PHOTOS: Courtesy of KMAC Museum



Poems for Every Occasion


Poems for Every Occasion at KMAC Museum, comprised of works by interdisciplinary artist Jibade-Khalil Huffman, offers a unique visual landscape. TV screens that function as digital canvases are displayed side-by-side with collages and inkjet prints on canvas. Sound from another work drifts across the entire space, creating a blended visual and auditory experience. The exhibition possesses an energy that is infectious; maybe it’s the sound or moving digital work throughout the gallery. Either way, this exhibition challenges viewers to re-familiarize themselves with image and text and solidifies digital art’s presence next to traditional modes of presentation. Works in different media are placed in conversation with each other, prompting viewers to consider how they interpret and engage with this juxtaposition of materials.

Huffman’s archival inkjet collages are a chaotic layering of everyday objects rendered indecipherable amongst the colliding patterns and colors. Within these works, pop culture references and forms of mass communication are prevalent. Untitled (baggage) (2016) is at first glance astoundingly colorful and, upon closer observation, imagery of urban life emerges. The interior and exterior of a house is densely layered with organic shapes that mimic leaves and foliage. Human figures are noticeable throughout the collage, but seem to flow in and out of other layers. If places become repositories of human experiences, both positive and negative, the subtitle Baggage may refer to the myriad of memories and experiences that become embedded within the spaces we exist. The multiple layers of imagery seems to suggest weight given to a place, affecting how things are seen and remembered.

Poems for Every Occasion (2018) embodies Huffman’s artistic practice of piecing together various videos, recordings, and imagery. The title of the work is derived from a program by the Academy of Poets that delivers daily poems to email subscribers. The accompanying didactic text offers more insight, “…here Huffman stitches together affirmative visual poems that venerate Black lives,” it continues, “His cinematic scenes and evocative situations combined with abstract references to the lives of certain artists, actors, and activists help give context to the black experience with a critique of American cultural history.”

Before the start of each visual poem, an intertitle is presented in bold white lettering against a black background with complete silence. What follows is the unpredictable layering of sound and imagery that is both dynamic and jarring. The titles of each poem are objective and descriptive, such as Poem for Going to Sleep Angry and Poem for Net Neutrality. For a moment, the viewer can try to predict what comes next, but by the time one discerns the combination of image and sound and its possible connection to the poem title, that section is over and another intertitle introduces the next video poem. More significant than finding the connection between the title and the visual poem is recognizing what elements elicit personal reaction and stir memories. In a culture where images are often explanatory and objectively representative, Poems For Every Occasion departs from that familiarity by abstracting sound and image. In this way, it explores how image and sound have the ability to construct expectations and stereotypes of people, cultures, and places. Huffman’s abstraction of these media forms provides the space for viewers to recognize and acknowledge their own expectations for each visual poem. By experiencing that moment of disconnect, viewers are encouraged to reexamine their daily interactions with media.

The Pterodactyls (2015) and YOU, or, RGB, or ‘The Color Purple’ (2016) function similarly to Poems for Every Occasion: two TV screens on adjacent walls blare fast-moving imagery, sound, and music, almost seeming to compete with one another. One shows scenes and advertisements from recognizable movies, such as Ghostbusters, and the other displaying large text over changing images. Most of the imagery is easily recognizable, such as people walking on the sidewalk in urban spaces, but a digital effect creates colorful, constantly shifting halos around the figures as if the viewer were watching a 3D film without the appropriate eyewear. Text fills up the entire screen, making it difficult to clearly view the underlying images; letters cut images in half or thirds, creating a stark break in the composition. Linking the two otherwise separate works, a projection encompasses both walls on which the screens are hung and projects changing colors in addition to silhouettes of swirling, falling leaves. The resulting installation creates a barrage of visual stimuli, seeming to mimic our daily interactions with technology, advertising, and media. Attention toward either screen depends on what one does and doesn’t recognize in the imagery. Utilizing intentionally ambiguous visual content, this artwork examines the amount of media we are expected to interpret, read, and consume on a daily basis.

At the back of the gallery, an older model television from the 1980s or ’90s faces the wall, a looped video changing between the colors blue, green, and red. Despite the screen being obstructed from view, flashes of these colors can be seen through the small space between the television screen and the wall. The didactic text reads, “The gesture is intended to evoke a kind of punishment, either for a young child or the television itself.” Untitled (Darkwing Duck S.1 E.1) (2018) calls upon the ongoing balance of engaging with technology, and “taking a time out” from the constant connectedness phones and other avenues of instant communication provide. The older model television embodies the various forms of technology that exist in our lives and as a visual reminder of how far it has come. Facing the television screen towards the wall echoes society placing blame on technology for being distracting and addictive, yet that it should somehow remedy itself. The emitting blue, green, and red light is intended to be enticing, evocative of society’s feeble strategies of monitoring screen time. While we attempt to “punish” technology, we willingly give it more time and place within our lives.

Poems for Every Occasion dismantles the notion of image and sound seamlessly flowing together. Huffman’s collection of images and sound bites are relatable and relevant, drawing upon the current oversaturation of media and drastically rearranging and abstracting it. In this way, Poems for Every Occasion encourages viewers to encounter screens, not as sources of direct information that has become synonymous with phones and computers, but as sources of exploration, questioning, and contemplation.

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Poems for Every Occasion is on display at KMAC Museum through December 2.

KMAC Museum is located at 715 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202 and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and Sunday from 10am-5pm.

Notes:

Alexis Doerr, Guest Contributor to Ruckus
11.11.18
Pictured Above: Poems for Every Occasion (2018), single channel video, color, sound.

Untitled (baggage) (2016), archival inkjet print


Installation.



Untitled (Darkwing Duck S.1 E.1) (2018), single channel video, color, silent.


Installation.


Installation.

RUCKUS, Louisville, KY 2018