Mikey Foster Estes

Mikey Foster Estes

In reference to “Mama” by the Spice Girls, who I had the pleasure of seeing live with my father in 1997, Me loving you/You loving me (2022) is an exhibition that reflects on loss and memorialization. Somber and elegaic in tone, the works balance the intimate and personal with the universal.

Portraits of my mother Althea that I made as a teenager are displayed as illuminated transparencies. Shot on cross-processed slide film, the images have a dreamlike or ghostly quality. In “Pool,” assorted river rocks from the backyard, originally collected by my father, are used as a substrate for cyanotypes. 

Althea’s tongue-in-cheek rule about tattoos (it better be on your butt and say MOM), is the premise for the titular black-and-white 16mm film. The film combines footage of my tattoo adapted from her handwriting with a sequence of moving still lives made inside the family home. Layered atop is a textural soundscape that combines manipulated audio from the song with field recordings, spoken text, and voicemails.

Photos: Josh Loeser

Afterimages (2021)

This series consists of digital photographs and note entries that chronicle the experience of loss. Made between November 2019 and the present, the images depict daily scenes within the family home as it’s changed in ways both visible and felt. Many of the images are casually made and forgotten about, only to resurface as the record of something no longer there. The fragments of text, simultaneously revealing and opaque, loosely ground the visual in personal narrative and metaphor. In documenting the transformation of presence into absence, the work’s content and internal logic is prone to fluctuation and renewal, valuing emotion over resolution.

The work is an ongoing collection of images and text that will exist in different iterations over time. The first iteration of this work was completed in April 2021 and presented the content more or less chronologically. In September 2021, a second iteration was produced for “Memento Mori: Memento Vivere,” a group exhibition at Northlight Gallery focused on photography’s relationship to death. 

“Beaver’s Show” is an installation of my late father’s artwork. Both a craftsman and retired carpenter, Beaver discovered painting later in life while I was in art school. This accumulation of his self-taught oeuvre, in which landscape and natural imagery figure prominently, are displayed directly across from my photographs made in the family home. This mirroring is repeated in “Daddy’s Boy,” a video I made as a student in 2013. The split screen video follows my father and I as we each build a side of a small piece of furniture. The action is playfully subverted by the introduction of high heel shoes, a gesture drawing contrast to gendered expectations of masculine identities. Both sides of the stand are assembled and finished differently, and the video concludes with the image of the two halves coming together.

Photos: Josh Loeser

Living Room (2020)

“Living Room” is a performance that considers the space of my living room as a two-dimensional grid on which a set of movements occur. The changing configurations of shaped silhouettes, which stand in for items of furniture and decor, are choreographed to represent distinct moments in time. A spoken text that ranges from matter-of-fact observations to autobiographical asides collapses poetry and list-making into a single stream of information.

This performance was conceived of for the nueBOX RE:volve series, “a laboratory performance experience that gives artists the opportunity to share their work in front of an intimate audience.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work was ultimately reimagined as a livestream broadcasted from my kitchen table.

With all my love + guts (2019-2020)

“With all my love + guts” came into being in the months after my mother passed away from cancer. As a child I would make handmade cards for my mother, a practice that continued well into adulthood. The occasion would most often be her birthday or Mother’s Day, but also included holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. A shelf displays a selection of these cards made over a twenty-five year period.

The cards range from simple scribblings on copy paper to more elaborate and humorous interpretations of the form. The title itself is in reference to a line from a birthday card made from an airplane barfbag—an item that had become part of a running joke between us when I would travel to and from NYC. Through fragments of diaristic information, the cards begin to generate a narrative portrait of our relationship to one another.

My mother was the kind of person to send a card for every occasion imaginable. I started saving these when I moved away, not necessarily knowing that I would soon treasure them. I turned her signature from one of these cards into a temporary tattoo and later, a permanent one. Her general rule for tattoos was that as long as we lived under her roof, “it better be on your ass and say mom.” I think of this as my little wink to her.

Private Rainbows (2017-2018)

Private Rainbows is a slideshow of images of rainbows made in my apartment. The silent video, which plays on a consumer-grade monitor like the one in my living room, opens with the black emptiness of the screen. A few seconds later, the first image — the wavy rainbow on the entertainment center — appears as a vertical slice in the center of the screen. The video sequence, recorded live from my iPhone and into QuickTime, spans over 200 images. A “phantom finger” swipes from one image to the next, zooms in and out of the image, and inches further and further into the rainbow. This screen-within-a-screen serves to negate the illusory by drawing attention to format. As the user-narrator, my body takes on an indexical presence within the margins — as the swipe that guides the sequence, the eye observing from behind the camera, the body moving through space. The image exists not in and of itself, but in the terms of its confinement within the space of the screen — how it is to be seen.

Spectrum Song is a video installation that unfolds over the space of eight sequential macOS desktops, customized with background colors matching the original eight stripes of the LGBT flag. I think about the colors of the rainbow as a structure and a symbol, where images and videos specific to individual colors pop up on the projected screens, moving the viewer through the spectrum. The sequence builds slowly; images flicker, resize, and rearrange until the space of the image is zoomed in too far — resulting in the computer making the sound effect of the “bump.” The content that populates each color screen throughout the video is sourced from everyday life. Images that match each respective background color appear and disappear until the eight timelines sync together in unison, producing yet another rainbow within the rainbow configuration. As this visual cacophony subsides, the “song” tapers out with a video of iridescent rainbows in a pot of rice steaming on the stovetop. A short text follows, and the video ends and begins again.

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