object/item/material/me at Annas is a dynamic partnership between The Overlook Place’s Curator in Residence Graham Feyl and Annas’ directorial team of Alden Burke and Stephanie Koch. object takes an affective lens in order to examine how the weight and reverberations of items, objects, and materiality permeate contemporary life. The exhibition ultimately proposes the possibility of entangled connections between identity, care, and community. Feyl, in collaboration with Burke and Koch, structures object through a cohort of eight artists, Julie Arredondo, Fontaine Capel, Megan Cline, Kimberly English, River Ian Kerstetter, Janelle Miller, Polina Protensko, and Jennifer Sova, whose works create exchange on shared ideas of objects and their shifting roles within social ecosystems.
Feyl introduces the exhibition through political philosopher Jane Bennett’s 2010 work A Political Ecology of Things. Bennett’s ideas are utilized as a structure within which to analyze a predetermined relationship with materiality. Feyl positions object, item, and material, as three distinct elements and apparatuses that play a variety of roles in transforming affective connection. Each artist is asked to consider how their relationships with objects, items, materials, both reflect within and impact their work. The Overlook and Annas’ commitment to showcasing the undeniable impact of identity and pluralities of difference is refreshing in its candor. Unlike texts and art practices within object-oriented ontology that erase difference, object’s recognition of race, class, and gender allows for the show to develop strands of commonality and community. As the queer novelist and critic Samuel R. Delany wrote on our current mode of capitalism and gentrification, “life is at its most joyful when different folks can communicate and converge through a spirit of goodwill”1.
Janelle Miller, a member of object’s cohort, is an archivist and artist whose work centers on black cultural and communal networks. Miller, interviewed within the exhibition catalog, defined the “object” through the reverberations of belonging and power within traditions of black, diasporic, and African cultures. Miller specifically cites how in these communal systems objects often possess a force, a power imbued by their creators. Miller’s installation Building Virtue began in 2017 and is composed of vintage church fans. The fans were traditionally placed on pews to be used to stay cool during services though are now mostly seen in older, local houses of worship or personal collections. As objects, the fans possess several functions: they are advertisements (local businesses could buy space on the back of the fans), cooling instruments, and instructional tools.
At first glance, the scenes of African American families praying, gardening, or playing the piano may cast the fans as educational objects–i.e., the church elevates scenes of piety and familial bonding in an effort to communicate an ethics of good works. While such a reading may be partially true, it does not capture the full expanse of the fans’ multiple meanings. It is crucial to view Miller’s collection of printed, highly-reproducible, fans as circulating signifiers of black space and black community. Such a reading critically aligns with Feyl’s exhibitionary thesis because, under systemic intertwined oppression, the fans communicate and affirm faith-based representations of African American homes and families; shifting the boundaries of their objecthood and temporally occupying an affective space within the larger community.
Fontaine Capel, another artist featured here, frames their experiences with objecthood in a manner that emphasizes their cultural connections. For Capel, objects share cultures and “material” is a dynamic, shifting idea undulating with emotional connectivity. Capel’s work centers on their experience as a second-generation Latinx immigrant growing up in New York City amidst the rapidly encroaching gentrification of the 1990s (territory Capel explored in work shown at Hume, their former artist-run space in Logan Square). Objects such as a power outlet and a coffee carafe are expressions of childhood memories. The power outlet, from their Outlet Series, is a meditation on the unscrupulous and unsafe maintenance methods used by landlords in spaces occupied by lower and middle-class families. Layers and layers of white paint are embedded within the outlet’s grooves–an impediment to the outlet’s functionality and safety. Studying Capel’s piece is a quiet but powerful experience as the object’s monochrome isolation translates well to the personal and systemic isolation of disenfranchisement.
As a whole object challenges preconceptions of how objects can mediate or amplify human connection. Annas’ inaugural exhibition signals the presence of an exciting new space, engaged with the intersectional particularities of community and belonging.