ABOVE: Caldwell Street Houses by Randy Webber
Perspectives of Home: An Exhibition of Social PracticeReview
In a moment increasingly defined by displacement and migration, the idea of “home” as a fixed, physical destination is an oversimplification. As more people face housing insecurity, political instability, and climate-related disasters, how can we hold onto our physical sense of home as it is taken away or made inhospitable? As we individually grapple with questions of identity and trauma, is there home to be found within the body in the pursuit of healing and self-actualization? As technology develops ever more rapidly, will the impending obsolescence of our devices mean the dissolution of our memories of home? In Louisville, nearly all of us have been touched by these issues directly or by association. 1619 Flux’s latest exhibition, Perspectives of Home: An Exhibition of Social Practice, casts a wide net and creates a rich visual experience with a broad range of local interpretations of home as a concept.
There’s a lot of work to view, and the disciplines represented are diverse, creating an immersive visual experience. Large-scale installations hang alongside small wall-mounted collages and paintings, showcasing work at a variety of scales. The exhibiting artists include professors, professionals, students, and amateurs of nearly all ages--and, refreshingly, it is not readily apparent to me who is who, which leads to a feeling of well-roundedness in the exhibition.
Bradlee Hertrick’s Construct/Collapse successfully straddles a conceptual line between the intimately personal and understatedly professional. The pair of booklets have the hand-crafted, homemade intrigue of a zine with the feel of a professionally printed book, similar in size to small magazines but about a quarter inch thick and printed entirely in grayscale. Throughout the works, the black-and-white pages are imbued with a vaguely chaotic energy: scene after scene of collaged black and white photographs and scraps, frantically scratched, torn, and scribbled upon flicker across each page. The personal effects of the artist lay sliced and pasted among black scrawl, indiscernible from the commercial reproductions of landscape photos, diagrams, and blank pages. The sheer volume of unique pages in each individually crafted and hand-torn book creates a sense of experiential magnitude, but paradoxically without narrative or evident purpose. The artist describes the work as being symbolic of the work he’s done to interrogate his own identity in an effort to find home within himself, and the execution of these books is reminiscent of that laborious internal work.
A pair of photographs by Randy Webber, Caldwell Street Houses and Gloria with Photo of Former Home, connect Louisville to the show’s theme most directly. In one image, two homes are surrounded by lush greenery, blue sky, fences, and summer sun. The home on the left is a quintessential camelback shotgun house with an invitingly open gate and verdant shrubs out front, while the home on the right is totally overtaken by ivy. The image is reminiscent of something seen on a real estate listing framed by words like “potential” and “investment”: shot in full sunlight and void of distinguishing characteristics or people to populate the space. In the next image, an elderly Black woman holds the same image in her hands, facing the camera with a subtle smile. The title of the second work informs us that this is Gloria with a photo of her former home, and although the viewer isn’t able to tell which home is hers, the word “former” imbues a sense of displacement. Caldwell Street runs East to West between Louisville’s rapidly gentrifying Germantown and Smoketown neighborhoods, which invites the question: how has Gloria’s home had been taken from her, and what can we as viewers in an activist-oriented space do to intervene in the future? Webber presents a subtle, but effective call to action.
Tiffany Carbonneau’s Before and After series is a final standout in Perspectives of Home. The photo sequence touches on a nostalgic sense of how ephemeral ties to home can be. Each work is presented in a long, horizontal set of square photo stills displayed in pairs. The visual is striking: they command a wide swath of wall space, but the photos themselves are roughly the size of a standard Polaroid, surrounded by thick white frames and matboard, imbuing a sense of archival importance to each. As the viewer moves closer to examine the images, the pairs reveal subtle differences in a vintage face or figure. Carbonneau reveals in her artist statement that her source images are stills from anonymous family videos shot on film, bought second-hand from various stores around the country, with each photo selected on either side of the subject’s realization that they’re being filmed. These images seem to inhabit an unreachable home space in the past, at one time physical relics of an interpersonal connection worth documenting on film, now fodder for anyone to pick up at an antique store. Before and After is a melancholy glance at physical effects left over from lives once lived and long since gone.
Creating an accessible space for non-artists tends to be a theoretical goal of many art spaces, but one that is seldom executed with much working knowledge of what that goal means in practice. Even well-intentioned nontraditional art spaces can reinforce the exclusionary status quo if they fail to incorporate the community’s needs and desires at their foundation. In the beginning, 1619 Flux received feedback describing a sense of alienation felt between the venue and the surrounding neighborhood. It seemed that with its valet parking, then all-white staff, and distinctive modernist aesthetic, in spite of its inclusive mission statement, the space was not designed with them in mind.
In the three years since their grand opening, it feels like 1619 Flux has moved in the right direction in response to this criticism. The space is host to a robust series of community programming with a variety of justice-oriented organizations and social events from training to talks. There is an intentional juxtaposition of professional artists with artists from marginalized and non-artistic backgrounds. I was surprised when Art and Operations Director for Flux, Michael Kopp, explained that Flux tries to accommodate anyone who wants to participate in their shows. Additionally, they publish whatever information artists want to provide about their work alongside it, eschewing uniformity for what individual contributors found relevant to share, which is especially important in the context of Perspectives of Home. Submitting art in a public space is self-selecting, but there is a feeling of well-roundedness within what’s represented in the space in this particular show.
1619 Flux doesn’t wish to be seen as a gallery—so what is it? In a previous interview with Ruckus, 1619 Flux’s Art and Community Outreach Coordinator Gwendolyn Kelly said: “one of the things we knew we could do was to provide a space and opportunity for people to get together.” This response addresses the fundamental question of how to create a community art space that connects the power of artistic expression and non-artist constituencies. It’s crucial to relinquish control and let those who need the space steer the course. 1619 Flux is an art space where much important non-art-related work is done, which feels satisfying. Perspectives of Home provides an exciting moment for viewers to encounter impressive work without the pretext of everyone being a “professional,” and as demonstrated by the extensive programming supported by 1619 Flux, there are many opportunities for non-art people to see the exhibition. Engaging with artwork is an active, voluntary choice in a space that is continually working to become an asset to the community.
Perspectives of Home: An Exhibition of Social Practice is on view at 1619 Flux Art + Activism through August 24. 1619 Flux is located at 1619 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40203 and open Saturdays from 11am-3pm.
1619 Flux will host a number of programs that coincide with Perspectives of Home. Upcoming events include “Thursday Night Happening: Home and the Dance Floor” with Rhythm Science Sound on July 11 and "Art Historian Talk: 'Peripheral Modernity' and the Caribbean Diaspora" with Mariah Morales on July 20. To view to full schedule, visit https://www.1619flux.org/exhibitions
Contributor for Ruckus
Gloria with Photo of Former Home by Randy Webber.
Before and After series by Tiffany Carbonneau