“Almost Now, Just Then …” A Collaborative Group Show At Projects+Gallery In St. Louis
Feature photo by Kat Reynolds
A work of art is oftentimes developed alone, a solitary practice crafted in silence. However, one group show at Projects+Gallery in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis is quite different. Though the individual pieces may have been crafted in solitude, they’re held together by a resounding theme that binds and connects each piece and each artist.
Self-expression within the context of a group is one of the many challenging themes this exhibit tackles, titled “Almost Now, Just Then…” with a theme built around the relationship between stars and constellations. Artists Kahlil Irving, Lyndon Barrois Jr., Addoley Dzegede, Jen Everett, Kat Reynolds and the interdisciplinary duo WORK/PLAY (husband and wife Kevin and Danielle McCoy) each interpreted the theme through the lens of their own individual practices.
As the show description says, “In addition to the idea that the present is an unfixed condition, inherent in the exhibition is a spatial consideration of time. A star, as we perceive it, is always the image of its former self. The image has traveled quite a distance to be seen, out of the past, into an ever-shifting present.”
Keep reading for our conversations with each artist as they discuss their work, practice and living a creative life.
(answers by Kevin McCoy)
Tell me a bit about your piece for this show.
It’s cool to see how we’re all surprising each other. Our piece is called “When Stars Align,” with athletes from the past to the present who have used their position to openly make protest and then get rebuked for it. We celebrate these stars for their athleticism—it’s great if you can shoot a ball in a hoop, but you aren’t allowed to use that platform to speak on deep issues that people who look like you are suffering through. We used a jersey of football player Colin Kaepernick, who wouldn’t stand for the National Anthem, as well as referencing Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the 1968 Olympics, who did black-power fists and had their medals taken away. They didn’t even say anything. There’s also a text-driven component to that one.
How do you incorporate text in your work, and your background as a designer to get a message across?
One example of that is a piece we did in another group show, “Encoded,” called “Elephant In The Room.” It has the text, “You see color.” A lot of white folks will say, “I don’t see color” or “I’m not racist, I have two black friends.” Saying that is tokenism, for one. It’s a cheap band-aid. And you do see color. By saying you don’t see color, you’re ignoring the stuff I go through as a black man, the treatment I get. It’s an unfair assessment. We titled the piece “Elephant In The Room,” because it’s one of those things that collectively people don’t want to talk about.
From a human perspective, I don’t like to see people suffer. But people of color have been getting the shit-end of the stick for awhile. My wife and I recently gave a talk about what black culture means to us, and we made a statement about how this is a uniform we can’t take off. This is an everyday thing. Micro-aggressions, stereotypes, fears—if you’re a black man, there’s a whole other level of complications we have to maneuver around. We have to think 10 steps ahead. I don’t want to become another hashtag. Every action has a reaction. It takes a lot of mental bandwidth. My wife and I try to infuse that in our work. We can’t make feel-good work because we’re not in a feel-good country.
After Mike Brown, Dani and I were like, “Why are we making art? Shit ain’t ok.” Our stuff is very acerbic. It cuts deep, because we still have the scars. People feel empowered to be racist because of what’s coming out of our presidential office. They now have this person in authority who’s telling them prejudice is ok.
How did you and your wife begin working together?
We met in college in a psychology class in college. I started doing a few shows at the time, which she’d help me organize, and we’d talk about ideas. Now we’ve been making art together over the course of 10 years. She’s actually is from Chicago, and I hadn’t been there until we started dating.
The art scene and design scene are bananas there. Every time I go, I come back inspired. I grew up as a designer—that’s my background. So sometimes it can feel really detailed and honed-in, but art making for me often starts from an advertising perspective as far as, “How do I get a message across?”
Tell me about the work you’ve contributed to this show.
I’ve been making some work called street prints for the last two years, and it was already inherently part of the theme of the exhibition. Lyndon was the organizer of putting everything together around this idea, and when I heard it, I really felt this, “Ah ha!” The street is a place where multiple grounds collide. It’s a day-to-day stage for people, where we drive and walk. I started collecting litter near Skinker and Delmar, which I gather, collage and put through a printing press to create monotypes. That quote-unquote “traditional” means of printmaking gestures towards reinventing or introducing new processes reinvent or introduce new processes, in gathering these materials.
