Throughout 2020, Stacey Lee Webber developed Insurrection Bills, a revisionary collection of United States currency overlaid with subversive stitches: flames envelop monuments, a wall is left unfinished, and an eclectic array of face masks disguise Abraham Lincoln’s portrait. Contrasting the muted tones of the paper, the vibrant embroideries stand in stark contrast and as amended narratives to those depicted on the various denominations. “The series references feelings of anger, turmoil, and frustration during the tense political climate while recontextualizing and questioning the beloved iconography we see on our money,” she tells Colossal.
Currently working from her studio and home in Philadelphia’s Globe Dye Works, Webber is formally trained in metalsmithing—she has an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, where she initially began using currency as the basis of her projects—and sees the two mediums as an ongoing conversation. Embroidery “allows me to work in a quieter setting outside of my metal shop acting as a sort of ying to the yang, soft and hard, masculine and feminine,” she says.
Many of Webber’s sculptures involve soldering coins, including the copper penny works that make up The Craftsmen Series and question the value of blue-collar labor in the U.S. Comprised of hollow, life-sized tools, the collection visualizes “putting endless amounts of work into a single cent,” the artist says.
Webber has multiple exhibitions this year, including at TW Fine Art Palm Beach Outpost in April, Philadelphia’s Bertrand Productions in October, and Art on Paper Fair in New York City this November. If you can’t see the currency-based projects in person, head to Instagram, where the artist shares a larger collection of her works and glimpses into her studio.
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Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha, and More Than 150 Photographers Are Selling $150 Prints to Combat Voter Suppression
An ongoing print sale is bolstering fundraising efforts that promote progressive organizing in five battleground states. Offering work from more than 150 photographers and artists—including Cindy Sherman, Alec Soth, and Ed Ruscha—States of Change is selling 10 x 12-inch prints for $150 each with all proceeds going to the Movement Voter Project, which is targeting 42 local organizations dedicated to fighting voter suppression in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. All are printed on 100 percent cotton paper, unsigned, and part of an open edition. Check out Colossal’s picks below, and grab your favorites before the five-day sale ends on October 18. (via Artnet)
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A New Book Chronicles the 125-Year History of the Button, Its Design, and Its Role in Cultural Change
If something is “fit for the back of a postage stamp,” it’s generally understood as lacking depth and nuance. A similarly sized object, however, has been upending that saying for 125 years. From political campaigns to punch lines to keepsakes, the button has packed bits of incredibly rich history into just a few inches. “It seems like a niche little object, but it really tells a very general American history,” collector and manufacturer Christen Carter tells Colossal. The wearable item is, in fact, an entry point into the complexities of the past.
Carter recently co-authored the forthcoming book Button Power—which is available for pre-order on Bookshop—with notable dealer Ted Hake, who’s been collecting the objects for around 60 years. Through composed displays and black-and-white photos, the tome delves into the item’s history, spanning its invention in 1896 to contemporary usages. “Early on people were wearing buttons, and mostly it’s a temporary thing. It’s a moment in time,” Carter says. “They connected you to something else. One-hundred-twenty-five years ago, images weren’t as prevalent as they are now.” Button Power compiles a diverse array of notable figures, from Shirley Chisholm and the Ramones to Rube Goldberg and Muhammad Ali, each represented through the wearable item.
Originally a casual collector, Carter now is responsible for the world’s only museum dedicated to the medium, which is housed in the Chicago-based manufacturer Busy Beaver Button Co. The institution currently boasts more than 40,000 buttons and is accepting donations. Currently, it’s closed because of COVID-19, although a virtual archive of about 9,000 is available to scroll through on its site.
A medium with popularity perpetually in flux, the button has risen and fallen since its creation and notably surged in the 1960s and 1980s as it was used more widely for countercultural movements and protests. Of course, mainstream efforts from political campaigns, public figures, and large-scale events generally still sought out buttons to share their visions. Many of the slogans and broader undertakings of alternative movements that may have evaded popular narratives, however, also are preserved by the object. “It’s a people’s history, too. There are so many things I learned,” Carter notes. One example involved a series centered on transportation. “What is this ‘good road’ stuff about?” she wondered. “I learned that before there was income tax, there was a movement to have infrastructure built.” Telling a story she didn’t learn in school, the buttons offered a glimpse into the advocacy of previous decades.
