Melissa Dorn & Kate E. Schaffer
The Everyday Feminist: Fine China
February 25 – April 13, 2019
What does it mean to be a feminist? What does it mean to be a feminist every day? The exhibition will explore this question through installation, paintings and sculpture. The work of Melissa Dorn and Kate E. Schaffer revolves around commonplace objects, those often overlooked, just as women’s work is often overlooked. The exhibition includes an interactive installation that encourages people to make two objects: one that grows the exhibition so it becomes more democratic and another to take home as an everyday reminder of what it means to be a feminist.
I am interested in the ways that, for those who are paying attention to the world around us, our imagination is capable of animating the often banal and inanimate experiences and objects in our day‐to‐day lives. In my work, I draw from these daily occurrences and elevate common objects to higher ground by focusing all my energy and attention on them. Exploring gesture, line, color, form and texture, I play with these elements to see how they can ﬁguratively obscure the object. By selectively picking certain characteristics from the object that convey a slight gesture or sense of humor, I leave room for ambiguity, opening the door for viewers to enter and interact with the work. Color is incredibly important in my work, both the complete saturation that creates its own movement or vibrations to the seemingly absence of color where I rely on texture to create a similar movement.
KATE E. SCHAFFER
I create nowheres and somewheres through painting, installation, performance and writing, that shift the viewer’s sense of positionality, generating a sense of place and a feeling of displacement. I do this by: 1) using my own negative capability where, according to Of Water and the Spirit, “Your not knowing is your being prepared”; 2) building, breaking, and remaking space as I question American culture and painting’s history; 3) examining relationships between elements in the work as well as between myself and others in what Molly Zuckerman Hartung calls “a long conversation with the self (which is a conversation with all the others encountered in one’s life, and internalized)”; 4) utilizing formalism and abstraction for political means to frame, contain, and communicate my thinking and feelings; 5) changing history and the future through radical imagination; 6) making visual and written material coalesce into synesthetic experiences; 7) creating queer spaces that are uncool and open yet cool and knowing, that want to close but remain open.
MELISSA DORN works between painting and sculpture. She draws from common everyday objects, things often overlooked or passed by, as subject matter and infuses them with humor and expressive color. Dorn Richards is a Milwaukee‐based artist, who holds a BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. A practicing artist for 20 years, she is represented by Frank Juarez Gallery. Her work can be found in many corporate collections including Tax‐Air, Northwestern Mutual, Mandel Group, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, Littler Mendelson, and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Select exhibitions include: The Jump Off, Urban Institute of Contemporary Art; Detroit Biennale, Museum of New Art; Wisconsin Artists Biennial, Museum of Wisconsin Art; Preservatif, Stockholm Gallery; Forward 2014, Charles Allis Art Museum; Up, Down!, River Edge Gallery; Moving Mountains, Frank Juarez Gallery; Schematic, UW‐Sheboygan; Eight Counties, John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Art Chicago and Aqua Art Miami, Hotcakes Gallery. www.melissadornstudio.com | CV
KATE E. SCHAFFER (BS 2006, MLC; MFA 2016, SAIC) is a Milwaukee artist working at the nexus of feminism, queer theory, and Black Aesthetics. Her paintings, writings, and performances explore the fixity and possibility of time and space. She manipulates visual and written language to break and reassemble the grid. Schaffer also creates nowheres and somewheres at the margins of the possible that generate a sense of place and a feeling of displacement. Selected exhibitions include: Indiana Green, Arts Mill, Grafton, WI; Faculty Biennial, Marian Gallery, Mount Mary University; The New (re)Public: Nowheres, 314: Ripon College Project Space; The New (re)Public: Somewheres, Dr. Scholl Gallery, Marmion Academy, Aurora, IL, Pﬁster Artist in Residence Finalist Show, Gallery M, Milwaukee; Shorelines, Concordia University‐Wisconsin. Founder: 3rdCoast4thWave. www.keschafferart.com | CV
The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.
Was there a person or event that got you started creating your art? Does that person or event continue to influence the work that you do?
MD: I feel like I was always interested in art so I don't remember the initial person or event. I was lucky to have art throughout my elementary and secondary education, with great teachers. Also, my great aunt was an artist and worked for Boston Store as an illustrator. On her own time and after retiring she did oil painting, mostly landscape based work (at least what I've seen.) I do have vivid memories of going to her apartment and seeing her paintings and studio. I think it was these visits that made me realize that art could be a career.
