Artist On Record
Tracks. A cut, laid down. Grooves. Pressing wax. I'm talking about records, of course. Few objects have assumed such levels of cultural potency. Like any fetish object, they connote whole worlds in part because they remind us that we are just holding a piece. I think of the Golden Voyager record, full of sounds and images, sent out into space in 1977 and still traveling. Just last year it entered interstellar space. Many artists work across genres, mixing visual, sonic, and textual influences. Artists are always asked how they come to combine disparate elements. Sometimes visiting an artist's studio can be like encountering an artifact from another planet. Even better, after leaving an artist's studio you may be able to view Earth with a new level of curiosity.
If Newark artists created a voyager record, what would be on it? Who would be tasked with curating it, and how would that person or committee's unique preoccupations and blind spots shape the "official record?"
I am certain that artist, educator, performance poet, and self-driven historian Jerry Gant should be on that record. Active for more than 25 years, his iconic designs are all over the city; on the backs of batiked suit jackets (harnessing the movements of the wearer into the service of the display), or in numerous public art commissions. His distinctive long-form commentaries, both humorous and critical, might convince aliens that all humans have sonorous, deep voices and that poetry is how business on earth is conducted.
This summer, along with many other activities too voluminous to name, Gant has been molding records into new representational forms using heat. These faces and forms seem to push from within a void, to make the idea of music and imagery literal and deep cultural memory. Across town a few beats (I mean blocks), current Aferro Studio Resident Gilbert Hsiao has been painting records with abstract patterns in fluorescent paint, setting them up to spin on turntables while they are illuminated with UV light. An installation, Hit Parade, of this project begun in Newark, was recently on view at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
Hsiao, who's had a lifelong obsession with the work of legendary jazz musician Sun Ra, writes: "Thinking about music has been important in the development of my work. Discussing music in terms of chords, relative dissonance/consonance, rhythms, syncopation, tones, harmony, temp, movement, stillness, and loudness, and so forth, cannot begin to describe the actual experience of listening to a piece...
The interesting part of music is the experience, not the explanation. Similarly, I prefer my work to be experienced and not described. Description of the experience of the work is fine with me; description of the work itself is not a desired end."
With To Repel Ghosts: The Remix, poet Kevin Young, who will be reading at the upcoming Dodge Poetry Festival, told the story of the life and work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. In an unusual, genre-bending act, Young remixed his own book, To Repel Ghosts: The Double Album, writing in the introduction, "Please note that this remix should not be considered an afterthought, or a replacement of the double album, but rather an alternate take that's still the same song. Signed the Management."
In Play Now:
"Ready or Not", the 2014 edition of the New Jersey Arts Annual, showcases NJ-based contemporary artists. This dense, immersive show is a must see and includes installations throughout the Newark Museum's interior spaces and grounds. Through September 7, 2014.
"The Gateway Project: Emerald City" As part of an ongoing curatorial collaboration between Project For Empty Space and Solo(s) Project House, The Gateway Project enlivens the Gateway Concourse with temporary murals, sculpture and skylight installations. Through October 2, 2014.
Some New Releases Coming Soon:
"Daniel Patrick Helmstetter: The Slumberous Antiquity in Us," along with six other exhibitions opening concurrently at Paul Robeson Gallery. Helmstetter, another genre-bending poet, letters on materials ranging from whole rooms to frying pans. September 2 - December 24, 2014.
"Emerge 11", Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art. Aljira Emerge is a strategic career management and exhibition program for emerging artists. artists. Aljira can be described as a "social sculpture" and the Emerge alumni community, now numbering hundreds of artists, is a vital part of that work. September 25- December 20, 2014.
Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox are working artists and cofounders of Gallery Aferro, a Newark alternative arts nonprofit. Begun in 2003, Gallery Aferro offers exhibitions featuring local, national, and international artists, a wide range of public events, a year-round studio residency program, educational offerings, group tours, a publication line, a gift shop, and public art initiatives.
Top Image: Artist Jerry Gant
Bottom Image: Art by Joe Waks