While the manufacturing process and function hasn’t evolved much, the objects’ value has. Carter notes that when they first emerged, people regarded them as collectibles that were prized as a piece of printed matter. Today, they remain a symbol of the wearer’s political affiliations and interests.
Even social media hasn’t eclipsed the ephemeral object. Although the pithy messages and quips prevalent on sites like Twitter function similarly to the sayings of the button, they lack a material presence and are subject to being deleted or lost when a platform folds. The physical item, on the other hand, has a lasting effect. “It creates a momento,” she says. “It’s not something you can as easily forget about like a Tweet or something like that because you’ll come across it in your sock drawer.” They’re also a more intentional medium, Carter notes, due to the design, manufacturing, and distribution processes and the effort those require.
Overall, buttons are overwhelmingly uplifting, inspiring, or humorous in messaging, even when centered on serious topics or issues. One tells people to “hang in there” while displaying a rendering of a cat clinging to a rope nearby, while another (shown below) simply is emblazoned with the words “I Love Ringo.” The optimism helps to start the inevitable conversations from a constructive point. “More positive buttons make them more wearable,” she says. “A button you have to stand behind. Where online stuff can be pretty anonymous, there’s something about having some skin in the game.”
Despite the mediums’ changes during the last 125 years, the ability to provoke conversation and inspire change is constant. “The person-to-person stuff is just so important, and I think it’s something we’re missing. I would love for buttons to help bridge gaps between human beings because I think in the end, we all want a lot of the same things,” Carter adds.
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In her animated short “Towels,” Prawta Annez explores her frustration and concern with global tensions as a rollicking ocean-side battle for prime towel space. While fairly light-hearted and comedic, the film was conceived during the political climate of 2017 and might as well use Ghandi’s famous quote “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” as a thesis. “I hope this short can be 4 minutes of fun and escapism for anyone who watches it, no matter where they may be or whatever they may be going through,” Annez shares. If you like this, also check out Norman McLaren’s famous 1952 Academy Award-winning short “Neighbours” that evokes parallels with the Cold War crisis. (via Short of the Week)
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Put Words into Action with ‘Gerry’, a New Font Created From the Silhouettes of Gerrymandered Electoral Districts
Apologies to anyone who shares the name, but two designers in Chicago are taking on electoral gerrymandering in a new font called Gerry. The font, created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, is composed of 26 districts whose absurd boundaries resemble alphabet letters much more than they resemble logical, cohesive population groupings. Alabama’s pronged 1st District bears a striking resemblance to the letter K, while New York’s 8th District looks like an M with its tall legs connected by a curved middle.
“Gerry” is available for download on a dedicated website, UglyGerry.com, which also includes a Twitter integration allowing visitors to thank their Representatives for their contributions to the font. If you’re interested in learning more about Gerrymandering, we recommend this John Oliver segment. (via Hyperallergic)
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Turkish artist Uğur Gallenkuş uses split images to emphasize the grave differences between war-torn countries and privileged, peaceful societies. Gallenkuş often specifically references Western visual culture in his juxtaposed images, such as Christian iconography of the Madonna and child, and the Instagram aesthetic of the ice cream cone portrait. In each composite image, the Istanbul-based artist pairs a carefully matched slice of prosperity with jarring documentation of conflict and poverty to show what occupies the attention and defines the experiences of people around the world, depending on where they live.
Gallenkuş has been creating these divided images for several years as a personal project, and has garnered global attention for his work, which he shares with nearly half a million followers on Instagram. In a recent interview with Juxtapoz, the artist explained, “If we want to live in peace and trust, we must have healthy knowledge and empathy. Wrong and biased information and hatred make these problems even worse.”
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.