Author Archives: Mary Coss

KISS FEAR

sizedMy mother gave me an overflowing bag of little white gloves. It was from the moment of this gift that this show emerged. My mind wandered from “hands up”, a call to not shoot, to another era. These gloves represented ritual, privilege, and Sunday best across races years ago. As I considered the iconic symbol of gloves covering hands, and the many allusions they bring, complexities emerged. People wore gloves to church, “doing good” and hid behind them doing their nasty work. Taking Off the Gloves suggests there is going to be a serious conversation and not everyone is going to agree.

This show grew organically. Bill Gaylord (owner of BONFIRE) and I embraced the work and perspectives of poet Daemond Arrindell and visual artist Holly Ballard Martz. KISS FEAR is the result of three artists who take off the gloves and put their art form to work. It is a narrative of three different perspectives speaking truth to power.

On average, 30 deaths pass to gun violence each day in the US. This figure is applied to the 30 cast gloves, hands up, on their AR-15 window altar. In 2015 about 13,000 people were killed in the United States by a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide occurrence. 12,286 lives lost by October 31st of this year. * These statistics don’t include suicide.

The artwork , Mapping Time, is a tally of deaths from gun violence. Updated weekly on Sundays, this ongoing count makes real the numbers, documenting each life lost with a candle lit, starting on November 1st and running through the exhibition run.

This intimate look down the barrel – contemplates gun rights, the loss of life, and the search for healing. Through haunting imagery, dark humor, and the power of words we address our own anger, process our emotions and deliver ideas in a different context to plead with you to consider the role guns play in our society. KISS FEAR is a saying marked for eternity onto Daemond’s arm in remembrance of a dear friend. As he says, “Her life motto was Kissing Fear. She felt that if she not only faced her fears but embraced them, they would make her a wiser, stronger, more loving person.“ It is a metaphor for the interwoven themes of this show and the title and reasoning that best represents this group.

You can see a short of this show on Artzone at the Seattle Channel here.

The Amour of Armour

My work explores memory and customs examining society, cultural inheritance, and the natural world. Looking back at women throughout history, I see how far we have come in some regards, yet how little has changed in others. My body of work,  Public Debt to the Suffragette, reflects on the times of 1912-15 through the eyes of 2012-15. The very year that the US congress started to limit women’s rights over their bodies is exactly 100 years after Margaret Sanger initiated what would become Planned Parenthood. I was inspired to honor the female body and use it as a statement about seduction, power, and control; and to question social mores of gender.

For Margaret Sanger's Faith

For Margaret Sanger’s Faith c. Mary Coss

Materials bring with them inherent meaning. Bronze traditionally memorialized moments in time. Here I use it to create a frozen narrative. The long history of bronze casting includes the making of protective war implements, in particular body armor. Using bronze to present intimate imagery creates a different context for the material, the armour becomes reflective of its matters, and it matters how the details are treated. An emerging breast shows both its strength and its vulnerability, yet these forms seem to take on any brutality, including a needle and thread and still withstand.

Inertia

 Inertia c. Mary Coss

 The Unfamiliar Familiar My use of corsets question historical reference and gender roles. It’s written that women donned the first corsets to take a stand, saying no to motherhood and yes to other possibilities. But, mostly we hear the stories of women pursuing the perfect shape, the stories of women who broke or removed ribs to create a body to fit the current ideal. History is storytelling and truth is illusive.

The Familiar Unfamiliar c. Mary Coss

Gilded cAGE (below) reflects on the Gilded Age. It was a time where society lay corrupt under a gilded surface layer. Just as Mark Twain coined this term for the late 19th century, current business and politics have revolved to a similar social condition with the gilding, as a cage for the populace.

2a_Coss_Gilded cAGEI’m interested in working somewhere between the familiar and the uncomfortable. Intimate imagery seduces, but there is more to these stories. I invite you to spend a moment of time to consider the allusions. Just as layers of time encrust our planet, layers of meaning have a way of building up through years and creating something different than what originally existed. In society, these encrustations can propel us forward or move us back. I am betting on our moving forward and hope this work creates a ripple that rolls forward in concert with many others.

