We Stand With Standing Rock

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In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating their concern that a pipeline slated to be built encroached upon ancestral lands.


It’s a five dollar donation to get in the doors of the Standing Rock Solidarity Benefit show, to be enveloped in the warmth, the glow, the murmur of conversations cut frequently by loud laughter. It looks like someone’s family reunion with folding chairs and cheap plastic table cloths, a buffet set-up with six donated Two Cousin’s Gut Buster pizzas and cheap booze. As the place slowly fills with people, the room becomes a beacon in the cold night, a bright light in a row of dim buildings, a convention of friends new and old, setting the stage for solidarity.


September 4th, Dakota Access begins clearing ground for the pipeline, bulldozing over sacred sites and burials. Protesters are attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed.


It took just under two weeks for Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Mark Sebastian Jordan, Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin to bring this event into the public eye, being touted in the local papers and drawing over a hundred contributors and participants. It even received threats, though none came to fruition. The K.E. McCarthy building was donated as a space for the show and by door time, all money spent on food, drink, and entrance would be sent to the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Mark Jordan opens the show as MC and performer and along with Jason Kauffman, Lucas Hargis, and Nate Weiland presents a spoken word piece (Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert). He repeats the question: “who speaks?” over the murmur of the settling audience and we listen, and finally erupt into applause on his final call-to-arms, that “We speak!”

This becomes the theme of the show, the different voices no longer silenced, but calling for an end to injustice. This is a shout for self-expression and for claiming a space in the land.

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Within the Happy Crowd, by Kate Shannon; a review by Jason Kaufman

“There’s the life and there’s the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it’s consumed.”

“No body knows how to feel and they’re checking around for hints.”

                                                                        ― Don DeLillo, Mao II

In Within the Happy Crowd Kate Shannon extracts the backgrounds from photographs, leaving only the Subjects floating in fields of white. This is no hatchet job; these are no cardboard cutouts. The detail is incredible. Every gossamer hair has been salvaged. I can picture Shannon, sitting at her computer, dismantling these worlds one pixel at a time. The people in the photographs are so finely disinterred from their surroundings they might never have belonged to any world at all.

She photographs people in situations of orchestrated excitement, such as carnivals and amusement parks. She tends to shoot photos from the hip, so the Subjects don’t know that they are being photographed. Perhaps this captures them in some truer state. Probably not. More likely we all presuppose the camera, living our lives as if on screen. Lined up on the gallery wall, the photographs are a parade of unreal, highly saturated colors passing in the neutered white backgrounds. The Subjects are so detailed, so plastic they could be advertisements. They appear all the more lonely for their vibrancy. None of them smile.

What are they advertising? American culture, as it really is, without the distortion of ad agencies, models, and studio effects. Shannon’s work is the light-bearing twin of the dark art of marketing. They operate by similar rules. They even have a similar look; replace her Subjects with models and any one of the photos could be an ad for Mac. The difference is that while Mac ad models promenade as the great beneficiaries of American culture, Shannon’s real-life Subjects are its victims. Their arms overflow with the paraphernalia of theme parks: dart game trinkets, inflatable toys, a Dixie Cup-potted flower, a Cro-Magnon sized turkey leg. They glisten, sweaty as the obscenely sized soda cups they carry. They’re draped with eye-assaulting slogans of consumerism. A Hispanic boy cocks a fake chromed pistol sideways; a posture gleaned from the movies. An old man wears a shirt with a cowboy vignette. Horses erupt across his shoulders. An American flag luffs in the billows of dust as a bald eagle circles overhead. The myth of the Old West used to inflame contemporary jingoism. All the threads of US history converge in these Subjects. Their individuality squashed out by the mass psychology of consumerism. Reduced to clichés in Shannon’s lens. Utterly indistinguishable in the crowd.

We can sense the crowd, without the crowd being present. The crowd is implied in the postures of the Subjects; it is written in their bodies. We can sense the collective energy into which the Subjects have yielded. We can sense the potential violence, just waiting to froth up in the crowd. We can also sense their hearts, longing to be buoyed up on the surge. Longing to be part of the great seething hive. The crowd encapsulates. The energy mesmerizes. This is what it means to be Within the Happy Crowd, to be one of countless bodies yoked in a single action. Therefore, the Crowd is a reflection, or simulation of what Lacan says is our true desire, which is “the desire for nothing nameable.” On one level this means that we desire what the Other has. As soon as we possess something we no longer desire it, because to own a thing is to name it. Therefore desire is always faceless, existing on the periphery of a person’s life. On a deeper level, “the desire for nothing nameable” means that we desire a mode of experience that is not tainted by language. Our perception of the world is grown out of language. Though the world is a continuum of matter, in which no clear boundaries exists between ‘things’, our minds use language to parcel the external world into arbitrary symbolic units. This allows us to step outside of the continuum of matter, to separate ourselves from the flux into which other types of minds seem blindly immersed. We inhabit a kind of secondary world of symbolic images and texts. Therefore a more fundamental root of all desire is our wish to be utterly yoked to phenomena once again. To be without boundary and distinction.