What draws you to the materials on the road you choose to work with?
There’s no rhyme or reason to why I choose what I choose. I grab it and go as it comes and goes. It’s not really formulaic. It’s very intuitive, much like littering is. You have something in your hand and have the instinct to get rid of it.
I’m thinking about how the materials transformed from being embedded and pressed against the street, and gathering things at all different stages of decay. I capture the moment of the state they’re in, and when I pick them up they’re not decaying anymore. It makes space for the viewer to reevaluate their relationship to these things that they may or may not come in contact with that someone who does take transportation or ride a bike need to consider, and it’s trash which often does come from people driving their vehicles.
What kinds of questions do you typically get about this body of work?
Mostly, ‘Why are you doing this? Why make things that look like something we already know?’ I put them in paper to historicize the decay. In many cultures, God is in the earth—not in the sky. Maybe we’re looking in the wrong direction. We need to look at the ground and the earth on which we live for meaning. The work I’ve exhibited up to this point has been largely based in ceramics, but my participation in this exhibition is something different. It’s the intellectual pursuit of engaging the road as a place to find treasure.
How did you interpret the theme of the show with your work?
I was thinking about the constellation of genealogy, and for me, all the people and different cultures who came together to create who I am. My father is Ghanaian, and relatives on my mother’s side are from Finland and the Czech Republic. I think about the ways these histories come together.
My pieces are textile-based, and many of them have images and symbols on them. The form that my work takes really varies. It can be videos, sculptures, interactive pieces centering around what I’m interested in. In terms of theme, I’m really interested in the idea of home, of belonging. I don’t feel like I have a place that I consider home.
I can get an idea from just one conversation, and years later I might make something about it. Or just looking through family photos and old emails. Sometimes material inspires me. I got really interested in indigo dyeing and found a connection to my ancestral history.
What are some of the specific pieces you submitted for this show?
I have four small framed pieces that depict my grandparents and a piece that imitates kente, a brightly colored cloth made in Ghana. There are also two patterns I’ve made, one with the image of my grandmother. The image I used is actually her identity card she was assigned when she worked at a telephone company during World War II. There’s also a great picture of my parents from the 1970s that I used.
How do you live a creative life as an artist?
One of the most important pieces of that has been sharing my life with another artist—my partner, Lyndon (Barrois). There are times when he may be working a lot or I’m at a residency, so we trade off and share our resources. He built all the frames for my show, for this exhibition, and I help him with areas where I’m more knowledgeable. That’s been the number one thing.
Also having multiple income streams is important. Having a full-time 9-5 job would not give me the flexibility I need to make work. I had three part-time jobs up until recently. I was in the Public Projects department as a fellow at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and taught Textile Design at WashU [Washington University in St. Louis]. Those were both temporary, and now I work at the Saint Louis Art Museum in visitor services. I also do freelance editing, and apply for lots of grants and residencies.
So it’s really piecing together several ventures and sharing my life with another artist. It never feels like we’re competing. If we apply for the same residency, it feels like our chances of getting it double.
How did you decide what work to contribute to this show?
With constellations as a group of something together, I wanted it to be about relationships, particularly relationships in black culture. I was working with two brothers as subjects of my work, and there’s something that relates that way with stars, called an optical double. It looks like the stars are the same distance, but they’re actually far away.
I was intrigued by the way the brothers talk to each other. They were both born in Nigeria, but one speaks fluent Japanese. One has an accent, one does not. I’m just really interested in relationships now, particularly as they relate to blackness and black culture, but letting them happen, so I’m really a voyeur on the outside looking in. It ended up turning into a video project and photography.
How do you direct people when you’re photographing them?
I very much work with the way people are naturally, and that’s why I choose them. I allow them to do what they need to do. I’m not making them into another person. Really, I tell people there’s no wrong. That breaks down the whole barrier of people thinking they’re not doing the right things or posing the right way with their bodies. That language is problematic when it comes to getting anything good. Though I might say something like, “Let’s try it a different way.”
