Artists’ Interpretations of “A Different Frame of Mind”

My name is Keesha Jimenez. I am an undergraduate student seeking a B.A. in Studio Art at the University of South Florida. For my summer internship at the USF Contemporary Art Museum (USFCAM), I am working with Vincent Kral, the Curator of the June 2014 exhibition called A Different Frame of Mind. For this exhibition, seven artists were selected to use recycled frames to create new artworks that will explore ideas and issues of the frame in the context of contemporary art. I will document the process of this unique exhibition by interviewing the artists, taking pictures, and sharing my insights and observations.

A Different Frame of Mind

As an artist myself, I am interested in the concept behind the title for the exhibition because at USF the art studio professors challenge tradition and force their students to think beyond the box. I also appreciate working alongside Mike Covello, Derek Curry and Jennifer Gradecki, David Gabbard, Ariel Baron-Robbins, Janett Pulido, and Sam Robinson to learn from their perspectives and work methods. They are all interesting artists with individual styles challenging tradition through installations, digital print and other mediums. I interviewed these artists individually and I am proud of being part of this exhibition.

For each artist, the phrase: “A Different Frame of Mind” has a personal connection to how each works today. Mike Covello comments that the phrase is “referencing divergence and not fitting in.” But he says it also references “pluralism, which asserts that those aforementioned notions are not necessarily negatives.” Covello has been working on installations since he was an undergraduate at Cornell University. His interest with installations peaked in 2007 when he thought about how his context would surround the environment; however, he evolved in 2012 to work within the exhibition space. I cannot wait to see how he is going to continue this process within the West Gallery of USFCAM alongside the other artists. With limited space, the exhibition presents a challenge for all of them in terms of the size of their final work.

When I asked Derek Curry and Jennifer Gradecki about their perception of the phrase, they explained, “‘a different frame of mind’ evokes the idealist posit that your mind frames the world you see.” They believe, “if you can change the way a person frames the world in their mind, you can change the reality they experience.” Curry and Gradecki’s focus on the finances of the art world in their previous works began with the stock market crash in 2008. As they investigated further with their projects, artists and curators have heavily criticized them because they broke tradition by revealing the finances from the patrons to the artists. This brings an interesting point of view of art: ‘financialization.’ It may be a new term as described by Curry and Gradecki; however, it is the fundamental process of investment for commissions and furthering our practice as artists. We see financialization in art history through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh, who sold but one painting to his brother. After his death, his artwork becomes accessible and very valuable. Henri Matisse or Edgar Degas, for example, show the success as artists after the French Revolution of 1787-1789. While Matisse focused on the bourgeoisie painting genre scenes familiar to them, Degas found beauty in ballet dancers. Their patrons were prominently the rich; however, they gained income to continue. Therefore, the finances of artists are important to focus on, and I applaud Curry and Gradecki to shedding light to this concept although some may disagree.

As I asked the others, David Gabbard agreed with Curry and Gradecki. He believed with “a different frame of mind,” “you are stepping out of the norm and into something different.” Without being an individual, we cannot continue the path to greatness. When Gabbard attended USF as an undergraduate, he wanted to challenge the meaning of a frame. He pointed out as he questioned the frame, “Take a drawing that you made when you were a child. Your parents are so proud of that drawing that they choose to frame it. In the child’s point of view, they feel appreciated and praised for the drawing. The parent reinforces the praise by framing and hanging the drawing. If the child produces more drawings then it becomes a weird dynamic, where does the parent frame every drawing? How does one drawing become more important than the other? This is just one example of how the frame can symbolize importance.” This raises an important question about the frame itself. Why is the frame important in a sense that we have to enclose ourselves to one perception? With this exhibition, the artists are able to represent a greater sense of self and understanding outside of tradition. This opens the doors to interpretation, too. As many artists before him, Gabbard recollects childhood memories through his artwork and places them in front of the viewer. To the artist, it is a moment of relief to reveal something private and cause viewers to relate to situations with minimal words. It is almost therapeutic, releasing tension from the past and sticking that emotion elsewhere, so we can move forward. Without that release, as artists, we would be driven insane.