KES: I grew up in a very creative household. My dad was always tinkering in the garage, where I would help him for hours, and my mom did crafts like cross-stitching and refinishing furniture. They provided ample art supplies including Sculpey and Crayola colored pencils. A fresh batch of Playdough was frequently in the works, and when it wasn't, I would draw for hours. We also had a sandbox where my sister and I spent our summers discovering the possibilities of buckets, shovels, sand, and water.
At what point did you consider yourself an artist?
MD: It wasn't until I was a sophomore at MIAD that I began identifying myself as an artist, at least out loud. It seemed a bold statement and took me some time to really own it, even though I had been creating art work of some sort almost my whole life.
KES: I'm not sure when I came into that consciousness. I'm not much for labels, so I probably didn't consider myself an artist until I was making art professionally. Looking back, I've been making art in my own way for the majority of my life.
Who or what inspires you and why?
MD: Artists who have inspired me are Eva Hesse, Anne Truitt, and Louise Bourgeois, just to name a few. Their stories and the work they created continues to influence how I think about what and how I make. There are also many contemporary artists that have an impact on me, both locally and throughout the world. I love "finding" artists on Instagram to follow. I'm also influenced by everyday items, things that most people probably don't spend much time thinking about. I often find humor in these objects, like mops, and that is the initial attraction. Then there always seem to be other levels to relate to these objects, for instance with the mops I relate them to hair, big, messy hair, hair like my hair.
KES: Currently, I think a lot about the everyday: those common place objects, events, actions, and people that seem to work magic in small ways. When we have accrued a certain amount of objects, events, actions, and people, the impact is world-changing. I think this is why art is so important to me. It inspires me because it has the power to change people's perspectives, and that is how we change the world. Some artists that are changing the world: Amy Sillman, Molly Zuckerman Hartung, Michelle Grabner, Lynne Tillman, and Eileen Myles.
What was the first piece of art you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
MD: I'm not sure I remember the very first piece of art I made. I've always been fascinated with trees and I do remember a tree drawing that I did in second or third grade, when my trees began to look more like trees and less like lollipops. It was made in an art class at school and we were using colored pencils. I also loved making anything out of clay and still have one or two pinch pots from elementary school or Brownies.
KES: The first memory I have of making art was what I will call a wall mural in my room when I was three. I suppose it was actually graffiti since I did not have my parents permission to draw on my bedroom walls and wood panel closet door with pink highlighter. My mother, in her wisdom, left me to my own devices. She had gone to help an elderly neighbor, and had instructed me to stay busy. She would call frequently to check on me. I dutifully answered the phone each time, telling my mother that I was doing great. Of course I was doing great! I had the biggest canvas a kid could have, a whole room. When my mother returned I found out I was not supposed to draw on walls or doors, so the next time, I drew on the concrete floor in the basement.
Are there any programs or learning opportunities that you wish you had as a young artist?
MD: I wish that I would have had the opportunity to take a good art history class before going to college. I would have also loved to take a class about contemporary artists that covered their work and how they lived. I think the internet makes many of these things more accessible now but there is nothing like being in a room with other people to discuss the work and ideas.
KES: I wish that I could have had more interactions with professional artists. I am extraordinarily thankful for the diversity of my childhood experience, though. I would not be the same artist if I would have been laser focused on art. Playing sports, fishing, playing in the dirt, catching turtles, mowing lawns, readings books, playing with legos, and putting together puzzles? all shaped my creative capacity.
What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
MD: Just keep making work whenever you can, set aside specific time to make art even if you don't feel like it. Most of my ideas for future work come while I'm making work. Take advantage of every opportunity and pump your art teachers and other artists for information including suggested reading. Be bold.
KES: Talent is irrelevant. Skills can be learned and refined through practice and hard work. The more art you make, the better the work will be. You will mess up a lot, but that will allow you to explore and find the work that you are meant to make
The following questions are intended to create insight into the artist’s practice and why they think art is important.
Is this your first and only career? If not, what other jobs have you had and how have they influenced your artistic practice?
MD: I have had a varied employment history, that I think all influences my art practice. My very first job was as an A&W car hop, after that retail and other serving positions. One of my more long term jobs was at West Bend Mutual Insurance, this is where I finally decided to pursue college full time. They have an extensive art collection and I'm happy to say that I'm part of it. After receiving my BFA, I worked at the UWM Craft Centre, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Lord's Dental Studio (making models of teeth and casting metal for crowns and bridges), Wisconsin Humane Society, and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (on staff in the outreach and development departments). Throughout I kept up with my studio practice, exhibiting and volunteering for arts related non-profits. Currently, I'm a full time studio artist, teach at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and with Arts@Large in Milwaukee Public Schools. I also do some contract grant writing and fundraising work.
