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Quest Shines at Nashville Film Festival 2017

Nashville’s annual film festival is one of the best reasons to live here, and 2017 does not disappoint. So far, the most powerful film I’ve caught is Quest.

The documentary follows a working class black family in North Philadelphia through ten years of their lives. Shot in the style of cinema vérité, director Jonathan Olshefski captures the big events and the small, endearing moments that come between, completing a moving portrait of an American family.

Quest

The Rainey family has a music studio based in their home, where parents Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a record local hip hop artists and invite neighborhood boys to freestyle on Fridays in an effort to provide a creative outlet. Their daughter PJ grows up before our eyes from a sweet, bouncy child to a young adult who has undergone a traumatic injury. All of the Raineys are admirable, but PJ unwittingly emerges as the heroine of the story.

I love Guy Lodge’s Variety review:

Inhabiting the loving, creative, occasionally conflicted household of Christopher and Christine’a Rainey with close-quarters warmth that never crosses the line from intimate to invasive, Olshefski’s film doesn’t set out with a thesis to prove. Rather, it finds its resonance as it goes along, stumbling into crisis as spontaneously as its human subjects do, and finally emerging as an essential reflection of social transitions — for better and worse — in Barack Obama’s America.

What’s so great about Quest is that Olshefski collaborated closely with the Raineys over the ten year period, and much of the soundtrack is composed by Quest himself. Olshefski, who is a white photographer, didn’t set out to make a documentary about a North Philly family; Quest’s brother invited him to the house, and then Quest invited him back to photograph the local artists working in the studio. They formed a relationship; Olshefski began a photo essay, and for a year and half, he blended into the furniture and photographed them. Because of this, it doesn’t seem to take on the “white gaze” that so often accompanies documentaries about people of color. There’s a sense of great empathy that doesn’t patronize. While the Raineys experience tragedy that brings North Philly’s street violence into focus, their pain is not put on display. Rather, it centers the family’s experiences as a close portrait of an American family.

Love & Friendship, Tickled at NaFF both made me cry laughing

You haven’t heard from me since winter when I curled up into my snail shell and went to sleep. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about making my arts coverage more intentional and re-focusing on arts activism in Nashville. Lots of great stuff coming soon.

It’s spring time now and I have awakened and stretched my little snail body to the sky just in time for Nashville Film Festival. Check out the Scene’s coverage here; I contributed to the New Directors award category. My favorites were To Keep the Light, The Fits, Banana, and The Elk. It’s a great category with some top notch women in director and lead actress roles.

I’ll have some suggestions for you in a bit, but here’s very quick a run-down of Day 1.

Whether you’re a fangirl of Jane Austen or not, Love & Friendship is a must-see this year. The place: England. The time: 1790s. The woman: Lady Susan, played pitch-perfect by Kate Beckinsale, who, following the death of her husband, arrives “destitute” at her brother-in-law’s countryside home. Susan is beautiful, sharp, and cunning, employing exhausting (and dazzling) linguistic acrobatics to get her way. She defends her sense of superiority to her confidant Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) so earnestly that it’s easy to see why nearly everyone falls for her. An incorrigible flirt and irredeemable gossip, Lady Susan never falters. She is mired in a society where without a husband of some standing, she and her daughter must be dependent on relatives and friends. Hating her is easy. Admiring her much more fulfilling. love and friendship

Directed by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), Love & Friendship boasts a vibrant supporting cast. Xavier Samuel plays Reginald DeCourcy, the attractive young man Susan seeks to engage. Samuel is perfect in the role of a gullible, love-struck heir, and Emma Greenwell plays his sister, who leads the family in opposing the courtship. Among the best, however, are Justin Edwards, playing a clueless Charles Vernon, who has some hilarious one-liners; Morfydd Clark, playing Susan’s daughter, the meek Frederica who is most tortured by her mother’s manipulations; and Tom Bennett, playing Sir James Marin, whose antics brought down the house.

