen, but also what we can accomplish or achieve, to entertain what is possible. In creating and recreating this Kunstkammer, I invite the viewer to enter this theater of memory and consider the future of themselves and their community.
The objects in “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” continue a practice of intervening on photographic portraits to portray a moment of expanded consciousness. I do this by collaging digital reproductions of the photographs that are embellished with paint or collaged elements. My intention in doing this is to bring the photograph into the present moment and create a connection between the viewer and history. “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” includes sculptures and paintings that serve as physical manifestations of stories. Every object in “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” has a story attached to it.
Some of the stories told about Rutland seem may silly but they are similar to the stories we tell about other cultures, stitched with ignorance and fantasy as we try to fill in the gaps of knowledge. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about the danger of the single story, how simple narratives of others result in a poor understanding of our complex, shared humanity. This applies as much to the coworker sitting next to us as it does to the people living on a continent across the ocean. And it applies to ourselves when we decide that our story is simple and limited. Every person can write their own story, but to do that, they must imagine all the stories that are possible. My hope for the viewer is “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX” prods this thinking.
The ongoing series of installations debuts in Rutland. Over the next five years, I plan to move the Kunstkammer around North America and grow it to a thousand pieces as it is installed in and responds to various communities. The installation features some imagery of people from Rutland’s history. The photographs and stories blend facts and fictions. The introductory statement was made by replacing the word “Africa” with “Rutland” in the wall texts for the African Art collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Viewers are invited to enter the room and imagine the greatness of Rutland, past and future. Viewers are also invited to consider what is real and what is imagined, how we know what we know, and how we choose which histories to tell. Knowledge evolves over time and it is foolish to consider what we know now will not also evolve. And that is the point of “Kunstkammer MMCXCIX”: to lead us to new knowledge and realities.
“Rutland: Real and Imagined”
Curated by Stephen Schaub
Alley Gallery, Center Street Alley, Rutland, Vermont
January 31st to March 9th, 2019
For the exhibition, “Rutland: Real and Imagined”, I convert a room of the gallery into a Kunstkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosities. The installation features sculptural objects and small, collaged, historic photographs, some of which reference people from Rutland’s history. Viewers will be invited to enter the room and imagine the greatness of Rutland, past and future. In addition to the installation, I created a book that has images and writing from the project.
This essay originally appeared in Kolaj #24. A quarterly, printed magazine about contemporary collage, our goal with every issue is that Kolaj Magazine is essential reading for anyone interested in the role of contemporary collage in art, culture, and society. Visit the website to subscribe or get a copy.
I challenge you, find your voice, find the biggest, boldest idea that you can, and make work that speaks it.
In my capacity as a writer, editor, and curator, many artists reach out to me asking for their work to be featured in the magazine or included in an exhibition. These requests come in emails, in the mail, in direct messages on social media. I look at everything. I really do. I have great respect for artists putting themselves out there. I know it’s not easy. That impulse to share one’s work is scary and laborious and hard. I get it. I’ve been there myself. The work of self-promotion is draining.
While I feel artists’ pain, I also care deeply about how society sees and thinks about art. That ethos leads me to privilege the viewer’s experience over the artist’s need. If we want people to care about art, we shouldn’t ask them to care about crap. I think about this frequently in relation to my own work. Is this series self-serving? Is it about me or is it about something bigger than me? Am I saying something that I think is important for other people to hear? Am I serving my community and earning the privilege to call myself an artist and live an artist’s life? When I fall asleep, I want to feel like I made a difference and didn’t con someone out of their money and time with a shiny, metallic balloon dog.
When it isn’t obvious to me, I respond to artists by asking them why someone should care about their work. I don’t do it to be an jerk; I genuinely want to understand how they see themselves in the world and if their convictions are supported by a framework of understanding about what they are asking.
When Kazimir Malevich hung The Black Square in The Last Futurist Exhibition 0.10 in 1915, he declared that his art would not be a tool for God or country. In doing this, Malevich asserted that artists must be free to make whatever, to operate in a free zone of thinking. This was a radical idea at a time when art had for centuries been a tool of the state, the church, and the elite. When art was drafted into the Cold War, Western countries used it to demonstrate that its societies were freer than their Soviet counterparts. Artists were encouraged to go wilder and farther, to consider any material possible, any act as a performance of this thing we call art. This was not a bad thing. Over the course of a century, art went from a restricted, governed thing to…anything goes.