Shannon has captured the Subjects in moments when the energy of the crowd deflates. In moments when the Disneyland-like simulations collapse and the specter before them is realized for what it is. A shoddy hoax. A piece of china-silk dangled from the ceiling like ectoplasm in the Medium’s candle-lit séance room. The Subjects gaze into the distance, as if searching for something new to replace their deflated desire. Desire may take many forms (the girl at the bar, Google glasses, a show at Gagosian), but these are really just place holders for something more fundamental. We pull these things into our orbit in order to consume them, to become of one substance. Each new possession is a minor flare illuminating what it is we really desire. By removing the backgrounds of the photos, Shannon visually withholds from the viewer any specific objects that may be desired by the Subject. The Subjects seem caught in suspension, and we are forced to see the stark truth of their unfulfilled/unfulfillable desire.

Herein lies the charm of Shannon’s work. She shows us that the consumer events, the spectacles around which we gather into groups, are inconsequential. We may mistake them as the objects of our desire, but we really Desire to abandon Self, to become utterly indistinguishable within the whole. Being caught up in the energy of a crowd simulates this experience. At the same time, no matter how enchanted the Subjects might be by the crowd, they are also individuals. Shannon has plucked them from the obscurity of the crowd. She has reasserted the individual by blanking out the spectacle, pixel by pixel. The Subjects are caught in limbo, the strange implications between being singularly themselves and seamlessly merged Within the Happy Crowd.

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Kate Shannon SelfieKate Shannon is an assistant professor within the Department of Art at The Ohio State University. She teaches Art & Technology and photography courses on the Mansfield Campus in Mansfield, Ohio.  The recipient of the 2013 Ohio State University Mansfield Campus Award for Excellence in Scholarship, she explores notions of desire, consumption, happiness, and loss through digitally manipulated images. She has exhibited her work across the United States.  Selected venues include the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, LA; Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, OH; the Zhou B Art Center Gallery in Chicago, IL; the Contemporary Arts Center in Las Vegas, NV; and TRACTIONARTS in Los Angeles, CA.  Shannon received her master of fine arts degree in studio art from The Ohio State University and her bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art from the University of Kentucky. She currently resides in Mansfield, Ohio with her husband and two cats.  

Time-Capsulation of My Heart’s Inhabitants: An Optical/Poetic Homage –work by Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz: A review by Jason Kaufman.

The gallery space on the second floor of the Mansfield-Richland County Public Library is becoming one of the most exciting exhibition spaces in Mansfield. It’s the perfect size for solo-shows and there is an informal quality to the space that, I think, allows artists to relax and take chances creatively that they would not be inclined to take in a traditional gallery. Of course, when artists begin to take chances, moving beyond their established styles and familiar materials, they risk producing work that feels half-thought or unfinished. I’m an advocate of half-thought and unfinished, because the purpose of art is to lead us—maker and dilettante alike—ever-onward into the unexpressed (inexpressible?) realms of experience. Let the designers and decorators settle for comfortable, known forms.

In this space Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz has arranged the ‘optical/poetic’ portraits of twenty-two people that ‘inhabit’ his heart. There are eighteen photographs, three paintings, and one sculpture. The risk here is that the personal nature of the work leaves Diaz extremely vulnerable. These portraits disrobe Diaz’s relationships of all their exoteric trappings, bringing the essential live-wire of intimacy under the public’s gaze. Diaz must walk a fine line to retain the power and eccentricity of these portraits, while not losing the viewer’s interest in the highly personal sentiments. Luckily, Diaz has guts and a subtle step; the risk has paid off.

"Aurelio's Brother"

The piece “Aurelio’s Brother” was the high point of the show for me. The photo and poem both seem to carry the same weight and work together to express the dual tough/sensitive nature of his brother. But deeper, I think what I love is that I can see Diaz’s looks in his brother’s face and I can’t image a less likely place to spot him than in this burly man with a barbed-wire tattoo. With all of Diaz’s lingo, the poem is not easy:

                                         When aspirations of greening it up for the U.S of A

           got mechanically ruptured in a sickening, halting twist

                           u could have packed up your testosterone & exiled entirely

          to a headbangers ball of tawny’s dancing on hoods of hotrods.

