Dry Heat: Summer 2022, Issue 001

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Brent Holmes

Tracy Fuentes

Dr. Erika Gisela Abad








Dr. Erika Gisela Abad

THE POLITICAL IN THE TENSION BETWEE AND CRAFT: SAME ELEMENTS, NEW ARRA began to consider this essay in early 2021. As the United States reflected upon, and attempted to culturally shift in, the wake of racially charged civil unrest that took place during our pandemic lockdown, it felt pertinent to discuss three solo exhibitions by Lance L. Smith, Brent Holmes, and Chase R. McCurdy. These exhibitions took place between October 2020 and April 2021. As a strong advocate of engaging with visual arts productions within the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art in both curriculum and research practice, here I attempt to explicate how these artists' distinct homages to Black struggle were not devoid of integrity or rigor.

After a conversation I had with Smith and Holmes for an episode of the Art People Podcast, I sat down with McCurdy. His exhibition expanded on the dialectic between content and artistic integrity those conversations with Smith and Holmes sparked. It is important to start with him because the individual pieces of his exhibit used basic colors to highlight the uncertainty of a future that—as he articulated through the exhibition’s audio recordings— needs to be contemplated with attention to the past.


Erika G. Abad will be an Assistant Professor of Communications at Nevada State College at the start of Fall 2022. Prior to joining Nevada State College’s Data, Media, and Design Department, Dr. Abad was Faculty-in-Residence for the Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas from Fall 2016 to Spring 2022. She has taught courses across the Latina/o, Gender and Sexuality, Interdisciplinary Studies and First-Year Seminar Programs. She’s been featured on podcasts like The Art People Podcast, Seeing Color Podcast, and Latinos Who Lunch. This essay is an extension of an Art People Podcast episode she guest-hosted featuring Lance L. Smith and Brent Holmes. For blogs such as Latinx Spaces and Settlers and Nomads, Dr. Abad has written the lasting impact of Marjorie Barrick Museum exhibits. As a member of the Women of Color Arts Festival collective will be curating an exhibit for the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art in the fall of 2022.

In one of our conversations, he disclosed that he doesn’t “start with a concept or idea,” but rather is “personally and spiritually driven.” His drive parallels Smith’s, who, as they were putting up their exhibition within the Museum’s Center Gallery, shared how their spiritual practice had shaped the specific images and artworks in the show. Similarly, Holmes’ family’s cowboy history informed his efforts to address the invisibility of the Black cowboy in US mythology. Each artist initially and individually told me what prompted them to work in ways that organically overlapped. The personal motivations that drove their artistic, creative impulses, however, remained political because of the expectations of high art and the cultural expectations of them as Black artists whose lived experiences are not the sole lens through which to examine the significance of their works. The stories of time, belonging, and resistance that emerged in their exhibitions were as much about rigor of artistry as content. Still, the small number of solo exhibitions of Black artists in the museum’s history added another political opportunity to the relationships between their works. Their exhibitions functioned as a timely reflection of the marginalization of Black artists’ integrity. Separately and in conversation with each other, the exhibits showcased the contradiction of artists whose work is either minimized as identitybased, or disregarded for not making identity more explicit.

All three artists navigated a desire to resist the erasure of contributions to US history made by the historically trafficked African diaspora, while simultaneously resisting the erasure of their personal experiences operating in an anti-Black environment and profession. Looking interiorly Smith’s homage to the Ancestors was explicitly clear. With cowrie shells painted in watercolor and Adinkra symbols on the floor, they invited visitors to reflect on the directions—north, south, east, west, above, below, and within—asking us to think about what it means that part of who we are stems from who we come from. They asked us to intentionally examine ourselves—the self we expect and the self we don’t consider—as we navigated the room that housed their work. The Barrick Museum Director Alisha Kerlin purposely left the walls around In the Interest of Action blank until the first weeks of March. The empty walls allowed the viewer to engage with the artist’s work as a ceremony.

