By Maeghan Jeremiah, Layout manager
Guest artist Melissa Yes came to UM to showcase her artwork collection called “Speciation.” An opening reception was held on Oct. 20 in Poole Art Gallery at the Center for the Arts.
At the reception, Yes spoke on how she got to where she is today and her creative processes.
Yes is an intermedia artist who teaches at the University of Alabama Department of Art and Art History as the Assistant Professor of Digital Media. Encouraging and helping students identify they wish to make art is a passion of hers.
When asked what she hopes people take away from the art, she said, “I’m an educator and I hope people want to go make art after they see this; but I am interested in everyone, myself included, embracing the acceptance that a lot of what we see every day is constructed.”
Adding to that she said, “There’s another thing I want people to take away, artists especially, it’s okay to have some levity in your work, a lot of my work is kind of silly but not because it’s unserious. It’s okay to make references to pop culture and the things that make you smile. There is no need to separate ourselves as people from the work that we make.”
Yes titled this exhibition on a series of oil paintings of Charles Darwin’s finches. Yes explained, “I titled this show before I made three-quarters of the work. I titled it Speciation because I knew I wanted to paint these birds.”
Along with several other degrees, Yes has a BS in biology. She explained how it reads a lot into her artwork.
The finches she named the show after are pressed between two pieces of plexiglass. She said, “to do what I’ve done here is similar to pressing down a microscope slide. It kind of distorts it and the act of looking and the cinematography is also a means of destruction. So, the act of simultaneously looking at and giving care to a thing while also really scrutinizing it is really important.”
Yes elaborated on the title of the show by explaining her thought process. “I was thinking about how species are created; evolution is one of those things we have a lot of misconceptions about in our culture. We talk in our society these days a lot about how religion is opposing that but pop culture has every bit as much to do with it.”
Yes referenced “The X-Files” and how shows like it, “anchor themselves in real language about real science, about what evolution is, how mutations work but then they take it and they add this completely false thing that is going to confuse everybody about what’s possible.”
Yes asks her viewers to consider, “Speciation is, in biology, the process when there’s been enough changes within two versions of a population of a species that they can no longer mate. That’s when they become distinct species, it is gradual but at some point, these two species can’t combine anymore. I wonder if that’s happening with people who are hardcore about science and people who are not.”
In order to break down Yes’s concept of narrative versus facts, she referenced author Clement Greenberg.
“Greenberg wrote a lot of important stuff about art and one of the things he pointed out was paint is just paint, surface is just surface. From western art history, we are used to seeing this sort of illusory depth into the picture plain and it’s all about the illusion but he gave us a reminder that it’s actually just a flat surface with some paint on it, said Yes.” She added to that by saying, “There is a very clear materialist, evidence-based approach to his way of talking about painting that I think is really similar to science.”
Yes explained how all her current work is about the tension between story and facts. She explained, “narrative has a lot of power and I want to harvest that power for good in a project. I think we can harvest the power of narrative for good but narrative can also be a problem because it is much more interesting sometimes to hear a spun narrative than to sit down and listen to really dry boring data.”
In Yes’s final thoughts on this exhibition, she stated, “Thanks to numerous social factors, including popular media, truth-seeking in America seems to have evolved into two incompatible species. Quoting Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle: ‘In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.’ And yet, I want to believe.”
This exhibition will be open to view in Poole Gallery in the Center for the Arts until Dec. 1.