The Space of Thoughts II pairs the work of Lincoln-based artist Qwist Joseph with that of Maja
Radanović, a Serbian born artist who now resides in Toronto. The show, on display through
April, is part of Darger HQ’s hope to connect Nebraska artists with national and international
artists who share related practices. Here, both artists employ everyday objects and references to the domestic, making them a perfect match for Darger HQ’s current home–an apartment/gallery hybrid. The final result is a playful, yet grounded show that invites viewers into the work through clever construction and comedy, yet leaves them with significant questions surrounding gender, relationships and identity.
In Qwist Joseph’s deconstructed self portrait, an overturned clay bowl is combined with a tuft of matted hair and a pair of glasses. A black string is tightly wound around the objects holding them together and eliciting feelings of discomfort. The piece sits on a thick wooden shelf with the artist’s name scratched into the surface, only heightening the tension with thoughts of splinters and urgency. Yet, rather than look away, we want to linger due to Joseph’s treatment of one object–the glasses–the perfect, lifelike glasses. Initially, it seems they may simply be spray painted spectacles, but upon close inspection they seem too sturdy, too solid. On this journey to discovering that they are, in fact, cast bronze, Joseph expertly compels us to spend time with this unsettling work and carves out much needed space for the deeper themes of self presentation and reflection.
Similarly, in Radanović’s Its Ok viewers are offered an entry point into the work, but rather than
relying on construction, comedy serves as the invitation. A small embroidery hoop with the
words, “Its ok I can wait” stitched in the center hangs high on the wall, as a long braid of
synthetic blonde hair trails to the floor. It’s tough not to fall instantly in love with this patient
iteration of Rapunzel. The stitched text feels like an inside joke between Radanović and the
viewers. She sees through the hype and knows that Rapunzel might be disappointed when she
finally finds her dream man, that there might be some value in living alone. In an instant,
Radanović makes us feel known and understood before asking us to get to the hard part: the self reflection, the investigation, and the examination of gender roles.
These points of accessibility weave their way throughout the entire show. Joseph continues to
mystify with pieces such as Cageless and the Omaggio A. Marino series, both containing heavy
ceramic sculptures that dangle from impossibly thin strings and rods. Radanović’s wit extends
beyond her sculptural work. In her bright and colorful photograph Everything Grows (With
Labels), the artist is shown picking apples from a lush tree. When we look closer, we see each
apple, even those on the tree, has its very own label, leaving us to wonder about origin, value and where the two intersect.
This concept applies to the collaborative works in the show as well. To create Drip, the pair built a wet clay sculpture directly on the kitchen island. The form grows from an overhead light and expands onto the countertop before settling into an organic shape. It’s surprisingly refined and fits perfectly in the otherwise clean space, encouraging viewers once again to wonder how it was made. Radanović’s influence comes through in the refusal to make the piece too precious or take it too seriously, since, while beautiful, it is inherently temporary. In fact, Drip became the source of an actual joke at the show’s opening when the artists revealed it was initially conceived as a solution to a burnt out lightbulb.
While these artists’ methods may diverge, there is such overlap in their sensibilities and the
underlying questions of their work that the combined show feels integrated and effortless. In less-skilled hands many of these pieces could edge towards exclusive or even angsty, but with Joseph and Radanović they stay squarely in an honest and vulnerable space that viewers won’t want to leave.
The following is an excerpt of the artist talk moderated by Alex Priest on Saturday, February 20.
Alex: Both of your work practices relate to perceived realities. Did you see any revelations of perceptions based on your collaboration here at Darger? For example, the perceptions of the sausages and the reality that this space used to be an Italian Market.
Qwist: Yeah, totally. I have never made site-specific work, and I think because of the context of this space and its history it was important to create something that made sense to that.
Alex: And the gun shot piece, there has been some recent press whether it be negative or positive about the shootings in Omaha. It makes the piece quite timely.
Maja: This piece is quite site specific. It wouldn’t make sense for me to make it in Canada.
Alex: What was one surprising thing that happened with your time together?
Maja: There were so many things that just clicked. In regards to finding material and how to hang, or how to produce it. It just seemed like they were just there for us, somehow.
Alex: Well, when we went out to eat, it was as if you two have been friends for years. Rather than just recently met.
Qwist: Yeah. We have a very similar sense of humor. And we both have this level of comedy in our work that is subtle, but important to it. And this space is beautiful and amazing, but has this white-washy HGTV flip to it. And it worked so well with our work.
Maja: Looking back, it seems a pity that I brought finished work because it felt so much better to create the collaborative work in the space. Because it is so inspiring and so crazy. It is very inspiring to create work because of the space.
Qwist: It seemed like we were more excited to work on the collaborative things than we were on installing the other work. We spent so much time on the collaborative work that we had to rush and put up the rest of the work.
Alex: Is there a take-away that you would like the viewers to have?
Qwist: I think there is a beautiful subtly in our work and there is not a super clear answer. It is more of a continued conversation and that you bring your own personal experiences to each of the pieces.
Alex: Those are all of my questions. I wanted to open it up for the audience to ask some questions.
Audience question: I am curious about the procedure of the sausages. They look really delicate. Tell me about the construction and placement of the sausage sculptures.
Qwist: I knew I wanted them to be in the kitchen, to reference the food obviously. They are clay ceramic fired pieces and then there is a rope. then resin is poured over the strings so it affixes to the forms. It just worked out so well that there are these reinforcement plates on the ceiling beams. And Maja is so spacially talented that she helped me lay them out.
Audience question: And what about this piece? (Pointing to Drip.)
Qwist: This is a wet clay piece. The lightbulb was broken on the fixture and we wanted to create something with it…a physical light spillage coming out of it. It is a lively piece…not quite sure what it is yet.
Alex: It is humanistic.
Maja: Absolutely, and feminine.
Audience question: How do the saturated colors in your photography add to the storytelling?
Maja: That series is called Dreamland. It is about me coming from Serbia to Canada. It deals with the idea that you expect a better life, and it wasn’t of course, for two years or so. It is just me trying to live this fairytale, it is my therapy, escape, so it is not real, the colors are not real. It is just you, and everywhere you go, there is no Dreamland.