Each installment features a writer, artist, or curator discussing an underrated artist, artwork, movement, or museum.
A family photo from Kaitlyn’s uncle Bill’s archive
Today we’re with Kaitlynn Redell, an artist and educator in the Los Angeles area. For Deep Cuts, she wanted to discuss “unspoken/unrepresented personal and cultural histories and a kind of slippage between ‘fact,’ the imagined, and the fabricated”, specifically the work of Hilda Yen, Sable Elyse Smith, and collaborators Tamara Cedré and Carlene Munoz. Yen is an especially interesting case for you, as she’s your aunt, and you’re currently researching your families history, and discovering a very specific sort of 'slippage’. Before jumping into how these artists resonant, let’s start easy: how did you come upon the work of each?
Sable and I went to grad school together in New York. We were in different programs, but had a few classes together and have overlapping conceptual interests. Tammy and I met through an exhibition that Malaika Ali curated at On The Ground Floor in Los Angeles. I later found out about Tammy’s collaboration with Carlene when we had a studio visit for an exhibition I was co-curating (entitled, History As I Know It).
History As I Know It actually grew out of conversations I had had with Sable way back in grad school; around the notion that personal and cultural history can exist as this kind of shifting and fluid entity. Ultimately I worked on curation with Allison McDaniel and Virigina Arce and the exhibition ran concurrently in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In addition to Sable, Tammy and Carlene we included the work of Mari Cruz Alarcon, Kate Harding, Tiona McClodden, Ty Pownall and Kameelah Janan Rasheed (more information about the exhibition can be found here).
This idea of the fluidity of memory and the influx nature of personal and collective histories is a concept I’m interested in my own work as well and it has ultimately brought me to researching my Auntie Hilda (Yen). Hilda is an Auntie on my mother’s side. She’s actually my mother’s Aunt, but in Chinese culture the term “Auntie” is kind of all encompassing for female relatives and close family friends that aren’t your mother or grandmother. I never had the opportunity to meet Hilda, but I’ve been researching her for a new body of work. She was one of the first female, Chinese aviators (beginning in the 1930s) and was a member of the League of Nations and the World Women’s Party for Equal Rights. She was definitely a woman ahead of her time. I’m interested in the sort of historical and personal mythology that has been built around her and how women like her are so often left out of “commonly known” history.
Tamara Cedré & Carlene Muñoz, Tiajuana Estuary 4.12, 2015, Monoprint; Drawings on Photographs, 17 x 22 inches
How are these four artists exploring the idea of falsification (with intent or without) in similar ways? How are they differentiated from each other?
I think falsification is maybe too strong a word. I think all three artists (as well as myself) are more interested in the structure in which “facts” are presented and how we come to embody and understand different histories. It’s a malleable and emotional accumulation that can’t always be placed in a fixed language.
For instance in her video piece, How We Tell Stories to Children, Sable creates a fragmented narrative that flashes between segments of personal home video, Kendrick Lamar music videos, artist voiceover and silence. It becomes unclear what portions allude to personal childhood memories, assumed pop cultural references and if the voiceover script is rooted in fiction or nonfiction. And that’s just what makes it so powerful. As a viewer you want to really sit with the piece and try to navigate through the source material of each segment, while in the process realize it’s the amalgamation that produces a new presence, a new history, a new story. Equally, Tammy and Carlene’s collaborative process in their series, Borders | Fronteras, delves into a new sort of imagined history. Tammy begins the process by photographing border towns (between Florida and California) and then Carlene draws on top of the images. The photographs present a kind of silent violence—void of visuals of people, but palpable of bodies once present—while the meticulously ghostly drawing on top unearths the psychic power of each site’s imagined history.
How do Yen, Smith, Cedré, and Munoz each see the artist’s responsibility to carry absolute truth within their work?
I don’t want to speak for any other artist, but I don’t believe any of them would believe in the idea of “absolute truth.” The notions of “truth” and “fact” are messy. Our understanding of something that may appear to be absolute can shift radically with additional “knowledge” or even taking into account the instability of memory.
Tamara Cedré & Carlene Muñoz, Laredo 10.1, 2015, Monoprint; Drawings on Photographs, 17 x 22 inches
Take us into the research you’ve done on your family. What fault lines have you discovered in the veritability of her work?
Where to begin…I think the first time I learned about Hilda is from my Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill is a bit of the family historian and has digitized an insane amount of family photographs from the 1930s on. He mentioned that a book had been written about my Auntie Hilda called, Sisters of Heaven: China’s Barnstorming Aviatrixes: Modernity, Feminism, and Popular Imagination in Asia and the West, by Patti Gully. At the time I had been reading a lot of Judith Butler and had just been introduced to The Melancholy of Race (by Anne Anlin Cheng), so I just about died when I found out I had this Auntie that occupied a related space.
As I’ve gotten deeper into the research she’s become more and more fascinating to me in terms of how she’s been represented (or not) as a historical figure. Equally there is this whole other side in relation to my family’s personal memories of her. I’m interested in the kind of dovetailing between my mother and uncle’s fragmented memories of her and the glimpses of her representation in printed “history” (books, newspaper articles, League of Nations documents). A lot of the newspaper documentation is so representative of the racial and gender biases of the time period; I’m interested in how that narrative frames the information provided and only tells a fragment of the story.
I think that one—unnervingly contemporary—quote from Hilda’s 1935 address to the League of Nations sums up how I interpret her mythology: “Give your women legal equality willingly and in good spirit, or have it taken from you.”
Personally, do you think the question of 'slippage’ ought to be a greater part of the conversation around art?
I find the most interesting work inherently approaches notions of slippage, be in materially or conceptually. If work is presented in a fixed or absolute way, it’s not interesting because it leaves no room for interpretation or imagination. Approaching some sort of slippage allows room for dialogue and makes us question not only what we are looking at, but think critically about how all forms of information and knowledge are consumed on a daily basis.
A postcard of Hilda, provided by Kaitlynn