So it begins… I’d just read my sax guy Chuckie Saeton Hancock’s tarot cards at The Red Lion. Now walking me home, he breaks into his newest song, “Forged By Fire”. It’s tough-sounding, “Baby, baby I’m down to the wire, but I was made for this, cause I was forged by fire.” He interrupts his own singing to mention, as we pass 24 Avenue A, that his art is in that gallery. It’s rich-with-emotion line art, black and white, ink on paper, old school. I never knew Chuckie could draw! It’s interesting to me, a singer, that the two drawings, both singers, feature a microphone. In a drawing, why draw that? In life we deal with cables and mic stands and the on-or-off state, but why in the artwork? Chuck is a well-loved sax player, a hard-working New York City pro musician who undoubtedly deals with his share of cables and cords, too. Why take the need for a microphone into the art? I wondered this, but did not say it aloud. We hugged and parted ways, me headed south toward my place, and him continuing due east, ever more deeply into this city’s alphabet.
Once he was out of sight, I backtracked to go back to the gallery to spend time looking at his singers. He had the good sense to draw them with cordless mics, I thought. Just a stand and a mic to more quickly express that they’re singers? I thought of the cartoonist Crumb, how he and his cartoonist brother would add all the street signs and power wires to a comic strip. Crumb was obsessed, he couldn’t not draw the wires. Then I think of Chuckie’s song, there is even the word wire in the rhyme!
Later, at happy hour someone recognizes me and he brings up a New York Times article about women in music from his smartphone. It’s lengthy, so I email it to myself. It’s by John Jeremiah Sullivan, about blues women. Lo-and-behold it mentions Robert Crumb! All I can remember of his cartoons are big breasts, nudity, and telephone wires. I hand the smartphone back, pour everyone at our table more beer, motion for another pitcher, and mention to my friends that I can’t believe I thought of Crumb twice in one day, after not thinking of him for years.
“Who is Crumb?” It’s Mckenzie, she’s arrived, and would like to Google it, but she’s drying her phone on napkins. It has been submersed, unfortunately, and then rinsed. Five male friends enthusiastically explain Crumb to her, leaving her with the link on a napkin to see the documentary. A pitcher of beer arrives, then Shane shows up with a bag of rice from the bodega. Others advise to keep the phone on or off, upside down, right side up, everyone has an opinion. Mackenzie slides her thin phone into the bag of rice to dry it, standing it in the center of the table. It must have been on in there, because as we pay our check for all the beer two hours later, it rings. She answers it like a super-spy, at first acting like she’s talking through the bag of rice to be funny.
“Okay, let’s go to the gallery.” We all followed Mackenzie, as her entourage. The stainless steel elevator delivered us to a welcoming, brightly lit space. This beautiful post-production studio is a multi-million dollar complex, and it feels like great works are created here. The exhibit is apparently starring Mackenzie. Her work is prominently displayed. The large, backlit lightbulbs piece is in the center of the first wall upon entering. One of the gallery people buzzed around her ear, “That one sold already, It sold first!” He then looked at me and whispered, “Don’t say anything.” I blinked and nodded, “Of course.” The size of the large red piece, the door, was the next thing I noticed.
In the context of Disconnecting from all things electronic, I liked that it was red. I liked that it was the color of blood, and that it was on a real door. We used to have to open a real door to let people into our lives, our homes, our psyches, our intimate worlds, even our financial information. Now that’s all up for grabs.
There is a reason this is called Disconnect: In a World Obsessed with Social Media, though I did not know it was all about the internet until I got there. All I knew is that Mackenzie is a photographer, and that her photos will be featured in the exhibit. Then I saw this timeless sorority mashup.
Notice the hashtags on the selfie portrait. It hits home that digital life lasts forever, right? That when this selfie subject is 45 years old, potential employers can still see this selfie captioned “Spring Break 2014 Bitchez” – in fact when the meaning hit us, it was so funny to me and my “bitchez” that one of us said that line aloud and we all laughed. “Girl power!”
Below is me with a photograph by Mackenzie Spindler, the warm amber color of backlit traditional lightbulbs. This and the broken glass stained-glass church piece have a timeless feel.
I found a piece with wires in it, and another photo series with train tracks, and thought of Crumb again, his O.C.D. need, having to draw the wires that connect us all. Why was that so important to him? I found myself wondering if Mackenzie’s phone was still in the bag of rice in her heavy purse. While I looked at the wires and lightbulbs, I wanted to tell Mackenzie how funny that she, just an hour ago, was truly disconnected. But she was talking to guests and having her picture taken. I joined in, and soon we were taking and posting selfies at an art event that had at least three pieces, by three artists, focusing on The Selfie in their artwork. It was humorous, in a meta way, as in: we are that which we are poking fun at.
So while the fruit juice and Corona beer flowed, and baby carrots, raw cashews, crackers and hummus were eaten, I discussed the works with the artists and learned more.
Art is meant to provoke thought, and this whole exhibit sure does that.