                                                               That would’ve been pointless though

         Because throughout life your name embodied possessive noun

                           more so than adjective

        & that not only makes you a man, it makes u a father who transcends

                   that which was absent during formative years.

        With the expansion of your bloodline

        soon entered soft smile tinged with charity.

        With soft smile & charity came unconscious surrender

        of retiring possessive noun

        so that the pressure can be resumed by a needy soul

        who will one day be contently fulfilled as u are now.

Despite the initial difficulties, the love and respect for his brother is straightforward. The honest emotion expressed in the work makes it feel deceptively accessible. It draws me in until I believe I understand Diaz completely and then he pummels me with a phrase like “exiled entirely to a headbanger’s ball of Tawnys dancing on hoods of hotrods,” which feels thoroughly Hispanic. As a white boy from Loudonville, Ohio, I do not entirely understand the lingo or the world gestured at in that line, but it is this ‘otherness’ that intrigues me about Diaz’s work. Phrases like this seem distilled from a thousand cultural and racial identities. This is the power of his work; he seems to walk the borders between ethnicities and marginal groups. Diaz seems to have a foot inside of them all, without fully inhabiting any.

In his poetry Diaz doesn’t seem concerned with portraying environment or action in any highly visual, palpable, or experiential way—the way a fiction writer might create a world. Instead, he delivers action and environment obliquely through the eccentric turns of phrase discussed above (Consider the lines “When aspirations of greening it up for the U.S of A / got mechanically ruptured in a sickening, halting twist,” which seems to suggest a car wreck or similar accident ruined his brother’s plans to enter the Army, but never directly confirms it). In this way the poems are specific and abstract. I’m never sure what is concrete and what is symbolic. I have the sensation of not so much entering into the poems, as floating over their surfaces, watching the shimmering effects of his personalized language.

There are instances where Diaz may push the subjectivity of his language too far. Consider these lines from his piece “B-B-Beard on a Guy Like U Nails the Door Shut”:

B-B-Beard on a guy like u

& B-B-Brontosaurus for a gal like her

Is a bed-in for exaltation of exoskeleton

Here I get the feeling I’m third party to an inside joke, and grow a little embarrassed for my sudden isolation after being nearly in tears from the work that came before. I’m not sure where the defect lies. Perhaps it’s because this poem is paired with a child-like painting of a bearded man and a brontosaurus. Though the painting has significant outsider-art charm, it does not seem to operate with the same intensity and earnestness as the photo/poem portraits. There are equally difficult verses in the photo/poem portraits, but the obscurity of the difficult verses feels thoroughly anchored in the reality of the photographs. In these pieces, if a verse defies our translation we can at least look at the photograph and imagine the spark of recognition in the subject’s eyes. To be fair, while I feel that “B-B-Beard On A Guy Like U Nails the Door Shut” and the other painting/poems are of a different body of work and belong in their own show altogether, they do possess a lovely, playful quality that delights me.

If you like gritty, home-grown art, and a refreshingly exotic poetic voice then this is the show for you. Time-Capsulation of My Heart’s Inhabitants: an Optical/Poetic Homage will be on display through July. I urge you to spend some time with Diaz’s work; it’s one of the most moving shows I’ve seen in Mansfield.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz’s work as a performance artist, photographer, and poet have garnered him recognition throughout Ohio. Some of his accomplishments include photography featured in the Mansfield Art Center‘s statewide, juried 2012 and 2013 May Show.  Diaz is a recipient of the 2011 and 2012 Mansfield-Richland Public Library’s Armchair Poetry Contest.

Diaz’s experience as a professional artist continually informs his other passion; working with individuals with developmental disabilities. He is the founder and choreographer for the Richland Newhope Dance Troupe comprised of adults with developmental disabilities who perform throughout Ohio. Diaz was also instrumental in the conception and development of the Element of Art Studio/Gallery in downtown Mansfield, Ohio. The gallery showcases and sells art created by artists with developmental disabilities.

Diaz has an upcoming show titled “Putney,” which will be featured in the NIABOS Gallery in Mansfield in October.  Diaz is also a Creative Consultant at FthreeO Productions based in Columbus, Ohio, and choreographs Hip/Hop dance routines for the Rising Starz Dance Studio in Mansfield, Ohio.

Visit www.aureliovillalunadiaz.com to see more of his work.

