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Where Do We Go From Here? Transforming Detritus into Works of Art

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BmoreArt’s Picks: February 21-27

When future generations attempt to understand our present reality, the stuff we surround ourselves with will stand as hard evidence, explaining who we are and what we value. A high percentage of the objects we come into contact with on a daily basis ends up in the garbage, not just saturating landfills, but littering our streets and urban surroundings, and finding its way into natural landscapes and water systems.

After featuring their work in our Issue 13 print journal, centered around the idea of collecting, we selected two contemporary Baltimore-based artists whose work centers around the collection and repurposing of detritus for an exhibition at our small workspace and gallery on Charles Street. In Post-Consumption Benediction, Jordan Tierney and Adam Stab exhibit beautiful multi-media works made from materials harvested from Baltimore’s streets and streams, which offer a critique of our current throwaway culture and envision a better future.

In conjunction with the exhibit, which is up through March 22, we decided to host a series of small, salon-style talks in the gallery. On Thursday, February 16, we hosted our first, in collaboration with the Ecological Design Collective, a community for radical ecological imagination and collaborative practice for/amongst researchers, designers, activists, artists, and others to conceive and develop alternative futures. In addition to exhibiting artists Adam Stab and Jordan Tierney, this conversation included collective members Lee Davis and Anand Pandian. Davis is a designer and the Co-Director of the Center for Social Design at MICA and Pandian is an anthropologist, author, and a JHU professor.

The event was invite-only but free for BmoreArt subscribers, sponsors, and special guests, but we wanted to make this conversation available to all BmoreArt readers. We hope that all those inspired by this discussion will visit the gallery, attend our subsequent events, and become subscribers to BmoreArt’s print journals.

The archived text from BmoreArt C+C Salon: Post-Consumption Benediction, including artists Jordan Tierney and Adam Stab, with guest speakers Lee Davis and Anand Pandian, Ecological Design Collective, has been edited for clarity. The video features an 18-minute segment of the talk, shot and edited by Taja Copeland.

 

Adam Stab, "Love in a Hopeless Place," 2022, Sneakers and mirrors
Adam Stab, "Caffeine Clutches," 2022, Mixed media
Jeffrey Kent
Cara Ober

Jeffrey Kent: Hello everyone. My name is Jeffrey Kent. I’m a Baltimore-based artist and co-founder of Connect and Collect, which is an initiative that Cara Ober and I put together. This gallery is one of the strategies that we use to connect collectors and artists and build non-transactional relationships. So even though we want transactions to happen, it’s not necessarily about that. 

We want to get collectors and artists used to being together and not thinking about what the price is, how much? It’s just not always about that, right? And so tonight we have our two featured artists, Jordan Tierney and Adam Stab, and we’re gonna be in conversation shortly. We will be doing some moving around the gallery, so we want you to stay comfortable, but not too comfortable, because we may need to turn around. Luckily, these chairs have wheels, so you can still stay seated and just spin yourself around to see the work of art we are talking about. And next, I’m gonna turn it over to Cara Ober.

Cara Ober: Good evening. Thanks everybody for coming out. I want to point out two pieces of paper that you are welcome to take with you. One is a statement on the show with the graphic identity that was designed by our designer in residence, Raquel Castedo. And then, another sheet lists every work of art, with titles and prices listed. Just ask us if you have questions about that. 

Tonight we’re really excited to host this conversation between members of the Ecological Design Collective,  Lee Davis, and Anand Pandian. Anand is an anthropology professor at Johns Hopkins, and Lee is the director of the Social Design program at MICA. They will be in conversation tonight with two artists who collect their materials exclusively from Baltimore City. For Adam Stab, this means urban spaces. He comes out of a street art practice, and often harvests his materials from the abandoned buildings where his marks exist. For Jordan Tierney, it’s the natural places, Baltimore’s parks and waterways where she collects all kinds of materials and brings them back to her studio. 

We have a special announcement tonight: a new publication. We originally envisioned it as a catalog for the show, but we got carried away. So what we have are 60 limited edition artist books designed by our Designer-in-Residence, Raquel Castedo. The wooden covers were laser cut by Open Works and the printing was by Indigo Ink, located in Columbia, MD. 

