On Tell Them Stories: Origins, Group Show
If the sight of a naked woman wearing an albino Kermit the frog head doesn’t make you feel a little unsettled or perhaps even a little embarrassed, then in all likelihood you didn’t grow up watching the Muppets.
If the dark scene straight out of Star Wars doesn’t make you want to suck your teeth even a tiny bit, then you weren’t around for the fall out suffered by thousands of Star Wars fans disappointed, nay, heartbroken over the revelation that their childhood could not be brought back to the big screen the way they hoped.
The references are so clear; every piece in the collection is sufficiently substantiated by a throne of cultural architypes. To a point, the show’s theme of storytelling becomes redundant if, and perhaps only if, you share in the current culture presented here. That, though, as described by the curators, is the objective of the collection: to reflect and mythologize the culture in which the artists and their viewers are established and exposed. The show is a match-making device between artist and viewer.
In their show Tell Them Stories: Origins, Marshall Jones and Tun Myaing sought to characterize art as a mixed medium story telling platform, distinguished from other forms of storytelling by the expedience of delivery of the full story to the viewer. Unlike contextualized narrative which, in western cultures, paces the audience by providing a setting, character, exigency, and conclusive development; the visual platform delivers all of these elements immediately. The viewer is responsible for putting the pieces together. Often, the viewer’s experiences (personal and societal) influence the conclusion drawn from the story with the elements provided by the artist.
So some may not see the pastels in Gus Storms’ work as derivative of the genre from which his characters presumably hail. Others may not connect too closely with the red eyed fury mounts Zoe Williams presents in her story of treasure hunting and the grotesque displays that result from the habit of taking life for sport. Others, still, may wonder what drove Allison Sommers to disembowel her fringe archetypal characters in such a way. Many conclusions can and should be drawn. Each conclusion is a reflection of the shared and unshared experiences of both artist and viewer. The art sits in the center, overlapping area of this experiential Venn diagram.
For the viewer of such a wide collection, some of which one may question the mythology behind the story while another feels their guts churn in hearty recognition, the theme of storytelling may not be, at very first glance, a strong enough bond to being all of these works together, given, especially, the mixed sizes, mediums and of course subjects.
However, the message that is clearly and adequately delivered here is that all art tells a story.
The graphic novel, comic, or manga genre of visual storytelling is a mid-step between the traditional narrative and the story conveyed by single-panel art. The viewer is provided an order in which to interpret the piece, and distinct visual ques to respond to such as the simple raising of a grazing herbivore’s head to signify the threat of the large-clawed hoof in the next panel as we witness in the work presented for this show by Nate Simpson.
“Nonplayer” by Nate Simpson
Comic panels are not the only framework for setting a visual narrative. Mediums such as tarot cards in the case of Tony Dimauro’s contributions to Tell Them Stories, entwine the image with the ethos of pagan tradition and ritual. Eluding to predictions of the future, the format allows the artist to turn our expectations on their proverbial heads, showing us scenes from our cultural past. The new framework turns a children’s bedtime story into an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come, or perhaps where we are going.
“Wheel of Fortune” by Tony Dimauro
Juxtaposing two separate knowns is an immediate trigger for viewers – past and future, east and west, old and new, feminine and masculine, living and dead. Pure examples of this can be found in the sculpted work of Christina Graf who shows us the living flesh behind dead eyes. The comparison is beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful.
“Vanitas IV” by Christina Graf
Several of the pieces in the show use contrast to guide the viewer through their potential narrative; relying, as expressed, on the viewer’s previous exposure to the “knowns” prevalent in the culture the artists represent.
Knowns can draw from expressions, jokes, sayings, political views; and one image can give a viewer cause to recall some or all of such examples of knowns as the case may be allowed for the viewer of works such as “State of the Union” by John Brosio or “Street Sweep” by Peter Drake. Both images address issues and express the artists’ view on the issue if the viewer wades through the culture in which the issues are present.
Any piece of art can be written about. These and other pieces like them in this show thrust what should be written about to the surface.
“State of the Union” by John Brosio
“Street Sweep” by Peter Drake
Where a viewer of the show may interpret “origins” in the show’s title as the “origin story” of the characters whose story the artists are depicting, one could also take the “origins” to better express the artists’ cultures and experiences. These origins are those of the artists, not of the art nor the stories in them.
Each piece brings the viewer closer to seeing the world, our culture, in a similar way to the artist. This is the match-making element to this mean of story-telling; through art.