Something got lost along the way. As artists pursued increasingly exotic forms of art, they abandoned their neighbours, their communities, and society. This was never Malevich’s intention, just the opposite. Malevich said his painting offered a viewer “the experience of pure non-objectivity in the white emptiness of a liberated nothing.” He elaborated in his manifesto on Suprematism, “Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without ‘things’…It is attempting to set up a genuine world order, a new philosophy of life.” Malevich thought artists, free from the church and state, could liberate the people. That didn’t happen. The free artists of the West were gobbled up by a new power, Capitalism, and art became a way for some people to achieve celebrity, affluence, and status. When the Cold War ended, most artists were abandoned.
Public funding for the arts was slashed (especially in the United States) and artists were relegated to the sidelines. Nowadays, it seems, popular media often only mentions art in reference to auction prices or controversy. And society only sees art when it is cloaked in wealth or scandal.
We need to work ourselves out of this corner and rebuild our relationship with society-at-large. One way we do that is to make art that is meaningful to our neighbours. That means we need to understand the role the art we make is playing. That means we need to understand who we are speaking to and why.
Take, for example, Chicago-based Julia Arredondo, who uses commerce to disperse her ideas. She created a web bodega to spread folk empowerment and sells Avon products to challenge notions of femininity and beauty. Or Steve Tierney, whose recent body of work deconstructs gender. Or Beya Khalifa, who is challenging colonialism and Orientalism by using collage to make anew antique photographs of Bedouins. Or Lita Poliakova, whose Artist Portfolio appears in this issue. She operates from a deep understanding of what it means to cannibalize mass culture. She writes, “We can’t neglect the committed toxic affair between collage and mass media either. Mass-communication tools absorb all the clichés and then replicate them until they are outdated and perceived as trash, which is a highly exploitable concept based on a disposable attitude to resources and a greed for novelty. Meanwhile, collage itself, the cut-out type, embodied by magazines and newspapers, is always nouveau, never brand-new; it is a mixture of byproducts, an impersonal past that evolves through an artist. That’s how we’ve been shuffling the particles since the primordial bash.” All of these artists are saying something with their work that society needs to hear. Maybe the guy who’s never quite felt right in his body sees Tierney’s work and feels a little freer expressing his gender. Maybe somebody is given one of Arredondo’s Fuckboy Compensation Invoices and thinks that maybe he shouldn’t hit up that woman for a date every day after class. Maybe a young girl in Cairo sees Khalifa’s collages and realizes that she doesn’t have to accept how the West depicts her country, her community, and that she can determine for herself what images will represent her people.
I believe in the accumulation of small gestures. I do not believe one painting, one sculpture, one collage is going to change the world. But also I believe in the transformative power of art. The more we can engage people with our ideas, the more we can empower people to think, feel, dream, the better the world will be. So I challenge you, find your voice, find the biggest, boldest idea that you can, and make work that speaks it.
Late stage capitalism sucks. We live in a time of unprecedented resources and technology. Yet, no one seems happy. People seemed overly concerned someone else is trying to get one over on them. Folks are obsessed with money and how to pay for things. The smallest illness can put someone in an unrecoverable economic downward spiral. In America, we can’t address basic social problems because somehow it would upset the financial order of things. My friends work too much, struggle too much, and fear falling off what little pile they have made for themselves.
I make art to tell stories. I brought home a couple of coasters from the bar thinking I would make some little paintings on them. I painted them with gesso and transferred a page from an old encyclopedia I had lying around. The first painting was a doodle. I was laying fields of color, aqua, bright orange, soft purples. For this triangle in the center, I mixed some red watercolor with red acrylic and I liked how it was translucent. Later, when I looked at the small painting, I thought, if I had a pet rock that is how I would paint it. My Pet Rock Has a Red Triangle Heart was born.
My work habits are such that I get up and write and when my head is too gooey to write some more, I take a nap. And when I wake up, if I don’t feel like writing, I make art. Often what I am writing about filters into my art making. Lately, I’ve been trying to understand the relationship between art and society. This means I’ve been reading a lot of Donald Kuspit who writes things like this:
“The issue that haunts this paper is whether ideology, including the ideologies of technology and corporate capitalism, which converge in the ideology of the spectacle–a mind-numbing dumbing down of consciousness–represses, even denies, or at least systematically suppresses, interiority and subjectivity, or whether the spectacle grants them a new lease on life, bringing with it a fresh consciousness of feelings and sensations, more broadly, of subjective possibility, indeterminate yet invigorating, despite capitalism’s apparent determination to manufacture spectacular appearances that belie and discredit their reality, for feelings and sensations interfere with efficient functioning in the world of action and technological society.” (1)
Kuspit got me on to the work of Daniel Bell who predicted the post-industrial society back in 1973. Bell also tried to understand the contradictions of capitalism, specifically, how we can live in a time of unprecedented resources and be so unhappy.
