According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, roughly 1,500 place names or symbols representing the Confederacy can be found in public spaces in Virginia alone. Of that number, over 200 are located in public spaces maintained by local or state government. Monuments to the Confederacy have grown particularly controversial in recent years, and we can no longer ignore their significance regardless of our political views.
The work in this exhibition expresses our consideration of the complexity of the situation, the current post-truth context in the U.S. only adding to its complexity. The inability to agree on basic facts across the argumentative divide, such as why the civil war was fought, results in a situation where all voices, all viewpoints are simply sounding-off simultaneously. It is this cacophony of individual postures that some of the work in this show illustrates. We are all stakeholders in what happens with regard to monuments to the Confederacy, and it is clear that the status quo is not enough to prevent further civil discord. We must come to an agreement, collectively, on how to proceed.
We both grew up in the South (Virginia and Georgia) and have observed our own changing relationships to monuments to the Confederacy. Being white in the South meant for us that these monuments could be treated like furniture in the environment, relegated to the background through habituation and affiliation. In other words, we were privileged not to see them as contesting our rights or place in society. As we grew up it became clear that these public monuments did not represent the values of everyone. This is a fairly typical story for many of us. Ultimately, if a monument is meant to commemorate a notable person or event, perhaps these pieces exist more as elegies, embracing the losses we all share regardless of race. In seeing the inherent duality of the situation, and leading with forgiveness, we believe art becomes a healing lens through which history can be amended.
The issue does get complicated as we begin to assess the various arguments on both sides of the controversy. The clash is pronounced when considering the preservation of history, the commemoration of war dead on one side and social justice on the other.
“Are Confederate monuments reminders of the antebellum South, a mythical place where tradition, family, chivalry, a love of liberty, and a small government were paramount virtues, or do they recall an odious, divisive time in the nation’s history where bigotry, slavery, and rebelliousness where championed?” (Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South. Edited by Martinez, Richardson, McNinch-Su, p. 173)
Consider this thought experiment (that actually happened). You are the director of the Civil War Museum and the Sons of Confederate Veterans approaches you with an offer. They want to donate to the museum a bronze sculpture of Jefferson Davis walking, holding hands with two young boys (one black and one white). They have picked out a location on your campus, and they are ready to install. How do you respond to the Sons of Confederate Veterans? ——Pam Sutherland & Jere Williams
DREAM MACHINE (2017)
For someone whose work is rooted in a kind of visual memoir, the opportunity to revisit the past through this reunion exhibition was especially inspiring to me. I had had the idea of documenting the elusiveness of sleep percolating in my mind for a while; knowing my piece would be in the bedroom gallery space only solidified my intentions. When I realized, too, that I have literally doubled in age since the original Dream House show, I felt compelled to chronicle my own creative past, recasting former pieces that have led me to where I am today as both an artist and a teacher.
I have consequently chosen to list all of the materials that extend beyond standard surfaces and joinery. As a poetic whole, they tell a story, one that hopefully informs the design metaphor on the wall. The dual acts of intuiting and arranging are so central to my practice now that my need to make a mark through in-time drawing and painting has necessarily diminished. The ability to simply recycle and reconnect the already made has become my primary impetus.
Twenty-five years ago I made a coil-built, intimate sculpture for this exhibition entitled, Tea Set for a Love Triangle. While autobiography remains an abiding driver of my work, the piece, unfortunately, no longer exists; not in a photograph, nor in actuality. That so much of our current (art) world relies on the digital image of the thing rather than the thing itself makes this curated collection of literal stuff even more valuable to me, for the things we make not only define us, they often outlive us. Dream Machine asks the viewer to embrace a tangible, complicated, slow reveal instead of the ephemerality (the immorality) of the shallow peek. Like the contents of a recurring dream, the dividends of such a voyeuristic inquiry are, I hope, timeless.
THE RELEVANT SCRAP (ongoing collaboration)
Meaning making is a fundamental process that occupies almost all of our waking hours, and if we don’t strike dreaming and subconscious rumination from the act then meaning creation is all encompassing. Meaning in this respect is of course not limited to profound personal insight but includes in far greater frequency the banalities made of simple causal connections. The basis of this process is the identification of, the feeling of, relevance, and as such relevance is the corner stone in coordinating our desires, purposes, and pursuits.
A raw piece of quarried marble, a scrap of torn paper, an old chain, a purse, a mailbox, a discarded railroad spike, an unused wax finger from a student’s project, and a rusty hinge are made relevant. The collaborative pieces in this show are only as strong as the consolidation of these found objects is effective. In all cases there is a sculptural structure that facilitates and instigates this process. It is upon this object that one begins to consider how the introduction of any scraps, colors, lines, and found objects pushes around the coherence of the whole. These artists (Williams the sculptor and Sutherland the drawer/painter) seem to differ in their art making processes with regard to a contrast in intention and intuition, fragility and stability, and whether progress on the work moves quickly or slowly. In a fairly logical and understandable manner, no piece of wood is going to conform to the shape of another object (whether as a representation or with respect to following a contour) without having been intended to do so from the start. On the other hand, the selection of a scrap of paper and the orientation in which it is glued down relative to other elements already in place can be determined intuitively and naturally in rhythm with the building of the composition.
