Pearl Dive Project

Derek Chauvin, George Floyd & the art of crisis

ArtsWatch Weekly: A Portland Oscar nod; Dawson Carr's big day; diving into dance; conversation with a laureate; musical BRAVO; fish tales

ON TUESDAY, THE BIGGEST CULTURAL NEWS OF THE WEEK – maybe the biggest since the January 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital – came down. Derek Chauvin, who almost a year ago, as a Minneapolis police officer, pressed the life out of George Floyd with his knee, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. It was a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the killing of a citizen – even, as with Floyd, of an unarmed citizen – and it seems, at least for now, to have topped off a year and more of intense cultural division. Any other decision by the jury most likely would have set off a firestorm across the nation.

The political and cultural fissures of the past year have pulled the arts & cultural world into the fray, perhaps inevitably: If art reflects its culture, how can it possibly stay uninvolved? In Portland, public statues have come tumbling down and institutions have been under attack: Two men were arrested and charged with smashing another $10,000 or more worth of windows at the frequently targeted Oregon Historical Society during rioting last Friday. The window-smashing and other acts of destruction came during protests against recent national killings of Black citizens by police, and a police killing in Portland’s Lents Park of a man with a history of mental illness.

George Floyd was the focus of a Black Lives Matter mural painted by Emma Berger and others last year at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Place.

In the past year a rapid growth of public protest art has transformed the sides of many buildings in the city and the plywood covering boarded-up storefronts. Across the nation, in arts and cultural organizations large and small, racial equity has become the issue of the day, an overdue conversation in search of action, and an issue that is unlikely to be resolved by a single decision in a single courtroom on a single day.

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BodyVox dives for pearls

It's a high-risk gamble: Can a group of non-choreographers create a compelling evening of dance? BodyVox decides to find out.

Creativity is a mysterious beast. We try to lasso it and stick it in separate corrals: Writers here. Painters here. Composers here. Actors here. Dancers here. Git along, little dogies, but stay in place. Except creativity can also be a stubborn beast, with a will of its own, and sometimes it just doesn’t cotton to corrals.

That’s the underlying texture of the Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox’s series of short pieces choreographed by people who aren’t choreographers or even dancers, but who’ve distinguished themselves in other creative fields. How might their experiences as novelist, chef, painter, art director, photographer, or filmmaker translate when working with skilled moving bodies in a rehearsal hall and on a stage? What does creativity have in common across disciplines, and how is it specific to a single form of expression?

Brent Luebbert, not quite dead in Sherrie Wolf’s “Elegy.” Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The idea’s novel, and risky, and also, in a way, simply a reflection of reality. Creativity does spill over. Victor Hugo and August Strindberg were great writers, and also visual artists of note. Comic actor Jim Carrey paints, provocatively. Albert Einstein played classical violin, by most accounts very well. Even politicians get into the act. Winston Churchill was an amateur painter. Harry Truman played piano. Bill Clinton plays the saxophone. George W. Bush paints.

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