When I get to deep into economic theory, I like to watch YouTube videos about history. I stumbled onto this Channel 4 documentary hosted by Rupert Everett, The Scandalous Adventures of Lord Byron, in which Everett retraces Byron’s early 19th century jaunt through the Continent. While the Grand Tour was a common thing for noblemen to do, Byron’s journey was special in that he was seeking liberation of his self and his creative soul, which he found. And I thought, Nobody liberates themselves any more. Probably because it costs too much. And then I decided to send My Pet Rock on a Grand Tour of his own. A few paintings, some collaging, and some writing and word-collaging later, My Pet Rock: A Tragedy & A Love Story was made.
My Pet Rock is a tragedy and a love story where the Byronic hero journeys to the Caribbean to Europe to the Middle East. He meet artists and writers, longs for lovers at home, and dies after eating Kentucky Fried Chicken across from the Great Pyramids of Giza. With guest appearances by Carl Werner, Louis Marie de Schryver, Eduard Gaertner, Jean-Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, Tears for Fears, Dean Martin, Rudolf Ernst, Antonio Maria Esquivel, Agostino Brunias, Daniel Bell, José de Espronceda, and Duckey. My Pet Rock is a parable about capitalism. I hope you enjoy it.
“Portraits on the Arrival” is an incomplete series of photographic portraits in which I intercede to portray a moment of expanded consciousness. I imagine the men portrayed here on the verge of a new way of thinking and, to commemorate the moment, have their picture taken. The swirl of color conveys the ecstatic joy that comes with new ideas and fresh thinking. This is not typically a moment we commemorate in our culture. Perhaps it should be.
At the end of 2017, I emerged from a dark, two-year period where I largely resisted having a place in the world. I was waiting to die and then when I didn’t, I realized I had to figure out what I wanted from this new reality. I took interest in the divine nature of humanity, how, through small action and intimate gesture, we manifest change in the world around us. How do we liberate our neighbor? How do we free the potential of those around us? If I were to remain in the world, how did I move through it so the world was more how I wanted it to be? I took inspiration from an interview Erykah Badu gave to Vulture Magazine in which she says, “I’m not a political chick at all. I’m macrocosmic in lieu of microcosmic. I see a whole big picture. I see freedom for the slaves and the slave masters. For everybody. We’re just emerging into a new state of being altogether, and the anger now is about people scared of that change.” I read Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967), a book about a god living among an alternate humanity. Zelazny explains divinity, “Being a god is being able to recognize within one’s self these things that are important, and then to strike the single note that brings them into alignment with everything else that exists. Then, beyond morals or logic or esthetics, one is wind or fire, the seat, the mountains, rain, the sun or the stars, the flight of an arrow, the end of a day, the clasp of love. One rules through one’s ruling passions. Those who look upon gods then say, without even knowing their names, ‘He is Fire. She is Dance. He is Destructions. She is Love.’ So to reply to your statement, they do not call themselves gods. Everyone else does, through, everyone who beholds them.” And I reconnected with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s 1714 work Monadology. The 18th century philosopher saw himself as a mind in a world of minds where thoughts were the only things that were real. He believed space and time were an illusion. This led him to write, “Souls in general are living mirrors or images of the universe of created things, but that minds are also images of the deity or author of nature himself, capable of knowing the system of the universe, and to some extent of imitating it through architectonic ensamples, each mind being like a small divinity in its own sphere.”
I believe in the infinity of things, that space, time, resources, and love are limitless, or at least potentially so. In our world, we are constantly being told we have less, that there isn’t enough time in the day, not enough housing for everyone, not enough money to provide health care and education to our neighbors, and those who try to convince us of this often want us to fight with each other about it. Humanity has achieved many god-like things. We turn night into day. We fly. We leave the planet. We communicate across great distances instantly. I see no reason why we can’t achieve other god-like things that are a mystery to us only because we have not yet realized how to bring it into the world. If we believe anything and everything is possible, then the question is simply how do we work together to make it so. This is my idea of what a divine humanity would be like. What is yours?
I start these works by painting gestures on paper. I then photograph the paintings and remove any surface that remains in the image. These fragments are then collaged with a found photograph where the subject is removed from the portrait and the collage of paint gestures are inserted behind the sitter. In doing this, I am altering the space of the found photograph and recasting the image’s function. These men are now icons of new ideas and fresh thinking.
Collage Prints Portraits on Arrival
Altered Spaces at Spruce Peak Arts Center in Stowe September 13, 2018-January 7, 2019 Reception: Saturday, October 6, 5:30PM Curator: Kelly Holt WEBSITE
9th Annual UVM Alumni Art Show at Dudley H. Davis Center October 4-November 15, 2019 Reception: Saturday, October 5, 2-3:30PM WEBSITE
“Like George Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, or more recently Gerhard Richter’s streaky ‘motion paintings,’ Kadour’s acrid pinks, electric oranges, saturated blues, and hi-temp lemon yellows blend from afar and separate when viewed close up. This vibrates the subject from the 19th century to the present.”
