This conversation took place between Keenan Bennett and Philadelphia-based artists Richard Hogan, Doah Lee, Sarah Legow, and Heather Raquel Phillips, on the occasion of their group exhibit EchoLocation at Grizzly Grizzly Gallery, February 2016.
EchoLocation is the second group exhibition of the Incubation Series, a collaboration between Art History and Fine Arts graduate programs at University of Pennsylvania. Incubation Series was co-founded by Keenan Bennett and Kirsten Gill and curated by Haely Chang, Kirsten Gill, and Hilary Whitham.
Keenan: The curators for EchoLocation have put together a rigorous statement describing the concept of the show that brings all of your works together. I want to take this opportunity, in conversation with you all now, to learn more about how you all see your work intersecting with the themes of the exhibition.
Heather: I couldn’t envision this show prior to seeing the artists’ work together. I thought the conversation that happened among the pieces created a dialogue that became compelling.
KB: I agree. Are there any dialogues between certain works that were especially unexpected?
Sarah: This is interesting, all of us artists are part of the MFA program at Penn and if you’d asked me whose work in the program mine is most related to, I might have answered very differently. But there were visual echoes between mine and Richard’s work that I wouldn’t have predicted until I saw them side by side.
Richard: [Nodding head] Sarah’s reliance on text in this particular show, the way it’s placed so near two of my images, sort of insists on a beginning space to consider my images. The way Sarah inserted the text near my work, you can’t look at the text and not see my photographs, and you can’t look at my photographs and not see Sarah’s text, and it creates this automatic positioning to guide you through building meaning through each of them, and I couldn’t have anticipated it but it works so well.
Richard Hogan, Untitled (Fruit of the Loom), Archival Inkjet Print, 30″ x 40″
Sarah Legow, Site specific installation, 2016
KB: How about you, Doah, what pieces do you see your paintings in dialogue with?
DL: Heather’s banners are really interesting. Before you enter the space and you look through the door, you see Heather’s banners and you see my large painting, Present/Absent, and they harmonize in a way. The colors of the banners are saturated and red; they call to our eyes. And the “FUCK” — you see it and it goes right to your brain — and then you see my painting. I like that scaffolding, that of seeing Heather’s work and then seeing my work. Our attitudes are different, but we are both dealing with the world, and this is what’s great about the group show.
Doah Lee, Present Absence, 2015, Mixed media on cotton fabric, 60″ x 105″
KB: I’m glad you dropped the f-word, Doah. The word comes up several times in the show. Heather or Sarah, do either of you want to discuss how fuck operates in your work or the show generally?
HRP: I want to quote Sarah’s piece, “language reduced to a binary of silence and the word fuck.” I think that for me, it’s a distancing tactic. It works the same way in Sarah’s work in how fuck ends the conversation. But there is also a bubble that gets created that the artist stands in, like in the artist’s own entity.
KB: The venue for each of the shows in the Incubation Series is always different. Is there anything you all want to say about the Grizzly Grizzly space in particular?
SL: I like being forced to work improvisationally in unusual conditions, so Grizzly Grizzly was right up my alley. Corners and columns and odd little nooks always seem to me like opportunities. My work is small, too, so I didn’t feel any constraint.
HRP: That work [I showed] in particular, I really like the small space. I think it pronounces the character a little more. What I’m saying with Pom Pom is maybe not relatable to the greater mass of people. Maybe she’s small-time in a way that non-normative figures can’t be big-time. The artists and entertainers I’ve been friends with over the years have taught me the importance of the small-timeness of certain bodies, because they can never be read as a majority. It’s a queer body, a queer figure, doing their own thing. If the work were in a larger space, there’s a good chance the marginal figure might shrink away. And she’s meant to feel big, but in the area that she is big.
RH: The size of Grizzly Grizzly also makes a linear reading of all the works impossible. There becomes a physical presence to them. You feel them all around you. Conceptually, it’s hard to ignore the relationship when they are literally facing each other in such short distance.
DL: Yes! I like how all the works are facing each other in the space. Both of my paintings sort of are a response to society and I liked them facing and watching each other. The viewer is also implicated in the facing works. When you come in, you are looking at a painting, the painting behind you is watching you. And you can turn around and look at the opposite painting, and the first one is watching you. The gaze ricochets. Everyone, my paintings and the viewers, they are all watching each other. I think it’s really interesting, the direct physical response.
KB: The curatorial statement is complex and we haven’t talked about it much yet. Do any of you feel as though the concept for the show reverberated especially with your work or issues you are thinking about in your studios?
SL: My work might be the most literal of the group in reflecting some of the content from the curatorial statement, since I’ve used actual mirrors in two places. So I’ve brought visual reflections as well as verbal ones — the repeated references to ambiguous “you” and “I” characters in my text, and then all those “fucks” too.
Sarah Legow installation reflecting Heather Raquel Phillips’ BullSh*t
DL: I feel like my work is a lot about self-identification and analyzing who I am. Self-identification is different than identity. How you see matters; it is key. Through observing the world, I come to know myself. The way / how I am looking.
RH: Mimesis is central to my photographic process. When we see a photo of something, we are automatically reminded at once of its presence in the image and its physical absence. A lot of people approach photography as a representation of something that exists out in the world, for better or for worse, so I’m interested in the tension between presence / absence.
KB: Thank you all for joining me today in conversation. I’m glad we had the chance to unpack some of the issues addressed in your works and in EchoLocation. I have to agree with what Heather mentioned earlier, that I would have never envisioned a show comprised of the four of you all. After seeing your works in Grizzly Grizzly and speaking with you all today, however, the curators’ choice to bring you all together becomes clear. Thank you all again.
RH: Thank you and thanks to the curators and Grizzly Grizzly as well.
DL: The show came together very well. Thank you, Keenan.
HRP: Yes, the show is super successful, I think. Thank you.
SL: Thanks. And thank you to Grizzly Grizzly.