Accidental Revolutionary… A Fruit Bowl Manifesto
Ceramic, sculpture and work on paper by Andrew Cornell Robinson.
An Accidental Revolutionary is an interdisciplinary multi-part project that unfolds the story of a historical-fiction and aesthetic re-imagining of personal mythologies through drawing, sculpture, conversation, and collaboration.
The works featured here are elements of a composite of characters reimagined by Robinson to act as a proxy. An exercise in contrasts, both emotional and formal; inspired by radical characters and events loosely inspired by the writings of Charles Dickens and Jean Genet and the reimagining of historical and fictional characters from the French revolutionary Jean Paul Marat and his assassin Charlotte Corday to Madame Thérèse Defarge, the villainess in Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities and Stilitano, the object of affection in The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet. In contrast to Jacque-Louis David’s celebrated painting, Death of Marat, Robinson has used the historical and fictional narratives as a departure point to deconstruct and reimagine memory through independent works and creative collaborations with a jazz composer, master printmaker, costume designer, poet and many others who have contributed to the creation of this series of images and forms.
Simultaneously serious and humorous the resulting body of works encompasses drawing, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, fashion, photography, music and performance. Each element is connected by the abstraction and distortion of a reimagined narrative.
In thematically linked bundles of ceramics, and works-on-paper, Robinson shows himself to be more than a political didactic, a potter, painter, printmaker, sculptor, performer, storyteller, and a picture maker. In each of the distinct collections of work, Robinson has dealt with the ethos of craft, process and material, interlaced with a fascination for graphic language and form coupled with an impulse toward symbolic narratives. Robinson has sought out fringe storylines, creating diaristic fragments attempting to pass as artifacts and heirlooms. Seen as a whole, they are relics, mementos and traces of a life; created by an artist who freely works across ideas, materials and contexts.
Over the past three years, Andrew Cornell Robinson and a team of creative collaborators have woven together a multi-layered mixed media project, with story fragments, character studies, layers of images and objects that compliment and complicate each other. The project begins with intertwined narratives, drawn from the writings of Jean Genet and Charles Dickens, alongside the historical anecdotes of the life and death of Jean Paul Marat. These texts coupled with manifestos; memoirs, agitprop and various texts written by the artist are sampled and spliced together to form a new visual narrative.
Two of the central characters of the project are Jean and Charlotte, embodying a contrast of class and character. Jean, embodies wrath in the face of injustice; he is an amalgamation of the French revolutionary propagandist Jean Paul Marat and Jean Genet the avant-garde writer whose poetic narratives celebrate the queer, criminal and the socially outcast; as well as, Dickens’ Madame Thérèse Defarge, the antagonist in “A Tale of Two Cities” and a kaleidoscope of radicals from the 1968 student revolutionaries of Paris, the Young Lords of New York City, the Black Panthers, Stonewall and ACT-UP to contemporary manifestations of Occupy and Anonymous. Charlotte is a composite of aristocratic entitlement embodied by the assassin of Marat, Charlotte Corday and Dickens’ Miss Havisham, the affluent and manipulative spinster in “Great Expectations”, and an array of contemporary oligarchs, socialites and inheritors of privilege in all its forms.
A staggering array of images, research material, drawings, sketches, storyboards, objects, garments, spaces, sounds and texts are sampled and recast into a contingent ‘script’ about a fictional and theatrical journey. From the density of material emerges a contrast of two central figures: ‘the accidental revolutionaries’. Part banal bourgeois dilettante, part rebel, part self-proclaimed-patriot, part criminal, part fanatic and part artist; two composite figures that function not simply as a form of social critique, but appear as an incidental historical subject; a reluctant revolutionary figure that, by virtue of their very way of life, sit at the threshold between a socio-political order and its waning ideological aura. As the project unfolds, and the figures are recast through different characters, historical and imagined, new threads emerge that lead to both expected and unexpected places, deadly serious and playfully deadpan all at once.
The Accidental Revolutionary is meant as an intentional and intuitive investigation into the possibilities for the future rather then the past, where a convoluted story situated across multiple storylines starts to emerge. Initiating an obsessive search to figure out how we, like the reluctant and accidental revolutionaries before us, find ourselves inhabiting a moment full of radical potential and disillusionment. Searching for what we cannot yet see but feel is possible.
An artwork that explores the politics of desire and the possibility for disaster; Robinson’s projects invent incidental narratives, characters, theatrical gestures, symbols and props that trace the outlines of a reimagined present.
His collaborative impulse to work with and empower artisans through their craft is a means of inviting interpretation, digression and transgression of the supremacy of authorship; an invitation for the intuitive play with material and meaning. The projection of craft and collaboration is where the slippages between a historical record, life and fiction, history and myth making are explored. Robinson’s personae and loose narratives are shared with a fashion designer, a curator, a composer, a barber, and a poet. Each responds intuitively to the creative prompt and digresses into a collaborative exploration of materials, processes, ideas, and their own personal projections. The outcome is an array of images, artifacts and traces of a story that emerges and disintegrates.
Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal, foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Bernard Frechtman, Greenleaf Publishing, Evanston, Ill, 1965.
Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, baselandruanne.com
Exhibition Essay: A Story – Andrew Cornell Robinson
By Patty Suarez, and edited by Dove Drury Hornbuckle.
