artcoterie.com recently spoke with artist Monica J Brown about her work currently on display @ARC Gallery on the topics of shared history, language, and healing that are incorporated into her work and life.
Learn more about the artist and see the show through this Sat August 11. ARC Gallery 2156 N Damen, Chicago IL
Scale as a medium?
AC: Your mixed media pieces are very small, almost “history windows” is there anything in your process or aesthetic that encourages the small scale?
MJB: The process itself could be replicated on a larger scale, but the smaller size of the work is meant to create a sense of intimacy, to pull the viewer in closer for a one-on-one interaction with the pieces. I like the idea of them as “history windows.” The circular motif acts as a lens which presents a view of the past. Images contained in the circle sometimes offer a visual that is easily readable while others are faded and somewhat difficult to decipher. The smaller scale also suggests fragmentation.
Words vs image
AC: Your mixed media have almost no words, but you are a poet and have included a “secret” piece of prose in the exhibition. Is there a reason for the separation of that piece and of words from your visual art? Not that words are necessary, they just seem central to you as well, do you take much influence from your prose/poetry?
MJB: The words vs images in my work are separate ways of communicating the same ideas. Each visual piece has a title, and most of those titles are pulled from the accompanying poem. Because the pieces are small, I did not want them in competition with the words, so I presented them separately. The words are important to me, but I also like the idea that you find them later after you have already engaged with the visual work and possibly added your own story/ interpretation.
The “secret” prose poem is hidden at the end of a narrow walkway which is intended to bring to mind that feeling of discomfort that can sit alongside the weight and ache of peering into the blurry, fuzzy, muted, unclear spaces of the past. The space is only large enough for one person to engage with it at a time, but it's not necessary to exit the same way you enter.
AC: You are also a yogi and yoga instructor. How does yoga and or meditation factor into your visual work, and vice versa?
MJB: The connection between the body, personal history, memory and healing informs my life and work. I have been a yoga instructor for 16 years and a bodywork (Thai/Shiatsu) therapist for 9 years. With the idea of memories being held in the body, movement (i.e. yoga) can assist in revealing, unearthing and transforming seats of stagnant and repressed emotions – a way to rewrite our stories, or at least engage with them differently.
AC: You explore your maternal history in this work, what impact does this lineage have for you as an artist and a healer? Is it significant being a part of a women’s collective to present this work?
MJB: I am interested in the ideas of genetic memory and generational healing through somatic archeology. Ruby Gibson, Th.D., author of My Body, My Earth describes somatic archeological as “unearthing in the human body those remains and artifacts of our familial, ancestral, and spiritual lineage in order to uncover our myths and remember our stories for personal and planetary evolution.” Gathering the stories from the past, knowing them, and sharing them is a means to healing learned dysfunctional patterns as well as embracing inherited strengths and gifts. It's also important to own our stories without letting them own us.
Being part of a women's collective definitely provides a space for the work to reside – a space that honors women's voices.