An oil painting of a selfie! It struck me as novel, not once, not twice, but three times! Finally I asked the curator if that was the assignment given, or if all the painters work together in the same space and so created the same idea, or if they are all friends and agreed to do the same idea. Khali’s work is fascinating and wish I’d taken a whole session of photos with just him. Because he is curator, I email him other questions, as a Q & A with him as both curator and artist.
Shije: Hi Khari. We met at a show you curated, called Disconnect. On the day of your exhibit’s opening, the word “selfie” was in the news a lot because there had become a measurable, seemingly scientific diagnosis for this which I call loneliness. Six selfies and posts a day and apparently you are diagnosable: lonely. Anyway that’s my opinion, but in the US 24 hour news cycle the APA was calling this new disease selfitis. Remember when I asked you if all of you artists in the exhibit knew each other? (You told me which artist you were close friends with, and she did make a self-portrait, but not a selfie with a phone pictured in it.) I asked then if you three artists in the show with phone-selfies all saw each others’ artwork during the creation phase. You did not say yes or no. Please explain, and tell us about the artists’ – painters’ – workspaces and timelines of creation. Reminder, you did answer that all the artists knew what the theme of the show would be. Before they created the art? Or were they chosen by their completed pieces?
Khari: I think that the idea that the kid your referencing to was addicted to selfies is sort of sketchy. It was maybe some sort of a fixation based in some other mental illness that made manifest through social media. The fact that a few artists touched on the selfie subject was more of an example of groupthink than of us all working together or seeing each other’s work before the show especially since we all pretty much have separate studios and work different hours. I chose artists based on their style and whether or not they would fit well together instead of on the subject matter they typically talk about.
Shije: Sketchy meaning it was a word trending on Twitter for ten hours the same day that your art exhibit opened? And that kid and the APA changing a definition was why? I can see why you’d call that sketchy. Not! But perhaps his story makes everyone who has ever taken selfies question their motives. It made me feel defensive that you said sketchy, Khari. Sketchy is a word that means it didn’t make sense to you, the offensive way women are told they are babbling if what they say doesn’t make clear sense to a man. Or say, if the man doesn’t read the news. Here are some links so anyone interested can educate themselves that it wasn’t one kid. If it were only one kid, it would not have made necessary a new APA listing, which is a moment in history, a new diagnosis that never existed before.
http://demyx.com/blog/view/13670/american-psychiatric-association-makes-it-official So. Kind of an especially profound, historical day to open an art show about disconnecting from social media. This show seemed instead it could have been called Connect, since it was all about social media, not eschewing it, disconnecting from it.
Shije: How long did it take you to make the round self-portrait?
Khari: The round self-portrait happened rather quickly. I was maybe working on that for like a month? I ended up noodling around it a lot after it was finished though so maybe two months.
Shije: Two months. It looks like it, or even longer. I’m impressed with the lighting or shading, whatever it is called, and that it really looks like you. Now I’ll ask Mackenzie Spindler, the only photographer in the exhibit, questions about her art.
Shije: Mckenzie, this one with the thousand filament lighbulbs. I love that it’s backlit. What made you think of taking this picture?
Mackenzie: Walking through a hotel lobby I caught a peek to the inside of what was a larger light fixture. The openings at the corners were just big enough to slide my hand in and take a picture. I couldn’t see what I was taking, but the image turned out just fine. I believe it was only appropriate to have the photograph backlit. Welding and custom fitting the mount for the piece was a fun new medium for me to experiment with.
Shije: Are there questions you always get asked? About you or your art?
Mackenzie: People frequently ask me where I’m from and my age. (Saint Louis, 21)
Mackenzie: I find it difficult to answer “what inspires you?” My photographic art isn’t staged or planned. It comes to me that second, and at that second when I see inspiration, I shoot. Oh, also! I find it super annoying when “friends” expect that I will shoot them just because I have a camera. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing around and doing random photo-shoots, but, like, I don’t have free time to take free head shots for your comp card, dude.
Shije: Can you think of three questions you would like to get asked?
Mackenzie: Well, people might find it interesting why I started photography. I used to model when I was younger and I’ve always had a hatred for being told what to do. So, I decided to get on the other side of the camera. I feel I have more control of accurately portraying a message on this side.
Another, hmm.. I’d like more people to ask me on boat rides, or parasailing (laughs)… I’m a very spontaneous person. Anything that involves water and the sun, I’m definitely in. Also, I enjoy getting out of New York City often. It gets a bit congested, and then when you return you realize just how much you missed it.
As for the third, I don’t know if this would be a specific question. But I think it would be helpful for people getting into photography as a profession or just a hobby, to know what their wallet is getting into. Developing, printing, ink, paper… framing… it all adds up. I used to work in my own dark room which was much more affordable. Now, with digital blow-ups and ink that’s much more expensive per unit than oil, caviar, or vintage champagne, you gotta have money, or a tuition to jump into this boat.
Shije: Good advice.
Mackenzie: Thanks so much, Shije, for coming to the show. I hope you enjoyed it. See you at the next one!
