GV assistant professor creates 'Chosen Family' exhibit
Across the globe, the idea of home translates differently from person to person. In general terms, the word simply means a place of residence, family or a location with fond memories. For others, this concept is not conveyed in a traditional standpoint.
With this vision in mind, Grand Rapids artist Anna Campbell, associate professor in Grand Valley State University’s department of art and design, created her work “Chosen Family, Chosen Name, Separatist, Safe Space, Ex-Pat, Invert, Homophile, Homestead,” which was on display at the Mary Idema Pew Library Friday, Jan. 13 through Tuesday, Jan. 31.
Constructed in 2016 for ArtPrize Eight, Campbell’s intricate yet simplistic mixed media installation was created under a platform by the Grand Rapids Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park’s exhibition titled “Almost Home: Grand Rapids in Focus.”
The "Chosen Family" exhibit challenges traditional ideology behind the meaning of home, and what this alternative structure could translate into for those in the LGBT community.
In addition, the title and message behind the work explores historical usage of language across generations of LGBT identified people in creating safe spaces, alternative sites to define “home.”
“I really wanted to think about what kind of places we feel at home in, and for a lot of LGBT folks 'home' is not necessarily one of those places,” Campbell said.
For Campbell, the now closed Pub 43, which was located on Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, was the place to call home.
“One of the places that had been really important for me was the former Pub 43 on Division,” Campbell said. “So, the idea of gay bars generally in my specific experience in Grand Rapids with Pub 43 ended up inspiring this piece, which is about being in transition with the scaffolding — a temporary structure.”
Campbell’s research-based design uses trusswork, props and scaffold, with a refined wooden bartop reading, “We must take ecstasy.” The phrase was inspired by Queer Theorist José Esteban Muñoz’s “Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity."
“For Muñoz, it was really important to read the other meaning of ecstasy, in terms of that state of being and the necessity of its accessibility to queer people,” Campbell said. “The word 'take' is important, so it's not about waiting passively to be granted. It's about being willing to claim what you need to survive.”
The text and marquetry of the bartop was not in the original design, as Campbell reworked the piece after learning of the tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub, a popular space for the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida.
The club was holding “Latin Night” June 12, 2016, when a gunman killed 49 people and injured at least 53 others in what became the most deadly mass shooting in recent U.S. history.
“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub happened in the middle of the planning of this piece,” she said. “It became important to not just allow the bartop to be this sort of generic abstraction, but for it to be incredibly specific around issues of survival and agency.”
In addition to her work with ArtPrize, Campbell was recently named a "top 10 Grand Rapids artist" in a three part series by Tom Duimstra and Kevin Buist of Cultured.GR, a media outlet centered on the arts community.
“It’s great to be recognized along with such a strong group of peers,” Campbell said. “But the larger story for me is that the platform of Cultured.GR is an indication that we’re hitting a stride as an arts community, and are robust enough to merit regular and sophisticated criticism.”
To learn more about Campbell’s work, visit annacampbell.net.