Walk with the Curator

Turchin Center Curator and Creative Director Mary Anne Redding provides a walking tour through the six Turchin Center galleries, highlighting four new exhibitions of contemporary work by nationally and internationally renowned artists that tell stories and provide a voice to often unheard perspectives on current and historical issues. Featuring a diverse range of mediums, the artwork encompasses a wide range of topics including the visual memory of history, cultural identity, societal inequalities, complex and multi-faceted human relationships, autobiographical art, and objects as receptacles for meaning.


Mary Anne Redding: Hello! As part of the 2020 Appalachian Summer Festival month of digital programming, we are going to take a walk through the galleries at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. I am Mary Anne Redding, curator and creative director at the Turchin and it is my pleasure to introduce you to the current exhibits. Although the galleries are closed to the public because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we hope to re-open on a limited basis in August when classes resume here at Appalachian State University. Thank you for joining me on this tour. We will start in the Mayer Gallery. If you peek in the windows facing King Street, you will see the first exhibition we’re going to talk about.

Welcome to the Mayer Gallery. In this gallery you will see Maria and OH CANADA by Lesia Maruschak. The exhibition is on view until Saturday, August 1st. And as I said earlier, if you take a peek into the windows that face King Street, you will be able to see a lot of Lesia’s installation there.

There are few places around the globe that have escaped the scars of genocide, of repression, of fear. Lesia Maruschak’s installations reclaim individual memory and, in claiming for herself a personal, familial history, transcends the self to articulate our collective history; her tears become our tears causing the oceans to rise at first imperceptibly and then in a torrent of “inconvenient truths.”

Maruschak moves quietly, uneasily, between countries, Canada, the Ukraine, the United States of America, working to create necessary monuments to the past. If we are silent, the monuments become a tribute to our own inability to act. The artist cautions her viewers about “the alarming tendencies to blend fact and fiction, and to sow doubt about established norms, (which) harken back to periods when demagogues spun new myths about past, present and future and combined them with spectacles.” We live in a world of globally televised spectacles where those in power hold on frantically at any cost to their fragile power waving mirrors to deflect the light from their own covert actions. We cannot let the mourning for human decency, for the loss of public morality, for simple human kindness to force us into another collective silence. What is our ethical responsibility to say what we know, to say something if we see something? These are the questions that Lesia asks in her installation. I think they’re very very apropo to what is happening in the world today because of the coronavirus pandemic.

To introduce the artist to you, Lesia is a photography-based artist with a unique lens on the creation of mobile memorial spaces. Born in 1916 - 1961, she’s not that old, in Saskatchewan she spent her childhood on the Canadian prairies, land settled by her ancestors in 1874. In the mid-1970s she first picked up a camera, to which she did not return until 2016 when a diagnosis of leukemia led her to change her life’s direction and commit to making art.

Lesia’s work - a complex exploration of memory and sensual expression - informs and expands what it means to create memorials in an age where the “what and why of museums” is in question..” How will we reopen? What is the best way to do that? What is our responsibility to our community?

Lesia makes work that crosses platforms. She uses installation, paper works, photographs, books, films, and in the last three years has been shown in the United States, Canada, the UK, Spain, Holland, France, Mexico, Greece, Korea, Italy and Spain. Her works are held in private and special collections around the world.

It is really wonderful that we will be able to show you her work in this walkthrough. And just as a final note - Lesia holds a MA in Ethnography and an MBA in International Management. And I think you’ll see when you look at her work that both of those really influence her output as an artist.

Now we’re gonna walk upstairs to Gallery A on the second floor of the Turchin Center. I’d like to introduce you to the work of Elizabeth M. Claffey. Her installation is titled Matrilinear.

Liz’s work is specifically aimed at starting conversations within the community. And I think that is extremely important today, especially when we cannot go into the museum. Liz uses visual art as a catalyst for storytelling and to express the knowledge of people often under-recognized within the public sphere. Liz’s projects examine cultural and social context, engage in community dialogue, and encourage critical inquiry by the viewer.

Matrilinear is designed to challenge the way that one defines knowledge, which has ultimately been shaped by patriarchy. How knowledge is defined and who is allowed to acquire it have always been an exercise of power by those in control, so the theories, wisdom, and experiences of “others” (women, people of color, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, people of varying abilities, those with low income) are often unacknowledged as being of consequence or having value within the public realm. Liz’s images are meant to express alternative forms of knowledge development and collection.

