Summer 2020

Jackie Clay discusses arts in the age of COVID-19. Our segments this episode include a woodworking studio from Opelika, AL, a Birmingham based artist who was inspired by sheltering in place to create innovative sculptures, and a multimedia performance in an old plantation in Harpersville, AL that offers a blueprint for reconciliation, healing, and hope for a way forward with shared narrative.

AIRED: June 29, 2020 | 0:27:50

(gentle, mysterious music)

(electronic whirring)

(keyboard keys clacking) (gentle music)

- Welcome to Monograph,

a show celebrating Alabama's rich tapestry

of creative works and artistic endeavors.

I'm your host, Jackie Clay.

For our summer 2020 broadcast,

you'll notice production looks a little different

in response to COVID-19.

We'll share segments filmed both before

and after the pandemic

and check in a moment with two Monograph alums

to hear how their organizations have adapted.

(gentle music continues)

- The whole series of work is kind of about a longing

for this physical connections because we're communicating

on such a distant level right now.

My name is Stacey Holloway.

I'm the assistant professor of sculpture at UAB,

but I'm also a local Birmingham artist.

The series that I've done is called

"Fabricated Interactions During Social Distancing."

As soon as the current pandemic kind of hit,

I started thinking a little bit more

about how we connect with each other

and that this is a time

where we're not really allowed to do so.

I've done a series of kinetic sculpture

and wearable sculpture that would mimic

or simulate these physical connections

that we usually do with each other

but thinking of the more kind of intimate interactions

that we share with, like, family members.

So, I'm really close to my mother,

so a lot of these have to do with my mother

or missing the kiss of your grandma,

those very loving,

yet very aggressive way that grandparents kiss you.

So I wanted to kind of simulate that kind of like,

kind of quick smack on the cheek with the lipstick.

As for my mother, the two pieces that I made for her,

the first one was "Eskimo Kiss," where I cast my nose

and put it on a doorstop.

Just the rubbing of the noses, it's very sweet and loving.

So this is something that my mother used to do

when we were little, still does.

So, I kind of missed that physical interaction with her.

The "Lullaby" piece where it's a headset

where I have an old tape recorder,

so I got her on the phone

and made her (laughs) sing "You are My Sunshine,"

which is a lullaby that she used to sing to us

when we were little.

And it's kind of my fondest memory

of growing up with her as my mother.

So that's kind of our song,

is the "You are My Sunshine" song.

So, I recorded her singing that,

and it's kind of distorted 'cause it's an old recorder.

♪ You'll never know dear how much I love you ♪

♪ Please don't take my sunshine away ♪

So how I start making these is I begin

with taking a mold off of my body with rubber alginate,

which is the same stuff that the dentists use

to take a mold off of your teeth.

From there, I have to cast the body part in a,

a quick-setting polyurethane plastic.

And then from that, I use silicone rubber

to take a mold off of that,

which then I can reuse that mold over and over.

That's where I'll use a silicone

that is used for the film industry.

So it's supposed to simulate skin,

so you can also pigment it, add pigment to it

and tint it whatever you want.

That's how I get the actual cast of the body,

so using that silicone

so it does actually simulate human skin, the human touch.

And then from there,

I just build these kind of strange contraptions

out of scrap wood

or found objects from my house or from the studio.

I kind of build these until I get the interaction

that I want or the movement that I want.

My new favorite sculpture from this series is the "Hug."

I realize, you know,

a lot of people have said that when you hug someone,

it kind of releases some of these hormones or whatever.

It feels really good to hug somebody.

And so I think that one is my new favorite one

because you can actually kind of clench it tight,

and it's nice and soft and plush.

"High Five" is really satisfying,

and this, the contraption that I made for the "High Five"

actually feels really realistic and really satisfying.

That kind of became a ritual

when I left the studio every night,

was to do a jump, high-five,

like good job in the studio today.

- I'm here with Viola Ratcliffe

of Bib & Tucker Sew-Op in Birmingham, Alabama.

So how long have you been quarantined personally

and how long have folks at Bib & Tucker

been working remotely, if you're working remotely?

- So, I've been quarantined since mid-March,

which will put as at, like, three months.

We have a group of members, our Tuesday group,

that is used to meeting there weekly

every Tuesday from 11 to three,

and that has happened for almost 10 years

that the Sew-Op has been,

pretty much ever since the Sew-Op has been established.

And we have not met since the quarantine and the shutdown.

So, that has been probably the most challenging thing.

- So, describe Bib & Tucker for as, like, pre-COVID,

what some people are calling the great before.

Describe Bib & Tucker in the great before

and then also kind of how you guys are imagining,

how you guys are organizing now

and how you're kind of imagining the future.

- So, I guess with the great before,

we were pretty busy (laughs).

We had programs that we were running

on a very regular basis.

