Institutional News

New Film Features Artist Allana Clarke at Usdan Gallery

New film debuts as part of exhibition at Usdan Gallery and Art Omi.

Image of Allana Clarke working in clay

Usdan Gallery at Bennington College is delighted to announce a new film, Clarke 22, by Corinne Spencer that meditates on the embodied process of Allana Clarke. A Trinidadian-American artist, Clarke is known for using materials such as sugar, cocoa butter, and hair-bonding glue to confront histories of colonialism and Western standards of beauty. Spencer’s film shows Clarke at work on a large-scale floor sculpture made from hair-bonding glue. She captures the artist’s deep mental concentration and fluid physical movements as she manipulates the viscous glue with her hands and feet, a process through which she transforms a toxic substance into gorgeous objects that ripple, curl, twist and shimmer and gleam.

The sculpture and the film were commissioned for Clarke’s first institutional solo exhibition A Particular Fantasy, on view concurrently at Usdan Gallery and Art Omi, with complementary installations across venues. As the Usdan part of the exhibit focuses on Clarke’s process, Spencer was invited to film Clarke for several days as she worked on the sculpture inside the 4,000-square-foot gallery. The completed work, approximately 16 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3 feet high, is her largest sculpture to date, the first oriented to the floor, and a centerpiece of the dual-site exhibit.

Spencer’s film—titled in reference to Hans Namuth’s film of Jackson Pollock, Pollock 51—functions as both documentation and an artwork in its own right, providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Clarke’s methods. The artist begins by pouring large, thick quantities of the glue onto a flat surface to create a “skin,” which she stretches, pulls, pleats and molds over a period of days to form a cratered surface. At times, Spencer depicts the expanse of glue as an uncanny field out of time and place, a lava-like planetary landscape of iridescent blues, dense grays and glistening blacks, and then punctures the abstraction with zoomed-in physical actions—the artist’s heel shoving across the glue’s slickness, her fist squeezing the glue's ooze. Alternating between such sweeping overviews and detailed close-ups, Spencer reveals the alchemic ritual of Clarke’s technique and her idiosyncratic engagement with materials taken far from their intended context.

Clarke 22 beautifully deepens the meaning of the exhibition title A Particular Fantasy, which Clarke drew from theorist, activist and poet Audre Lorde’s essay “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” (1984). In it, Lourde asserts her resistance to being “some particular fantasy of a Black woman” and describes her anger as a “molten pond at the core of me.” This metaphor comes to life in footage showing Clarke immersed in literal “ponds” of a dense liquid product which, for the artist, is heavy with smoldering trauma. The glue’s toxicity is made evident by Spencer’s atmospheric soundscape, blending eerie music and dripping, squishing glue sounds with the artist’s rhythmic, muffled breathing through her respirator mask.

Along with the film’s title, Spencer’s aural and visual strategies deliberately point to Namuth’s iconic 1951 film of Pollock painting, a reference that Clarke and Spencer discussed during collaborative planning. Clarke’s consideration of Pollock and other mid-century traditions is especially relevant given that her exhibition is sited partly at Bennington: In 1952, the college presented the first Pollock retrospective. Additionally, in 1958, Bennington was one of three hosts for the first U.S. exhibition of the Pollock-influenced Japanese group Gutai—and both Pollock and Gutai are touch points for Clarke’s somatic process. Working, like Pollock, on the floor, she operates intentionally to simultaneously embrace and challenge modernist ideas of “action painting” and the expressive primacy of materials. Given this context, the significance of Clarke making a new sculpture in a Bennington space is intensified by Spencer’s film of her doing so. Both of these new art works underscore the power and significance of Black women of claiming and reframing histories rooted in whiteness and patriarchy.

A Particular Fantasy is on view September 13–December 10, 2022, at Usdan Gallery; and October 8, 2022–January 10, 2023, at Art Omi.

About Corinne Spencer: Corinne Spencer is a Brooklyn based artist working at the intersection of video, photography, and installation. She received her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2010 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2014. Her work has been performed and exhibited throughout the US, including a 2015 city-commissioned installation of her ongoing video work, HUNGER, at the contemporary arts festival, Arts Emerge Boston, an exhibition with Samson Projects at NADA NY (New York, NY, 2016), Root Shock, a three person exhibition at Brandeis University (Waltham, MA, 2019, a two person show, Shanna Maurizi & Corinne Spencer, at La MaMa, La Galleria (New York, NY, 2019), and a solo exhibition, Splendor, at the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY, 2022) among others. Corinne is the recipient of several grants, awards, and fellowships including the Franklin Furnace Fund Award, two Foundation for Contemporary Arts grants, the MacDowell Fellowship, and an ongoing art residency with the Meerkat Media Collective, a renowned filmmaking group based in Brooklyn, NY.

Corinne’s current body of work, Splendor, explores the relationship among Black women, the natural landscape, and spiritual awakening. Her second solo exhibition of this work will open as part of Cornell University’s Migrations Initiative at Cherry Gallery (Ithaca, NY) in January 2023.

About Allana Clarke (b. 1987) is a Trinidadian-American artist whose practice is built upon a foundation of uncertainty, curiosity, a will to heal, and an insistence upon freedom. Fluidly moving through photography, sculptural and text-based works, video and performance, her research-based practice incorporates socio-political and art historical texts, to contend with ideas of Blackness, the binding nature of bodily signification, and of the possibility to create non-totalizing identifying structures. Clarke received her BFA in photography from New Jersey City University in 2011 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2014. She is an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Clarke has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, The Vermont Studio Center, Lighthouse Works, and Yaddo. She has received several grants including The Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, Franklin Furnace Fund, and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Her work has been screened and performed at Gibney Dance in NY, Invisible Export NY, New School Glassbox Studio NY, FRAC in Nantes, France, SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin and was featured in the Bauhaus Centennial edition Bauhaus Now: Is Modernity an Attitude. She recently completed a 2020-21 NXTHVN fellowship, a mentorship program co-founded by artist Titus Kaphar. Clarke is represented by Galerie Thomas Zander in Cologne and Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago.

About Usdan Gallery at Bennington College: Free and open to the public, the 4,000-square-foot Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery is part of the Helen Frankenthaler Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) complex at Bennington College. Exhibits, events, publications and commissioned projects feature contemporary artists and new perspectives, advancing a lineage of groundbreaking exhibition-making at the college since its founding in 1932. Programming supports and is enriched by teaching at the College across the liberal arts.

About Art Omi: Since its founding in 1992, Art Omi has supported international artists across disciplines, serving as a lab space that nurtures forward-thinking projects in nascent stages of development and catalyzes expanded contexts for significant works due for critical reappraisal. A non-profit arts organization in Ghent, NY in the Hudson Valley, Art Omi features a 120-acre Sculpture & Architecture Park with more than sixty works in a bucolic setting of rolling farmlands, wetlands, and wooded grounds, and residency programs for international artists, writers, musicians, architects, and dancers. In 2008, Art Omi opened the Charles B. Benenson Visitors Center, a LEED-certified building with a green roof and a 1,500-square foot gallery. Art Omi is free to all, and our grounds are open from dawn to dusk every day.