Join artist and curator Reg Zehner, as they lead you on a walk through the gallery discussing Tomashi Jackson’s Love Rollercoaster, currently exhibiting at the Wexner Center for the Arts September 25-December 27, 2020.
Jackson is a Black American artist born in Houston, Texas. She grew up in Los Angeles, California, and studied at the Cooper Union School of Art, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Planning, and the Yale School of Art. She often works across several mediums including painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, video and combinations of these. Importantly, Jackson’s influence and aesthetic can be tied to Joseph Albers’ grounding and instructional texts on the study of color. And she often credits Albers’ seminal theoretical frameworks as both foundational and insightful for her own investigations. Love Rollercoaster at the Wexner Center is a solo exhibition of five new works that considers the associations of the political and the aesthetic, access and borders, identity and abstraction, and color and all of its volumes, dialects and intentions.
As I’m walking through this space, it’s not just these five works that draw me in to their bright and colorful textured material. Actually, it’s the sound. In Love Rollercoaster, there is a sound element where Jackson explores and asks Black community members about their history of voting and their personal struggles. She asked, “What do you remember about the first time you voted? Or how has voting changed for you over time?” These questions and conversations fill the space as you’re walking through the images that peer back abstractly. I find these works with these images so intertwined with the sound. The layering of different voices and the layering of these images, both connect to a problem and also a fight that Black communities have been working on for generations, the voting and democratic system of the United States of America.
Even outside the conversations of Jackson and the community members, there’s also music that plays in the show. The songs are taken from the band, The Ohio Players and they’re beautiful voices and instruments wander through the space. It connects to an emotionality that can be felt through the colors of the work. Another point of connection the show makes to embed itself in Ohio is the dirt taken from Lucy Depp Park in Delaware County, Ohio. The park relates to abolition and Black freedom. And that’s one of the important and integral questions of “What is democracy?” and “Where, or what is Black freedom?” Drifting in and out, you can see that the sound is in part a mirror to the works that lie before me. One of the works I’m drawn to is I Want to Be Free, O-H-I-O, Bad Bargain, 2012 Cuyahoga County Voting Line 2016 Butler Counting Voting Line, which was made in 2020. I’m drawn to the work because of the colors that contrast together so well. A bubblegum pink and a dark purple color that’s outlined with the dirt taken from Lucy Depp Park in Delaware (Ohio).
Outside of that, there are white spaces, which are actually government ephemera that is directed towards voting. It’s interesting to see a piece about voting that is both beautiful and also real. The realness that comes out of the material and texture that almost makes you want to touch it. The layering of both the paper and the different types of fabric, overtop of the structure, which you can see underneath in certain parts, shows there’s no dressing up here. And that’s with voting, there’s no dressing up, you get up and you go. And with voting, there are nuances despite the targeted images and ideas behind it. And that leads me to another work where it has both red, green and yellow that overlap into one large collage that stares right back at you, asking at the bottom of the work, “Do you want to vote?”
This question that comes up every so often around in November, that determines a large part of our lives. Do you want to vote? It’s a charged question. It’s a curious question. It’s a sad question. It’s a mad question. All these questions: Do you want to vote? In some way, this question in general, I think, actually centers the person, instead of “you should vote,” which is always what we hear. Although this question is imperfect—because there’s always a lack of consent in these systems that are oppressive. Maybe, instead of “Do you want to vote?” We can ask, “Can you vote?”
That true knack that even despite our government, and our idea of democracy, there are people who cannot vote for the rest of their lives. And as well, the question is kind and carrying, instead of “Do you want to vote?” Maybe I do want to vote, but I can’t. Maybe I do want to vote, but it’ll harm the people around me. The one thing I want in this country isn’t always represented, and the systems that they built for us. Needless to say, outside of that, this work allows us to have this conversation because of not just that question written on the work, but also due to the images and the sound.
As I’m walking through the space, The Ohio Players play beautifully. I consider this a moment of shared timing. Because all of these works together, the sound, the multimedia works—they act both as the past and the present, and the future. They’re so relevant all the time, because you can’t escape the cycle that we’re in. Maybe we can one day, but at the moment, we’re facing what we have—we’re facing what we did in 2016. As someone who’s young, I was 18 finally when it was 2016. Now I’m 22 and I have to see and think and participate in the political climate, right now as a black person, as a queer person, as a, as an artist, as a musician, as a student. I have to not just look, but I have to consider the impact of what I do. I have to consider the histories of my family, of the people I love around me and of myself, if I should or should not vote, or what I can or cannot do in a communal way to support those most marginalized in America.
And this work sets these important conversations. That’s why it’s amazing to see this in person. As someone who has seen Jackson’s work online and I love a lot of her work. Especially with the way she thinks through images and abstraction, and material and histories and how to present that in such a predominantly white space, I think this work does what she’s wanting us to be a part of. It wants us to have these thoughts. It wants us to talk to the people around us about the system that we’re in and begin to look towards a different type of change, perhaps. Because the images that she’s pulling from the historical images of voting and signings, and the present day propaganda of voting for Black communities and Black people, these can construct, hopefully, imaginations of a world that we don’t need to vote.
A world where Black people aren’t being killed and where Black queer people don’t have to hide who they are. And sovereignty for Indigenous people. But I imagine this is one step, and seeing the past articulated with the present, and how that embodies in us the future. I walk around these pieces a couple of times, feeling in remembering and knowing how it’s a privilege that I do have the ability to vote and, holding the space for those who can’t or didn’t have the chance to. Then I know that there’s work outside of voting that we can contribute to make sure our communities can be held and be safe. The work that’s being done by Black grassroots organizations, the work being done by the neighbor down the streets and it’s being done with strangers online donating to help someone keep their lights on, and it’s being done outside of the systems that they’re trying to push as a representation for us.
Because the systems outside of voting do change the world. We do have the power within us enmasse. That is echoed abstractly in Jackson’s work. She doesn’t use only an image of one person, she chooses images of people, Black people, enmasse. We do have power together. And it’s together that we’re going to get through this together whether what happens this month, or next year, or in 2022, or in 1000 years, we have to get through this together. One by one as the days pass, these images continue to grow and circulate online. As we try to navigate the world in a pandemic, it’s one of the most important things that we have to remember at the end of the day, that we’re in this together.
Reg Zehner (b.1997 and residing in Columbus, OH) is a curator, writer, DJ and sculptor whose work explores the abstraction of Black American histories, sonic intimacies and digital images. They co-founded Friend, an artist platform promoting creatives of color, and they participate in Lava Reign, a Black DJ collection. Reg has presented research on digital intimacy and the spectral hauntings of land and Blackness. This past spring, Reg graduated with a BFA in the History of Art and Visual Culture from Columbus College of Art and Design. Currently they are working on building educational models on abolition, organizing and world building.
Video, audio, and close-up images by Reg Zehner
Gallery wide shot by Brooke LaValley