Everything we do here is produced locally, by small creative businesses and that’s important to us. Inside the book, we have beautiful photos showing the artists’ studios by Jill Fanon. It also includes installation shots by Vivian Doering, who is also here tonight. Each cover is hand embellished by the artists – with paint, ink, collage, and found objects. Each one is different. They’re signed by the artists, numbered, and we will have just 30 available for collectors. After the talk, if you are interested, please ask us about them. And with no further ado, I’m gonna get out of the way and let these guys get started.

 

Raquel Castedo, BmoreArt Designer-in-Residence
Limited Edition Book for Post-Consumption Benediction
Photo by Taja Copeland
Photo by Taja Copeland
Jordan Tierney and Adam Stab
Anand Pandian
Lee Davis

Lee Davis: Welcome everyone. I’m Lee Davis. I want you to know that I wear two hats: I’m the co-director of the Center for Social Design at MICA, but here tonight as one of the curators of the Ecological Design Collective. We’re delighted and honored to be here, and I feel like I have very little reason to be standing in the front of this room, because it’s really the amazing artists that we’ll be talking to tonight. Thank you to the amazing team at BmoreArt: Jeffrey, Ines, Raquel, Cara– the whole team here has been such a delight for us to collaborate with. 

This event came together over the course of a few months where Raquel and I initially met and found synergies between some of the connections that we were making in the art and design and ecological space at AIGA Baltimore, where we worked on programming together.

Our friendship grew out of those conversations, also with others in the city who are exploring some of these same concepts. It’s great to see some familiar faces in the room and a lot of folks that I don’t know. A big part of what we’re aiming for is building this community and what better way than to also celebrate the amazing work that our two artists have created. 

This evening, we really want to make our talk interactive and enjoyable for all of you, to give you a chance to hear more from the artists as well as to interact more in this beautiful space with this amazing work. So we’re gonna start with Jordan and Adam talking about their work, with Anand helping to facilitate and pull out some interesting themes and issues to share with all of you. 

Then we’re going to ask you all to get involved with that. As Cara said, we may try to move around a little bit because we’d like you to have more of an intimate connection with the art and the artists sort of telling you more about their work and the beautiful thinking behind these amazing pieces. 

Anand Pandian: Thank you so much, Lee. It’s wonderful to see all of you. My name is Anand Pandian, and I’m a professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins, and it really is an enormous privilege to be here with you all in this context. Talking with artists is not something that I often get to do as an academic, as a scholar and anthropologist, but I feel that the very existence of this space right here on North Charles Street and the kind of work that we find ourselves surrounded by here attests to the kinds of connections that we’re seeking to build through these conversations, through the kind of networks that we’re building, and also more specifically through this entity that we’ve just started, the Ecological Design Collective.

Essentially, we are trying to build community around questions of radical ecological futures. Just to give you an example, yesterday, we had a beautiful, warm day.Every single person I spoke to, when I mentioned how beautiful the weather was, mentioned climate change. There’s a sense that the darkness is just looming and everything is so easily and quickly taken as a sign of a catastrophe that’s just on the horizon. 

There’s no question that we live in difficult times and the challenges are really tough. But at the same time, I think that the creative work that artists like Jordan and Adam are doing, our photographers and filmmakers and writers who are in our midst, all the different people who are able to look through the seams of this world that we have and all of its warts and flaws and problems, and begin to kind of envision a world yet to come.

The idea of ecological design speaks to the promise of trying to find the seeds of another kind of future in the rubble that we see around us so often. And our goal is really simple. We’re trying to find ways to bring people together who do different kinds of things. Scholars like myself, designers like Lee, artists like Adam and Jordan, writers, the many activists that we’ve been working with as well. We’re just beginning this work. It’s an open community that we’re trying to share. We have an online platform. It’s a community space. You’re all welcome to check it out – the URL is on the postcards back on the table. 

More than that, we’re also beginning to work on projects of different kinds. We’re here in the city of Baltimore and elsewhere around the world. And, we invite you to join us and figure out what this particular path for a more ecological future might look like from this standpoint of all the amazing creative and frankly even visionary work that’s happening right here in this city. That’s just a brief glimpse of what we have in mind with regard to this collective.

