A free exhibition at the Bemis Center joins three artists’ work to explore intimacy as it relates to the body, relationships and space. “Intimate Actions” features solo exhibitions by Maria Antelman, Joey Fauerso and Paul Mpagi Sepuya . The exhibition will also serve as a jumping off point for a series of community conversations called “Public Assembly” which started this month and will continue through March and April. Courtney Bierman spoke to Bemis’ chief curator Rachel Adams for more.
What is it about these three exhibitions that you think work well together?
Something that I hadn't done yet since coming to Bemis was to curate three solo shows. When I was sort of thinking about this time slot — pre-pandemic, because these have been on the books for a little bit of time — you know, I was just looking for things that connected a little bit. And I think you're always pleasantly surprised that they actually connected a lot more than I thought they would. Yeah, I think it was just sort of being able to show a range of medium, the way that photography can be used differently between both Maria and Paul.
But really thinking about the body — I think that was sort of the most important part of it, was that we were coming out of exhibitions that didn't necessarily do that as much. They were more focused on conceptual ideas. And so it was nice to kind of switch that up, and really focus on the body and the body in space. And then of course, with the pandemic, thinking about the title "Intimate Actions," which sort of covers all three. They each have individual titles that really came out of the pandemic, right? It really came out, like, "Okay, I'm looking at all this work, what are the sort of connections that are happening?" and intimacy really was the clincher. Each of these artists are dealing with that in different ways.
The only work that maybe has a little bit of explicit romance is Paul's. Otherwise, where do you see the intimacy in these in this art?
Well, I think it's about how the artists are sort of sharing their stories. Paul is working with friends, former lovers maybe, his extended art family. Some of them are artists themselves. He's really looking at either his body, another person's body, both of their bodies in the space. Thinking about just how things can sort of intersect.
With Maria and Joey, you know, they're both mothers, and they both work with their kids. Maria's work is all photographs of her family. So herself and her two boys, her parents. When you look at those works, you're really seeing like a lot of details of them. You're never seeing the entire body. So there is that intimacy of deep looking, I would say. And I think that kind of comes across also in Joey's work when you kind of experience both the two video pieces. One, which she did with her kids and so you sort of see the child's hands in there. You see them, like brushing her teeth, and like smearing paint on her, and they're making art together. And there's sort of this fun-loving spirit to that piece in particular.
Then you also look at the piece that she did with her collaborator, Laeree, which is the two-channel video, and Laeree is taking all of these paintings that Joey has been working on and tearing them down from the wall and wearing them as garments. And Joey is really just focusing on these aspects of her performance with these paintings.
I think that when you are in those spaces with these people, you're having your own intimate relationship with the work — especially if you stand in front of some of Paul's work in particular because of how large it is. And because of the fact that he's photographing into a mirror. And so you're trying to situate yourself within that photograph sometimes — while also kind of maybe figuring out what's happening. Or really looking at certain parts of the body that are exposed. They're sort of your own personal space that you're picking up while you're in with these works.
How has your view of these artists and their work changed over the course of the pandemic?
You know, I think that since the show's have been up, my own relationship with them have — teah, it's just deepened. They're each so strong in their own right, and then you put the three of them together, and you continue to think about about what this past year has been like, right? You know, if you're looking for some sort of therapy like that, I definitely think that that's there.
I'd like to talk about Public Assembly a little bit. Can you give listeners an idea of what the series is and how this art relates to it?
We're really excited to present this program. It's a new program that our exhibitions manager, Jared Packard, sort of envisioned. So the first Public Assembly which this entire series, there's three of them for these shows will be facilitated by Dawaune Lamont Hayes and that Nathaniel Ruleaux, who are both creative practitioners here in Omaha. And this first one is specifically looking at exposure and sort of what that means. I'm really excited to see what they're going to be digging into in terms of that. There is a lot of photography and video in the show, so there's that idea of exposure. There's exposing of the body and of, like, the feelings that are sort of coming up with these things.
We're going to sort of, as staff members, take a little bit of a step back and really hope that people open up. It's just going to be, hopefully, an intimate meeting where people participate and are excited to shed some ideas about what what this work has made them feel, what they've learned about themselves and others through it. And hopefully also that might make people come back to see the shows again, you know, based on what other people are saying, "Oh, I didn't see it that way. I'm gonna come back and really think about that when I when I see it and then attend the next public assembly," which would be in March. So We're hoping that we get a good level of participation.
Visit bemiscenter.org to learn more about "Intimate Actions" and to book your visit. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.