marie watt

Mixed art signals amid the turmoil

ArtsWatch Weekly: Tumbling toward Inauguration; Carrie Mae Weems' billboard campaign; opera in full voice; new faces; Zoomy theater

AS WE TUMBLE TOWARD INAUGURATION DAY, fear and uncertainty fill the air like a chemical cloud. Will another attack take place? If so, will it be more damaging than the first, from which five people died – six, if you count the police officer who took his own life after dealing with the mob in the Capitol Building? What of President Trump, now impeached for a second time, this time charged with “incitement of insurrection“? Will he stand down, or once again ramp things up? What will happen in the capitals of the fifty states, whose centers of government right-wing radicals have vowed to occupy? How and when will the impeachment trial play out in the Senate? Will it aid or harm the process of actually governing during perilous times? What of the coronavirus vaccines? When will they become available to the mass of American citizens? Who will or won’t agree to be inoculated, let alone, at a time when even basic public health has been turned into a radically politicized subject, simply wear a mask?

Above all: How did we reach such a state, and how do we extract ourselves from it? 

Such questions both override our cultural lives and define them. The arts are a reflection of their culture and their times, sometimes underlining the flow of world events and sometimes reacting against them. They can no more exist in a vacuum than a demagogue can exist without a ready and willing audience. 
 

From the Five Oaks thread: “A far-right extremist wearing animal furs and holding a plastic shield and a wooden walking stick sits beneath an oil painting of Charles Sumner by portrait artist Walter Ingalls. Charles Sumner was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts who was an abolitionist and supporter of civil rights for African Americans in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. He was once severely injured and nearly killed when Representative Preston Brooks beat him with a walking cane on the Senate floor after Sumner made an anti-slavery speech. A small object label is located under the painting.”

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Making music for the love of it

ArtsWatch Weekly: A very different kind of orchestra, a weekend of horrors, board moves, toppled statues, farewells, flicks & how we see

SOMETIMES, IN THE UNDERSTANDABLE QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE AND EVEN PERFECTION in the arts, performers and artists can lose sight of something that should be at the core of the entire enterprise: a love of the game. That happened, Brett Campbell writes in ‘Orchestrating change’: healing music, to Ronald Braunstein, an up-and-coming orchestral conductor whose promising career was derailed, despite his prominent and obvious talents, by the stress and pressure of the job. “Anxiety, distraction, emotional ups and downs paralyzed him,” Campbell writes. “He couldn’t keep it all together.” 
 

For the love of it: Dylan Moore, a bassist with Me2/Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Me2.

Eventually Braunstein discovered that he had a crippling bipolar disorder, and that might have been the end of the story – except it wasn’t. He still had all of that talent, and a growing appreciation for the love that attracted him to music in the first place. And he discovered that there were a lot more people like him: professionals, amateurs, in-betweens who genuinely loved the music but not the pressure that goes along with a fast-track career. He discovered he had a simpatico with those among them who also had some form of mental illness. And so was born the Me2/Orchestra, a place where people could go for the simple joy of playing. It’s an amazing story, a genuine joy to read, and the original Me2 has spawned offspring groups, including one in Portland. It’s also a timely reminder of the genuine pleasures of amateurism – a word derived from the Latin amare, which means, simply, to love. Whether you’re a professional or an acolyte, it’s where it all begins.

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Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.

 


 

Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.

 


 

David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.

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Witnesses in a churning world

The artists speak out in the Hallie Ford Museum's big new exhibition on social justice and art. Here's what they have to say.

The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion. But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.

With that world huddled suspiciously against itself, afraid of its own moving parts, gathered defensively in closed tribes, angry over what large fragments of its inhabitants still believe to be a lost paradise, how can art not reflect the political and cultural realities that surround and help define the artists themselves? Artists are our witnesses, the ones who watch and experience and tell the tale.

Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography grabs our current cultural condition by the collar and gives it a good bracing shake. An expansive exhibition that is helping the Hallie Ford Museum of Art celebrate its twentieth anniversary in Salem, it features a sterling lineup of artists of color who look at the world through both a personal and a cultural lens, demanding each in their particular way that their stories be heard. All of the works are drawn from the collections of Jordan Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, and they’ve been smartly selected and arranged by guest curator Elizabeth Anne Bilyeu. The show she’s put together, which continues through December 20, is bold and revealing and aesthetically accomplished and reflective of a world that is richer and more complex than we can individually comprehend.

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America, from inside out

Inspired by conceptualist Joseph Beuys, a show at the Linfield gallery explores the nation's history, identity, and legacy of trauma

In 1974, nearly a year after Sacheen Littlefeather spoke at the Oscars on behalf of indigenous people, the German Conceptual artist Joseph Beuys flew into New York City and was met at the airport by assistants who wrapped him in felt and drove him to a gallery in SoHo. There, he spent the next three days in an enclosed space with a coyote and a supply of newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, no less, the journalistic flagship for American finance capitalism.

Beuys’ iconic piece of postmodern performance art, entitled I Like America and America Likes Me, isn’t as well-known as Littlefeather’s speech, which she cut short before being escorted off-stage past a furious John Wayne, who was in the wings. But both had the same goal of highlighting the inconvenient truth of the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Right-hand section of Daniel Duford’s John Brown triptych: “The General and the Supermax,” 2018; Watercolor and graphite on paper.

The numbers are horrifying. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, of course, but when Columbus landed in the “new” world in 1492, there’s a consensus that the Western Hemisphere had an indigenous population of anywhere from 50 to 100 million. Two centuries later, that population had been slashed by as much as 90 percent. It’s that historical context within which the current exhibit at Linfield College’s art gallery in McMinnville finds itself: America Likes Me, organized by gallery curator Josephine Zarkovich, was inspired by and “is in conversation with” Beuys’ seminal 1974 show. The exhibition runs through Oct. 5 and features work by six Oregon-based artists “whose work explores ideas of shared histories, American identity, and the legacy of trauma.”

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