-Jon Meyer, Art New England, January/February 2019. [website]
Street people and artists are two archetypes that society imbues with magic, probably because, like The Bead Lady, street people and artists use mystique as a defense against “petty meanness”….Both are living outside of societal norms. Both struggle to eke out a living. Artwork is often sold like a “lucky bead”, with promises of return on investment and the potential for fame and celebrity.
New Orleans is full of characters, past and present, and when you are drinking at a bar, the city’s denizens trade stories about them like marbles on the playground. The Bead Lady is one of them. The old woman walked the streets of the French Quarter. Strings of Mardi Gras beads hung from her neck. Sometimes she wore a parachute and hardhat, other times she appeared dressed in layers. “The first couple of times I saw her I thought she was a witch,” recalls my friend TJ. Her mystique inspired others to create mythologies about her. Some say she was a Swedish bride brought to the city by a now deceased husband. One guy who claimed she yelled at him, also claimed she cursed a friend of his who lost his leg the following day, and referred to her as either a “Crazy Israeli burnout Berkeley grad” or a “Russian Princess jilted by her French paramour.” Another source claimed, “She was said to be the ghost of a concubine of a French soldier.” I think you get the idea. If The Bead Lady caught your eye, or you caught hers, she would approach you with stories and conversation and eventually, her request, “Do you want to buy a lucky bead?”
TJ recalls, “When I first moved here about 37 years ago, there were not as many homeless people on the streets and she stood out in the crowd in the Central Business District. A couple of times, I saw her in the crowd and when I looked again she had vanished. It was kind of weird.” TJ’s husband purchased a lucky bead from her once. “It didn’t work, he met me.” Artist Mandie Lucas recalls, “Curses and dirt were her weapons against anyone who tried to get close. They worked equally well against petty meanness.”
Street people and artists are two archetypes that society imbues with magic, probably because, like The Bead Lady, street people and artists use mystique as a defense against “petty meanness”. And while I don’t mean to minimize the cruelty of mental illness and homelessness, I do think artists and street people have a lot in common with each other. Both are living outside of societal norms. Both struggle to eke out a living. Artwork is often sold like a “lucky bead”, with promises of return on investment and the potential for fame and celebrity.
In reality, The Bead Lady’s story was familiar and tragic. Her name was Leah Shpock-Luzovsky and she was from Israel and had been missing for forty years. Rabbi Mendel Rivkin of Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana tells her story, “Leah served in the IDF during the mid to late 1950s. Upon completing her army service she was awarded a full academic scholarship to Berkeley. Sometime during or after her four year stint at Berkeley, Leah experienced a severe mental breakdown. One can only speculate that the rampant hard core drug use in that era contributed to her situation. Somehow she wound up in New Orleans and lost all contact with her family in Israel.”
And in reality, the life of the artist is more mundane than not. We wake up. We eat breakfast. We work in the studio. We take lunch. And sometimes when we are lucky, we make something magical, something that speaks to someone else. It says, “Do you want to buy a lucky bead?” And the person it speaks to, says yes.
In telling you this, I am not suggesting that the art world is full of lucky beads. Rather, my hope is that when you meet artists, that you think of them as real people with lives and stories and struggles of their own. And my hope is that you will think of your own. We remember people like The Bead Lady, not simply because of their oddity and eccentricity, not because of their ability to throw curses and dirt, but because she brought joy to people. She entertained and made people smile. She noticed you in a crowd and hoped you noticed her. She made conversation. And when we are alone in our world, a little connection to another soul is a lucky bead.
Sara Willadsen invited me to write the forward to the catalog that accompanies her exhibition, “Boundaries:New Work by Sara Willadsen” at Frank Juarez Gallery, September 8 – October 20, 2018. The catalog can be purchased HERE.
Their Charm Awaken
“…they make the form more exactly, definitely, and completely intuitible, and besides their charm awaken and fix our attention on the object itself.”
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment
Sara Willadsen abstracts her surroundings and renders her findings in painting; that is to say, she takes apart the world around her and puts it back together on canvas. In Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant argues that we experience art as either object or play. The 18th century German philosopher writes about how objects dance and pantomime in space and how the purity of those objects is not diminished by embellishment, rather marks and brush strokes add to the viewer’s experience. In the case of Willadsen’s paintings, the manner in which she rebuilds her surroundings in a painting is the source of its power. In earlier work, like the 2015 painting Cabanon, laser cut paper floats in space demarked with ink, gouache, and acrylic and embellished with color pencil and gel pen. Cabanon is an abstract fantasia. The world is exploded and the artist paused time before all the elements could return to order. The viewer is left in a state of suspended animation that feels equally a moment in time and like infinity.
