By Eric Kocher, Creative Placemaking & HUB-BUB Director
When selecting artists for the HUB-BUB residency, I almost never take into account how I, as a resident of Spartanburg—the community our program most directly serves—will be impacted by their work. Of course, I think about how I will work with them to bring their work to the community, and I think about how we will work together as colleagues, but not the way their work might reach me totally separate from my role as program director. Each year I'm surprised by how I have failed to consider this when I find myself moved, challenged, floored, and transformed by their work. This year is certainly no exception to this experience.
Our current artists-in-residence, Marisa Adesman and Ambrin Ling have undertaken a profound and, at times, staggering task of completing a painting a day from January to June through their project, A Mosaic Portrait of Spartanburg. For those of you doing the math, that's over 100 paintings each over the next few months. The final 200 or so paintings will be on display in an exhibition at the Artist Guild Gallery during the month of June. (Side note: If you can believe it, simultaneously they will be having a separate exhibition of other work at the USC Upstate Gallery on Main.) At the moment, the work they have completed so far is on display in the Creative Placemaking Studio, where you can come and visit their studios (and participate in this project—more on that here).
The thing that makes this project so compelling to me, though, is not the labor that will go into the final product, but the subject that the project explores: home. On the surface, home might sound like an obvious or uncomplicated subject, but with only a gentle nudge from the artists, I found myself questioning and unpacking all of my ideas and assumptions. Marisa and Ambrin have asked community members to submit images, objects, and stories that communicate on some level how they understand "home" as it pertains to their experience living in Spartanburg. For lots of folks, this means family, pets, friends, and places of comfort. Home is, in that sense, warm, loving, and safe. These submissions then become transformed through the eyes of the artists into a kind of clarity and confusion, with a sincere hope of offering a truth contained in the original image, but with all of the questions that come with being a visitor to someone else's experience.
After watching the project grow, I realized that I had not submitted anything to them for this project, which led to me scrolling through the 6052 images (yikes) on my phone over the course of an hour and reflecting on places, people, and memories that have taken place here in Spartanburg. My partner, Audrey, and I, purchased our first home last year in Hampton Heights, so my first impulse was to send a picture of our work-in-progress, where my "home office" currently also serves as our "woodshop," but, I wanted to send something that elicited an emotional experience that I couldn't explain, something I hoped the artists might help me articulate.
I ended up sending an image I took on July 2, 2015, when Audrey and I were living in a rental house a few blocks over from where we are now. We had only been living there a few months and were still settling in. The image was taken in the backyard after I spent an afternoon constructing a makeshift fire pit and surrounding it with 6 green and teal chairs (3 of each) I bought at Lowes. Proud of my work and pleased by the simple aesthetic composition the alternating colors created, I took a picture and went about my day. That fire pit, when it wasn't too hot, or wet, or windy, provided us with many evenings with friends, a place to sit and reflect after a long day, and, occasionally, someplace to burn the unwanted, unneeded, and unused.
Ambrin took this image and ran with it. On the one hand, the painting she created is totally familiar to me, when I look at it, I see someplace with a deep personal meaning, populated by moments and people and byzantine web of feelings. On the other hand, I see something totally new, a kind of suburban gothic with a near cultish hue. In her narrative, I imagine an alternate version of my life, where my nights were spent worshipping some god or goddess of commercial domesticity, where I walked up and down Main St. with glossy catalogues asking folks if they have seen the (energy-efficient) Light. Which is to say, looking at this image rendered into a new kind of clarity by Ambrin, I see a part of my life that was always there that remained mostly invisible to me. I see myself as outlined by my blind spots. In addition to thinking about what took place in that yard during my brief tenure as its keeper, I now think about all the things that did not, all the people who I did not share that space with, and the other things that space could be, or mean.
At our house now, those same chairs sit stacked up collecting dirt and spider webs, largely unused and ignored (perhaps the kind of thing, if not made of plastic, that would have been sacrificed at the alter they previously surrounded). Audrey and I jokingly refer to our new yard as a blank slate. Before our dog, Leika, got her paws on it, it was mostly just grass. We talk about plans to build a real woodshop or to put down a patio with another (nicer) fire pit. We talk about things that could happen there and people we would like to share it with. And while I feel grateful for the opportunity to see this space as its potential to be another space, I also feel silly for not seeing it now for the space that is. Without this project, I'm not sure I would have ever arrived at that understanding.
So this is my challenge to you: take 30 minutes out of your day and browse through wherever you keep your photos. Look for the ones that make you feel something. Look for the ones that make you ask questions. Look for the ones that mean something to you and send them our way. I promise you this project has something to teach each of us. And, come June, at the final exhibition, when we look at all of the 200 or so paintings together, at the ways they intersect and depart from each other, at the places and moments and people they envelop, we might also learn something bigger and more complicated about what it means to be living here together.