Me(dia) Response: the final creative act

On Friday, October 20, we came together for the final workshop in the three-part Me(dia) Response Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making series at MIT List Visual Art Center. 

Photojournalist Dominic Chavez presented his work and recounted tales of visiting Sierra Leone, Iraq and other conflict areas where he's documented everything from wars to Aids victims to the Ebola outbreak.  Chavez was genuine and direct in sharing the approach that he takes to his work ("I hold my heart in my hands"), the state in which he returns home ("I'm a train wreck"), and his methods for coping with what he witnesses (from cooking to finding art experiences, to long, aimless car rides). 

Danielle Benaroche Gottesman followed Chavez and shared insight into the importance of self-care in managing the barrage of stressful circumstances, including violent imagery. She illustrated the schism between our lower, reptilian brain and the more evolved, upper brain and how stress can trigger the lower brain to take over and provoke irrational feelings of fear and insecurity.  Meditation, Gottesman suggests, is a practice that can support a fluid shift from the lower brain to higher one during stressful moments.  As she puts it, when a child is in a tantrum, he is in an unsafe and fearful space. The parent works to bring him to a place of safety then later dissect the situation, offering coping tools. Meditation can serve as that parent or guide. There is no right way to meditate, or ideal length, and Gottesman recommends tools like Insight Timer and YouTube to support a meditation practice. 

The workshop culminated with an invitation to destroy the final accumulation — a world made of all past accumulations — per the suggestion of participants in the second workshop. Participants were hesitant at first. "It's too beautiful to destroy," one woman said. But once a few people began to remove pieces they liked, everyone else joined in.

More than one participant took the original piece they'd contributed in the first workshop. One participant took her accumulation plus other materials and promises to keep the work alive. I can't wait to see what she creates!

At the end, within the seeming pile of trash, I found one accumulation made in the first workshop that had been barely altered through the three possible iterations. This accumulation with the headline "Boy, 3, dies" on the top harkened back to the original trigger for this work. It was the picture of Alan Kurdi found face-down washed ashore on September 2, 2015 that began my investigation into violent imagery in media and the prompt for the first workshop at the Gardner Museum.

Now, over two years later I can say I have more tools at hand for keeping current with worldly news and processing it. Through meditation, conversation and continued art making, I strive to be present and to take action.

The coverage of Alan Kurdi's death on September 2, 2015 prompted my investigation into shocking and violent images and how they can spur us to action.

The coverage of Alan Kurdi's death on September 2, 2015 prompted my investigation into shocking and violent images and how they can spur us to action.

The accumulation with headline "Boy, 3, dies" from the first workshop was the only accumulation not to be altered through the course of the workshops. 

The accumulation with headline "Boy, 3, dies" from the first workshop was the only accumulation not to be altered through the course of the workshops. 

Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making, Part 3: Creative Action

On Friday, October 20 from 12-2pm we'll conclude the Me(dia) Response series at MIT List Visual Art Center with a creative action open to the public. I'm eager to share the works participant's made during the first two workshops, expand the dialogue we've been having, and conclude with a cathartic activity during this free workshop open to the public. 

The workshop will begin, as all have, with a brief guided meditation. We'll then discuss the function of violent imagery in media to provoke and spark action, the role photographers, editors and we as consumers have in disseminating imagery, and we'll discuss strategies for staying present with violence (not turning a blind eye) while practicing self-care.  I'm honored to have international photo journalist Dominic Chavez and wellness & self-care coach Danielle Benaroche Gottesman join us in this discussion.

These images show the transformation of "accumulations" over two workshops.

At the conclusion of the workshop, we'll collectively deconstruct a 2'x4' artwork — the final accumulation I created using past participant's works and other violent imagery I've collected from newspapers over the course of one year. 

This workshop's theme of creative action and agency was determined by participants in the second workshop on September 15. Read more about their activities here and see their works here. Click here to see images of the first accumulations in the series made by participants on August 18 and click here for my alterations to their accumulations.


Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making is part of List Projects: Civil Disobedience, a program of documentaries, news footage, citizen journalism, artist’s films and videos focusing on moments of political resistance and public demonstration from the early 20th century through today. Presenting records from the historical Civil Rights and women’s movements, gay liberation and AIDS activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and recent Women’s Marches recognize the history of resistance, and considers the role that artists and documentarians play in chronicling and confronting abuses of power and social injustice.  July 18, 2017 - October 29, 2017 (Note: closed August 22–27. Daily screening program will resume on August 29.)

Me(dia) Response workshop #2 — setting intentions

On September 15, 2017 ten inquisitive and empathetic souls arrived at the second of three Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making workshops at MIT List Visual Art Center to explore their role in shaping media and responding to it.

We began with a guided meta meditation focused on finding compassion for others. All were asked to set an intension for the workshop, be it giving themselves permission to be creative and expressive without judgement, being open to new experiences or continuing practicing loving-kindness to others. This turned out to be a guiding force through next two hours.

I had a chance to make one too.
May I be safe
May I be happy
May I be free from suffering
May I be loved
May I be safe from harm
May I be happy
May I be free
May I be loved

Participants then selected an accumulation, someone else’s work, that spoke to them. They described the forms in their hands to be tactile, organic, and talisman-like. (The shape and black dripping dip reminded at least one participant of a cookie.) The imagery they saw they described as scary and confusing; showing suffering, trauma, and pain. But they also saw the beauty of people shining through. 

As in the first workshop, what participants found appealing or compelling were parts I hadn’t noticed. For instance, one woman found the words “White/Brawlers and Body Bizarre” outlined in red by a past participant and took it as a symbol of unconscious biases. 

Armed with modeling turf, grenade ring-pulls (yes, you can find them on eBay), gold pens, rhinestones and tape they took to making and creating dramatic new artworks. Two pieces were bound into into one. Objects in the room like plates and a fork were added. And one hand-shaped accumulation was transformed it into a larger piece that acts like a divining rod. 

In the final twenty minutes of the workshop this group was tasked with determining the outcome of the next workshop, a civic action. Did they want the next group to create a sacred space for their accumulations? Destroy them? Or simply continue the conversation? In the end, they took the root of the term creative action, activation, as their central motivation. And of all the possible intentions for the next group — we discussed an on-going accumulation project and burning all the works — it was determined that the tone should be about creating personal agency, about giving ourselves the permission to respond to triggering media images with self-care and awareness.

I invite you participate in their engaging creation at the final Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making workshop on October 20, 12-2pm. (Register here.) More information on the activity to come!

Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making is part of List Projects: Civil Disobedience, a program of documentaries, news footage, citizen journalism, artist’s films and videos focusing on moments of political resistance and public demonstration from the early 20th century through today. Presenting records from the historical Civil Rights and women’s movements, gay liberation and AIDS activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and recent Women’s Marches recognize the history of resistance, and considers the role that artists and documentarians play in chronicling and confronting abuses of power and social injustice.  July 18, 2017 - October 29, 2017 (Note: closed August 22–27. Daily screening program will resume on August 29.)

The Future is Nasty. Let's get creative!

Sidewalk Series #5 , 2017 will be included in Nasty Women Boston, a group exhibition demonstrating solidarity among artists who identify with being Nasty Women in the face of threats to roll back women's rights, civil rights, and reproductive rights. It also serves as a fundraiser to support Color of Change and Planned Parenthood.

Please join me at the Opening + Art Sale on Friday, September 8, 6—9 pm at Laconia Gallery, 533 Harrison Avenue, Boston.

Sidewalk Series #5, 2016. Found concrete, gold leaf and modeling turf.

Sidewalk Series #5, 2016. Found concrete, gold leaf and modeling turf.

Me(dia) Response workshop #1 — making a statement

On Friday, August 18, 2017, I had the pleasure of working with twelve curious and courageous souls who attended the Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making workshop at MIT List Visual Art Center. This, the first of a three-part workshop, stirred a conversation about the excess of violent imagery in our news and questioned the role of the photographers, editors, and consumers (us) in making (and disseminating) political statements. 

