These days, you might feel like you’ve been doing the same thing over and over, without many results. Repeat as Needed, the latest exhibition at SoWa’s Kingston Gallery, aimed to find the power in repetition—“patterns, layering, movement, perspective, mark making, and color—the continued possibility of discovery.”
I asked several of the artists with pieces on display (full list at end of article) to shed some insight on how repetition manifests itself in their daily practice and lives.
Boston Hassle: What does the physical process of repetition in your work add to the final product? Do you find that even though you’re doing the same thing over and over, your plans for the piece change throughout its construction?
Blake Brasher: Yes, very much so. I use repetition in my work as a way to enter into the painting. Specifically in the repetitive mark making involved in making patterns, I find that I am able to turn off the part of my brain that is concerned about things like the family budget, what galleries I need to be corresponding with, and how things are going at my day job. It gets me into a flow state, and once I am there, I love letting go of the handlebars and just seeing where the process takes me. I really enjoy when a simple pattern like a grid breaks down and seeing what that can look like. It provides a weird structural framework upon which I can hang successive layers of the painting.
Amy Kaczur: The theme of repetition had already been determined when I entered the group. I set to work on a project working with the rhythm and repetition of the tides in specific marsh areas, and the repetition of viewing; visiting again and again an area that lured me back. The project (now underway), is set in coastal marsh areas that are projected to be lost underwater by 2050 through combinations of sea level rise, tides, and storm surge. But, the project was derailed when the pandemic shutdown hit and I was unable to access the marshes and public lands due to public health stay-at-home orders. For the first two months of the pandemic, I was in an art stasis and also adjusting to working at home for my MIT job. With plans radically changed, I slowly started shooting with my iPhone around the home as I dealt with the immediacy of the moment – what was right there in front of me. Then eventually I did two underwater shoots at the local pond and the marsh that inspired me, once I got access again. I let my surroundings come into focus, finding some stillness and quieting the onslaught of news cycles, chatter, and unknowns. Really, I let the work make itself, as each day revealed new sights, new insights, and a whole new level of gratitude.
Ponnapa Prakkamakul: Every morning since I started working from home, I have been making a pastel drawing of the sky color at 6 AM looking south, which is the direction I see when I wake up. Currently, I have more than 100 pieces. This process allowed me to concentrate on representing the color of the sky that changes quite quickly and made me forget about everything around me for a while. I find it quite a good way to start the day with and plan to continue until I do not feel like doing it anymore.
Rachel Mello: “Repeat As Needed” was a fruitful theme for me, even in ways where it didn’t appear to be. When we decided on that title, I reflected on what aspects of my work are repetitive and how I might amplify those parts to see what happened. Much of my work has involved the geometry of the repeating roof peaks in Somerville–the saw-tooth edge of a street full of peaked roofs, equally spaced.
So I started out with a plan to make many, many little tiny soldered copper-wire houses, and see what arose as I put them together. But soon I felt myself bucking and pushing back against the homogeneity. It felt like a kind of white-washing. So, I started with repetition, which, in turn highlighted for me the importance of seeing how an idea so core to a human experience–home–can be so different for different peoples, everywhere. Repetition lent to a greater connection to variation, which lead me to making tiny houses from different vernaculars around the world and focusing on what forces and events connect us.
BH: I love the concept of a chain reaction within a piece of art, and watching it reverberate into the world in dialogue with each viewer. How do you hope your piece will echo throughout everyone who comes into contact with it?
BB: I hope to draw the viewer into the mind state that I am in while working on the piece. It is a very meditative process, and I feel like it is about figuring out what is going on in an undiscovered segment of reality. I hope that the viewer is drawn in and engages in exploring this new space with me. I hope that they will walk away with a new way of thinking about the world around them.
AK: I hope that the viewer becomes mesmerized, spellbound within the imagery and the feelings elicited, and can enjoy the forward movement and the pleasure of the journey with the videos. It is my greater hope that the work can spark wonder and evoke questions and important conversations surrounding sheltering in place, our role within nature, water and climate issues.
JL: My works for this show have a color repeat within the work. I have studied Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color extensively, so these paintings have “the same color appears different.” I hope with “The Same Red Looks Different,” the viewer will look carefully at the center reds. When creating the painting, I made several additional red squares so a viewer could handle them in the gallery and hold one up to the centers of the triptych. Of course, with the new guidelines for COVID-19, no one can touch things, so I had to eliminate this. “Blue Chameleon” has the same blue appearing three times while it will appear different. I connect the blues along the bottom of the painting to show the blues are identical. The same design is used in “Jesting Jade”.
RM: What I’m most enjoying is hearing about the impact of these pieces, are the comments and responses to the emotional landscape of “home.” I’ve heard people telling me how moved they are by the feelings evoked in each of my pieces that connect peril and vulnerability to iconified homes. I would be very happy to hear if these pieces help people look at their own emotions and feelings, around “home,” and then also could see with compassion, how these are shared feelings and needs around the globe, and connect to our shared humanity.
BH: Many of the pieces in this exhibit are abstract, but some are also more grounded in the concrete. How can objects and images be said to repeat?