Our Tuesday group was the most regularly meeting program,

so that was happening every Tuesday.

But then we were ramping up towards summer,

so we were very much in planning phase.

We were getting ready for a lot of exciting things,

and then COVID happened, and it just,

you know, with everybody, you hear about it.

And at first you're like, okay this is what we're gonna do.

We're gonna have to adjust a little bit.

And then you're like, okay,

no, we're gonna have to adjust a little bit more.

Then you're like, oh wait, nope, nope, we're going home.

(laughs) Like, we're done.

And then once me, we're at home,

and we kind of,

I have personally spent the week just kind of floundering

like I don't really know

what I'm supposed to be doing, you know.

Answering emails,

basically canceling a lot of stuff was my first week.

And then we kind of got a plan together,

and we figured how we wanted to move

in this COVID environment.

And so one of the priorities

for us was maintaining the Tuesday group in some capacity,

making sure we were still offering programming

to the community by trying to figure out

how do you offer sewing programming

when you can't physically be with somebody to teach them

or show them how to sew.

And then the face masks,

so that kind of just happened organically.

So we just kind if started doing that as a sew-op.

So for like a month, that was really intense.

Like we were just making face masks like hard,

hitting it very hard.

So many of our members came through just making

sometimes hundreds of masks a week even,

just contributing where they could,

giving money, giving materials.

So that was a huge part of spring for us.

- So, what are some of the things you guys are working

toward in the future?

- So we are looking towards fall,

and we have a couple of things

that we wanna do come fall 2020.

One is Recycled Runway.

It is our annual fashion extravaganza.

It's our event that we love to do.

It's an up-cycle fashion show.

So this will be the fourth year that we've done it,

and with COVID, it's actually really interesting

trying to plan an event

with the plan B of possibly not being able to be

in a space with a lot of people,

where in the past, it's like,

let's get as many people here as we can.

And now we're looking at,

okay, so how can we still have the same feeling

without so many people in the room, possibly?

And then we're also hopefully gonna have a quilt show.

Our Tuesday group has been working very diligently

towards having a quilt show in the fall.

Most likely we're gonna have more.

We may do another installment of Magic City Seams Jr.

for the fall because we're really looking

at programming that we can offer year-round virtually,

especially with,

I think a lot of schools are gonna be looking

towards virtual programming

and then the homeschool community.

- Well, Viola, thank you so much.

This has been really enjoyable, and stay safe.

- Yeah. - And,

we'll see you again.

- Yes, thank you, guys, so much for having us.

It was great talking to y'all.

- We are in Opelika, Alabama at The Nest,

which is the coffee space associated

with the Chirpwood Art Gallery.

My name is Scott Moody, and this is my place.

We started out as a picture frame company.

Instead of buying molding,

we decided to make our molding from scratch.

When my wife said it's time to leave the basement barn

and garage of our house and have an actual commercial spot,

we chose this location

because we could manufacture on one side

and retail out the other. (gentle, rhythmic music)

The people who liked us first were artists,

and there really was no place in Opelika for local art.

So, we became an art gallery sort of accidental.

We're an accidental art gallery.

We have a patent-pending frame.

We call it two-stick frame, and most importantly,

half our profits goes to something called Bridge2Rwanda,

the scholars program there.

And I spend about a month a year

in Rwanda these days teaching.

And so that's the purpose behind it all.

I'm an electrical engineer by degree out of Auburn.

I felt that my calling in life was to teach,

so I went back and got a master's in mathematics education,

and I was in the high school classroom

for 25 years teaching calculus and physics and robotics.

When I got to the next phase in my life,

I wanted to do things I hadn't done before.

So I wanted to do something for purpose,

to be a platform of influence and a vehicle for good.

I wanted to do something entrepreneurial,

and I wanted to do something that let me be creative.

We started out truly not knowing what we were doing.

The thing that I had going for me

is that I'm a really detail-oriented person,

and I have a good eye. (whimsical guitar music)

And so I knew what I wanted my frames to look like.

For the first, I hate to admit it,

almost year that I was trying to do Chirpwood,

I was mainly experimenting with recipes.

I took every combination of stain, oil.

If you take steel wool and put it in vinegar,

you get a solution that will age wood, things like that.

And I really worked on getting patina.

I would walk in the woods

and look at weathering pieces of wood,

and I would say what makes that have a look

that is an authentic look?

And I decided that it takes at least three colors,

and there's a texture and a lot of different things

that combine to make patina.

We have two types of wood we use.

We have solid native oak, and we have solid native pine.

Once that goes through the molder, we cut miters.

We wire brush if we need to to age the wood.

And that point, we glue it,

put it together with a dovetail system.

And once the glue is dried, we have a sanding table

where we hand-sand every single piece that goes out.

And that's actually more delicate than you might think.

You're sanding it before it's finished.

