“I’m actually incredibly lazy,” Carrie Mae Weems said to her audience in the over-crowded Gowen room on Monday night. The audience responds with laughter because it is hard to believe that such an accomplished artist could possibly call herself lazy. Weems’ lecture coincides with her exhibit, “All About Eve,” that the Hartnett Gallery is currently featuring until March 9.
Weems’ work has confronted gender roles, sexism, racism and modernism and yet still has managed to be aesthetically pleasing and emotionally moving. The exhibit features photographs, text, sculpture and film.
“All About Eve” is dedicated to women and features bits of her work from 1990 to 2006, including “Kitchen Table” (1990), “The Shape of Things” (1993), “The Apple of Adam’s Eye” (1995), “Not Manet’s Type” (1997), “Framed By Modernism” (1999) and the short film “Italian Dreams” that was just finished in 2006.
Weems spoke about art, what it’s like to be an artist and the revolutions that art has encountered in the modern world. Many of her photographs were shown on slides as she talked. As each slide went by, Weems added her inspirations, such as what she was aiming to do with the piece in question in terms of her own emotional outlet and her audience’s emotional responses.
She aims to “lead the viewer into a certain set of circumstances” so that they can look past her “to their own imagination? their own critical imagination” and find themselves in her setting. Thus, they can experience the architecture and the feeling of the specific setting.
As an artist, it was in her early thirties when she came into her own. Weems said, “[the] life of an artist is an extraordinary journey and a painful journey? who are we, what is the utterance of our voice?” Finally, after she found her voice, she realized “what it means to be an artist, what it is to be a woman, even more what it is to be human.” Weems’ art speaks to all of these areas of her life, and that is what she wants her audience to find. Her art brings up novel questions that the viewer might never have asked before.
The piece “The Apple of Adam’s Eye” confronts the biblical story of Adam and Eve and gives a brilliant twist to it. The text accompanying the piece reads “Temptation my ass, desire has its place, and besides, they were doomed from the start.” The text serves to bring the biblical characters into a newer, more modern setting, into a more human place.
The text also challenges a rather inbred set of beliefs about what is right and wrong and how temptation is taught as a bad thing; Weems effectively makes this archaic story perfectly acceptable and human.
The newest piece in the exhibit, the film “Italian Dreams,” is a perfect example of how she leads her audience into an environment that is entirely their own. She leads the viewer through herself; the camera follows a character (Weems) in a long black dress through a garden and a building that looks like a museum on the outside.
On the inside, the viewer finds another character at the same time that the woman in the black dress does and is then thrown into this new character’s “dreams” and visions. The music playing is eerie, suspenseful, and depressing all at the same time, putting the viewer into a dreamy mode.
Cheryl Kaplan, an accomplished film producer, was also a featured speaker on Monday evening. She and Weems had met in the past, but their friendship blossomed in Italy last summer.
Kaplan and Weems had a discussion about the characters Weems uses in her art especially that she uses herself. Weems called herself “her most demanding subject.”
Kaplan understands that Weems uses herself as a character to lead the viewer into the piece and its landscape to find and imagine their own experience and dreams. Kaplan applauded Weems’ “Italian Dreams” as it accomplishes all of these things for the audience.
During Weems’ lecture she added advice for aspiring artists in the crowd, telling them to follow their commitments and to not to get caught up in the money making and economically charged side of the art world. Rather, they should aim to stay true to themselves as human beings and as artists.
“My commitment has always been to make the best work and show it at the best possible venues,” she said about her life’s work. The Hartnett Gallery at UR is only one of many.
Conrad is a member of the class of 2007.