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.
(gentle, mysterious music)
(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.
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,
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,
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?
- 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
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.
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,
- 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.