Yes, and…by Caitlin Tucker-Melvin
Meet us on the Upper Level in the Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery this Saturday for the opening of Yes, and – a group exhibition featuring work by the Resident Artists of AAC, curated by Caitlin Tucker-Melvin. In her words, read about the concept of this exhibition, and her experience curating exhibitions at AAC:
Arlington Arts Center is a very special place—my aim in curating the residents’ group show is to celebrate the place and the people who make it such a treasure. The title of this exhibition Yes, and comes from the feeling I get when I think of AAC.
“Yes, and” is an improv performance tenet where you must begin by agreeing with your teammate no matter what they have proposed and follow that acceptance with another idea so that you are adding to what they started.
In this way you are creating something where before there was nothing. I have found that AAC is built on a similar, if perhaps unspoken, foundation.
My first introduction to AAC came through Jeffry Cudlin, AAC’s former Director of Exhibitions and a current faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Curatorial Practice program.
Jeffry often shared his experiences from AAC with my cohort as a means of teaching us about working with artists; his stories left me with a distinct impression that AAC was a place where limits were pushed and everything was done in service of good art.
Right at the tail end of my time in MICA’s program, Jeffry passed on the call for proposals to AAC’s Emerging Curator’s Spotlight.
For the Spotlight I curated No Place, No You or Me, a group show of interdisciplinary artists L.E. Doughtie, Phaan Howng, and Samantha Rausch. All three artist’s work on a large scale and are responsive to the spaces where they exhibit. Sam proposed a public art piece along with her installation inside the galleries. The idea went through a few iterations, including a fountain that wasn’t feasible with a January opening date.
Her desire was for the piece to break up the symmetry of AAC’s architecture and lawn—out of that she proposed a giant, rainbow-colored worm that would loop through the grass and up the side of the building. Without hesitation, Stefanie and Karyn went to bat for the piece with Arlington’s Public Art Committee.
As we worked to make the exhibition a reality the artists and I often remarked to each other that we were waiting to be told, “No.” It never came—Stefanie, Karyn, and the rest of their team were there to help us make things happen.
Excitingly, even after digging holes all over their lawn and knocking down some of their walls, Karyn asked me to work with AAC again.
After she asked me to curate the group show, I pored over the resident artists’ websites looking for threads that connected their work. It quickly became clear that though there are overlaps in how or why they make their work, there was no one unifying theme for all of the residents.
Rather than shoehorn one of my ideas onto them as a group, I began to think about the physical space that they have in common.
AAC’s proximity to the Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon, and Washington, D.C. has interested me from the start. I wondered what it meant to each resident to make work in the shadow of those places.
I gnawed on a line from Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local, “All places exist somewhere between the inside and the outside views of them, the ways in which they compare to, and contrast with, other places.”
Over two days in June, the residents each gamely invited me into their studios, allowing me to ask them questions and poke around. I learned a lot in those two days. The resident artists are a mixture; some have been at AAC for over five years while others have just arrived.
All have different relationships to Arlington. Some live here, grew up here and returned, or live in other parts of D.C. or Virginia. Each of them have many other lives outside of AAC as teachers, parents, spouses, preparators, journalists, master printers, and more.
For some the relationship to AAC is necessarily physical, like Pam Rogers’ collecting of plants and detritus from around the area for her materials.
For other’s like Michele Colburn, who was born and raised in D.C. and considers herself a child of the Vietnam War, the presence of the place is palpable in a different sense—her work is centered around the effect the military and war has on human life.
In addition to the place at large having an impact on the residents’ work, being part of AAC’s community is vital to their processes. Critical feedback comes through group crits, studio visits with AAC staff, and open studio days.
Three of the artists, Becca Kallem, Dawn Whitmore, and Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi share a larger studio—it is clear that they love working around one another and draw on the positive energy they each bring to the studio.
One of the first studio visits I had was with Bridget Sue Lambert who described the process of making her solo exhibition, Every Now and Then. For that show she made an installation that presented her with some challenges. Several residents stepped in and helped bring the idea to fruition.
From other residents I heard similar stories of ways that they all lend their skills to the group, teaching each other about new and different possibilities in art making.
As I looked back over my notes from the studio visits, two phrases stuck out. From Rachel Schmidt, “I arrange my life so that making art is possible, I arranged my life to be at AAC.”
And from Roxana Alger Geffen, “This place fits in the real world, so do the artists.” These two thoughts summed up what I was hearing in the rest of my conversations with the artists.
Making work is an important aspect of each of their lives, but it is not their whole lives. Being in residence at AAC provides needed support, a positive community, and the space to focus on the work at hand.
AAC is more than a building, it is the collective work of the dedicated people who contribute to its success.
Their belief in the importance and power of the work they are doing is what allows AAC to bring fantastic exhibitions and programming to Arlington. It has been a pleasure to get to know the resident artists and their work throughout this process. We have a great show coming up for you—I can’t wait for you to see it!
Artists in this exhibition: Michele Colburn | Roxana Alger Geffen | Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi | Becca Kallem | Bridget Sue Lambert | Pam Rogers | Rachel Schmidt | Austin Shull | Jessica van Brakle | Alice Whealin | Dawn Whitmore
Join us Saturday, August 29 for the opening reception of Yes, and!