Artist Maggie Mullin O’Hara is not afraid to express vulnerability when it comes to her creative process. The 2015 SCAD MFA in Photography alum’s recent exhibition, “I’m Trying to Tell You,” at the Telfair Museum’s Jepson Center now through Nov. 5, 2017, proves just that.
According to a July press release, O’Hara’s exhibit is part of an ongoing #art912 initiative to increase the visibility and vitality of Savannah’s artists. The exhibition features the mediums of video, performance, photography, sculpture and installation, and includes both past works that focus on the psycho-physical and physical endurance of the human body.
O’Hara, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who currently serves as an adjunct professor at South Carolina State University, said “I’m Trying To Tell You” came into existence from a combination of older works, including her MFA thesis work at SCAD titled “Gestures of Persistence,” and newer works. “The newer works, for me, served as a sort of therapy through their creation over the course of the past year in which they were executed,” O’Hara said. “I realized how the art of ‘performance’ could be therapeutic after I had completed ‘Gestures of Persistence.’ At this point, I was really interested in this idea of finding solace or healing through the act and art of performance, and the newer pieces from ‘I’m Trying To Tell You’ really, really push and test this concept.”
For O’Hara, the creative process for this specific body of work existed in the form of documenting herself every morning and night for 30 seconds for one year. Additionally, she also documented herself every time she cried over the course of the same year. “Then came the editing, which I didn’t allow myself to do until this year of said performances were complete,” O’Hara explained. “I didn’t allow myself to look at any of the footage until I was completely done shooting because I didn’t want my perception of myself in front of the camera to affect or sway how I existed, how I confessed and how I used to camera as a tool for me to confide in and for it to console.”
Following the completion of her MFA, O’Hara said she constantly applied the skills she learned during her program in the production of “I’m Trying to Tell You.” “Interestingly enough, I started shifting my focus towards video and performance, and somewhat away from the traditions of the medium of photography early on in the pursuit of my degree at SCAD,” O’Hara said. “My MFA thesis work consisted primarily of video and installation based pieces, all which had roots, though, in the medium of photography. My videos are all ‘photographic’ in that the camera is totally still or fixed.” “I’m Trying To Tell You” is made up of 24 still images and prints. For the show, O’Hara also created 3 “analog-lenticular LED light boxes” which incorporate stills pulled from videos. O’Hara said the most important skill she learned while at SCAD that she applied to this body of work was the knowledge of how photography can relate to other mediums. “I was lucky to have the encouragement and support of my instructors at SCAD to embrace this, and now “I’m Trying To Tell You” will incorporate video, performance, photography, installation, sculpture and interactive works,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara hopes those who view her multi-medium journey will walk through it with a sense of empathy. “I think the work in general, begs that together we endure, feel, and cry,” O’Hara said. With “I’m Trying to Tell You” entering its second month of exhibition, O’Hara acknowledges it’s important to take things one day at a time, particularly when it comes to how and when her work will be displayed. “I never have huge plans for my work,” O’Hara said. “It’s usually just something that comes to me that I think, ‘Hey, that may be cool,’ and then I try it, and it either works or it doesn’t. If it works, I usually continue in a similar direction, and it evolves into a body of work. I guess that’s my plan . . . to just keep producing and trying new and different things.”
Along those same lines, O’Hara said students who wish to exhibit their own work publicly should get in the habit of continually producing new work. “The second most important practice of an artist, in my opinion, is to network and regularly keep yourself involved and submerged deep within whatever artist community you can surround yourself with,” O’Hara said. “We have to work together and help each other, and more than likely, it will be one of those people who helps you get your next show, or gives you the most important critique on a body of work. Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough — work with and across various mediums and practices. Most ‘mediums’ have reached a point of nothing but return, and so we have to find ways of producing something new.”
“I’m Trying to Tell You” is on display at the Jepson Center for the Arts now through Nov. 5, 2017. More information can be found on the museum’s website.