PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies by John Gutoskey

GRAM Amplifies the Conversation with ArtPrize 10 Artists

ArtPrize 10 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) will be a year to remember, with outdoor video projections, an interactive performance installation and an invitation to add your voice to the conversation.

“We looked for artists that are interested in addressing issues that people are discussing,” explained chief curator Ron Platt. “Like a public forum. That’s what we want [GRAM] to be anyway, but during ArtPrize we have a huge public.”

For the 10th year in a row, GRAM has provided patrons with deep and interpretive works. Though Platt said there was no intentional theme this year, much of the work speaks to issues of individual voice and they join together to create a thought-provoking artistic experience.

GR|MAG had the opportunity to preview the installation, accompanied by Platt. Here are some of the works you will see there.

Sarah FitzSimons
“Pacific Quilt”

Photo courtesy of GRAM
Photo courtesy of GRAM

Sarah FitzSimons had the idea for “Pacific Quilt” during a trans-Pacific flight. Inspired by the sheer vastness, she imagined being able to wrap herself in the blue of the ocean. After working on and off for a few years, she had an extraordinary—and cozy—piece of art.

“People really seem to respond to textile and fabric works,” said Platt. “We were really taken by this piece and we love that the pattern and color came from oceanic maps. It creates a really abstract patterning.”

The quilt is 21- by 23-feet, which allows viewers geographical context and a better understanding of the Pacific Ocean. Bunches in the fabric suggest the lapping of waves; the textures and colors of the oversized blanket draw you in, just like FitzSimons must have imagined.

John Gutoskey
“PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies”

After hearing the news about the PULSE Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida that occurred on June 12, 2016, artist John Gutoskey felt “an overwhelming sense of anger followed by a broad feeling of loss and an almost metaphysical sadness that this had happened to the LGBTQ community.” To express his grief, anger and respect for the deceased, Gutoskey worked to create personal elegies for each of the 49 victims.

“All of the imagery is personal and universal,” said Platt. “All of the methods used are part of printmaking, but they’re very, very layered. The crows, robins, figures, disco balls are all significant symbols for him, but he also worked to enliven the individual pieces.”

Gutoskey refers to nightclubs like PULSE as safe, communal spaces. Though that space was violated, his work has offered up a new space for mourning and remembrance of the lives that were taken.

Saskia Jordá
Cacerolazo

Artist Saskia Jordá was inspired by “Cacerolazo,” a form of peaceful protest in her homeland of Venezuela made popular in the 1970s. When demonstrations took place, protestors would take pots and pans and bang on them with wooden spoons when marching down the streets. If the protest picked up, people would join in from their balconies or doorways with their own cookware to support the cause.

Using a striking amalgam of pots, pans and various utensils dangling from the ceiling by red yarn, which also pools on the floor, “Cacerolazo” speaks to issues of hunger and violence spurred by protest and the right to speak out peacefully.

“[Jordá] loves the idea that people can join in in their homes and that way have the safety of being able to withdraw,” said Platt. “What [she] wants is to have people connect with the idea of demonstration and participation. She wants people to reflect on what it might take for them to go out and protest and ask themselves what they feel really passionate about.”

Nathaniel Lewis
Re:VOLVER

Nathaniel Lewis’s piece is a culmination of his life experiences as a toy manufacturer, sculptor and father. Crafted from plastic, aluminum and wood, his cap gun creation has been blown up to 23 times the toy’s original scale.

“[Lewis] paid very close attention,” explained Platt. “Part of the challenge is how to translate such a small object to a much larger scale. It’s kind of an engineering problem. Another challenge is asking what it means to take a toy gun and create it at this scale.”

“Re:VOLVER” is 13 feet long and fills GRAM’s east court. It is just a model, but its ability to induce nostalgia and openness to interpretation makes it a fascinating work of art.

William R. Mayer
“Wall of Sound”

Billy Mayer, former artist, musician and Hope College professor, passed away last year; his intent for this work was to display it at ArtPrize. So, when Platt had seen the piece on display at Hope College and learned of Mayer’s wishes, he made the decision to add it to the GRAM roster for ArtPrize 10. Due to the situation, “Wall of Sound” is not open for public vote.

“Wall of Sound” uses the structural elements that are found in box speakers or amplifiers. The speaker part is turned into the wall, and the structures are coated in different substances such as spices, sprinkles and colored sugar. The variety of scale and color mixed with similar shapes creates a very interesting visual effect.

“I think he was thinking about the way we activate our senses to experience the world,” said Platt. “I can’t help but also think that it’s kind of ironic about having a voice but turning it to the wall. There are some unusual and unexplained meanings in there, but isn’t art like that?”

See all 10 of the pieces on exhibit at the GRAM during ArtPrize, which concludes on Oct. 7.

*Main photo courtesy of the GRAM. All other photos unless captioned differently by Molly Bruns.

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