|Portrait of Self|
POS is a set of questions, ideas and directions bound in an officious black three-ring notebook. The notebook begins a collaborative and self-directed process of social, visual and autobiographical investigation. The three-ring notebooks become volumes of spine-breaking visual and annotated data.
Draw your neighborhood and mark on it all the places you were bad. Questions such as these ask the person to create visual representations of their past and present living circumstances. POS also asks participants to document and share their daily lives in detail. They collect the ephemera that passes through their hands each day. The process asks them to be absolutely truthful, and if their behavior is illegal, destructive or merely inappropriate they are to discover ways of documenting that behavior, while determining how and what should remain private.
Archiving, collecting and exhibiting are the underlying methods that concern Portrait of Self. It is a process that connects daily living to art making. As a method of investigation it records the subjects past and present perceptions- producing a portrait that is a record of a lived-time and not a pictorial moment. Archiving turns mundane living into historical resource. This process of portraiture/archiving does not isolate the subject from their social context but reinforces and amplifies that context.
The process breaks down the barrier between the passive role of individuals as cultural consumers and transforms them to the active role culture producers. POS provides a process of meaningful self expression which allows individuals to become active in representing and analyzing their lives. Archiving is active self-expression not requiring special talent, or aesthetic knowledge.
Commercial objects placed into an archive are placed in a metaphorical context investing them with personal meaning. Participants subjective intimate expression is voiced through collection, manipulation, deconstruction and organization of ephemera.
Portrait of Self builds an active relationship between artist and community. The artist brings knowledge of creative process, non-linear thinking, and uses group collaboration to reinforce the significance of memory and daily living.
The museum exhibition of POS turns the institution over to the community celebrating their lives as high art. POS combines implementation, outreach and education into primary art making actions which do not conclude with the exhibition of the archives and murals. The archives go back to the participants lasting as living documentation in their lives perhaps for generations.
POS utilizes printmaking for its ability for both the participants and myself to create and generate images, and communicate through its mutable qualities of reproduction and communication.
Portrait of Self has been implemented with the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City Mo. and with incarcerated youths through a Missouri Juvenile Justice System Grant. The process was redesigned for a project with the Kansas State School for the Blind and is being used to archive the northwest Kansas town of Attwood through a Kansas State Arts Grant. Portrait of Self is the foundation for a creative thinking and visual literacy curriculum being developed for Barstow School and La Strada Street Festival educational outreach program in Kansas City. Archiving is the base from which I produce my studio work. Presently I am creating visual archives with residents of Sydney, Australia for an exhibition of mural sized blueprint portraits to be exhibited at Western Sydney University in June 1999. In June 2000 a similar project is being planned with the Hollywood Art and Culture Center in Florida.
POS was implemented 1998 with inner city youths whose personal archives and blueprint portraits were exhibited at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Paseo Community Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri.
The process asked them to be absolutely truthful, and if their behavior is illegal, destructive or merely inappropriate they were to discover ways of documenting that behavior, while determining how and what should remain private. They created lists of everything they bought for several months. If they are buying crack cocaine, they wrote it on the list then painted and scratched it out so it was indecipherable. The lists grew to eight feet in length recording all their purchases, and were often covered with numerous black scratch marks recording their hidden behaviors. The lists became beautiful collages-- visual memories of daily living.
In conjunction with the archives I create graphic blueprint portraits, some as large as 3x32 feet, based on the participants and their archives. The blueprints are graphic interpretations of the individuals attitudes, values and behavior. The blueprints are fugitive works which will deteriorate. Like the events of a life the blueprints fade to memory. What is lasting is the digital file that can be reprinted. The digital image has the potential to become an intimate archival prints, or even a billboard. The owner of the digital image is the decision maker on how, where and under what conditions the file can be changed, printed and exhibited. The blueprint portraits are meant to reflect the image the participant is projecting in their community. To see oneself graphically enlarged, surrounded by your writings, drawings and ephemera makes the participants consider who they are and what they value. The blueprints are exhibited in conjunction with the archives to create an installation.
To order the Portrait of Self workbook,
please send $10.00 to Hugh Merrill c/o KCAI 4415 Warwick, Kansas City,
MO 64109 or contact Hugh.