This Is Changing My Brain: John W. Love, Jr. in Alaska

By Lynn Trenning

John W. Love, Jr. had a short month to prepare for his eight-week Rasmuson Foundation art residency at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska in the fall of 2014. His approach? He entered the arena with five senses on alert, to absorb the innuendo and plethora of phenomena with which he intersected. 

Love, who served McColl Center art residencies in 2001 and 2012, is the second McColl Center alumni artist to participate in the Rasmuson residency. He knew going into it and embraced early on that the residency’s goal was for artists from the lower 48 states to absorb and influence the culture, rather than rush to finish a particular project.  Julie Decker, the Anchorage Museum’s director and CEO, explained she didn’t impose an agenda on the residency because she understands that is not how the creative process works.

As an experienced resident artist Love is attuned to evaluating what is available, and calibrating expectations according to his resources, so that’s what he did.  He was provided with a suite at Duke’s 8th Avenue Hotel in Anchorage, a desk, WiFi, and access to a trove of historical archives.  And he had 8 weeks of time.  He decided he would spend it writing, exploring, searching, listening, and responding. 

His artistry is complicated. Love is an observer, a chronicler, a wordsmith, and a believer in process. He works with fabric, string, salt and alum crystals.  His musings are embodied in characters that continuously emerge from his self.  For instance, The Perpetually Pregnant Man shows up often – in performance work, and as a narrative voice in straight poetic prose.  He is often unannounced, and went unnamed for a good part of his existence. Love is the vessel through which he speaks, and while vestiges of Love adorn The Perpetually Pregnant Man, as well as his other characters, they are not one and the same.


John W. Love, Jr. as The Perpetually Pregnant Man

TEXTURE

Here’s a view into Love’s creative process:  he’s struck by something poignant, and then that poignant thing beautifully haunts him.  “It can be a sight, a sound, a vision, something that sparks something; it can be a feeling,” he reveals.  Love has learned that committing the haunting to paper too soon can be debilitating.  

His obsessions include the clean slate, the empty bowl, quietude, solitude, and stillness.  He believes in the power of keeping his own counsel, in not sharing too much too soon, in not opening the oven until the soufflé has risen.  

In Alaska, Love was affected by much.  “The energy, the vibration, the light, and tonality and the radiance of the place is so specific, unique, affecting, that I was responding to it immediately,” he says.  The work spawned by the residency has begun, and will wend throughout future projects. “For example, the response to the light of a place will not necessarily be reflected in a line of writing that specifically talks about light,” he says. Rather it will be revealed in a unique relationship between imagery and words and how Love touches things and is touched by them.
He did not try to capture the majesty of the landscape with photography, but instead saw his surroundings through the lens of texture.  He found the physiological and physical landscape psychologically, emotionally, culturally, and spiritually complex.  He even interpreted the people through the lens of texture, using it to take in their conversation, and their way of embodying space. 

“THIS IS CHANGING MY BRAIN”

Alaska took Love’s breath away.  The first gasp came through the lens of a new adventure, a strange place, the distortion of jetlag, and through this Love asked himself, “What is up with all of these sweet faced natives stumbling around like toddlers?”  

When his brain cleared Love realized it was because they were drunk.  He was continuously affected by the consistently sweet faces, the lack of aggression of homeless Alaskans, and how even in desperate circumstances the magnanimous generosity of spirit in the Alaskan culture was deeply ingrained.  Love was riveted by the purity of belief that nature belongs to no one, but it belongs to all, and how that openness has been taken advantage of historically. 

His breath was also taken by the visual extravagance of all that is glacial.  The Chugach Mountains surround Anchorage.  He left a dry Anchorage and in 30 minutes encountered peaks of snow and ice, which in terms of natural phenomena Love describes as “the biggest gasp.”  In the presence of these mountains he turned to his friend and guide Miles Garrod and said, “This is changing my brain.”  


John W. Love, Jr., stills from The Gem Collector videos on Facebook

The work informed by the residency has begun and will continue to spring forth in mysterious ways.  A new character surfaced in Alaska.  He is an anthropologist of the Absurd and the Ridiculous, who collects poignant and hilarious moments of human behavior.  His name is The Gem Collector and short videos of his narrative are housed on Love’s Facebook page, as are photographs of textures.

AFTER ALASKA

Projects in various stages of birth include “Stealth,” which explores why stealth is the The Perpetually Pregnant Man’s most trusted companion.  “Spell” is the working title of a piece that delves into alum crystals, which Love has worked with in the past, and which are reminiscent of glaciers, and are used to stop bleeding.  “Spell” meanders into the arena of climate change and big oil and politics and progressive science, as well as great wealth and dire poverty and a disappearing middle class, all subjects that lead to divisions in the Alaskan population. 


John W. Love, Jr., Black Alum Cluster Gris Gris (FECUND)

A third project will involve fur, which was abundant in the Anchorage Museum, and which Love came to honor (although he claims that “he’s still not a fur dude”), and to recognize its necessity to the Alaskan people.  He worked with photographer, videographer, and museum archivist Tim Remick and curator Monica Shah to create images of fur that are reminiscent of terrain.  It is a potential filmformance piece, with costumes and skin and videos, with echoes of glaciers, and the working title “Crevasse.”  

Love has gratitude for the artistic richness the structure of the Rasmuson residency promotes.  He was supported but not pressured.  “What that enabled me to do as a creative entity was to dive in as deeply and richly as I desired, immediately.” 

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McColl Center for Art + Innovation is one of four art centers in the “Lower 48” that hosts eight-week residencies for Alaska artists. We, in turn, nominate artists from our region to participate in an eight-week residency at one of four art centers in Alaska. The Alaskan Artists-in-Residence we’ve hosted are Maria Shell and Mary Matthews. Regional artists that have served residencies in Alaska are Love, Marek Ranis, and Samantha Hill. Find out more information about the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program.