Art of the year

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - Brandy McDon­nell bm­c­don­nell@ ok­la­homan.com

Ok­la­homa artists show their work af­ter a year of am­bi­tious cre­at­ing with ‘Art 365.’

Pete Froslie didn’t set out to be­come a 21stcen­tury al­chemist with his “Art 365” project.

But in the process of study­ing the com­plex com­mod­ity chains that sup­ply trace el­e­ments that go into com­puter com­po­nents like hard drives, heat sinks and ca­pac­i­tors, the Nor­man artist be­gan min­ing gold, sil­ver and other pre­cious met­als from the pile of elec­tronic waste now on view at Nor­man’s MAINSITE Con­tem­po­rary Art gallery.

“Alchemy has been in my work prob­a­bly for some time, but not lit­eral alchemy. I didn’t land in the space where I’m like, ‘I’m look­ing for the Philoso­phers’ Stone,’ ” Froslie said. “I just landed in a space where I’m gen­uinely

fas­ci­nated by lead’s re­ac­tion to sil­ver and how much I can re­cy­cle th­ese things, mea­sure them back out, and re­con­fig­ure them as I sort of move for­ward.”

Re­ac­tions and re­con­fig­u­ra­tions are ex­pected for artists who go through “Art 365,” the Ok­la­homa Vis­ual Arts Coali­tion’s tri­en­nial project that of­fers state artists a year and $12,000 to cre­ate in­no­va­tive art­work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cu­ra­tor.

“It’s de­signed to be a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the artists,” OVAC As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor Lau­ren Scarpello said. “The ‘Art 365’ pro­gram kind of puts us on the map in the art world. We’re do­ing con­cep­tual, am­bi­tious pro­jects here that are re­ally on par with some of the larger arts com­mu­ni­ties in ci­ties na­tion­wide.”

“Art 365” is such a big un­der­tak­ing that OVAC only of­fers it to five artists ev­ery three years. The non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion last year re­ceived a $25,000 Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts grant to fund the 2017 cy­cle.

OVAC sifted through 78 ap­pli­cants and se­lected six artists to de­velop five pro­jects for "Art 365." The 2017 par­tic­i­pants —Froslie; Amy andJames McGirk, of Tahle­quah; Nar­ciso Ar­guelles, Ed­mond; Andy Mat­tern, Still­wa­ter; and Kelly Rogers, Ok­la­homa City —worked with Dana Turkovic, cu­ra­tor of ex­hi­bi­tions at Laumeier Sculp­ture Park in St. Louis, on pro­jects that are both high con­cept and highly per­sonal.

The di­ver­gent pro­jects are on view through Aug. 11 at Nor­man’s MAINSITE. The ex­hibit then will move to Tulsa’s Hardesty Arts Cen­ter for an Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber run.

“For me, among the trans­for­ma­tional as­pects of this project is the free­dom, the free­dom to pur­sue a project for the du­ra­tion with this sup­port,” Mat­tern said. “This was lit­er­ally the first time where I could set aside some of those bound­aries that have al­ways been in place in or­der to fo­cus on the work, for the work. And that meant some­thing as sim­ple as al­low­ing my­self to buy some­thing that I wouldn’t nor­mally buy —a piece of equip­ment or some ma­te­ri­als —and I think free­dom, as an in­gre­di­ent, pro­duces bet­ter art.”

Th­ese are the sto­ries be­hind the five pro­jects that came out the 2017 edi­tion of “Art 365”:

Gimme ‘Shel­ter’

When he moved to Still­wa­ter two years ago to teach pho­tog­ra­phy at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity, Andy Mat­tern, who hails from New Mex­ico, had never heard of or ven­tured into a storm shel­ter. “On walks in our neigh­bor­hood, I would no­tice th­ese lit­tle chim­neys pok­ing out of peo­ple’s back­yards, and I had no idea what they were,” he re­called. “That was the im­pe­tus to start in­ves­ti­gat­ing what they were and then ac­tu­ally go­ing in one and re­al­iz­ing that they have this echo and they have this light qual­ity. … Part of what I en­coun­tered in this project is the shared ex­pe­ri­ence of th­ese spa­ces: As Ok­la­homans, ev­ery­body has their story.”

He quickly re­al­ized that the “fraidy holes” were ba­si­cally gi­ant pin­hole cam­eras just wait- ing for some­one to cap­ture the im­ages that could be cre­ated by the shel­ter’s dim, hope­ful glow.

“All you need for a cam­era is a dark space, and a hole that light comes in through. … A pin­hole (cam­era) just has one ex­tra piece of ma­te­rial, and that’s some­thing that gath­ers the im­age, whether it’s a piece of film, a piece of light-sen­si­tive pa­per or a dig­i­tal sen­sor,” he said. “Th­ese are al­ready dark holes; they just need an aper­ture in or­der to be­come a pin­hole cam­era. That was my ini­tial thought, and upon vis­it­ing many of th­ese, I re­al­ized that in fact I didn’t even have to add that aper­ture, it al­ready ex­isted in the form of the vent. Th­ese are cam­eras in the wild, if you will.”

