MCLA Berkshire Cultural Center’s Gallery 51 is pleased to present a new body of work by artist-in-residence Genevieve Gaignard. Her exhibition “ A Long Way From Home” draws upon the many artistic forms we have come to know from her such as collage and assemblage of found objects into an environment that plays with the senses. Known for her works that explore class, race, and gender, Gaignard renders her interior world radically exterior. She accomplishes this exteriorization by reproducing a home space to question the repetitions of the past in the present.
Home again in rural mill town Massachusetts, Gaignard is confronted with all the ways her artistic migration has changed her and how the events of the world put into perspective the contradictions of her hometown. She seeks the sights and sounds of home. She longs for another feel, another place, a different space. Gaignard longs for a different place to rest during the historical and political turbulence of COVID-19 and the reemergence of Black Lives Matter protests in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“A Long Way From Home” drops the viewer into Gaignard’s inner turbulence through an imagined parlor–an externalization of an interior place–for all to see. There are moments where the walls are decorated with found photos of black and white faces that appear to be weeping and at times marked by black jeweled tears. Each technique Gaignard deploys interrogates a complex field of emotion depicting the disorientation stemming from feelings of grief, anger, and exhaustion for black lives cut short. Gaignard’s discontent is seen in “Salty Karens,” a collage of a gaggle of white women noticeably enjoying themselves with a floral wallpaper backdrop. Gaignard places an oversized cutout of a Morton’s salt box trickling salt over one of the women’s heads producing a masked hood.
Taking a more serious tone, Gaignard does not shy away from the long history that precedes our present. Another collage in the exhibition has an off white wallpaper marked by blue watercolor roses. The wallpaper is the background to a large stencil cut out of the words “White Lies.” Directly beneath the words is an image of a white woman in a white formal evening gown standing on a bed of flowers. Her arms are intertwined in a white shawl in such a way to signal her enjoyment. To the left and to the right of the white women’s image are two large white feminine looking hands with lace lined handkerchiefs. In contrast to these pictures is an image of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). In one of his hands are notes for a speech while the other hand waves back at the field of whiteness he spent his lifetime addressing.
Gaignard’s placement of MLK and former President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in her home is a nod to a history she is tired of repeating. Gaignard is much like a child on a road trip seeking reprieve from monotonous terrain. She is frustrated about the repetition of white lies that promise freedom, justice, and democracy for all. American history tells a different story. Rather, it repeats the same historical exclusions with a different technique. Gaignard’s impatience is clear, her question “are we there yet?” is an invitation to join in her frustration at the white lies we are taught to believe.
“A Long Way From Home” is a practice of an artist who understands her form and knows how to use it. In these trying times her persistent question “are we there yet?” tied to a desire for home that is welcome to all speaks to a historical frustration that continues to linger in the present. Her work is an invitation to break the violent repetitions that anti-blackness, poverty, patriarchy, and homophobia beget and rebuild home anew. The exhibition will be on view from August 27 – December 7, 2020 at MCLA Gallery 51 and is curated by Erica Wall.
-Written by Dr. Taryn D. Jordan