Momentum Spotlight is presented in partnership with Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC) as part of their annual exhibition Momentum, which presents works by Oklahoma artists ages 30 and younger, working in any medium they choose. The age cutoff is intended to help younger artists gain experience and meet new audiences. Each year, a few artists are selected to receive a grant with which to make new work for Momentum. 21c Museum Oklahoma City is pleased to present a selection of earlier works by these designated Spotlight artists.
More info can be found on OVAC’s website, http://ovac-ok.org/.
How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Emma Difani (ED): An underlying motivation in my work has always been connection. While I have expressed this as connection to place, environment and nature, in the last six months I have broadened that to focus more on relationships with people. Alienation from both planet and other people, is, in my view, a root causes of pain of the current moment. Many of us have little to no connection to the land and environment whose health is fundamental to our own, and lack attachment to people outside of our immediate sphere. We are not isolated units but part of a larger, interconnected ecosystem.
Spencer Plumlee (SP): My paintings are always chasing after capturing the current moment. They serve as visual diaries of the people and places I interact with to create a collection of contemporary, momentary experiences from my own perspective. I believe our reality reflects ourselves and when I approach a portrait, I work towards having the environment act as a mirror and represent the subject of the paintings as equally as their face, and in turn my own reality. All our realities have drastically changed this year and in turn my work has been reactive to all the encompassing isolated moments and I have been celebrating the small intimacies of life that I took for granted previously.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
ED: I’ve got two primary projects in the works right now. The first is a more curatorial/organizational project. I am co-organizing (with local printmakers Virginia Sitzes and co-founder Alexa Goetzinger) a national print exchange and exhibition to be shown at Oklahoma City University, opening October 21st. The print exchange, Connect:Collect and companion exhibition, Print as Object both revolve around the theme of sustainability. Combined, we have 51 artists represented in the show and so most of my art energy lately has been channeled into corresponding and organizing these incredibly talented artists and figuring out how to still share this exhibition while maintaining social distancing. It’s definitely required us to be creative, but we’ll have a digital catalogue, a video walk-through and a virtual workshop all in conjunction with the physical exhibition in order to make it as accessible as possible. It’s not the ideal situation, but we’ve learned some valuable lessons and can apply them to the exchange and exhibition in the future. The beauty of printmaking is its potential to share and connect so widely through original works of art and it’s been very satisfying to be working on this project in a time when we all crave that connection.
The other is another collaborative installation project with artist and biochemist Malcolm Zachariah. We combine our primary individual practices, kirigami and printmaking, to create paper installations modeled after environments under threat from climate change and other human disruptions. Our current project is called Seed Reef, focusing on the impacts of warming oceans on marine ecosystems, and will be installed at ahha in Tulsa next year. Working collaboratively during the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been a challenge. There have been lots of zoom calls, texts and material hand-offs, but to me the current circumstances have only clarified how important it is to raise awareness, and hopefully inspire action on critical issues like climate change.
SP: One project that has continued since June, has been these giant paper mâché political puppets that were originally made in protest of the Trump rally in Tulsa. I made a truly hideous depiction of our current president, complete with a pig’s snout, red devil-like horns, and a t-rex arm to really reinforce how abhorrent our current political landscape has been amid this unprecedented pandemic. This particular puppet has now made its way around the country infiltrating various protests in California, Washington D.C., New York, and now Philadelphia.
My current paintings have been from the unique times of social distancing but still involved observing others in spaces that did not involve total isolation, such as attending a concert at a drive-in theater, watching others hike or skateboard around outdoor outings, and meeting strangers behind a mask for the first time. They are smaller scale projects right now, but they are reminiscent of candid polaroids in their size and casual nature, mostly of people I am thinking of or people that I want to know more about.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
ED: Give yourself a break. Get outside, go for a walk, talk to friends, collect acorns, write postcards, do things that let your mind breathe a bit. The coronavirus has highlighted (not created) the gaping cracks and inequities in our social systems and if Art, with a capital A is not the thing that feels most pressing right now, don’t worry, it will wait for you. We are more than our productivity. Take it easy on yourself.
SP: It is acceptable to take a break and take some time to reflect or meditate on the experiences that have taken place during this unprecedented year. Check in on yourself and allow yourself to breathe. It is ok to simply exist; your worth is not determined by your productivity.
On the flip side of that, the world is a mirror and inspirations are truly everywhere. Having nothing to say is still saying something and your ceilings for creation are as high or as low as you make them. Research the places you might want to go for artistic opportunities, search for the projects your favorite artists are exploring right now, keep your eyes open and your curiosity fed.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
ED: I am lucky to have stumbled into a great local arts community when I moved to OKC a few years ago, made up of individual artist friends and colleagues to the collectives I belong to (Factory Obscura and Art GRP). We’ve got zoom Drink and Draws, virtual studio visits and now socially distanced meet-ups. If you can afford it, buy local art or recommend it to people who can. Follow what artists are doing online, share their work with new audiences, go to shows (safely, in-person or virtually) check out Patreon, support local arts organizations who are getting aide to artists who need it.
SP: Fortunately, I have an overwhelming number of supportive friends and family that have been an invaluable resource regarding the community. I have long-distance friends who are artists that have implemented facetime calls into our studio time, when filling out applications together, and even long-distance art-house movie dates. Simply having someone to send oddly specific painting memes, becomes an important outlet in order to build community for ourselves and other working artists.
About the artists:
Emma Difani is a visual artist originally from Albuquerque, NM, living and working in Oklahoma City. She received a BFA in Studio Art and Spanish from the University of New Mexico. Emma has been Artist-in-Residence at the Herekeke Arts Center in Taos, at Oklahoma City University and Artspace at Untitled in Oklahoma City. She teaches printmaking at Artspace at Untitled and Oklahoma City University, is a member of the Factory Obscura Collective and co-founder of Connect:Collect, an annual international print exchange. Her work uses the obsessive layering of printmaking to examine the complex relationships between the natural and constructed environments.
You can follow Emma Difani on Instagram @emma_difani
Spencer Plumlee is an American artist currently working and located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her practice is centered around figure dominated spaces and intimate moments from her contemporary surroundings. She received her Bachelor’s in Fine Art with focus in Studio Art from Rogers State University.
You can follow Spencer Plumlee on Instagram @spencer.plumlee