Walthall Artist Fellows: Talks with Mentors

As a window into how artists are working and thinking in Atlanta right now, the following dialogues are excerpts from three recently recorded conversations between a Walthall Artist Fellow and his or her Artist Mentor. The Walthall Artist Fellowship is WonderRoot’s year-long career development program for 12 artists that incorporates monthly symposia & roundtable conversations, mentorships designed for each Fellow, a 5-day residency and a final show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia—all toward the Fellows gaining resources and networks to launch sustainable careers in Atlanta.


Bethany Collins: One of the reasons I requested having Sheila as a mentor was her Suburbia series. I’m familiar with a number of Sheila’s series, including the Barbie doll photographic works, but the Suburbia series, the kind of quiet political-ness to it, that it’s incredibly subtle but it’s also in a way explosive and dynamic—that I’m drawn to, both visually and conceptually. Because I think of my own work as, in some ways, just lovely, and in other ways very overtly dealing with issues of race and identity and politics and some social issues, etc… But I like that kind of conjunction, that it can be really quiet and still laden with content.

Sheila Pree Bright: Your work is very abstract to me but still subtle; you’re doing the same thing but in a different kind of visual way. I like the way you play with text and use text as an abstraction. And that’s what I’m drawn to about your work, I can see that abstraction… Because it deals with race and identity, and in a way it’s trying to go beyond that too. The flesh, the skin color, we’re trying to get beyond that. I feel that with both of our works.

BC: I think the Suburbia series is where the sense of absence is for me most evident in Sheila’s work. It’s all there, I guess, if you can read it, but there’s a sense of absence and missing at the same time, and I think that absence is something I’m really interested in dealing with. At the same time, what’s been really lovely about having Sheila as a mentor is how to move to the next step, what’s beyond that.


SPB: The Art climate has been changing and evolving since 2008 and I think an artist is really going to have to understand the concept of branding themselves. Art galleries are not coming after you like they used to, unless you either have a following behind you or if they really want to invest in that artist’s career. The reason why I’m talking about this is I had the opportunity to re-contextualize the Young American Series with the Living Walls project this past August. As an artist coming from the museums and galleries, I never considered taking my work to the streets in urban communities. For me, it’s a different form now, it’s out of the solitude of the museums and the galleries, and it’s making me think a little bit different about how to market myself as an artist and how to expand the branding of myself. For my new body of work, 1960 What 1960 Who, I’m hiring a PR person to brand the work.

BC: I think that’s not something we’ve expressly talked about, but that I pick up and notice in what Sheila is doing. Sheila is constantly busy, she’s constantly making work, and working, in whatever context the work requires. Whether it’s a series she started some time ago, and then allowing the space and time to propel into a new series, or allowing the series to take on new formats, she’s constantly working. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I was in… a collector’s home who had one of your pieces that wasn’t from one of your well-known series, but it was just a piece, it was just a really lovely piece.

SPB: What piece was it?

BC: Um, it was a snowman photograph, in front of a house…

SPB: Oh yes!

BC: And it wasn’t a part of anything bigger…

SPB: No it wasn’t!

BC: It was just a moment…

SPB: It was just a moment.

BC: But I like this idea that everything doesn’t have to be the most successful series in the world, it’s ok to just be working until you get to the next big body of work.

SPB: Yes, It leads you into another part. I never thought I’d be doing anything with the Civil Rights Movement, OK? And I’m going there, right now, trying to connect it to the youth and hip-hop culture. So those little moments can make you think about other things that might lead you into other directions.


SPB: I haven’t seen your work since the clouds, I want to see what you’re doing with the clouds. That might not be the work visually that you’re going to want to show, but it’s getting you to what you want to talk about. So what’s going on with the clouds?

BC: Well, I went back to the chalk dust, which I think led me to the clouds, and now I’m erasing those as a kind of thinking about… the White Noise series, until it’s not just an end result, boom, I’m done. It’s all these, kind of, steps. And then I’m also thinking of this fragmentation of the White Noise series. Do you know that poem by Huey Newton? ‘If I define myself as my thumb, then I deny my whole hand.’ I’ve been thinking about that, because one of the first things we talked about was that all of my work has been an exploration of blackness, that I tend to root myself in blackness, but really there’s this whole other… just a whole other. And what to do with that. So, I’m still thinking about that, and I think the clouds are a part of that whole idea. Something bigger than me and outside of just my body, and you can read into them whatever you want to, but I still don’t know where they’re going. I don’t know where I want to go with that work.