Innuendo and euphemism also come to feel like characters because they show up so frequently and with such success. The script, written by Stillman and based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, is jam packed with unpredictable turns of phrase, usually delivered by Beckinsale, who is – as I mentioned – sheer perfection. I skipped out of the theater to Table 3 – where I sucked down a bowl of creamy risotto – and then headed back to the cinema.

New Zealand journalist David Farrier goes down a bizarre rabbit hole in Tickled, a new documentary that was praised at Sundance. It starts when Farrier discovers a Facebook page for Endurance Tickling Reality Competitions. Initial research heeds several videos of high school age, white, athletic boys straddling each other – sometimes 4 on 1 – and tickling.

His curiosity piqued, he writes the page owner, Jane O’Brien Media, requesting an interview. What follows alters his life and sends him and  co-director Dylan Reeve on a mission into this strange subculture that they can hardly believe exists. tickled

The premise itself is so funny –  whenever Farrier said the word “tickling” I died laughing – that I couldn’t put the extent of what they uncovered into perspective until the ride home. What first appears to be a harmless kink folds out like a pop-up book about exploitation, manipulation, and forgery that’s up there with cult documentaries. Farrier is so pleasant that when Jane O’Brien Media sends three lawyers to threaten him in New Zealand, he greets them with a cheerful, rainbow welcome sign at the airport. Jane O’Brien’s people are a strange mix of pleasant and accusatory, as if they aren’t on the same page, and as soon as they leave for L.A., Farrier and Reeve follow them.

As the story unfolds, the directors interview young men who agreed to be in tickling videos but whose privacy was violated when Jane O’Brien Media broke contract and made their videos public. When one man successfully petitioned YouTube to take his down, Jane O’Brien unleashed a Scientology-level-crazy doxing that has followed him for years. Unable to find “Jane,” the filmmakers look into other ticklers and find themselves tracing a history of videos dating back to dial-up. Farrier and Reeve masterfully balance teeth-gritting suspense with the utter silliness of the topic in a way that allows the film to have multiple impacts. First, there are dozens of hilarious moments found in looks and gestures throughout the documentary. Farrier’s unobtrusive narration provides structure and amplifies the sleuth-like feel. It’s also a nail-bitter; as the directors zero in on “Jane,” we live the suspense with them. Finally, it’s guerrilla-style investigative journalism at its best, as Farrier and Reeve take their small crew back and forth between New Zealand and New York, chipping away at the truth.

Tickled plays again on Friday at 12:30 p.m., is playing at many festivals in the next couple of months and will be released in the U.S. on June 24.

Love & Friendship opens May 13.

Today, I’m seeing Little Men and Sing Street. Much to my dismay, the regular world does not stop during NaFF, but I plan on seeing as many films as humanly possible. I’ll report back!

 

 

 

 

 

War and Rumors of War at Seed Space

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One of my favorite exhibitions this year is currently on view at Seed Space, and the artist, Eric Dickson, will be present on Saturday night. I wrote some words about the exhibition for BURNAWAY, and I hope you’ll check out Dickson’s work! From my review:

War and Rumors of War is required viewing for anyone concerned about the policies that govern us, the wars fought in our names, and the ways we make sense of our present circumstances. Most of all, it helps to clarify what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore, for it challenges our political agency with advanced technological art-making that manages to somehow remain subtle and restrained.

Seed Space is located in the Track One building. Dickson will be there from 6-9 p.m. Saturday.

Artist Interview: Briena Harmening

Briena Harmening is a text-obsessed textile artist. She uses the daintiest of crafts — embroidery, filet crochet, doilies — to balance out weighty emotional reckonings that she documents in her work. Harmening lives and works in Nashville, and she has a solo show opening at Blend in the Arcade on Friday, July 3 from 6 to 9 pm. The show is titled “I Bet You Think This Show Is About You,” and as you might guess, it’s the work of a scorned lover. Her stenciled letters on canvas and within crochet will sound familiar to anyone who’s had their heart trampled. But Harmening’s message doesn’t stop there. Her material choices recall traditional women’s work and its mind numbing processes, so her emotionally charged text messages speak even louder. The text might be wistful (“Sometimes I miss the old me”) or flat-out angry (“I moved here for you fucker”), but it’s always honest. I chatted with the artist in her West Nashville home and studio.