Liz started expressing stories through thread, which is a metaphor, not only for the physical and emotional work women do within kinship structures, but also for the time and space in which stories are often passed down – a once sacred space of building relationships through domestic work.

Her images examine family folklore, ritual, and mnemonic objects passed down through generations of women. The photographs of each object reveal the physical remnants of a body long gone; including stains, tears, and loose thread from clothing that was kept close to the body for comfort and protection. The stitching and/or photographic representations are both a visualization and an expansion of stories shared as family lore. These interruptions also represent the deep influence of one’s familial past on personal identity and perceptions of the body.

By expressing domestic rituals and objects to explore their meanings within public con-texts, this work aims to interrupt and transform normative cultural narratives. Through varying perspectives and translations, the practices and keepsakes that construct familial stories become basic to a more inclusive collective memory and global story of the past. Women play many complex roles within the structures of kinship: daughter, sister, cousin, mother, aunt, grandmother; these roles can be fluid and at times overlap.

To give you a little bit of information about the artist, Liz is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Indiana University in Bloomington and a 2019-20 Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She is an honor’s graduate of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and has an MFA in Studio Art from Texas Woman's University, where she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies. So she is the perfect photographer to be doing the work that she’s doing with women’s history and women's bodies and women’s studies. In 2012, Liz was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship which she used to support her creative works in Eastern Europe – she spent a year photographing in Albania. Elizabeth's creative work focuses on the way personal and familial narratives are shaped by interactions with both domestic and institutional structures and spaces. Her work has been recognized by PDN Magazine, Center Santa Fe, the Eddie Adams Workshop, Strange Fire Collective, Don't Take Pictures Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Dallas Morning News, and Western Exhibitions in Chicago, to name just a few.

One of the things that I think is so wonderful about Liz’s photographs is that they are life-size. Viewers have the opportunity to experience the haunting images both as a memory of a familiar object and as a memory of a person who might have worn the clothing – we can all recall similar pieces from our own pasts. In this way each image is both personal and universal.

Now we are going to move into Gallery B, where you’ll see the work of Johnny Miller. The title of his exhibition is UnEqual Scenes. Johnny Miller is an activist, a free-lance documentary photographer, filmmaker, multimedia storyteller, and founder of Unequal Scenes. Unequal Scenes is the title of one of Johnny’s ongoing projects and of course the exhibition here at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts but it’s much more than a single installation. In the four years since Johnny began working on this series, Unequal Scenes has grown from a documentary photographic project into a - and this is a quote from his website- “a platform for multimedia storytelling and a home for creatives, activists, scientists and journalists to connect and strategize creative approaches to make the world a more healthy, fair and equitable place.” This work was important when Johnny began the series but is even more important now in the Age of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 which have further exposed the global fault lines of inequality. We need more photographers like Johnny Miller.

Johnny Miller, who began working in media production in 2009 after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to reassess his life and career (he was only 28 years old!). When not confined to his grandmother’s home in Detroit because of the current pandemic, Johnny Miller is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is interested in provoking conversations on inequality through his artwork. He explores inequalities, architecture, displacement and climate justice from the ground and from the air.

Johnny has a long list of accolades so I will tell you just about a few of these. He’s a News Fellow at Code for Africa, a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics, a BMW Foundation Global Responsible Leader, and an UN-Habitat Champion for Vibrant and Inclusive Neighborhoods and Communities. Before he got famous, Johnny attended Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and before going on to study anthropology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Unequal Scenes is a photographic project focusing on extreme economic inequality around the world. Using portable drones, Johnny locates the most unequal dividing lines in the world’s most unequal societies. The project began in Cape Town in 2016 and has spread across the world. Photographs from Unequal Scenes have been featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Der Speigel, Newsweek, the Daily Beast, and Time Magazine, to name just a few.

Obviously, this project is ongoing. The exhibition at the Turchin Center focuses on the early work Johnny did in South Africa. He began in Cape Town because that was where he was living and also because part of what he was studying was South Africa’s architecture before, during, and after apartheid; the repercussions of apartheid brought a particular focus to the inequity on Cape Town and South Africa as a whole. Johnny Miller writes: “The legacy of apartheid, and specifically the architecture of separation, provides a unique context in which to view this particular form of inequality.”

