For this week’s artist conversation, I had the honor to speak with the talented and insightful Joanie Ellen. Her show was displayed in the Marilyn Werby Gallery, and is named “I Am Dirty – You Are Dirty: Daybeds for Soap in the Meisner Technique.”
In the entrance of the gallery, there was a tarp that had to be lifted in order to get in. Once inside, I felt an atmosphere of stillness in the barely lit room. Starting from the back of the room, along the wall, there was a small path of dirt, lined with rocks, that had succulents in them. When facing the front of the room, there was a pile of dirt and succulents in the middle of two redwood daybeds that were placed over cinder blocks. Upon these daybeds were soap, and behind them were paint buckets filled with water. Besides the interesting decor, a four minute video played in loop on the farthest wall with two people utilizing the Sanford Meisner acting technique. During this video, Joanie, wearing black, repetitively tells another person in white (who is also played by the artist) that she is dirty. As a response back, the person in white denies that she is dirty, until finally coming to the conclusion that she is. The woman in white then turns the statement back to the woman in black that she is dirty, and the woman in black confidently replies, “I am dirty.” The video ends with the women not there, and then starts again.
Joanie, who is a wood graduate student at CSULB, said her inspiration was the essence that comes out of repetition. Also, she is very interested in the conflict/contrast between life and death, and how for there to be stillness, there has to be chaos. From these inspirations, her show focuses on repetition, and how, in any craft, repetition forms an identity for the crafts person. Besides constantly repeating oneself, her show also focuses on what is really the ideals in nature and human nature, and the chaos within both. Originally an actor, Joanie started woodworking when she was pregnant with her first child, and said that “pregnancy connected her to her creative animal.” With two kids later, she has been working with wood for four years now. To portray her show’s purpose, she combined her two arts, woodworking and acting, which felt very natural to her.
Despite the gallery seeming set to how it was supposed to be, during my interview Joanie revealed that the gallery was actually an interactive one. The dirt and plants were meant to be moved around, and the soap and water were meant to be used to wash one’s hands, if that person wanted to. She said that she wants the gallery to be a immersive experience and that she wants the gallery to be a mess in the end. So, after my interview my friend Maddie, and I did just that. We took part in immersing ourselves into the show. We both touched and moved the dirt in the middle of the gallery, and washed our hands with the soap, which enhanced the experience of the gallery, since it felt like we became a part of it.
Personally, I really enjoyed Joanie’s show. At first, I will admit that I did not understand the whole message behind it, but after speaking with her and hearing her purpose behind the art, I became intrigued. With her focus on repetition, I do believe that, as humans, if we repeat something over and over again, we become what we say, or what we constantly do, even though that aspect may not be true about ourselves. Because of this repetition, human nature is fluid and can become good or bad, and if bad, chaos would occur.
Overall, I really enjoyed Joanie’s first gallery at CSULB! She evoked interest and confusion right when I walked into the gallery, and I loved it. Unfortunately, she does not have a website, but I hope to see more of her work soon!