But sometimes it'll be finish one,

come back to the sanding table.

Finish two, come back to the sanding table.

Most of the things that we sell have

at least three trips to and from.

We used to paint it all by hand.

Turns out that's hard to get much production

if you paint it all by hand.

So we now have a Wendell sprayer,

and we keep our different paints in different Mason jars.

Doing things that aren't cookie-cutter

kind of sets us apart.

I had a company that we love

and that we've done business with for a while.

They asked me to come up with a less expensive way

and easier to transport frame.

And there's a generic term, something called a poster rail.

They have magnets sometimes,

and he asked me

if I would consider making something like that.

I thought why do you need two pieces of wood on top

and two pieces of wood on bottom.

You just need a wood with a groove in it.

And I fiddled around with clips for a little while,

and lo and behold, it worked.

And I thought I can make the same patina,

the same hand-made look

with these, this poster rail system.

Starting a business out of nothing except your ideas,

it's hard.

And every single step of the way, I just don't,

it's amazing that anybody is successful.

Sometimes it seems that way anyway.

And so that's been one of my takeaways,

just when you see somebody who's got

that little, small business,

but they manage to support a family,

just how amazing that is.

- Now we are with Elizabet Elliott

from Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Mobile.

And how are you doing today?

- (sighs) I'm doing, I'm doing all right.

- Tell us a little bit about your organization

during the great before, pre-COVID,

and then how things are now.

- So, before,

before we shut down on March 17th,

we, like pretty much every other museum

and cultural institution in Mobile,

was having what was described as a banner year.

We were doing really great, and we had,

26 different public programs

and events that got canceled pretty much immediately.

The number is probably closer to 40 now,

but that was what we counted up

in the first three weeks of the shutdown.

Aside from sort of crisis management

and sort of the direct buckling down

and cutting every ounce of fat

out of our budget that we could,

one of the things that was really important to us to do

was to figure out how to fulfill our mission

without creating social space.

So we took whatever pennies

that we could scrape together that we were saving

because our utility bill went down.

And we reallocated that to micro-commissions.

And so the bulk of what we've been doing

in the last three months are rolling out programs

that are small commissions

for artists to make responsive work.

We had a big postcard campaign.

We've done yard art projects.

And just, we keep trying to find money

and reasons to cut checks to artists.

- Still I know that you guys are working toward reopening.

Do you guys have a plan?

What's happening?

- To be quite honest,

I don't think we would be opening in June

if it weren't for all of the artists

and curators that we are trying to maintain support of.

So for June, we are doing, I say a soft reopening.

We've cut our hours down

to Thursdays through Saturdays, 11 to five.

We've got an open call for volunteers

that are able-bodied and healthy.

And so for me, as the director of the organization,

it really has to be about choice.

I don't feel like during this time we can ask

or make anybody come to work,

especially given the fact

that front-of-line staff is usually your lowest-paid staff.

And to put them in front of the public

where there's a direct health risk is

amoral. (chuckles)

But because our galleries are massive,

we've got about 16,000 square feet of exhibition space,

it's really easy to social distance in our galleries.

The other thing we're doing

is we're actually waiving admission for the rest of 2020.

Part of that is an acknowledgement of the economic pain

that our entire community is feeling right now.

It's also removal of a point of contact

and a risk for that front-of-line staff

and volunteers that do work the front desk.

- Thank you so much for sharing your time with us

and sharing your vision of the future.

And we will make sure to stay tuned to everything coming up

with Alabama Contemporary Art Center.

- Hey, thanks.

(plaintive guitar music)

- My ancestors came to the Wallace Plantation

right after slavery, or probably the next five years.

And some of my family lived here.

Well, I had an uncle that lived

on the property until the 1970s.

And then I had another cousin that lived here

until around 1990, '91.

It's more common than most people would think.

They were not slaves here.

However, I have friends in the community

and people that have come back for events

whose ancestors were enslaved on this property.

And a lot of them live closely.

- My great-great-grandfather

is the person who founded the house,

and it was built in 1841.

It's been in continuous possession of our family.

The house had been vacant for probably 50 or 60 years.

I rather unexpectedly inherited it,

and so that's when Theo and I began conversation

in earnest about what to do.

- What could the house mean?

Will there be a new purpose for the house?

How can the house help the community?

(plaintive guitar music continues)

- Migratuse Ataraxia's an opportunity

to explore the enslaved existence

of Africans in antebellum plantations.

When we got to these antebellum spaces, plantations,

the house is already performing whiteness.

Docents are talking about the material culture,

the silverware, the China, the drapes, the furniture,

all from Europe. (folksy guitar music)

And there's no acknowledgement of labor

other than they were servants.

And so that really sparked our curiosity.

And we started to pull in a scholar from Bates College.

A visual performance artist, Michaela Pilar Brown,

was working with us.

