(Re)Covered History: KaKe Art in the Studio

March 30, 2018 by


The story of the face overlooking Binnewater Lane is multifaceted in its short version, and immeasurable when assigned symbolism. The partial portrait itself has followed one thread, the text another to appear between WSW’s studios and new building. Behind these threads are KaKe Art–the artists and two of the Workshop’s co-founders–and the history of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ fourteenth article, which brings us all the way back to Paris, 1948. In the thoughtful, minimal composition, we find new meaning in this seventy year-old excerpt–and this is not its final form.

Ann Kalmbach and  Tatana Kellner are KaKe Art, a moniker they adopted in the early 1980’s when deciding the local general store failed to carry postcards correctly capturing their small town. Production projects of Scene Around Rosendale, Your Co-worker Could Be A Space Alien, and Jeez, knees began their career in artist publishing that led to the most recent additions of Transatlantic Balderdash and The Golden Rule, along with organizing the In Solidarity. In Solidarity invited artists to give shape to its 2016 namesake movement following the election, but Ann and Tatana were looking at the campaign and years which built its realization long before votes were cast.

The mural, reading “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” is visible from the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail where the pair installed their Golden Rule projects in 2014. A collection of the cultural equivalents to Christianity’s “Golden Rule,” passages were written with sand and left to be erased by visitors’ daily activity. The resurgence of dogma into everyday life, particularly one so molded by media and vast connectivity, was a social project fueled by commonplace conflicting behavior to these teachings.

When Tatana was on a 2016 residency in Wyoming, she began responding to the sweeping questions of policy with a series now known as Please exit, doors are closing. She asked, “Why is there this hatred, this fervor, about closing borders and building walls? Where does it come from?”

Xenophobia is not modernity’s isolated incident, nor is its appearance in the international zeitgeist. Tatana refers not to the nouns, but the demonstrative this: today’s hatred that chants “build a wall” and seeps through Twitter. The fervent that do not follow the belief in basic liberties adopted in unison with fellow nations.

Ann posits, “We have hit the seventy year rule: we are three generations out from this document, a direct result of World War II. The personal impact is almost gone and the text needs to be brought forward again.”

Therefore, though the printerly portrait is accompanied by historic text, it feels all too relevant today. Ann and Tatana considered using more literal imagery before deciding against the mural medium’s history of social realism. Instead, they drew imagery from Please exit, doors are closing, now over one hundred prints as it tracks the ongoing political climate. The simplicity translated from monoprinted ink and stamped wooden type boldly proclaims a statement that could be viewed today as radical thought…until it is credited to the Declaration’s creator Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified only three decades after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment and six years prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. At that time, the Thirteenth Amendment accepted–and still does–the conviction of a crime as grounds for involuntary servitude, which is expressly prohibited by the Declaration. Its thirty articles, while having been in effect for decades, have a long road to fruition.

As the fourteenth article has stood tall in front of the Workshop through the winter, Tatana and Ann have taken to the screen printing studio to publish their handmade book Whereas We Declare – Courage. The publication will continue their work in bringing the Declaration, and the minds behind it, into the contemporary conversation. The pair thank Roosevelt for her visionary work and Ann adds, “She is a forgotten American heroine.”

Meanwhile, Tatana has been researching new threads to bring into this discussion and considering other texts that warrant resurfacing. “People are expressing disconcertion with our current state of government, and it’s a particular kind of cultural leadership they are looking for. So, what can you do in the realm of art that has a voice?”

Whereas We Declare is mid-production and will available later in 2018. Keep an eye on the blog for the second part of this project.

Tatana Kellner holds an M.F.A. from Rochester Institute of Technology and a B.A. from the University of Toledo. Tatana (Tana) has received numerous awards for her work including two New York Foundation for the Arts individual artists’ grants. She has been an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Ragdale, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Banff Centre, Lightworks, the Millay Colony, ArtPark and Visual Studies Workshop. Her work can be viewed at tatanakellner.com.

Ann Kalmbach hold an M.F.A. from Rochester Institute of Technology and a B.F.A. from SUNY New Paltz. Ann has produced a number of artists’ books with her long-time collaborator, Tatana Kellner, under the acronym KaKe Art. She has also been a resident artist at Visual Studies Workshop, University of Southern Maine, and the MacDowell Colony. As a co-founder of WSW, Ann has helped hundreds of artists print portfolio editions and artists’ books over the years.