Two Directions

2019. Dimensions: 4ft x 2 1/2ft. Materials: Acrylic Paint and Sharpie on Canvas

There are only two cardinal directions
away from Kentucky
and back to Kentucky.
-Misty Skaggs

Two Directions is meditation on solastalgia, which is defined as “A form of homesickness one gets when one is at home, but the environment is changed”. The philosopher Glenn Albrecht created this concept to describe the physiological damage people face as it relates to their sense of place and understanding of home when the physical reality of climate change and mass environmental destruction alter the landscape in irreversible ways. Living in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina is a reminder to me both of the beauty throughout this region and what has been destroyed in a state I call home.

Two Directions, 2019 - Mo Kessler

Build Power / Win & Repeat

2019. Dimensions: 5ft X 4ft. Materials: Acrylic Paint and Sharpie on Canvas

As both an artist and a community organizer, I’m absorbed with the overlap between the material, physical and emotional needs required to build power and those required to make art. I see this overlap as a bridge and a challenge. This bridge allows for the recognition of both the need for creativity in organizing and community accountability in art. The challenge is to create sustainable practices for our work while centering strategy to build power that makes wins for our communities.

Speak of Inez With Love III

2019. Dimensions: Site Specific Installation, 14ft x 10ft x 10ft. Materials: Cameras: Cardboard, Wood, Flock, Craft Rhinestones, Acrylic Paint, Hot Glue, Holographic Glitter. Roses: Found Books, Acrylic Paint, Hot Glue, Steel, Window Screen. Audio: Artist singing “Dreadful Memories” by Sara Gunning, layered, echoed and looped.

On October 11th, 2000, the bottom of a coal slurry impoundment gave out, flooding both the town of Inez Kentucky and the Tug Fork River, with an estimated 306,000,000 gallons of toxic coal sludge. The sludge line got to be 6 feet in Inez, covering small homes and overtaking the rivers contaminating the water supply for over 27,000 people. 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this spill is considered by the EPA to be the “worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States”.

Speak of Inez With Love, 2019 - Mo Kessler

Throughout Appalachia there are stories like this. From demolishing the mountains, the contamination of water ways, the toxic floods, the fly ash that covers the desks of school children, to mine collapses and ever increasing cases of Black Lung, the message of King Coal is that the land underneath your feet is more valuable than the lives inhabiting the land. In step with any other colonel project, to confront this reality, to speak the truth of the devastation around you, is a politically dangerous act. Speak of Inez with Love is a dream space where material contradictions weave together to create a space where both mourning and political reckoning exists.

Speak of Inez With Love, 2019 - Mo Kessler

Birds of a Feather

2018. Dimensions: 6ft X 4ft X 3in. Materials: Walnut Ink and Watercolors on Canvas

Birds of a Feather is the second in the banner series. Following the same system as the last, I used this piece to explore the subversive nature of beauty and repetition, as well as the aesthetic form of the common security camera. Beauty disguises intent and one way to make something invisible is to have an overwhelming abundance of it.

Birds of a Feather, 2018 - Mo Kessler

Song Birds for Florence Reece

2018. Dimensions: 6ft X 4ft X 3in. Materials: Walnut Ink and Watercolors on Canvas

Inspired by the parallels between the systems of injustice used by both corporations and the state, this piece was created with Florence Reece in mind. In 1931, after witnessing yet another violent attack on her family from the hired gun thugs of the J. H. Blair coal company, Florence Reece tore a calendar page off her wall and wrote the song Which Side Are You On? to the melody of an old hymn. In the song she sings “Which side are you on?/ They say in Harlan County/ There are no neutrals there/ You’ll either be a union man/ Or a thug for J. H. Blair/ Which Side Are You On” These lines, crafted in tragedy during what would latter be called the Mine War Years, remain urgently relevant today. In a time where we are witnessing the reemergence of white supremacy on the public stage and an administration that stands in support both in words and actions, it begs the question of what side are we on?

Speak of Inez With Love

2018. Dimensions: 7ft long x 3ft tall Material: Sharpie and Chalk Pastel on Paper.

Martin County Coal Slurry Spill

Shortly after midnight on October 11th, 2000, the bottom of a coal slurry impoundment gave out and flooded into an abandoned underground mine. The slurry come out of the openings to the mine, pouring an estimated 306,000,000 gallons of slurry down on to the town and in the Tug Fork River. The slurry that reached the town rose to the height of 5 ft, covering small homes, roads and fields. By morning both the Wolf Creek Dam and the Coldwater Fork River were overcome with slurry. Due to the high levels of arsenic and mercury, the slurry killed everything in the water, and contaminated the water supply for over 27,000 people. 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this spill is considered by the EPA to be the “worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States”.

I didn’t know about this spill until I read Mountain Justice: Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal, for the Future of Us All. It took me days to get through the 3 pages of descriptions, and I have been haunted by this spill since. I have attempted to create pieces about this disaster, but each time they have turned into experiments in creative grieving, too intimate to want to share. In hopes to break this pattern, I traveled to Inez with no goal but to just touch the land. During that trip, I ended up on the wrong side of the river and due to the fact that every bridge was broken I was soon en route to West Virginia.

For all those who are not familiar with Mountaintop Removal, the land on the border of Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia is the most devastated from this hellish practice, Even now, a year or so later, I struggle to even attempt to describe what it looks like, how it smells and how you feel driving in between oversized coal trucks on the corpses of mountains. The unnatural orange of the “land” is what stuck with me the most. So I created this piece, consumed by memory of a color, in hopes to continue to draw attention to this forgotten area.

Speak Of Inez With Love - Detail - 2018

With Friends Like These

2018. Material: Sharpie and Acrylic Paint on Canvas. Frames: Holographic Glitter and Mod Podge.

With Friends Like These is a series of paintings inspired by the correlations between the surveillance and repression apparatuses used in the coal region of Appalachia and Baltimore.

I was heavily influenced my own direct experience with this violence and the mass community violence highlighted in the Baltimore Uprisings. Each painting in this series is being framed by a very bright glittered frame.

Master’s Tools

2018. Materials: Sharpie and Acrylic Paint on Canvas. Frames: Holographic Glitter and Mod Podge.

Master’s Tools continues my exploration of the correlations between the surveillance and repression apparatuses used in the coal region of Appalachia and Baltimore.

A Devil’s Deal

2018. Dimensions: 7ft x 5ft 7in Material: Colored Pencil, Ink, Sharpie on Paper.

A Devil’s Deal continues my study of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) and the seen and unseen results of this horrendous practice.

A Devil's Deal - Mountain Top Detail - 2018

The title for this piece came from a lecture on Appalachian transition, when a professor from a community college was speaking of his work with former miners. He stated when we talk about MTR and King Coal we must resist the notion that this is a fight against the miners. We must remember that the miners are on the front of the front line and they are the first to know what a devil’s deal they have entered into in order to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.

A Devil's Deal - Detail - 2018

Confrontations

2007. Dimensions: 4ft H x 3ft W x 2ft D. Material: Steel, Feathers, Wood, Crushed Velvet, Flock, Glue.

These two pieces were part of my undergrad thesis work at the Maryland Institute College of Art entitled Confrontations 1-10.

The series consists of 10 pieces, each mounted in a corner at eye level.