By Jon L. Seydl, Museum Director
The School of Art + Design Faculty Exhibition at Krannert Art Museum is our longest tradition. First held in 1925, it actually predates the museum itself, which opened in 1961 and has become the exhibition’s regular home.
For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege to install the exhibition, discovering each year commonalities among the art made by faculty. This year, quite a few of them address climate change and the transformation of the landscape, while others dig into questions about the body and how those bodies depart from norms.
This year, however, the two preoccupations that stood out the most to me are inextricably tied up with major concerns of the past year: confronting the risks and struggles around digital technology and addressing Black Lives Matter.
Some of you might remember Ben Grosser’s amazing contribution in 2019, Order of Magnitude, a relentless 50-minute film that spliced together each time Mark Zuckerberg said “more” or “grow” or mentioned metrics. This year he extends that critique of technology companies and highlights our inability to pull ourselves offline with The Endless Doomscroller, a video that scrolls headlines of generic bad news that never ends. I love how this work encapsulates the experience of the last year: you avoided the news at your peril, since the pandemic required vigilance, but it also stuck so many of us in place, glued to our screens, where social media and other online platforms have created tools specifically designed to trap us there.
Grosser’s video strips away details about the stories and the graphic design of specific platforms. In doing so, his work makes us look at the underlying structure: a corporate culture that encourages us to scroll rather than act and that seeks out more and more doom to keep us stuck in place.
Stacey Robinson always contributes something significant. This year it’s #BLACKMATTERS, created with John Jennings, his partner in a duo called Black Kirby, which imagines Black futures with aesthetic roots in comic book pioneer Jack Kirby. At KAM, Robinson presents 12 posters, which are versions of billboards, commissioned by CEPA Gallery, which Black Kirby installed in and around Buffalo, New York, this past summer.
Each poster combines powerful texts and Afrofuturist imagery that envisions and speculates a world forged by the communities and local governments of Buffalo – and by extension here in Champaign County – that centers black lives. Robinson breaks down the monolith of Black Lives Matter and talks about what it really means to support Black lives, from #BlackHealthMatters and #BlackEducationMatters to #BlackJoyMatters and #BlackFuturesMatter. Each poster he presents serves as an active call to action and to dialogue, drawing attention to the inequities that need to be put in the past, while envisioning a powerfully transformed future.
For more on Ben Grosser’s The Endless Doomscroller: https://endlessdoomscroller.com/ and for more on Stacey Robinson’s #BLACKMATTERS: https://www.cepagallery.org/shop/art-collection/black-matters-stacey-robinson-2020/