About the exhibition
Vanessa German had this to say about her experience at AIR, via the Facebook page for the annual Day of Giving:
high my loves.it is not a lie for me to tell you outright that my residency at AIR changed my life.cuz it did. and i did not expect it to. I did not have any reason to believe that alla these people that I barely knew could be so.loving.supportive and encouraging in matters of bravery. ink. and mark making. and i was afraid at the beginning and changed by the end. please consider giving to this stellar and brave arts organization, on this, the day of giving. they made a space for me to be whole and curious and grief stricken and generative and loving– simultaneously. i can only begin to tell you how powerful and potent an experience it has been. please give to help ensure the strength and vitality of this important collaborative studio.
Vanessa German is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist based in the Homewood community of Pittsburgh, PA. This photographer, poet, actress, sculptor, designer and educator believes in the seamlessness of creative process and purpose. Ms. German creates “contemporary power figures,” as she defines them, made of everyday objects transformed into an iconography of astonishing metaphors. Her visual works have been shown in galleries and museums throughout the country and was recently acquired by The Progressive Collection, one of the preeminent corporate contemporary art collections in the nation, and The David C. Driscoll collection, Franciscan University Collection.
Ms. German’s visual and performance work contend with the power and fragility of the human spirit. She has pioneered a performance style called “Spoken Word Opera,” which brings all of the drama and theatricality of traditional opera to intimate performances and contemporary themes through a dynamic hybrid of spoken word poetry, hip hop, storytelling, music and movement. Ms. German is also the subject of the documentary film Tar Baby Jane.
i went into this residency with fear in my heart.a timber tremble of trepidation. for there was this place of art making: AIR, to which I had brief familiarity; a casual screen-printers t-shirt making foray, once or twice about 10 or so years ago.it‘s the flatness that frightened me, the not-object-ness of so much paper–that, combined with the ferocious clarity of process,design,and purpose of the staff and volunteers; i was afraid to fail them and their love for this ink and idea making space of mark-making in a language of paper and process. i didn’t know what to do, how to think about doing,how to try without wasting too much paper, money, or energy. so, they taught me; people,place,process.
who i am.
i am a sculptor.mostly i am alone in studio; 2 dogs the alleyway sounds offa the blacktop and brick and,a book on tape.late into hours so wee that they become the dawn of a new day.i am telling you this so that you know that i am alone in counting on my hands n imagination n a deeply instinctive and soulful process of making that is as personal as the inside of my own mouth. this process is only communal in that I’m always speaking to my ancestors–the invisible powerful-ones, and talking to the work in progress. so, i didn’t understand team-making, i didn’t know what to tell the team to work on, and i didn’t know how to ask them to have faith in me. so, i put my faith in them and their love and know-how.
what to do.
i didn’t know what i was doing.or how.or why. so through a series of flung out ideas and trials in ink, i came to the most truthful place of making–a place of making that is deeply personal, dimensional, still frightening, instinctive and purposeful; i made what i needed. I made what i needed to be ok in my own heart, hands and mind.
AK-47 rifle handles
two men were shot and killed outside of my house 2 years ago about 4 months apart.i found both of them. i heard the shots.called 911.went to court.talked to homicide detectives.replayed the aftermath over and over again. i am unwell in the matter of gunshots and bodies on the street.i am unwell in the matter of fear and Black Death and the police calling me out of my own name.i am unwell in the matter of summertime heat, drive-by shootings and the sounds of people screaming at the police tape.i am unwell in the matter of this violence and its attendant social catastrophes and shrugs.
i want to say how the sound of the gunshots never leaves.i want to say how the news stories of gunshot men, women, boys and children, they never leave ___. i want to say how i obsess over wether or not i did the right thing with those men on the ground dying.i want to say how no dinner party will ever be just a dinner party anymore for, I take this trauma with me.everywhere i go.and i know that it makes people uncomfortable; this inability to just, be cool.
this body of work became the story of grief and obsession.fear. living-fright. trauma. pain. and healing. this work became the work of healing.this work became the work of transformation.this work became the work of physicalizing the struggle to live, make, heal, and reckon with past trauma while simultaneously being bombarded by the 24-hour news cycle reporting a dizzying amount of mass shootings, street violence, police violence, global Black Death, terrorism, hate and it’s attendant cell phone videos and images. the work here, became the work of community, focus, instinct, faith,and love in its most generative truth.
because there is a message moving through the quiet places of grief,fear,and outrage, that we shouldn’t talk about how it feels to be victim, witness, neighbor to, street violence. the message is, that to speak on it, to talk about how scary it is to hear gun shots, screams, to speak to the sight of bodies and the aftermath and grief, is to be weak. is to be a snitch of the secret places where the stories of trauma go to hide, to quake inside of you– needing to say how it feels is seen as weakness and invitation to more breaking. but. this body of work is speaking. it is talking.telling on us all. bring into focus the messy, repetitive work of reckoning with the trauma of finding bodies on the street, hearing gunshots, seeing the news stories, the $5,000 reward posters…All of it. this work is speaking into the healing. It is a sometimes discordant juxtaposition of beauty, shine, and light, battling the repetitive and intrusive memories of dead men face up on the black top, this then,meeting the almost fanatical fever-heat and romance for guns.
This work became a wonder-exploration of freedom; through the collage work i set myself to the task of using the library of images, colors and patterns created by this powerful team of print makers. They used my poetry, photography and art to create a series of prints, I used those prints as foundation material for a series of collages, which became mixed media mandalas of a sort. This work, is at work, in both process and sight, it is revealing, healing, transforming, dimensionally, in process, in every mark made on paper or cloth; we became, through this,”work”, the thing itself. we were the work. we are the work. our lives are the fruit of the work.