Monday, March 17, 2014

A few questions with Jessica Caldas and Aubrey Longley-Cook

Posted By on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Work by Jessica Caldas

For the first time, the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs' Emerging Artist Winners will have the opportunity to present their work in a group exhibition at the Chastain Arts Center. 2013-14 winners Jessica Caldas and Aubrey Longley-Cook collaborated on the show Two Houses, an investigation on views of family, home and the fragility of this environment. Through installations and print media, Caldas and Longley-Cook look to explore broken narratives and safe spaces. Both artists are also recipients of WonderRoot's 2013-2014 Walthall Fellowship. Here, they talked to CL about collaborating, the meaning of home and their new show.

How is your experience so far as an Emerging Artist for the City of Atlanta? In terms of your art and what you've been able to do.
Aubrey Longley-Cook: Atlanta's art scene is growing, and it's an exciting time to be an artist as the city evolves. It was inspiring to lead the RuPaul Cross Stitch Animation Workshop this past year. Atlanta's eager artistic community around me permitted me to expand both the scope of my work, be it the consideration of time and technique, and the possibility for further abstraction from the original conception. With the support of the workshop participants, Atlanta arts organizations, and the local drag community, I was able to engage a larger public in my process and create work that would have been impossible to complete on my own.

Jessica Caldas: I find that the city has been very generous. Atlanta in general seems to be very willing to support its young artists by throwing lots of attention on people who are new and doing great things (for example, ArtsAtl's 30 under 30, and CL's regular coverage of artists, exhibitions, and change makers) and this award is no different in the kind of validation and excitement it generates. I had to do a panel interview and it was the first time I had to sit in front of 20 or so folks and defend my work and why I make it. That was super exhilarating for me. An award like this, and to know people are responding to what you are doing and support it, is truly valuable.

This is the first time the Emerging Artists Award winners get to do an exhibition. How did you prepare for it?
ALC: Although neither of us was expecting for the award process to include the exhibition opportunity, both Jessica and I are excited to show work at the Chastain Art Center Gallery. We've met up a couple times to discuss themes and to plan the installation, and we've both had studio visits with Karen Lowe, facility manager and curator at Chastain. This new component of the award is exciting, and we're looking forward to sharing the work.

Work by Aubrey Longley-Cook

The theme of Two Houses is different perspectives on family and home. What does family mean to you and how did it influence your work in the show?
ACL: While my biological family is encouraging and supportive, I've noted a degree of disconnection that's developed over the last few years. As a gay man, I've had to adjust the expectations for my life's course (marriage, biological offspring, etc.) and rework my understanding of what it means to be family. I'm the youngest of four siblings. They're all straight. They're all married. They all have kids. It's not hard to see the growing gap between our life experiences. I love my siblings. They have known me longer than anyone else, but even with that special bond, I share more in my day-to-day-life with my queer family. My work documents this reconstruction of my notions of family and home.

JC: I'm very lucky when it comes to family, but I definitely have a strong belief that family and the idea of home is exactly what you create it to be. I think old-fashioned ideals of home life are a bit silly. So much of family is about who you choose to share your life with, whether or not you actually live with them. The people you bring into your life, open up to, and spend time with can also become family. All of these people create safe spaces where you can learn and grow. Home is really a place you feel safe, not necessarily where you live.

Aubrey, the art of embroidery is often related to the idea of home, family and tradition. How has your practice influenced your work in this show and your definition of home?
ACL: I began to embroider after losing my mother to cancer in 2001. She had worked in needlepoint during my childhood, and taking up the craft allowed me a way to continue to connect with her. I was drawn to embroidery for its heirloom quality, and early experiments were give to family and friends. The tactility of embroidery is intimate and personal, and the handmade nature of the craft is grounding in this digital age.

Jessica, you worked previously with women and domestic violence issues. How has this influenced your work in this show?
JC: The work in this show continues to work with themes of domestic violence and examines how the idea of home breaks down in the context of violent and controlling relationships. I said before that I believe home is something you create and that a true home is really a safe space. What intimate partner violence has taught me, which is something you probably know abstractly until you witness it, is that the idea of a safe space is a fragile one. The majority of the families I see are living in houses which also function as prisons or traps. Any sense of safety is shattered by the control and violence that exists inside. I've learned that recreating your home and your family is unimaginably difficult once it is broken down. A lot of my work is focused on this break down - how, why, and to who it occurs.

You guys use completely different media to convey your message, both require time and patience. How did you collaborate to make the show flow and your narratives work together?
JC: One of the things that is most exciting, though, is that there will be such a variety of media and experiences within the show. Aubrey isn't strictly working with embroidery, he is also a media artist and will be using projections and animations. I've been incorporating a lot of drawing into my prints and will be using sound to create a more immersive piece as well. We'll both be creating installations and our hope is that these pieces will play a bit off each other and tie all the narratives and experiences together.
ACL: I met Jessica through WonderRoot's Walthall Artist Fellowship, and we've gotten to know each other over the program. I'm inspired by Jessica's use of narratives. Her work is honest and conveys powerful messages. Both of our work explores identity and relationships, and we're focusing on connecting these threads in order to create a larger dialogue.

Two Houses, a collaborative exhibition with Jessica Caldas and Aubrey Longley-Cook, runs through April 17 at Chastain Arts Center and Gallery. More details at the gallery.

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