 

Feb 16 Video by Taja Copeland

Video from a segment of our talk with Adam Stab, Jordan Tierney, Lee Davis, and Anand Pandian
Jordan Tierney
Adam Stab

Lee Davis: What we were hoping to do first, is to invite both of you to just briefly talk a little bit about these series of artworks that you both created in this show, and then we’ll probe deeper with some additional questions. Adam and Jordan, can you both talk about the concept behind these bodies of work in Post-Consumption Benediction here at BmoreArt’s Connect+Collect space? 

Adam Stab: For the past five years, my studio focus has been collage. Not strictly, though. I’m a graffiti writer, a tagger… People have a lot of different names for the culture I come from. I have been a part of that community since I was in high school many years ago in Baltimore. For me that community was very inclusive of all the types of creatives when I was coming up in high school, growing up in a parallel art world. It included photographers and other types of illustrators and visual artists, but also DJs and musicians, all really closely connected to the DIY music scene here when I was young. And I have always been influenced by the energy and involvement of street culture and the community there. 

This body of work stretches back to a point where I began to collect my materials, which directly reference Americana. My connection to these images reflects my own path of being in the city and being a part of the urban dialogue. I am always finding these objects, and I was always bringing strange things home that were NOT meant to be in a house as a teenager… things like fire plugs or bus stop signs… all kinds of stuff that was just out of the ordinary. 

I have an appreciation for things that had already lived a certain life and were broken or rusted and beyond a certain amount of usability, things I find to be precious and meaningful. And the storyline has been a part of the ebb and flow of my personal relationship with the outdoors for a long time.

I moved purposely into collage as a tongue-in-cheek joke about the Main Street Art World that as a graffiti writer, I’m thrown into today. Nowadays, ‘Street Art’ has become an easy way to package parts of the urban dialogue. I have rarely if ever considered myself involved in the fine art world. I dropped out of school at the age of sixteen after a year at the Baltimore School for the Arts, so I have had some familiarity with what learning what art in the form of the higher education world looked like and it never really fit well for me. 

As a student, I gave up on academia being a trustworthy environment for me, but this work gets into a long standing appreciation for the voice of my community. Street art has always been the place I was most influenced, a whole wealth of influence that comes from the street in all kinds of forums. 

We didn’t really package or market it as part of consumer culture, but nowadays, you can’t get away with that type of thing without getting pigeonholed into a market or genre… It’s interesting how, after years of influence and being close to that terrain and all that it influenced, we’re going through this huge celebration of Hip Hop right now. I guess I have a very hard time understanding it (laughs), because Hip Hop to me is not a packaged thing. It’s more like a civil rights era, a time period. 

You can ask any of my predecessors, especially from the culture that I come from and they will tell you that Hip Hop was a time in history that happened and then stopped happening. It was greatly influential on all kinds of other cultural elements, but now it is over. I may be starting a bunch of shit by saying it’s done, dead, you know, but it gave birth to all types of other culture. It’s a moment in time, much like many others, but now we’re trying to package it

With the work that is up, I am offering a quick comment about the holiness and the consistency found in the detritus from my environment that I collect. For every object created, there is a cost, a debt and a toll, especially if you’re a city dweller. I appreciate these things with a kind of sorrow, but also a connection to the objects as things that were purposely designed for a particular use, but are now left astray. To me, that’s what gives my work authenticity, this experience of lives lived by my materials. And then there are conversations and visions, planning a better, more sustainable, survivable, ecologically sound future – and can this actually work?

Jordan Tierney: I think Adam and I have so much in common. For a long time I lived in DC in a very challenged part of the city in this bombed out warehouse. I feel this great kinship with Adam because in a way I was like this, too. I would just leave the house and walk. And I’d be a little bit like an anthropologist who gets a clue as far as what’s going on, the things that you don’t see by what trash is showing up in the alleys and finding larger patterns. I remember this guy who threw his empty bottle in the same bush every day… And you get a sense of what lives are like from the stuff left behind. 

For me, this is just like what I find outdoors here in Baltimore, where I go in the urban streams, although I certainly see a lot of wildlife… I’ve seen ospreys grab fish out of the stream. But then there’s all these clues to life from hundreds of years ago. I find parts of bottles that tell me about the bottling industry in Baltimore from 120 years ago… This material culture ends up in the stream, because we’ve basically channeled all of our water into the stream and it takes everything with it. 

