The Granite City Art and Design District (also known as G-CADD) is an art compound of galleries and outdoor exhibition spaces along one block of Granite City, Illinois, located across the river from downtown St. Louis. Their exhibition, Make Your Mother, is a multifaceted grouping of works that investigate mother/child relationships.
Curated by JE Baker, the exhibition at the gallery named Insurance features the artists Lauren Cardenas, Nic King Ruley, Karol Shewmaker, and Caitlin Metz. Three digital prints by Cardenas are arranged in a row on one wall. Case Study 001, Family Portrait (2011) depicts five clusters of prescription pills; each cluster is labeled with a letter and represents a member of Cardenas’ family, while a lone pill represents the artist. Solid and dashed lines trail back and forth between members, mapping the relationships of both actualized and potential inheritance. The other two prints are visually similar, but one is focused on Cardenas and the other on her mother. These images are sparser, with fewer pills and no lines. Text in the top-right corner of each print provides data that partially decodes the ambiguity of the portraits. Below these, two books rest on a cart, representing—as with the portraits—the artist and her mother. Inside both, names and additional information are provided about the pills; back pages are left ominously blank—a space for potential additions. Because of their clinical aesthetic, the books and prints appear to be impersonal, but as their content slowly emerges, they reveal highly personal information, unabashedly showcasing a medical genealogy for all to see.
Nic King Ruley’s sculptural installation, Mrs. Sibley, PA, b. 1951 (2016), pays tribute to his mother, who suffers from MS and is in the last stages of her life. The installation is composed of a rusted IV stand placed on a rectangular plot of sod; two IV bags filled with his mother’s urine hang from the stand. At human height, the abject readymade is anthropomorphic, and the elastic, urine-filled sacs feel like a pair of lungs. The work would be macabrely funny if not for its somber content. Attached to the pole of the IV stand, a small screen plays a slide show that depicts images of the artist’s mother. A recording of her heartbeat emanates from a speaker placed on the floor, and its rhythmic pulse quietly resounds in the intimate space.
In her book A Year or So (2016), Karol Shewmaker documents a year spent living in her childhood home with her mother, beginning the day after her father’s death. Multiple images depict the same view through a window. The images are arranged chronologically, and sometimes an image is cropped by the edge of a page and continues onto the next one. Text culled from mundane conversations between the artist and her mother are interwoven. Through text and images, Shewmaker develops a rhythm with subtle variations, capturing the banality of passing time.
Also in the gallery, blind contour portraits from Caitlin Metz’s performance, Tell Me a Story About Your Mother (2016), are casually taped to a wall. Their presentation underscores the candidness of the performance in which Metz drew participants’ portraits—without looking at her paper—while they did as the title suggests.
The exhibition continues outside with Catalina Ouyang’s sculpture, Bumpy Plank (Girl Against Whites) (2016), which is placed in the center of the semicircular gravel area of the space named Launchpad. The sculpture stands upright and is inspired both by the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the signature planks of the minimalist artist John McCracken. Bumpy Plank is painted light pink, and an upper corner curves softly downward, undermining the ersatz masculinity of its phallic form. Tensions between form and subjectivity are further compounded by the inclusion of a small, placard-like text embedded in the sculpture’s surface, an appropriated text from the artist’s mother that reads, “You are a girl against whites, but love white boys. You make me confused.” Ouyang conflates the masculinity of hard-edge minimalism with femininity, emphasizing her Asian ancestry and sexuality.
Across the street in the unfinished space of Plaque gallery, Chelsea Knight’s video The Breath We Took (2013) is reverse-projected in a doorway and portrays how women from an intergenerational family perceive motherhood and marriage. Although shot in a documentary style, the “reality” of the situation becomes suspect as characters recite monologues and improvise. Although a separate exhibition from Make Your Mother, Knight’s video complements the other show thematically.
The works in Make Your Mother are wide-ranging in form, but more importantly they are wide-ranging in how they relate to the concept of motherhood. Where the artists are at in their lives is represented in their portrayals of this relationship. Shewmaker documents how her role as a daughter shifted as she became her mother’s caregiver; Ruley contemplates his mother’s mortality. Quyang’s sculpture is poignantly lighthearted, depicting the confusion that transpires from a generational and cultural gap, while Knight comments on how perceptions of motherhood have evolved over time. The exhibition’s concept elicits personal responses from each individual, resulting in a succinct group of diverse works.
Make Your Mother is on view at the Granite City Art and Design District (G-CADD) through Saturday, May 14, 2016.