Willadsen professes a dedicated interest in aesthetics and visual language. In this new body of work, her focus moves from the creation of a complete scene where the objects are in active play with one another and proposes an investigation of the objects themselves. Stated another way, Willadsen shows us how the sausage is made. She asks the viewer to consider individual fragments as works themselves. Her process is informed by collage, a technique that allows her to quickly harness the general chaos of the creative process and get the ideas down. From there, Willadsen organizes and edits in a way that brings control and discipline to her work.
As viewers, Willadsen’s work offers us a chance to reflect on the chaos in our own life. The kids need breakfast; the dog needs a walk; breaking news is coming through the television; the phone rings and an issue at the office has come up. An urgent reply is needed. A buzz reminds us. A chirp alerts us. A billboard on our commute recalls a childhood memory. Oh, right. It’s your sister’s birthday. Our lives are full of fragments, bits of data that come at us like a fat laser. What if we could pause time and investigate each of these, to fix our attention to all this information, and come to love what each of these things represent: family, work, society, our interconnectedness? Would charm awaken to this world we live in?
About the Artist
Sara Willadsen was born in Sheboygan, WI in 1987. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Painting from Northern Illinois University in 2014 and her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art and Graphic Arts from Lakeland University in 2010. Working mainly with paint and various collage elements, Willadsen’s work explores concepts of abstract spaces and objects guided by her surroundings. She has had work featured in New American Paintings and shows frequently in regional and national exhibitions. She is currently works as a visual artist and graphic designer Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. Willadsen is represented by Frank Juarez Gallery.
About the Frank Juarez Gallery
The Frank Juarez Gallery is committed to supporting artists working in painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation, and mixed media works. We aim to create an accessible, educational, and engaging exhibition space for our artists, audience, and community. The Frank Juarez Gallery exhibits and supports the works of artists who value innovation, technical discipline and artistic excellence in their chosen medium. WEBSITE
Image (top): Cabanon
by Sara Willadsen
laser cut paper, color pencil, gel pen, found materials, ink, gouache, acrylic on paper
Image (center): Same Pace 2
by Sara Willadsen
handmade paper, ink, graphite, acrylic, found materials on paper
Not Ideas About the Thing, But the Thing Itself and Pictures of It.
Conceptual installation by Ric Kasini Kadour
Not Ideas About… trades on the Wallace Stevens’ poem of a similar title and plays with ideas about art, objects, and images. I present to the viewer ceramic cups wrapped in a newspaper alongside a framed print that shows three views of the object. In doing this, I wish to ask the viewer to consider what the art is. Is it the photography of the package? Is it the package as sculptural object? Is it the wrapped, unseen ceramic cups? Or is it the idea of setting these two things beside one another in a gallery? Stevens often played with notions of fiction versus reality, the mind’s perception or the truth of the matter. My hope is that this work will encourage the viewer to find their own “new knowledge of reality.”
Object: 10″x4″x4″; newspaper and ceramic, 2015
Photograph: framed, 12″ x 15″; photograph, 2015
Gift exhibition at Moon Gallery
February 12 – March 9, 2018
Berry College, Mt. Berry, GA
Juror: Jordan Amirkhani
Kolaj Magazine is an internationally-oriented, printed, quarterly magazine about contemporary collage. We are interested in how collage is made, how collage is exhibited, and how collage is collected. We are interested in the role collage plays in contemporary visual culture. We provide quality exposure for contemporary collage art.
In 2012, Ric Kasini Kadour co-founded Kolaj Magazine with Benoit Depelteau. At a time when printed publications are under duress, Kolaj Magazine is thriving. Its growing subscriber base comes from thirty-six countries, on every continent except Antarctica. This full colour, internationally-oriented art magazine retails for $12.00. Ric Kasini Kadour serves as the Publisher and Editor.
We approach collage broadly and, as such, we have included in our territory of inquiry such media as traditional cut-and-paste collage, digital collage, assemblage, photomontage, fibre art when it has an element of juxtaposition, and painting when it appears as if multiple visual languages are in use or cut paper fragments are used as a compositional tool of the painter in a manner that is evident in the final work. This approach has afforded us a unique position to observe contemporary collage and make connections between the historic and the current practice of artists, gallerists, museums, curators, historians, and critics.