After a guided meditation, participants selected violent images that spoke to them—hands that called out for help, people locked in protest for their civil rights—from a collection of over 100 that I've been snipping from newspapers since December 2016.

We got right to making, each person gluing together over 60 pages of newspaper. The goal was to give participants quiet time to consider the glut of violent imagery and news as they busied their hands. But heated political conversations quickly ensued. The imagery may have aggrevated some who were not comfortable sitting with the feelings it evoked. Or perhaps they were frustrated at not being heard in other contexts. 

As time went on, the suggested shape, a vertical stack akin to striated rock, took on new and surprising shapes — a flower, a frayed puck shape, and a hand for instance.

Now it is my turn to alter the twelve completed accumulations with a unifying color and texture using a black rubbery paint. I'll return in September to guide the next set of participants through a deeper understanding of their role in shaping media (and how they can take control of it) by altering someone else's creation.


Me(dia) Response: Self-Awareness and Activism Through Art-Making is part of List Projects: Civil Disobedience, a program of documentaries, news footage, citizen journalism, artist’s films and videos focusing on moments of political resistance and public demonstration from the early 20th century through today. Presenting records from the historical Civil Rights and women’s movements, gay liberation and AIDS activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and recent Women’s Marches recognize the history of resistance, and considers the role that artists and documentarians play in chronicling and confronting abuses of power and social injustice.  July 18, 2017 - October 29, 2017 (Note: closed August 22–27. Daily screening program will resume on August 29.)

REAL/IDEAL Globe review

The Boston Center for the Arts looks at utopia

By Cate McQuaid GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  AUGUST 24, 2017

MELISSA BLACKALL PHOTOGRAPHY

MELISSA BLACKALL PHOTOGRAPHY

“REAL/IDEAL (Turning Utopia Into Reality)” at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery is a reassuring show for tense times.

In recent years, Randi Hopkins, the center’s director of visual arts, has elevated the annual resident artists’ exhibition above the level of an obligatory members show, which can be scattershot. This year, curator David Guerra invited 18 residents and 10 guests to contemplate utopia. These artists’ ideals range from personal to philosophical to societal, but they hang together on hope.

Kate Gilbert installs her photo “Untitled (Chinatown Housing)” above rocks and asphalt adorned with gold leaf, moss, and a nylon sack. In the photo, a dress Gilbert wore for a public performance piece about economic inequality has been made into a tent in a deserted lot. Each element here sets off bare subsistence with touches of value and dearness, and the prospect of wholeness.

Utopias are easy. It’s in dystopias such as Gilbert’s that ideals are most cherished.

Read the full article here.

Real/Ideal exhibition through 9/17

I'm honored to be part of Real/Ideal: Turning Utopia Into Reality at the Mills Gallery through September 17. The exhibition itself challenges existing notions of curating in an attempt to reflect on the ideal exhibition. The works, although selected by David Guerra, are ultimately presented by the public who are asked to co-curate, design and share their personal narratives within the space through the gallery’s floor plan and the artwork.

Documentation from Interdependence Day walk, 7/3/17

Documentation from Interdependence Day walk, 7/3/17

In the three pieces in the show, I imagine a dystopian reality where the only available shelter is on one’s back and the cost of real estate is so exorbitant that even a chunk of asphalt becomes a precious commodity. As sculptural objects, these works present one possible reality. But as performance ephemera from Interdependence Day Walk With William 7/3/17, they are props in an ongoing conversation with William DeLove, my homeless, wheelchair-bound friend about the economic inequality in Boston, how much we need to survive and how, together, we can create a more interdependent future. Exhibited is a photograph of a dress that I wore during a performance walk with William, erected as a tent, two miniature worlds I created from the largest pieces we carried, and the "Cautionary Sack" I carried with seven pieces that remain undeveloped.