Bruce McKaig / Baltimore, MD, USA
Bruce McKaig has been a visual artist for over thirty years, living in North and South America, Europe, and India. His practice uses historical and contemporary photo processes to examine visualization and understanding. He often complements the art with research on vision and representation in historical and contemporary labor practices.
Bruce has taught in universities, museums, community centers, and outreach programs, working with the general public, senior citizens, autistic teenagers, and incarcerated psychiatric patients. He has over ten years experience in teaching the arts to children ages 5 through 12, and has offered classes in French and Spanish as well as in English.
His current practice combines his engagement with photography and his academic background in economics and international relations, weaving projects with new art practices and New Economy values. He was a 2016 Fellow with The New Economy Maryland (Institute for Policy Studies), the 2016 Crusade for Art Grant recipient (to build a barter network between artists and tradespeople), a 2017 Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts grant recipient (to connect artists and unemployed residents for one-on-one art projects), and a 2018 Resident Artist in the Equal Justice Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Bruce teaches photography in the Art Department at Georgetown University and lives at Artists’ Housing Inc. in East Baltimore.
I explore the arts to build accessible experiences that examine assumptions about how we see (vision) and how we measure (value). Site-specific content for the work is shaped by one-on-one conversations with locals. I then use historical and contemporary photographic materials and techniques to build a body of work that drives corresponding research on related socioeconomic and labor practices. The research is shared as op-eds, social media posts, or PDFs.
For over a decade, I have used site-specific conversations to unearth local thoughts on art and labor. I then use the shared revelations to build a body of “alternative” photographs. This visual lexicon is a springboard to imagine “alternative” econometrics that reflects humane values better than current GDP driven models.
The visual motif often starts with a handprint, referencing both early cave wall art and contemporary fingerprinting. It also includes shadowy, distorted, dismembered, or lost-in-the-landscape body parts as metaphor for how current econometrics underestimates the value of individual or entire categories of workers. The choice to use inhabitual photography invites viewers to examine how the medium of expression shapes the information (e.g. fake news).
I am inspired to pursue this work out of concern for the well-being of our country. In the arts, Barry Kehoe specifies: ”One must wade through a fog of mythology surrounding concepts of genius, colonial appropriation, and social Darwinism.” A similar fog cloaks contemporary econometrics. As my work introduces people to ways of making and seeing photography it taps into cognitive processes that might help explore ways to appreciate each other’s value and contribution to community.
All artwork and related research from my time in Santa Fe began with one-on-one conversations with locals. Most of the conversations happened at night on the adjacent campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, permanently closed just a few weeks prior. Sixty percent of the conversations were with graveyard shift security guards. Forty percent were with homeless residents living somewhere on campus.
The recently shuttered grounds became my zone of interest. Lights were still on in many studios, classrooms, or dormitories. Doors were (sometimes) unlocked, flowers in vases hadn’t wilted, coffee in mugs hadn’t evaporated. In the conversations under the stars people talked to me about their night, their work, how they try to make ends meet. The security guards had been mislead about new contracts once the campus closes, some of them seriously affected. They were trying to piece something together, trying to be heard. The homeless residents felt more conspicuous on the freshly deserted grounds. They were trying to be invisible.
In the daytime, I began marking places of the nocturnal walks and conversations with handprints on the walls or suspended white gloves. Some of the marks and tags developed into installations along a path that served as the performance itinerary for a guided tour at the public event.
Post-residency, I am building a body of work from the trilogy of contributors: the campus, the security, the residents. Artworks and concurrent research will be specific to these individuals as well as situate them in broader historical, geographic, and industry-wide contexts.
The presence of the staff and other residents contributed immensely to the synergy of the experience. A lot of vision, experience and compassion were at the table. It was especially impactful to have directly collaborated with some of the other residents.
Over the next months, I look forward to completing new works and research from this experience to share in book format and to writing a synopsis of how this residency successfully encapsulates the entirety of my current practice. My long-term goal is to visit with numerous communities and explore what broader and deeper insights can be revealed.