Arkansas-born artist Shea Hembrey kicks off his TED talk by confessing to a hick childhood in which he and his sister “would compete to see who could eat the most squirrel brains.” That modest joke sets the stage for his introduction of Seek, a project Hembrey conceived in response to his disappointment with several exhibits of contemporary art in Europe, including the Venice Biennale. Finding much of the work he encountered too obtuse and inaccessible, Hembrey decided to create an international biennial of his own, featuring the 100 most inspiring artists he could find.
The twist, of course, is that all 100 artists (and artworks) were created by Hembrey himself, in strict accordance with two personal criteria: First, the work must be something he could explain to his grandma in less than five minutes; next, its process must engage the three “H’s” of head, heart, and hand.
All 100 pieces feature distinct materials, character and craft, and taken together they provide an impressive showcase for Hembrey’s humor and virtuosity. But that grandma of his had better be hiding a degree in semiotics, or at least an old copy of the The Postmodern Condition, because the success of Seek’s joke is largely dependent on our knowledge of the world it lampoons. And for all the determined folksiness of his manifesto, the position Hembrey stakes out — somewhere between parody and homage — would not be unfamiliar to the curators of the Venice Biennale.
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.