It happened again — another announcement in my inbox about a show where artists explore the concept of space or place.
Last week there was one for a panel discussion, one for a workshop and one for an international symposium. Then today, I received an announcement for A Space Called Public that includes “diverse works by twelve artists from different countries with the aim of generating a new conversation about the concept of public space today” that takes place in Munich. I also found one called the Home Base Project: a site-specific residency in Berlin that explores the notion of home and even has an aptly named “Nomadic Residency” that takes place in different locations around the globe every year. One thing about these events is that they never seem to happen in the same place twice.
All of the these events and shows have us scurrying around to different locations in order to learn about a sense of place. We end up having to dislocate ourselves in order to figure out where we are. I begin to wonder why this is now such a prevalent issue with contemporary artists.
Within the globalized, internet-ed world, it is no longer really necessary for artists to uproot themselves and permanently move to a cultural center. It could definitely help to be entrenched in an active community but plenty of artists find it sufficient to stay at their home base to network themselves and their work out into the world. In order to do this, many find themselves applying for artist residencies which have increasingly become the method in which we can temporarily connect with other artists, institutions, critics, curators, and writers while having the time to concentrate on a solid body of work.
As we uproot ourselves for a short while to become familiar with foreign territory and accustomed to a new way of doing things, it’s no wonder we might begin to think about where the hell we are. What is “home” after all? Who is your “community?” How does a person feel comfort in a new place and then become capable of making a new, meaningful work? The first thing that might come to mind is “Where am I?” as well as “Who am I in this space?”.
Even for those who stay put and apply to calls for work increasingly find projects and shows questioning our concept of space. Take the City of Phoenix’s recent call for Cultural Connections (made possible through an Our Town grant from the NEA). This is a project intended to connect our underutilized spaces and “revitalize” them through a series of art pieces. The IN FLUX project that began in 2010 (which has now joined forces with other Valley cities) has worked towards reinvigorating vacant spaces and storefronts while providing programming that connects people to them. Both of these projects focus our attention on how the spaces that we regularly traverse might have meaning to us. They attempt to tie us into our environment.
Why do we feel so lost?
The apparent availability of everywhere via the internet and the ability for more people around the globe to access the internet creates a flattened illusion of place accessibility. We can see more and be in touch with more people, as well as the perspective of their work, so that it no longer feels satisfactory to stay in one place. With the whole world out there, it seems provincial and limited to want to become established in one spot. Additionally, artist residencies and curators from around the world have tapped into this desire for artists to expand their scope and be involved in the larger network that becomes the art world. The sacrifice just might be not knowing where you are when you wake up in the morning.
Naturally, it seems the dialog and the work itself might turn to thinking about the very fundamental question of where we are. While these shows, discussions and symposiums aptly question how we look at the spaces we occupy, they also crave for us to come from different perspectives and locations — a confusing and ironic twist. We must be diverse and adaptable enough to remove ourselves from what we might consider to be our “place” in order to step back and assess it for others.
For the artists of Phoenix, this stepping back and forth — moving away for a residency and coming back after three months — might actually help with the identity crisis this city has been accused of having. Or, all this running around and flying to different locations might just give us perpetual jet lag and a hazy sense that this place is like that place. Or, it’s very possible that all these discussions and exhibits might just be pushing at the sense that we’re not really sure what a “place” is anymore.
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There are just a few seats left! Reserve your spot on the Third Friday Collectors Tour on January 18!
Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour returns on Friday, January 18, and includes three of downtown Phoenix’s most acclaimed galleries.
The participants will have a private viewing and the opportunity to meet the artist(s) and curators one-on-one, and learn more about their processes and vision.
The exclusive guided trolley tour will include:
- Bentley Gallery – “Mark Pomilio / Jeremy Thomas,” a delightful exploration of nature’s geometry, with Curator John Reyes and Mark Pomilio.
- monOrchid – Introducing new Curator Justin Germain with artist Linda Ingraham’s unique project “Off the Beaten Path: A Departure From The Norm,” and Matt Dougan’s personal retrospective “As the Crow Flies.”
- Willo North Gallery – “Youth: New Work by Bob Adams” with Bob explaining his inspiration to re-enter the world of solo gallery shows after two decades.
The tour will be hosted by Robrt Pela, Willo North curator and arts critic for Phoenix New Times, whose NPR “Morning Edition” radio essays are occasionally themselves the talk of the town. Pela will provide context on the contemporary art scene in downtown Phoenix and background on the artist spaces and galleries on the tour.
Event: Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour
Date: Friday, January 18
Time: 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. Phoenix. The trolley will depart promptly at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $35 per person, $50 per couple. Seating is limited. Light refreshments provided. To reserve your seats please visit http://collectorstourphoenix.eventbrite.com/.