I asked Ariel Baron-Robbins the same question about “a different frame of mind,” and she responded that the phrase “brings me back to the body/mind problem, the difference between how you think and feel inside of your body and how you are perceived outside of your body by others.” She focused on this idea through performances as a USF graduate student in 2009. Robert Morris and Ana Mendieta heavily inspired Baron-Robbins because of their relationship of the figure and environment. She says, “Mendieta inspires me in the way that she free-form plays with her environments, creating temporary sculpture or pieces, very impromptu looking, especially in the Silueta series, and then documents these actions with her camera. Morris inspires me with his entire body of work and its differences. He also scales things to be human-sized, which is something I try to do as well.” Baron-Robbins interacts with nature as her source of inspiration, which in her previous work included architecture, whereas in her current work involves bodies of water.

When posed the same question, Sam Robinson thought to have “a different frame of mind,” we have to understand that the “frame plays a role in the construct of formal art-viewing that seems to have historically become less and less important. To frame something is to draw a hard line around what is to be looked at, but does little to cage contemporary artists’ tendencies toward materiality, dimension and sensory play.” I have made this point earlier, and I agree with her. In her artwork, Robinson controls the viewer’s response with scent. “The fascination started with a TEDTalk titled The Science of Scent,” she explained, “in which biophysicist Luca Turin presented his theory that humans detect extraordinarily minute differences in molecular vibration, rather than molecular structure, when differentiating scents. In the talk, Turin revealed some perfumist/chemist manuscripts and some hints as to his contracts in the commercial world. In the same way that color is used thoughtfully to encourage appetite in the grocery store or morale in a sea of cubicles, scent is used to incite memories in relation with a product, and to reward the sniffer at the time of purchase. The fragrance industry fits into the corporate model of consumer conditioning on a molecular level,” she says. The concept drove her to experiment with particular scents: for example, rotten flesh and sweet-scented perfumes. Therefore, these scents allow the audience to respond accordingly and that pleases her as a result. To her, these experiments within her artwork involve the audience to practice a mind-over-matter exercise in self-reflection. This concept is a step forward into contemporary art, removing the frame from its traditional meaning and pushing it to an interactive art form.

In Janett Pulido’s perspective, “a different frame of mind” meant, “having a different perspective of a particular idea or concept prior to one’s initial thought to that particular idea or concept.” Artists from history have focused their artwork on representing a window that extends their eye. Given the circumstances of historical events, for example, Francisco de Goya’s Third of May 1808, represents the window of war and surrender in the Streets of Spain. As he witnessed this scene of horror, he depicts emotion through that window frame so the viewers can interpret fear through their eyes. As we move forward as contemporary artists, we move further away from that window and control the response to our works. As artists, we have to surpass our masters and assess all the possibilities to approach beyond the limits of those boundaries many artists established before us. Pulido uses her personal experiences to distinguish herself as a Mexican American raised in a Roman Catholic household. She says, “My Mesoamerican culture brought about types of rituals that seemed to contradict the Roman Catholic dogmas I have been taught in the past. It is for this reason that I always feel I am in constant limbo.” Although it was difficult for her, she learned to accept these contradictions and incorporate them into her works. She also establishes the Schrodinger’s Cat theory because it correlates with the impact of possibilities that can happen in limbo. Pulido explained in the Schrodinger’s Cat theory, “the scientist does not know if the cat is alive or dead until the box is open. This puts the cat in between both realms hence, being in limbo.” Therefore, she responds to the Schrodinger’s Cat theory through her sculptural paintings and allows the viewers to be in the position of the scientist.

You have heard from all the artists on their interpretation of what “A Different Frame Of Mind” meant to them and how they bring forth that perception into their work. I look forward to sharing further insights into their creative processes and the development of their works. The final exhibition will be installed and open to the public on June 27, 2014.

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