How Becoming a Family Made Alternative Bodies

During the summers of 2009-2011, I had the opportunity to participate in Arrowmont’s educational assistance program as both a work study and a studio assistant. What I recall most from those summers as a young artist were the people that I met and the relationships that were formed. I recall being in a situation where despite the many differences and backgrounds that each person brought to the table at Arrowmont there was one common theme – art. Each person was here because of a love of art. However, these summer sessions as an educational assistant student only lasted 6 weeks. One might say that anyone can do anything for six weeks. Yet, I latched onto that memory of meeting people and it carried me to other art centers like Arrowmont for 4 more summers. Through my experiences at Arrowmont and Anderson Ranch, what continued to be attractive to me was the interactions and relationships that were formed with people.

This social dynamic that I have just described is one that comes with many arts and crafts centers and it is a major component of the Arrowmont Artist-in-Residence program.  This component was one that was particularly attractive to me.  Each year, Arrowmont’s Artists-in-Residence program provides early career, self-directed artists the time, space and support to experiment and develop a new body of work. Five artists are selected to participate in the program.  These five artists, often from different backgrounds and disciplines, come together for an entire year to live and work on their studio practice.  This year, the Arrowmont Artists-in-Residence are Max Adrian, Emily Culver, Elyse-Krista AnnaMarie Mische, Xia Zhang, and myself, Paige Ward. We represent a range of media including soft sculpture, fashion, objects, performance and ceramics.

After being on campus for a few weeks with one another living and working together as Artists-in-Residence, I think I can say for all of us that we slowly began to learn more about one another.  We may have at first noticed our differences, but before long we began to see the similarities that we shared.  Of course one of those similarities was art.  However, the core connection that we all shared on its most basic level was desire to talk about topics that may be difficult to discuss and how those topics related to us as humans.  This is often the role of art, to present viewers with different perspectives on topics of discussion.  However, not only were we trying to discuss these topics through our work, we were also often at times discussing them through conversation with one another.  While we were living, working, and sharing meals with one another on a daily basis, we became like an artist family.

I can speak for myself in saying that some of the topics that we discussed were difficult for me to digest let alone talk about.  However, one of the valuable things that I learned through it all is that I can have my opinion, but I can also listen to others with a certain level of respect and openness.  Even when we do not agree on philosophical or art debates, we still love, respect, and serve one another.

In our final exit show, Alternative Bodies that is currently on display this real life situation that I just described was the premise of our show.  Through many dinner table discussions we tried to find the unifying thread that tied our diverse work and concepts together to make this show.  While we did not make works based on one another’s work, I think there was a certain level of awareness and intuitiveness that played a role in helping to unify the work within the show.  You will see formal unifying themes of color, repetition, and material choices throughout that we did not discuss in planning our work for the show.  Those happy connections just happened.  While living together in a cooperative and respectful manner has influenced our work, I can only imagine how living together has affected our ideas about one another and others from different backgrounds.  While I do not think any of us have compromised our core values or convictions over the duration of this residency, I do believe that we have all had the opportunity to understand different perspectives and how to love one another through them. We have shared in triumphs, rejections, smiles, and tears.  I can say for myself that as a part of the 2017-2018 resident family this has been the case for us and for that I am thankful.  As this year residency rapidly comes to an end, I will miss them, but I will cherish this time that we shared together and what I learned through it all.

So we invite you to come out to our opening reception for Alternative Bodies this Saturday, April 7, 2018 from 6-8 pm in the Sandra J. Blain gallery on Arrowmont’s campus to experience the different perspectives that we have in our bodies.  There will be lots of food and drinks! If you can’t make it to the reception, the show will be on display until May 5, 2018.

Photograph by: Xia Zhang

Alternative Bodies is a group exhibition showcasing new work by the 2017-2018 Arrowmont Artists-in-Residence: Xia Zhang, Paige Ward, Elyse-Krista Mische, Emily Culver, and Max Adrian. In vulnerable ways, these artists touch on a variety of topics related to the body such as queerness, sexuality, faith, race, and death. These artists are playful and inventive with their processes in order to start conversations that may otherwise be difficult to digest.

Works such as those by Zhang, Culver, and Adrian focus on matters of flesh and bone: what it means to touch bodies, to express ourselves through our bodies and the objects we interact with, to be celebrated, stigmatized, or separated because of our bodies. Tactility is a key element for these works which span a breadth of materials like faux-fur, orange peels, and rubber. Works by Mische and Ward, on the other hand, consider spiritual existences in pursuit of greater understanding of our mortality and what lies in wait beyond the body. Objects like concrete pillows and monumental papier-mâché vessels reference the body through its absence. Metaphors for faith and self-preservation speak to multiple possibilities of seeking and finding comfort.

Collectively, all five artists encourage the viewer to contemplate other perspectives and expressions of humanness at a time when the world feels more divided than unified. Alternative Bodies aspires to a level of empathy and compassion for the hopes, hardships, and successes we all have within our physical forms.

Alternative Bodies show statement written by: Max Adrian

You may read more about Alternative Bodies and other exhibits on display at Arrowmont by visiting:
https://www.arrowmont.org/visit/galleries/

We as a group will also reunite in 2019 for a group show at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA, titled, Mixed Bag: An Assortment of Contemporary Craft that will address topics of the same theme. You may visit each of our personal websites to keep up with what each of us are doing.

Max Adrian – www.maxadrian.com
Emily Culver – www.emily-culver.com
Elyse-Krista Mische – www.lifepropaganda.com
Paige Ward – www.paigeward.com
Xia Zhang – www.xiayzhang.com

 

This blog was written by Paige Ward. Paige is currently staying at Arrowmont as part of the Artists-in-Residence program, which encourages early career artists who embrace community and enjoy working in a team environment to experiment and develop a new body of work. 

 

ART WORKSTENNESSEE ARTS COMMISIONTENNESSEE FOR THE ARTSTENNESEE GIFT-A-TAGEAST TENNESSEE FOUNDATION

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