The magazine operates with a unique publishing model that is driven by its subscribers, has limited advertising, caters to a ’boutique audience’, and takes advantage of on-demand printing. Kolaj uses an editorial approach that makes content relevant in the long-term, so that the articles in Kolaj #1 are as relevant as the most recent issue. As a result, the project does a significant trade in back issues and the archive of magazines remains a relevant source of ideas and information.
In addition to a printed magazine, the effort has expanded into a number of key subprojects.
The Collage Taxonomy Project is an ongoing survey of the wider collage community that attempts to define the language we use to talk about collage.
Collage has a problem with taxonomy. Because collage is both a medium and a genre, an approach to artmaking that involves lots of different media, its definition is vague. While the wide-view editorial approach of the magazine has broadened our understanding to include both the genre of collage, the method, and the medium, it becomes problematic when we engage in critical and curatorial matters.
Collage is an enormous tree and its branches are as widespread and diverse as its roots. If we are truly going to celebrate all things collage (and more importantly, advance a critical and curatorial understanding of collage), we need to develop a collage taxonomy. To that end, Kolaj Magazine actively solicits suggests from its readers and publishes articles that seek to define terms and concepts. The purpose is to give the community a common language to talk about collage.
Collage Books takes an inclusive approach to documenting collage-related publishing efforts and is open to trade editions, ‘zines, artist books, catalogues, and literary endeavours. “So much of collage these days is experienced in printed, published form,” said Kolaj editor and publisher Ric Kasini Kadour. “Collage Books is Kolaj Magazine’s tool for organizing, documenting, and cataloguing books in which collage plays an important role.”
The audience for the site includes readers and collectors of collage books and printed ephemera as well as curators, art venues, and writers. “We aim to create a historical record of books about collage and raise awareness of new titles as they become available,” said Kadour. The directory includes books in and out of print.
Collage Books contains listings for all collage-related titles, and like the magazine, the site takes a broad view. Trade editions, art criticism, and coffee table books are featured side by side with artist books, gallery-published catalogues, and self-published ‘zines. The site is also open to literary endeavours that feature collage. When possible, the directory links titles to reviews of books in the magazine and places where the book can be purchased.
Kolaj Magazine‘s Artist Directory is a tool for organizing and cataloguing artists who work in the medium of collage. Its audience includes the general public as well as independent curators, art venues, and writers. The editorial staff uses the Artist Directory to select artists to feature in the publication and to select artists for various curatorial projects. Not all artists featured in the publication are in the database and there is no guarantee that listing in the database will result in being featured in the magazine. The Artist Directory exists as a public resource for those interested in collage as a medium and is designed to put interested parties in direct contact with artists.
Kolaj Magazine presents Exhibitions-in-Print as a means of exploring critical ideas about collage. We examine work related to a curatorial premise, identify themes and ideas. The purpose is to develop and share an understanding of collage as a medium and a genre.
Kasini House Artshop works with the Kolaj Magazine Artist Directory to produce curated packs of the Collage Artist Trading Cards. Each card is a full colour, 5.5″ x 3.5″ postcard with rounded corners. An example of an artist’s work is on the front of the card and the artist’s public contact information is on the back. Collage Artist Trading Cards come in packs of 15.
After five years of publishing and editing the magazine, we have come to five key observations: 1) Collage is a poorly curated, archived, and understood medium in the art world. 2) The Collage Community is enthusiastic and passionately devoted to the medium. 3) Collage repeatedly shows up at key moments of artistic advancement, regardless of whether or not the final artwork is collage. 4) Collage manifests new thinking and continues the work of Modernism. A collage-centric view of art history redefines both cannon and art history’s narrative. 5) A historic shift is taking place where the lessons of early-Modernist collage are being employed in contemporary artworks. Ric Kasini Kadour actively seeks opportunities to share these observations with art professionals through meetings and public talks.
“What Will Be of Us” is a continuation of the series, “I Keep Myself Together“, in which Kadour pairs photographs with texts to evoke a response in the viewer. “I am interested in the isolation of contemporary life and the sometimes intense personal drama that plays out without anyone really knowing. When I watch people, I often make up stories in my head about them. The titles of the photographs are snippets of those stories; moments of dialogue in a full work of theatre. By presenting the images in a circle, I hope to convey to the viewer the sense that they are peeking into a world or looking through a spyglass,” wrote Kadour in 2013. In working this way, Kadour taps into the tradition of text-based works expressed by Lawrence Weiner and Martin Firrell and the text/image collage work of Barbara Kruger.
“What Will Be of Us” is intended to be exhibited as a grid that alternates texts and images.
