Memphis has seen an impressive spike in local art projects over the past year. Perhaps the most impressive was the Circuitous Succession series of exhibitions curated by artist Jason Miller. I asked Jason to respond to a few questions about the project in an ongoing effort of mine to provide a platform for local artists to shine. I am working on a broader project examining the anatomy of the Memphis art ecology, for which this series by Miller shall featured in greater detail.
1. How did the idea for the exhibition series originate? Circuitous Succession began as an idea for a modest five exhibitions featuring consecutive solo shows for the fine art painters helping me realize my mural design into the final painting for the Gaisman Mural. The original plan was to allow two weeks per show. This idea expanded to include sixteen select artists when I realized that what I wanted to do reached far beyond five artists featured in five solo shows. The result of my deliberation was the intricate shaping of a river of exhibitions that focused on the Friday evening opening reception, and the series would run from July 19th, 2013- November 27th, 2013. I often grow out of the intuitive process both in my art making and my art event planning, and I am seldom afraid to experiment.2. Why did you select the artists included? It was not difficult for me to select the sixteen artists that I chose to feature in this sixteen part series. However, the difficult part was realizing that I actually wanted to do a twenty-four part series and that I had to come to grips with the notion of a sequel exhibition series to come at a future time. Every artist I invited accepted my invitation to participate in this series, and that meant a great deal to me. I can say that I included most of the artists with whom I wanted to work, but have several more on my list for the sequel exhibition series. After the sequel dealing with the final local artists with whom I wish to work, then I will start expanding further into other regions to work with more artists from outside the area of Memphis, TN. As the ArtLab Selections Committee Chair at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, I have been in contact with many artists from outside the Southern Region and that contact assures me that I will not lack in possibilities of new artists with whom to work. As an art educator, my students play a vital role in my curatorial pursuits. I have curated a show of my Digital Art students at The University of Memphis, the exhibition was held in Gallery C of the Art Museum of the University of Memphis as a part of a collaborative project the Museum did with the Digital Art class I lead, The University of Memphis Ground Water Institute, and The League of Imaginary Scientists. That show inspired me to move further into curatorial pursuits because of the satisfaction I found in arranging the artworks of other artists. There were several other exhibitions I curated with my University of Memphis Foundations and Digital Art Students, yet Circuitous Succession focuses on seasoned mid-career to excellerated-career artists. Some of the artists in Circuitous Succession are represented commercially, both locally and / or elsewhere and some are not. It was extremely important for me that this project was not commercial, vanity gallery oriented, or produced with profit in mind. The treasures I seek through this series consist of experimentation and achieving art driven goals in presenting well known local artists to their public in new ways as never-before-exhibited. An added reward is build out of the countless hours upon hours I spent working with these artists in setting up their shows and celebrating their exhibition openings. This series is a plus for my career as an artist and curator, but that is a byproduct of higher aspirations and motivations. This was an extensive and time consuming production. I also view this series as a way to further hone my skills in arranging exhibitions and considering all parts of the process.
7. Why do you choose to make art and produce projects in Memphis? I make art in Memphis and choose to maintain my base here because it is simply home to me. I was conceived in Tupelo, MS and born in Memphis. Who I am as an artist and individual was formed in this city, which is a balanced blend of small town with big city. Memphis is quite exotic to many Europeans and others from regions outside the South, and I think this rising international interest in the South is good for nearly everyone!6. What is your goal as a curator in this series, and beyond this current project, over the long term? My goal as curator of this series facilitated me to exercise my skills as an artist in working with a vast variety of materials, as well as artworks of varying mediums and styles. There was one additional satisfaction achieved through this series in addition to the aforementioned reasons, and in addition to giving art viewers in Memphis, TN a four month spanning art spectacle they could depend on for most of their Friday evening art viewing quests. The one other important reason for me to have this series has been to pay homage to many of my local peer artists, all of whom base their art practices in Memphis, TN. I exercised my vision as curator, while simultaneously holding the artworks and visions of the diverse array of artists with my utmost respect. One surprise result of this series was that each exhibition had a common thread wherein the opening reception felt tribal and family oriented with a "down-to-earth" quality. I have been told that Memphis' own late Robert McGowan once hosted shows in his artist run space that had a similar communal charge.5. Do you consider there to be a unifying conceptual premise connecting all the exhibitions? If so, what? If not, why? When I formed the title "Circuitous Succession" as the umbrella name for this series, my vision was to create a lineup of shows that each had the power and individuality to stand on their own as singular exhibitions, while dually generating a conversation, dialogue, and narrative through the unifying sequence.4. Why Gasoline as the show venue? I am producing my large scale Gaisman Mural, an Urban Art facilitated project for the City of Memphis, in the rear of the Gasoline space, and my vision for this series seemed to mesh perfectly with Steven, the gallery owner's vision of wanting to turn his gallery into a Memphis art hot spot. I am leasing the rear and made an arrangement that I could use the gallery free of charge in exchange for the attention my series would bring to the Gasoline art space. I can honestly say that I would not have considered the space for the exhibition series had it not first been brought to my attention for the mural production space.3. How much direction did you give to the artists about what might be shown? I gave great direction in extreme amounts twelve of the artists, and I exercised ample curatorial control ranging from the studio visit selection process, to arrangements of the artworks and art objects, the labeling, didactic content, and the lighting considerations. Four of the shows were more package deals, wherein I exercised less control over labeling and generating content. However, I still exercised strong direction in placement of works in a series, editing process, and final execution. I handled the PR for all the shows, which included electronic mailings, social media, select physical mailings, and additional promotional handling. Two shows, being Robin Salant's and Mari Trevelyan Simpkins' were the pinacle of my aspiration in taking a grandly diverse combination of personal objects and art objects from their studios and then spending hours alone in the Gasoline space contemplating every arrangement from start to finish. The chess matches of constructing all the exhibitions were a sincere joy. Beth Edwards' show was another wherein I really had a lot of fun arranging the art (in her case water color paintings) with the art objects (European squeaker toys and vintage dolls from various provinces). Lawrence Jasud's show came to me with a great deal of embedded vision, and so I added my touch while keeping Jasud's initial charge. Jeane Umbreit's show was another that came in a relatively neat package, yet I pushed both Lawrence and Jeane to include a sculptural element and I played a role in the final arrangement in addition to the preliminary editorial studio sessions we had in shaping the concept and esthetically perameters for the shows. I put my heart and mind into every decision made within every one of the sixteen shows, and all flowed out naturally to my delight.Jan Hankins is no stranger to having his work censored by galleries, and therefore I am focusing on showing an arrangement of his work that has not been allowed to be shown openly in the conservative, though slightly more accepting, climate wherein certain exhibition hosts are afraid of offending. Luckily for me, gasoline is not conservative because I am a firm believer in freedom of expression and anti-censorship. My philosophy is that if it offends you, then the door welcomes you back out of the space, but respect that offensive work desrves to have a presence in our world just as much as more subtle and less offensive forms of artwork. There is a story for each of the sixteen shows and I will be happy to highlight more of them upon request.