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5 Questions with: Maggie Mullin O'Hara

Multimedia artist’s new exhibition opens at Jepson Friday

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ART IS supposed to make us feel, but Maggie Mullin O’Hara’s new exhibition might leave you feeling more than you thought you would.

O’Hara’s I’m Trying to Tell You is part of the Telfair Museums’ #art912 initiative to bring visibility to Savannah artists. The show, opening Friday at the Jepson Center, includes video works presented by way of projection, analog and flat screen televisions, a grid of 24 printed stills, three analog lenticular LED light boxes, and an interactive piece.

This Is Me Crying.
  • This Is Me Crying.

We talked to O’Hara, now based in Columbia, S.C., last week.

1. How did you develop the idea for this show?

I’m Trying To Tell You came into itself as being a combination of older works from my MFA Thesis work at SCAD, Gestures of Persistence, and newer works which in ways function as both a departure from and expansion of said older works. So, it is a body of both older and newer works, which came to being from pushing the ideas and concepts of past work in new and different directions.

The newer works, for me, served as a sort of therapy through their creation over the course of the past year in which they were executed. I realized how the art of “performance” could be therapeutic after I had completed Gestures of Persistence. At this point, I was really interested in this idea of finding solace or healing through the act and art of performance, and the newer pieces from I’m Trying To Tell You really push and test this concept.

The works from Gestures of Persistence approach the act of performance in a very traditional sense, and focus on the psychophysical self and endurance of the human body, whereas the new pieces found in I’m Trying To Tell You utilize the act of performance as a means of confession and admittance. Because of this, the newer works encourage a more intimate and private encounter or experience between the viewer and the vulnerability of the subject (myself)/object (the work).

2. Why do you think sharing these vulnerabilities is important?

The vulnerabilities I am speaking to within this body of work refer to the universal experience of the emotions of pain and suffering, sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. and the act which makes us even more vulnerable: the release versus the restraint of these emotions. The act of crying, specifically, is one that we associate with privacy; an intimate act that we share with either only ourselves or those closest to us.

My piece challenges and begs: why? What happens when we take the intimate, the private, and we re-contextualize it in the public? Will strangers feel with me, another stranger; will they cry with me?

3. Tell me more about the piece This Is Me Crying. How did you make it?

This Is Me Crying was a result of this conflicting thought I struggled with, in which I constantly wondered to myself and to others: why is crying such a private act, and why do we feel ashamed to do it either in front of others or at all? It was conflicting because I, too, was a victim of this socially established normality.

For the piece, I did pull out the camera each time I cried (within reason, of course—if I had my camera readily available, etc). They are actually video pieces, for the length in which I cried. I then pulled stills from each video (in which I was looking directly at the camera/addressing, then, directly the viewer), to function as still photographs/objects for the ephemeral video works.

4. How do you think people will react to it?

I suspect that the way in which This Is Me Crying will be realized at the Jepson will be specific to that space, and so I have spent copious amounts of time simply imagining what the piece means to that space. In simply watching the raw footage, I have found myself crying at the sight of myself crying. It's a really interesting experience, to cry with my past self. Of course, I always have intended meanings and messages with my work that I hope the viewer will experience.

However, I think to leave the work more open-ended and to propose the capability for boundless realization by its viewers is a more realistic and truthful expectation of the work. I think the work in general, begs that together we endure, feel, and cry. I have already had comments on the still images from the video works on how pretty I still am when I cry, to which I simply wonder: why is the act of crying any different from the act of laughing or smiling? Why can’t we consider the two as interchangeable experiences?

I am a firm believer in the fact that it is impossible to experience pure joy without knowing actual suffering, and vice versa. So, why can we be pretty when we smile, but are commonly perceived as being “unattractive” when we frown?

O'Hara working on the interactive portion of her exhibition
  • O'Hara working on the interactive portion of her exhibition
5. How does the interactive portion of the exhibition fit in?

The interactive piece in the show came as a sort of after-thought, or response to This Is Me Crying, and functions as a reliquary piece for the ephemeral video works. The piece is titled For You... and exists as a stack of 500 prints featuring the grid of still images from This Is Me Crying on the front side, and the words For You hand written on the back. So, it exists as this sort of "personalized" tangible object that each viewer is encouraged to either take away with them as a relic from the show, or to destroy and leave, as part of the piece, in the space.

Essentially, the piece in its entirety is meant to function as either a sort of collaborative release of our frustrations, sadness, suffering, anxieties, etc. or as a means of simply knowing that these are shared vulnerabilities, specifically, that I feel with and for and through them, and finding the comfort in that. If a guest destroys the piece and leaves it within the space, I see that as a form of release. If they choose to take the print/message with them, I see that as an act of preservation of an experience.

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