And I’m down there seeing the patterns and what washes up where, how often does it shift? How it’s all mashed up in the stream, in addition to the bottles and the cans, and you feel also connected to time because you’re there in that moment. A lot of that stuff is there and the rivers pick up large objects and move them. Sometimes it’s whole trees, and other large objects. And I’ll see it, on a rocky beach and then, weeks later, downstream. 

Being outside in natural spaces keeps me connected to the idea that the forces of the earth are way larger than I am. I first started going down into Herring Run with my four year old daughter. We wouldn’t stick to the path, we would go right to the stream. I would look around and think, how can I show my daughter that this is nature? It’s filled with plastic trash and just anything anyone cares to drop out of their hand.But she didn’t see all that. She would pick up a rock to see how big of a splash she could get.

And so, in a way that reminded me there’s still a lot of magic out there, and I’m going to nurture that in her and make sure we bring some of it home with us. My art practice has turned into that magic. 

Don’t get me wrong–I’m horrified by what we’ve done to the planet over my lifetime, just absolutely horrified, grief stricken, guilty inner rage, whatever. But I can’t share that with everyone, (laughter). So what I desire to share is the magic that I find there still, the beauty and the power and the potential. And I am married to this process, because I use the found trash in my art work. I am married to this baggage, but I think that’s the best way to talk about it. 

Anand: Thanks. You both just said so much, and my mind is spinning into different directions at once. There’s a lot to run with, but certainly I think one thing that you’re both talking about is the potential that artistic practice has in changing what we see, changing what we notice. The importance of seeing the world otherwise, and the capacity of work to help us do that. But then it also seems to be that doing that has a lot to do with changing our relationship to time. That we have this way of thinking of one time, of one moment giving way to the next.I think this is what Adam, you were saying in part about Hip Hop, right? It’s as though a moment has passed, but at the same time, that no moment has ever passed. 

And this question that you asked, what are we left with? I feel like this is the central question of this exhibition, what are we left with? And it’s not an abstract question, right? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s actually a question with a very tangible answer. We’re left with a hell of a lot. It’s all around us. These artists are two folks who have dedicated a fair amount of their waking hours to investigating what we’re left with, picking up those pieces, trying to figure out how they fit together and what other story they might tell us… And also, how they might challenge our sense of time. 

You’ve both talked about the work of doing, and really trying to keep the passage of time in mind as you navigate these urban landscapes. I am curious, do you expect the work to do that as well? When I’m standing in front of one of these pieces of artwork, is the hope that I enter into another time? Jordan, for example, you imagine these pieces even to be relics from a future millennium, right? Am I to go there? Is it part of your ambition as artists to take us out of our habitual experience of time and to put us in another?

 

Jordan: I think the cool thing about using found things to make art is that when you find them, they’re already out of their original context. And so they’re set free of time, so they can take you anywhere. I dunno if that is part of the importance of a certain contact that I get with the materials, in that they are resonant of us, right? It’s just all the rhythms and chords required. So the framework then becomes much as is, in orchestrating the notes available. 

Adam: I feel this resonance, especially when I am meeting Jordan and entering into her studio, where she resides with all this energy, all of the collected detritus, and the already-touched and the already-used and the already soiled and the already weathered. It all has resonance. 

To be there at that moment and to reclaim an object’s importance or amplify it, that’s our voice. For example, when I include lost and found pet flyers in my work, which is a subject that is really personal to people, I want to expound on that feeling. What hurts more than coming home when your dog is missing? I’ve been there, as a city dweller, and this is a hard part of living in the city, when you get home and your cat is gone…. Collecting that moment from people’s lives and letting it live with me, in my cycle, but then I also add in the money, dollar bills with the residue of presence, and with it the inklings and visuals of all kinds of money in our lives. It’s in all of our lives, at the same time. Even when we want nothing to do with us, it’s still with us. For me, this ability to mold the materials, the earthly clay, into specific narratives is my vision. 

Anand: If I could just jump in with another thought. You used the word detritus earlier, Adam. Your materials – they’re all waste, right? So much of it is waste. Jordan, you were talking about walking the stream and how you encounter things from other decades, sometimes even from other centuries. This is stuff that people were willing to let go, right? 