For his project “Shel­ter,” he went door to door, ask­ing neigh­bors if he could ven­ture into their shel­ters to make art.

“Peo­ple were so nice. They were so wel­com­ing. With the ex­cep­tion of one per­son, ev­ery­one said yes,” Mat­tern said.

“Ev­ery time I made an ex­po­sure, I didn’t know what it would look like. I knew gen­er­ally. I knew that it was go­ing to be a black rec­tan­gle with a white cir­cle in it be­cause I’m hold­ing this pa­per up against the hole. … But I couldn’t con­trol the com­po­si­tion, and the ex­po­sure was al­ways a guess. “Some­thing that came out of it that I re­ally en­joyed is the as­tro­nom­i­cal ap­pear­ance of the in­stal­la­tion, so each im­age is its own lit­tle ce­les­tial body float­ing up in a con­stel­la­tion. … And I never could have pre­dicted that.”

Un­ex­pected ‘Value’

Amy andJames McGirk are hop­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence un­ex­pected out­comes with their mul­ti­year project “Cog­ni­tive Ar­ti­facts: Art and Value.”

“For two years, I’ve been walk­ing around Tahle­quah tak­ing pic­tures, so I’ve ac­cu­mu­lated a data­base of about 100,000 im­ages. My wife has kind of sifted through this data­base, and she’s cho­sen some of th­ese im­ages and she’s made paint­ings af­ter them,” he said. “So, she’s lay­ing those out, al­most like you would at a thrift store. … Then, we’re say­ing, ‘You can have one of th­ese paint­ings. You can take one of th­ese paint­ings with­out pay­ment, but there has to be an ex­change. What that ex­change is that we have to take a pic­ture of you hold­ing this paint­ing, and then we’re go­ing stick it up and it will be in­cluded in the art (in­stal­la­tion)’. And then af­ter that we’re go­ing to fol­low up.”

The cou­ple, who moved to Ok­la­homa a few years ago from New York, have been work­ing through two cy­cles of their artis­tic ex­per­i­ment in Tahle­quah and Nor­man and plan to em­bark on a third when the ex­hibit moves to Tulsa. They are hop­ing to even­tu­ally get an­other grant to cre­ate a book of pho­tos and es­says about the project.

Their ven­ture is ex­am­in­ing how peo­ple re­act to re­ceiv­ing a high-end piece of art for free. Do they trea­sure it be­cause they got such a wind­fall? Or do they fail to value it be­cause it was given away? “It’s process art, so it’s all about cre­at­ing this kind of cre­ative process … So, we’re go­ing to see what hap­pens to that art­work. Ide­ally, we’re go­ing to get into peo­ple’s homes and take a pic­ture of it in there,” said James McGirk, who is a writer and teacher. “We’re hop­ing that some peo­ple will de­stroy th­ese things, some peo­ple will kind of put them in a place of pride, and some peo­ple will prob­a­bly ob­vi­ously throw some­thing to­gether at the last minute to kind of pre­tend like they’ve had the art out.”

Artis­tic in­ter­ven­tions

Ade­scen­dant of famed Na­tive Amer­i­can bal­leri­nas and Ok­la­homa na­tives Mar­jorie and Maria Tallchief, Wan­bli Tallchief grace­fully pirou­ettes through the half-fin­ished halls of Ok­la­homa City’s Amer­i­can In­di­anCul­tural Cen­ter and Mu­seum in Nar­ciso Ar­guelles’ at­mo­spheric “Art 365” short film “Imag­i­nary Spa­ces.”

“The whole his­tory is very in­ter­est­ing of Na­tive Amer­i­cans do­ing some­thing that’s very Euro­pean, some­thing that was born in France,” Ar­guelles said.

The Chi­cano artist, who was born in the United States and grew up in Mex­ico, col­lab­o­rated with sev­eral per­form­ers, in­clud­ing bal­let dancers, Span­ish­s­peak­ing singers, Na­tive Amer­i­can drum­mers and lo­cal rap­per Jabee for the film and a live per­for­mance at the “Art 365” Nor­man ex­hibit open­ing.

“We would do th­ese art in­ter­ven­tions. I know that term has not been in vogue for a while. … When they (peo­ple) think of an in­ter­ven­tion, they think of al­co­hol, right? But the phras­ing comes from you’re in­ter­ven­ing in a space that nor­mally would not have art,” he said. “For in­stance, that ‘Fear­less Girl’ on Wall Street, yes, that’s a sculp­ture, but it’s also an art in­ter­ven­tion be­cause it re­acts to the other sculp­ture (‘Charg­ing Bull’). … It plays around with re­con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing spa­ces.”

