Introduction to the catalog _The Graft Project_
What began as a simple solo exhibition of Noelle Allens newest work for a Chicago community arts space has morphed into the multi-dimensional GRAFT project. As a horticultural process, grafting involves sampling one plant to propagate another. By taking and fusing old work with new, Allens grafts from her own work generated the concept for a show with a much larger scope. From one artist to many, GRAFT is a curatorial experiment that examines the nature of collaboration.
I first met Allen as a curator for a local arts organization and was instantly captivated by her work. Over the course of the next several years, we mounted three shows together. I looked forward to collaborating with her again for our show together at the Comfort Station, a beloved arts outpost in Chicagos Logan Square neighborhood. There is a level of honesty in her work and a shared connection in our discussions that always compels me to do more in my own practice. A prolific maker, Allen constantly challenges herself to innovate across mediums and techniques. Her sculptures and drawings focus on the darker side of the human body, forging an unlikely intersection between the geological and biological. From earlier stark and tense monochromatic drawings on mylar - Allen had developed a fully sculptural and selectively colorful body of work for our previous exhibitions together.
For our upcoming exhibition, when Allen revealed to me that she had melded the drawings with resin, the title became abundantly clear to me. The GRAFT Project would be new territory for us both and it all began from Allens work forged from, transferred and grafted from her own earlier work.
Over the course of many studio visits, I realized that if Allens work could function across drastically different mediums, the show needed to do the same. From this point, we aspired to create an exhibition that would challenge the meaning of a solo show. What if we were to reimagine how artists exhibited with one another? What if, instead of pre-selecting a show based along familiar lines of subject matter or medium, we invited artists to respond to one anothers best work?
I asked her to make a list of her most influential peers on three different levels: mentors, colleagues and former students. We sent invitations to each artist to submit a piece for GRAFT and this included many celebrated Chicago artists including: Claire Ashley, Karen Azarnia, Aimee Beaubien, Tess Ferris, Erin Minckley Chlagmo, Anne Harris, Allison Reimus, Melody Saraniti, as well as California- based artist Christine Remy. What happened next surprised us both - all but one of the invited artists agreed to contribute to the project for Comfort Station.
Allen and I arranged studio visits with every artist involved. We began a dialogue about their practice and explained the shows central concept. We explained how Allen would be cannibalizing her older work for newly-realized drawings; physically and conceptually bridging two very different bodies of work and, in a sense, grafting from her own work. The concept of grafting was one that we thought warranted further exploration and we wanted these artists to examine it with us. They would have the freedom to shape their contributions to GRAFT and we would document the process along the way. By summers end, we had a group of wildly talented artists conversing outside the boundaries of medium and form. Allens talent for crossing styles and techniques was transformed into a
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼call to action.
Former professor and a longtime mentor Aimee Beaubien was the first to submit work for the project. We were stunned to see new work which possessed such an intuitive grasp of the shows collaborative concept, with her heirloom photograph integrated into a delicate weaving. Anne Harris studio was an impressive array of ghostly portraits; as we talked, we discovered her latest work was a meditation on the passing of the artists mother. Both Allison Reimus and Melody Saranitis work possesses a quality that I would describe as geometrically organic, although each uses angles and lines as means toward very different ends. In Claire Ashleys studio, we glimpsed work that fused her beloved inflatables with more traditional and painterly canvas format. We also previewed the beginnings of a new series she was working on with her daughter, Pippa, using studio scraps and Sculpey. Karen Azarnia offered a lovely painting for GRAFT that suggested qualities of both self-reliance and loneliness. Longtime studio assistant and eventual collaborator Tess Farris submitted a dark and quietly aggressive piece that is an captivating counterpoint to many of the brighter works in the show. Allens artistic roots run deep and she invited her mother, Christine Remy, to send a new work from her studio in New Mexico.
GRAFTs original direction was to showcase the very best of three years of artist and curator working closely together. In its present form, GRAFT reaches well beyond the individual artist and has gathered a community of peers who, in Allens words, negotiate the boundary of the studio and the home. The curation of group shows all too often relegates individual work into a pre-selected theme. GRAFT ultimately became an expansive project in which artists could develop work and respond to other artists. At last we have arrived -- not at the end of an exhibition, but the beginning of a conversation and for this, I am grateful.
MK Meador is a writer and curator living in Chicago and currently serves on the curatorial panel of Comfort Station. In 2014, she was selected as the MOUNT Curatorial Resident with Design Cloud. Prior to this, she was 2012/2013 HATCH Curator with the Chicago Artists Coalition. Her freelance curatorial work includes projects with the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, Design Harvest, Chicago Art Loop Alliance, Floating World Gallery, Chapel Projects and the NALL Foundation. As a writer, she has contributed to Newcity and Proximity publications and served as Senior Editor of Chicago Art Magazine.
"The Graft Project" opened at Comfort Station in Logan Square, Chicago IL on November 8, 2014. This show was developed by artist, Noelle Allen of Chicago and co curated by MK Meador. The innovative concept was created to open the possibility of women artists showing together. Pieces were conceived to further the idea of "grafting" old and new work and ideas. The show opened to an an enthusiastic crowd and I was so honored to be included as one of the artists. A catalog is available.
Looking forward to working on this great opportunity in Chicago with my daughter, artist Noelle Allen! We are collaborating on a large multi-disciplinary installation that includes sculptural pieces, LED animations, found objects and video. Should be quite fun!