It’s the stuff that people stopped caring about somehow or didn’t notice when it escaped their grasp. I think that there’s gotta be a really serious creative challenge in finding the potential, the aesthetic potential, the artistic potential, in ways that exploit this… Because of course you’re not collecting everything, right? I’ve been on expeditions with Jordan actually, so I know the backpack she carries. Not everything fits. So you make choices: certain things come back. Certain things stand out to you because it has a certain kind of potential, the capability of telling a story that other things don’t. Can you help us understand that? How, how do you know what to come back with?

And, also how do you know when to collect more of the same? In some of these objects, obviously there’s repetition. You’re going back, you’re seeing these patterns, you’re collecting more of the same, that somehow it’s coming together. So it’s not even just a one-off object. It’s like you’re seeing patterns while you’re collecting items.

Jordan: First of all, sometimes you can’t deny, wow, this thing is really rare. I can’t believe it’s   in a stream, or it’s just beautiful, even if it’s a rusted blob. But then also once you start noticing a pattern, you can’t not collect the pattern. Another one. Then once you have them, you have to do something. And I ask myself, what am I gonna do with all those forks?

Adam used the word resonance. Sometimes I’ll pick up an object and I’ll even look at it for a while and just hold it and say, is this coming home with me or not? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> And, there’s days where I just go and collect trash because you should, but then there’s definitely something that says, yep, put it in the backpack. And I like that. 

It really shakes up the value system because a lot of what our culture has called valuable <raised eyebrow>, and that I can take a piece of trash out of the stream and collect it, I don’t know how many cans are in there to make this amazing glittering thing. It’s made of trash, it’s made of the stuff that people just hurled over their shoulder, or threw out their car window. And that makes me really happy. I can change something negative into something positive and magical. That’s a big part of It, I think.

 

Adam: Seeing things in their new life, whether that is their original intended usage is definitely like being a graffiti writer, and being connected to that willingness to transform the public environment is already an inherent similarity to seeing and finding the will to deliver these materials on to their next inherent way being. Knowing that their communicative energy and all the things that we appreciate from our human experience, however we choose to solve it, is going to come together.

And perhaps I got into that piece (points) simply because I’m into green right now. And so there are reasons for repetition and pattern, that simple human appreciative dance… What the material choices become, for me, is a chance to NOT participate in consumer society. It’s important for me to not need to spend money in order to feel creative. This is inherent (laughter).

I don’t feel like I’m doing the right thing when I have to pay more. There’s something really twisted about that whole can of worms and I go down that deep hole of, who’s in the New York art scene and how much that work is worth…. And it’s funny. People are so blind and they want to pay more for certain things, for art supplies. If I could, I would just take everything I could off their shelves. I would feel justified, because there’s no way I could afford the prices they ask us to pay in order to do what we need to do. For artists, to simply lay magic on the world, but there are so few distributors of art products, and it really comes down to who is getting the money. I am not down for what’s really going on. It comes from the policies and the politics that convinced me to drop out in the first place and become an outsider artist. Artists will forever be at the front lines of the conversation around why I use materials I don’t pay for, that I’m never gonna pay for.

Anand: Can we think of it in terms of justice actually? I’m really struck by this theme. And if we could just take a step back for a moment and consider that we live in a city of profound inequality. Racial inequality, income inequality, social inequality. We all know that there are certain parts of the city that are more polluted, where residents have to live with more waste around them. There are other parts of the city where people are insulated from that kind of exposure, right? 

Cities like Baltimore run on a kind of inequality. We think of addressing problems like that through ideas like environmental justice, thinking about the balance between different neighborhoods, thinking about what different people have to live with, what they have to live without. But it strikes me, if we keep this theme of justice in mind, that there’s a different kind of justice at stake in your work, which is also justice to the things of the world, right? It’s not just that we’re being unfair to other people, we’re being unfair to the stuff we use. We’re being unfair to the things that we take too lightly. I don’t know if you have any, either of you have any thoughts on that, but I, but I feel like there’s a real ethical sensibility in this work.

Adam: Crafty stuff used to be so common. Remember when we were young and there was all kinds of stuff you could do with milk cartons? (laughter) It used to be a little bit more common to make silly stuff out of garbage. There’s also this question of, what we owe to the stuff that we abandon? I feel like that’s part of the question. Like, I paid for you. I might as well get everything I can out of you, not just, you know, throw you over the shoulder. But this is a weird thing about right now. We live in an over the shoulder society, and that’s sexy. Yeah.

