Verbatim: An Intimate Synopsis (of the Artist’s Mind)

The following is an informal synopsis of Cassidy Kulhanek‘s and Paul J. McCormick‘s collaborative exhibition VERBATIM at Fieldwork Projects Gallery, Auburn, AL in the fall of 2015. I explore the nuances of their representation of self juxtaposed with technology, as well as their depiction of the creative process. Cassidy is an alumna of Auburn University’s BFA Program, and Paul McCormick is the Instruction Technology Specialist in the College of Liberal Arts. You can find more on the artists at their websites here and here, and Auburn University’s Department of Art and Art History’s feature online here.


 

Like in a film narrated by the protagonist, our artists exhibit moments of everyday stresses, emotion, and internal conflict. We might perceive a sense of longing, of frustration, of careful calculation as both Cassidy Kulhanek and Paul McCormick let us peak into their sketchbooks. Paul questions his role in society, how he presents himself to his students, and, on a broader scale, humans’ relationship to (and dependence on) technology: “We are all cyborgs now.” Within the frame of the exhibition, our artists explore their position in and impact on the world through their thoughts (verbatim), simultaneously addressing the creative process.

In Cassidy’s standing accordion portfolio, “I Said So,” she reinforces the exhibition’s namesake. The length of the black accordion is scrawled with small white writings, while the bolded statement “I SAID SO” is visible from a distance, since each sizeable letter mounts every other panel. We are forced to look closer, both literally and figuratively, to comprehend the artist’s use of the phrase.

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Fig. 1. Cassidy Kulhanek, Paul McCormick, “Abridgement,” 40 prints and projection mapped video (10 min.), via Auburn University Department of Art and Art History.

Accidental omission of letters; misspellings; occasionally illegible writings because of the simple fact that the hand cannot move as quickly as the mind; “run-on fragments,” as can be seen on a panel in Abridgement (see Fig. 1) – these elements further promote the raw, unrefined nature of the exhibition that make Paul’s and Cassidy’s works so intimate. However, only limited time and space are available to fully express oneself; likely an issue many artists face. The title Abridgement itself acts as a disclaimer, yet another allusion to the exhibition’s title: though the visual soundbites provided in the exhibition are straightforward (indeed Verbatim), they are in fact condensed highlights of the artists’ sketchbooks. The actual sketchbooks themselves are not on display, but abbreviations stand in their place. Additionally, “abridgement,” like the terse statement “I said so,” on the other side of the room, may refer to a frustration from hampering or silencing the artist’s voice or vision. Perhaps it simply alludes to revisions during the creative process – a reference that can be seen repeatedly throughout the exhibition, but we will return to this in later paragraphs.

Cassidy’s work is often deeply personal and very emotional, and Verbatim is no exception—the writings are, as Paul noted, moments of the artists’ process as recorded in their sketchbooks. He explains, “[the sketchbook’s] pages are the vessel where inner dialogue spans the transitional space between thought and written statement.” That is, while they present hard copies of the artist’s thoughts, the sketchbook has no clear organization nor final product within its pages. This would explain Verbatim‘s scribbled memos, quickly written and almost illegible thoughts, and seemingly irrelevant images.

Perhaps those images (photographs) that accompany Paul’s written notes allude to the erratic and haphazard nature of the artist’s mind, or of the mind in general. Sometimes the most critical ideas arise when walking up the street, sitting on the back porch, or driving through town, rather than in the environments specifically designated for creativity and production like the studio or the classroom. These spontaneously derived ideas are crucial, however unpredictable, parts of the creative process.

For example, a photo of what seems to be a view from an outdoor patio beckons:

“Things to think about

Who owns the media

What they gain by showing

us what they want”

What do the trees’ leaves and white railing have to do with media bias? Nothing, really. Perhaps this is where Paul was when he decided to write these words down. Maybe they truly have no discernible correlation, and Paul simply sought to make a point about the creative process (see previous paragraph).