This essay accompanied the solo exhibition Accidental Revolutionary, at the Christopher Stout Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, in March 2016. This essay was made possible in part by a faculty grant from the New School University and Parsons School of Design.
The thing about privilege is that in “my world” we all have it at one time or another, even if we also experience it in the form of oppression. I have to constantly turn my privilege on its head in order to see a broad reality. Privilege is what we value and what we do not. That which we value becomes a part of our stories, our histories and our mundane moments, and, if ignored by enough people, falls out of the periphery of awareness and becomes lost and disconnected from our time. So cultivating a tradition of story telling is an essential act of political and personal empowerment.
I’ve known and swapped stories with Andrew Robinson for over ten years and over the course of that time we have sat around his studio and talked about our work, our lives and our relationship to society. I have grown to understand aspects of his intimate history, personal politics and creative intentions of his work as an artist. Andrew’s life, like his work, straddles multiple worlds. Trained as a ceramist and sculptor, he works through his ideas across many media from drawing and clay to printmaking and painting. Through out his life Andrew has operated with one foot in one door and one in another touching on the appearances and intrigue of class and identity…
…wealth – poverty,
educated – uneducated,
transgressor – conformist,
queer – straight,
Zuccoti park occupying – stock exchange trading,
leftist – capitalist,
conservative – liberal,
teacher – student,
insider – outsider,
and so on.
He has shuffled himself between these positions, giving rise to amongst other things, a feeling of separateness. What it also provided him with was a unique perspective from where he could digest his world. An interpretation of outsider seen from within the walls of privilege.
These dynamics, for Andrew, are social modalities to see himself and those around him in relationship to systems of power and privilege he encounters. In the 1980s and 90s Andrew was a young queer artist, coming out of the closet amidst the upheaval of the AIDS epidemic, and just out of school with the all too common burden of student loan debt and precarious living in the east village of New York City. At times, he made a decent living, if only financially, helping to visually brand corporations from luxury fashion houses to banks and mega financial entities. This experience required a degree of emotional distance in order to operate within them, without lapsing into resentment over the bubble of avarice and sense of entitlement often prevalent in the halls of corporate culture of that time.
I think it’s important to remember that there are real feelings that occur and are dealt with when encountering systems of power. These structures are uniquely experienced by an individual before the articulation of one’s personal relationship with artworks or politics. In Andrew’s case, the primary feeling was a sense of discontent with the politics of the time and the people he engaged with. His personal animosity toward the avaricious hand he ate from fueled the political thinking that informs much of his art.
Andrew’s approach to examining the socio-political aspects of our world is layered with meaning and influences both metaphorical and lived. He has named Jack Smith, Audre Lorde, Grayson Perry, Robert Gober, Jean Genet and Charles Dickens as motivation in his work and each of which connect him to a queered perspective of history. These personae became activated for Andrew because he chose to work and lived in environments that were often in sharp contrast to his values. Coming out continued to be a transgressive political act of personal courage in those spaces. Andrew was drawn to literary characters to embody many of his ideas. Dickens’ female antagonists have a special appeal for him from Miss Havisham to Madame Thérèse Defarge, each become elevated to archetypes through drag persona that he creates artworks for.
These characters and the social spaces that we traverse daily may contain moments of confrontation from which we may gain positions of empathy and consideration. These events, mixed with an individual’s unique flair for activism, can allow us to access positions of privilege while cultivating a greater spiritual awareness within society. Andrew encountered different forms of privilege and opposition throughout his life and his observations from this vantage point are a constant theme in his artwork. Radical activism is inherently held within spaces of radical playfulness, performing fantasies into reality. Andrew has created a cast of characters as a starting point for his work. He has created a series of costumes in collaboration with the fashion designer Greg Climer, one of which is a corseted figure embodied by Andrew through ritual and material craft.
Craft as a practice is closely tied to the conceptual underpinnings of Andrew’s work across media. For instance his “Rebellious Hearts,” is a series of ceramic sculptures meant to contain the stories and relics of radicals past and present. These ceramic objects recall body dissections. The forms that seem to function like an esophagus or stomach, an interior world where objects pass from smaller to larger spaces. Andrew chose to change the texture of the clay by uniquely firing each sculpture. This individual characterization of clay bodies emphasized how the objects, varied in size, would navigate their environments. The clay textures created visceral responses, I imagined that some objects went down easier than others.
Andrew has chosen and was given unique opportunities to experience sharp social contradictions. These experiences have allowed him to develop a subjective clarity within his personal, political and spiritual pathways as a visual artist. The presence that Andrew has created within these spaces and the artworks that he crafted thereafter operates as a transgressive secondary heroism. We too, in our unique societal dynamics, can cultivate a necessary viewpoint from which to acknowledge our place within systems of privilege; those that we push against and those that we may benefit from.
Patty Suarez is an artist raised in Queens and living in the East Village of New York. Her medium is portraiture in all its forms – especially – photography, drawing, cutting hair and audio recordings of people based on their experiences in New York. She works closely with her alter ego Mr. JulianRay.
Edited by Dove Drury Hornbuckle. Dove is an interdisciplinary artist residing in New York City. Their work explores ceramics, painting and installation; investigating themes of sexuality, ornamentation of the body and ecological reverence. They currently create a range of ceramic jewelry, sold at boutiques in New York City and cities throughout Australia. Hornbuckle has been featured in numerous publications including American Vogue and Vogue Living, Spanish Architectural Digest, Gather Journal and Amica Magazine.