A family gathers in their living room in front of a trio of windows. They take up instruments, and in spontaneous anti-harmony, repeatedly sing the words, "we are children of the sunshine." The father (Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus) strums a guitar. The mother (Jessica Jackson Hutchins) holds her youngest child, burying the newborn into her chest. She plays a plastic recorder; puts it down. She triggers a homemade synthesizer. A family friend (Brian Mumford, aka Dragging an Ox Through Water) tinkers through a four-note melody on a piano, while older children dance around— taking up a drum here, a toy there. It's a peek into the family dynamics of one of Portland's foremost creative couples— though for Jessica Jackson Hutchins' TBA contribution, Children of the Sunshine, this video acts not only as a brief voyeuristic moment, but as the central informative element to a series of sculptures and prints that are on view at Washington High School.
The piano from the video occupies the floorspace of Hutchins' exhibit. One of the artist's signature ceramic sculptures rests on it, equally suggestive of an oversized phallic symbol and a birth canal. Carved into the top of the piano are simple images: flowers in a vase; the words "children of the sunshine," lifted from the song; a penis with a hand reaching towards it; swirling abstract designs; holes gaping straight through the wood to the harp underneath. Hutchins used the etched top of this piano as a printing block, producing two black-ink transfers that hang on the walls.
In one of these prints, holes were torn into the viewing surface, mirroring the original gouges in the piano. Here, the symbolic intricacies of the show begin to take shape— yes, as defined by Hutchins' video, the piano represents the time a family spends together. And in transferring the image of the piano, Hutchins seems to be saying that the time a family spends together leaves an imprint on its members. But just as the imprint of a family's shared experiences stick around, so do moments apart, leaving "holes" in the fabric of togetherness— and this could very well be the significance of Hutchins' rips and tears. Other pieces in the show work toward similar themes.
Of course, for those who've followed Hutchins' work, this exploration of domesticity won't come as a surprise— she's mined the family for subject matter repeatedly. In a recent interview, Hutchins compared her TBA offering to Kitchen Table Allegory, an exhibit featuring the artist's kitchen table as a centerpiece, print block, and stage for ceramic sculpture (the show debuted at the Derek Eller gallery in New York City earlier in the year). While Hutchins notes subtle differences between the two bodies of work (saying, "this one [for TBA] has actual representational imagery… [that's] more graffiti-like"), I found the largest difference where she used video to inform her sculptures and prints.
Many artists working in similar post-minimalist forms don't provide this sort of compass, siding with the enigmatic. And Hutchins, known for making work that neither courts the viewer through classic beauty nor overt conceptual through-line, hasn't given her audience this much direction in the past. The video as a contextualizing element makes Children of the Sunshine one of Hutchins' strongest (and most accessible) bodies of work to date. If you're into challenging, conceptual art, I suggest checking it out.
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