Confluence | Kevin Demery and Andrew Mcilvaine ‘Threshold II: Migration Patterns’

Kansas City artists Andrew Mcilvane (left) and Kevin Demery

Language is never fixed. Words swirl and wander, syntax shifts and churns, etymologies intermix and marry. Meanings affix, and then loosen.

Look: On the wall of Gallery Bogart, the bright orange fabric of a hunting jacket has been dismantled, stretched flat, and sewn back together across the flat surface of a large canvas on the wall. It appears as an aerial view of land: Seams become fences of property lines, boundaries crossed by the hunters. A pocket appears almost like a lone house built on the land, a house that contains something, both concealing and revealing. What’s inside? The two inches of a hunting magazine appear, showing only the hat on the head of the hunter. Who is he? Does he belong on the land he is hunting on, or does he belong to it?

Three letters scatter across the orange clothing: A, I, and M. Depending on which angle you view from, it might spell I AM, or AM I?, or AIM.

Who is the hunter, and what is being hunted?

“I was a kid when my mom moved us from Texas to Joplin, Missouri,” says artist Andrew Mcilvaine, “and when we arrived she insisted that I learn how to hunt.”

Andrew Mcilvaine, “Worn In & Stretched Out,” deconstructed dickies, animal fur, collage, gold grill, and antlers mounted on canvas, 4 x 4 ’

Shifting from a place that was predominately Mexican American to a place that was predominately white, Mcilvaine felt his difference in a new way. His mother anticipated this and thought that hunting would be a way to connect, to assimilate. But Mcilvaine says the garments of a hunter never fit quite right. As a way of finding food, hunting is as old as humanity. But as a subculture of middle America, hunting was a place Mcilvaine did not belong. He found himself feeling hunted more than hunter. I AM. AM I? AIM.

Also, look: This wooden children’s puzzle is built so that the pieces fit in the slots to spell the word MARGINALIZED. But here on display, letters have been removed from the slots and reconfigured into different arrangements. Scramble the word MARGINALIZED and find a multitude: LIE. ALIGN. RAGE.

What was intended to be a tool for educating children on how to spell “Marginalized” properly has become a tool for the dismantling and re-imagining of the same word, as well as the meaning and systems that the word attempts to hold.

This is one of the words artist Kevin Demery is playing with. “I play this game with myself to explore the language,” he says, “especially language that seems to be fixed. How many layers remain embedded within all of this language that’s been taught to us?”

Kevin Demery, “Marginalized,” wood puzzle

Demery is also experimenting with the Latin phrase Partus Sequitur Ventrem, which means “The child follows the womb.” What was once enshrined as law in the Roman Empire found new life in the Virginia colony, enshrined once again as one of the practices of American slavery: That the child born of an enslaved woman shall also become a slave.

What potential words are embedded within this language that, when placed in new hands, also hold the key to liberation, liberty, and a life of joy?

Demery is seeking such inklings of an answer. And as he considers language and liberation in the context of his own journey as a Black artist, he recalls an early memory that stands out as one of the impetuses for his artwork: He recalls seeing a family photo of a funeral that took place when he was very young. In the photo, members of his family are dancing in the funeral procession toward the grave, dancing alongside the casket. This vivid tension between death and joy, this need to explore the layers beneath what’s been taught and passed down, he says: “That’s in me.”

“Thresholds” is the name of a series of collaborative art exhibitions by Mcilvaine and Demery, the second of which, “Threshold II: Migration Patterns,” is currently on view at Bogart Gallery through June 1. These two artists concede that in American culture, there is often this perceived divide between Black and Brown and a desire to keep them separated so as to honor the distinctions and unique experiences of the Black experience and the Chicano experience in America, as well as between Demery’s experiences as an African American originally from the Bay Area and Mcilvaine’s experiences as a Mexican American who moved from Texas to Missouri in his youth.

But this is precisely what has drawn these two artists into conversation with each other. An art gallery has the potential to be a location of confluence, where encounter gives way to churn, where differences meet and manifest new possibilities. This second iteration of “Thresholds” has each artist exploring these themes as they relate to movement and migration. Their work is markedly distinct from one another’s, yet in a shared space and time, the way their work clashes and churns against each other, creates something new — movements of the personal, collective and cultural memory, the cyclical changes between and across generations, and the ways new landscapes and places change the contexts in which difference, assimilation and belonging can be examined in fresh ways.

They have been in a conversation for years as friends, studio mates and colleagues at the Kansas City Art Institute. This is a long-term and fluid dialogue that in the past year has grown into a broader conversation between their artwork through their “Thresholds” exhibitions.

When it comes to describing the connection between his work and Demery’s, Mcilvaine says that in society today in which we focus on difference, there are clear lines of division when we talk about Black and Brown. There is a need for each to have their own spaces. But, Mcilvaine says, “When you look at the Chicano Movement as a reclaiming of the rich culture and identity of Mexican and Latin American people, you can trace the movement back to the Harlem Renaissance, how Black Americans reclaiming and articulating their own culture in a way that is not in relation to white culture, but is its own force in the world. The Chicano movement was a new recognition that the Harlem Renaissance helped influence.”

Demery chimes in: “We see our work showing up in the same space as a chance for connections between two worlds that are not often in conversation together.

“What power comes from where these two worlds collide and come together? This collective work between the two of us allows us to hold a space for investigation and reflection.”

“Kevin Demery and Andrew Mcilvaine Threshold II: Migration Patterns” continues at Gallery Bogart, 1400 Union Ave., through June 1. Public viewing hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment the rest of the week. Schedule a weekday visit by contacting info@gallerybogart.com or 816.739.8571. For more information, visit gallerybogart.com.

Images from the artists

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Michael Johnson is the author of two books: “The Thread” and “On Earth As It Is.” His essays and poems have appeared in “The Sun,” “Image,” “Guernica,” “Crazyhorse” and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Charlotte Street residency, an Arts KC Inspiration grant, a Rocket Grant, a Vermont Studio Center residency and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. 

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