Our Relationship with Power: Why It Matters & What We Can Learn

Did you miss my show at Arts + Literature Laboratory? Here’s a recap of why I chose to focus on power and a video of the story I told at the reception.

Jenie Gao | Our Relationship with Power, video by Midwest Story Lab

One of the long-term themes in my artwork is relationships, between people, between nature and the man-made. My drawings capture moments when we connect, collide, and grow with others.

The purpose of this show is to explore how power works. It is to challenge the notion of power as a great force and reveal instead how it builds in small ways, and how our understanding of power will determine whether we will have a healthy relationship with it. It is to show that power must move in cycles, and be fluid and interchangeable in order to have balance. Each artwork illustrates a different relationship between subjects and the sum that their parts create.

Arts + Literature Laboratory is a collaborative space that hosts writing workshops, concerts, and poetry readings. The people who come here believe in speaking for something bigger than themselves, from working for environmental and social causes to leading community classes. When Jolynne Roorda, co-founder of ALL, invited me to show there, I felt it would be right to focus on this understanding of power, as something integral to the collective mindset and creative spirit.

My hope through any of my work is that it gives people a chance to reflect differently on themselves and how the world works, and with that, help each of us rise to the challenges that we all must face. So you can imagine what a gift it was when I learned that the people attending the write-ins were creating poetry in response to the art. ALL hosted a poetry reading with three of Madison’s acclaimed poets, including Oscar Mireles, our city’s poet laureate, alongside Cherene Sherrard and Matthew Guennette, who reflected on the theme of power in choosing what to read. I had the chance to speak with Matthew when he came into the gallery beforehand, to see the art and ask me about the underlying concepts. He said he wanted to read poetry that responded well to the imagery. It was humbling and profound, to feel what it meant to focus collectively on this theme.

On that note, major thanks to Jolynne, as well as everyone else who works hard to run this place (Rita Mae Reese, Simone and Max, I’m looking at you). Head’s up to my artist friends who are looking for a gallery venue. ALL is accepting exhibition proposals. ;)

Thanks also go out to all the wonderful people who came to the reception and those who organized events during the show, and to Midwest Story Lab for recording my talk.

Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao’s artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao’s artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao’s artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Gallery shot of Jenie’s show at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Gallery shot of Jenie’s show at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
"Beast of Prey," by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
“Beast of Prey,” by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
"Beast of Prey" and "The Substance of Your Beauty," on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
“Beast of Prey” and “The Substance of Your Beauty,” on view at ALL.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Closeup of “The Substance of Your Beauty,” ink and watercolor drawing
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Gallery shot of Jenie’s show at ALL.
Pamphlets on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Jenie’s artist’s pamphlets on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory.
Jenie Gao's artwork at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
Gallery shot of Jenie’s show at Arts + Literatury Laboratory.
"Attention," woodcut by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
“Attention,” woodcut by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory.
"The Golden Cage," by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
“The Golden Cage,” by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory.
"The Golden Cage," by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
“The Golden Cage,” by Jenie Gao, on view at Arts + Literatury Laboratory.
View of the show from the smALL press library at Arts + Literatury Laboratory, Madison, WI.
View of the show from ALL’s conference room / smALL press library
"There Is No Such Thing As Me" (left) and "What We Repeatedly Say" (right)
“There Is No Such Thing As Me” (left) and “What We Repeatedly Say” (right)
"There Is No Such Thing As Me," ink drawing by Jenie Gao
“There Is No Such Thing As Me,” ink drawing by Jenie Gao
"What We Repeatedly Say," ink drawing by Jenie Gao
“What We Repeatedly Say,” ink drawing by Jenie Gao
"We Write Our Autobiographies on the Shoulders of Giants," ink and watercolor
“We Write Our Autobiographies on the Shoulders of Giants,” ink and watercolor
"Counter Intuition," ink and watercolor"
“Counter Intuition,” ink and watercolor
Opening page of "The Golden Cage," artist's book by Jenie Gao
Opening page of “The Golden Cage,” artist’s book by Jenie Gao
"The Golden Cage," artist's book by Jenie Gao
“The Golden Cage,” artist’s book by Jenie Gao
"The Golden Cage," artist's book by Jenie Gao
“The Golden Cage,” artist’s book by Jenie Gao

Photos from the show at Proyecto’Ace and some thoughts from Chiloé

It’s hard to believe I arrived in South America almost two months ago. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime compressed into three weeks here in Patagonia.

After being on the road and multiple long bus rides, I have now what feels like a gargantuan amount of time–ten whole days–in a remote, tranquil studio with no Wi-Fi, reachable from the city center most easily via taxi for between the equivalent of 80 cents to $1.30 (depending on your driver and whether you’re obstinate about not getting ripped off as a foreigner/disinclined to fight with someone who is desperate enough to lie for an extra 50 cents), or if one is so inclined, an hour’s walk straight up a hill.