With Jabee, he in­vited the rap­per to re­cite one of his songs about the Black Lives Mat­ter protests in a cof­fee­house in the spo­ken-word style of a 1950s beat poet. “When I make art, I have to treat it like a priv­i­lege, but it’s also a re­spon­si­bil­ity for me to bear wit­ness or to try to bring about change —ei­ther po­lit­i­cal or eco­nom­i­cal, so­cial or po­lit­i­cal change — to try to af­fect so­ci­ety in some way. So that was very im­por­tant,” Ar­guelles said.

Sur­vivor sto­ries

When Kelly Rogers heard that the num­ber had changed, she was shocked and an­gry. “A good friend of mine and I were hav­ing cof­fee and she was telling me about some vol­un­teer work that she did … and she said one in three girls in Ok­la­homa County is sex­u­ally abused by the time she turns 18. When I was grow­ing up, that num­ber was one in four. … This prob­lem is not get­ting bet­ter, and there’s also a real strong sense that the cav­alry ain’t com­ing,” said Rogers, who said she ex­pe­ri­enced child­hood abuse by a fam­ily mem­ber who has since left her fam­ily.

“For me, that’s also a per­sonal story, so when I heard that one

in three num­ber, it was jar­ring be­cause it was like, ‘I thought I knew that num­ber. That’s my num­ber. That’s sup­posed to be one in four.’ ”

She is bring­ing at­ten­tion to the alarm­ing num­ber with her “Art 365” project, “Tales of Whoa,” a 12-foot hand-stitched ta­pes­try mu­ral that de­picts dozens of lit­tle girls run­ning, jump­ing and play­ing. One in three is marked with red to high­light the star­tling statis­tic.

“There are a lot of peo­ple, I think, who felt like I did for a long time: that they’re alone. So I wanted to cre­ate this mul­ti­tude of fig­ures and then il­lu­mi­nate ev­ery third one in some way so I could re­ally ex­press how many one in three is, be­cause it’s easy to sort of hear that num­ber and then let it roll off,” she said.

“I wanted to ex­press how many of us there are, but like glo­rify the re­silience of sur­viv­ing, of what it means to live af­ter trauma.”

She said the ti­tle of her sprawl­ing work is de­lib­er­ate.

“I work at a cri­sis helpline. I hear a lot of sur­vivor sto­ries,” she said. “You know that idea of that dreaded day job for the artist? I don’t feel that way about mine. I love it … and I wanted to take that ‘Woah, I can’t be­lieve what peo­ple can get through,’ that con­cept of just a hu­man be­ing and the will to sur­vive.”

‘Aes­thet­ics’ and alchemy

Pete Froslie was look­ing for a change, and “Art 365” pro­vided the cat­a­lyst. “Ba­si­cally, I needed to change di­rec­tions. I spent a lot of time fo­cus­ing on elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing, com­puter sci­ence, me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing,” he said. “It had a been a long de­sire to get into chem­istry, bi­ol­ogy.”

Al­though art, sciences and yes, mod­ern-day alchemy, com­bine with in­trigu­ing re­sults in his “Aes­thet­ics of Cap­i­tal,” the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa fac­ulty mem­ber said the project’s ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion was his in­ter­est in com­mod­ity chains and the com­plex­i­ties in ob­tain­ing the ma­te­ri­als needed to cre­ate smart­phones and com­put­ers that quickly be­come ob­so­lete.

“I was think­ing pri­mar­ily about tan­ta­lum, cobalt and spe­cific ma­te­ri­als that go into ca­pac­i­tors and elec­tronic com­po­nents … and the Congo and re­ally highly geopo­lit­i­cally dan­ger­ous spa­ces. That’s a dan­ger­ous space be­cause of the things that are com­ing out of the Earth,” he said. “So this isn’t ac­tu­ally tech­ni­cally about a pile of elec­tron­ics.”

Many peo­ple may not be aware that their elec­tronic de­vices are crafted with trace amounts of pre­cious met­als like gold, which is prized for its con­duc­tiv­ity. He started us­ing sci­en­tific tech­niques to mine the met­als out of dis­carded com­puter parts.

In the process, he got the change he was look­ing for.

“I re­ally de­vel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with what lead, sil­ver, cop­per and gold do in chem­i­cal re­ac­tions,” Froslie said. “I de­cided I want to make a ring, like a phys­i­cal ring that you would wear, but not with any sort of time­line … So, I want to make a ring over the next five or 10 or 15 years of col­lect­ing ma­te­ri­als, re­fin­ing them from elec­tron­ics and us­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences I get kind of re­search­ing to con­trib­ute slowly to the de­vel­op­ment of this kind of ar­ti­fact.

“It’s a strange process, with a lot of lay­ers.”

[PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Nar­ciso Ar­guelles, 2017 “Art 365” par­tic­i­pant, poses with his work June 9 at MAINSITE gallery in Nor­man.

[PHO­TOS BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

LEFT: James McGirk, 2017 “Art 365” par­tic­i­pant, poses with his work on June 9 at MAINSITE gallery in Nor­man.

BE­LOW: Andy Mat­tern, 2017 “Art 365” par­tic­i­pant, poses with his work June 9 at MAINSITE gallery in Nor­man.

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