With a show at MCLA Gallery 51 and an accompanying exhibit at the Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY, mother and daughter collaborators Gayle Wells Mandle and Julia Mandle are creating art from their sociopolitical common ground.
Their current body of work in collaboration stems from Gayle’s time living in Qatars. Gayle spent her days capturing in her artwork the struggles of the people there
“Two generations ago, the Qataris were Bedouins living in tents in the desert and overnight they’re building their city,” Gayle said. “I just felt for all the people that were seeking jobs from these third world countries and coming over to Doha desperate for work, being treated poorly, living in terrible conditions, working in excruciating heat, big dust balls and I wondered about how these buildings were going to survive the test of any kind of inspection, which I think was rare. Some of them caught fire. No sooner had they opened to the public than they caught fire.”
A show of Iraqi art that Gayle curated lead to the gallery representing both her and Julia, with the suggestion that they do an art show together. That was in 2010, the first ‘Game Show,’ which saw Gayle showing her work from Qatar and Julia doing work based on Iraq.
“She was doing sculpture and photography based on a game of pinata,” Gayle said, “and the pinatas resembled the cluster bombs that were dropped, that children were playing with and getting maimed.”
The duo’s latest, ‘Game 2,’ was the first that featured collaborations between them on the actual work. Julia was by then based in Amsterdam and Gayle had returned to the United States. Together, they watched the protests of the Arab Spring and then the Occupy movement, and decided they wanted to do an installation addressing global economic inequality.
“It is like a game that is being played between the haves and the have-nots,” Gayle said. “What would represent it the best? The teeter totter. With this rigged game, we were thinking, what’s fun in a game? A game works and is successful when it’s balanced. Certainly on the teeter totter. If you have someone with the same weight as you, it’s much more fun to play on the teeter totter.”
“We were especially interested in the idea of how many individual acts of resistance become one collective movement.,” Julia said. “Gayle and I spoke a lot about catalysts and people like Mohammed Bouazizi who immolated himself in Tunisia in 2010 and literally ignited the Jasmine Revolution.”
The two utilize a chair as a stand-in for the protester in sculpture, and burned them all as a representation of the self-immolation so many in the region had been driven to.
“We like the idea of what motivates us to get out of chairs and do something about it,” Gayle said. “What brings us to the point of making our voice heard, to protest, to make artwork, that reflects what we feel about what’s happening?”
The chairs became the central motif in the body of work, together and separately using it in painting, embroidery and sculpture. The mother and daughter even had a throne built that they burned by pouring gasoline on it and torching it.
The collaboration between the two is a continuation of personal dynamics that began in Julia’s childhood, just involving a new activity.
“We laughingly say that from her earliest recollections, that whenever I wanted to have a good long talk with her we’d get into a project together. For instance, we would rearrange the furniture in her bedroom, and I would find out who’s the latest boyfriend was, who’s doing what and how she feels about it, because you couldn’t just sit your child down at the kitchen table and say, now tell me everything, because it doesn’t work that way. It was always driven by a project together, so this just grows out of it, I think.”
Julia says that the dynamic with her mother has made this collaboration stand out from any previous.
“Only with my mother, have I been able to open myself completely to begin working together from point zero,” Julia said. “With others, I always invited them into a project that was already underway. My collaboration with Gayle is different.”
Julia says that she is a huge fan of her mother’s Rauschenberg-like takes on topics ranging from abuses of power to homelessness, and she takes something for her own art from the lesson of these works.
“She is a fan of mine too and has taught me to be less precious with my own work,” Julia said.
Gayle thinks of Julia’s work as being more sophisticated than her own.
“I continue to be amazed that she wants to work with me.” Gayle said.