Jem Brock stands barefoot in front of his new works at The Machine Shop.
These multimedia pieces don’t skim along the surface of life; they sink deeply into our meaty core: abuse, relationships, death, sex. There will be no small talk here, especially when one of his pieces, “Body, Birth and Mother’s Love,” is a series of large prints created by pressing nets into pools of his own blood and pressed onto large white pages.
His show, “Heirlooms,” revolves around family, a fraught topic for Brock. It opens with a free opening reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday during First Friday Downtown and runs through November.
“It’s about the things we unwittingly inherit from our families,” Brock says. “I have a complex relationship with my family and my family history. It was a way to reconcile with that.”
Visitors will probably first notice “Old Habits and a Propensity for Violence,” a piece about the cycle of abuse and feelings of unraveling and disconnect. Long hanging ropes are knotted at the top and unwound at their ends, while one extends much longer into a pool of frayed ends on the floor.
“I unraveled it as a way to talk about internal unraveling and trying to separate from things you can’t separate from,” Brock says. “This one on the end is longer because it’s supposed to not feel resolved. You want it to come to a nice neat end, but it doesn’t.”
Inside the small studio in the center of The Machine Shop hang Brock’s other pieces. His artist-in-residence status at the shop began in August and runs through November.
“Prophecies of Potential,” composed of chain and rope, reflects on the life cycle, latent energy and life goals.
In “Prayer, Bedtime Stories and What Comes After” he tackles death, sleep, sex and intimacy: “I was thinking about the bed as the place where the conventions of society fall away completely and we’re naked.”
He’s particularly interested in relationships and how we relate to each other outside the conventional bounds of society. Families, in particular, give him much grist for his artistic mill.
“Families are these microcosms, these little societies in and of themselves that don’t follow the typical social rules,” he says. “I was thinking about privacy and how we relate to each other in private, especially in family life. You’re always trying to be kind and to be able to weave in really easily, but it’s stifling to do that.”
And then there are the pieces made from his blood, a mixture of menstrual blood (Brock was assigned female at birth) and blood derived from the accidental nicks and cuts while working in the kitchen and making art. The nets used to make the prints are no accident, of course. The show is inspired by the knot as a binding agent, he says.
“Historically, the knot has an association almost like a magical spiritual use. That’s where we get the term handfasting and tie the knot. The knot is a metaphor for the relationship. That’s why everything in the show is uses a knot in some way.”
Brock, who’s from rural Illinois, landed in Colorado Springs six years ago and has since earned a bachelor’s in visual arts from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Though he’s been making art all his life, he considers himself primarily a writer whose visual work is inspired by stories.
“That’s also why I’m interested in family history and history in general. It’s this collection of stories that keeps stretching back into oblivion, especially family history. It’s a story that has a nasty habit of reaching from the past into the present and grabbing you when you’re least expecting it.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270