“Showing, thinking,” at Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery through March 8, illuminates the personal nature of the creative process. The second of its kind, the exhibition calls upon faculty members to explicate their processes through writing and art objects made within the past 15 years. The resulting displays are deeply personal. They reveal the ways experiences can inform one’s practice and, conversely, how practice can trickle into everyday life. For anyone familiar with the struggles of art-making, writing or scholarly research, this show is an invigorating celebration of the trials of creative work.
The first exhibition on this theme, “An Education in Process” last spring, highlighted art historians and artists from Agnes Scott’s Department of Art and Art History. The second incarnation features artists and scholars from a variety of disciplines, including classics, mathematics, German and film studies. For some, their process translates easily into visual work; others open a window into their homes, allowing viewers a glimpse into their private lives.
The American Mathematical Society’s annual call for artwork gave Professor Larry Riddle the inspiration to take up cross-stitch. Riddle studies fractals, geometric figures or curves for which each part is a smaller copy of the whole, and had previously developed a computer program for creating and visualizing these shapes. His background translates seamlessly into needlepoint.
“Needlecraft is very similar to working on math,” says Riddle. “[The goal of both] is symmetry.”
His submission to the AMS earned him the position of “Mr. November” in its yearly calendar. His designs are an intriguing rethinking of mathematical models and give the restless mathematician something to do while watching television. For Riddle, as with many creative types, the mind continues working during leisure time.
Kirk Visiting Artist Jiha Moon opens her mind and home to gallery-goers in her part of the exhibition. It includes several trademark Moon paintings: tumultuous landscapes combining cartoon and advertising imagery, religious iconography and art references from Asian and Western cultures. But the real lynchpin is her installation, “Souvenir Valise.”
Here Moon has painted directly on the wall, creating a version of her Korean fan-shaped paintings. Though relatively simple compared with her works on paper, which typically feature several layers of painting and collage, it contains many of the same symbols, such as ripe peaches, an Asian-style dragon and the Twitter logo.
A shelf bisects the piece; below it Moon has taped a selection of computer printouts, food wrappers and other papers bearing iconography. The shelf itself holds a plethora of figurines from the artist’s vast collection. A Yayoi Kusama keychain mingles with McDonald’s toys, hacky sacks and ceramic dolls from a variety of cultures. The abundance of imagery reveals the complicated bundle of symbols that many of us overlook but that Moon absorbs and responds to.
Moon has done similar installations before, and although she doesn’t consider herself a muralist or installation artist, she says she enjoys doing these sometimes. “I find it helpful for the viewers to get connected better and spend more time with my paintings,” she explains. “It is quirky and awkward, but that’s [why] I love it so much.”
The combination of bric-a-brac is seemingly whimsical but offers a critical assessment of the imagery that bombards our senses, and it delineates the heritage and evolution of these symbols. Through Moon’s eyes, we are reminded that these items are actually signifiers; each innocuous item is a subject worthy of visual analysis.
There is a refreshing lack of art-world pretension in “showing, thinking.” Distinctions between fine art and craft are unimportant to Riddle. Yet the exhibition goes further, making political statements about female roles. Classics Professor Megan Drinkwater includes her KitchenAid stand mixer and large photographs of her kitchen and laundry room as part of her installation, with a desk in between. These places are not just sites of domestic work; they are sites of reflection, in which she ruminates on scholarly ideas while kneading bread or folding laundry. Her celebration of household tasks is a bold one for academia, or art for that matter, both professions in which the presence and success of women still lags behind that of men.
During a panel discussion for the exhibition, Drinkwater made the offhand statement that she believes having a child made her a better scholar, because the diminished time she has for research makes her focus all the harder. That casual statement floored me. As a woman familiar with the pressures that academia and art place on women, Drinkwater’s unabashed portrayal of her home life as seamless with her professional life feels revolutionary.
“Showing, thinking” celebrates the unglamorous sides of creative work and validates the other aspects of life that nourish the mind and help foster a practice. This is a rare exhibition that will energize artists and scholars of any gender, discipline or medium.