Power Failure, artist Rich Gere’s solo exhibition at Kibbee Gallery through May 31, is at first glance an organized collection of detritus and old stuff culled from dad’s workshop. Dominated by an assortment of old flashlights, there are also rough-hewn wood boxes sporting saw-handle protrusions, copper pipes spouting off in higgledy-piggledy fashion and flashing lights wrapped and bound in submissive rigidity by twine and wire. What is one man’s junk is often an artist’s treasure.
Gere touches on the theme of power through politics, environmentalism and nostalgia in sculptural works, an audio component and through interactive lights and buttons viewers can control. There are also lush, colorful prints.
Power Failure is a show that reaches out to a viewer’s senses through touch, visual and auditory components.
This is Rich Gere’s last exhibition as an Atlantan. He has accepted the appointment of professor and chair of the Department of Art in the School of Arts, Media and Communication at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. Rich and his wife, Atlanta artist Dayna Thacker, are moving to the Gulf Coast this summer.
Gere discusses how growing up on a farm influenced his choice of materials and the use of those materials in the concept behind this exhibition in a recent interview.
ArtsATL: Did your upbringing include someone who was in the fields of construction or electrical? A dad, grandpa?
Rich Gere: Dad was one of the original nutty professors. He repaired everything and was also a university professor. My parents were academics and scholars, but we lived on a farm because Mom wanted us to grow up as she did. My siblings and I were constantly repairing things without the actual parts that were necessary. We cobbled things together and that’s how we learned our version of engineering. It was a very creative, problem-solving experience. Later in life when I was a contractor on an airbase out West I was trained in electrical, plumbing and HVAC.
ArtsATL: Do you collect things other than lights and flashlights, etc.? If so, what? Are you an “artist hoarder”?
Gere: Yes, that’s a great term. I am an artist hoarder. My wife, Dayna, and I travel the U.S. 127 World’s Longest Yard Sale every year. It’s an amazing experience. I mostly look for boxes of electrical junk. I call them boxes of creative possibilities.
ArtsATL: Who is featured in the audio clips you chose for this exhibition? What is the relationship to the exhibition? Is it about another form of power?
Gere: One side is the White House tapes of JFK and RFK, at the time the most powerful people in the free world talking to the governor of Mississippi during the James Meredith standoff. On the other side is a Charlie Patton 1929 recording. He was a Delta blues musician from Mississippi who was not allowed to record in some studios in the South due to his race . . . at the time, he was arguably one of the least powerful people in the country. There are moments when each sound box displays both men flexing their own personal power and thus also moments of equality. The exploration of individual power is based on ideas of interaction. Societally it becomes a much broader issue of literally powering our needs and the balance of obtaining this power with a responsible stewardship of the planet.
ArtsATL: What is the process of making your prints?
Gere: Most of them are cyanotypes. It is an old alternative photo process in which the images are exposed in the sun and developed in water. They are about making plans, following plans, reworking plans and our exposure to the elements. They also have a great blueprint feel.
ArtsATL: Do you think of your work as “guy stuff”?
Gere: That term has been used to describe my work, though upon reflection, most of the women in my life — my wife, sister, close friends and colleagues — are far handier around the shop than most of the men I know.
ArtsATL: Expand on tying/binding, etc. Are we “bound” to our forms of power, i.e. oil, electricity? If so, how do those bind us?
Gere: Absolutely. We are tethered to our devices and the need to keep them powered. There are no parts of our modern culture left that are apart from this need.
A lot of things broke on the farm, and being little kids we didn’t have the opportunity to do “real” repairs to things like electrical and plumbing, so we would repair stuff — especially the fences. We would take a big handful of baling twine, head to the woods, cut new fence rails and bind them together like that. Lashing and twining are meditative moments and not a negative thing but meditations on positive experiences — cocoons, solid, an aesthetic element. It is my aesthetic on joinery. On some pieces it means different things, and some interpretations are more important on different pieces than others.
ArtsATL: Does the environment impact your work?
Gere: There is an environmental theme behind all of my works. There is a water theme in the plumbing piece. That piece is meant to be out in a stream and anyone happening by it sees the flashing lights — like nature has a warning system . . . to take better care of it.