Constant as The Sun
Constant as the Sun is the third installment in MOCA Cleveland’s series of thematic group exhibitions focusing on artists working in or deeply connected to the region, including artists working in cities in Western Pennsylvania, Western New York, and Eastern Michigan. Presenting ten artists or artist collectives, the exhibition features new and recent work that explores diverse approaches to portraying, building, and connecting community. Previous exhibitions include Realization is Better than Anticipation (2013) and How to Remain Human (2015). MOCA takes an expansive definition of the region as something both psychographic and geographic, as much a state of mind as a site for production.
The exhibition title references a line in a 1970 poem by Peter Davies titled "Allison," written in honor of Allison Krause, one of the four unarmed college students killed by National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. In relation to the exhibition, the title implies the persistent conditions and considerations—both challenging and inspiring—that drive artistic practice in the region, as well as the enduring significance of art and artists in shaping communities.
Constant as the Sun considers the diverse approaches to social art practice that are prevalent among artists in the region. Some artists use traditional media, such as photographers Matt Eich and Corinne Vermeulen and painter Darius Steward, and work closely with individuals and communities over extended periods of time to offer expansive, dimensional views of their lives. Eich redefines an intimate vision of trauma and upholds the dignity of family life in Ohio’s troubled Southeastern rural towns. Similarly Vermeulen’s photographs imply how assumptions about her Detroit neighborhood, a fusion of white, black, and Bengali Muslim residents, are both built and undone. Steward uses his immediate family as subjects and symbols of the physical and figurative weight that urban African American families carry as they move forward in a broken system.
Place plays a key role in some of these artists’ socially-conscious works. Over many years, Tyree Guyton has transformed the exterior surfaces and landscape of a long struggling neighborhood in Detroit with everyday objects such as sneakers, stuffed animals, clocks and cars, creating an art mecca known as the Heidelberg Project. Sculptures and reliefs from the project will be shown alongside new prints that turn his signature style inward towards more reflexive, meditative examinations. The three-woman collective, Transformazium have lived in Braddock, PA—a struggling post-industrial city east of Pittsburgh—for over a decade, creating spaces like the Neighborhood Print Shop and projects like the Art Lending Library inside Braddock’s Carnegie Library where they work in an effort to expand art’s relevance in area residents’ lives. At MOCA, Transformazium will create an installation of books, bricks, and beds that explores how individuals relate to one another as learners by creating and sharing collections of ideas. The three-person collective Acerbic are based in Cleveland, where they produce site-specific, research-based projects using photography, writing, video, and sculpture that focus on issues of race, class, education, and culture to underscore and uplift underserved minority communities. For Constant as the Sun, the collective will explore the history and contemporary experience of residents of the “Forgotten Triangle,” a neglected but significant neighborhood in Cleveland.
Other artists function as conveners, creating nuanced projects in response to the needs or desires of various communities and then facilitating dialogues, experiences, and opportunities. Following her widely acclaimed film portraits of Clevelanders, The Fixers (2015-2016), Kate Sopko and her collaborator Angela Beallor are creating a faux fall-out shelter inside the MOCA’s Mueller Family Gallery to address and give voice to urban communities that feel “actively threatened” at this moment. Liz Maugans, founder of Cleveland artist spaces and projects including Zygote Press and Rooms to Let, will invite all self-identified artists in Cuyahoga County to submit a self-portrait to be shown as a collective statement that problematizes how artists are currently defined, supported, or excluded.
Finally, some artists leverage the in-gallery relationship with the viewer to examine art’s therapeutic potential to link otherwise disconnected beings. Using frameworks of therapy, marketplace, and self-improvement, the three-person collective, Institute for New Feeling, present six designer fragrances and a video that critically and humorously correlate our desire and approaches to health and well-being with the larger forces of technology and the environment. Columbus-based artist Danielle Julian-Norton also applies technology to a familiar but fraught relationship—humans and plants—as a way to consider collaboration anew as a mind-set rather than a momentary strategy.
Constant as the Sun looks expansively at what it means for artists to engage communities today, whether through traditional studio work or a responsive, on-the-ground practice. As such, the exhibition is staged throughout the Museum, inside and outside traditional gallery spaces.
Artists in Constant as the Sun include: acerbic (Donald Black Jr., Ali McClain, and Gabriel Gonzalez; Cleveland), Matt Eich (Virginia), Tyree Guyton (Detroit), Institute For New Feeling (Scott Andrew, Agnes Bolt, and Nina Sarnelle; Pittsburgh), Liz Maugans (Cleveland), Danielle Julian Norton (Columbus), Kate Sopko and Angela Beallor (Cleveland), Darius Steward (Cleveland), Transformazium (Dana Bishop-Root, Leslie Stem, and Ruthie Stringer; Pittsburgh), and Corine Vermeulen (Detroit).
Major support for Constant as the Sun is provided by the John P. Murphy Foundation, with generous support from Thompson Hine LLP, and University Hospitals. Additional support provided by Nicholas and Erin Reif.