SPB: I think you want to go beyond blackness.

BC: But not at the same time. It’s still rooted in that search. It’s rooted in the work I’ve done…

SPB: Because it’s based on who you are. You are who you are, and you’re not going to ever get away from that. Like the work I’m creating about the Civil Rights, even though it’s rooted in blackness, I’m using it to try to go beyond that. And I think that’s what you’re trying to do. You are, but you haven’t gotten there yet.

BC: No, uh-uh.

SPB: Because I told you to talk to your mother.

BC: Yeah.

SPB: Did you already take that step?

BC: Not yet.

SPB: You need to do that.


Seana Reilly: I was in a whole show based on the airport and I did an entire series of voice-overs. When I was living in Florida 30 years ago, I answered phones for a limousine company. I can’t do it right now, but I have a limousine voice, where you drop it way low down into your chest. And I did an entire series of fake airport announcements, FAAs. They were all hysterical, it was all about colors… ‘today’s threat assessment is pink flamingoes’ and something about John Waters, I don’t know, death of Divine, something like that, I had a good time. What’d you do with yours, so you’d collect them?

In Kyoung Chun: It was kind of like sound poetry about my life. Silly words. I read, and then I made a lot of layers. Sometimes I’m doing dishes or washing some bean sprouts, and I just collected those sounds, and then I layered with my national anthem. It’s about Korea.

SR: It mirrors your work, because you’re talking about being a cultural transplant, the mix of the cultures…

IKC: Being a housewife and being an artist. And thinking about my past.

SR: Maybe there’s a sound project in our future!


SR: That kind of pressure, you stop thinking about things so purposefully. You just start making because you’ve got all these things you’ve got to do, and things just start to show up. It’s nice to sit back and look at things and not have any deadlines hanging over your head, but there’s something to be said for having a lot of things to do and you just keep making making making… The coordination between your hands and your brain, it gets streamlined.

IKC: Just do it.

SR: Just do it.

IKC: And then if I have some more curious ideas or experimenting coming out when I paint, I can write it down, and check it out later, over the summer maybe. It’s a possibility.


SR: I didn’t realize when you were talking about the bubbles what they were at first. I saw your work, and then we got to talking about it. And you talked about Ki, which is a kind of life energy?

IKC: Yes.

SR: And that really interests me, I think everything boils down to energy. Everything, so that’s a lot of what my work deals with—the power and energy in nature. We’re nature. But I like that you’re pulling this in to talk about your daily life. Because in my work, I feel very disconnected from that, it’s very head-based. But you’re pulling this Ki, and talking about it in your home, and where you are, where you comfort, where you thrive, so I’m really interested to see what comes with the bubbles, and where that goes. Got any plans?

IKC: I’m right now extending my idea of the Ki. Visually, I keep try to extend the idea about the bubbles and then my life, and then connecting that bubble, that Ki energy in my life. I’m interested mainly in daily objects, like a bowl of rice, because I’m a cook, a housewife, I’m a mom, and I have to deal with the everyday bowl of rice, and then my kids are eating my food, my meal, and then they produce their own energy, and they deal with their lives every day. So I love to pick up everyday objects in my life, in my space, and then, and then finally I have picked, these days, the soccer ball. Because my children have been playing soccer for more than 15 years. My son is still playing, my daughter is playing. I was a huge soccer fan. So, the ball itself is a circle and a bubble. It’s just there, and I put another empty white canvas right near the soccer ball, kind of symbolizing that one bowl of rice, invisible Ki energy… This is kind of exciting for me, starting that idea. I might paint a huge soccer ball, or I might do some public art, a huge soccer ball floating for Atlanta.

SR: Fabulous.

IKC: Everybody’s playing soccer. I’m a huge soccer mom. Why not? I want to really paint a soccer ball. I have painted my daughter in her soccer uniform, I’ve been painting all the time the soccer ball. So, yeah, it’s kind of connecting that bubble with the soccer ball. I will want to see how people are reacting to that simple painting of the soccer ball. And then of course, many bubble paintings, rooftops, my past, and then daily simple objects, Mickey Mouse clock, and so on. Those are all connecting within the soccer ball.

SR: Ah, the formal circle.

IKC: Right. That bubble, empty energy, floating away somewhere and then pushing away soccer ball.


