Visiting Artists Exhibit: Cultural Community Engagement
Granted by the Wisconsin Humanities Council
On Display: August 7–October 6, 2022
In-person Reception and Live Instagram Streaming: September 23, 2022 at 5:00 pm CDT
Zoom Discussions With the Artists: Viewable on our YouTube channel
Hamilton is a working museum and printing with the collection is part of how we preserve and learn about our artifacts. Hamilton’s historic Enquirer collection consist of carved wood blocks that letterpress printers used to make large poster and billboard sized prints. Many of the posters were printed to advertise circuses and other similar kinds of entertainment. The content in the collections provides us with a raw uncensored view of our past. Though exquisitely crafted, many of the images in the Enquirer collection are problematic when viewed through a modern lens.
Key questions raised by the Visiting Artist program center on the voices, language and mechanisms of storytelling around cultural differences and context.
- How does the language we use to describe things, shape the conversations about those things?
- What story do you have to tell; why is it important to hear other people’s stories too?
- What makes an image offensive today, if it was not offensive when originally created/printed?
Four artists were chosen for this Grant. Each one was given a topic based on images within our Enquirer Collection that the Museum deemed critical to re-examine. The artists and their topics are:
Ben Blount – Racism
HR Buechler – Animal Exploitation
Rick Griffith – Ableism
Kelly Walters – Sexism
The artwork and interpretation was intended to accomplish specific things:
- Foster inter-cultural conversations with diverse participants
- Empower marginalized voices
- Enrich the community’s connection with the arts and awareness of museum resources
- Enable skill development
- Deepen the understanding of the museum’s collection
The artwork in this exhibit is intended to create dialogue and foster a deeper understanding of the need to reconsider the language of advertising and its nature.
I came to the Enquirer Collection looking for evidence of Black people and Black stories to inspire my work. After getting acquainted with the collection, I was confronted by the scarcity of such material.
It took further explorations in the shelves and conversations with Jim to begin to make connections between the history of the material (of lack there of) and contemporary conversations and events.
By reinterpreting and recontextualizing what was available, my proofs and prints are an attempt to tell a modern story using the tools (words and images) from a historic collection.
Ben Blount is a Detroit-born artist, designer and letterpress printer. He loves books, type, and putting ink on paper. His work often explores questions of race, identity and the stories we tell ourselves about living in America. Ben is a believer in the power of the printed word and shares his passion for print and design speaking to students and educators around the country and as a board member of Artists Book House and Fine Press Book Association. His artists’ books and prints are included in numerous collections including the Chicago Field Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Ben lives and works just north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.
LinkedIn: Ben Blount
Production of Desire
In July 2021, I flew to Wisconsin (on my first flight since the pandemic began and my first ever trip to Wisconsin). Over the course of 3 weeks, I looked through the Enquirer Collection in search of imagery related to sexism, female representation, misogyny and race. Hyper-sexualized images of the female body, performing as dancers and models, were a dominant aspect of the collection. By looking at close details of hair styles, clothing for instance, to language used to describe women themselves, the collection painted a picture of coveted white beauty.
My time at the residency was both an exciting one and one that was extremely challenging because my practice, in contrast, typically explores representations that engage with historical Black representations. In gathering research during my time in Wisconsin, I came across an article featuring Claudia Rankine talking about her book Citizen. Midway through the article it said, “The invisibility of Black women is astounding.” This phrase stuck with me. This was what I was feeling.
This body of work entitled “Production of Desire,” demonstrates tensions that can be found within Black and white forms of femininity, beauty and visibility. As a design practitioner, I am often thinking of what it means to experience something through the lens of “someone or something else.” In a lot of ways, “Production of Desire” made me think through the lens of whiteness and its positionality of white women. The historical artifacts that comprised these letterpress works draw inspiration from the Hamilton’s collections, and seek to challenge pre-existing racial and gender bias prevalent in graphic design of the early 20th century.
Kelly Walters is an artist + designer + educator + researcher and the founder of Bright Polka Dot. Her practice includes teaching, writing and experimental publishing, with a particular focus on race and representation in design. Her ongoing design research interrogates the complexities of identity formation, systems of value and the shared vernacular in and around black visual culture. Kelly has worked as a designer for SFMOMA, the RISD Museum, Alexander Isley, Inc. Designers and Blue State. In 2015, she completed her MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. She was awarded an Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD) Teaching Fellowship in the Graphic Design program at California College of the Arts from 2015-2016. She has previously taught at the University of Bridgeport, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Connecticut and Central Saint Martins. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Communication Design and the Associate Director of the BFA Communication Design Program at Parsons School of Design in New York.