- And something beautiful happened here too

because we spent so much time talking to the community.

- A number of the items

in the installation are things from this community,

photographs from this community, books from this building,

from this family,

cotton picked in the fields behind this house,

items that resonate with the history of this place.

- And that felt like it was really something

that kind of anchored the project differently.

I mean, we have a set show,

but just depending on how the audience's vibe is,

we work off of that completely.

And so I think they have to be really ready

to just kind of let their guard down,

and it's not gonna be like being

in a theater where you sit back,

and you just visualize the performance.

- It's not just about you watching the performance

but the performance watching you,

the other audience members watching you

watch the performance, you watching everybody.

So everyone is a witness,

and everybody is a part of the performance.

And that can be intimidating for an audience,

so you have to really find how do you engage them

and not push them away,

but engage them and welcome them

to be more participatory in the experience.

And not particularly that we want you to jump out

and dance with us,

but the idea that the emotions that maybe we have are okay.

It's not in essence built

to make anyone feel any particular kind of way,

but it's built to enliven those enslaved Africans' existence

in a concrete way and in an imaginary way

because some aspects of it we don't know.

So we have to imagine what was possibly a part

of their humanity.

- We also had to talk about not just the terrors

of slavery but the humanity of it

and how those people were able to survive.

They loved each other. (gritty, folksy music)

- I think a lot of stories

about enslaved Africans have to do

with their bodies, what happens to the physical body,

but very little about how they live, how they love,

what happens to their spirit in these spaces.

- And we never get that narrative,

that humanized narrative of the enslaved individuals

that they could not have survived unless they had love.

We can all come together

and really see how the elements of slavery

set the foundation of connectivity

and humanity for the survival purposes

in these worlds that we live in

that are very much about erasure.

- Where do black bodies matter?

Do they matter?

And in what spaces do they find sort of,

confidence in their existence?

And so this idea that we needed to make a performance

or make something that reflects the spaces

where we're not seen.

- What does it look to witness someone else's grief?

And how open are you to feeling that grief?

And does that sort of conversation

that allows people to bring their histories together

and share a narrative

as opposed to having two very oppositional narratives.

- For me, I'm originally from Alabama.

This is a homecoming of sort for my company, our company.

We've been sort of exploring Southern life

and sort of black existence in the South

for the last 15 years and making work about it.

Southern life and Southern existence

is legitimately a part of the American landscape.

The Civil War that happened, it fractured our nation,

but it is called the United States.

We're still one nation.

- This piece has elements of reaching back to reach forward

because we still deal with elements of plantocracy

in our contemporary existence.

- One night, they pull audience members to sit down.

Of course, the dancers,

the dancers, they know who the audience members were.

They pulled Nell.

Nell sat.

Then they pulled one of my relatives

who had never been here.

They had her stand.

And then they pulled a descendant

of one that enslaved people to sit.

So Nell was on one side of the table.

The descendant of one of the sharecroppers

was on the other side,

and the descendant of the, and slave.

They didn't know how powerful that was to me.

But they had brought all of them to the table,

and that brought tears to my eyes.

- Well, it was a truly emotional moment for me.

You know, from the first moment when they were beginning

with the music and the rehearsals

to have music come into the house again

because it had been vacant for so long.

And it had no life for so long that this was a beginning.

And then bringing the embodiment

of black presence to the house, which it had never had.

I mean, it actually, of course, had had,

the house was built by enslaved people,

and people worked in it for many years.

But that had never been acknowledged in the narrative.

And so what we're trying to do in Klein Arts and Culture

is to change that narrative

and to make it a truly shared narrative

and shift it through what we do.

And there couldn't have been anything better

than Migratuse to have done that.

- I think it is incorporating the total story.

It means a lot for healing,

for conversations.

- And preservation with a purpose means for us

that it's not enough just to restore the house.

It's not enough just for it to be

on the Alabama Historic Registry,

which it's been on since the 1950s, I think.

We aren't restoring the house.

We're stabilizing it and leaving it as it was

in the early 20th century.

So it's never gonna have, you know, the creature comforts.

And we want it to be raw,

and we want it to show sort of how things were.

This is about the patina as you can see walls behind here.

It's about the patina of the walls,

and the last layer is wallpaper that was put in in the '50s.

And then it goes all the way back to the original plaster.

So we want it always to be seen as,

you can see there were layers of history,

and there are layers of meaning in this house.

And we're adding, I guess, a new layer of meaning

by the work that we're doing here.

- The Wallace House Klein

is one of the landmarks in Harpersville.

And so everybody talks about the house.

- And there's something really important to me

about doing it in a rural setting,

that you can have this interdisciplinary arts experience

that's fully engaged,

and it doesn't have to be in a city.

It can be right here in the community.

- You know, and we are gonna change the narrative.

We can change what we have as our small sphere,

and that's what we're working on.


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