Real Talk

Nine Artists Explore Wealth Inequality in Philly

Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This, Zach Zecha

The More Stately Mansions exhibition features local artists who were selected by Champions of Empty Rooms (CHER) founder and curator Veronica Cianfrano to create work that discusses themes of wealth inequality, the class divide, and the notion of the American dream as it relates to both the art community and the community at large. The artists were asked to reference the time period of the American robber baron, the Gilded Age, using only recycled materials as a means to discuss the artist’s role in the class divide and the power of the artist to create value from “nothing.” The following is information on the exhibiting artists, and the work they are making for the exhibition.

POPc, Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This

POPc, Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This

Dena Shottenkirk is a philosopher and artist. Her project, Philosophers’ Ontological Party club (POPc), is the marriage of these two worlds. Her work encourages conversation and a free exchange of ideas in a personal and intimate way.

Her piece, POPc: Making Thought about Speech, will encourage discussion between viewers and the resident philosopher in an enclosed space.

I make work that involves both publishing philosophical writing (generally in book form) and making related artwork. After that input, I hold events within the framework of an organization, POPc. The most recent topic [of discussion] has been censorship and free speech. I then take those conversations and along with the original input of mine (book/artwork) I build an installation that gives the whole “conversation” about the topic. In addition, the artwork is never for sale; instead it is part of a related project called the Lending Library, where people borrow the artwork for approximately six months, and then do an interview about what they thought. That also is added to the “conversation.” This project is in keeping with the theme of [More Stately Mansions] as it is entirely against the role art has come to play in our society: decor for the wealthy. Instead, the project emphasizes experience and thought. The viewers who come into this gallery will be able to leave their thoughts behind as well as take physical pieces of the installation with them. – Dena Shottenkirk

Stephen Dobash, Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This, photo by Perry Melat
“The Joneses’ Sitting Room” by Stephan Dobosh. Photo by Perry Melat

Stephan Dobosh’s studio practice employs a careful consideration of Symbolist literary devices, automatic writing, and visual free association. He uses art creation as a physical documentation of his experiences and state of mind. Through the subconscious psychological connections between color, sound, text, and implied imagery, he wants to provide an entrance for the viewer to be able to free associate, transforming these elements from static objects to dynamic associations.

My installation “The Joneses’ Sitting Room” is a spectral fragment of the American suburban home, an “achievable” standard of wealth, made up of commonplace household items. Including a chair, a painting, a rug, and an end table are all spray painted gold. The installation stands as a satirical metaphor, an artifact documenting what “The Joneses” have achieved on their economic quest toward “The Mansion.” -Stephen Dobosh

Tiernan Alexander knows a lot about art as decor and social status. She holds an MFA in ceramics and a second Master’s degree in Material Culture from Winterthur, the DuPont mansion in Delaware (yes, those DuPonts).

Chandelier is a piece that juxtaposes refuse and the style of the chandeliers of the wealthy elite of the Gilded Age to illustrate extreme wealth.

The chandelier is one of the great examples of Gilded Age extravagance that was costly to make, used excessive resources, and required hired help to maintain. By building this one out of mostly garbage, equipping it with very moderate lighting resources, and providing a remote control, all of those historic conventions are inverted. The piece will also call on the history of using natural phenomena in an anti-contextual decorative fashion that lets the participant enjoy nature without any personal risk or worry about the destruction of nature. -Tiernan Alexander

Siri Langone, Veronica Cianfrano, Jess Flynn, Curate This
Trash Core by Siri Langone. Photo by Jess Flynn.

Siri Langone creates work that uses themes of repetition and time to draw connections between the banal objects of our daily lives and our impact on the world around us.

Siri’s piece, Trash Core, serves as a core sample of refuse. Each layer of the resin sculpture is a different discarded trash item organized by the time it takes for that material to break down, starting with glass on the bottom then maxi pads, fishing line, plastic, aluminum, and batteries. Each section is divided with dirt and neon layers that glow green when exposed to darkness. She states:

You have to look into the resin deeply in order to see what’s visible inside the different-colored layers. As familiar items appear, one can only wonder if each layer represents the time of decomposing. All materials were used for their purpose and then thrown away, possibly without any regard to where it may end up or what it will do to the environment. -Siri Langone

Jim Dessicino, Curate This, Veronica CIanfrano
Between the End and Where We Lie by Jim Dessicino.

Jim Dessicino is a fine artist and teacher at the University at the Arts. He creates sculptures that investigate the relationship between power and sculptural forms.

Though he typically deals with the portrait, More Stately Mansions has allowed him to expand the scope of his critique to architectural forms and luxury objects. Mining from his grandmother’s pole barn and Atlantic City’s self-cannibalization. In his piece, Between the End and Where We Lie, he presents us with objects that have fallen from luxury into a refugee state.

Harry Sanchez Jr.’s experience living in a border city has made him keenly aware of the boundaries everywhere. His work often serves as a response to this feeling of inaccessibility.

His piece will be a detailed recreation of typical dining room from the Gilded Age made of duct tape. The duality between material and environment is a reflection of the facade and falseness present in the setting of the lavish dinner party. The duct tape material is used as a reference to the working class who use it to fix that which is broken.

Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This, Zach Zecha
High Tea by Zach Zecha

Zach Zecha uses materials to show us how disjointed and chaotic language can be. His work shows us an urgent and somewhat futile need to understand and make sense of a cacophonous, hyperreal world.

His work, High Tea, will tackle this theme of wealth inequality and inaccessibility by creating a projection-based installation that taxonomically displays information regarding distribution of wealth in the United States. Accompanying this information is a table, set for tea, paint oozing out from the vessels as the excess flows from the capitalist structure that we live in. Chairs on either side of the table sit empty inviting one to sit. Yet even these are just projections, symbols of the illusion of power of the American individual.

Lauren McCarty, Curate This, Veronica Cianfrano
Window of Bewilderment by Lauren McCarty

Lauren McCarty embraces the opportunity to create work that is interactive. She often assumes the role of the keeper or collector in her work, emphasizing the preciousness of materials and found objects.

McCarty’s Window of Bewilderment employs imagery, materials, and architectural components from Camp Santanoni, an Adirondack “Great Camp” built in the 1890’s by an Albany banking family. Camp Santanoni was built in the style of rustic Adirondack log construction typical of Great Camps. The complex of buildings is unique in its evident Japanese design influence. While the buildings are grand, they are discreetly tucked into the landscape. Indoor and outdoor spaces are thoughtfully blended, blurring distinctions between the two.

This piece is a birch bark-paneled circular window. The painted figures seen through it, which are made of artist-produced charcoal and inks, are members of the privileged class enjoying the wild Adirondacks at the turn of the twentieth century. As the great American cities boomed, these newly affluent industrialists sought out refuge in the mountains. This refuge in the wild Adirondacks reflects the wealthy elite’s tempered and curated wilderness.

Steven Earl Weber, Veronica Cianfrano, Curate This
Regression to the Mean by Steven Earl Weber

Steven Earl Weber uses objects, images, and their arrangement to contemplate questions of subjective identity within the issues of class, religion, and politics. His work addresses personal identity and social commentary by fusing craftsmanship and concept in a variety of mediums.

Steven’s piece, Regression to the Mean will be a cross-section of a domestic scene of the wealthy elite presented to us from an outsider’s perspective with an emphasis on the imbalance in social status.

More Stately Mansions runs from August 6-25, with a performance night and zine launch on Saturday, August 19. Kitchen Table Gallery, 1853 N. Howard St.

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