Last year, Chris, Safwat and I started thinking about what a show together might be about. Since we all come from our own "margins", we have thought about how hard it is to express our thoughts, opinions and perspectives about a variety of current socially relevant issues. A brief description of the show:
"It’s true that we all belong to our tribes and yet, most of us feel like we don’t belong. How can this be? Is there any room to talk, to listen, and to build our circles of belonging? Our voices can’t begin to examine every American experience but this exhibit offers our uniquely personal American experiences of fears, personal marginalization, complicity, memories, anxiety, love, humor, and our expressions of humanity. Our stories examine and question our simultaneous roles of colluding with our systems and being exploited by them."
I’m not an innocent bystander. It seems these times have outed a racial divide that has simmered under the surface for centuries, in this, the land of the free and home of the brave. Of late, I’ve felt called to look at the roots of my own white privilege. What cues and assumptions indoctrinated my own habits as a person born with white skin?
I began to think about the invisible, insidious cues that were planted in my early life. What were the subtle messages that were ingrained in my own psyche - all working to assure the maintenance of our hold on the white structure in this country. I began to think about words that I grew up with - rhymes, lyrics, pledges. I thought about images in my own home - food packaging, table linens, religious icons - innocently employed, but damaging all the same.
The work I'm creating for this show attempts to visually layer these cues - mimicking the confusion of these impressions that still float around in my mind and body.
Early in the process, the curator, Lauren O'Connell asked for some progress shots. Still awaiting my final yarns to be delivered, I made several tests and this little scrunchie, when used to suspend the speculum looked very much like, well, a vagina. That was when I knew how I would approach this piece.
When I explored my solution for a piece for the show 10 Artists-2000 Speculums, it seemed simple enough. But as I accomplished my tests and settled on how the final components would work, I started doing the math and realized that I would have to make at least 3 components per day to finish in time for the opening of this exhibition - each component taking about 1 1/2 - 2 hours to complete. That was in July and the install for the show was on September 30th! It's a good thing that for much of the summer, all I could do is heal from a surgery that was ultimately reflected in this personal work. You see, the show revolves around the speculum - a diagnostic tool that all women have experienced during vaginal exams. My surgery? - a hysterectomy. It's a loss of such a vital part of a woman's body. I am fortunate that I was asked to develop work around this familiar, but fearful object. Through this intense work, I was able to process my procedure in such a meaningful and personal expression.
Our friend Miguel Monzon and Assistant Gallery Manager at Modified Arts produced a short preview of some of the work installed for the It's Only Natural Exhibition.
Having been easily moved by random events that occurred on our road trips – added to the constant overlay of broader events affecting our world - each work in this collection reflects an actual random experience from our travels. But I can’t seem to help myself from conflating these personal events with the current issues of our time.
And so, combined with the collection of physical findings, random happenings from our time on the road, and my gravitation toward the political, the result is this work that is at once intimately personal, while offering broader social commentary.
On the roads of Cape Brenton in Nova Scotia, night was falling. More than once, an owl would swoop out of the forest and fly across the road, illuminated by our headlights. Suddenly there was a loud impact on our windshield. We knew one of those owls had hit us. It left an uneasy feeling as we drove on through the night. Later, in August, in Oregon, we were driving to experience the total eclipse and saw a large mound of feathers on the side of the road. We stopped and discovered an owl, the victim of the same kind of impact we had experienced two months earlier in Nova Scotia. We took a few feathers from this magnificent creature. This piece spans those two locations, and commemorates these events. It is a way to communicate my awareness of our own footprint as we venture into the natural world, and also a way to convey that visceral reaction at the moment of impact.
There were 8 forest fires raging in New Mexico during our time there. At times, we had feared our camp spots might be overwhelmed with smoke. We had decided to drive up an ancient caldera and around the rim only to find out that the southern route was blocked by fires. So we headed up through Los Alamos, the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb, to take a northern route, Forest Road 144. A spectacular drive, we could see the live fire across the caldera, but we also drove through areas devastated by past fires. “Fire” relates this drive, and uses a piece of charred wood found here. It also combines a carved hand grenade (purchased at a roadside curio shop), New Mexican churro wool, and red chili peppers from Chimayo. Paired with “Ice”, the two works speak to the dangerous precipice on which we find ourselves - the brink of nuclear conflict, or the potential devastation caused by climate change.
We were visiting the White Sands National Monument and somehow, I didn’t think twice about putting some of the sand in a bag for a future work. I also found some white plastic netting and I was struck by the aesthetic of the white on white effect of the netting embedded in the sand. Later, while collecting some dry grasses, I was confronted by two rangers who drove up to ask what I was doing. Needless to say, my collection was not allowed, and upon further search, they found my bag of sand too. I’m ashamed of my reaction to the rangers, because I told a few “white lies” in this exchange. I lost the sand and I got a $200.00 fine. I made “White Lies” to relate this very real incident, but it also speaks to the idea of white privilege and how it holds no substance. What might this have to say about our broader social condition in today’s world?
For the first time, my husband Bill Timmerman (who is a photographer), and myself orchestrated a show together. The show visually relates specific findings from our summer travels in 2017. Bill looks for ties between the built and unbuilt world, while I employ the serendipity of found objects and random experiences – brought together to convey new messages.
Below is featured some of my work from the show along with its accompanying story and images from the road.
We underestimated the time it would take us to drive the Cape Brenton loop on the northeastern end of Nova Scotia. As night fell, we realized that if we kept driving, we would miss the magnificent views and landscape in the dark. So, with some trepidation on my part, we pulled just off the road at a viewpoint widening and decided to spend the night in the car. We carefully positioned the vehicle so that in the morning, our view would be down a vast valley, on out to the sea. It was a bit scary, but we were left undisturbed. Back on our way the next morning, we stopped at a beach where there were thousands of sea-smoothed stones stacked in cairns everywhere as far as we could see. It was as if we were receiving confirmation of our decision to stop and let time pass, so that we would not miss such a sight as this field of cairns. How often must we remind ourselves to stop, and catch time?
The work in this exhibition is my personal attempt to translate the turmoil that I, and many in this country feel. We’ve been stripped, twisted, wound up tight, and tied into knots over what we are hearing and experiencing on a daily basis with the Trump White House.
Using Trump "Make America Great Again" campaign t-shirts that have been cut into strips, those long pieces were tightly twisted to create rope, and then tied into a series of knots. Each knot carriers a title and description based on its real-life name and purpose – but has been reinterpreted to reference the barrage of stunning headlines emanating from the Trump administrations’ antics and careless policies.
On the back of each knot plaque is a print of the real-life headline that inspires the use of its corresponding NOT knot.
phICA's Onloaded 5 Container Galleries
(All photos by Bill Timmerman)
© 2017, Ann Morton
New Work in Progress
This is an ongoing narrative that follows new projects in progress.