melissa Joseph

We are in a divisive moment.  Bridges between conflicting viewpoints are desperately needed, but few accessible spaces exist for their construction.  Rhetoric and policy fall short in attempts to minimize the growing ideological divides among societal populations. My art is an attempted social practice dedicated to mending and healing some of the seemingly persistent failures of civic and social infrastructure. I see my work not only as an act of atonement but also as an admission of collective guilt.  I acknowledge that I am complicit in these systems and structures, and my objects and happenings are an attempt to make amends. My paintings and memorial sculptures call attention to the lives the lives lost through violence. My work aims to make space for the complex narratives that govern contemporary life. My objects and happenings serve as conduits between my own authorship, my viewer, and the other.  They attempt to illuminate overlaps in personal experiences where trust and empathy might grow.

As my work evolves towards social practice, I’m increasingly interested in implicating my viewers and myself.  By involving living communities, I not only bring the work into the demanding context of real time, but in so doing I also advocate for the potential  for healing and growth. The materials I use are difficult to handle: Stone, cement, wax, and washing the stains out of shirts. The work is physical and sometimes painful.  Their resistance embodies my struggle. It manifests as the work it will take to achieve more equitable conditions--repetitive, slow, tedious, difficult processes symbolize the work that needs to be done in in policy, communication, legislation and education.  It takes endless patience to engage with these materials, and a level of submission. I am in conversation with them, not controlling them. This is significant in that it is my aim as an artist to promote open dialogue with the public.

In my collages I am interested in exploring the politics of space.  I think often about how we occupy space, both our own and each other’s. The materials mix and blend creating areas of abrupt change and others smooth transition.  Boundary lines are continuously being re-established and negotiated. They create both comfort and anxiety, access and denial. Plato discusses the concept of being in a particular place as fundamental to being, however nothing else about that space is defined.  Sometimes we only discover where we are by brushing up against where we are not--or where we are not supposed to be.   These realizations can be unnerving, violent, groundbreaking.  There are boundaries that are traversed easily, like code switching, and those that we can never cross, as in grieving those who are lost.  There are boundaries of skin, time, nation, memory. There are boundaries that are self imposed and others that are forcibly inflicted. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our body measures these joys and grievances.  It takes comprehensive notes of our experiences.

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