What’s your advice for how to live a creative life?
I actually just quit my full-time job. I had a lot of shows this year, and I was driving myself crazy because I was trying to go 100 percent in every aspect of my life—as a daughter, partner, 9-to-5 employee, person, artist. I was missing things. If I was doing well in my art career, I wasn’t doing well in the other areas. Balance is really impossible sometimes, but self-care is really important. Simple things like eating healthy food, or taking a break and watching Netflix. I also like floating in sensory deprivation tanks—they have a facility in Midtown where you can do it. It’s amazing.
What are you interested in with your artistic practice?
A lot of my recent work has been dealing with archival digging, and thinking about the past, present, future, memory and grouping archival things together. It also leads into themes of memory and myth. I’m thinking about the context of the archives that’s very localized and personal, but also broadening that out with history. What I’ll be showing will definitely speak to that. I started out as a photographer and did a lot of photo-based work. I’m still very engaged with images, whether they’re my own, institutional or this flurry of images we’re bombarded with through social media.
With this group of artists, we really push and respect each other. We’re all just hustling away. I work for a general contractor here in Berkeley, in North County. Not my real calling, but it pays the bills.
Where do you gather inspiration for your work?
I’m always searching for my artistic voice, so it really varies. My interests vary. I’m certainly looking for images and representations of black folks throughout history, throughout time. That’s the starting point. And from there, I’m interested in images of black women, and thinking about black women in my own family. There’s this absence of context, and it’s similar with a lot of the images I encounter in archives. Their archives weren’t preserved to the point of documenting who they were. You have no idea who they are. In my own family, there are images like that. Those people aren’t there to speak to who they are anymore. There’s a loss and a possibility to remake a story, or a narrative. Any artist is interested in some sort of narrative. That’s why you’re making what you make. You want to tell something, speak something,
What do you hope people will take away from this show?
I hope that viewers are exposed to artists that they might not know about here. St. Louis is one of those places people call “flyover country.” Despite that, there are so many talented artists working across different media, and a lot of times they’re overlooked. So I hope people come and let themselves be exposed to this rigorous work, and get them to talk about it and support this community.
I don’t think we have a shortage of art shows, but we need people to write about it, come see it and engage with it. Not Snapchatting it. Though I’m happy people think art is cool enough to Snapchat. But we’re serious. We want people to talk about it, write about it and to be moved enough, hopefully, to come back and see it again. That’s what I love about an artist’s practice. It cuts across all sorts of noise.
What inspired you to come up with the concept for this group show?
The content started from a curatorial project I had in graduate school where we experimented with a mixture of media and works that had multiple components. It could be image, sculpture, mixed media, found objects. It was more about a relationship between things, rather than something singular. It was a push for what comes out of being confronted with a number of other things when you’re asked to ask more questions, instead of having to interpret one singular idea. The constellation is really a metaphor. Each star has its own individual purpose, but we link them together and call them something else. The artworks in this show function similarly.
Tell me about your work for this show.
The show opens a day after Prince’s birthday, and my contribution to the exhibition is based around Prince as the theme, as an artist with a lineage of drawing and surrealism. There are two diptychs: one piece that is a half-toned image of Prince performing in the 1980s, and another that’s a drawing. There’s another work which is taken from a photo shoot I’d seen of him where he’s in a dark room—on one side of the room it’s cloudy, and on the other side it’s dark and there are stars. I also have a sculpture that is a mix of a piece of two-sided fabric. It draws on a larger idea of writing the marginalized history, an alternative to the main narrative.
It’s not secret that the art world can be highly politicized, unfair to artists and inordinately obsessed with commercialism. How do you deal with that as an artist?
My involvement in any of this has become one of espionage, and infiltrating the systems that aren’t working. Bringing forth conversations that make people aware of certain things. I think even with the work that I’m making, it’s not complaining about what the art world is, but making an example of who you can be in it. For anything, it’s about creating the art world you want to exist. As far as these economic and political things go, I’m still new to it. If something needs to change, people need to be in on the process. And definitely a lot of the content of my work is about addressing problematic histories.