FREE SPEECH: Beauty from Chaos

By on November 22, 2016

How the creative process helps people to move forward.

Caption: A still from Yeon Jin Kim’s video “Spaceship Grocery Store” (left) and a section of an untitled painting by Alissa Davies (right).

Caption: A still from Yeon Jin Kim’s video “Spaceship Grocery Store” (left) and a section of an untitled painting by Alissa Davies (right).

JACKSON HOLE, WY – In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, which many fear will result in a curtailing of our rights and freedoms, a quote from the great novelist and intellectual Toni Morrison has been making the rounds on social media.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work,” Morrison wrote in a March 2015 article for The Nation. “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

As the world continues to make sense of a Trump presidency, The Planet intends to scour the valley in the name of creative expression and free speech. We want to talk with artists and other creative people about the realm of imagination, which is so vital to a free society. For this week’s Free Speech column, we spoke with two visual artists about the importance of dis-location, of getting outside of one’s home turf and practicing art in unfamiliar territory.

Yeon Jin Kim is a visiting artist who has been in residency at Teton Artlab for the month of November.

Kim is originally from Korea, but now lives in New York City. She immigrated to the U.S. 10 years ago. She is a multimedia artist, focused primarily on making videos featuring tiny diorama sets she makes in intricate detail. Based on dreams and imaginings, Kim’s videos turn domestic scenes into surreal happenings. Her work takes the viewer inside the artist’s imagination where anything is possible.

For instance, in her video Zoonomia, a deer uses its mouth to drag what looks to be a dead carcass of a fawn through a lush forest of vines and plant life.

In another video, Spaceship Grocery Store, robotic aliens wreak havoc in a grocery store.

“Many of my video works assume a breakdown of the natural order but also show wildly proliferating new growth from unexpected sources,” Kim writes in her artist statement.

Kim has been in residence at the Artlab since November 1. The presidential election hit her hard. “I’ve been depressed,” she said. As an immigrant who holds a U.S. green card, she is safe from Trump’s promised deportations; however, she had been considering obtaining U.S. citizenship. Now those plans are off.

“I have felt so welcome to this country, which has meant a lot to me,” she said. “But the past year or two I have felt more alienated and I don’t know why.”

For Kim, making art is a way of exploring her unconscious. She is using her time at the Artlab to work on a monster movie. The movie will feature a set modeled after the Artlab apartment for visiting resident artists. It will also feature a monster that emerges from a colorful Yellowstone caldera and flies through the air to Jackson, slips in the window of Kim’s apartment and eats her.

“It occurred to me I could make my monster orange,” Kim said, laughing, referring to the president-elect’s skin color.

“I want my monster to take a human form,” she continued. “Because we are monsters ourselves. We see it in this election, this repressed racism and sexism exploding. We repress our bad nature, but then it just pops out.”

Kim says her work is not overtly political. She takes inspiration from the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell. In it, the protagonist Winston Smith is mesmerized by art and architecture, which inspire him to try and escape the watchful presence of Big Brother.

“That’s why dictators repress art,” Kim said. “They know the power of beauty and art.”

For Jackson artist Alissa Davies, a recent intuitive painting workshop by Flora Bowley in Portland, Ore., provided an opportunity to tap into the process of creating beauty. Davies has shown her work widely in Jackson; an exhibit of her work is currently in the St. John’s Medical Center professional offices building.

“I tried to be as open as possible and not have expectations,” Davies said. “My process mirrored what was happening at the workshop and the beauty that can come from being vulnerable. If you keep being open and present, you just get to the other side and you’ve learned so much more by staying with the discomfort.”

Davies said the goal of the workshop wasn’t necessarily to finish a set number of paintings so much as to tap into the process of art-making itself. “It was so special to have this experience right before the election,” she said. “I feel hopeful that artists can make a difference by sharing our stories in nonverbal ways. I think art can start dialogue.”

As someone who has studied art therapy and life coaching, Davies says she intends to share the creative process with others “as a way to heal and to access our inner worlds.”

What artists like Davies and Kim exemplify is that the creative process can be both healing and generative. Their creative processes point to the fact that humans need not stay stuck in despair and troubled emotions. In her article in The Nation, Toni Morrison concluded: “I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

Teton Artlab hosts an open studio and artist talk by Yeon Jin Kim from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 29. PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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