A Common Thread: CAC's 'Archive as Action' Meets Three Local Artists at Their Intersection

The CAC’s current exhibit "Archive as Action" features the work of three Cincinnati-based women artists and asks visitors to be a part of the conversation

Mar 12, 2019 at 2:32 pm
"Archive as Action" - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
"Archive as Action"

Housed on the Contemporary Arts Center’s second-floor gallery, Archive as Action meets three seemingly disparate Cincinnati-based artists — Amanda Curreri, Lindsey Whittle and Calcagno Cullen — at their intersection.

The gallery space is wholly utilized through pieces like a mapwork of blown-up sketches — akin to the kind that might fill the margins of a journal — and a kaleidoscopic, glowing cloud made of hook and loop tape that floats dreamily on a hallway ceiling. 

Curated by Steven Matijcio, Archive as Action acts as an ongoing conversation steeped in the histories of the three artists’ works. It is on display through June 16.

When visitors first stroll in, they’re likely to be greeted by large patchwork flags made of various fabrics; each carry symbols that speak to different histories, identities and social movements. On some days you may even hear the hum of a sewing machine. Let it lure you to the work table in the far-right corner; there’s another artist at play here: you. 

Braided strands of colorful rope are strewn across the wall in an act of organized mayhem. On the adjacent wall, bobbins of every color are arranged in a precise, orderly fashion on sumi-ink-stained shelves.

It’s all a part of RopeWalk, a participatory artwork inspired by American labor and immigration histories. With the help of a crew that consists of University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning students and alumni, from noon-4 p.m. on weekdays, the public can help repurpose recycled flag material into strands of rope that will be used during a performance art event in April. As part of the This Time Tomorrow festival, participants will gather to carry a rope that spans the Purple People Bridge — a site connected to the history of slavery that divides the North and South; the walk is meant to represent public healing.

click to enlarge Amanda Curreri and the RopeWalk crew. - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Amanda Curreri and the RopeWalk crew.

And though Curreri is the project’s facilitator, she’s quick to note that the art itself isn’t really her own. An assistant professor at DAAP, she says she challenges her students with the idea that something isn’t art “until it leaves you.” 

“It’s scary. And I hope that people engage with it,” she says. “And you build it so that you ensure that there is some engagement. But with a piece like that, I won’t know its full success at the start. You can’t know it. And isn’t that cool — that I get to learn through the process of creating art?” 

That idea of evolving, community-centered work is echoed in both Cullen and Whittle’s practices. 

Cullen, who also serves as the co-director of Camp Washington’s Wave Pool gallery, has created a space anchored by a long, rectangular makeshift table. Made from donated furniture, she says that she and her husband Skip worked for months to arrange the pieces into one functional table. 

“This table was built as a gathering space,” she says. “The whole premise of bringing people’s discarded furniture together to create something that is functional and beautiful is, I think, very symbolic of the entire premise of my part of the exhibition. So, it needs to be used as much as possible.”

There are multiple ways to interact with Cullen and her art. On Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m., you can join Cullen for “Coworking with Cal.” Bring a laptop, a book, a notebook, whatever, and grab a cup of coffee from the downstairs lobby; Cullen’s unconventional office is also yours.  

click to enlarge Cal Cullen in her — and yours — office space. - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Cal Cullen in her — and yours — office space.

You can also add to her growing collection of information via one of her interactive displays, like by writing a letter to New York or filling out a “Happiness Calculator” form. 

“When I was in grad school I started out as a painter, still dealing with my own trauma, and my own story quickly became boring for me,” she says. “And I started making work with other people. Ever since, that’s how I want to work. I’m very interested in other people’s thoughts. I feel like I’d much rather celebrate humanity rather than myself.” 

Everything in the space is engineered to spark a connection. From  “Desiderate” — two typewriters with one roll of paper that asks visitors to answer a question — to “So Where Do We Go? Dreams That Are Unlikely But Possible,” a landline telephone painted like a breezy spring sky. It poses the question: What do you think the collective “we” should do next? Pitch in your own thoughts or listen to others. 

Among other events, Cincinnati’s Table will unfold on March 24; Cullen’s space will be open for a round-table dinner discussion with local civic leaders as part of The Welcome Project, a social enterprise spearheaded by Cullen and Heartfelt Tidbits’ Director Sheryl Rajbhandari  that helps empower immigrants and refugees, specifically women, via job and skills training.

Whittle’s work fills the back nook of the gallery space. Colors bounce along the wall, twisting and colliding into each other. Look up: There are images on the ceiling, photographed by Grace DuVal, whom Whittle says she often works with. 

“When you ask me to do a solo show, it’s really me doing a group show in a lot of ways,” she says, adding that her medium as an artist is collaboration. An adjunct instructor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, fashion and performance are central to her body of work — and life. She’s been using her body as a canvas since 2004 to bring art into her daily routine. And in 2013, she made the decision to wear paper every day for a year, adding or subtracting to the “compositions” she created. The remnants of these wearable pieces — she also has pieces made of material like Tyvek and Neoprene — are displayed. 

But it’s Whittle’s concept of a “shape language,” which she formed with fellow artist and husband Clint Basinger, that grounds her work. Together they create collaborative drawings from which she mines and isolates shapes. 

Whittle echoes what her other two peers have noted: Her work asks to be contributed to. Visitors are encouraged to compose their own art from a large welded shape made up of 12 smaller pieces, which she created with fellow local artist Adam Schmidt. Though it has a “final” shape, the piece can be broken apart to create something new.

click to enlarge Lindsey Whittle's "Welded Shape." You can make it your own! - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Lindsey Whittle's "Welded Shape." You can make it your own!

“My work is always an open-ended sentence,” Whittle says. “It’s never really finished. A lot of my work are pieces that come together to make something interesting, and sometimes when we put the pieces together, it doesn’t look interesting. In fact, sometimes it looks more like a hot mess. It’s funny how a lot of my work exists in documentation.”

Whittle’s slice of the exhibition includes four performances throughout the show’s run, starting with Same Beginning, Different Ending on March 13, a collab between Chicago-based artist Sky Cubacub, DuVal, Whittle and dance group Pones, Inc. When Archive as Action closes, Whittle and Basinger will reenact their wedding reception (which was held at the CAC in 2014) via #spikeow2. Like they did in 2014, they’ve asked their friends to gift them with performances. 

Zoom out: As a whole, the gallery space is divided into three distinct aesthetics. Despite this, the messages presented within are symbiotic; the body of work asks to be heard, but it also reaches outward, searching for a connection source. 

“It’s definitely a situation where we’re stronger together. I feel like Steven had such an insight into how our work and our practices work together that I don’t think any of us realized,” Cullen says. “Like, I’ve known Amanda and Lindsey forever and love their work, but I didn’t realize the thread that goes between all of our practices, so it’s been really great. Especially three local women artists. It’s just nice to have this show here.”

Archive as Action runs through June 16 at the Contemporary Arts Center (44 E. Sixth St., Downtown). More info: contemporaryartscenter.org. To view our photo gallery of the exhibit, click here