SR: Sometimes all the really interesting things are the things that don’t have words yet. If we were about words, we’d be poets. I think there are things you can say that you can’t say in words. That’s why we shouldn’t formulate these ideas in word. There’s a thing they say about Taoism—if you can talk about the Tao, it’s not the Tao. A lot of art is that way for me. It’s got a direct line into a place where words don’t exist yet, or can’t exist, so just make the work. Don’t think about it too much. Which, I need to listen to that advice myself, because I live in my head a lot of the time.


SR: I think this is why you and I get along really well, because you are a very kind person.

IKC: I’m not sure.

SR: I think so, yes.

IKC: I can be really selfish and difficult.

SR: No, no, I’ve got a sense about people. You’re a kind person.

IKC: OK. Thank you, but that part is really inspiring to me. I have to become a really good person, that’s why I’ve become an artist. It’s my choice to save me every day, toward becoming a good person.


SR: I’m waiting for somebody to show up who hasn’t done it before to say why don’t we do it this way? I think I’ve been around too long. I keep think about things the same way. It’s kind of like when you learn a new language, it changes the way you think. I keep thinking I’m going to learn Portuguese. I want to be less business and scientific. That’s English. Portuguese is like poetry and love. I think I’m going to learn Portuguese.


Marcia Vaitsman: You’re also the generation that is missing, because my son Dan, he’s 10 years younger than you are, and I’m ten years older than you. I understand some things that Dan’s generation is about. Now, having more contact with the in-between generation, for me it’s very important, and I come with things like, ‘Oh you have to listen to this,’ and Andre is like, ‘I know them,’ and I’m like, ‘OK.’ But of course when I’m talking about gender, the whole flag of the issue is identity. The larger flag. The whole post-structuralist thought. We never get into the really theoretical things, but I think it’s mirrored in our talks, and yours more by experience. I know you haven’t transitioned, but you have a lot of experience with friends, and knowing related things.

Andre Keichian: I have a lot of experience knowing things.

MV: You do.

AK: All sorts of things. Yeah, well identity is the umbrella in both of our work. I think we work similarly, although it’s very different, in that we take broad topics and we kind of dissect them down and inspect them. Inspect may not be the right word, but they’re studies. I think we both work in studies. Either it’s through your small miniatures, you’re examining something small at large, and I attempt to do the same by just taking a moment. Here is something big, and let’s just take this one aspect of something bigger and break it down, and I think we inspect or analyze or synthesize things similarly. I do work more with the body and you work with representations of identity, and that’s something that I like about your work.

MV: It’s very related, but the end presentation, the interface, is very different. But the core, the methods, are very similar…. And the subversive part. That both works have some kind of subversive elements. In mine you see less because my works are so layered, and even if people just look quickly, they say, ‘Oh this is a photograph of a little dog,’ which, I don’t care, it’s fine too, but it’s very layered, and there is this kind of interest for grotesque elements. Sometimes. Like when you work a lot with the black and white, you know? Going back to some, even in time, early techniques.

AK: I would just say for the use of black and white, because I don’t necessarily think… I used that for the simplicity, not necessarily to be… I like subversive, I think in both of our works, you have to watch for it, there’s a lot more underneath, but I like to present it as simplistically as possible so you can get the layers. If there’s too much distraction, I feel like people get too lost. It’s just single frame, black and white, how can I make this easy for you?

MV: I kind of like simplicity too. My things are very simple, they have two elements, three, but they’re heavily…

AK: But they’re a lot more complex, though. I feel like there’s a lot going on, even if it’s just a frame, it’s a frame of hanging meat.

MV: So you don’t think that your black and white has some subversive theme?

AK: I’m just saying the intention behind the decision was simplicity and rooted in study. The action, what we’re doing, I think has subversive elements.

MV: Especially because it’s black and white, I think.

AK: OK, so you’re rooting that in something deeper… historically?

MV: Yeah, because black and white has that detachment from time, so it’s kind of difficult to know if it was done 2012 or 1980 or 1960, depending. I think it was the radio one. Transmission—it’s kind of hard to know when you made that.

AK: So not knowing when it was made, does that make a huge difference to you?

MV: For me, it makes a big difference, it makes it more interesting. I always try to see things from a more cultural-Marxist point of view. I like to see the work by itself, but for me, the value of the work develops from whom, in which context.


AK: I also really love silent film and I’m working towards silent film, and that history is a very androgynous period, where gender play was huge and identity was a lot more fluid and that is a decision that I have made, placing it within that. Because that’s a really flexible and inventive period of film history.

