Curator ruminates on his upcoming show 'American Memory'
Michael Martin, curator of the "American Memory" group show opening at Fair Folks and a Goat on Friday, May 20, knows how well memories can conjure a sense of place.
"Americana. Go ahead, ruminate on that for a moment," he says of the inspiration for the exhibition. "You will certainly conjure an image, maybe a baseball game where the sun has just set and the grass in the infield is wet enough to slow a ground ball. Or maybe a rail car billowing smoke as it curves around the edge of a boulder-encrusted canyon. Possibly even an old Delta bluesman sitting on top of a wooden barrel, sweat beading down his temples as a cool breeze tickles the stalks of a farmer’s field.
"All of these images though, they are memory: of seeing a movie or reading a book or even riding that train yourself around the edge of that canyon. You stored the memory deep and pulled it back out, like the leather-bound copy of Grapes of Wrath your grandmother gave you when you were 16, as if reading Grapes of Wrath were on the list of things for 16-year-old you to do. Little do we realize that this idea of America, embodied in ephemera, is also a product of the memories we create to eternalize this place. Memories beget stories and stories beget memories: the balanced osmosis of these muddles the air and suddenly, emerging from the smog, is an art show aiming to capture all of it."
Each artist represented in An American Memory was chosen because the work he or she does stirs a sense of Americana unrelated to typical tropes such as baseball and apple pie, but is referential to them nonetheless, Martin says. Hannah Chalew, Georgia Kennedy, James Taylor Bonds, Siobhan Feehan, and Philip Jordan have presented a wide variety of work, yet it can all be recognized as being in the same vein, flying under the American flag. This show, he explains, represents the diversity of America as an ideal, as a place that is a product of its citizens as much as its citizens are a product of the place.
"The reflexive relationships that the American people have with America ultimately shape the landscapes we inhabit," Martin says. "Each artist brings their own experience with America to their work and as a result adds to the dynamism that is this country."
Here's how Martin explains his reasons for choosing each artist:
Hannah Chalew's work forces viewers to interact with the stark neglect wrought on New Orleans’ urban landscape.
Georgia Kennedy’s “Golden Spike” installation confronts viewers with the idea of Manifest Destiny as it exists in tension with the natural environment.
James Taylor Bonds, in contrast to Chalew and Kennedy, focuses his work not on the land so much as the people. His portrait series reveals tenacity and mischievousness in the faces of depraved youth, personality traits that are a running thread through American history.
Siobhan Feehan and Philip Jordan’s work, a portrait series called “Household Names,” taps into those same traits and adds the concept of misunderstood celebrity.
"Ultimately, this show, while meant to represent an interpretation of Americana, is borne out of memory never experienced, nostalgia for a time never known," Martin elaborates. "Each artist’s work recalls what once was and in that grasping, flailing about in search for meaning, it inevitably becomes a guide for what could be. All memory is applied and learned from; even Americana, the relatively staid idea so often reserved for sentimentalists, serves as more than a retrospective: It, too, can become vision.
An American Memory opens with a reception May 20, 7 to 10 p.m., at Fair Folks and a Goat, 2116 Chartres Street.