 

Jordan Tierney, "Ceremonial Garment, Late 21st Century, Jones Falls Settlement," 2022, vintage shoulder pads, twine, old wooden tool handles, grommets
detail, Jordan Tierney | Life Ring, 2010, Carved, burned, painted wood; metal hardware, fishing bobbers, rope, photo: Vivian Doering
Jordan Tierney | Life Ring, 2010, Carved, burned, painted wood; metal hardware, fishing bobbers, rope, photo: Vivian Doering

Audience Question (Jenenne Whitfield, AVAM): I just think this is important and want to ask… I think there’s a connection between discards and discarded people. That’s what I feel you’re talking about. I also think that word justice is very profound, there is a real connection to that. And is it possible that we’re working through something internal as we are rescuing these things? 

Adam: I think to some of us it’s inherent. You know, Jordan and I did not know each other before this show. And most people come into this room and they can’t tell where one us stops and the other one starts. That to me says so much about where we are, what our souls’ need to work is… And for me, it’s inherent that the reclamation point is not just the recognition of the resonance and the importance, the grace and the holiness of our voice, which is found in all this detritus. But in that sense of giving weight to the voiceless, like that situational availability that is then found in the equality that our garbage gains. 

Once it’s down there and in the stream, no matter if it’s bright orange or blue or yellow, it’s all the same. It’s just garbage. And to be made beautiful, it’s got to be given that high energy and nurture and life. It’s inherently connected to how we feel about healing ourselves. You have got to take the time to bend over and do it, to pick up the garbage, and to some extent, to grow up and be responsible adults. 

Our culture is full of adolescents, you know, who are afraid to be responsible for it. That’s where America’s at, where society’s at, just growing up outta mom’s basement. It’s time to get a job. It’s time to be responsible, to face the music in this nature. And it’s rough. Jordan, what do you think about these questions? 

Jordan: Well, when you were talking about justice and respect, I think you can’t even respect yourself if you’re throwing trash over your shoulder. You’re certainly not respecting the planet you live on. When I lived in DC, what I thought about the most was inequality. It was a violent time in DC. A lot of this work spans a long period of time… The willingness to abuse ourselves, each other, the planet, it’s all there, that lack of care. To be able to somehow resurrect what was cast off and to nurture it and give it a new life, a better life, there’s a lot there. And also just, the value of spending time in the places that people are afraid of, they’re undervalued places.

Lee: We said we wanted to break the line between audience and panel, so this is a great moment to pivot. We’d like to invite all of you, if you would like, to stand up, move around if you’re inclined toward a specific piece of art. If there’s a piece that’s speaking to you that you’d like to put forward? If you want to also have a chance, to interact a little more with pieces that you’re interested in and how some of the things we’ve been talking about are manifested in the work. So if you are so inclined, if you’d like to get up and move to something that’s really speaking to you, you want to get a little more intimate with it, and we can move around and have the artist share a little bit more about this particular piece.

Jeffrey Kent: I’ll start. So this piece right here with these bobbers right here (“LIfe Ring”), can you tell us a little bit about the collection of these beauties? I remember coming to your studio and I think this is one of the works that really resonated with me. And you don’t even see these things anymore.

Jordan: It’s fascinating how many people will entertain themselves by getting cheap fishing gear and sticking it in these streams where you would never eat the fish. 

For me, this is a collection of years and years of walking around. I’ll find one and, often, the fishing line is really dangerous. I find them in parks dangling from a tree, once with a hawk still alive, with the line wrapped around it. So the fishermen who are entertaining themselves by that one weekend where they go out and they leave all their junk around are really awful. But you know, these function as a symbol as well. A lot of the things I find are almost like a language or metaphor for something that I need to speak about. I may not know when I collect it, what it is gonna talk about, but eventually, each of the things is animated and it has a voice. 

This whole thing started when I read an article about a ring. It was a memorial ring from the fourteen hundreds, I think. It was a sea captain’s wife, and the ring was inscribed on the inside: “The cruel seas, remember, took him in November.” And that just got lodged in my head and so I created this thing.

Audience 2: When did the form of the heart take shape? 

Jordan: I’m not exactly sure. These are not linear  thoughts. I probably imagine they’re actually floating symbols in my mind, sometimes for many years.

