In the Studio – Intisar Abioto

IAInterview-5Intisar Abioto: I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, and I’ve been here for almost five years. I came here with my mom and my four sisters. I was out of college maybe a year, and at first we were going to move to California. But then somehow or another, we didn’t find what we wanted there and we ended up coming here instead. It wasn’t on the perspective of how people are coming here now. We didn’t know anything about this place really beyond that it had a lot of vegan food. My mom is a vegan food artist, so that was a draw. But yeah, that’s how I got here.

Duplex: Did you go to art school or did you go for something else?
IA: Yeah, in terms of school, I had an interesting school experience. I went to a boarding school in Vermont, which was kind of the opposite of Memphis. It was just on a farm, maybe 60 students in my class. And then after that, I went to a historically Black women’s college in Atlanta, Spelman College. I was studying English and Dance and trying to find a dark room. After freshman year, I transferred to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where I studied also English and Dance. I didn’t go to art school; I went to liberal arts colleges and studied art. I started teaching myself photography when I was 14, so my three things are dance, photography, and writing. This whole visual art world, I didn’t so much learn it from the perspective of school. I just taught myself and read books, and took a few classes. It’s interesting. The way I learned art was both in the home and just learning. My father is a musician and an arts educator. My mom is writer and an attorney. The family is just very focused on civil rights and the history of the people in the African diaspora. In my home, as a child, and also just being around people in the community – dancers, musicians, storytellers, activists. So, I guess my arts practice, as it’s evolved, has been kind of an outpouring of that.

D: Do you see yourself as an arts activist?
IA: You know, I don’t see myself so much as an activist, but I see myself creating work around people and around the history and the present and future of people of the African Diaspora. Committed to that work of our lives and our dreams. So, a lot of my work stems out of that impulse for thriving and surviving. Actually, I want to say thriving, I don’t want to just survive. But I guess because my practices are interdisciplinary I feel like I’ve been working to make my form. Because it wasn’t always something I could go out there and find, seeing, you know, doing.

This is interesting to talk about because generally when people are asking these questions, they are asking me about my photography… but having a dance background where it is about my body… having an interest in writing and stories and myths. It’s really like a mash-up in an adventure that I’m making and you don’t see it out there made for you. It’s not like you can get people to co-sign, and be like, “oh, that’d be great to do.” You kind of have to just keep going a little bit and then through the process whatever person you are, whatever artist you are, becomes more real. Then people will see and then maybe like “oh, that makes sense.”

In terms of my practice, it’s very much about being a body in space. Allowing the information around me to come into my senses and also to craft a story from my body and from my dreams, from listening to the impulse of other people, and culture. The desire for culture or for dreams, not just what’s already available. So, that’s my impulse of like sensing things, this kind of embodied perspective because, this kind of embodied perspective of the photograph which is always some dream, some visual thing, and also a dance, which is also a visual practice. As a photographer, who’s moving around the space, that’s also dance. Sensing who could talk to me, who I could talk to, what the story is. And I’m probably still coming up with my own definition of what’s going on. Read More «In the Studio – Intisar Abioto»

Has he always been an old man, Wailing?

Before you heard any music you saw Charlemagne Palestine’s stuffed animal shrines, their votive candles providing the only light in Yale Union‘s long basilica-esque space. It was dark and eerie with the reflections of people  in the windows and the glittering eyes of the animals. People wandered from shrine to shrine, the children often skipped. Around 9’clock the performance began with Charlemagne toasting, playing, and drinking a couple cognac glasses before moving on to the piano.

I’ve heard my fair share of experimental music, especially on percussion instruments, but I’m no music critic so I’m quoting a friend here to back up my feeling that the work wasn’t the most challenging I’ve had to listen to, which isn’t to say it was bad. “He shares styles of minimalism, but he also carried a rhythm melody for most of it and he stayed fairly on key. Neither was there a lot of dissonance. In many way he resolved his melodic moments.” For me, the stuffed animals and the wailing were the most interesting bits. I also would have enjoyed it better if it had been billed less as a performance and more as an installation.


As an installation the audience/viewers would have been more free to leave offerings at the shrines while his piano playing and wailing reverberated up and down the hall.  Instead there was a crowd of an audience in the chairs surrounding his piano, and it was obvious that people felt bound to the convention of not leaving in the midst of the performance even while others did just that. When I turned away from the tableau with about ten minutes left I noticed many people still in the hall, roaming the space and lounging about. They seemed to be having an entirely different kind of experience than what was possible by remaining tethered to the performer.

Afterwards I considered the stuffed animals, the votive candles, and the wailing. I wondered if this was a mourning of lost youth, an expunging of childhood demons, or an attempt to recognize the incomprehensible humanity of those youngest among us, skipping among the shrines.

In the Studio – Jeff Sheridan

It had been a while since we have invited ourselves over to sneak around one of our artist’s studios, so when Jeff gave us the green light for a visit, we were more than ready. As he prepared for his March show at Duplex, he shared with us a little bit more about his process and inspiration for Psychic Heaves.


Jeff Sheridan: I went to school at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I went there from 2005 to 2010, did the five-year art program thing. I just explored different realms of art until something stuck. I was an editorial cartoonist for my college paper, and in a way that was more of an influence on my art than those beginning years in the fine art program.  By junior year, the two mixed, and I started doing more whimsical drawings in my fine art classes and more abstract cartoons for my school paper. Originally, I went to school for aerospace engineering. I went to orientation and was, like “you know, I don’t want to do that at all. I’m a much better draftsman than engineer, so maybe I could draw for science textbooks or something.” That was the original thought. Then I just went into fine art and began the systematic process of exploding my mind.

