September 17 - November 13, 2021
Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art
207 E. Buffalo Street, Third Ward
Fifth floor of the Marshall Building
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Free, open to the public.
Two years in the making, photographer Lois Bielefeld’s ambitious new project, To commit to memory, takes place in the home of her parents and unearths questions about the entwining of lives, domestic chores, familial relationships, and religion. Lois grew up in Milwaukee in an Evangelical household. Her mother, Sally, has severe vision impairment, and her father, Eric, has begun to experience memory loss. Bielefeld’s parents’ routines require disciplined levels of care that exceed most individuals’ daily practices.
The solo exhibition will debut at Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, 207 E. Buffalo Street, FIFTH Floor, from September 17 until November 13, 2021. The gallery is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
Beyond its sense of documentation, the project asks what it means for a queer and atheist artist to share work about deep faith and devotion? It examines domesticity, power relations, ritual, faith, aging, and memory through photographs and video. In Eric and Sally’s lives, attention to detail and repetitive practice are applied to the simplest of tasks. This level of focus erases divisions between religious tenets and day-to-day chores. Sally saves and reuses everything in the household. Even banana peels are scraped for the extra pulp that lines the skin. Plastic bags are washed and hung on a line to dry. “Part of being a Christian is being a good steward of the time, talent, and resources with which God has blessed us,” Sally says, in one of the photo captions.
In a video piece, Thank you Jesus for what you are going to do, Bielefeld records Sally’s weekday planking exercise that is combined with memorizing and reciting lengthy Bible passages. In response, Bielefeld takes on the challenge herself and attempts to memorize a long poem, presented in an additional video that asks “what does it mean to write a text on the mind?”
Bielefeld approached this project by repeatedly visiting her childhood home. After identifying an image she wanted to photograph, she would set up lighting and re-stage the scene. Each resulting photograph has an augmented formality and sense of constructed intent that pushes the notion of what is real. The process itself transforms the quotidian into something of heightened ardor. The exhibition also includes a series of still life photographs, many that record the imprints left on objects by their ritualized use.
In Bielefeld’s previous bodies of work such as The Bedroom, Weeknight Dinners, New Domesticity, Celebration, Neighborhood, or Androgyny, she applies a similar level of inquisitiveness in exploring the broadest possible range of human expression and practice. Repeatedly, Bielefeld disarms assumptions about “norms,” opting for the robust multiplicity of human life. Her work begins with the act of looking and is consistently predicated on the evolving exchange and vulnerability between artist and subject.
At this particularly polarized time in American society, Bielefeld’s work asks us not to dismiss difference but to look empathetically at the ways in which divergent values might unexpectedly overlap. By casting this lens on her family, she uses the framework of a photographic project to create a shared space where the staging mechanisms of art become active tools of compassion.
Bielefeld completed this body of work as a thesis project for her MFA at the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) in 2021.
Lois Bielefeld is a queer, series-based artist working in photography, audio, video, and installation. Recently settling back in Milwaukee, she has lived on both coasts. After her daughter went to college, she pursued her graduate degree and completed an MFA at California Institute of Arts in 2021. Bielefeld earned her BFA in 2002 from New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology. She won Mary Nohl Fellowships in 2012 and 2018.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Saint Kate Arts Hotel, The Warehouse Museum, The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Bielefeld has shown at the International Center of Photography in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, de Young Museum in San Francisco, and the Saint Kate Art Hotel.
To commit to memory
Limited edition of 100 copies
Essay by Shannon Brennan, Assistant Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Carthage College
Designed by Mark Brautigam, printed by Conveyor Studios
Hard cover, 132 pages