“The Veneration of Ruskin” celebrates the 19th century art critic John Ruskin. The 200th anniversary of his birth will take place in 2019. The project draws on Kadour’s interest in apotheosis, altar making, and still life paintings. The series of eleven collages cannibalize Ruskin’s drawings and Dutch flower paintings. Accompanying the collages is an altar to Ruskin that features a fabric tapestry and a table of objects and flowers designed to evoke the still lifes used in the collage. In addition to an exhibition, the project is manifested in a zine and a catalog that reproduces the eleven collages and the source works Kadour used to make them.
In the catalog essay, Kadour explains that he selected Ruskin because of a personal affinity with the writer and artist, because of his vision of the role of art in society, and because he was “moved by Ruskin’s sadness, the self-torment, and his beautiful mind to venerate him with flowers.”
Kadour works conceptually and manifests concepts in prints, photographs, and small sculptures designed to be exhibited in installation. The project continues Kadour’s exploration of influences that began in 2012 after the death of his grandmothers. In the project, “Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts for Yoko Ono,” each day from December 25th, 2012 to Epiphany on January 6th, 2013, Kadour made a “Christmas gift” for Yoko Ono, gifts for grandmothers who were no longer there, inspired by a cultural grandmother. The objects varied from prints to small sculptures to a collection of Edo-period Japanese poetry to performative acts. Each “gift” was documented and images and the instructions were shared online and through social media and later as a book. The project also continues Kadour’s work using altar making as an expression of contemporary art. The series “My Junk Taste Like Flowers” is both a documentation of objects and an expression of joy about them. This series is photographs of sculptures made with “junk” which are venerated with flowers. Kadour writes, “Arranging my junk was like restacking and reordering memories. The whole was other than the sum of its parts.”
In “The Veneration of Ruskin,” the collages serve as secular version of the Stations of the Cross leading the viewer to an artistic altar. The purpose of this is rooted in an understanding of Modernism that relocates the divine to the individual. Kadour cites a deep human need to apotheosize heros, something that is increasingly difficult to do in our society. While Kadour is interested in expressing veneration for a personal hero, the purpose of the exhibition is to model behavior and encourage the viewer to ask of themselves: Who would they venerate and how?
Installation Shrine to Ruskin
Shrine to Ruskin is a variable installation of a fabric tapestry, found and plaster objects, and silk flowers on a raised surface. The objects and flowers are intended to evoke the still lifes used in the collage. About Altar Making
Veneration of Ruskin Collages
The series consists of eleven prints: 10″x8″ collages on 15″x12″ paper. Edition of 5 plus two artist proofs. INQUIRE TO PURCHASE
Zine Apotheosis Ruskin
This zine, Apotheosis Ruskin, is an aesthetic rehash of the series in book form. Details: 24 pages | 7”x5” | saddle-stitched booklet | 2017 | ISBN 978-1-927587-21-8 | AVAILABLE HERE
Catalog The Veneration of Ruskin
The catalog shows eleven collages and the source works Kadour used to make the collages. An essay about why Kadour chose Ruskin also appears in the catalog. Details: 28 pages | 10″x8″ | saddle-stitched | 2017 | ISBN 978-1-927587-22-5 | AVAILABLE HERE
Talk: “Ruskin at 200”
In a forty-five minute slide-show and talk, Kadour speaks about Ruskin’s philosophy of art in society, the importance and problem apotheosis in contemporary society (and art in particular, i.e. How do we separate art from problematic artists), and the concept of secular altar making.
The start of Summer 2017 felt pretty good. An exhibition I curated for the Vermont Arts Council opened in June. I built “Connections: The Art of Coming Together” by asking artists to nominate one another. The commentary on the artwork was as much about the relationships between artists as it was on the artwork itself. A series of essays expanded on what I learned about artist networks and communities. Overall, the experience of curating the exhibition led me to feel hopeful about the fabric of our society, that good people working together can do good things.
And then summer happened, specifically, a group of white supremacists held rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia and the rest of us got to watch it on television. Clean-cut white men marched with tiki torches and shouted “Jews will not replace us. Death to Antifa. White lives matter.” The nation was thrown into a moral crisis over the emergence of those who wish to reorder American society according to extremely racist or authoritarian values and commit the genocide of people of color, queer people, Jews, and others who do not fit a narrow definition of “American”. The President and members of his administration demonstrate a sympathy to their position. The unfathomable became a reality: hate was graced with legitimacy.
I don’t mention these events to further beat a drum. As I write this, our social media feeds and cable news outlets are doing that just fine. Sides are being taken. Questions are being asked. Morality is being debated. I mention these events because, moving forward, this is the world in which we live and if art is going to be relevant to people, if art is going to serve a meaningful function in the day-to-day lives of people, then we need to understand that this is the world that art lives in as well.