Duplex: Couldn’t go back.

JS: Yeah. And through that, led to what I’m doing right now. I have always been fascinated by this pervasive idea of what’s inside- cyclicality, and what really makes everything work. I have this book right here that I’ve had since I was eight years old and it has these types of things I’m super interested in, sedimentary layers, the earth, space, and when it all comes together. And what that means.  It’s just this huge spinning reality that we’re in and trying to make sense of that is so difficult. And obviously everyone is trying to do it. I like depicting a little microcosm of this, a little space station of it, of sorts. This living petri dish and everything that’s on either side of it, and then these huge spheres that you can’t quite see.

Negative space plays into what I’m doing, too. I build up around a form so it’s presented but not entirely, it still holds its shape. And I draw that concept from astronomy, when you search for exoplanets in space. They look at a star and they wait for it to wobble. The planet they can’t see is orbiting around it, and the mass pushes and pulls the star from its position. A gravitational wobble. . They also wait for it to either pass over the brightness of the star, the planet, or they watch the whole thing wobble. It’s just what I’m influenced by. The forms in my pieces are informed by the natural world but are overlaid with metaphors of consciousness, urban planning, and the environment.

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What’s Currently on View at the Portland Art Museum?

Shortly before I moved to Portland, I visited the MoMA to see “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925.” While moving through the galleries I remember recognizing a familiar work by Marcel Duchamp, and with an appropriate amount of blasé  expertise saying to my brother “Oh, I’ve seen that work so many times! They bring it out for every one of these modernist exhibitions.” I realized as soon as the sentiment left my mouth how pretentious I sounded, and I knew I needed to get out of there quick before New York’s own style of provincialism made me unable to appreciate the privilege of living in a city so rich in history and culture. But before we left that day, I dragged my brother and his friends to see one of my favorite installations of the permanent collection at the MoMA. The Migration Series, by Jacob Lawrence, shows the Great Migration of African-Americans to Northern cities during the 20th century in simple, geometric shapes over the course of 30 panels, like an art historical comic-book that takes up a whole wall.

Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000), The 1920’s…The Migrants Cast Their Ballots, 1974, screenprint on paper, Gift of Lorillard, © artist or other rights holder, 76.4.8 “During the post World War I period millions of black people left southern communities in the United States and migrated to northern cities. This migration reached its peak during the 1920’s. Among the many advantages the migrants found in the north was the freedom to vote. In my print, migrants are represented expressing that freedom.” Interview with Jacob Lawrence from the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: Spirit of Independence. New York: Lorillard, a Division of Lowes Theatres, 1975.

You might be able to tell that Jacob Lawrence is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to learn that the Portland Art Museum has a nice dozen of his works in their collection. Rightly so considering what a significant and prolific artist of the 20th century he was in addition to living and working in Seattle for 20 years.  All of these reasons are why I was surprised when searching the online collections to see that none of his works are currently on view.  It seemed to me quite a disservice to not have his legacy accessible to Portland audiences, but knowing that room in the galleries to display work is never enough compared to all the works that are in the collection I figured it was an anomaly or some other temporary situation. That was until I started doing research to write an essay on African American art history and, wanting to connect it to Portland, looked into what works readers could go see that represent the trajectory of American art history over the past century.

It was what I didn’t find that shocked me. Not just no Jacob Lawrence on view but no Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, or Romare Bearden! Not even works by Diego Rivera or Jose Clemente Orozco are on view, and that’s when I started wondering what kind of story about who makes art in America is the Portland Art Museum telling to its audiences without these and many other artists on their walls. To continue with even more research, I realized I’d need an outlet for my efforts. Thus was a new blog conceived, and a few weeks later was born. I decided to think of Not Currently on View as a Public Art History project, meaning that I’m interested in questions revolving around public access to art and in bringing the cloistered field of art history into the light of public scrutiny. As a public art institution where art history is done thanks to taxpayer support, the Portland Art Museum is the site for how these questions play out in our own communities, or to quote my own about page:

Not Currently on View is meant to create a forum to discuss the role and responsibility of public art institutions in the 21st century. This includes questions such as who is included in the ‘public(s)’ that museums serve; what kind of art historical narrative is being presented to these ‘public(s)’, and how does that narrative reinforce or undermine entrenched ideas about audienceship and engagement?

I hope you will join me in asking these questions, and I look forward to conversations that will deepen our understanding our how art serves our communities.

Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000), Confrontation at the Bridge, 1975, screenprint on paper, The Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Graphic Arts Collection.                                             In 1965 hundreds of civil rights marchers left Selma, Alabama, on a peace march to Montgomery. Just outside Selma, at the Edmond Pettus Bridge, the marchers were met with resistance from local law enforcement officials and townspeople. The marchers, led by the Revered Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, were repeatedly turned back. After several days of stalemate and verbal and physical abuse, the determined marchers were allowed to continue. Regarding the choice of subject batter for this work, Lawrence has commented: “I thought it was part of the history of the country, part of the history of our progress; not just the black progress, but of the progress of the people.”                                        – Peter T. Nesbett, Jacob Lawrence: The Complete Prints (1963-2000), (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 32.

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