Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante

‘Telephone Game’ calls on artists to interpret another’s work

A photograph begets a mosaic begets quilted fiber art in an iterative exhibit at the Lincoln City Cultural Center.

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Perhaps you played the Telephone Game when you were a child.  You sat in a circle with friends. Someone whispered a message in your ear, and you passed it to the next person, and so on until you reached the last person, who revealed the message they received – usually vastly different from when it started.

That was the game Krista Eddy, visual arts director for the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Chessman Gallery, had in mind when she proposed an experimental art exhibit — albeit with some significant differences. Rather than words, Eddy’s game relied on art, and rather than attempting to stick to the exact message, the idea was more about keeping with the spirit of the original. How does one artist interpret the work of another?

The results of the experiment are displayed in a group show that opened this month and will be up through Feb. 11.

“I am always trying to think of new, creative ways we can involve artists, especially local artists, in exhibits at the cultural center,” Eddy said. “This just seemed really fun to me.”

For Eddy’s experiment, she created two circles with work by about 20 local artists. The first person in each circle was shown a photograph – either a coastal landscape by Donna Bader or an industrial scene by Kirk Jonasson – and asked to create a piece inspired by the photo. The next artist in the circle saw only the work of the previous artist.

Eddy said they chose photographs they thought would translate well into other work and mediums. “The mediums varied really widely,” she said, “fabric, paint, woodburning, mosaic, clay — you name it. The artist’s version could be any size. It could be a close representation or from their imagination. Some of the colors continue, some were born-anew halfway through the circle.”

When the circles of art were revealed, there were some puzzling moments, Eddy said. “Moments when you look at the artwork and can’t quite make the connection. How is that a representation or version of the piece that follows it?” That was Eddy’s initial reaction to a piece by Toledo artist Janet Runger – a giant snail.

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“The back of the snail has a window in it and you can see into the snail,” Eddy said. “You had to look very carefully into that window to see the inspiration for the following piece. Until you looked really closely you would never guess the connection. And it’s really a wonderful little ‘aha’ moment.” Eddy explains her “aha moment” in a virtual tour of the show on the center’s Facebook page.

Clay artist Sam Jacobson took inspiration not only from the artist that preceded her, but also from an article she’d read about sophisticated DNA analysis that explained the evolution of mammals in the ocean. The experiment “really stretched my thinking in a different way,” Jacobson said. Instead of copying something, she said, she took what it made her feel or think “and flow with it. I created a large fish on legs, with a slug on its back and butterfly on the head of the slug and on the tail is an apple, in case it got hungry.”

None of the artists had seen the full show until the opening night earlier this month when they got their first view of both circles.

“It was an absolute delight to see what all the artists who participated created,” Jacobson said. “In my thread, it was really easy to see how I picked up from the painting ahead of me, and it was just so flattering to see how the artist after me picked up on some of my imagery. It was so much fun.”

Jonasson was surprised by the interpretations of his industrial abstract photo.

“It was really an interesting exhibit and it taught you about the emphasis the artists put on the interpretation that came before them,” Jonasson said. “I think it spoke to the individuality of artists wanting to express themselves, but also follow the rules and be original in what they did. They used a little of something that came before them. I thought it was the best exhibit Krista’s had up there, and she’s had some beautiful ones.”  

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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