Audience 3:  (Points to “Ceremonial Garment, Late 21st Century, Jones Falls Settlement, 2022). This piece really reminds me of a gladiator suit and it’s incredibly epic. And, I just want to hear more about these tool handles. 

Jordan: So I like those words you used, epic and mythic. For my whole life I’ve basically survived by making and building and fixing things. I inherited my father’s tools and my grandfather’s tools and, when you have a lot of tools in your life, sometimes they break and maybe you fix ’em, maybe you don’t. And so there’s a box of tool handles in the corner, or you see some tool handles in a thrift shop and you think, I’ll need to fix tools, I’ll get those handles. And so eventually you end up with hundreds of handles and there’s something about that capability that is magnificent, but it’s also a responsibility. 

At my house, if something breaks, I have to fix it and (laughter), and after a lifetime of that, it’s heavy. And so, this thing actually is quite heavy, for real. And so I imagine that cape as being a symbol of the person who has that life. I guess it is somewhat autobiographical, but I’ve also known people who are even more so like this and they’re inspiring to me. I think in our culture, they’re important figures, especially now because of our throwaway society. We don’t fix anything anymore. Everything is plastic. You can’t even fix most of it.

Audience 4 (Ed Berlin): I wanted to ask about collage. When I was first introduced to the concept, it was to combine different pieces to tell a story that in most cases was really separated from the pieces themselves. I always assumed that the pieces were just like the bricks which make up the building. 

But, what I hear you saying is that there’s a duality in your collages. That you’re telling an integrated story using these found pieces as elements. But the pieces themselves speak to their own individual history. And the viewer vibrates between getting the intended story of the collection and then dwelling on the source of the components, which really opens up the whole concept of collage to a kind of a whole new, maybe for me, new meaning, maybe not for you. It’s interesting to think of it that way.

Adam: I’m definitely a collage newbie. When I got into this position, or this color-way, as a  practitioner this is only my second foray into working in collage with this kind of comment. My first color way, first collage series, was much darker, with a heavy worker-based art energy included with a very urban aesthetic. I have to say that it was in that way of working with a collage medium that I realized that I am actually an okay painter…  Oddly enough, these collages are the best paintings I think I’ve ever done. And they’re not even paintings, really. 

What you just touched on and how you describe that to me is how good music works. One time you’re listening through the song, you’re really appreciating the lyrics and then the next thing, the melody goes through you, and it is just about the melody of the beat. And that’s how something that really bears worth on all levels is a good piece of work. I enjoy and know that I’ve gotten to a point of being able to find completion in these works when they contain an element of that available dialogue and storyline. 

But at the same time, I want it to be able to be just appreciated as rhythm. I don’t want these images to have to be deep every single time. I want you to be able to appreciate the motion and the energy and movement, the background. And so they’re designed a lot like repeats for wallpaper or patterns that aren’t meant to be overly studied. But then once you realize that the study’s in there, they’re meant to be able to hold you.

 

Collage works by Adam Stab

Audience 5:  I just had a quick question about earlier you said that maybe Hip Hop was a time period. Do you think that like Street Art was a time period and that maybe moving to collage is like a way to bring more meaning to the work itself?

Adam: As a multi-practitioning creative, collage is a finger on a fist for me. Is Street Art a time period? It’s a marketing ploy now. It’s an easy way to package multiple types of art that already existed. Now all of a sudden, the people think muralists are artists. You know, if I were a muralist I’d be like, we’ve been out here forever trying to get a buck. Now we have to get behind you stencil guys? I’d be out for blood, and I’m just a graffiti writer. It’s easy enough for me to claim mine, cuz they don’t want to pay for that.

Jeffrey Kent: I just wanted to make a quick comment about Adam Stab. One of the things that he had mentioned about his previous collage series… and which these are almost a total flip opposite to… In my view, especially your color palette is extremely concise in these collages. And it was the exact same in his first series, where he realized he could do this. 

What was most fascinating about those, and in this conversation tonight, is that those pieces were literally made from the street. Adam would find these asphalt bags on the street after the city would fix the potholes in the street. He would take the trash that they would leave behind and save it and end up making these amazing collages, which we end up showing at the Peale Museum. He would trace the manhole covers and collect the characteristics of the street. These are really just dope pieces and to me, it is amazing how flat he gets them. So that’s the thing that I want you to recognize also is how flat these collages are because he has mastered collage in my opinion. I am using the word ‘flat’ in the most flattering way–an integration. 