Inequalities in our social fabric are oftentimes hidden and hard to see from ground level. Visual barriers, including the structures themselves, prevent us from seeing the incredible contrasts that exist side by side in our cities, including Boone.

Unequal Scenes uses a drone to illustrate the inscribed history of our world in a new way. The scars within our urban fabric, so apparent from above, can provoke a sense of surprise, but also reveal our complicity in systematic disenfranchisement. We live within neighborhoods and participate in economies that reinforce inequality. We all do this. We are all implicated in the structures of systemic inequality. We habituate ourselves with routines and take for granted the built environment of our cities. It’s the very scale and unerring regularity across geographic regions which points to the systemic nature of inequality. This is not organic – this is planned and intentional disenfranchisement.

Johnny Miller is very clear. Make no mistake – Unequal Scenes is an act of defiance. Johnny Miller defies the traditional power structures that keep these inequalities hidden so well from every direction except directly above. If the images provoke uncomfortable feelings of fear, despair, or an unsettling realization of complicity – good. They are intended to.

I hope you’ll agree with me that Johnny Miller’s photographs do exactly what he intends them to do – disrupt our, perhaps, too comfortable perspective and our routine paths.

One of the newest installations at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts can be seen in the Mezzanine Gallery. Afterimage Anxiety is an installation by Joshua Rose. It is up through February 5th, 2021.

Joshua Rose was born 1948 in New York City to parents who had studied painting at both Cooper Union and The Art Students League. He was exposed to art in the museums as well as his father’s paintings at home. In fact, Josh says there was never a time that he remembers where he was not aware of art. Growing up, he thought art was a natural occurrence in everybody’s life. His parents made their living as embroidery designers in the garment center, exposing him to the love of patterns, rhinestones, beads, bangles and sequins that figure into his current work. Josh Rose studied art at the University of New Mexico and went on to earn an MFA from Yale in 1981.

Josh considers this body of work an autobiography, calling it My Studio Landscape, a collection of old roads to be reinvestigated and reasserted through re engagement. It is from this body of drawings, paintings and photographs that he mines the past, manipulates, combines and recombines images and materials to make new work that functions in the present. He says, “it is a look at my night sky.” And I think when you look at some of Josh’s collages, you will indeed see into his mind, into the night sky and into your own psyche.

The work that Josh does reflects two different but related ideas. The first is very personal to Josh in sort of mining and reinventing the past 40 years of his visual works. So, essentially what he’s doing is manipulating memory.

Josh says that he read “when in a museum looking at pictures, one should briefly look at a neutral wall before moving to the next image. This clears the vision of un-noticed afterimages that prevents seeing the new picture clearly and cleanly, an intermezzo for the eyes. That idea stuck with him as does the implication of how we see in general. Everything is filtered through an afterimage of what we saw last. Thoughts are also like this, floating along in one’s mind replacing themselves one after the other in a tenuously linked stream that Buddhists call monkey mind. When we look up at the night sky, we not only see the endless array of lights we know to be stars and such, we also “see” the imposition of layered space and time. This informs the structure of Josh’s collages.

And the second important aspect of Josh’s work is that it is derived from combined images that he made over the past 35 or 40 years, with a few from as long ago as 50 years. He’s mining memory. The resultant image making afterimage is not simply the last thing that he looked at, but the whole of his life trajectory as an artist. So that’s why he calls it his autobiography, his studio landscape, a collection of old roads to be reinvestigated through re engagement.

So he mines the past, manipulates and recombines the mages and materials to make new work that functions in the present. I think we all do that. And I love Josh’s title Afterimage Anxiety. I think especially now when so many of us are glued to social media and we see image after image after image of unrest and protests and patients in hospitals who have the coronavirus, We do all have somewhat of an afterimage anxiety because once those images are seen, it’s impossible to unsee them.

In the intimacy of the Community Gallery, which is where we are now, you will find the beautiful jewel-like paintings of Jacklyn St. Aubyn. The title of Jacklyn’s installation is Rain and the River. It will be on view through February 5, 2021, so I hope that you will have the opportunity to see these marvelous paintings in person.

Jacklyn St. Aubyn taught painting and drawing at New Mexico State University for 25 years. During this time, she wrote and published a book, Drawing Basics, which is now in its second edition. This book is a clear, straightforward approach to learning how to draw, based on looking closely. The underlying belief that anyone who can see, can learn to draw, along with the conviction that personal expression has its source in visual perception provide the basis for Jacklyn’s methods.

