Several artists spoke about their work in a panel about “ICONICITY,” a contemporary art exhibition featuring nine international artists and groups such as American Artist, Dread Scott and Jenny Polak, at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at the Staller Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Their work ranges from historical and religious iconography to present day digital mainstream and internet vernacular. The gallery, curated by Munich-based curator and artist Gretta Louw, shows art in different mediums such as video, software art, textile art, net art and digital prints.
American Artist, an interdisciplinary artist who had a legal name change, has artworks on topics ranging from black radicalism to network virtual life and the historical dynamics of contemporary culture.
“American Artist’s legal name change serves as the basis of an ambivalent practice — one of declaration: by insisting on the visibility of blackness as descriptive of an American artist, and erasure: anonymity in virtual spaces where ‘American Artist’ is an anonymous name, unable to be googled or validated by a computer as a person’s name,” according to American Artist’s website.
The focal point of the gallery revolves around the current trends of digital technology. “No State,” a photograph depicting an abundance of broken iPhones lined up in rows, highlights this theme. All of the iPhones are black and the backdrop they lie on is grey, showing the contrast between the two.
“I tried to think about things that are slow, broken and not meant to be used and the value of that in our society,” American Artist said.
Dread Scott, is an American artist whose work depicts the many experiences of African-Americans living in the contemporary United States. His work has even been included in exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Scott showcased one of his most famous and controversial photomontages called, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” The montage includes pictures of Korean students burning U.S. flags, holding signs reading, “Yankee go home son of a bitch,” as well as coffins draped with flags in a troop transport. It is an interactive piece where the audience had to stand on the flag and write their thoughts on how to properly display the flag. It became quite a controversy, in fact, big enough to get President George H.W. Bush’s attention, as he declared it to be “disgraceful” and the entire U.S. Congress denounced Scott’s work.
“When I found out the U.S. President didn’t like my work, I was like, okay, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,” Scott said.
Originally from England, Polak’s art draws on her background in architecture and includes public and socially engaged projects. An example of one of her interactive pieces is her most acclaimed, “Mobile Speakers’ Podium.” Only 8 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet, this small podium is half suburban house and half prison fence. The two sides rely on one another — one side calls upon the needed voices and the continual presence of the incarcerated. The other side represents people who aren’t incarcerated in the United States, which locks up almost two million people.
“It was a way of opening up walls for people who were hidden away and places that were hidden away,” Polak said. “I thought a lot about how we find these boundaries and borders in our everyday life.”
Transdisciplinary artist Stephanie Dinkins creates platforms for dialogue about artificial intelligence (AI) as it converges race, gender and future histories. During her discussion with the audience, Dinkins mainly discussed her work with AI technology. The piece, “Not the Only One,” takes multigenerational stories of a black American family and transforms them into an AI voice that recites the story back.
“It’s goofy and weird,” Dinkins said. “One thing I’m trying to do is not compete with big tech companies.”
With a great turnout, this presentation truly exemplified creativity beyond the norms. There are also other artists featured in the exhibition “ICONICITY” but the exhibition wrapped on Feb. 23.
“It was nice to see their creative concepts,” Jessica O’Neil, a senior sociology major, said. “I think they had a strong message to send.”