About the Host:
Robrt Pela is known primarily as an arts critic for Phoenix New Times, where he has written a weekly columnthese past 22 years. His radio essays air each week on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and he’s worked as a writer and editor for national and local magazines including Psychology Today, The Advocate, Phoenix Home and Garden, and Men’s Fitness. His last published book was Filthy, a biography of the film director John Waters.
As a curator, Pela presents a new exhibit each month at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix. Last year he curated shows by, among others, Annie Lopez, Jeff Falk, Jason Hill, Janet de Berge Lange, Paul Wilson, Carolyn Lavender, and Bob Adams. He and his spouse, Todd Grossman, divide their time among their homes in Phoenix, Arizona; Niles, Ohio; and Bargemon, France.
I have buried my sketchbook under books on polar exploration, a plant-based diet and the concept of space in the age of the internet. When I enter my studio space, I take a moment to stare frighteningly at the scattered, messy desktop buried under unopened mail and a few dirty coffee cups. I am haunted by Facebook posts of artist friend accomplishments and the reflection it has on my inactivity.
This is the frozen desert of being at an artistic standstill.
Like pressing on through a frigid, barren landscape with no clear end to the steady, repetitive horizon: the days of inactivity and unmeasurable creativity continue. For many artists, this is when we start to look at whether it might have been better to study as a Latent Print Examiner or follow a more practical career as an accountant. Maybe some have even fantasized about the seemingly simple life as a heavy machine operator or bus driver. Imagine the satisfaction of completing an honest day of work and settling in to relax in the evening.
This possibility is as remote as a constantly shifting magnetic pole and as unappealing as an unseasoned bowl of polenta. Any artist who has attempted this shift in career due to a temporary lack of inspiration soon finds out that they are floating in a virtual world of non-ideas. It is not the world they are cut out for.
Unfortunately, the artist is beset with the drive to produce and put something in to the world. Although one might be able to sit back and be distracted, distraught and disengaged, the pull to act keeps nagging like hunger. I can’t ignore forever that there are thoughts in my head and I am compelled, like an explorer was to the open sea, to find out more about it.
It is time to get out. When in the darkest moments of intellectual despair, sometimes it’s better to turn outward. Luckily, Phoenix has answered with a repertoire of activities to foster ideas, import information and maybe most importantly: generate human contact. Tuesday night Lawn Gnome hosts Books and Beakers, a weekly “bringing science to the people” event on the subject of Time Dilation Theory and more remotely local interdisciplinary artist Chris Danowski opens his show Dogface at the ASU West, Artspace West Gallery. Friday I can visit the multi-media installation by Ann Morton at Modified, Jackalope Ranch’s Manifesto exhibit at Drive-Thru Gallery and the Valley of the Sunflowers Paper Project at Combine Studios.
With so many options to turn outward, I have no reason to fall further into the crevasse of my own artistic inactivity. Instead, I can revel in the collective ability for others in the community to lift me up through their own action and energy and realize that I will get mine back in time. The desert, even in its cold state, need not be bleak.
Suggested reading: The Race to the White Continent: Voyages to the Antarctic by Alan Gurney; Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839, Alan Gurney; City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, William J. Mitchell; Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health, Brendan Brazier
This weekend Phoenix Theatre offers its final performances of the all-Gershwin musical ‘S Wonderful, directed by Associate Artistic Director Robert Kolby Harper. “This kind of show is really hard,” he says, “not just for the director-choreographer but for the actors because they’ll change clothes 50,000 times, and they’ll sing 40 songs by the end of the night.”
Perhaps the number of wardrobe changes is slightly exaggerated, but ‘S Wonderful does cover more than 42 Gershwin tunes in its whirlwind tour of five time periods and locations. Mini-musicals take audiences to a 1939 Parisian café, a 1948 Hollywood movie studio, and New Orleans in 1957 – there’s a total of five vignettes of 15-20 minutes each, all sharing the same sleek but effective Art Deco-inspired set pieces.
If you’re searching for a deep, complex plot, don’t bother – the simple, timeless themes of yearning, attraction, romance, and love are carried on the thinnest of storylines. It’s all a vehicle for the rich music of the Gershwin brothers. And “if you’re looking for linear,” says Harper with a chuckle, “you’re screwed, because it’s not gonna happen.” He shakes his head and continues, “But that’s not how memories are; memories are collages, feelings…sometimes just snapshots.”
A tight, talented onstage three-piece combo of piano, bass, and drums plays nearly non-stop, providing not only accompaniment but also interludes between the mini-musicals and seamless segues between styles.
So many songs in such a relatively short show might create a dizzying, abbreviated effect, but Harper says that while “there are moments where it’s more snippety, there’s a big group of songs where you get a nice chunk.” A few of the numbers receiving more extended play include “Nice Work If You Can Get It” as well as selections from the Gershwins’ beloved folk opera.
