From January 26 to March 17 Kirsten Leenaars will be part of the exhibition “The Tip of My Tongue” in Chicago, IL. There will be a Performance and panel with Kirsten Leenaars and CLA, on February 7, from 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM.
The Tip of My Tongue is organized in partnership with the Chicago Literacy Alliance and aims to draw out the complexities of language as a tool not only for communication but also for connection, discovery, and growth. This group exhibition takes an expansive approach to the theme of literacy as it explores the many issues caught up in the web of words we each navigate, from notions of identity and belonging to autonomy and self-expression. Through sound, color, book arts, and text, this group of works by six Chicago-based artists provide access points to a multiplicity of voices, ideas, viewpoints, and conversations.
Artists: Judith Brotman, Kirsten Leenaars, Andy Moore, Huong Ngo, North Branch Projects, and Udita Upadhyaya
Curator: Kasia Houlihan
Literacy, in all its forms, helps us identify and shape our own unique voices. It is a key that unlocks the depths of our imagination and grants us access to worlds both within and beyond ourselves. It provides us with tools to share our stories and also learn the truths of others. Emboldened by these indisputable facts, The Tip of My Tongue parses the expansive possibilities literacy can engender. Through sound, color, book arts, and text, these works by six Chicago based artists provide access points to a multiplicity of voices, ideas, viewpoints, and conversations. Andy Moore’s approach to literacy is a cognitive one, as his artist books engage in an endless excavation of selfhood. Nearly fifteen years worth of writing, drawing, erasing, layering, painting, cutting, and sculpting build a rich patina upon each page – one that mirrors the artist’s rigorous pursuit to both recognize and reconcile his evolving identities over time. Through an incredibly visual form of writing, Moore attempts to reach a level of profound self-understanding in order to live better and love better. In sharing these intimate books, Moore generously extends to us an invitation into the depths of his thought, and in turn, we are faced with the option to consider both the beautiful and ugly parts of our own stories, if we are willing to accept the challenge. While Moore presents us with books nearly bursting at the seams, North Branch Projects gives us a blank page onto which we can spill the contents of our own minds. North Branch Projects is an artist run organization that democratizes literacy by providing access to, and encouraging, creative expression. Its many initiatives, including bookbinding and zine workshops, are aimed at building community through the book arts. The pedestal seen in the gallery is part of North Branch Project’s ongoing endeavor, Everything on Wheels, through which interactive, movable book stations are placed within a neighborhood and offered as an opportunity for the community to respond to prompts by writing or drawing in the notebooks atop the pedestals. While the book form presents a direct relationship to the act of reading, Kirsten Leenaars takes an unexpected approach to the theme of literacy as she explores the (con)texts of color. Leenaars immerses us within an expanse of painted hues and asks us to consider the varied cultural associations with each shade. For color, like language, is coded; its meaning often shifts depending on who is “reading” it, when, and where.
The bursts of color within Leenaars’ installation create an atmosphere for the poignantly visual language in Judith Brotman’s audio piece, The Sensation of Air Upon Your Skin (and Other Things You Will Know When You are There). Brotman’s voice takes listeners on a visceral journey through an imagined future as she uses language to paint vivid imagery in our minds. Brotman also asks us to consider literacy as a conduit for exchange and connection, this time in our capacity as readers. In her piece New Word, she invents a series of words that are written directly on the wall. Visitors to the gallery are invited to select a word and mull it over in their mind and mouth. If they would like to keep the word, they cross it out and later sign a legal document between themselves and the artist that states she will not give the word away to anyone else. It is theirs to do with what they please, a gift of sorts from one reader/writer to another. Udita Upadhyaya also addresses an exchange or transferring of language, though her particular interest is in the words passed down from one generation to the next in the form of a “mother tongue.” Her controlled spills of ink on paper create mouth-like, uvular shapes that reference speech and communication while written text weaves through the earth-toned forms. Upadhyaya then cuts up these drawings, puzzling the disparate pieces together to construct a unique landscape of words and shapes. Mother tongues also make themselves heard in Huong Ngo’s piece White Light / Black Noise through a series of interviews with individuals who grew up in multilingual homes. These personal accounts of language, as it is lived in real time and in relation to others, work to unpack how the words we speak fundamentally inform our sense of identity. Each participant details their unique experiences of communicating in more than one language; then Ngo guides them through a playful exercise of using bird calls as scores for their varied PRESS RELEASE 3 vocabularies. The four-channel audio installation elicits the emotional responses we can have to language while also highlighting incisive moments of mistranslation and misunderstanding. All of the artworks in The Tip of My Tongue strive to articulate concepts that are not easily expressed in words: a thought that is just out of reach, an idea so close one can taste it. Through an unyielding desire to continue learning about themselves and others, these six artists illuminate the infinite value of literacy, particularly at this very moment in time, which is all too often fraught with misreadings and misinterpretations.
KIRSTEN LEENAARS is an experimental documentary maker whose work oscillates between fiction and documentation, reinterprets personal stories and reimagines everyday realities through staging, improvisation, and iteration. Leenaars examines the nature of our constructed realities—the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we identify with—and explores the way we relate to others. In her work, she aims to bring to light a shared humanity, often through humor and play. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, at venues including the Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City, the District of Columbia Arts Center, Washington DC, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Leenaars has received multiple grants, the most notable being from the Andy Warhol Foundation, The Mondrian Fund, cultural support grants from the Dutch Consulate in New York, and Milwaukee Art Board Production Grant.