Lee: We have time for one more piece that you’d like to talk about. And then we want to leave a half an hour for you to just be able to interact and wander around. And check out the projected video from outside too. 

Audience 1 (Jenenne):  Can you tell me about this piece (pointing to “A Lifetime”)? I’m going to take it home with me. I wanna just say that the tabletop table legs, it reminds me of my husband, and  a former project in Detroit. Those table legs just reminded me of a piece that I had to leave behind in Detroit. So I would like to invite it into my new home here in Baltimore.

Jordan: Pointing out the furniture is interesting because, especially in the city, but even in the streams here… In certain areas, people get evicted and there’s stuff that gets tossed, right? And there it is, out there in this flow of stuff that they lost because they don’t have anywhere to put it. It gets busted up but it’s still also in some ways beautiful. 

I collected a bunch of pianos that nobody was able to care for because they were out on the street and I took those apart. We’re surrounded by these shapes and we don’t even notice them anymore, the tables and our stair rails and all that. When you were talking about the collage, I was thinking about when Adam goes and paints in a tunnel, which I did that with you that day, you’re actually painting on a collage because there’s the surface of the rocks and there’s other people’s tags. And so really life is a giant collage. Your mind makes sense of it, organizes it for you. 

I’ll be sixty this year, and many of you probably remember what it was like, to be a woman earlier this century in our culture. My daughter is African American, so she has another experience of being a woman in our culture…. Some things are better now, but I’ve always been a bit of an outsider. Our culture does not say, ‘Ah, you’re an artist. Wow, we’re gonna pay you. Like, we’re gonna pay the football quarterback at the Super Bowl.’ They don’t do that. And so when I lived in DC, which is all attorneys and government people, people that drive into the city and then drive back out as quick as they can to get to their safe house in the suburbs, I was very much an outsider, even just the clothing I wore. 

So this thing that has these layers of vantage points, even the solar system… And then that person is really just a silhouette of terrain, and asking, how much do you exist in the consciousness of even yourself? I don’t know. This is just going off on a tangent… But that’s all good. It’s just all in there and what I find, once I start putting words to it, that it sort of shrinks the whole thing. I’m glad you connected with it. Especially, in the context of coming from Detroit. 

Anand: Love it. But one thing it does remind me of, Jordan, and I feel like it’s so important to both you and Adam and the work that you’re doing. You’re talking about being outsiders in terms of a conventional established art scene, but you’re also literally going outside.

And that might seem really simple, but there’s nothing simple about it. You’re field workers, right? The wisdom of the work has everything to do with, and Adam was talking a lot about this too, rhythm. There’s the rhythm of the material in the work, but there’s also just the rhythm of going out and coming back, going out and coming back. 

Jordan: You can’t have all these bobbers unless you’ve been looking for them day after day. The work might be about the environment at some level, but there’s a practice of being in the environment and being of the environment without which the work wouldn’t emerge. I feel like there’s a really profound and important example even in that manner of being in the world as an artist rather than trying to be apart, finding meaning where your feet are. So few of us really are connected to the dirt we walk upon and really know it. That was a gift to me when I started going out to Herring run every day, just like becoming part of that place, that place made me, it’s a beautiful thing.

Jeffrey: I don’t mean to embarrass the person in the room who was just speaking, but I want you all to know – this is the new director of the American Visionary Museum, Jenenne Whitfield. We wanna welcome you to Baltimore. (applause)

Lee: I’m gonna ask you to clap one more time. So first of all, thank you all for coming. This has been a super fun, very engaging talk. Thank you for inviting us to be a part of this lovely evening. Let’s give a round of applause for these two amazing artists and it’s not the end of the event.  Please help yourself to a beverage and walk around and look at the art. We hope you will talk to the artists and to us,  we’re not going anywhere, so please engage. Thank you.

 

Photo by Taja Copeland
Photo by Taja Copeland
Post-Consumption Benedition at C+C, Gallery photo by Vivian Doering
Connect+Collect video projection on Charles Street, image by Vivian Doering

Video by Taja Copeland | All photos by Jill Fannon unless otherwise noted

This story is from Issue 13: Collect, available here.

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