“Every material has a story or a life it has lived”: watch artist Kevin Beasley transform fabric into narrative sculptures

In the hands of artist Kevin Beasley, utilitarian objects become totems and signifiers of lived cultural experience.

In 2018, Beasley’s first solo exhibition in New York was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, an ideal location for the debut of his monumental installation “Kevin Beasley: A View of a Landscape”, centered on a gin engine. of Maplesville Cotton. , Alabama. The equipment was used to power gins that separated cottonseed from lint, although the artist used it as a personalized musical instrument.

Now, at Regen Projects in Los Angles, Beasley’s first exhibition with the gallery, the artist “alike probes the material and cultural conditions that shape our perception of history.”

In this case, the artist has installed a modified electric pole that holds court in the gallery. He modified it to produce sounds collected from field recordings from various locations.

Installation view of “Kevin Beasley: On Location”. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s “New York Close Up” series in 2019, Beasley reflected on his materials, explaining that the root of his interest in machines like the cotton gin hit him. at a family reunion in Virginia. Driving south from Connecticut, Beasley noticed a cotton field.

“It hit me in a way that I couldn’t quite fathom,” he recalls. “Emotionally it was too heavy, mentally it was too heavy. I was like, ‘Why am I so mad at this factory?’… there’s a lot of unboxing that needs to happen.

In galleries adjacent to where he has installed his custom machines, the artist exhibits sculptures in “slabs” – wall assemblages made of clothing, including a Yale sweatshirt, durags, raw cotton covered with resin and fabrics printed by sublimation that evoke places. of his childhood.

“Every material has some sort of history or lived life,” he said. “They become ways of telling stories.”

This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new season of the flagship series of the Art21 association Art in the 21st century is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series, like New York close up and Extended gameand discover the organization’s educational programs on Art21.org.

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