With Disobedience And Disruption Trending, A Curator Questions The Meaning Of ... Meaning

Mar 9, 2017

Lynnette Miranda is never quite sure what art will be in the shows she curates. Miranda, a Miami native who’s six months into an 18-month stint as the Charlotte Street Foundation's curator-in-residence, says she curates artists, not art objects.

So, she explains, her current show at La Esquina — the second of five she will curate — sprang out of conversations with local artists Alex Savage and Brandon Forrest Frederick. The show is titled Sensible Disobedience: Disrupting Cultural Signifiers in a Neoliberal Age.

Miranda had no plans to include Savage or Frederick in a show, but that changed after she visited their studios simply to familiarize herself with their work. What they had to say rang true with her.

They talked about “recontextualizing” objects and images that have relationships to power structures, Frederick says, such as marketing materials or college pennants.

For instance, on his walk to work every day for a week, Frederick saw a crushed Michelob Ultra can. Each day it was in a different spot and was more beat up than the day before. He took it home with him and scanned it as an image. Later, he had the image digitally printed onto fabric in three sizes, which he cut out, sewed, and stuffed like pillows.

Brandon Forrest Frederick installs his new piece for 'Sensible Disobedience' at La Esquina.
Credit Courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation

Frederick thinks this is funny, by the way.

The point was to take the familiar image of a product out of context — the “disrupting cultural signifiers” of the exhibition's title.

The idea of futility and humor in relationship to power was something Frederick and Savage talked about with Miranda.

“I look at trash on the ground all the time,” Miranda says. “Sometimes it can be really beautiful in the way that it is, but mostly I get upset that people just decided to throw it. And that there’s no consideration — not just for the environment, but for other people.”

She’s also troubled by the fact that so many products are disposable.

“I think once this piece is installed,” she says, “it will invite viewers to think about their own relationships to these daily objects.”

The exhibition also includes an El Camino with corn growing from its bed. That’s Jordan Weber’s piece.

Miranda says Weber, who is from Des Moines, Iowa, has created a narrative with cultural signifiers — the El Camino, a Home Depot bucket, living corn stalks — to prompt the question: why those items?

“How do we create our own infrastructure — a utopian structure of survival? So that’s why he has these plants growing,” she notes.

But the piece is also about the capitalist idea of claiming and owning land and bodies, and “how does that affect black, brown and indigenous bodies?” Miranda says.

The curator, who is of mixed heritage, largely Latin American, is concerned about how people of color are represented in art institutions.

“I’m interested in systemic change in art and in the art world,” she says. “I’ve worked in art institutions and museums for nearly ten years and I’ve got enough experience to understand that it doesn’t matter what city, or how big the institution, it seems that the representation for artists, let alone artists of color, is very much skewed.”

Changing the system begins, she says, with “advocating for those who don’t have representation within the institution, starting with artists, then breaking that down more specifically to artists of color.”

That’s one reason she doesn’t curate art objects but artists themselves, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or religion. This way, her exhibitions are idea-oriented and can include a variety of perspectives about a topic that has her attention.

For Miranda, it’s about art instigating significant conversations.

So, an exhibition focusing on cultural signifiers invites conversation about “modes and systems that promote individualism and capitalism. I think capitalism enforces individualism,” Miranda says.

“Instead of a collective mindset,” Frederick adds, “it’s more about a competition.”

Which has led to, among other things, individuals branding themselves.

“Neoliberalism tries to oppose a lot of that in different ways, and take from one group and give to another,” Miranda says, while adding that she put “Neoliberal age” in the exhibition’s title because, like everything else in the show, she wanted people to question that idea too.

Curating a show when she initially doesn’t know what any of the pieces will be is risky, Miranda says, “but it always pays off in the end.”

Sensible Disobedience: Disrupting Cultural Signifiers in a Neoliberal Age, March 10-April 22 at La Esquina, 1000 West 25th Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64108, 816-221-5115.

Anne Kniggendorf’s writing appears regularly in The Kansas City Star and Ink magazine. Follow her on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.