Featured photo: Cherie Buck-Hutchison, “Sisters Lead at Dinosaur National Monument.” Courtesy of the artist.
If you’ve been a regular visitor to the Roosevelt Row art scene, then you most likely have seen the work of Cherie Buck-Hutchison, a member of Eye Lounge and an artist whose digital photo montages prompt vital questions about women’s roles, patriarchy, religious mandates, family relationships, and the persistence of memory. Buck-Hutchison’s work can be seen in the Bokeh Gallery of MonOrchid beginning First Friday, February 5, 2016, and later in the spring at Eye Lounge. The Bokeh solo show, continuing through the end of the month, is called “Conjuring the Consecrated,” with several of the works conjuring up a time when female leadership upsets the male-dominated character of the religion that Buck-Hutchison was raised in as a child. The nostalgia she creates from archival family photos is offset by their compelling message.
Cherie kindly responded to several profile questions I sent her through email, and her answers shed light on not only her artistic processes, but also the power of art to challenge assumptions about traditional relationships at home and in church, and to offer a wholly contemporary exploration of feminism and spiritualism. I think you’ll be impressed by the depth and breadth of her artistic practice.
Cherie Buck-Hutchison, at Eye Lounge during a December 2015 show called “Believe We Are Magic.” Photo by Deborah Ross.
Cherie Buck-Hutchison, “First Women Baptizers at Colorado National Monument.” Courtesy of the artist.
Q: Your recent work has been with digitally composited photos. Could you elaborate on your process — how do you select photos? How do you create the overlays? Are you looking for a certain archival character to your finished pieces?
A: I start with 35mm slides taken by my parents in the ’50s and ’60s. After they are professionally scanned, I bring them into software to manipulate. Placing an image on top of another creates all sorts of funny little happenings. Some I prefer to leave alone; others I play around with. I spend a lot of time finding two slides that will resonate together. I am creating meaning by inserting women into positions of leadership. In the imagery, the private is being put onto public land. How should that look? I am keeping the aesthetic limited to that era to maintain a cohesive look for this series. The time period serves as a metaphor for contemporary women’s issues. Many people have seen similar family photos in their parents’ and grandparents’ albums. We are moving through time and feminist waves/movements communally. As an artist, I am engaging with our collective memory, history and contemporary issues.
Q: Which contemporary issues are you most passionate about and want to address in your work?
A: The relationship between religion and feminism in the contemporary imagination is interesting to me. How do we talk about things that are not being talked about? I think that’s why I create idiosyncratic visual art. It is a way to articulate an idea via an immersive methodology. The concerns women face today are indicators of other issues that eventually all society must deal with. Much of how things are progressing regarding our food, our research funding for health, our water and fuel are alarming. I see a parallel between the treatment of our planet, its inhabitants and women’s issues.
Q: How does your personal background — your upbringing and family values, for instance — play into your work?
A: I was raised deep in the heart of a Jehovah’s Witnesses power family. Extreme marginalization of the women was assumed and never questioned. I experienced many aspects firsthand. Although I haven’t been associated with any organized religion in years, I was surprised to learn in 2012 that there is a secret book for elders (exclusively male church leaders). I realized on another level how deeply women are disparaged in the name of the divine when I discovered that women are forbidden to even touch the secret book. As I researched the subject, I recalled how women have no recognized positions in this organization. They can’t even be parking lot attendants or food overseers at small events. There is no place for them other than to do the door-to-door work without titles or recognition. So I began working on the series. My challenge in art representation was to address a void. I decided to create a place of leadership for women using movement through time and space in my portrayal. Placing the “unspoken” onto democratic public land invites a broader dialogue regarding fear and power.
Q: Would you say your recent works concentrate on the aura of the Southwest? If so, why?
A: This body of work definitely has Southwest imagery. I have always lived in the Southwest, so the reference materials reflect that. During my childhood, we traveled in the summer to attend eight-day religious conventions. As we traveled to and through these other-world types of landscapes, I viewed them through the frame of the car window, feeling the cool or hot air and hearing whatever was on the local radio of the area we were passing through. The constant rolling of the tires connected us to the highways and the physical land beneath the asphalt. We packed our best clothes for the conventions and stayed in tiny one-story motels along the way. It was a very American experience yet intersected with a paradoxically liminal space. Beyond the obvious, there exists a mystical quality to the Southwest landscape that still engages me on several levels. All of that comes through as a somewhat ethereal aspect in my work that transcends my personal experience.
Q: Who are some of the influences on your work, both local and historical?
A: I have been honored to study under the brilliant poet and educator, Dr. Lois Roma-Deeley. She was named U.S. Professor of the Year in 2012, Community Colleges, by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Her impact extends through the use of poetry in my artistic process. The use of metaphor is at work in my use of immersive installations, employing video poetry that insists the body move through the work. There is a strong poetic juxtaposition at play in my photo overlays as well as my approach to addressing women’s religious narratives and planetary issues. At ASU, I studied under Jon Haddock, also a very intelligent and kind person. He encouraged me to think deeply about what art I am making and why. And I studied performance with Angela Ellsworth, who also references religion in her practice. Historically, I am intrigued with the abbesses in early art history who used the inspired narrative usually withheld for men. They took back their female agency through the mysticism of claimed visions. Hildegarde of Bingen comes to mind. The use of magical thinking through a feminist lens is very interesting. Hildegarde is also considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. So again the parallel with the planet, religion and women’s interests.
Q: Tell us why you titled the show “Conjuring the Consecrated”?
A: It emerged as an explanation for my current body of work. Because I am placing women into religious leadership, I am deeming them worthy of being holy or consecrated. Using my magical thinking, I conjure up their worthiness to be sanctified. I am questioning and disrupting the patriarchal narrative and consecrating the women as equals at every level of an organization. This is the magical Southwest of the future, where women enjoy the same religious privileges and responsibilities as men.
Q: What kinds of projects do you hope to tackle in 2016?
A: I am showing my current photographic series in the exhibition “Conjuring the Consecrated” at Bokeh Gallery at the MonOrchid for the month of February. I will be there on the 5th and talking about the work on Third Friday, February 19. Additionally, I have an installation and am a story participant in the “Creative Push Project,” which opens at the ASU Step Gallery on February 5. It’s a groundbreaking project bringing labor and delivery stories into art history. In March, I am excited to be part of a group ekphrastic collaboration between Eye Lounge Gallery and Four Chambers Press. Each artist has been paired with a local writer; I am working with Paul Mosier. Both groups are interested in continuing the dialogue between communities beyond the first conversation. Eye Lounge Gallery will be exhibiting the visual work and the writings during Art Detour and continuing through April 10. There will be live readings throughout the entire Art Detour weekend. It will be interesting to see what everyone creates. For May I have a solo exhibition at Eye Lounge. I am currently hard at work on the show. It promises to be poetic and immersive. It will open on May 20 and run through June 12, 2016.