Artists names: Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova
Featured Work 1: Unlearn Fear + Hate
Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova are an innovative and fiercely artistic pair who devote their skills to teaching, making and coordinating meaningful community actions. Unlearn Fear + Hate is a participatory, interactive art initiative that encourages connection, open-mindedness, inner disarmament and creative expression as counter-measures to fear and hate. It features words from the poem, “Love Letta to de Worl'”by Frank X Walker that you can listen to here and that is also the basis for their Love Letter to the World/ World Tattoo Project. Another of their previous successful creative explorations was the Lexington Tattoo Project, which combined poetry, tattoos and hometown love, and which I interviewed them about on Rattapallax earlier this year.
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5 Questions for the Artist:
1. What is art to you?
Neither of us is invested in drawing boundaries around what is art, so, for starters, anything can be art. The two of us most often feel drawn to art that challenges everyday life and starts conversations. Whether it is a multi-channel video artwork or a caged paper-maché human figure, art that compels us to look at the world around us from different perspectives and/or to be introspective and consider the ways in which we pass through the world is what we feel moved by.
2. What did you make in the past, and why?
Before beginning work with Kremena, Kurt worked in sculpture, photography, installation, and video. His artworks were often born as responses to how his own past felt antiquated within contemporary society and typically were created to tell stories or to invite others to share the stories of their own lives. One series of artworks, for example, began with the creation and distribution of professionally printed baseball cards featuring portraits of people experiencing homelessness on the front and the stories that the same people chose to tell about themselves on the back. From this artwork, two other artworks were born, both featuring creative collaborations with some of the participants in the baseball card project.
Kremena has a Ph D in contemporary American literature. Before working with Kurt, she most often engaged with the world through teaching literary narratives that looked at contemporary American society from the social margins.
3. What are you making now, and why?
Our most recent artwork is titled “Unlearn Fear + Hate.” It uses words from a poem we commissioned for another artwork (Love Letter To the World) and spreads them in the public and private spaces of Lexington, KY in order to promote public dialog and civic engagement.
Initially, we started working on Unlearn Fear + Hate as a direct response to the increased visibility of racial violence in our country. We quickly realized that the need to be less fearful and more accepting is one all of us share, that in our increasingly polarized society we need a daily reminder to keep unlearning the prejudices we’ve internalized along the way.
Unlearn Fear + Hate has engaged students at public and private schools and universities, members of various faith communities and everyday citizens as direct collaborators and active members of a participatory audience.
4. What are your hopes for the future?
We would love for our Unlearn Fear + Hate artwork to become irrelevant. We would love for mutual respect and understanding to become the very tissue of our civic lives. In the meantime, we will continue to make art that invites conversation and encourages people to become more fully aware of others’ humanity.
Specifically, we are looking for ways to spread Unlearn Fear + Hate in other cities. We are preparing to launch a stenciling campaign where $15 will get anyone anywhere in the United States a stencil so they can engage their local communities with Unlearn Fear + Hate. We plan to continue working on Unlearn Fear + Hate for the next year. We’ve already been contacted by a dozen different communities that are looking for ways to participate in Unlearn Fear + Hate and have begun working with many of them.
5. What else would you like to say?
We want to work with you! Or at least have a conversation. If you live near Lexington, coffee is on us.
Artist Supplied Background:
Kurt Gohde teaches Studio Art at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and makes art to invite conversations about contemporary social issues, from marginalized sexualities to the experience of homelessness. Recently, he has become newly invigorated by plans to reseed the clouds over Kentucky with meat, in loving memory of the Kentucky meat rain of 1876.
Kremena Todorova teaches American Literature as well as classes that ask students to meet and work with their neighbors face to face. Born and raised in Communist Bulgaria, she continues to draw inspiration for her art and teaching from Timur and his commitment to community. She became an official American in December, 2010.
Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova capture photographs at the periphery of American culture, where drag queens, discarded couches and abandoned motel signs exist. They have traveled to Los Angeles, Indianapolis, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Portland to photograph the people who live near the couches and easy chairs found on these cities’ curbs. The resulting collection of images is part of an ongoing artwork, DISCARDED: USA. With the Lexington Tattoo Project—a public artwork that placed the words of a poem, as permanent tattoos, on the bodies of 253 Lexingtonians—Kurt and Kremena started a global movement, uniting people one tattoo at a time. Love Letter To the World is the latest in their series of tattoo projects.
Kurt and Kremena’s most recent artwork is Unlearn Fear + Hate. It invites everyone to unlearn fear and prejudice by engaging with works of art that are participatory and inclusive. Kurt and Kremena have exhibited their collaborative work in Boulder, CO; Indianapolis, IN; Lexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Oneonta, NY; San Antonio, TX; Venice Beach, CA; Troyan, Bulgaria and Bourgas, Bulgaria.
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