I’ll have more to share soon about this island of Chiloé and my second residency here. For now, I’m ready to share some pictures from my first residency, in Buenos Aires.

image

The story follows the life of a homing pigeon, who unlike other pigeons, leaves his home and what he knows, to work in a world delivering packages of no value to people with no heads. He is rewarded for his ambition with a life in a golden cage, delivering messages for heads that are not connected to the bodies they try to lead. He has a choice at this point, to be comfortable with his “reward” in life, or to pursue a different way of being.

I have carried a draft copy with me on this trip, sharing it with a few other travelers who have been curious about my business here.

One of the many beauties of travel is how it gathers transient people to bond through the universal art of storytelling.

I have two choices when I buy a bus or plane ticket. Ida, or Ida y Vuelta? Going, or Going and Returning? For three weeks, I’ve only been going, but in this next short week, going will become returning, as I wrap my journey northward again.

Always, we are going and returning, and there is nothing quite like leaving what we know to find whom we always have been.

image

image

image

Proyecto’Ace, Week 2: Drawing and Carving the Images

If I’m to say any truth about the way our brains work, or at least my own, it’s that there’s often a delay between our experience of a thing and our understanding of it. (Or I’m just a little slow.)

This is my second post about my time at Proyecto’Ace. Read the first post here.

image

The story is something of an allegory. Once I knew that I would be creating a fictitious tale, the storyboarding happened quite quickly. I love the momentum I had right from the start of this project. I finalized 12 images to illustrate this story, printed in two colors, for a total of 21 woodblocks to carve, print, and edition in under two weeks (my hand still aches thinking about it).

It’s funny to me that I had to fly to the other side of the equator to resolve thoughts that I have been brooding on for a long time in the States about our work culture.

image

The story I’ve created follows the journey of a little homing pigeon, who, unlike other homing pigeons, decides to fly away from home.

He finds work as a carrier pigeon, delivering packages of no value to human beings who have no heads. He doesn’t understand these headless people, but continues to work hard in hopes of gaining something bigger.

Because of his ambition, he moves up in the world, to become a messenger for heads that have no bodies. This is the ambitious pigeon’s reward, to live a life in a golden cage through which he gets to see the world, and be a part of delivering messages that have no value and continue to drive the disconnect between people and their perspectives.

Stay tuned for posts three and four, where I’ll share the prints and resolution for this story.

image

Proyecto’Ace, Week 1: Storyboarding new concepts

I arrived in the studio of Fundación ‘Ace on Monday, January 26th. The space is gorgeous and full of buenas ondas (good vibes). This was to be my creative home for the next three weeks.

wpid-wp-1424361967311.jpeg

image

image

I knew that I wanted to produce an artist’s book during my time here, but did not yet know the story I wanted to tell. Whereas my work in the past has focused on the more personal narratives that connect people to their histories, I’ve found my interests moving towards a more social dialogue.

What I knew prior to this project: I am interested in passionate people, and for that matter, in indifference. I’m interested in what drives us–and thwarts us–in our pursuits. I believe it is important to understand the value of and motives behind what we do, and that a lack of understanding drives disconnect, dissatisfaction, and apathy. I believe that most people are capable of change, of either going after the things they want or reinventing their surroundings, and that the lack of movement in our lives stems not from a fear of change but a fear of loss.

More specifically, through my various work experiences in art, education, manufacturing, business, I’ve learned this: same shit, different place.

People are ambitious, industrious, passionate, opinionated…judgmental, apathetic, insecure, limited. Often loud spoken, but poor at articulation. Rarely do we express what we truly intend.

Printmaking as a medium was made for sharing messages with the masses. I like to think it was the world’s first social media. It’s an art form that educates and incites. Historically, politically, conceptually, it’s a powerful medium, capable of moving people first to understanding, then to action.

Among artists, I find myself in the company of those such as Goya, the Chapman Brothers in their defilement/decoration of Goya’s prints, Posadas, Otto Dix, the many creators of Brazil’s literatura de cordel

Otto Dix shone a light on human destruction.

(null)

Goya stripped away the romanticism and idealism surrounding war.

(null)

All of these artists have created poignant and relevant work, both in response to the social agonies of their time and the universal sufferings of humankind. Many have been great exposers, cynics, and satirists.

But for the work I was to spend my three weeks at ‘Ace on, I knew that I had no wish to be satirical or harsh. I wanted this work to deeply sincere without being naïve, to create simple images that explore a complex, human trouble.

I asked myself, “Is it possible to create images that can be honest about corruption without cynicism, that make healing seem possible in the midst of disrepair?”

I spent my first few days storyboarding. As much as I would have loved to jump straight to just making something, there was something coming clear to me that I could not see when I was living my “normal life” back home. And I needed to have the patience and focus to do justice for this newly forming story I wanted to tell.

image

image

image

image

image

image

This will be the first in four installments that share the process of my project in Buenos Aires.