Jillian Youngbird, The Daughter Sure Favors the Mother, 2018. Digital photograph on fabric, quilted with gold table runner, 57 x 34 in. Photo: E.G. Schempf, Courtesy the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute

2018 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards

Kansas City, Missouri

H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute

Though not by design, there is often a shared thread among the works in the annual Charlotte Street Visual Artist Awards Exhibition, which accompanies a $10,000 unrestricted grant to each artist. The 2018 show, which featured new works by Marie Bannerot McInerney, Jarrett Mellenbruch, and Jillian Youngbird, was true to type, with the three awardees all exploring time, memory, and the environment.

McInerney commanded the soaring first gallery with her meditative [Ap]Parent Bodies, an installation composed of five layered, silk organza panels in shades of gray to white, which created a convex canopy above a black platform holding two objects. One was a biomorphic vessel covered with gold leaf, the other a slice of a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite. “The elements on the mat are protagonists,” she says, in the drama of an Anthropocene tragedy. The vessel is a surrogate for humanity; the meteorite represents the age of the earth and longevity in time. The stark beauty of the piece, which included a gridded white tile floor surrounding the black platform, encouraged viewers to linger and situate themselves within the push-pull between nature and culture, the organic and the rational, pondering what it all means for our future.

Mellenbruch, who is best known for specially designed beehives that provide a safe environment for wild honeybees (Haven), took the CSF Awards show as an opportunity to launch another ecological restoration project. Deep Ecology Project Redwood Preserve Proposal is wildly ambitious and thoroughly researched, a model for the kind of commitment it will take to reverse the course of climate change. The project was presented as a 16-page PDF that visitors could peruse at a rustic recycled wood table. (The proposal also featured at a session of the PDF Club, a discussion and reading group hosted by Artspace.) The document opens with a statement of intent: “To restore the ancient California redwood forest obliterated by logging in the 19th and 20th centuries.” A primary goal is to reduce atmospheric carbon. As Mellenbruch notes, “Redwoods capture more carbon dioxide…than any other tree on Earth and sequester twice as much carbon as other forests.”

The scope of his solution is mammoth—restoring and reforesting two million acres of the trees, beginning with the purchase of privately held parcels of land where redwoods used to grow. His proposal lays out an innovative strategy to fund these acquisitions using crowdfunding and the sale of “utility tokens.” The tokens could be redeemed for various benefits: corporations could use them for carbon offsets; individuals could redeem them for perks like a natural burial or a vacation stay in the preserve. Like stock shares, the tokens could also be traded. Mellenbruch is currently seeking grant funding to jumpstart the Redwoods Project, which he hopes will serve as a prototype for other large-scale ecological restoration endeavors.

Youngbird’s Ozarks roots and Native American heritage have been touchstones in her work since she graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2011. Family memories come to the fore in her recent body of work, which includes cyanotypes of family members printed on fabric. Blue Are the Hills that Are Far Away pays tribute to her maternal grandmother, whose handiwork skills set Youngbird on the path to becoming an artist. The photograph appears in two versions: one is gridded into nine segments and mounted on the wall; the other hangs in front of it like a diaphanous curtain, evoking the veil of time and the vagaries of memory.

Youngbird’s use of gold in several pieces was inspired by memories of a childhood game in which she “prospected” for gold-painted rocks hidden by her grandmother. As she observes, such games, including cowboys and Indians, “normalize these tragedies before we even know what they are as adults.” Like other expressions of Manifest Destiny, the rush for gold decimated the land. In My Cup Runneth Over, a plaster cowboy boot overflowing with strands of gold beads rests on a digital reproduction of an old photo of the artist’s mother dressed up for a tintype at Silver Dollar City.

In the diptych The Daughter Sure Favors the Mother, Youngbird endows a photograph of her grandmother on fabric with a touch of the sacred, cutting it into pieces interspersed with triangles of shiny gold fabric from a table runner. A watery passage of turquoise, the result of damage to the original photograph, adds aesthetic luster to a piece that simultaneously invokes history, heritage, craft, domesticity, and familial love.