“Technology as proxy for the self,” is scribbled in distinct handwriting above a photograph of the exterior of a building (likely an apartment building flanked by A/C units and a sidewalk). The inscription is an accurate reflection on our current state of being: young people are virtually inseparable from, and consequently become one with, their cell phones. Or, in some cases, that cell phone may be a laptop, an iPad, or another  device that accesses the Internet and its billions of users worldwide. Paul’s work largely centers on this kind of quandary: technology’s impact on the human condition (see his artist statement here).

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Fig. 2. Cassidy Kulhanek, Paul McCormick, “Abridgement,” (detail) 40 prints and projection mapped video (10 min.), via Auburn University Department of Art and Art History.

Cassidy concerns herself with this concept less in her artwork than in her everyday life. The first time I hung out with Cassidy, we were at a party with great people and great music (and great alcohol). Pink, purple, and blue lights flashed, and some kind of live Indie Rock blared. I was excited and wanted to document the moment—let my friends have a quick view of the fun I was having. I whipped out my phone and, before I could pull up the Snapchat application, Cassidy leaned in to me and yelled over the music, over the distraction that was my phone, “Be HERE!” before she continued dancing.

Sure, I was having a great time, but an attachment to my cell phone was liable to pull me out of my surrounding environment and into a cyber space where my friends and I, miles apart, attempted to connect. Similarly, in the exhibition space, Paul quotes an unnamed third party: “p. 152 This is the experience of livinn [sic] full time on the net Newly free in some ways newly yolked in others. We are all cyborgs now.” We are one with our devices, Paul writes, no longer social people, but fully enveloped by the distraction of technology and the allusion of sociability.

 

An arrangement of fragmented shapes on one gallery wall endorses the concept of piecing together the ramblings of the scatterbrain (or artist). Clusters of scraps of muted blues, shaded yellows, and tinted grays form a large irregular triangle on the gallery wall, suggesting an organizational step in the creative process. Similarly, the projected images and writings that appear and disappear over the artists’ forty prints in Abridgement depict an ephemerality reminiscent of the fleeting thoughts that constitute brainstorming and the creative process. Five rows of eight panels mount the wall of Fieldwork Projects Gallery, briefly lit with pages of the artists’ sketchbooks, of the artists’ minds.

A cut-off image of what looks archetypal of Cassidy’s colorful, typographical prints shows part of a thought, begging the gallery-goer to fill in the blanks, as with the other 39 panels:

“OUGHT

ALWAYS

E YOU”

 

“Lattitude [sic]” is underlined once. Abstract patterns and organic, gestural lines and circles occur occasionally, and I am no longer sure how much of this is projected versus printed. One image overlaps another, and I try to decipher the handwriting. Turning my head with curiosity, I see that some of the paragraphs are multiplied, repeating, “I’M SORRY I’M SO SORRY I’M REALLY SORRY,” and punctuated occasionally with “I MEAN IT.” From self-reproach, I turn to an uplifting “AM JUST SO HAPPY I FOUND MY HAPPY PLACE.” These notes overlap and mingle with doodles that resemble fellow Auburn University alumna Canne Holladay‘s ceramic work that appeared in Auburn University’s Department of Art and Art History’s 2016 Senior Exhibition Corpus Daisy. The patterns look like what one might find in cellular images in a biology textbook. Mulling over Cassidy’s words, I feel like I’ve read her diary. The hum of the projector comes back into focus and returns me to the gallery, dizzy with emotional.

Cassidy and Paul unreservedly reveal their grievances and concerns as artists and, more broadly, as humans – Cassidy’s an internal conflict, Paul’s an external one. What’s more, our artists make the creative process – the unfinished, chaotic bursts of idea and inspiration – the art itself. Polished in its own ways – that is, unlike overly calculated and revised final products – Verbatim heralds the artist’s mind, the scrapped ideas, the personal motivations and insecurities that make the artist who he or she is. We, as spectators, get the raw portrait of the artist verbatim.

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