Gilded cAGE c. Mary Coss

 

 

Visual Biographies

Visual Biographies is an exhibit that partners artists with the senior residents of The Lakeshore apartments in southeast Seattle. The residents shared their stories and the artists created a Visual Biography of the elder. My partner was Mary Cross.

MaryCrossI smiled at the irony when I first heard my resident partner’s name. After our first phone call I laughed in spite of myself. It was a little bit like the classic skit “who’s on first”. After the initial confusion, we settled on an understanding that our names are very similar, and got on to the business of sharing. We live in a world of uncertainty, and a time of entitlement and indulgence. The openhearted bravery of the residents to allow strangers in to write their story is awe-inspiring. I believe it is an adventurous and courageous act. I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend time with Mary Cross. She was open and compassionate even in the face of being unsure at times as to why I was there and what I was going to do. I feel the best way to honor her and her willingness to partake in this journey is to simply create her portrait. She is a complex individual yet simple in nature, strong yet fragile. It seemed appropriate to create her portrait out of metal, a material that can be both fragile yet strong at the same time. I hope the portrait does her justice and features these traits in a positive way. Thank you Mary Cross for spending time with me, Mary Coss, and sharing your story.

So what is this thing you call Socially Engaged Art?

I find it distracting when I’m teaching and the students are so busy taking notes about what you’re saying that they don’t hear the words. My new tactic is to put the topic in writing, hand it out and tell them everything I am saying is in the summary so please listen up to what I’m saying and give your pen a rest. Of course this only works for specific topics and not when you get into exploring the meat of an issue and want to follow those intriguing threads. But for introductions, it helps. And so here is my blurb on this topic. What is this thing you call Socially Engaged Art?

Layers of the Hijab artist panel

Simply put, It is an art that makes use of artistic methodology to engage with a community to address social issues of importance.

It may be useful to ask what is it not? It’s not commercially viable and it does not hang well or even belong in a gallery or museum. It’s not a single discipline. It hasn’t been documented as other art forms have, either by the critics or the historians. Consequently it has little documented art historical context.

When social engagement works, it’s not an art that represents, it’s an art that is. The art, the process, is the thing. It’s roots lie in happenings, performance art, conceptual art, installation, post minimalism, and relational aesthetics. It’s often called public art or community art, especially in Europe. It is a timeless phenomenon although some of the most successful contemporary artists adhere to the form. Similar to much contemporary art, the aesthetic lens is about methodology. It’s difficult to present it out of context, it’s site specific, and as it’s community based. It is also people specific and social specific. It balances ethical standards with aesthetic standards and therein lays both its value and it’s challenge. A myopic view can see it simply as social action.

Socially engaged artworks often result in a relationship between the artist and the community. Successful work is not appropriation. The work focuses on process and the artist works from within the community, embedded and immersed in the project and the community culture. When social practice works, it is an art that grows exponentially through collaboration.

The socially engaged artist considers their artistic intentions within the social realm, as well as the artistic world, with intention to contribute to social change. With this professed aim to shift social strategy, you may ask how is it different than political engagement?

It is through the lens of the artist that a shift occurs. An artist’s perspective draws from metaphor and interprets in innovative ways. By seeking engagement with the audience and making use of creative problem solving, ideas emerge. Symbols are used. Symbolic allegorical works evolve to speak to our social conscience through our aesthetic voice.

When work moves you visually, spiritually, viscerally, beyond the intellectual, you can ask yourself what’s going on here? If you look deeper into this meaning, you will find the vocabulary of the art world, and the vocabulary of socially engaged art.

Social Practice and Community Arts

 Young Women’s Empowerment

Layers of the Hijab is a three-year project of immersion into the world of teenage East African girls. We collaborated to create visual artwork and poetry that was exhibited in a gallery, along with poetry reading and an artist panel discussion. Through the workshop, the girls developed strong voices and clarity on navigating the multiple cultures and roles in their lives. They shared their ideas and process with the community in an engaging discussion where they educated the greater community on the hijab. In the following year, I created wire portraits of the girls that were part of a sound installation.

The Colors We Wear germinated from the Layers of the Hijab project where previous participants suggested that the project continue with younger East African teenage girls making scarves. In the third phase of the workshops we dyed silk and made scarves. At the Artist Panel, the young women shared their art, talked about the artistic process, the significance of scarves, and offered scarf wearing advice.

