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What do you see: Anne Gates explores the why of our 'Motivation'

In a vast collection of work surrounded by masses of people, these small, breakable and (until now) mundane materials have the power to hold my gaze.

/Holly Bechiri

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What I'm seeing at ArtPrize


This article is part of a series of windows into what I'm seeing during ArtPrize. 

Before my life as the managing editor of The Rapidian, I was (and still am) an artist and curator. The first year of ArtPrize, I spent my time curating and managing a venue called "45 Ottawa," one of the 10 largest venues in the event. During the second year, I joined the ArtPrize team and assisted artists, venues and volunteers alike. The third year, I maintained a "blog curation" of my personal ArtPrize experience. This year, I'm helping our citizen journalists talk about the event and the work within it. While I'm at it, I'll be adding my own snippets of what I'm seeing along the way.


You can join me.

/Holly Bechiri

/Holly Bechiri

It's no secret that there is a lot that I love about ArtPrize. Not least of which, and possibly the most important to me since the beginning, is the possibility that the larger public can be engulfed by something I love.

Art is powerful. Or at least, when it's harnessed and skillfully presented, it can be. But somehow, in our American society, art has been demoted to a side extra, something that rich educated people get to hold like Tiffany jewelry for their entertainment but the rest of us don't ever touch. 

ArtPrize, on the other hand, gives the permission to participate.

I'm not just talking about the viewers. There are complete geniuses working as artists all over, that whether it's because they're young or they're shy or they're no good at networking and therefore don't have connections, nobody knows about them. And then suddenly there's this completely crazy competition that matches up artists and venues on a website. Suddenly the institutions are seeing the same work that the local bar is reviewing. Anyone can be noticed.

Anyone who has the skill and conceptual maturity in their work can be noticed by the largest art institutions in the city. And then be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, from world-renowned jurors to kids from the local suburban private school. The audience barrier is blasted away.

It's mind-boggling to me, so I can only imagine it's mind-boggling to the youngest artist showing at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Anne Gates.

"Within five days [after filling out my application on the ArtPrize website], GRAM contacted me and asked me to show here," explains Gates. "And you know what, I didn't know very much about the museum; I didn't know much about the competition. And when I started looking, I realized 'oh my gosh' this is a huge deal! I'm 22 years old and I'm showing in the art museum! I'm just over the moon." 

Gates' piece, "Motivation," is a seemingly impossible tension of black thread moving around and through the center of intact white eggs with carefully removed openings, giving us a window into the criss-cross of movement in the interior. The egg, says Gates, represents the conception of an idea. The thread around and inside it are our motivations, both intrinsic and extrinsic.  

"That affects everything we do and the decisions we make. It's really an exploration of why. Why do we make the decisions we make? It's as much about the collective as it is the individual in the work," she says. Gates says this work is more about the "why" of our motivations than whether the choices we make are right our wrong, and hopes her creations will help people pause to think about why they do what they do.

"I do want people to start thinking about the whys-not right or wrong", she says. "Just turn inward."

Precious, delicate and extremely breakable, it doesn't seem possible to pull off embroidering a broken egg. 

Nor does it seem possible that their creator would be so nonchalant about the junior high girls buzzing around her work, leaning in with their cameras and cell phones, working so hard to get closer that their ankles and elbows are wobbling as they try to capture the beauty they've discovered.

To tell the truth, she seems to be taking complete delight in their ability to get close and put it at risk.

"I do care about this work," says Gates, "but that goes into it: the trust of the community. It's a different kind of medium. I don't think that people are really sure how to interact with it anyway."

Gates confesses that she knows it's possible one will get broken, and furthermore, confesses that she doesn't have any backup eggs. Instead, she's chosen to showcase the best and trust that it will be enough.

"You know, there wasn't a class at SCAD that taught egg embroidery so I've really finally mastered this process," she says. "And my proudest part of this series is right here."

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