Artist Michele Carlson visited the IAC cohort this semester. The following quote and student responses to her talk offer a good introduction to this inspirational artist, writer, educator, and rabble rouser. “I’m really interested in how art can intervene with our current world and help us imagine a new one.” – Michele Carlson
I thoroughly enjoyed having Michele Carlson come speak to our class. I love that she balances doing her own artwork, her collective work and teaching. My favorite piece that she showed was the “Ready” installation with carts in the exhibition where people could take free art pieces. I think this was so cool because art has become so commodified recently which makes it hard for it to be a universal thing anyone can enjoy. I have been learning a lot about capitalism and other forms of economic structures in my classes (such as sociology and Africana studies) and it has made me think about the way we as a society think about free items. It was cool that she shared with us her response when someone asked her, “what if someone takes every single one??” and she just said that it was okay. I think people can get unconsciously worked up about the idea of other people taking from/having more than others and she elegantly showed that it is ok to make peace with that idea. At the end of the day, she just wants the artwork spread around to make people think.
I thought that everything Michele Carlson creates is very intentional and thought-provoking.
Hearing Michele Carlson talk about her art was an amazing experience. I particularly liked when she spoke about the racial reckoning after George Floyd that has woken up America. As she talked about the black lives matter movement and the global response, she repeated the idea that there was a “level of collecting.” I thought that this was interesting because she was emphasizing that a foundation to her artwork was collecting knowledge and perspective as an artistic approach. Another thing Carlson stated, “we don’t get to opt-out of the world that we are in just because we are artists.” This statement resonated with me because I think there should be a responsibility to anyone with a platform and a voice to speak out about injustices that they see. Michele Carlson acknowledges that everybody has a responsibility to learn and talk about things that people are too afraid to talk about. I truly valued hearing about Michele Carlson’s work and moving forward will try to remember that same responsibility of being a conscious and aware member of society.
One idea I liked from Michele Carlson’s talk was what she described “radical generosity.” Her gallery included a cart full of stickers and cards with different messages on them that visitors could take for free. No stipulations. She talked about how the gallery world is so eager to commodify art, so the simple act of giving artwork away to the viewer for absolutely nothing in return becomes radical. Michele Carlson’s “radical generosity” promotes activism through art outside of the gallery. Galleries, while full of powerful artwork, aren’t always accessible to everyone. Giving those who can visit galleries the opportunity to take with them a piece of what they saw to paste somewhere for everyone to see is revolutionary. What happens then is activism artwork is disseminated to the general public. “Radical generosity” also challenges the status quo’s belief that art is something one owns. By giving away prints for free, Michele Carlson shows other artists that their work doesn’t have to be bought by an individual. An artist can create work that belongs to everyone, free of charge. I enjoyed hearing from Michele Carlson, and I’m eager to see what else she accomplishes.
One aspect from Michele Carlson's talk that resonated with me was she talked about racism and how people have the question about when racism and inequality will go away. She responded by saying that when we envision a reality of ourselves as living in a society without racism or inequality, we are in a sense highlighting our own privileges. I thought that was an interesting viewpoint considering that as a woman of color, we all work and fight for a society that is equal and just. However, this form of equality is not something that can just happen through the snap of our fingers. It is a process that takes time, hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Standing up for what we believe is right and just, while challenging norms and institutions. This means that I have to come to the full reality that I and many other people who fight for justice and equality might not see that bright side of the road during our lifetime. Just like many other figures, activists like Martin Lurther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman fought for a reality they knew they would never live in or experience.
One of the parts of Michele Carlson’s art that I found most interesting was allowing people to take things home from the exhibit for free. In her slideshow she highlighted a cart of free items in the room inspired by Amiri Baraka’s poem, Understanding Readiness. In addition to this installation, Carlson also mentioned that the art collective, Related Tactics, makes an effort with all of their installations to have a smaller version or a piece of the art that you can take with you. Typically, art museums have guidelines and rules about how close you can get to the art, and it’s assumed that if you try to touch or take anything that you will have to deal with security. Related Tactics is challenging this idea by allowing viewers to take as much as they want from their cart installations. Having the cart in a very public area makes the art more accessible.
It was such a joy to hear from Michele Carlson and learn about her work. I related when she said that she always knew she was creative but did not trust art as a pathway, that is exactly how I feel now. I enjoy drawing on my own but could never imagine myself being an artist or drawing for a living. Right now, I am still at the stage of exploring interests, I look forward to taking classes that will potentially alter my perception of the world, just like printmaking did for Michele.
I really like the theoretical approach Michele has for printmaking and how she combines familiar things to make something that is unlike any other. I was taken from the first painting she showed us, women on the transportation system wearing hats cut out of magazines. I also loved all the historical references she makes in her works and I admire the amount of detail she inserts. Out of the many amazing artworks she showed us, I think my favorite was the one work with hundreds of chairs in them. Hearing about the process to produce that piece was shocking, considering the amount of cutting and pasting she must have done. I couldn’t agree more when she said it was just like the process of movement building, it requires a lot of patience and tolerance, and it has to be done piece by piece.
One aspect of Michele Carlson’s talk that has stuck with me the most is her transparency and commitment to accessibility. She was very transparent. Michele Carlson and her colleagues have a collective that produces art together and does not push the narrative of a single artist’s accomplishments. She does not create to profit or to rise to fame, she creates to educate and advocate. This can be seen primarily through her collective’s distribution of art and lack of greed. She sets herself to a standard of accessibility that places her art in the hands of the people who need to see it most. For example, her team hands out models of their art for free in unrestricted quantities. Her pure intentions and sole desire to advocate for a stronger future shine through and have actively inspired me.