“The world is so based in capitalism now,” says artist Dani ReStack, speaking from Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her wife, photographer Sheilah ReStack. “I think we need to check our motives. Making art is what I need to do. I’ve done some deep inquiry about why I do it. It’s the strongest aspect of my life. It brings joy, and it’s the deepest truth.”
The couple has been together since 2015 and legally added ReStack to their given surnames (Leventhal for Dani; Wilson for Sheilah). The “stacking” concept originated in a series of poems by Anne Carson.
“I enjoy other things — the domestic life, the working life,” says Dani, who’s an associate professor of art at Ohio State University. “I love teaching. But my studio practice is the most important. I have a teaching gig as insurance. There are so few of these jobs. That’s why we’re in Ohio. We have a 750-square-foot studio in the back yard. We would never be able to live like this anywhere else. I do sell work occasionally, but I don’t have to compromise. I can make what I want to, how I want to, and when.”
Still, ReStack is attracted to the Cape — she once applied for a Fine Arts Work Center fellowship. She didn’t get it, and now, she doesn’t think she could handle such a long residency. But starting Friday, at Gaa Gallery in Provincetown, she’ll have a show of her most recent work (paired with a show of work by Autumn Wallace).
“I sold ice cream from a truck in Provincetown one summer 20 years ago,” ReStack says. “We’d go to the beaches and ring the chime and go to the neighborhoods and made a lot of money.”
ReStack was born in Columbus but raised in upstate New York, near Rochester. She’s been devoted to art, especially ceramics, since she was a child. The only problem, she says, was that the sculptures she created became “too heavy and precarious for ceramics as a material. At that point, I started working with paper and animal hides, so I could suspend these large forms.”
She injured her hand while in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago — she also has an M.F.A. from Bard College — and switched her attention to drawing.
Though her drawings and assemblages are usually done solo, she and Sheilah make experimental videos together. “It’s truly a messy collaboration, extremely difficult,” she admits. “But it yields something that’s very interesting. I’m endlessly curious about her. We fight a lot because we’re both very opinionated and committed. But when we follow through with what gets birthed, it’s something I couldn’t have made alone.”
The domestic sphere, to ReStack, is “always a place to be generative. We want it to be full of imagination and fantasy. But you always have to do your laundry and get the car fixed, so you’re never fully released.”
With Sheilah or on her own, Dani’s work is “not just women’s art — it’s lesbian art,” she says. “I specifically want to see lesbian desire and relationships. As much as the world is changing and less homophobic, we still don’t get much imagery in museums and galleries or on the silver screen. The gaze is completely different when it’s a woman towards a woman. I want to bring this forward so it’s not such a hidden or taboo topic. I’m not interested in meek work. I’m pretty shameless in terms of sex and sexual identity.”
ReStack’s unfiltered expression sometimes meets resistance. “This is where cancel culture is really sad,” she says. “Shutting people down for making a mistake. Students at Ohio State get angry if you mis-pronoun them. It’s generational. I mis-pronouned a student and they reported me. I was investigated. It was a first at Ohio State.”
Labels, for ReStack, are useful but limited. “I identify as lesbian,” she says. “But I don’t care for the word. I desire women and prefer women, but my definition of woman is expansive.” Including for herself — she muses about being liberated from her breasts.
Being forthright, ReStack says, “is one of the ways I maintain my capacity to be vulnerable. It’s uncomfortable to show fighting or sex, dynamics with parents or anger. I’m Jewish and I was raised by a pretty serious Zionist, and not until my 20s was I aware of the apartheid and hatred in the West Bank.
“My father and I have a very difficult relationship,” she continues. “But to be willing to love him, even though we don’t agree? It’s vulnerable to show that.”
Bless the Beasts
The event: “Request for the Giant Panda,” a show of work by Dani ReStack
The time: Friday, May 14 through June 28; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment (508-413-9621)
The place: Gaa Gallery, 494 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free