Is there anything that could prompt you to pick up an AK-47 and aim it at someone?
At the McColl Center’s current exhibition, that “someone” is a painting of a woman. And the gun? It’s an artist’s replica.
The proposition is still jarring.
Willie Little’s “American Obsession” – a wall-sized installation that’s part of the exhibition titled “prompt” – asks us to consider a gun and a woman, resplendent in a white gown and red lipstick.
But in this exhibition, you can do more than consider the art; you can touch it. In fact, you’re encouraged to. So, when you approach Little’s painting, with a model AK-47 chained to it, you can pick up the gun, feel its weight (both literal and metaphorical) and aim it.
“prompt” – a small, but powerful exhibition – came about as a way to re-engage McColl Center alumni artists-in-residence. “This was an experiment,” said Armando Bellmas, director of marketing and communications. “We’d never commissioned works in this way before, but we got a marketing grant and decided the best way to market the McColl Center was through original art.”
Select alumni were asked if they were interested in creating a large-scale work – on-site during a “pop-up residency” – based on an open-ended prompt. Without knowing what the prompt was, three artists said yes.
Another McColl artist-in-residence alum, sculptor Shaun Cassidy, chose the prompts:
▪ Create a work that uses these word pairs as the catalyst: divisions and differences; connections and intersections.
▪ Include one material, technique, process or approach that’s new to you.
▪ Ensure the art has an interactive element.
Bellmas and team gave the artists free rein. There were no restrictions or limitations beyond the confines of the prompt. McColl officials didn’t ask for a proposal or ask to approve preliminary sketches. This was more than an experiment; it was an act of trust.
For Susan Lee-Chun, a 39-year-old, Korean-born, Miami-based artist, it was a fun challenge. She’s not an electrician, so that was the new element she brought to “Untitled (disjointed and unrelated),” a panel of light bulbs and switches. “I wanted to do something whimsical, which is within my palette.”
She does make interactive art, though. So, making something people would touch wasn’t off-putting to her. “Without the viewer, this piece doesn’t function.”
The installation – like the artist who created it – has a sense of humor. When you approach it and flip a switch, the light bulb nearest that switch doesn’t come on. Instead, a random lightbulb somewhere else on the wall does. Lee-Chun said: “I thought it would be funny if it didn’t correlate.” It plays with our expectations. We want to see cause and effect. But this artwork seems to say there is only randomness.
Lee-Chun has done something else clever. She tricks us into spending more time with her art than we might otherwise. “Our attention spans are so brief now,” she said. “We don’t linger in front of art in a gallery or a museum. But these installations are like a game.”
You want to linger and look. And touch.
The exhibition is small – just three works – yet the size encourages us to spend more time with the art. You’re invited to play. Flip a switch. Hold a gun. Hop on and off a stool.
Quisqueya Henriquez’s “Secret Possibilities” features a structure you can sit or stand on, to ponder the art she created from recycled guata, a cotton padding made from old clothes.
Little’s work asks the viewer to consider not just America’s gun obsession, but our racial divisions (and racial profiling) and our standards of female beauty.
The exhibition’s title, you begin to realize, has two meanings. The artists were given a prompt as a jumping-off point. But what they’ve created prompts thought – long after you’ve left the light switches, the recycled fabric and the assault rifle behind.
The exhibition of new installations by McColl Center for Art + Innovation alumni artists-in-residence has been extended to Aug. 27. The McColl Center is open 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and noon to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Admission is free; donations are welcome.