The first time I looked into the wall mirror in one of Smith’s installations, I had to reckon with coming from people who exercised harm against others. Weeks later, when I re-engaged with the show in preparation for the Art People Podcast episode, I saw I also came from healers. As the earliest exhibition among the three, Smith’s In the Interest of Action began the conversation of tension between craft and content. Action articulated a thesis of action that necessitated looking inward. I reflected upon the tension—not contradiction—of finding ancestors who harmed and ancestors who healed because of the innate duality of finding both capacities within us. Such a finding, in the context of Smith’s Ours Do Overcome, an infinity symbol of cowrie shells that imitated the cycles of the moon, invited the viewer to respect and appreciate the vulnerability of and within the African diasporic experience. The call towards interiority, towards internal reflection and contemplation, moved me from the mirror to the mixed media piece, Your Name. Starting with the chorus of the Cheers theme, the viewer first took in a video anthology of song, speech, and dance, then looked down to see a small watercolor of Lazarus above a bowl containing a Jericho or resurrection plant. Your Name encapsulated the ‘action’ that the exhibition called for, a recognition of a name. The collection of clips featuring artists like James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Anita Baker, and Roberta Flack engaged the viewer in the resilience, struggle, and determination resurrected within each generation of Black creativity. The Jericho plant’s survival strategy symbolized the foundational message across all the pieces in the exhibition. Not that Black resistance can resurrect when nurtured with love and compassion, but rather that the determination of a diaspora historically trafficked and consistently uprooted is working to seek figurative water to reawaken its roots and grow again. Despite looking dead, the Jericho plant uproots itself, cocoons into itself, and rolls, like a tumbleweed, until it finds water. Once it does, the plant opens up and comes back to life. Despite the way that, in the immediate aftermath of collective Black struggle gaining an audience, Black artists were celebrated and lauded, albeit temporarily, Smith, along with their colleagues, spoke to the 24/7/366 necessity of the African diaspora’s breathing of life and purpose into the fabric of the everyday existence of the sites they/we inhabit. Non-linear time The breath in McCurdy’s work began with his intentional engagement of multiple senses—sight and sound. Each visual artwork had an assigned audio recording. In the audio he set against the painting Culmination, titled, Before, Here, After, he called the listening-abled audience member to “be aware,” in the “here and now.” The sharp division between the painting’s black and olive green backgrounds, over which the artist had painted a pair of unequally shaped dots in primary colors, provoked me to reflect on the equitable significance of the past, present, and future. In this way, McCurdy began to expand on the contemplation of interior time initiated in Smith’s exhibition. While Smith invited the audience to reflect on how the past informs the present and its consideration for the potential future, McCurdy asked us to contemplate the significance of the here and now. In Music of the Universe #1 with the recording America, he reminded his audience about the misnaming of the Western Hemisphere and, more specifically, the unceded territories of hundreds of nations in what we now call the United States of America. The accompanying audio was dated October 15th with no year named, a reminder that the music of the universe often lies in the power of challenging how people name. The problem of naming ‘America’ America holds steadfast that both the genocide and human trafficking on which what is now the United States and the greater ‘Americas’ have been built are the “before, here, and after,” of what—in how we hold on




The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art supports smart, passionate art writing from Southern Nevada and beyond. Dry Heat is a platform where we can share artist interviews, essays about art that matters, and more. You can find us on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This publication was funded in part by Nancy J. Uscher, Dean of the College of Fine Arts. This program is funded in part with support from Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy. Box 454012 Las Vegas, NV 89154 www.unlv.edu/barrickmuseum 702-895-3381 EDITOR D.K. Sole DESIGNER Chloe J. Bernardo

Brent Holmes

IT'S WHAT MAKES ME KEEP GOING EVERY DAY Brent Holmes interviews Rayen Jones and Chris Sicuso, two of the sign spinners who took part in Yumi Janairo Roth’s Spin (after Sol LeWitt) when it appeared at the Barrick Museum in 2021.

To read the rest of the article, go to our Issuu account at https://issuu.com/unlvmuseum/docs/rotationsonconceptualpractice.

his is an edited version of an original series of interviews conducted by Brent Holmes while he was preparing to write the catalog essay for Yumi Janairo Roth’s Spin (after Sol LeWitt), an exhibition that took place at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art in 2021. By replacing the commercial advertising on the signs of professional sign spinners with excerpts from Sol LeWitt’s pathfinding Sentences on Conceptual Art (1968), Roth drew attention to the contrasts and similarities between two very different contexts where visual information can be delivered: the world of museums, galleries, and other controlled interior art spaces, and the exterior space of the street where your message is open to anyone who happens to walk or drive past. “Exclusive and inclusive,” as she has labeled them.

