Tag Archives: Joel Damon

The Ham Ma’am

July 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Ella Weber, her career as a professional artist began where all the greats get their start—bathing in a tub filled with 40 gallons of sprinkles. 

After working in a frozen yogurt shop, she was inspired by the toppings to capture artificial happiness in a video as part of her graduate thesis project. The final close-up shots show sprinkles moving around her body like mesmerizing multicolored waves. She’s practically swimming in a sea of rainbow sugar. Then, suddenly, Weber shoves fistful after fistful of sprinkles in her mouth and proceeds to regurgitate them. This is performance art that’s not for the faint of heart…or stomach.  

“There is a fairly large amount of work being made in the Omaha echo chamber that’s void of anything I would consider stimulating or surprising. Then there’s Ella Weber,” says Joel Damon, curator and founder of Project Project, a local independent art space. “She’s a breath of fresh air covered in Black Forest ham and beige vinyl siding.”

That’s right, this girl has a thing for ham. She’s a foodie, but not in the typical sense. Don’t look at her Instagram for shots of chic eats or expect Weber to whip up Chopped-inspired dishes for dinner. Instead, she uses food as a medium in videos and sculptural installations to explore the relationship between consumerism, sexuality, and religion. 

“I use food because I’m always thinking of it symbolically,” Weber says. “I hope my work makes viewers hungry for questioning and looking at life a different way.”

With a pastor father, Weber spent much of her childhood on the move, living in towns so small it was practically required for her to play sports so there were enough girls to form a team. Then, her family relocated to a suburb of Chicago where she discovered a great art program and sports teams that required players to have actual athletic skills. Just like that, it was hello to creativity and bye-bye to basketball. 

Her inner jock still compelled her to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and become part of Husker nation. As a freshman, she knew she wanted to cheer on the Big Red but wasn’t sure what path to take with art. 

“Before college, I had no clue I needed to open my eyes. I didn’t even know or understand what printmaking was,” Weber says. “I thought of it as ancient graphic design.” 

Ultimately, Weber specialized in printmaking for both undergrad and her University of Kansas graduate degree. In the two years since schooling, however, her career has been more about lunchmeat than lithography.

To save money, she moved into her parents’ West Omaha home, living a suburban life and working behind the Hy-Vee deli counter between artistic residencies. She looks at this idyllic version of Nebraska’s good life as research. 

“I was this depressed meat person, but then I had a change of heart,” Weber says. “I began to think of the deli job as a studio. When I clocked in, it was time to make art.”

What followed were more than 6,000 videos and selfies with slices of ham, some dressed up with smiley faces, of course. A bond with an oven-roasted chicken was also formed. Part performance art and part friendship, she decided to take home this chicken after it had slipped from the slicer onto the floor. Instead of just throwing it away, she showed her bird bud six months of Nebraska nice living. When it was time to part (because, after half a year, meat doesn’t smell so neat), a service was even held in Memorial Park for the chicken.

“I don’t know how she does it, but Ella makes sliced meat look like macro-porn and vintage high-end wallpaper. It’s completely bonkers in the best way,” Damon says. 

She’s just recently finished her seventh residency, teaching video and animation classes in Utica, New York. While there, she also curated a solo show where her suburbia/deli-land research came into play. During it, she showed a video that spliced images of neighborhood walks with a meat slicer, all to demonstrate the banality and repetition of everyday life.

“I’m trying to enable the viewer to see and connect with the absurdities and beauty that surrounds us all,” Weber says. “If your eyes are open to the everyday, you can find humor and hidden meaning in the most mundane and ordinary things—like sliced ham.”

Now home from New York, Weber has a lot on her plate. This summer, she’ll have an exhibition at The Union for Contemporary Art, followed by adjunct teaching of drawing classes for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall. 

When she does find some free time, Weber expects it’ll be eaten up by work on a semi-autobiographical book, titled The Deli Diaries, and potentially more Hy-Vee “research.” 

“Me and the deli, it’s like a bad romantic relationship where my friends will kill me if I go back,” Weber says. “But I might need to refresh my memory, digest it all, and then I’ll be ready to write about deeper things than just ham.”


Visit ellaweber.com for the artist’s personal website. Her exhibition, Sounds Good, will run from July 20 to Aug. 25 at the Union for Contemporary Art. Learn more at u-ca.org.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Horses, Mavericks, and Pitbulls—It’s an Animal of a Weekend

April 12, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Thursday, April 12 to Sunday, April 15: The International Omaha (Horse show) is back! If you go, be sure to attend the InIt2WinIt, featuring local ladies Brooke and Karen Cudmore. Don’t have a ticket? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of free fun at the Horse Discovery Zone and in the tailgate lounge. The daytime competitions are also free. No time for horsing around, though. Get all the details you’ll need here.

