Artist Talk

Hothouse // Elizabeth Kauffman + Luke Severson

Moderated by Alex Priest from the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

July 17, 2016

Hothouse, opening Friday, June 17, at Darger HQ, will feature work by Elizabeth Kauffman (Salisbury, MD) and Luke Severson (Omaha, NE) and will be on view through August 7.  The opening reception will be on June 17 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., with an artist talk at 6:00 p.m.

Kauffman and Severson physically create their work in very different ways.  Kauffman toils away on detailed watercolors on paper while Severson creates robust sculptures utilizing such materials as concrete.  Although their approach is different, both artists are examining similar concepts and issues in their work, such as psychological development, metamorphosis, transformation due to societal pressures and cultural and genetic hierarchy.

Hothouse is a term used to describe an environment that encourages rapid development. In fact, “hothousing” is a controversial form of education for children, involving intense study of a topic in order to stimulate the child's mind. Advocates of the practice claim that it is essential for the brightest to flourish intellectually, while critics claim that it does more harm than good and can lead a child to abandon the area studied under such a scheme later in life.

Kauffman’s watercolor, Read to your baby, is (perhaps) a personal reflection on the expectations on her role as a new parent and the nurturing of the various stages of intellectual childhood development. Severson’s sculpture, Joe Jackson Jenga, is a 1 to 4 recreation of the cinder block exercise implemented by Joe Jackson on his future-famous Jackson five kids. The work is an examination of Authoritarian parenting styles and how destructive disciplinarian behavior can have on, in particular, young boys.

Kauffman states on her watercolor 10 Things series:

As a new parent advice files at you from every direction. When the baby spikes a fever, cries in an unusual way, or produces odd odors or colors we turn to the internet—the message boards and blogs—for explanations and the stories of others who have been here before. Sage wisdom, born from someone's particular experience, is often boiled down into numbered lists of dos and don'ts accompanied by an adorable image of the perfect child. Pinterest is filled with such appealing posts: "5 Things You Should Never Tell Your Child"; "30 Things To Help Your Baby Sleep"; "10 Things All Good Moms Do". These simple solutions and picturesque images are as tempting as they are dangerous. They suggest that the complicated relationship between parent and child can be easily navigated if you just do (or don't do) these particular things. This body of work encapsulates my own anxieties in my role as a new mother, and continues my exploration of the connection between text and image. Using my own daughter as model, her image is modified in each work by vague text, suggestive of the contradictions often found between the reality of childrearing and the way our culture describes it.

  The 10 Things series aptly alludes to the term “spectacle” coined by Guy Debord in his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle.  “Spectacle” serves as a term for the everyday manifestation of capitalist-driven phenomena; advertising, television, film, and celebrity.   Debord describes the spectacle as capitalism’s instrument for distracting and pacifying the masses. The spectacle takes on many more forms today than it did during Debord’s lifetime. It can be found on every screen that you look at. It is the advertisements plastered on the subway and the pop-up ads that appear in your browser. It is the listicle telling you “10 things you need to know about ‘x.’” The spectacle reduces reality to an endless supply of commodifiable fragments, while encouraging us to focus on appearances. For Debord, this constituted an unacceptable “degradation” of our lives.


Hothouse is part of a series of collaborative and experimental projects facilitated by Darger HQ.  Darger HQ connects Nebraska contemporary artists to the world by creating collaborative working opportunities between local artists and national and international artists with related practices, and develops partnerships that benefit artists by providing new means of support through combined private and non-profit sources. Darger HQ also educates, enriches and exposes the community to some of the most innovative contemporary art being produced today.