The inspiration for Jacklyn’s teaching methods also applies to her studio work. At the heart of both lies a desire to illuminate life through the process of seeing. Her commitment to drawing began when she was eight years old. She taught herself to draw by looking closely and copying images from comic books and magazines. She earned her BFA degree at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and her MA at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. she says: "The moment she puts brush to panel, a transformation takes place. The colors and shapes create a tactile song filled with rhythms and melodies. Objects and images express poetic thoughts. Unspoken revelations appear. The process is meditative and calming. She is drawing from a consciousness that is hidden somewhere within her. The veil of her familiar thinking gives way to freedom of mind. This is the psychic space of painting."

Memories and experience as embodied in objects are the subject matter of her still lives. Objects play an important part in her creative process. They serve as receptacles for meaning. Objects she collects also make reference to cultural myths and universal symbols. Through repeated use over many years, the objects make up her personal vocabulary consisting of symbols. And a lot of the symbols are very private. You’ll see the cherry, a beautiful red cherry that is repeated in several of the paintings. And if you look closely, you will see other motifs as you walk through the gallery.

Jacklyn says the first step in her creative process is setting up a still life. She spends a great deal of time choosing objects from her collection and arranging them in a way that she finds evocative way and that tells a story- not necessarily a story that the viewer can interpret, but hopefully the viewer brings their own collection of images and collection of memories and their own stories to the paintings, to create their own narrative when they’re looking at them. The work is so finely painted. It is so rich in detail, they’re little jewels.

Jacklyn is always looking for visual relationships - as well as symbolic references, hoping for a narrative to emerge. She always relies on her intuition and her emotion to guide her. And she says this is the most difficult and unpredictable part of her painting process.

Now we will go into the Main Gallery at the Turchin Center, which is the largest space we have in our six changing exhibition galleries. Here you’ll see an amazing installation by Hui Chi Lee, Lian Lian. The exhibition began last January, but when we closed down because of the pandemic, it wasn’t seen by many people. Luckily, we were able to extend it through September 5th of this year and hopefully if the Turchin Center opens in August as we anticipate doing when classes open, you’ll be able to actually see this work in person. But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy the walkthrough that we’re sharing with you.

People are by nature social beings. And I think definitely the pandemic and the quarantine and the isolation that so many people across the country have experienced in the last several months, shows us exactly how social we really are, even if we don’t like to admit it to ourselves. People need other people to survive, and as such they tend to perpetually seek social interactions. However, human relationships are inherently complex and multi-faceted. The idea behind Hui Chi Lee’s installation is that the series, Lián 連 and Liàn 鏈, begins with a pair of Chinese homophones “Lián 連 and Liàn 鏈.” And if you could actually see the Chinese characters, you would see that they are written very differently. That doesn’t translate into English where they are spelled exactly the same. Depending on the context, it means either “to connect” or “to enchain.” On one hand, the works portray the tensions and dynamics within human relationships; on the other, they explore how these same forces may constrict or enchain humans when negative forces come into play. While these works are in part a meditation on Taiwanese cultural traditions, they can be applied broadly to human experience itself.

Hui Chi Lee is an assistant professor in studio art at Appalachian State University. Her artwork focuses on drawing, painting, and mixed media. She received her BFA from the University of Arizona, an MS in Art Therapy & Art Education from Illinois State University, and an MFA in Drawing and Painting from the University of Florida.

Her current body of work incorporates the human form and hair to explore dilemmas in human relationships. Her primary media include graphite and mechanical lead pencils which are used because of their unique ability to capture the subtleties and details that she seeks to emphasize. To transcend the boundaries of two-dimensional art, she has printed her drawn images onto textiles and incorporated human hair in site-specific installations like the one you see here at the Turchin Center.

I hope you have enjoyed the walkthrough and I hope that you will be able to come back to the Turchin Center when we re-open on a very limited basis in August. Thank you for joining us.

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Coronavirus information

Based on guidelines announced by Appalachian State University, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts has revised its schedule. Schedules and guidelines are subject to further change in the coming days and weeks. All schedule changes specific to public events at the Turchin Center will be posted on the Turchin Center’s website and on Facebook.

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