Bessie Kunath

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Artist Statement

I like to think about the performance we engage in while experiencing artwork. We test our own boundaries of interpretation and of willingness to submit to the intention of the artist, while considering the time and place in which the artwork was made. Much in the way that a performance can demonstrate the ideologies of a particular time or era, we are latent with these performative inclusions at all times. In my sculpture-based practice, I consider my pieces as sites for little performances – for minor demonstrations of our subjecthood. They are performing bodies. Their subtext is always shifting. Their meaning is as fragile as their appearance.  Many of my pieces are constructed with a provisional quality, lovingly assembled with hints of recognizable material like a photograph, a piece of used cardboard or a found decorative napkin. When I use the materials, I drain the meaning from them and reinsert it, slightly scrambled. The material moves in and out of abstraction as it informs a series of decisions to develop a structural form with basic raw materials such as wood, metal or plaster. I find value in being responsive to a material or an environment. It feels tender and considerate. The process that unfolds is a sludgy expansion on each debris or material. It extrudes unknowable information; rebuilt and reformed and waiting for someone’s acceptance. Accepting is different than knowing.

By showing the rough-hewn edges and some layers of the materials, my decisions are transparent and demonstrate a logic. My logic may be as mysterious as anyone’s, but it is real and humble – just like yours. The logic is always harmonious and perfect because it a natural balancing act of recognizing, locating meaning, questioning value and back again. The difficulty lies in the impulse to resolve. Can we maintain an open-endedness and summoning for inquiry? Similar to the way in which a cultural material becomes outmoded, the meaning changes and goes in and out of abstraction. When re-encountering everyday materials that hint at recognition, they act as access points. I see these access points as rusted rivets holding together a former function, devolving and decoding. Some things are falling apart simultaneous to other things becoming relevant again. Things conserve their own energy and emit meaning only as much as we impose it.  One a side note, I think it’s important to be honest with your sculpture and let it know that its value, function and meaning is contingent on a lot.

An intimately scaled work promotes humility. The artwork, or performing body does its thing. Its scale is impish and relatable so you can see it for what it is. It negotiates acceptance, beauty, utility, honesty and selfhood. We perform an interpretation regardless of the value assessed, and learn something unknowable in the process. In this case, the power of unknowing is stumbling upon the mastery of poetics.