MV: You know, I think of Kabuki, the Japanese tradition, that the guys are playing the female roles, and they can sing extremely feminine. It’s because it was forbidden for women to take part in theater.

AK: It’s interesting, because through forbidden roles, there’s a lot more gender expression, right? That happened with Shakespeare too. And then you have drag.

MV: What about Shakespeare?

AK: The men played all the roles too.

MV: Oh, they did.

AK: But then you had all these actors in silent films, and once sound was invented and their voices were too high to be men or they were too low to be women, they were out of a job. It’s really incredible, sound really changed everything.


AK: So we’re talking about a collaborative piece. I’m excited. I’m thinking about our relationship, because I think once you start making work together, it develops onto a next platform, so we’re not there yet, but we’re gonna be, and that’s cool, because I think there’s a need and a trust. I think trust is based off of needing something and being given that, and trusting that that will be met, and a good relationship isn’t too needy but there’s the chance for failure and support. So I think we’re about to get there. We’re working on a proposal that has an idea that I’ve been carrying around for a couple years, in a medium that Marcia works through, and we might throw in another artist.

MV: I think we can talk about that without specifying when it’s gonna happen. It’s an unauthorized TV transmission.

AK: So Marcia does like pirate TV stuff, or has, and I’m so drawn to that. I really want to play with using pirate TV, so she’s got all this equipment. It’s like right there.

MV: It’s a TV station inside of a suitcase. And then we are going to make a transmission, an unauthorized one, and the content is going to be developed by Andre.

AK: I’m interested in the relationship between public and private, and what I like about pirate TV or pirate radio is that, though it’s publicly broadcasted, not a lot of people listen to analog anymore, and you could be broadcasting to the entire neighborhood and, odds are, no one hears you. So that idea of broadcasting something very private within a public medium that’s still really private is interesting to me. So the performance would be me telling all my deepest darkest secrets, broadcasting that on TV, but it will be mute.

MV: Let me try to define the difference between pirate and unauthorized. The work is not going to invade any frequency that is already dedicated to any use. You’re not going to be watching TV, and suddenly Andre comes and says, I’m here!


AK: The idea really terrifies me. These are things I’ve never said out loud. Like, yeah, let’s set a date, I’m going to do it. Fucking terrified, but—

MV: Well, it needs to be fun. It cannot be a torture.

AK: It’s great! It needs to happen. Marcia’s really happy that I’m doing this. She’s like, I really want to work on this project but you take the rap!

MV: It’s only going to be a 4-hour broadcast. It’s not going to be a fixed broadcast every day. It’s more like a public intervention.


AK: Can I say I used the word inspect earlier, but I just said it because I was nervous, I don’t like the word inspect, because I don’t like medicalizing people. We work in studies, and we inspect things, but I don’t want it to seem like we are inspecting people, or even examining, it’s just approaching. Something a little bit more delicate than that.


AK: I think we both just think a lot, and then make, so this has been the gestating process, talking, just talking, hanging.

MV: It’s more like what schools in Germany are like. I think you just show your work to your professor in Germany once every 6 months. It’s much more like talking, and talking, and then suddenly you have something to show.


Sheila Pree Bright is a Fine Art Photographer who is known for her photographic series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies and Suburbia. Her large-scale works combines a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary culture, addressing commentary on American beauty standards, Patriotism and portrayals of urban and suburban themes. Recently, Bright took the Young Americans portraits to the streets of Art Basel Miami this passed December, wheat pasting eleven images in the Coconut Grove neighborhood on building and abandon homes that are often unnoticed in the urban landscape. Bright revisits the series which exhibited as a solo show at the High Museum of Atlanta in 2008, curated by Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography and Chief Curator of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The work examines attitudes and values of Generation Y as American citizens. The series shows diverse young Americans, who are new to the voting system, and exploring ideas of what it means to be American. The sitters expressed their perspectives in a statement and posed in their chosen stance with the American flag. With much success of launching her wall portraits in Miami, she is traveling the series to other cities in 2013. Bright states, “I want to engage with communities nationally after observing the major divide during the most recent Presidential election. I am passionate about re-framing these images by giving communities an open forum and empowerment.” Bright’s goal is to encourage public engagement and to create dialogue about being an American in the 21st century.

Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, In Kyoung Chun studied Psychology at EWHA Women’s University in Seoul and achieved an MFA in drawing and painting at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design, GSU in Atlanta, Ga. She has participated in many exhibitions nationally, most of which were juried selections. Her awards include the 1st place gallery sponsorship award of Ernest G. Welch School 2010 Juried Student Exhibition, the 1st Place of Juror’s Top Ten Awards, the Dean E. Dryer Endowment Scholarship Award of the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at the 2011 Juried Student Exhibition, the Art and Design Award chosen by Cheryl Goldsleger, Director of the Ernest G. Welch School at the 2012 Juried Student Exhibition, the 1st place of 2012 Dean’s Art Award of College of Arts and sciences of GSU and the Emerging Artist Award 2012-2013 of the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. Recently Chun showed at the “Georgia Artists from Other Countries” exhibition curated by Marianne Lambert, in the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA. Chun teaches studio art at the Ernest G. Welch school of Art and Design, Georgia State University. Chun’s work conveys invisible power in life. By adopting bubbly and circular forms as secret power, she expresses the hidden and mysterious energy that resides in everything.

Bethany Collins, originally from Montgomery, Alabama, is a multimedia Atlanta-based artist. Her work has been featured in exhibitions across the Southeast including From Cosmology to Neurology and Back Again at Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, GA; Pre-Emergent at Aqua Art in Miami, FL; and Pulp at Beta Pictoris Galley in Birmingham, AL. In early 2013, her work will be featured in the Walthall Artist Fellowship group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and also as an invited Dashboard Co-Op artist in Boom City, a twelve-artist exhibition of radical contemporary art in downtown Atlanta. Prior to returning to the Southeast to pursue her MFA from Georgia State University, Collins was the Public Art Coordinator for Working Classroom, a contemporary arts organization in Albuquerque, NM.

Andre Keichian is an Atlanta-based artist who works in photography, video, and installation who acquired a B.A. in Studio Art from Agnes Scott College. Their work has been shown both locally and internationally at Emory University, Mondo Homo, The Goat Farm, Dalton Gallery, BurnAway, Le Flash, and in Buenos Aires. In addition to being a Walthall Fellow, Keichian currently holds a residency with the Creatives Project and was garnered a finalist for the 2012 The Forward Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Andre Keichian’s artwork constantly invokes the notion of play: play between the individual and the collective, between the tangible and the intangible, and between proximity and distance. Working with the dynamism of video and performance, their work exists at the intersection of image, sound and movement to gesture toward the fluidity of identity among people. By emphasizing plasticity, Keichian often uses their own personal history as a queer, Argentine-American to illuminate the larger complexities and flows of identity. Keichian’s artworks serve as studies that take place at a point of tension between structural control and contingent improvisation. Their new work seeks to morph the digital, virtual realm into a more material experience by constructing physical elements that house the virtual via installation.

Seana Reilly was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and now resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her artwork is informed by years working in the field of architecture. Her paintings and drawings are directly influenced by this professional history, as well as by an interest in philosophy and the earth sciences. Seana has been making poured liquid graphite paintings for a number of years and has also tried her hand at sculpture and video from time to time. Next on the docket is a new multi-media installation in collaboration with new media artist Marcia Vaitsman – the pair received an Idea Capital Travel Grant in January to kick off the project. They think they’ll go west.

Marcia Vaitsman, born in Brazil in 1973, has a degree in media studies with specialization in radio and TV from Universidade de São Paulo. She was a student at the University of Vienna, in the Media and Germanistic Institute. Marcia has a post graduation degree in audiovisual art from the prestigious Academy of Media Art (Kunsthochschule fuer Medien KHM), Germany, where from 2000 to 2007 she also worked for the multimedia and artistic performance laboratory of professor Valie EXPORT and for the Department of Media Design as a member of the artistic team and teaching staff. Marcia received prizes such as the Idea Capital Travel Grant, Prize “Mostra de Artistas no Exterior” from the Biennial of Sao Paulo Foundation, grant from Prince Claus Fund, Holland, grant from FUNARTE, Rio de Janeiro, UNESCO-Aschberg prize, France/Finland, granted artist in residence in IAMAS, Japan, EMMA Electronic Multimedia Award, London, among others. Her work has been nominated and invited to video art festivals around the world. Marcia participates in art exhibitions in the Americas, Japan and throughout Europe. She also has a final degree in photography from SCAD, Atlanta, where she had a two-year fellowship. Her work is represented by whitespace gallery.

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