In the Studio of Briena Harmening

In the Studio of Briena Harmening

Brianna Harmening: I am originally from McMinnville, just an hour and a half east of here. I got married really young, moved to Florida, finished school there for a Bachelor of Arts, then started looking at graduate schools. I couldn’t afford to go to certain ones, so I ended up back at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I got divorced after that, but while I was there, I took art education classes and got my teaching license. I’ve been teaching for five years.

Erica Ciccarone: All at Hillsboro?

BH: I taught for four years at West High School in Knoxville. Then I moved here for a boy. We were dating for years long distance. That job [at Hillsboro] opened up. They’re an International Baccalaureate school, and I’d been trained in that. I got the job that afternoon. I said, “Sure I’ll go.” I have a lot of friends who live here in Nashville. And my best friend lives in Murfreesboro and we’ve known each other since kindergarten.

EC: So your studio is really great! So much space and light.

BH: This is a dream come true because before this, I was working in a second bedroom. I couldn’t afford a studio space. Then I was thinking about having a full time job, driving to the studio, maybe staying an hour or two versus having it at home where I can constantly access it. If I get up in the middle of the night…This space is great. There’s a lot of potential.

EC: I’m a quilter and embroiderer and all around textile nut. When I saw your piece at Ground Floor in The Artist’s Alphabet show, I immediately wanted to know more.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

BH: I’m going to Penland School of Crafts for screen printing coming up, and I’m taking a bunch of quilts to work on. In graduate school, I started making quilt tops — not finishing them. Then I would paint or do text on them, and I want to do a series. I have seven quilt tops that my aunt Margie made, and she passed away. It will be a continuance of this series. I thought about mixing them up for my July show at Blend, but I don’t think I can add them into my artist statement.

EC: Tell me about your show.

BH: In July I have a solo show at Blend in the Arcade. It will be some of this work. I had thought, “Oh, if I get a lot of work finished, I’ll put some of these quilts in,” but I think they’ll be way too big and overwhelm the space. I’m thinking about how to add onto these pieces here and make them more like sculptures…

Briena Harmening in her studio.

Briena Harmening in her studio.

EC: This is crochet?

BH: This is filet crochet. I started out with a series about dating in Knoxville. All these squares that are filled in show where there’s a letter. I started crocheting things people would tell me about dating, and then it got to where I would take things out of context from conversations. I’ve always been interested in language and how we communicate, how we make friends…I just started taking random sentences and writing the way my students speak, which was very funny. Then, I felt like I had to depart from it. I’ve always worked in text in some ways and it ended up in painting. I’ve always been into Richard Prince and Rauschenberg and Tracy Emin. I love autobiographical work. I’ve been through some dramatic things in my life, so I always write about those things.

blue

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

So this work has kind of evolved from the loss of my relationship. Some of them are angry and some are more somber, just dealing with the loss. I really put 100% into it [the relationship], and it’s been mind boggling.

EC: I definitely sense the loss, but your work is often humourous as well.

BH: Yeah. It’s funny. I guess I use humor to deal with difficult issues.

EC: What’s that process for these pieces that look like they’re dipped in paint? First you crochet the words.

BH: Yeah, then I pour paint over the piece and spread it. Then I go back in with scissors and push through the empty spaces. This one says, “One more fucking love song and I’m gonna vomit in this car.” I felt like every song was coming on, I was wanting to cry when I was driving around. [laughs]

EC: Yeah they can get really grating.

BH: The next one I should probably add something funny. The past few have been kind of sad. I was working on this other one this morning. It says, “I keep leaving pieces of myself with others.”

EC: I like that.

