Our Relationship with Power

Artist Statement by Jenie Gao

What is power? Is it a measure of capability, like how much weight a machine, an animal, or a person can lift? Is it a measure of our skillsets and strengths? Or is power about the effect and influence that we have on one another, because of what we say and do, and who we are?

The purpose of this body of art is to explore how power works. It is to challenge the notion of power as a great force and reveal how it builds in small ways. It is to show how our understanding of power will determine whether our relationship with it will turn for the better or worse. Each artwork in this show illustrates a different relationship between subjects and the sum that their parts create.

Our current society is full of static and linear metaphors. We talk about career tracks, climbing corporate ladders, and following chains of command. We prove ourselves through more certificates and titles. We believe that growth is good and that going down is the same as falling down.

It’s as though we view power like a transaction, overvaluing it as something others can take or buy, and undervaluing our role in giving it away. When we see power as control, we corrupt our relationship with it. We turn it into a tool that limits freedom. We corrupt our relationship with power when we force it to depend as much on what we don’t give as what we do. We corrupt power when we withhold knowledge and attention from one another, and keep each other stuck on unresolved questions. We corrupt power when we use it as a tool to manipulate what others desire and hope for, instead of nurturing emotions to foster connection.

So how can we begin to turn our relationship with power for the better? How can we learn to see it as something that moves in cycles, rather than up a ladder? How can we learn both when to hold on and let go, and to understand that power must be fluid and interchangeable in order to have balance? How can we begin to treat our personal power as a part of a greater whole? From here, when we walk away with lessons, what questions will we ask ourselves, and what actions will we take?


Jenie Gao

Jenie Gao is an artist specializing in woodcuts, ink drawings, and allegorical storytelling. Her work across industries has made her a firm believer in different disciplines working together to inform and help one another. Art is nothing without dialogue and inseparable from culture and the values that define it.

Jenie received her BFA in Printmaking/Drawing from Washington University in St. Louis. Following her studies, Jenie worked in education and nonprofit before going into commercial printing and the pursuit of a career in lean manufacturing: the reduction of waste in business operations.

In the past year, Jenie left her job at her former company to pursue her artwork. She spent the beginning of 2015 traveling to pursue two art residencies in Argentina and Chile, and has now returned to Madison with new work and new stories that challenge the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and therefore invite us to make a difference. She continues to consult in... Read More

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Arts + Literature Laboratory is located in Madison’s Schenk-Atwood neighborhood at 2021 Winnebago Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53704.

Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm during exhibitions or by appointment. Please check the exhibitions calendar before planning your visit, as the gallery is closed between exhibitions and other schedule changes are posted here.


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