Words by Joanne Davila
Autumn Casey is a sculpture and performance artist who this week debuts her second solo exhibition at Primary in the Design District. The deeply personal exhibit showcases a set of sculptural installation works, and seventy-eight 2-D collaged tarot cards inspired by the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The deck was given to her at age 18, at a Christmas party. During a particularly tumultuous and untethered period of her life, she learned how to read the cards and began to give herself readings everyday. Gradually, experience led to Casey’s own creation of a full deck of tarot cards – a culmination of three years of work. The resulting pieces are all assembled with found objects or items given to the artist by friends or family.
“I have an arsenal of objects around and people often give me things,” says Casey. At a visit to the show Casey points to items around the gallery – a resin statue of a horse, pieces of marble, two worn Care bears – all bestowed upon her. “I love things that look lived, that have a sense of history.”
Casey’s use of collage and assemblage is a theme that has been present throughout her previous work – she often deploys existing materials in unexpected, idiosyncratic ways. In this case, the tarot deck served as vehicle for both self-reflection and her art practice.
“Sculpture is what comes most natural to me, and at the time I had no space for sculpture, so I started to make these collages,” says Casey.
Drawn to the simplicity of the illustrations, the resulting collages are a blend of her inner narrative from that period of time and her understanding of the cards. “Certain cards infer certain meditations. There is the idea that they depict archetypes of how people are. So it’s like looking into a mirror.”
Casey’s deck is collaged from art history books, magazines, home décor journals, pages of illustrated Shakespeare, found images and some hand drawings. The first pieces came together without any organization and as time wore on, she began to accumulate a library of sorts, cataloging items she saw for use in future collages.
The Rider-Waite-Smith deck was originally published by the Rider Company in 1910. Its images were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite. It is widely considered one of the most popular tarot decks used in the English-speaking world and well known for it’s simple imagery and abundant symbolism.
Casey’s interpretation of the symbolism connects history with the future and makes it her own. There are past pop culture references – Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe – appearances from familiar historical paintings and imagery that feels in sync with the current feminist movement. But though the cards carry concrete imagery, they shift in meaning depending on their relationship to other images, and to the viewer. “Tarot teaches you a way of how to understand the world,” Casey says.
For her the practice taught her about working to attain a balance in life. For now, “My approach is to be as natural and honest as possible.”
When she finished her collaged deck, she pulled three cards: Two of Pentacles, the Hanged Man, and Lovers Reversed. Reflecting upon these three, she wrote a few lines:
While Hanging Upside Down
Watching Lovers Fall from Grace
Underneath the Ground.
The artist, who has had her moment at Art Basel before – in 2012 a piece titled Cicada involved her screaming at the top of her lungs during Basel events – will also perform with her all-girl band, Snakehole at Churchill’s on December 1st. Their new album comes out next year on Wharf Cat Records.
Her work has been shown and collected by the the Perez Art Museum Miami and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, where she won the 2010 Optic Nerve XII. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia and Miami, where she is represented by PRIMARY.