BH: It would be cool to have them coming off the wall, using that stiffness. I just sent a piece off to a show in Memphis for a show. It was really stiff and it would have been neat to have it shaped. I think I’ll need to dip them in starch. It’s something I want to experiment with later. I don’t know how well you’ll be able to read them.

Briena Harmening

Briena Harmening’s Birth Control Embroideries.

EC: Tell me about your small pieces, the birth control and Metallica ones…

BH: I love those. I lost my ovaries when I was in high school. I’ve been on and off different birth controls to try to get hormone levels right. I went through this feminist phase about what that meant to me, not being able to have kids, not feeling like a woman, not being sexually interested really and feeling a little bit asexual at one point. I’m always like, “What’s this pill gonna do?” Everytime they would switch me, it would be a surprise. I got those birth control packages out of a recycling dumpster. My mom cross stitches, so I thought I should add some little image or text in them. At that time I had started quilting, so I stitched quilt patterns from an old pattern book I’d gotten at McKay’s.

EC: I love them because cross stitch is so domestic. You just picture a heart shaped pillow on an armchair. It’s the feminine domesticity and the reproductive control of the Pill. I love that contradiction.

BH: They were really quick. They took two days a piece, and I would turn the dial to the day I finished. They also became documentation. I need to get in touch with Planned Parenthood. Right now, they’re just packed up.

Briena Harmening.

Briena Harmening’s Metallica Embroideries.

BH: The Metallica embroidery was my attempt at something super fun. They were my first concert when I was thirteen, in those developing years…I love metal music and anything depressive. Those pieces became an ode to Metallica. I didn’t want to use images from the title. I listened to songs and figured out an image that came to mind. Then I’d embroider a lyric. I presented them as a game in the gallery. I had them numbered on the wall and I handed out these sheets during show, and for every ten you got right, you got a shot of whiskey. Now my friends are like, “You should make those and put them on Etsy.” That would be awesome to do but you got to have start up ones ready to go and I just don’t have the time. That was one of the best shows I’ve had.

EC: In some of these crochet wall pieces, you leave strings hanging. Is that intentional?

BH: When I do embroidery, I love leaving strings. I crocheted my mom and dad’s portrait of them sharing a drink; they’re not drinkers. They came down for my students’ show in Knoxville and we went out to a bar — we’ve never done that in my whole life — and my dad ordered a fuzzy navel. They shared it. I left some of the strings loose when I gave it to them and they wanted to cut them.

EC: I like this one.

BH: I hate this one! It’s too much blue. An aritist I know said recently that she’d like to see some crochet that’s more painterly, but it’s really hard to build areas up when you’ve got so much space. It’s almost like I’d have to fill it first with silicone and paint on top of it. I just kept trying to layer and put more paint because I can’t go back and push the holes.

EC: I don’t think I’d want your work to be more painterly. I think I like it specifically because it’s not painterly. At the same time, I’d still consider them paintings.

I like this piece and what it says. I think that a lot of people can relate to it. It’s in the context of internet posts and the phrase, “That moment when…”

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

In the studio of Briena Harmening.

BH: That’s what I was going for with these. I didn’t want to make the work so personal that I shut people out. That’s why a lot of them are about realizing something in that moment. People can go back to that place when they felt the same. It’s funny. I’m not a big tech person. In fact, I don’t watch YouTube videos. I don’t hunt things out. I’ll hunt artists out but I don’t read all that stuff online. I hate being on the computer for the most part.

EC: I wouldn’t have guessed that.

BH: One of my friends was like, there are all these memes about “That moment when…You need to look that stuff up.” So I did and I was like, Noooo! I thought I had a good idea!

EC: Well you did have a good idea! I like in it in this context so much more.

BH: It’s nice that it resonates, but you know what it’s like when you think you’re hitting on something… It’s like seeing someone’s work and thinking, “I fucking thought of that before! Why didn’t I make it?”

EC: Do you feel that teaching feeds your artistic process or drains it, or both?

