I Love You Are You Okay

Cicelia Ross-Gotta, I Love You Are You Okay, 2017. Artificial plants, waiting room chairs, text messages between the artist and her father, embroidery thread. To experience this work fully, please feel free to gently handle the leaves and sit in the chairs.

To Look: At everything which overflows the outline, the contour, the category, the name of what it is.

—John Berger

Softly hovering on the edge of visibility, that which is the most profound is so often heartbreakingly subtle. The themes of vulnerability, sensitivity, and tenderness play out in Cicelia Ross-Gotta’s sculptures and installations through fibers based mediums, performance and poetry. Informed by writers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alphonso Lingis, and Annie Dillard as well as her own personal experiences, her work is to risk vulnerability—foundational for sincere connection—to the audience. With quieter works, fine threads and subtle textures, she invites the viewer to stay sensitive. Not to simply look harder, but to look well—to try to see just this one thing well.

Artists Cicelia Ross-Gotta and Michael Swaine will lead a series of short interactive performances that use Ross-Gotta’s current installation at Gramma Poetry's art space, ZZZ, as a point of departure for a collaborative exploration of the intersection of poetry, language and visual art.

This piece consists of six upholstered chairs arranged around two different palm-like large artificial plants. The leaves of both plants have been embroidered with words from text messages between my Dad and me. One plant is older, and the text messages on the leaves are from my Dad to me. The other plant is newer, and has text messages that I have sent to my Dad.

The older plant with my Dad’s texts is full, and each frond of leaves contains a least one phrase. While each frond of the newer plant also has one phrase, it contrasts with my Dad’s plant in that it is significantly more sparse. The phrases are mostly limited to variations of “I love you” and “Are you okay,” and this choice reflects the differences in the way we communicate. My messages are terse and guarded, whereas my Dad’s are maundering and sometimes drunk.

While the plants symbolize my Dad and me as individuals, the waiting room, as a place for holding people for a period of time for an anticipated event, is a metaphor for our estranged relationship. The chairs have been modified to feel worn when sat in, a subtle gesture toward our duration of waiting—as we’ve not seen each other for over nine years. Amongst many complicated factors, my Dad’s illnesses and associated behaviors have resulted in a suspended, strained relationship that feels fake, and like artificial plants, cannot grow. We are both fixed in a place that has been made shallow and impersonal out of necessity and circumstance.

Philosopher Alphonso Lingis writes, “we are never so vulnerable, never so easily and deeply hurt, as when we are in love"(1). The opportunity to make contact with someone in their vulnerability demands tact, as Lingis defines it, “a sensitive form of receptivity”(2). To see well, that is, both in the visual sense and in the sense of understanding, is predicated by our ability to stay sensitive. Like the modified chairs, the text messages embroidered in green are intentionally subtle. In order to see, we must stay sensitive, and this work seeks the sensitive viewer.

If the waiting room is a place for holding people to allow the passage of time, in this piece, it is also a place of holding onto love. In this work, the messages, emotions, the vulnerability are all on the surface. The offering and reciprocation of our vulnerability to one another engenders meaningful human connection and allows relationships to grow.

Cicelia Ross-Gotta, 2017

(1): Alphonso Lingis, Violence and Splendor. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

(2): Ibid,.

Cicelia Ross-Gotta

Originally from Kansas, Ross-Gotta earned her BFA in Sculpture from Colorado State University in 2015, and her MFA in Sculpture from the University of Washington in 2017. Her work has been recently exhibited in the Henry Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, King Street Station and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. She currently resides in Seattle, WA.


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