Sunday, July 30, 2017

Navigating Monarchies and Mythologies and what I'm doing in Denmark for these next 3 months

I am currently on a 3 month residency in Copenhagen. My living arrangements are provided by the Nordea Fonden and the rest is self-funded through the sale of artwork and commission projects. That's a pretty amazing statement to make as I am also here with my 3 children (ages 9, 7 and 4) and my mentally challenged older brother. There was a time in my life where this seemed impossible, so I am very grateful to be in this space realizing projects and sharing that with my family.

I am here working on several projects as the fervor of the centennial year and the anniversary of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark is still quite ardent. Upon leaving St. Croix I was busy finishing a new piece for an exhibition at the GL Holtegaard.  The process of how this piece materialized is quite interesting for me. The curator had requested another piece that was not available as it was recently sold to another institution and was on permanent display. The curator pushed me to think about possibly making an edition of the piece which after thinking about it I decided against it, and then later pushed me to think about creating another work that was similar. I say all of this because most of my projects are quite self-generated. It was quite unique to have someone from the outside push me in that way and I am to happy say it expanded my practice. I am grateful to Marie for challenging me and believing in me. And am looking forward to seeing the piece installed. The exhibition is entitled "Colonial Stories: Power and People" and I am thrilled to be a part of it. The piece I am exhibiting is entitled "On The Service To A Kingdom" and its in reference to the series of dessert service plates that were commissioned by the King of Denmark in the 19th century to depict his Kingdom. 

There were 81 in all, and there is only one that directly depicts the former Danish West Indies, a plate of St. Thomas bay and harbor. What is curious about this image is that it looks like all the other landscapes in color and there seems to be no record indicating that the artist actually travelled to the colonies. So this image stands as an imagined space, and I have replicated it across 45 paper plates in acrylic. It was a challenge for me because although I work across a variety of media, I have started painting again over the past 3 years with my Chaney paintings after a 10 year hiatus. So I grew a lot with this work. I am very happy about this. 

In a week I am also about to start a commission project with the Royal Copenhagen, the famous Danish brand of porcelain products. This has been a courtship in my mind of about 2 years with me pitching a project last summer to use my Chaney paintings as an inspiration for a Centennial commemorative plate. It was a real pitch meeting, like the kind of meeting where after someone lets you know how rare it is to even get a meeting with them, and tells you all the different kinds of proposals they receive on a weekly basis they look at you and say: "So who are you?". Although the Centennial plate was off the table because the company no longer makes those kinds of plates anymore, I was invited to do the Årets Harald  or "Harald of the Year" prize. The prize is a figure of an owl decorated by a different artist each year and is given to the most esteemed professor of the University of Copenhagen and presented by the Queen of Denmark. I am quite excited about this.

 Although the Royal Copenhagen has a long tradition working with artists I figured I was the first Virgin Islander, and then was told I was also the first black artist. In addition to the "Harald" the Royal Copenhagen is assisting with the production of a series of plates based on my Chaney paintings that will be exhibited at the Christiansborg Palace in an exhibition entitled "Behind Colonial Mirrors"  I will be showing alongside three other artists and several of the royal collections of objects and furniture that deal with the former Danish West Indies. I am also quite grateful for this experience and the opportunity to be able to be a part of the conversation about the history. The queen will also be formally opening this event which I think is quite significant as the exhibition is entering into a critical dialogue about the history. 

I am also working on the uncertain archives  project with the Department of Cultural Studies at University of Copenhagen. This is the entity that helped to facilitate my Nordea Fonden residency. Over the past several years a team from the Danish National Archives have been digitizing the millions documents that represent the archives from the former Danish colonies in Caribbean. The hopes are to make this shared history accessible to everyone and the availability of these documents will coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States in 1917. However, there are structural challenges that are embedded in the creation of such a digital archive: questions surrounding authority, authenticity and subjectivity. I have been invited to create a new work that deals directly with the archives and some of these issues surrounds these questions.

I am also working on a public sculpture project with Jeannette Ehlers. It is a hybrid sculpture that combines two of our previously conceived works into one large scale piece. This requires its own blog post because it is a major project and very complex and multilayered. However, to say something briefly, the piece is inspired by Queen Mary, one of the leaders of the 1878 labor revolt in St. Croix and incorporates coral stones imported from St. Croix that were cut from the ocean to build the foundation of the colonial structures. I'll put a link to the post on the project as soon as I write one.

I also will be working on another commission project with the Flensburg Maritime Musuem, a border town in Germany that used to belong to the Danish empire and who is the originator of the Danish yellow bricks very popular in the colonial structures of the islands. Flensburg is known for the place where the rum was imported too, they even still have a rum regatta I am told, although they don't seem to have much memory of where the rum originated from. The director of the museum wanted to change this by creating an exhibition that dealt with this complex history and has invited me to create a work inside the exhibition.

(pause for a breath)

And I'll be doing some talks and workshops at some institutions along the way and writing, and seeing endless exhibitions and eating a lot of Danish pastries and going to parks and the zoo and Legoland and other things with my kids.

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