“What We Talk About”: A review of Cameron Sharp’s exhibition at The Coburn Gallery, Ashland University, by Jason Kaufman

I’ve been a fan of Cameron Sharp’s work for a few years now, so when I heard
about his exhibition at the Coburn I knew I wanted to write about it. I arrived with my
camera in hand, prepared to capture images of his
Work, to sniff out threads of narrative, and give voice to the unspoken tensions at
work within the Work.
While shooting the Work I overheard a professor mention that a fellow professor
would not be attending the reception because they (speaking of Sharp’s work) “did not
care to see someone with no talent try to paint like Rauschenberg.” I thought this was a
bit harsh, but it does raise some crucial issues about Sharp’s Work. It also lends a fire of
indignation to my defense of the Work.
Before my reprisal, a brief aside: Professors are granted privilege, power, and
control over the contemporary discourse of art. I’d like to warn against using that power
to make discernments without first putting in the work of active viewing. The University
is no place for purveyors of lazy opinion. It is a place for careful ‘readers’, decipherers of
subtle scents, and defenders of what is sacrosanct in human experience.
_________________________________________________________________________

Cameron Sharp What We Are Talking About When We Are Not Talking

Cameron Sharp
What We Are Talking About When We Are Not Talking
(Self Portrait as a Professional)

“In front of the photograph of my mother as a child,
I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder…over a
catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or
not the subject is already dead, every photograph is
this catastrophe.”                       ― Roland Barthes

I believe the Professor is circulating lazy opinions because it takes about three
honest seconds to determine that Rauschenberg would never have chosen the subject
matter that Sharp has chosen. It must be admitted that there are overwhelming material
and stylistic similarities: The saturation of the paint, though not hue. The boldness with
which Sharp applies the paint is at times damn near a ‘quotation’ of Rauschenberg. A
few of Sharp’s sculptural decisions –I’m thinking of the necklace dangling in the mouth
of the cardboard box in “WHEN WE ARE NOT TALKING (Self Portrait as a
Professional)” also seem particularly Rauschenbergian. Due to these family
resemblances, are we supposed to dismiss the Work as mere plagiarism? In the
contemporary climate, where pastiche is the name of the game, I’m inclined to assume
that Sharp has a good reason for quoting Rauschenberg. So what is the reason?

Cameron Sharp What We Are Talking About When We Are Not Talking  (Portrait of myself as a professional)

Cameron Sharp
WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE ARE NOT TALKING
(Self Portrait as a Professional)

Rauschenberg began producing his Combines in the midst of Jackson Pollock and
abstract expressionism. Weary of the concept of canvas-as-stage-for-primal-performance
and the ideal of the solipsistic genius, which Pollock and other manly-modernist
promoted, Rauschenberg was intent from the outset to keep his ‘self’ out of the Work. To
prevent his Combines from lapsing into the realm of psychological investigation,
Rauschenberg appropriated images already at large in the cultural context of the 1950’s
and collected random, impersonal detritus from the street. He worked deliberately to
prevent overt narratives from taking shape. His goal seemed to be to create without
authoring; to offer an impersonal vocabulary that longed to be ‘read’ while
simultaneously thwarting the viewer’s attempts to ‘read’. Somewhere in this push/pull I
come to rest and delight in the simple physicality of Rauschenberg’s work. His approach
anticipated Barthes essay “The Death of the Author” (1967), which argues that authorial
intent does not arrest the meaning of a text or work of art. The Work achieves autonomy
when it enters the world, but this autonomy is a sort of agnosticism. Agnostic because
apart from a reader the Work has no meaning, but the Work carries within its cipher the
potential for all meaning. Simply said, each reader brings their own interpretation to the
text, but none has authorial privilege—least of all the author. There are no authors, only
readers. In this way every act of ‘reading’ signifies the ‘death’ of a previous
author/reader.

This, I believe, is why Sharp unabashedly “quotes” Rauschenberg, as a kind of
shorthand that lays out the rules by which his own Work will proceed. By “quoting”
Rauschenberg, he is also “quoting” an entire post-structural methodology. It’s not
plagiarism, but a portal of entrance into the work. Unlike Rauschenberg’s impersonal
subject matter, Sharp works with materials that are intimate and self-conscious:
photographs from his own life—often of his own family, handwritten notes from his
professional life as a gallery coordinator, a necklace (whose?), a roll of masking tape (his
primary means of holding these tenuous assemblages together). These materials are
mundane, yet poignantly his own. I see his use of simple, unembellished materials as a
grand democratic gesture. Of course, found and recycled objects are the trope of our day,
but artist usually take care to transform these materials into something unrecognizable—
to transcend the trash-ness. Sharp drops these pretenses. Because his Work is composed from the same sad dross that fills our own desk drawers, the materiality itself is a direct challenge to the viewer. He says to us, “This is what you need: a bent-ass piece of ¼ inch plywood, some tape, photos shot on a camera anyone can afford, mis-tinted house paint, and your memories. Now get to work!”