“[The songs] that I’m most excited about are from Porgy and Bess, because I get to sing a little bit on ‘There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,’” says actor Toby Yatso. “I’ll probably never be in a production of Porgy and Bess for racial reasons,” he continues, “so I think it’s fun to be able to experience those songs, that music, that score, even if it’s just a little taste…it’s a unique opportunity.”
Yatso is an Associate Artist at Phoenix Theatre, and serves on the faculty for Arizona State University’s Lyric Opera Theatre program (as does Harper). He’s won numerous ariZoni and Encore Society awards for his work onstage and as a director, teacher, and choreographer in shows like The Producers, Avenue Q, and Glorious.
“What I like about Toby is that he’s never satisfied with just bringing the same-old same-old,” explains Harper. “And he’s just awesome to work with – I laugh hysterically.” He smiles. “That’s one of my big things in rehearsal: if we’re not laughing, we’re going home, ‘cause life’s too short. We’re not curing cancer here, people – we’re doing a musical revue.”
“At the end of the day, if you’re in a revue, yeah – sing pretty, but you’ve got to be funny. It can’t all be about the voice, because I can get a CD and sit at home in my PJs and have a cocktail,” Harper continues. “So I want people who can be interesting to watch, and move you to feel something…lift the music off the page.”
The cast also includes Kaitlynn Kleinman Bluth, Jenny Hintze, Kyle Erickson Hewitt, and Jenn Taber, who stars in ‘S Wonderful’s mini-musical “Of Thee I Sing,” embracing the role of an abandoned chanteuse. “Jenn’s one of the funniest women I’ve ever met,” says Yatso. “She can sing anything and is just so committed to everything she does…and it’s fun to work with her because we’re such different-sized people. And I love that – I just love the contrast of us.”
The 6-foot-5-inch-plus Yatso continues, “I think I’m known because of my height, and as a unique physical presence.” His character in the first vignette is a newsroom worker, a sort of silent movie standard with choreography making the most of Yatso’s build. “This is so much about the physical storytelling — I get to heighten all my physical attributes…and I have a lot!” he laughs wryly.
He’s delighted with all three of his female co-stars. “Jenny and I have danced together a lot – I always feel like she makes me look like a better dancer than I probably would be by myself,” Yatso chuckles. “And Kaitlynn…we always felt we were so connected onstage.” He smiles again, and exclaims, “When I heard it was those three women, I thought, ‘I am a lucky, lucky man!’”
‘S Wonderful includes plenty of dancing along with songs ranging from the less familiar (“My Cousin in Milwaukee”) to beloved favorites. “Of course you can’t have Gershwin without ‘Someone To Watch Over Me,’” says Yatso. Harper agrees; “I don’t know who can hear that song and not have a real visceral reaction to those lyrics.” He continues, “I think even now…even teenagers can listen to that and go, ‘Wow – yes, I feel that. That’d be awesome – I’d love to have someone watch over me like that.”
“And that’s the whole point,” Harper says. “That’s what music does, especially the Gershwins’ music – it connects people in ways that are meaningful, that are deeper than just dancing in the club. It boils down to love.”
Even as ‘S Wonderful leaves the stage, Phoenix Theatre prepares for the world premiere of another production: Love Makes the World Go ‘Round, based on the music of Bob Merrill, who wrote hits like “Mambo Italiano,” “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake,” and “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” as well as works for theatre and film like Funny Girl and Carnival. Merrill, who reportedly composed on toy xylophones, took his life in 1998 at the age of 74.
“Love Makes the World Go ‘Round is set in a New York piano bar, where these three women have sort of wandered in,” explains Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard. “They’re each in a different stage in their lives and their marriages – or ‘not-marriages’ – so they get into conversations with the help of the piano player…it’s a very funny piece.”
The tiny cast includes Jeannie Shubitz, Allison Houston, and Patti Davis, while the pianist is Brad Ellis, an arranger and accompanist for television’s “Glee,” who also worked with writer Duane Poole on the show’s arrangements.
The new Obliq Gallery, a contemporary urban “pop up” gallery at the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix will have a Opening Artists Reception Friday, January 4. The recently opened gallery will show four local photographers: Lou Oates, Michael Yeager, Matthew DeYoung and Dusty Parsons.
The exhibition, entitled “Successive Moments of Now” captures moments of time and places in Arizona and beyond. The artists will be on hand to discuss their work and answer your questions.
Wine, light hors d’oeurves and music will be provided. Parking is available in the Arizona Center parking garage, and can be validated for up to two hours.
If you go
Event: “Successive Moments of Now” Opening Reception
Date: Friday, January 4
Time: 6:30 to 10 p.m.