Shije: I love the Jessica Ellis paintings. The one making fun of vagazzling, underlying all that isn’t it ageism? The toxic message that the older woman with sagging breasts should be ashamed to be seen because she was young and beautiful once? Or that by becoming a digital exhibitionist in her younger years she developed into an old lady dancing on a bar, exposing herself at an advanced age? Is it put forth with a measure of approval or disapproval? For which images, the young woman, or the old woman? Is it supposed to be the same woman? Over the passage of time? Am I right, Jessica?
Jessica Ellis: Ageism is not necessarily my biggest concern in this painting. This story is a satirical retelling of the story of Salome. This story has been retold many times in art history and has changed dramatically from its biblical roots. As the story has been retold over a long period of time and through many different mediums Salome progressively becomes slightly older (early 20’s rather than teens) and more sexualized. This painting is my recognition of this trend as well as a parody to the moral of the narrative. By following suit of my predecessors in making Salome even older and more sexualized I draw attention to the trend of taking a character from little girl in the biblical version and making her into a sex object.
Shije: I never even knew it was related to a Biblical story so now we can link to the story of Salome. Here’s a link to the Bible story and the legend of Salome, a mother daughter story of the ages. In both, young Salome is the dancing seductress, she strip-teases down to one little veil (maybe) so that is what the one small article of clothing represents in Salome’s oil-painted selfies here?
Jessica Ellis: Yes.
Shije: I’m thinking Salome’s mother represents feminine wiles, luring men to do bad things, the murder of John the Baptist, all are in the story. This oil painting set in a bar? With a woman dancing on the bar, to get some man to do harm to someone else for her? In light of the story, I see it as Salome at the roadhouse “I want you to get in a fight with him.” Is that why the parking lot exit door is figured where it is? In light of Salome’s story? Now that I do know the story from the link above, I took another long look at the piece in its entirety, which is, of course, five pieces: bordering ones I called the four matching va-gazzle selfies, and the center one, that shows not the mother, but who Salome aged into being. In the Salome mother-daughter drama, there is a step-dad who is also Salome’s uncle. (Salome’s mom kills her own husband and then marries her own brother-in-law.) Salome (suddenly both niece and step-daughter) becomes the sexy dancer who lures others into fighting her battles for her? For her mother? Like the soldiers in the Salome story?
Jessica Ellis: Yes. The older woman sitting at the bar is Salome’s mother who plays an important role in the original story.
Shije: Ah, so maybe it’s not ageist at all! I like trying to interpret your work, Jessica. Next, your Spring Break Forever and the Sorority House group portrait. Fantastic message if preachy: Digital is forever. We hear it everywhere, now we get it as large, framed family-style portraiture, looking wasted. Very funny. But it does make one pause and think about what one would or would not like seen on a large, public canvas. Was that the intent?
Jessica Ellis: I’m not sure if I fully understand your question. A large amount of my work is not necessarily delicate or decorative. The nature of the subject matter is usually presented in a satirical form where crude execution and subject matter parallels its conceptual platform.
Shije: Yes. Satire was the answer I was hoping for that makes it make sense to me. I like it very much, even if it was literal and not satirical. That Salome one makes me question my own ageism, in light of my first interpretation of it as the same woman in different eras of her life. But that has to be about my life, because as we see things, we are every character in the dream, I think. It works that way for songwriting anyway. So now I see it as Salome and her mother. If it had been titled that at the exhibit, I still didn’t know the Bible story (until right now) so it wouldn’t have hit me as much as if I did. But from the title “Salome and Her Mother” I would have known it’s two different women, two generations, instead of my original idea that it was the younger and older version of the same woman, being slut-shamed. America! @Khari did you decide not to have titles on anything for this very reason? It’s creative.
Shije: Khari, the curator of the exhibit, explained the tri-fold, complex way we project ourselves to the outward world, have our own inner world, and the third way, he says, is how we even edit our inner selves. Right? Khari, did I explain it right?
Khari: Yes. people relate to social media through a three step format. Yourself to yourself, yourself to social media, and your edited self to your true self in order to get the person presented on a social media format.
Shije: Perfect explanation. I like the masked effect that says as much. I’d caption this one wearing the mask with that quote for obvious reasons.
Khari: Thank you for your interest as well Im stoked about that.
Shije: You’re welcome. Some artists I didn’t get to include in this! For example, I loved the “TumbldUponyourface today” one. It was so about feelings. Please tell her I loved seeing her work, too. Also, I never got to ask the artist who made the giant red door this question: What inspired you? This piece, especially. Thanks for your time, Khari!
Follow Mckenzie Spindler at http://instagram.com/mikispin and Khari at http://kharisartcafe.tumblr.com. This blog-post features @Corona and @GUESS. Tiger top by @LuckyBrand. Jeans by 7 For All Mankind, sheepskin boots by Canadien, made in Canada. Hat, lambswool and marabou. Watch by Tag Heuer. Earrings by Erwin Pearl, sterling silver + pink topaz. It’s so funny, almost futuristic, to hashtag up a post about an art exhibit about disconnecting from social media. She’s so media! #SuperSadTrueLoveStory Follow me @ShijeSings.