Monday, January 12, 2015

Second Homeplace Workshop

Homeplace workshop II, 1/10/15
On Saturday, we held our second art-making workshop on the theme of “Homeplace,” as we prepare to open our exhibition “Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in Urban America,” based on the work of anthropologists Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg.  Community members and students were invited to create art on the theme of “homeplace”: what does home, and the lack of home, mean to you?  Once again, the workshop was organized by expressive arts therapist Nan Doollitle and her student intern Maggie Bauremeister, who brought in bountiful art supplies and helped participants translate their stories into material form.

Sarah Bair, "All are Welcome"
Sarah Bair, co-president of the student disability rights group ABLE, decided to make a piece of tactile art that could be discovered by visitors through the sense of touch. She had initially planned to create a box, modeled on the kinds of "Touch the World" enclosed boxes that anthropologist Kojiro Hirose had taught us about last year, into which museum visitors would insert their hands to feel objects within. But as she worked with the materials, she instead created a little “tent city,” centered on a cardboard tent with flaps in front of it: through the flaps sighted and non-sighted visitors can reach to feel a tiny sleeping bag and pillow within.  Hope Amason helped her create items of clothing to hang from an adjacent clothesline. Sarah also created a small sofa to go in front of the tent. Onto this, she playfully placed a little scorpion created by ABLE's other co-president Josh Hackney, which I take for her evoked the “sting” of fear associated with the homeless by passersby. After some thought she entitled the piece “All are Welcome.”

BARS-Behind America's Ruggesd System

Saeed and Olaf, in turn,  were inspired by a recent local newspaper article on a homeless man who had been arrested and placed in jail for creating a fire outdoors to keep warm on a cold day. They created two linked black boxes, evoking a homeless encampment and a jail house. The homeless camp space is covered with collage images signaling the open fire and police surveillance; all under a tattered American flag, reminding us of the nation’s promise, not always fulfilled, to care for its most vulnerable. (The flag also recalls Righteous Dopefiend's opening banner image of a homeless veteran proudly waving an American flag above his tent.)  The cells in the jailhouse are marked by narrow bars. They called the assemblage “B.A.R.S”—“Behind American’s Rugged System.”  For far too many in America, they explained, prison has become their principal “home-place.”

Alex shared his now completed fantastical drawing of a castle floating in the area above a beautiful mountainscape, tethered to earth only by a thin chain. A ladder from the castle almost, but not quite touches, the steps below, carved in stone. I continue to wonder if we can read the image through Alex’s quest for a safe and secure place to live. Nan suggests the castle, just above an almost inaccessible mountain slope, is situated on a space from which one can never be evicted. In a previous post, I thought the planet-like balloons orbiting the castle might evoke  the safe  configurations of a family home denied to the artist in his current predicament. But at the same time —as I regard the ways in which the castle in the air spans the great gulf from earth to star-filled cosmos—I recognize that a work of art may very well exist at an imaginative domain far beyond the material conditions of its production.

Ellen Schattschneider HouseHolding.
Ellen Schattschneider created a beautiful nestlike, woven structure in the spirit of the work of Andy Goldsworthy. She wove together raffia with cat tails growing wild in front of the Museum, connecting us to the natural environment upon which the Museum sits and to this land's Native American heritage. She calls the work, "HouseHolding" and provides an artist's statement: "Living in Ellensburg on landed ceded from the Yakama Nation we are mindful of the heritage of
Native American peoples of this area. As I was making this "nest" I wanted to use an ancient basketmaking technique called "twining" in which one strand/reed, folded over in half, works to
surround or "embrace" a strand running perpendicular to it. This creates a surface of connected, yet distinct, pieces--eventually binding them into a single structure, be it a basket, piece of clothing, or building structure. As I was binding together strands of raffia, reeds and willow branches I began to think that this was not unlike the way a family is made--distinct individuals bound together,

indeed embraced and held by the place we call "home”.

Sandra Costi, Momma's Backyard

Several participants created garden spaces, either based on a remembered garden of their childhood or a kind of secret garden they continue to carry with them internally. 

Finally, Drew wrote a moving commentary about his experiences during military deployment in Afghanistan. For him, the closest thing to “home” was sleeping on a mat on the front hood of his Humvee, above the engine’s warm and familiar vibrations-- a small patch of security in an unfamiliar, potentially treacherous world.

The art works are now installed in the Museum's lobby as part of the student-developed exhibition, “All our stories are so different but we’re all the same: Homelessness and Heroin in our Community.” We’re eager to see what other works are made by community members and how the installation develops over the course of the quarter, as more and more people engage with Righteous Dopefiend and its deeply moving images and text panels.

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