Cameron Sharp THERE THEN THAT

Cameron Sharp
THERE THEN THAT

Cameron Sharp Detail from THERE THEN THAT

Cameron Sharp
Detail from THERE THEN THAT

Sharp’s formal training is in photography, so we can’t overlook what the
photograph means to him. His work seems to call into question the hierarchy of the
photograph itself. The photograph parades around as if it’s the real. It purports to Be the
world, to Be present, constructive, whole. But there is a laceration between the world and
the photograph; a wound between the memory (never re-livable) and the archive (always present). The work seems born out of the same desperation that compels us to slavishly record everything and immediately stuff the photos in boxes, not wanting to be reminded of what we’ve lost. It is no coincidence that Sharp’s images are usually family scenes. Happy. Silent. Unremarkable. The photos are grainy, which makes them feel older than they are, as if the future has outpaced them (I can date them by matching referents that pop up in my own relatively recent and much more vivid digital images). In this way the
scenes, the subjects themselves, seem already pregnant with their own absence. A whole
family attuned to the tyranny of the clock’s hand. A whole family that senses their death
has just been written there.

Cameron Sharp SAME AGAIN

Cameron Sharp
SAME AGAIN

Detail from SAME AGAIN  "tell me this place outlived us, and if not, don't tell me when.                  ^             it did

Cameron Sharp
Detail from SAME AGAIN
“tell me this place outlived us, and if not, don’t tell me when.”
                                                                     ^
                                                                 it did

Sharp uses film-based point-and-shoot cameras, which suffer from a slight
discrepancy between the image seen through the viewfinder and the image that actually
passes through the lens. This discrepancy may be small, but the philosophic
consequences are huge in Sharp’s work. To exaggerate this discrepancy Sharp often
disregards the viewfinder altogether, shooting from the hip (see his fabricated,
viewfinderless camera in “To The Mark”). It’s as if he wishes to remove himself-as author,
and in distancing himself gain immunity from the laceration between the memory
(in which he’s a present and willing participant) and the archive (which he is compelled
to make, despite the wound the photo will inflict). I have the thought, illogical but
accurate, that Sharp is making anti-photographs.

It is exhilarating to me that a man who seems to suffer the ‘wound’ of the
photograph so succinctly cannot help but wrestle with the photograph. It is precisely here
that Sharp differs from Rauschenberg. Whereas Rauschenberg started with impersonal
images and borrowed symbols in order to keep his self out of the work, Sharp begins with
his self and actively—brush in hand, with strong, aggressive marks— attempts to write
himself out of the Work he has created. There are bare nails where photographs used to
hang (as if the Work is never finished for Sharp, but a thing that morphs with time; as
fluid as memory itself). He scrawls messages haphazardly across the surface. Some of these messages set out in pursuit of great insight, only to trail off unresolved. His work is stuffed with temporal markers: date/date/date. He guides us in our viewing—or
perhaps misguides—with playbook-like marks. He applies a photograph, obscures it. He
paints out subjects completely. What subjects do remain do so tenuously. I have the
sensation I must not avert my gaze or what remains of the subjects—the evidence of their
lives—will be completely washed over.

Cameron Sharp detail from REMEMBER

Cameron Sharp
Detail from REMEMBER

It is insincere to accuse Sharp’s Work of failing on account of its references to
Rauschenberg or because of his use of unadorned, honest materials –for these are the
very rules by which the work operates. The failure has to come from within the work.
And indeed, there are a few pieces that seem to fail on account of Sharp’s own
methodology. When Sharp is at his best there is a heroic dissidence between the intimate
nature of the photographic narratives and the intensely physical and iconoclastic mark
making. At his worst I sense (a) timidity and an unwillingness to relinquish the authority
of the photograph, or (b) an overall lack of photographic/narrative tension. One thing that
I believe is undeniable is that the work is full of heart and brimming with a nuance that is
all Cameron Sharp.

Cameron Sharp THE REASONS FOR

Cameron Sharp
THE REASONS FOR

© Jason Kaufman 2013
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cameron sharpCameron Sharp is an artist living in Mansfield, Ohio who uses issues of memory, time, family, and space as springboards to examine greater interpersonal relationships.

Click here to see more of his visual work.

Click here to listen to his music.