Wilmer Wilson IV. ‘Model Citizen (Head).’ 2012. Archival pigment print on 100% cotton paper. ( Copyright Wilmer Wilson IV, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art)

Twenty-two-year-old artist Wilmer Wilson IV may be just two months shy of graduating from Howard University with a degree in photography, but his career has already taken off. The Richmond native is represented by Conner Contemporary art gallery, where he will debut his new work, “Domestic Exchange,” which deals with the history and use of the paper bag in sculpture and performance. Wilson, whose art has also made use of objects such as stickers and Post-its, talks below about transforming himself through ordinary items that some might take for granted:

Since I found my voice three-dimensionally, I’ve been interested mainly in objects that are in my everyday experience, even so far as objects that don’t have a high cultural value. I started out with Post-it notes. I was making pieces with Post-it notes and plastic utensils. Paper bags was just one of those things [where] I was just probably walking outside and saw it on the ground somewhere and [thought], “In what ways can this be explored and what dialogues can be summoned by using this object?” Since then, it’s been just a dialogue with that, an exploration.

I’ve been doing these sticker pieces since September. With the sticker pieces, I’ve been engaged with the notion of covering my entire body. It’s a very bodily concerned piece. “I Voted” stickers are something that’s been around me since I’ve been little. I’d always be so proud of my dad when he’d come home from voting and give me his stickers. I’m interested in the notion of voting politically but also voting through the actions that we make. I was interested in this notion of making the choices — the decisions I make — visible for everybody to see, literally. In the same way, I’m interested in attaching to something that already has power, or validity or legitimacy.

Wilmer Wilson IV, ‘Study, From My Paper Bag Heart.’ 2012. Performance with paper bags. (Copyright Wilmer Wilson IV, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art)

I’m interested in distinctly engaging the histories of the paper bag. I want to interpret a lot of the dialogues that happen when people buy alcohol or take bag lunches. And it even has a racial aspect as well, particularly has a racial aspect with the paper bag test for colorism. I want to juxtapose these various dialogues and combine them with my own perception. The performance piece is going to be specifically engaged with race. I’m going to construct an epidermis out of paper bags over three hours.

I’m going to blow up the paper bags and tie them around myself and, by the end, I’ll be completely surrounded by paper bags, and in order to escape my paper bag epidermis, I’m going to destroy them with my own fists. In that way, I’m hoping to achieve freedom or some sort of self-destruction — walk that line between freedom and self-destruction in achieving solace with the history of the paper bag. It’s a building process. Once I realized that the paper bag had this history of the body and skin in the same way — even if I hadn’t experienced it, in reality — it’s more of a theoretical history for me. It’s a similar mode of covering and uncovering, constructing and de-constructing.

Art was the first way that allowed me to examine the situations that I’ve experienced and the context that I’m in and the way that you can reconcile those. I really appreciate art’s ability to do that — engage these abstract dialogues.

Domestic Exchange

Wilson will stage his performance piece component on Saturday at 5 p.m. The exhibit opening will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. “Domestic Exchange” will be on exhibit
through May 5 at Conner Contemporary Art,
1358 Florida Ave. NE. www.connercontemporary.com.

Wilmer Wilson IV. ‘Self Portrait as Authentic.’ 2012. Archival pigment print on 100% cotton paper. (Copyright Wilmer Wilson IV, courtesy Conner Contemporary Art.)