Four months before beginning a week-long residency at Temple, Canadian-born artist Allyson Mitchell flipped a classic Halloween activity on its head with the creation of the first lesbian feminist haunted house—aptly named KillJoy’s Kastle.
Mitchell’s residency, which included a discussion of her work in Temple Contemporary on Jan. 21, was the first collaborative project she has been able to work on since the taxing haunted house, which drew crowds of more than 5,000 with showings in both Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles, she said.
Working in partnership with graduate students from a variety of departments within the Tyler School of Art allowed the group to explore its interest in politicized art and textiles.
During the discussion, Mitchell delved into the political and often controversial nature of some of her work, in particular, “Ladies Sasquatch,” an installation featuring six large-scale sculptures of “she-beast” creatures in poses inspired by portraits from a 1976 issue of Playboy Magazine. One of the pieces from this collection, “Shebacca,” is currently on display in Temple Contemporary.
“I started thinking about the construction of gender and the construction of beauty,” Mitchell said. “I went to sasquatches as a place to think about wild, undomesticated gender and ways of being in the world.”
Mitchell and other members of the residency group used these ideas surrounding gender, sexuality and the body as a way to look at depression and the importance of taking time for oneself.
The group used the book “Depression: A Public Feeling” by Ann Cvetkovich as a basis for its exploration of the topic in a four-day intensive workshop, which incorporated getting to know one another’s art and working through some of the book’s main ideas.
“I think it’s really important, especially in the winter time when things can feel slowed down and maybe even demoralizing or just gray or blue or low,” Mitchell said. “Not that we try to avoid that, but that we come together and try and maybe share that experience, and by being together publicly and sharing our experiences we can feel less alone in that.”
Through a mix of both public and private practices, like night-swimming in a hotel pool, the group grew more comfortable with one another, Mitchell said, and had more meaningful discussions.
“I’ve reconnected with ideas and with a broader and more thorough understanding of my practice as an individual, but also within a community that I have a body, I have feelings and these are all just as important as going to get materials or thinking of ideas for my thesis show,” said Teresa Cervantes, a member of the residency group and a graduate student in Tyler’s sculpture program.
Cervantes and other graduate students in the group said the opportunity to work with Mitchell could not have come at a better time, as many of them are in the middle of working on their thesis projects, which can be extremely stressful.
“We had a lot of time to reflect and talk about our ideas and talk about our work and step outside for a little bit,” said Amy Cousins, a printmaking graduate student and project member. “There was also just a lot of laughing and moving of our bodies, and I did end up feeling more relaxed, even though I haven’t been able to work on my stuff.”
Students said listening to Mitchell talk about the complexities of her work got them thinking about how they can improve and grow as artists, even after graduation.
“I feel like I learned a lot about the depths of research you can go into making art and how you can familiarize yourself with aspects of yourself to push deeper into bigger things in the world to create and influence what you’re making,” said Isaiah Gaffney, a senior communications major and art minor. “I think that’s something I can take and make fun, cool things and concepts [with] and keep learning.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.