AK: The video pieces were a lot of fun to edit, as I felt like I was using the tools of painting within the video medium, and joined both abstraction and concrete images. It freed me to experiment with image relationships, expressing feeling, using rhythm and timing, sometimes sweeping, sometimes delicate movement, balanced with stillness and energy, anxiety and joy, and finding calming repetition.
RM: There is repetition in ideas and emotions between people. Perhaps we can never truly know what another person feels, but if we can see how much the same thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears repeat in almost all people, I think that could bring about positive change in the world. The repetition of the feeling of groundedness, or of ungroundedness, is as concrete as a repetition of lined, shapes or colors.
BH: How do you know when a project based on repetition is done?
BB: This is one of the hardest things. You develop a taste for it. I like to err on the side of undercooked. A painting (generally) is not like an egg. You can take it off the burner and let it sit for a week or a month, then put it back on the burner and it will be fine. However, like the egg, too much burner time will result in a bad breakfast.
AK: If it resonates or emotes a feeling that I’m after, conveys an intended message or content, then I consider a piece done. If it can draw in a viewer for more than ten seconds, it is on to becoming a success. When editing video works to be shown in gallery spaces, I edit with the intention of making every ten seconds count. Ten seconds is about the length of time most gallery goers will freely give of their attention.
The works are meant to be open for the viewer to experience it at a personal level. I love hearing feedback, with all the varied interpretations from viewers, seeing the work through their eyes and frames of reference, and hearing their personal stories.
RM: When I start a project in which I plan to repeat an image, shape, or form, I always have grand ambitions of making hundreds of them – whatever “them” is this time. But when the act of making the pieces becomes a dull manufacturing chore, I begin to sense that I’m getting disconnected from my work, and am no longer learning and growing. That’s when I know the set or series is almost done.
There’s a Buddhist aphorism that goes something like, “Don’t just do something; sit there.” It reminds me to not take constant acting and doing as a given, and to put some energy into the space created, by choosing actively to back away when something is feeling done, vs pushing myself to finish some predetermined number of them.
BH: In the COVID-19 age, every day can feel like a repetition of some dystopian apocalypse. What do you hope we learn from this seemingly endless state?
BB: It is a difficult question. My hope is that we could learn the power of cooperation and working for the betterment of others. I find the mask controversy to be so infuriating because while I am not myself Christian, I come from Christian stock and was raised with the belief in the Golden Rule. Maybe that’s not even Christian… God damn, would it be nice if it were universal. If there is a chance that wearing a mask will possibly prevent me from contaminating a fellow human being, I will wear a mask. So I hope people will learn that it doesn’t hurt too much to err on the side of doing too much to help others.
AK: Give ourselves and each other the time and tools to take better care, and be more aware of our choices and our “bubbles.” To live more intentionally, and to not take anything for granted. COVID-19 is an equalizer in vulnerability, and we need to look more candidly at our humanity and recognize that there are people disproportionately impacted. To be more accountable for our actions as citizens with real, lasting impact within our interconnectedness with nature and society. We are truly social creatures; social fabric weaves our life stories and gives us greater purpose in our communities.
JL: The pandemic prompted me to start a new series, “Quarantine Diary,” which records every day since March 17th. Repetition is at work all month on this series, so I find different ways to connect or isolate the shapes and the use of color is infinite. I attach a few images–May 25: George Floyd is killed during an arrest in Minneapolis. And July 8: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in the United States reach 3 million, more than any other country. Thirty-seven states see a surge in infections. A record 60,000 new cases were reported in the U.S. in a single day–and the explanation. Just as we don’t know how long we will be dealing with this altered state, I don’t know how long I will continue this series, but for now it is both revealing and comforting. I post these Quarantine Diary entries daily on Instagram as a way to connect with others.
PP: When I display [the sunrises] together, it reminds me that everything changes gradually and we sometimes just do not notice it. The current situation might create obvious changes in our lives but changes are something commonly happening every day. This process helps me to reflect upon the recurrence and impermanence of our lives.
Repeat as Needed featured the work of the following artists
- Amy Kaczur (“Message From the Marsh”, “Love Notes to Water”, “Here”)
- Jane Lincoln (“Blue Chameleon”, “Jesting Jade”)
- Ponnapa Prakkamakul (“Fifty Shades of Blue”)
- Rachel Mello (“Tsunami”, “Fire Season”, “Lost at Sea”)
- Blake Brasher (“Extras & Oh Nos”, “Why Would Anyone Look at Someone Else’s Doodles?”)
- Rachel Thern
- Ann Sargent Walker (“Promise”)
- Steven Cabral
- Brian Littlefield
- Jamie Bowman
Kingston Gallery, located at 450 Harrison Ave #43, is open Sundays from 12 PM to 5 PM, as well as by appointment. To comply with social distancing guidelines, a maximum of six people are allowed into the exhibits at once. Repeat as Needed wrapped up on August 23rd, but the artists’ work is available for viewing on the Kingston website, Instagram, and Artsy page.