Baltimore Ode or Lament?

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Amanda Burnham slurs the word “Baldimore” with the accent of a native but the artist is not from Baltimore. She’s from Toledo, Ohio. She has, however, lived here for eight years—transformative ones. She says she was estranged and isolated during her first couple years due to the city’s unfamiliar and disjointed neighborhoods. As time passed, she grew to appreciate and love her new home and its “pockets of energy” she had discovered over time. When asked if her work reflects the alienated attitude experienced in her fledgling years or her current positive feelings for Baltimore, “affection” is her response. But is affection really what the artist intends to convey through RFP? Her aim was to shed light on the authentic neighborhoods and small businesses of Baltimore but is this objective submerged by the undeniable history of Baltimore’s economic depression, homicides and abandoned properties?

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RFP is Burnham’s most recent art installation at EMP Collective. It opened on January 31st and will run until February 28th. As the days progress so does the work itself. The artist adds to the illustrations and collages and viewers can add writing and drawings on colored notes onto the walls as well.

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Burnham employs craft paper, black gesso, and cardboard, stapling the material directly onto the gallery walls. Her work is reminiscent of cartooning and editorial illustrations; the everyday materials and visitor participation conjures an art brut feel.

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The problem with Burnham’s proclamation of RFP as a celebration of Charm City’s undeveloped districts and establishments is that the art itself is so full of angst. The caricature depiction of the establishments and residences evoke an erratic fun-house quality. The papers in the second room are garish and multicolored—exacerbated by the varying set lighting above. There is a tree-like figure hung with chains cutouts and other hardware imagery—rods with nails in them, evoking Baltimore’s history of enslavement and racial violence. The exhibition darkens as you continue further in. The last space is the darkest. Viewers’ additions signal unrest and discontent. Most messages are angry and politically charged. “Baltimore is… an angry town.” Another reads: “Baltimore is… An underdog, seediness…” A third illustrates a giant crab with fangs and tears dripping down its eyes perched over houses. Ultimately, the true message of RFP shines through by way of its own form. Sometimes, as in the case of Burnham’s work, art conveys truth unintended by the artist.

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RFP
EMP Collective
307 W Baltimore St,
Baltimore, MD 21201
http://empcollective.org/<hotlink&gt;

Event information: http://empcollective.org/2015/01/12/what-makes-an-ideal-city-rfp-opens-131/

January 31st-February 28th 2015

Sophie Mancini is a New York based writer studying in Baltimore. She enjoys riding ATVs, reading minimalist literature, and eating kimchi.

 

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