By Rebekah Kirkman
The Baltimore Museum of Art’s Commons Collection: Get Your Life!—up right now and through Nov. 17, 2019—resembles my childhood daydreams of what a room could look like: walls all different colors (salmon, eggplant, buttered popcorn-Jelly-Beans-over-pink, lilac) and glittery handmade artifacts and warbly funhouse mirrors and a big table for activities.
Get Your Life!, started by artist Lee Heinemann in 2014, is a Baltimore-based video production project that “puts adult artists to work producing projects written, designed, directed, and performed by youth.” GYL grew out of Heinemann’s work with the Better Waverly community arts center 901 Arts, and the BMA’s year-long exhibit with GYL is an active archive of video projects the kids worked on, along with props and artifacts and documentation and glimpses at the behind-the-scenes process for the videos.
The videos and objects are by turns silly and celebratory and highly detailed and thought-out—young people (and no one else), after all, are geniuses. One corner welcomes visitors with its cloudlike upholstered benches and handmade plushies, fabricated by Rose Buttress, some of which take the shape of a fireball and a bottle of ranch dressing. I sat on the bench under “Jaida’s Room Chandelier”—an elegant glowing fixture festooned with iridescent material and silver glitter and gold chains, designed by Jaida Douglass for the video Life As Hollywood (2014)—and I watched that video, where Jaida sits on a bed underneath that same chandelier and introduces (kinda) what you’re about to watch. In the video she also plays the stringent queen of Candy City, where sugar is outlawed and the people are going crazy. Also involved are a cupcake man, a disaffected bakery worker, a guy named Steave, and somehow even Slender Man.
Moving around the room of course you notice objects that nod to others or to the videos, and vice versa, the I-Spy composition of recurring imagery such as chicken wings and jewels and cellphones, and it feels like we’re given a glimpse into the youths’ creative heads. A favorite video of mine: Xavier Wade’s I Have Special Powers, featuring animation by artist Max Anderson. Greenscreened onto a mountain, surrounded by anthro-wolf creatures, Xavier, as his own superhero, ambles around wearing a broad-shouldered, zigzag and spiky costume, listing out his special powers. But more than a list, it’s a lovely mumbled poem: “Earth…: it, it can control anything on it. It can shake you. Wind: it is, it can blow you away. … Water: it can wet you... Lightning, it is white, it can really shock you! Love, it is pink, it can make you love anybody you want.”
Other GYL videos, cycling on TV monitors around the room, riff on or reference talk-show tropes, infomercials, party cam footage, and old RPGs. Dalin Haleem’s pair of jeans touched up with a narrowly arched rainbow is framed in a pants-shaped frame (because of course); decorated T-shirts are framed in T-shirt-shaped frames (duh). A wall of Kraft mac-n-cheese-colored shelves display many of the props and miscellany, including a fake license plate (from Candy City, reads: “GYL 2014”), a couple pairs of sneakers with chains as laces, Armani Exchange labels recreated with silver glitter that flakes off onto the shelf, foam phones, foam abs, a styrofoam hot wing (fire-engine red).
With their projects’ level of finish and dedication, it’s clear the kids have fun doing this—they often giggle on-camera, and then kind of improv their way around it. It’s good to see GYL in an art museum, where their avant-garde precociousness can really radiate.