Light Work Podcast
Matthew Connors: General Assembly
August 24 - October 15, 2020
Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery
Online Artist Conversation: Friday, September 25, 5pm
Light Work presents Queens-based artist Matthew Connors’ General Assembly. This exhibition comprises 650 portraits that span the first year of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in New York City. An expansive project that pairs individual black and white portraits within a tightly formatted grid, General Assembly borrows its title from the movement’s term for its horizontal decision-making process. Connors made these black-and-white portraits in the charged atmosphere of Zuccotti Park, elsewhere in New York City at direct actions and during more contemplative moments before and after working group meetings.
We encourage you to visit Light Work exhibitions online and to check out our catalog of artist videos, including an interview with exhibiting artist Matthew Connors.
When Connors first arrived at Zuccotti Park in September of 2011, he had no intention of making photographs. He first gravitated to the congregation of protesters who occupied Manhattan’s Financial District out of simple curiosity. But as he observed Occupy Wall Street’s “wellspring of generative social organization,” he wondered how photography could contribute to the historical moment before him. Disturbed by the way that passersby were photographing protesters at a distance, he immersed himself in the activity of the movement and sought to use his camera as a tool of engagement.
The process of creating the portraits involved lengthy conversations with the participants about their motivations and involvement in the movement. Building on these newly formed relationships, he regularly returned to demonstrations to photograph and offer each person he photographed a print of their portrait. For Connors, this ongoing exchange of images and ideas contributed to the “relational fabric” that Occupy was cultivating. In many of these portraits, the person gazes directly into the camera at the artist—and us—a rare and brave moment of trust and connection. A native New Yorker, Connors had begun to feel that his home was becoming a “city of strangers” pulled apart by gentrification’s economic power and frequent disruption. By distributing political power and reaching decisions more equitably, Occupy Wall Street sought to reestablish that community.
Matthew Connors received a BA in English Literature from the University of Chicago and an MFA in Photography from Yale University. He has exhibited his work in galleries and museums worldwide, including DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. His awards include the Alice Kimball English Travelling Fellowship from the Yale School of Art (2004), the MacDowell Colony Fellowship (2010), the Virginia Center for Creative Arts Fellowship (2011), and the William Hicks Faculty Fellowship from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design (2012 and 2008). Since 2004 he has taught at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston, where he chairs the Photography Department. He lives and works in Boston, MA, and Brooklyn, NY.
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