BH: I have to have a schedule, otherwise I can totally see why other art teachers just don’t make art anymore. For me, that’s always been really important. I want to show my kids that I’m trying to make it. Teaching is not what I want to do for my whole life. I feel like that’s important. My work feeds what I teach them because a lot of times if I see something I’ll be like, “We’re gonna look at this artist and this is what we’re gonna do.” Our last project was contemporary taxidermy. We looked at all these taxidermy artists and made paper mache animals. We talked about hybrids and combining animals. I only had two students make hybrids. Next year, that’s going to be the requirement. So many of them go to the easy things. I really want them to explore animals…

EC: So what’s coming up for you?

BH: I’m working in the press release for the Blend show now. It must be fun to travel around visiting artists. I really want to get more involved in visiting people’s studios.

Briena Harmening,

Briena Harmening, “I’d rather be alone,” 2015; crochet, spray paint on wood and plastic, 30 in. X 28 in.

I Heart Memphis Home Galleries

This week, I drove 200 miles to Memphis to check out their art scene. I was inspired by LOCATE Arts, an initiative launched by two Knoxville artists to bridge the gaps among Tennessee’s art scenes by organizing a TN biennial and creating a centralized website of exhibition listings. (Read more about it here.) Modeled after Texas’ Glass Tire, LOCATE Arts would unify artists, galleries, and all exhibition spaces in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

I loved being in Memphis. I looked online and asked around for places to go, but some of my favorites were spaces I was led to once I arrived. In two home galleries, people are eschewing the confinement and exclusivity of commercial galleries to show work that’s relevant, hip, and local.

GLITCH is the home and gallery space of artist Adam Farmer. Although he was between shows when I visited, he was kind enough to let me take a look around and hang for a bit. The two front rooms were empty, but the walls were painted — some like outer space, another with light geometric shapes, another like wallpaper. They change for pretty much every show. Farmer curates solo exhibitions and group shows — sometimes with a huge roster of artists — of everything from paintings and drawings to cigar boxes and book arts.

GLITCH 1

In Adam Farmer’s bedroom in GLITCH – Memphis, TN

Making your way to Memphis for a GLITCH opening would be worth the trip in itself. Farmer invites musical guests and performers for an all out party. Most opening receptions are the second-to-last Friday of every month, but you can always check the GLITCH Facebook page to see what’s coming up. The rest of his house — his studio, bedroom, kitchen, and even bathroom — is a funky museum of Farmer’s work, artistic collaborations, and work by his peers. Well, it’s more like the collection of someone’s weird, hoarding great aunt than it is museum, but that’s all the better. In the backyard, I checked out Farmer’s assemblages, which he says are shrines to important turning points in his life. Follow Farmer and GLITCH on Instagram @glitchmemphis.

GLITCH 3

Inside GLITCH in Memphis, TN

 

GLITCH 2

Inside GLITCH, in Memphis, TN

 

Farmer pointed me in the direction of another home gallery, Southfork, in the residence of Lauren Kennedy, and she was kind enough to invite me over on half-a-day’s notice. Kennedy’s apartment changes with each installation — many branching out to different rooms. I got to check out the current exhibition, hilariously titled Old Man Study Group, a collaborative show from Hamlett Dobbins and Douglas Degges. The two have been passing notebooks back and forth for years. I’m excited to dig into their process.

“Old Man Study Group.” Hamlett Dobbins and Douglas Degges at Southfork – Memphis.

Douglas Degges.

Douglas Degges. “Old Man Study Group,” Southfork – Memphis.

In the dining room, I discovered Carroll Nikkila’s creepy baby wall sculptures. I’d love to fall asleep to some of these beauties watching over me.

jkj

Carroll Nikkila. Southfork – Memphis

But what really rocked my socks were these two collages by an artist named St. Francis Elevator Ride. I’m telling you, the name is just the beginning. His work is a visual feast of bodies, birds, and food. It was love at first sight.

St. Francis Elevator Ride. Southfork - Memphis.

St. Francis Elevator Ride. Southfork – Memphis.

More on my Memphis travels coming soon!