On display at Block Gallery | May 26 - July 23, 2021
In Julia and the Pandemic Art Factory, artist Julia Caston showcases drawings and sculptural works, including two 30-foot scroll drawings; the artist's most ambitious and largest drawing project to date. These colorful and collaborative works aim to inspire joy during difficult times.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt like some kind of superhero. All my coworkers and friends were freaking out and full of anxiety. Having managed the moderate to severe symptoms of a diagnosed anxiety disorder for almost a decade, I felt uniquely prepared for this situation. I had a bevy of coping skills, self-care routines, and self-soothing techniques that I believed made me an expert. I had practically been training for this moment my whole life! I figured that I would ride everything out and it would be over in a few months, and I will have gotten to spend extra time in the studio.
Of course, this is not what happened. It is over a year later, and life looks much different than what we thought of as normal. And the pandemic did catch up with me after all. In February of 2021, I had a slow nervous breakdown from COVID exhaustion and had to take a week off work. So, what exactly does all of this have to do with this exhibition? Somehow, against all odds, I managed to make art during this time. There were definitely fits and starts and weeks at a time that I did not set foot in the studio, but I somehow kept creating, no matter what. Normally, my practice is very performative and outward-facing. I create in-person interactions in public spaces as part of my practice. Much of this work had to shift online and adapt itself to Zoom. I also dove deeper into my drawing practice. In this exhibition, you will see two 30-foot scrolls of drawings I created, which is my most ambitious and largest drawing project to date.
I found ways to keep collaborating with fellow artists over distance via mail. Featured in this exhibition are 11 collaborative coloring pages that I made with students from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. To make these drawings, I had the students send me words and images for inspiration, after which I created coloring pages that I mailed to them. The students completed the pages in a variety of ways. I also created a trans-Atlantic sculpture collaboration about the joy of food with artist Caroline Bugby, who mailed me her soft sculpture components from England. However, despite all of these logistics over the past year, the biggest challenge was allowing myself to feel joy - specifically, the joy of making. The murders and protests over the summer of 2020 affected me deeply, and I launched a project that had been on the backburner for a long time up to that point. I partnered with artist and art therapist Alby Gyimah-Boadi, and we offered a pilot session of Art Therapy for Activists, an initiative that provided free Zoom art therapy workshops to BIPOC activists and change-makers. There are plans in the works to continue this project this coming autumn.
I hope that you enjoy this exhibition, and, more than anything else, that it can add a glimmer of joy to your day, no matter your circumstance.
About the Artist
Julia Caston is an artist who creates empathetic experiences, events, and objects. Her art practice focuses on creating deep connections between participants and collaborators, with a focus on social justice and antiracism. She received her BA from Columbia University, NY, and her MFA from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Caston has completed several artist residencies including the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts Residency, Nebraska City, NE, and the Brightwork Fellowship at Anchorlight, Raleigh, NC. She has been the recipient of multiple commissions from the City of Raleigh and has exhibited her work throughout North America. Julia is from Minneapolis and lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is currently the Intern Coordinator and Outreach Assistant at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Image Right: Photograph by Jonathan Tittle, 2020