Senior Cultural Sharing

Women’s Art and Culture Workshop is a partnership with the Senior Housing Assistance Group that provides senior women a creative outlet for self-reflection, advocacy, and community building around topics that are relevant to the cultural complexities of their lives. This diverse group includes a community of African American and Immigrant women. The aim of this partnership is to offer a practical exploration as to how the arts can be used by the women to create powerful individual and communal transformations on their own terms. You can view a video of the project here.

The Sacred You and Me Mosaic and Audio is an arts and culture workshop where teaching artists and elderly women aged 65-95 from varying faiths and ethnic backgrounds meet weekly to share experiences, cultures, and stories that are expressed through art making. Many had never spoken before with a woman from another culture. The partaking of food, holiday traditions, and crafts turned into a heartfelt sharing of life’s turning points and one’s deepest held secrets.

Urban Youth

SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) is a non-profit, community development organization whose mission is to strengthen and revitalize southeast Seattle neighborhoods through its three program areas of economic development, arts and culture, and affordable housing. Its SEED’s Arts Programs enriches the lives of area residents through art and culture. Through this program, SEEDArts Public Art Workshop (PAWs) was developed by Mary Coss, which engages urban youth from Southeast Seattle in art making outside of school. All of the resident sites are section 8 housing with a diverse population.  You can read more about SEEDArts here.

  • Lilac Lodge is owned and managed by SEED. Residents and Cleveland High School students collaborated with Mary Coss and Sarah Fansler to fabricate and install several public artworks including several sculptures, a mosaic walkway, signage, raised garden walls, and a trellis.
  • Findlay Sanctuary is a pocket park in Southeast Seattle. Mary Coss and Sultan Mohamed led workshops with local middle school youth installing public art on the site over a course of five years. Art included a cast bronze eagle inlay, metal fabricated birds on a wire, bird and bat houses, and mosaic signage.
  • Tree of Hope and Knowledge is located at a transitional housing residence called Katherine’s Place. Working with local high school students, Mary Coss and Sarah Fansler led the project that includes an extensive mosaic of a tree imbedded with clay masks of the participating students, and yards of forged vines with leaves. The work celebrates the legacy of St. Katherine.
  • Children are a Window to the World is a collaborative project between resident children, poet, sculptor Sabah Al Dhaher and Mary Coss at Katherine’s Place. The children carved and cast poems and images in bronze. These were inlaid in granite sculptures that the students carved into.
  • Memoir Mosaic is a SEEDArts Youth Art Residency summer program where ten resident teens assisted lead artists Mary Coss and Sultan Mohammed with the design and fabrication of a giant clay mosaic for a park plaza at the Rainier Vista housing community. The design concept is that of rings of a tree trunk, with each ring representing a decade in the ninety-year history of the site. Using lettering stamps and freehand, students imprinted the historical statements they gathered through research and interviews conducted during the workshop.

Hit the Streets is a program of Coyote Central. Underserved youth from Central and South Seattle are hired to make public art for their community in this summer work program. Every summer 24 adolescents aged 12-14 work with a team of professional public artists to create art for a neighborhood park, garden, street corner, or vacant lot. You can learn more about the Hit The Streets program here.     Mary Coss was lead artist and project designer on the following projects.

  • Fantasy Bicycle is a metal sculpture made of recycled mechanical parts and built by youth in the summer of 2012 to provide a street front presence for the Coyote Shop that does welding, woodworking and bicycle building.
  • Cherry Street Fence features steel panels interspersed with carved wooden totem elements and twisted steel bars that comprise a 42′ fence along the southeastern border of Coyote Central’s campus at 23rd & Cherry. This project was in partnership with Starbucks.
  • Seeds of Jazz celebrates the neighborhood’s rich jazz tradition through a series of enameled seed-shaped panels with cast aluminum leaves. These gateway seeds are mounted on the fence of a thriving p-patch across the street from Washington Hall, the site of several historic jazz performances. These seeds trace the history of jazz music in Seattle and represent gestation, growth, and the blossoming of ideas and improvisation.

Photos of the projects are here