I’ve long thought that non-representation in modern art made sense after the incomprehensible horrors of World War II. Of course, abstract art existed before 1945, but there is something about bold brushstrokes, radical palettes, and kinetic compositions that help us make sense of chaos. The absoluteness of a painting is comforting in the face of moral ambiguity. And the freedom with which 20th century artists made art, particularly in America, was a beacon, a signal to choose freedom in our daily lives.
Too often contemporary political art today strikes a pedantic note, but fails to resonate beyond those predisposed to hear its message. While I enjoy its wit and the sophistication of its message, it often lacks the depth of pure concept or the punch of emotionally expressive work. And still, I would say that in times of social, political, moral crisis, art is more important than ever. One cannot underestimate the power of encountering a towering sculpture in a lush field or the joy of crawling into a mobile camper that has been turned into a miniature museum or the comfort of seeing a familiar landscape rendered in an eccentric palette. Even when art is nostalgic, it can be a force for good. Murals like Salute to Vermont, which I write about in Vermont Art Guide #5, can remind us of our values, of what we need to hold on to. Art provides an opportunity to seek out others, at a festival or an opening or by simply popping into a gallery on a Thursday and chatting with the owner. Art can deepen our emotions, give us space for contemplation, and, most importantly, reinforce our humanity. Art helps us maintain the fabric of our society, our connections to one another. Taking care of each other and fortifying our humanity is exactly what we need to be doing more of in these times.
Self-taught Sheldon Peck was a 19th century portrait painter from Cornwall, Vermont, who, in addition to art and farming, was involved with a number of social issues including abolition, racial equality, temperance, public education, women’s rights, and pacifism.
Portrait of Mary Jones, Shoreham
by Sheldon Peck
oil on academy board
In early 2012, I had been thinking about objects and particularly why objects matter and why we collect the stuff we do. Around that time, I interviewed Katharine Mulherin at her gallery on Queen West in Toronto. I learned we share an interest in collecting seemingly random objects, things that are not quite art, not really design, but objects from the past whose shape, form, or colour appeals to our senses or the moment. I think of these objects as artifacts of someone else’s personal history that I appropriate into the grand narrative of an unwritten memoir. My partners call these objects junk.
I asked Katharine why she collects the things she does. “Oh, I don’t know,” she responded initially and then paused and said, “Joy. I collect things because they bring me joy.”
The series “My Junk Taste Like Flowers” is both a documentation of objects and an expression of joy about them. This series is photographs of sculptures made with my junk which are then venerated with flowers. Arranging my junk was like restacking and reordering memories. The whole was other than the sum of its parts.
“My Junk Taste Like Flowers” is manifested as an installation, a series of colour instant photographs, and an artist book.
Altar to My Junk
Altar to My Junk is a variable installation of found and plaster objects with silk flowers on a raised surface. About Altar Making
COLOUR INSTANT PHOTOGRAPHS
I documented each of these sculptures using a Polaroid 360 Land Camera and Fujifilm FP-100c to make a colour instant photograph in editions of three, except for the titular piece, My Junk Taste Like Flowers, which is an edition of 100 and released as an artist book.
An ongoing project, Clouds :: Knowledge investigates the visual imagery of sky and clouds as a symbol of knowledge and epistemology in contemporary life.
One day, I was sitting at a coffee shop with an artist friend and trying to remember the name of this other artist. I picked up my iPhone and started to Google descriptions of his artwork in the hope that I would stumble across an image of his work and thus be reminded of his name. I have an awful memory. I often get up from my desk to get a cup of coffee and forget why I got up before I make it to the kitchen. Some days, the more things I learn, the dumber I feel. But we live at a time when all the knowledge of the world is carried on our person, in a little box. Of course, it is not all in the box. Knowledge exists in the cloud of the Internet which is really just a system of computer networks that are linked together, but are ultimately out of sight and out of mind. But it isn’t really. Signs of the Internet are everywhere. You see signs advertising wi-fi on the door of a café or people using smart phones or web links printed in the visual patter of the city. We are constantly reminded that this cloud of knowledge is nearby.
Philosophers of epistemology suggest two types of knowledge: a priori knowledge which is independent of experience and a posteriori knowledge which is dependent on empirical evidence or experience. I wanted to imagine a third type of knowledge: acumulus knowledge which hovers over your head or sits on your shelf waiting for you to use it.
Clouds :: Knowledge exists as the installation/performance piece, All My Thoughts Are in the Air; the sculptural object All My Knowledge Lives in a Box; and the paper sculpture cum art product, Knowledge Cloud, which reinterprets the idea as a print and mini-cloud sculpture that unfolds as a free standing pop-up, and collage prints.