Jeffrey Gibson: Post Contact — Jenelle Porter

Surface Design Journal, 12.07.2017

Consider the punching bag. Scaled to the human body, it’s got
some give to its skin and insides but is otherwise stolid and
heavy. Everlast. The symbolism is lost on no one, whether one
might consider the punching bag the recipient of relentless and
brutal contact, a projection of anger or frustration, or a symbol
of enduring resistance.
Jeffrey Gibson’s series of punching bag sculptures celebrates
this multifaceted potency with colorful beads, painted surfaces,
shiny metal jingles, and other adornments. He first incorporated
a punching bag in a sculpture in 2011, and it took over a year to
make as he taught himself to sew and bead. His most recent bag,
more refined and precise in its facture, is titled POWER POWER
POWER (2017). The patterned beading incorporates text reading
from the top down: “POWER POWER POWER WHITE POWER
BLACK POWER RED POWER BLUE POWER PURPLE POWER
PINK POWER GREEN POWER YELLOW POWER POWER POWER
POWER.” The colors and text praise racial, sexual, and gender
acceptance, and are the artist’s response to the recent social

and political threats to these triumphs. For Gibson, one way to
counter attacks on civil liberties is to celebrate color, to respond
with a kind of chant or song, to install a punching bag shaped
LGBTQ flag in a bid to “queer up” the mechanisms.
For some years now, Gibson has been jamming up the mechanisms,
making art that epitomizes his formative experiences, both on
the margins of his own heritage and as a participant in marginal
subcultures, such as club music. Because his father was in the
military, Gibson grew up in the United States, Korea, and Germany.
He is Choctaw/Cherokee. He locates much of his work to a
profound period in the early and mid-1990s while an art student
at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, when he worked
as an intern at The Field Museum of Natural History assisting
visiting tribal delegations in their research of ethnographic
objects. There, he learned about sacred objects firsthand from
tribal elders. But it was his interaction with objects considered
culturally indeterminate, for example scraps of cloth with
unidentifiable patterns or beaded “whimsies” made for tourists…