Exhibit at new St. Paul gallery offers spaces for contemplation

If finding a moment to pause and reflect is hard to come by, St. Paul’s creative enterprise zone has a contemporary art gallery with not one — but three — spaces for contemplation.

New Studio Gallery, the passion project of New Studio Architecture’s owner and president Sean Wagner, is nestled right underneath New Studio Architecture’s office. New Studio Gallery recently opened its latest installation,  “At This Point … Three Spaces for Contemplation.” The installation features three pieces — or spaces — from Twin Cities artists Jovan Speller, Tia Keobounpheng and Rebecca Krinke.

The show is curated by Camille LeFevre, a former dance critic and writer and editor for architecture publications. LeFevre believes the exhibit addresses pressing issues, including undoing racism. The pieces are deeply personal to the artists and focus on concerns at the forefront of their minds; whether that be racism in America or past dreams. The artwork, LeFevre says, invites reflection and space to contemplate the past, present and future.

Descending the stairs into the intimate basement gallery, there are three distinct spaces running parallel to one another. Rebecca Krinke’s “Space Without Map” is on the far left side of the room. Drapes enclose Krinke’s space with a massive black feathered creature at the center of the space with references to Krinke’s dreams scattered throughout her room.

“Past Present” by Tia Keobounpheng / Courtesy photo

The piece in the center of the room considers time and contemplation. “Past Present” by Tia Keobounpheng uses multiple pieces of fabric and rope to create a curtain for the viewer. This replicates the effect of “the veil of individualism on white people’s identity,” according to Keobounpheng. For “Past Present” the viewer sits inside a semicircle curtain of cloth and rope. To the back of the viewer, completely obscured by material, is the “future.” The future in this case is a mirror on the other side of the room. In front of the viewer, in clear view, are metal pieces arranged in a circle on the wall that resemble copper fortune cookies. These sculptures were created by forcing metal into misfit shapes.

Jovan Speller’s space “Sounds for Survival,” a continuation of her multidisciplinary exhibition “Relics of Home,” is tucked away on the right side of the stairs. “Relics of Home” combined text, sound and Speller’s photography to explore her ancestry as a Black American. Speller’s latest installation is quite literally a space for contemplation, complete with stones and ocean sounds. The “sounds of Yemaya,” an ocean goddess with roots in various Afro religions, complete the room sandwiched in by two pieces of glossy black material.

Q & A with artist Jovan Speller

Jovan Speller’s “Sounds for Survival” (Courtesy photo)

Before the exhibit had it’s digital launch Oct. 10, Speller talked about her piece. (The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: How does “Sounds for Survival” expand on “Relics of Home?”

A: Included in the exhibit (Relics of Home) was literally an altar that had small 10-by-10 photos underneath. The large photograph in the installation (“Three Spaces for Contemplation”) comes from those small photos.

The whole “Relics” series was shot in North Carolina on the property that my father’s ancestors, who were slaves, lived. The photo is of the woods off the dirt road across from the cotton field. Those are unmarked graves where slaves were buried.

That image was installed under an altar for relics and now I’ve expanded it into an entire installation that honors that.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to go back in order to go forward. It felt important to reconcile the idea of home, ancestry and what it meant the extent to which I could trace it. As a Black person in America you can only trace so far back. Now I’m moving forward and trying to imagine futures that are more reflective of my identity and Black identity; this is my version of experimenting with afrofuturism.

Q: What does afrofuturism mean to you?

 A: Ten years ago when I was seeing exhibitions focusing on afrofuturism, it didn’t resonate. To me now it’s, “What do we want to imagine into the future for us?” For me, it’s representations that go against mainstream images and have more complicated ideas about what Black identity is. It forces non-Black bodies to think about things through a different lens. For me it stabilizes us here.

My work is about making Black people feel seen and making white people uncomfortable. Even if they don’t feel uncomfortable that they don’t see themselves because it’s not my responsibility to generally represent women. I’m specifically talking to Black folks and about my experience as a human, mother, and how this country and these communities treat me.

Q: Where do the “sounds of Yemaya” come from? 

A: Actually the person singing is a friend of mine, it’s a well-known song. I remembered the song from when I was kid, around 5. It has always been attached to my spirituality in this strange way because there was no reason for it to be attached to my identity. I don’t have roots in any religion related to Orisha (a native religion of the Yoruba people). Later in my adult life, I heard a Princess Nokia song where it was in the intro music. A few years later I got married and wanted my friend to sing it when I came down the aisle. There are various elements in the recording that touch on my identity as well. I firmly believe I was a humpback whale in another life and there are ocean sounds. My future projects are about Black mothers’ stories, and there are crying babies.

Q: Why a moment of respite?

A: We need places to rest. I don’t know anyone who isn’t anxious or struggling. I don’t need to live in my head or make you stay in your head. I want to make spaces that make you feel.

‘At This Point …Three Spaces for Contemplation’

  • Where: New Studio Gallery, 2303 Wycliff Street, St. Paul
  • When: Open to four visitors every half hour from 5 to 7 p.m. with pre-registration. The exhibition is up until Nov. 21.
  • Info: newstudiogallery.com

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