As you experience the collaborative works by Sutherland and Williams, consider the extent to which your attitude is affected by the differing origins in art making process, the necessities of sculpture and the freedom in drawing and collage. Consider the degree of relevance you afford the qualities that follow from these processes and look at the found objects critically. You may or may not attribute much relevance to their exemplified properties, their reality and history (unknown as it is in most cases). It’s hard not to think that you simply can’t fail in nailing a found object to a board. —-Pam Sutherland & Jere Williams
Each of these collages is prompted by a single 7” x 11” scrapbook page. The scrapbook itself was scavenged from a random drawer of deceased friend and art teacher colleague, Kevin Kelley, months after he passed away. While I have no way of knowing if this book was part of Kevin’s own family (I suspect not), I feel very much that the photographs that remain prompt me in a way that goes beyond any given person’s particulars. The black spaces conjure memory and history and allow me to engage intuitively with text, image and materials. I hope the juxtapositions that result are curious and compelling; that the visual decisions are grounded in an emotional truth, however frivolous or profound. In the end, this body of work is a way to collaborate with and remember a person I loved.
I am suspicious of the dull encroaching of the virtual masquerading as the real. I dislike gathering information from a screen for it takes away the tactile: like tasting with a head cold, the taste is not as rich. It is the same with seeing. It is not enough to simply look at an image. To see is to sensually experience the thing in front of you; drawing in more than just the eyes, seeing asks that you not only look, but feel and think too.
And so, I am a devoted, conscious collector of the actual, the accidental, the ordinary and the overlooked. I gather evidence of the quotidian through seemingly random scraps of paper in order to hold onto the thingness of the thing; the measure of a moment; the commemorative evidence of having lived.
Paper has a new weight when it is in short supply. Where millefiori paperweights historically held onto important papers that might otherwise blow away, these pieces intend to hold even tighter to what is increasingly being lost in our society: the seduction of the slow read. By placing in formal balance an endless set of opposites, by nodding to the flower itself, I am asking that the viewer consider the elegiac purpose of art itself: its ability to give permanence to the fleeting, life to a loss. These works trade a tangible, complicated presence for the ephemerality (the immorality) of the shallow peek.
GRAY MATTERS (2015)
Each of these collages contains a named gray paint square (intuitive, ponder, rock bottom) along with a letter i/eye. Autobiography housed in abstract narrative appeals to me. So does the textural juxtaposition of the flat with the dimensional, illusionistic space with the literal object, the drawn with the sculptural. It is often in the discarded test mark or the scavenged remnants of an art student’s drawer that the story is found, the sentimental suspended in the ordinary.
I am a collector of minutes and hours, of people and days, of loves and losses, but also of the petty thesaurus scrap that would otherwise end up on the floor. My art is a conscious organizing of the random, chaotic or unintentional. It is how I make sense of the senseless.
ACTS OF ARRANGEMENT (2013)
If I began making art to process or illustrate a sadness I felt, I find myself in the middle of my career celebrating through making the simple joy of being. It is a decidedly happier place to be. Intuitive decisions of color, texture, line and composition can say and do so much; without my conscious meddling with what the actual story is (lest my titling which is the only hint), the viewer is left to decide for himself what it all could mean. And sometimes it might not mean anything. It just might look a certain way—pink, fragile, child-like, ebullient, chaotic, gentle, lost—and in evoking a sense of beauty, awe or poignancy in the viewer it has accomplished its task.
It’s nice to be painting again, especially on a new surface (wood). It’s wonderful to nurture confidence through play. And I’m so glad I finally got married. The structure and stability it has imposed in my life has afforded me the ironic perspective of abandon. While I remain a scavenger of the past, faithfully collecting random scraps of anything to make permanent all (and everyone) that is fleeting, I do so with the new knowledge that the present moment is finally enough.
GHOSTS FROM A MIDDLE PLACE (2010)
Finding myself in the middle of my life, these works both chronicle and commemorate events of recent loss or disappointment: the death of my non-smoker father to lung cancer; the realization that I have run out of time to be a biological mother; questions of marriage or imminent breakup; my own breast cancer diagnosis. My intention is not to wallow in sadness and confusion, more to reiterate that joy does not occur without its opposite; that in identifying and then packaging such pain into abstract narrative, therein is the beauty of life not only found, but held still. Life goes on, but these pieces I hope remind us, not without a cost.
This is a series exploring individual letters of the alphabet as formal and conceptual tropes. Sometimes they focus on a specific word (i.e. poetry) and use the letters themselves as formal elements around which composition is determined. Other times the letter itself houses so much meaning through association that the resulting collage nearly makes itself. Words matter to me. These works allow me to give form to the interstitial space where text and image meet.
ESOTERIC BLANKET (2007)
I love to draw in pencil. I find a pleasing coupling is struck between the external world collage evokes and the more meditative and internal rhythms of drawing and sewing. Emptiness matters, and if clutter or crowding occurs, it is deliberate. Everything here is deliberate, usually surgical in its precision. Precious is an essential adjective in describing this work. ( I’m holding on, the work is holding on). I’m a collector of minutes and hours, even days, but also of the petty thesaurus scrap that would otherwise end up on the floor. I’m an arranger, an organizer of mostly flat space, though sometimes I tease with an illusion. My pieces are meant to be read, not just seen. They are syntactical and intimate. The work likes being caught between divisions, pairing opposites: keeping together/falling apart; past/present; top/bottom; fast/slow; written/imaged; actual/simulated; present/absent. Sometimes it is hard to tell which is which. In the last couple of years I have experienced death often and profoundly, losing people I cared about far too soon. If people are not yet dead, they are sick. Waiting. Underneath everything is this. Art, this art, is a way to make sense of the senseless.
TOO MUCH SUGAR (2006)
All of these collages are sized 16” x 16” and were begun while living in Umbria, Italy in the summer of 2005. They were then completed at a residency at the VCCA in the summer of 2006. Many were precursors in terms of style and practice for the more varied pieces of Esoteric Blanket that follow. The same concerns abide: finding a way to make the ordinary extraordinary.