Friday, April 13: “What happens when art behaves badly?” If this is a question you’ve asked yourself but have yet to discover the answer to, then you should get to I Like Your Work: Art & Etiquette Opening Reception at the Omaha Creative Institute. Interdisciplinary artist Sarah Hummel Jones is bringing together artists from Brooklyn, Montreal, and Omaha who challenge art world etiquette. Joel Damon will give a performative lecture on that topic. Learn more here.

Saturday, April 14th: The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s student newspaper,  The Gateway, will host its first-ever fundraising Run the Press 5k fun run/walk at Memorial Park this Saturday. The Gateway has been the university’s source for news and opinion for students, faculty, and alumni since 1913 and we want to ensure they keep going. So Omaha Magazine is proudly sponsoring this event in the hopes they keep growing and guiding UNO students in the communications fields. Please register here to help us keep a good thing going.

Saturday, April 14th: Spend the day with some DIY nerds at Omaha Zine Fest 2018. You won’t find a more enthusiastic group of creatives than those at this festival. With over 100 zine creators from around the Midwest and beyond, this is an excellent opportunity to pick their brains and find out how they do it. Besides the free knowledge you’ll gain, there will also be live screen printing, a tintype photo booth, and free coffee from Mug Life. Did we mention the tasty food available from Omaha’s Awesome Eggrolls and Fauxmaha? Get the full day’s rundown here.

Saturday, April 14th: Don’t let the weather deter you from doing good. Rain, snow, or shine, Pasta for Pits! (and All Breeds) is still a great cause to stuff yourself for. Hosted by Helping Hand for Animals, this delicious dinner will help raise funds and awareness for rescue dogs in need of homes and love. So get to Boulder Creek Amusement Park and show your support. There will also be a silent auction and home-baked goodies you can take with you if you’ve eaten too much to enjoy the mini dessert bar. Lend your helping hand by clicking here.

Saturday, April 14th to Sunday April 15th: It’s crafty time! Head to the Pioneer Craft, Antique, and Junk Show at the Mall of the Bluffs in the old Target to find some new additions for your collections. For two whole days, you can dig through handmade crafts, antiques, and repurposed junk until just the right piece jumps out at you. So cross the bridge and start your junk jaunting early. Head here for more details and to find out how you can get a discount on admission. 

Sunday, April 15th: While it might not feel like spring outside this weekend, you can still hear the sounds of spring when you head to Gardens—Flowers—Bugs Concert at the Omaha Conservatory of Music. Be sure to bring the whole family, as children under 12 get in free. Hosted by the Nebraska Wind Symphony, this concert is guaranteed to blow you away, so hold on to your kiddos. Spring into action and get your tickets here.

 

A Space of Their Own

October 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Theirs was a passion born from a common frustration framed by a Great Recession America, one that had stricken Omaha with a bounty of empty storefronts and too many starving artists.

So when visual artists Joel Damon and Josh Powell began to liaise the two under the collaborative guise Project Project—a roaming, repurposing art gallery that now has a permanent home in the heart of the Vinton Street Historic District—it was to help those left behind in the local arts community. They had no idea that they’d be transforming the act of showing artwork into an art form all its own.

“I was getting really upset about the level of support for young, emerging artists in the city,” Damon, 32, says in reflecting back on the 2008 epiphany that would eventually launch the initiative. “And so I decided to find some artists who were super rad and put up an exhibition of their work.”

The former curator of the Bemis Underground says one of those artists happened to be Powell, 34, a Myspace friend (or acquaintance in real-life speak) whose artwork caught his eye and whose ethos resonated with his own.

ProjectProject2“While he was setting up his work,” Damon says, “there was this immediate sense of collaboration with other things happening with the show. We just hit it off.”

Most events, Damon recalls, gave local aesthetes the opportunity to appreciate artwork from virtually unknown Omaha-area artists.

“You were also given the chance to go into these vacant, beautiful spaces that you probably never would have had a chance to,” Powell adds. The duo would go on to co-curate a half dozen pop-up art shows in unlikely places across the city over the next half decade before landing a space of their own last year.

The repetitively named Project Project gallery doesn’t stray much from that sentiment: It’s a former alley—about the width of a covered wagon—turned butchery, with a floor that intentionally declines 3 inches on one side so that blood would flow away from work areas. The “horse door,” as Damon jokingly puts it, connects the gallery to a pseudo-atrium, which was once a livery stable.

“It was just going to be another one-night deal,” Damon confesses about the space. “After we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot next month,’ and then the next month came, and then the next.”

After a year of free rent, the gallery held a $100 art sale last summer to finance their 2015 campaign. Damon says they met their goal in one night after hosting a turnout in the hundreds.

That kind of support, he believes, is a testament to the public’s desire for an art space whose very nature—just like in their pop-up days—is defined by an element of risk in showing “stuff that can’t be sold or stuff that probably wouldn’t sell.”

“This is not a business,” Damon says. “This strains both of our pocketbooks. This strains both of our times with our wives. This is some stupid compulsion. I don’t know what this is, but it’s what we enjoy doing…we enjoy helping other artists.”

Visit projectprojectomaha.com to learn more.

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