In the summer of 2019, at the behest of my girlfriend Elisheba, I applied for the Cornish College of the Arts Neddy Award for the second time. As fortune would have it, I was selected as a finalist and ultimately as a grand prize winner. An exhibit of the six finalists and two award winners accompanies the annual award program. This year’s exhibit is called ‘Inherent Visions’ and was curated by Juan Franco Ricardo. This post is about one of my contributions to the exhibit, ‘DELUGE:Liberation Ecology’.
The premise for this work started with a question that I asked myself one day, ‘what if I took my journaling practice and expanded it’s scale and material possibilities?’ It emerged one evening nearly a year ago while I was browsing some of my old journals from the past 30 years. The question was a response to the limitations and freedoms of notebook journaling. The limitations being what you can actually put on a bound page, the freedoms being the boundless stream of consciousness form. Or in other words, the complete freedom to ignore all formal aesthetic, logical, linear and narrative considerations when exploring ideas with text and images. Something that is common in my journaling. I realized I wanted to find a freer platform for this activity that has been critical to the formation of specific ideas that have crystalized in specific public works that I have prestened over the years. I tried journaling on the computer using various graphic and writing applications as a way of breaking out of some limitations, but my brain and spirit work differently when I am touch things. Pens, pencils, pages, prints. Journaling is a decidedly analog activity for me.
So this truly is a journaling activity for me and not about the production of a specific visual work. It is about the nonlinear exploration of ideas and how the activity of collage inherently expands the possibilities materiality to tell stories and peel back layers of our collective existence.
I have been experimenting a lot with various forms of storytelling over the past 10 years. ‘An Elegant Utility’ (NAAM 2017), ‘This Is Who We Are’ (The Frye Art Museum 2016) and Turning The Earth(permanent installation at the Liberty Bank Apartments 2019) are all examples of my intentional exploration of the narrative and philosophical possibilities of form, genre and materiality in specific works. All of these works emerged out of journaling and meditation practice and also represent my willingness to experiment publicly.
A few people close to me know that ten years ago I sort of ‘laid down my cameras’, metaphorically speaking, and took a hiatus from being a photographer. This didn’t mean I stopped producing images entirely, just that I intentionally stepped away from my identity as a photographer as a defining aspect of my creative life. There were several reasons for this:
- The limitations I began to feel in the two dimensional framed image as an avenue for my interests
- The sense that I felt I had mastered the technical and aesthetic elements of the craft that were of interest to me and I was beginning to repeat myself in my practice
- The need to assess what I had learned and accomplished in the first 17 years of creating photographs. In other words what was it that I had actually been up to?
My goal in making this break was to clear my creative pallette and get enough distance from that body of work in an attempt to see it more clearly. Leading up to this break I had already been trying to wrap my head around the meaning of my photographic catalog for about three for four years. In 2007 I curated and exhibited a show called ‘RECKONING: Evolution’ at the Electric Tea Garden (formerly at 14th and Madison, RIP). As a straight ahead photographic exhibit of diptychs, it was an early attempt at uncovering the embedded and untapped thematic and narrative implications of specific photographs in my catalog. It was my first step in this ongoing process of public self-inquiry about what and who I may be as an image maker and visual artist (a moniker I have only recently felt comfortable embodying). This current work is this same process expanded, exploded, deconstructed, freed up a bit.
So taking all of this into account, when ‘Inherent Visions’ curator Juan Franco and I began discussing what I would include in the show accompanying this year’s awards program I was eager to pitch a more process oriented contribution. This work, ‘Deluge:Liberation Ecology’ is the result of his faith in me to engage the exhibition space as an active artist’s studio. I am grateful for his trust and the resources of the Neddy Award that have afforded me the time and materials to continue to engage this process in new ways.
By way of formal introductions to the work here is the official press release issued by Cornish last week announcing this aspect of the exhibition:
The Neddy at Cornish announces open hours for a special work-in-progress residency for the 2019 Neddy at Cornish Exhibition Inherent Visions happening in the Cornish Playhouse. Please feel free to stop by to visit artist and this year’s Open Medium grand prize winner Inye Wokoma as he works on an open process piece. Sourced from an accumulation of over 25 years of work, Wokoma explores ideas around, embedded in and informing his approach to photography. A quarter century into to his photographic practice he is interested in unlocking meaning in the catalog in an active, intuitive process. As such the residency functions as a wall sized journal entry through which ‘de-archiving’ and ‘un-exhibitioning’ processes eschew conventions of cataloging and presenting photographic media.
The work also integrates his lifelong writing practice and introduces his growing interest in textiles as an emerging element in his mixed media collage work. Intentionally using these elements in layers is meant to evoke the complex, and in many ways unresolved, nature of Black cultural, political, social, familial and spiritual life in America. The work is intended to be interactive. He invites viewers to touch the piece and explore its layers as a way of joining him in the act of asking unanswerable questions.
Wokoma’s goal for this residency is to explore the possibilities of working with familiar and new elements in an intuitive way. He hopes this process will be instructive as he adds new techniques to his existing practice.
Stop by during these special hours to meet the artist and see the exhibition: