Five Questions for Valerie Christell of Merge Gallery
Sandwiched between two venues on Floor Two of the Third Ward’s 207 E. Buffalo St. Marshall Building, Merge Gallery (which opened in October) definitely is not a glossy space for “pretty” art. In fact, the 450 square-feet space is spartan and no nonsense. Valerie Christell is the brains behind the effort. Kathy Moss-Reeves and Tori Tasch joined her to get the message out. The three are also art educators and keep the doors of their gallery open from noon to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. But during Gallery Night/Day, Merge will be open on Friday, Jan. 15, 5-9 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 15, Noon-4 p.m. Recently, we caught up with Christell, the gallery’s director.
1. What’s that moody music playing in the background? The voices seem other worldly.
It’s Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” I call it Holocaust music. My continuing analysis of the factors leading up to genocide, finally led to a trip to the place of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. It expanded my research in that specific area, and in turn, has intensely informed my work.
Among the courses I’ve created (Digital Photography, Photoshop, Digital Image-Redefined, Postmodern Feminist Art and the Media) is one titled “Art Activism/Global Impact.” It’s designed to open students’ eyes to the culture that surrounds them. It’s extremely important to me that they learn the value of being aware in their world, and the impact all types of behaviors and beliefs can have on that world.
3. Your photographs are quite disturbing, but they’re not offensive, though certainly the entire Holocaust was (and continues to be) morally offensive.
They’re from my journey to the death camps and are superimposed with various other images. They speak of actual disintegration, but they are also metaphors for beings and memory. The balance of the work at Merge also reflects the anguish of those living with the loss of humanity brought about by ways sometimes too cruel to bear. This exhibition is up through December.
4. Is Merge Gallery exclusively a showcase for women?
No, but it happened that we three came together with common ideas. Our methods of making art differ, but our goals don’t.
5. Obviously, the goal isn’t to sell art in a wine-and-cheese atmosphere. I can think of no other local gallery that focuses on social issues as its core mission. It’s sobering.
The goal is to expand the conversations that can be built around art. Eventually, we will have wall texts about the social statements in the artists’ work, and I want to further this by bringing in philosophical and psychological statements.