Kenseth Armstead, Dahlia Elsayed and Blithe Riley
are artists whose current projects are rooted in biography and autobiography.
The questions of authorship and authority that arise when artists work with found autobiographical material, or in the realm of “unofficial history,” are complex. Each text-based project has been shaped by the artist’s motivations.
Kenseth Armstead’s “Spook 1781” project began with a full length screenplay and continues to assume new forms, including video, interactive tapings, drawings and murals, all concerning the life and activities of James Armistead Lafayette, an African double agent during the Revolutionary War. Armstead writes “Like many other African Americans living in the shadow of the decline of the slave trade, family history is subject full of mystery.” The web is an easy first step toolbox for the novice historian. Sometimes it leads to interesting fiction and in my case it led me to a Google search on one of the spellings of my family name, Armistead.”
Dahlia Elsayed’s journalistic, text-driven, paintings record the minutia of the artist’s daily life. She writes, “Part data-tracking, part topography, these conceptual maps examine the aesthetic surfaces and ephemeral cultural markers of recent immigrant populations, of which I am a product.” Elsayed originally studied to be a novelist.
Blithe Riley has been creating drawings, videos, and installations based on the diaries, covering roughly 50’s-70’s, of a rural American housewife named Edna. Riley found the diaries in 2009, and “The Edna Experiments” are ongoing. Riley writes, “The diaries interest me not only as a records of personal discipline, but also as records of a life that features the minute details that are rarely memorialized. They ask the question of what constitutes a life, and what we leave behind. What are the tools that we have to understand the lives of the dead when there is nobody to speak on their behalf? “How do we fill in the emotional gaps that exist with what we’re given to reconstruct from?”