ALTERNATE American Branding

Katie Hargrave and Alan Skees exhibit at Jacksonville University’s Alexander Brest Museum & Gallery

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On Thursday, Oct. 5, Jacksonville University hosted an opening reception for and exhibit of works by visual artists Katie Hargrave and Alan Skees.

Hargrave has two series on exhibition at JU, History Repeats Itself and Confluence Theme: War and Peace. Through both series, Hargrave examines ideas surrounding patriotism and the structure that comprises American politics and policies, both past and present.

In Confluence Theme, Hargrave considers the 1777 Flag Resolution, which was used to design the first official U.S. flag. The resolution reads, "the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Exploring the ambiguity of this statement, Hargrave's series includes a number of alternative constellations that could have been used when designing the flag. She also made use of the raw canvas that would have remained after the white stars were cut out to be attached to the flag. This notion of remnants is also seen in a zine created by Hargrave that illustrates the holes that remained after raw materials were removed from the Earth to construct and forge memorials that still serve as symbols of patriotic pride.

For History Repeats Itself, Hargrave analyzes speeches given by members of the GOP who participated in the party's debates. She transcribed the words of each candidate and then wrote code to create a program that redacted any repeating words. She examined what remained to draw correlations between candidates. It's worth noting that then-candidate Trump was the only person to use the word "bigly."

Skees' series, American Glitch: Neo Regionalism, developed out of his love for technology and the fact that he married into an extended family that takes annual summer road trips. Skees developed the series as a countermovement to American Regionalism, which arose in popularity partially in response to the Great Depression and depicted realistic scenes of urban and rural America that were painted to incite nostalgia and create a sense of pride for America's heartland. Skees shies away from nostalgia and the belief that once there existed a time during which America was inherently great, and instead looks forward to the future for resolve.

Skees juxtaposed the conservative and traditional aesthetics of Regionalism by capturing landscapes that specifically include evidence of modern society's reliance on and fascination with technology, as well as the effects of industrialization and sprawling urbanization. He captures distorted glimpses of America while traveling as a passenger along highways and interstate systems.

To create his series, Skees employed a photographic process known as slit scan. John Whitney first introduced this process to the world of cinematography in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film noir psychological thriller Vertigo. The process involves a moveable slide, in which a slit has been cut, being inserted between the camera and the subject. This technique produces blurriness and image distortion.

While each artist's processes and resulting body of work differ acutely, all series were created out of a result of a deep curiosity about the people, places and beliefs that represent our nation. Both artists explore modern times through historical lenses, decoding and digitizing what it means to be an American citizen.

Through Oct. 25, Jacksonville University's Alexander Brest Museum & Gallery, 2800 University Blvd. N., Arlington, 256-7374, ju.edu

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