To Commit to Memory on View at Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art in Milwaukee

To Commit to Memory, a solo exhibition by Lois Bielefeld (Art MFA 21) opened at the Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art in Milwaukee, Wis., earlier this fall. The body of work was created for Bielefeld’s CalArts thesis project and features four video works, an audio installation, and more than 150 constructed portraits and house studies. The show closes this weekend on Saturday, Nov. 13. 

Bielefeld’s ambitious project is an in-depth series that delves into her parents’ home life and how it is shaped by conservative Evangelical beliefs and traditions. As a queer and atheist artist, Bielefeld “uses the framework of a photographic project to create a shared space where the staging mechanisms of art become active tools of compassion,” according to the program.

The first video in the exhibition, Thank you Jesus, for what you are going to do, was the genesis for Bielefeld’s CalArts thesis project. The video documents her mom’s physical daily practice of planking while reciting Bible verses from memory. 

Lois Bielefeld, still from ‘Between two mothers and two daughters,’ 2020. | Photo from ‘Awkward Pauses’ by CalArts faculty Kaucyila Brooke.

In a subsequent video, Between two mothers and two daughters, Bielefeld reflects on the significance of religious texts and goes in search of her own text, which she practices memorizing and reciting, mimicking her mother’s planking practice. In the video, she reveals how she eventually came upon Juliana Spahr’s untitled poem from thisconnectionofeveryonewithlungs

Accompanying the exhibition is an essay about Between two mothers and two daughters written by CalArts faculty and Bielefeld’s mentor Kaucyila Brooke. In the essay, “Awkward Pauses,” Brooke takes us through Bielefeld’s search for understanding. She writes that the artist’s video is “full of truths about the quest for other ways to frame her humanity and persist with family despite the cavernous gaps in beliefs.” 

The final day of the exhibition will be celebrated by a discussion between the artist and her parents, Eric and Sally. Together, they will talk about what it was like to collaborate during the pandemic and explore topics of family relationships and belief systems. The event is free. 

Bielefeld is a series-based artist working in photography, audio, video, and installation. Having lived on both coasts, she recently settled back in Milwaukee. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Saint Kate Arts Hotel, The Warehouse Museum and The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Bielefeld has shown at the International Center of Photography in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. 

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