KES: I am a educator and an artist. I have been teaching since 2006 and I have come to understand that teaching isn't just my day job; it is a vital part of my art practice. Since I am invested in making room for new voices and new possibilities, teaching lets me interact with students, share what I know, and learn from them.
Do you like people to see your work/comment on it while it is still in process? Why?
MD: I don't really like to have people comment on my work in process. In part because I usually have a pretty clear vision for it and problem solving/thinking through is something I really enjoy.
KES: It depends on the person and the work. Sometimes I really need an opinion but other times I know where I'm headed or I know that I need to figure it out myself. I do believe feedback is crucial for growth, so I regularly have discussions with others about my finished work.
Do you have a daily artistic ritual or routine? If so, how does this help you?
MD: I don't, other then making or getting tea and then getting to work. I've tried instituting more of a routine or ritual but nothing has really stuck yet.
KES: I'm not really a routine-type person. My schedule is constantly in flux so I need ultimate flexibility. Plus, I really love to make art, so I don't need a routine to be sure I'll do it.
What inspiration/research led you to your current body of work?
MD: While reading the book 33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton I came across the word mop. This body of work was inspired by the book and industrial mop heads. I’m humored by the word mop and interested in how the actual object relates that humor as well as how it engages in conversation about labor, class, and gender. Also there was a personal relationship to the word, my mother use to call me a mop head anytime she wanted me to get a haircut (which was quite often.) This intersection of humor, social issues, and identity has kept me obsessed with the mop for over two years. I've also had the opportunity to visit Algoma Mop and tour their facilities, which led to expanding the work as well as how I exhibit it.
KES: My current research and art explores what it means to be in a particular body (my body, your body, our body, a body of work). What is possible in each body? What is impossible? How can the impossible become possible? I draw heavily on my own experience, art history, and feminism while employing various levels of abstraction in order to generate the possibility of empathy. This has led me to these investigations of bricks, clouds, nets, and camouflage.
What caused you to gravitate toward the materials and processes you are currently using?
MD: When I started the mops, I was really interested in texture. I use a palette knife for a lot of the paintings and this became a meditative process for me. Working with the actual mop and latch hooking can also be quite meditative, it's not really something you can hurry. I'm interested in getting lost in the process and work. Latch hooking was something I did with my mom as a teen, and bringing this craft into my process, particularly with the mops, has been very natural for me. The mops have also been the first work that engaging with others to make the work (including fabulous interns from MIAD and Mount Mary) and collaboration has made sense to me. Prior to this, I very much wanted to work by myself and this has opened up so many possibilities and experiences.
KES: I think the work necessitates these particular materials. I am painter, but there are many ways to paint so I frequently work in an interdisciplinary manner. I use the materials that feel most effective to communicate the questions, ideas, and emotions that I want to consider.
The following questions are intended to offer insight into the artist’s current work and what they intend their audience to understand.
What role does process have in your work?
MD & KES: It is everything. We wouldn't make work if we didn't feel that the act of making was necessary for us. We are intimately involved in the process of making; we consider materials, form, content, structure and the actual physical labor of the work. Physical labor is vital to the work because women labor tirelessly everyday. We are always conscious of this labor, and it is important that it is visible in the work.
How do you know when a piece is complete?
MD & KES: That depends on the piece. With the elements that rely heavily on craft, we usually plan them carefully and construct them. In our installations, we use intuition and feeling as well as our experience to determine when each installation is complete. We rarely know what the final installation will be before we begin. Because our installations are site-specific, we take cues from architecture, light, and the overall feel of the space. We ask questions about what we want to learn and what we want to accomplish, and then build relationships between individual elements.
What is the one idea/thought you hope people will have/take away with them after viewing your work?
MD & KES: It's the question that our collaboration is founded on: What does it mean to be a feminist everyday?
Why do you create art?
MD & KES: We can't imagine not doing it. Art has the power to change the world.
What role does the artist have in society? Why do you think art is important to society?
MD & KES: The artist documents, imagines, and creates. She fosters empathy and propels change. She builds relationships and offers alternatives. An artist is generous.
Why do you think it’s important to support the arts?
MD & KES: Art creates a context for people to interact and pursue new ideas and feelings. It is a place of possibility; it changes the world.