“When the sign spinner selects their LeWitt quote and begins to dance, toss, and of course spin,” writes Holmes in his catalog essay, “that is when it has found its intended purpose. An in-person dialogue with the spinners in the museum transforms the space and develops the conversation around the work. Then in a final evolutionary step, the museum is removed, the spinner and sign placed on the street, providing another contour to the shape of the piece. Spin, as a practice in concept making and performativity, depicts an intricatelyshaped understanding of what can be designed in art making, and how we discover and define space, and self.“ There have been several manifestations of Spin, but this is the first time the project has been staged in Nevada, with the participation of sign spinners from the Las Vegas branch of the international AArrow Sign Spinners organization. Here, Holmes talks to two of the spinners about their professional spinning practice and their feelings towards Roth’s project. *



The sign spinning community is smaller and more marginal even than that of the arts. Resonant with many artforms, the act of sign spinning, as described by venerable spinner Larry Fuller, occurs in a “Flow state, a transcendental space.” The first spinner I spoke with was Rayen Jones; he is the General Manager of AArrow Sign Spinners in Las Vegas. He, like many sign spinners, got into it pretty young.


Brent Holmes is an artist, activist, and cultural animator whose work investigates contemporary social structures through a historical lens. Much of his work examines epistemological warfare, the body, food, play, and cultural discourse. He has exhibited at the Torrance Art Museum, the Nevada Museum of Art, and is part of the permanent collection of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. He is the co-organizer of local performance art event RADAR, an arts writer, and curator.

“I started when I was fifteen. A guy named Justin Brown was like, Hey, you want a job? And I was like, Yeah. Absolutely, let's do this. And ever since then, I just kind of fell in love with it. My mom always told me I was rude to point; my mom's Italian. And then I found this job and I found out that I can make people happy if you smile and wave and point, give out that energy” He speaks about spinning the way most artists speak of their practice. “It is my passion. It's what makes me keep going every day.

Words can't describe how I feel whenever I'm out there and around pointing at somebody, doing my job, because it is something that I fell in love with and something that I really do love, it's amazing.

There's nothing on this planet that I love more than doing this. I'm one of the lucky individuals that have actually found their true passion in life, because a lot of people don't have that experience or even get close to that experience of enjoying what they're doing” I asked him about his perception of spinning as artform. “Everybody has their own style. Everybody has their own way of spinning, and that is art in itself. There's a certain rhythm that everybody learns, like there's certain levels of sign spinning that people learn if they stick around long enough to understand. The fluidity of it, the actual movements with the sign, how to spin with it instead of against it. That's when you can understand how good somebody really is, if they're paying attention to the sign. And it's kind of cheesy, but you gotta be one with the sign. Like, if you're not understanding how it moves and how you're moving at the same time, that's the difference between becoming one with the sign and just being a sign spinner. Because anybody can kind of sign spin. It's hard for people to be one with the sign and actually have a clean flow with it. That's when it will definitely become a piece of art.” Here Jones expresses, for all intents and purposes, the same ideas existing in almost all forms of art and human creativity and achievement. Jones assures me that “anyone can learn how to spin,” and some of the most enjoyable moments of the exhibition were when the Museum hosted sign spinning classes. The Barrick’s spin classes were led by Las Vegas AArrow instructor Chris Sicuso who told me, “they call it a spin “Spinstructor.” I asked Sicuso to talk about their experience of teaching in the museum. “I felt special; it just felt special. Man, if that could be my weekly job to actually teach a random group of strangers like that. That was so fun. It was definitely unique. A lot of the time, I'm doing one on one with the spinners. I love teaching people stuff. I think you would never guess how much there actually is to sign spinning. That's why teachers exist in general, just because we need to find details to things. And yeah, I really, really enjoyed it.” Sicuso told me that in the museum, “You're teaching professionals and more well-off people. They're never going to touch a sign like this in their daily lives. They struggle with it. I think most people think it's a super light sign. You see them realize that something they thought they could do any time is way more difficult. I just love handing them the sign. It’s heavier than what they thought. I love watching humility happen real quick. You know what I mean? Especially when they think about being out there on a windy day with a three-pound sign to do a five-hour shift. They'll have a different perspective on what the sign spinner does. I love seeing qualified people do stuff like that.” Sicuso told me that teaching in a gallery “versus training in the park; it felt elevated. It just made it so special. I mean, while I'm teaching the whole time, I'm like, Wow, this is really happening. Like, this is amazing. I would have never expected to be teaching in a gallery. Never. Yeah, that's true. That was a trip.” When asked what his previous experiences in museums had been he said “To be honest, I am not a big, was not a big museum guy, but I will tell you this. It gave me a whole newfound respect for museums.”

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