Will to Life
In his 1966 text, Beyond Good & Evil, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche says of exploitation, that “…exploitation … belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is, after all the will to life” (Nietzsche’s emphasis). Exploitation, for Nietzsche, is inevitable, an essential aspect of life, of which here lays the groundwork for the Nietzschean will to power. Rather, “Life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation”. Life exploits life to maintain power.
While conceptualizing the world in this way—human culture in this way—may feel excessively dark, the evidence for it can be found all around us. In the Nietzschean world, it extends beyond human culture and permeates all the natural world. With the case of Will to Life, this evidence is made plain.
In the intentional defacement of the beautifully crafted image of a content, sentient being, whom, in reality, has been stripped of its natural autonomy through the aversive and violent suppression of instinct, alongside the defacement of a philosophical concept that, while dark, also speaks a truth, Will to Life captures the tension between what we currently believe and the decisions we made, and continue to make, as a society now and in the centuries and decades past. Will to Life does not seek to rectify or resolve our past with our present, but instead holds up a mirror to ethical, moral, and philosophical conflict.
H.R. is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and founder of the late OXBLOOD Publishing. They hold an M.S./L.I.S. from the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, an M.F.A. in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts from Columbia College Chicago, and a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They are the 2016-2018 Victor Hammer Fellow at the Wells College Book Arts Center (Aurora, NY) and former Print Production Fellow to the Journal of Artists’ Books (JAB). Their work can be found in numerous collections in the US and internationally, including the Yale University Library, Centre Pompidou of Paris, France, and the University of Regina Library in Regina, SK, Canada.
At Home, at Hamilton: A residency with a perfect amount of controversy.
Of the four themes—and four participants—our theme was ableism. A term that we were just becoming more sensitive to, something to help us with understanding how we consciously and subconsciously discriminate against people who have a spectrum of abilities not always what we think of as 'normative'—To better understand Ableism we have to move well past wheelchairs, curb-cuts, and hearing aids to how we view bodies, how we idealize both women and men, and how we view birth defects (more sensitively and collectively called congenital disorders)—we also have this enormous archive to explore. What’s the connection and what do these artifacts—in these places have buried in their pasts.
The most important thing left to do was transform the prints physically. To change them into a commentary for this time and to remove the kind of nostalgia which has held the visual products of circus enterprise in a harmless spectacle. I suppose we thought this transformation to be a kind of ‘radicalization’. Which felt very necessary for the theme. And necessary for radicalized people.
It doesn’t serve us to empower myths of the past with more nostalgia. It does invite a role for myth into our lives as collectors and storytellers, it even invites a rarified fetishism of the numerous objects (sometimes tools) we encounter along the way. However, with any reasonable dig into history—any discussion aims to be bigger and more expansive than the artifacts we encounter, and to the credit of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, they were prepared and excited to see what 4 artists would do with the four themes they provided.
Rick Griffith is a British-West-Indian collagist, writer, letterpress printer, designer, and optimist futurist Based in Denver, Colorado. As a designer, he works at the intersections of programming, policy, and production. Designing events, contributing to policy, and creating artifacts. He is a columnist for PRINTmagazine.com, 2-time programming chair for the AIGA National Conference, and a Juror for the 2022 Smithsonian National Design Awards. He is the 2023 Acuff Chair at Austin Peay State University. Making and sharing are central to his cyclical, evolutionary, liberatory practice. His works are collected and exhibited worldwide and can be found in the permanent collections of The Denver Art Museum, The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, Columbia University's Butler Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts, and The Tweed Museum at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
He is a founder and partner with Debra Johnson of the graphic design consultancy MATTER, the designer behind the Black Astronaut Research Project, The Pledge for Spaces, and the Introductory Ethic for Designers and Other Thinking Persons. He co-owns a retail revolutionary bookstore and book club for designers. He DJs a live Internet Radio show Design To Kill Tuesdays at 4 pm Mountain Time. Playing Punk, Post Punk, and other non-conforming music.