Overton Park and Rust Hall will become a playground for creativity on Saturday, as the Memphis College of Art's Cinema 7 ensemble hosts an "art bike" parade and the (interactive) installation exhibit, ENTER=ACTIVE. Cinema 7 is a collective of MCA students comprised of an experimental video production class, taught by Associate Professor Jill Wissmiller.
In the past, the class was more studio-centric, but this semester, Wissmiller says that discussion of the concept of play led the tight-knit group to attempt to re-envision the conventions of a screen - originally with an exhibition at Power House for this year’s Live from Memphis Music Video Showcase, called Triggered. Using the interactive software, Isadora, the students created different programs as artistic games in which an outside user could control and compose both audio and video.
Setting the stage for adults to play like kids and thinking about art in a novel way became the focus of a larger project and the basis of ENTER=ACTIVE, on display from 8 to 10 p.m. at Rust Hall.
Kaitlyn Chandler created a piece for the sidewalk in front of Rust that acts as a full-body music-maker, wherein a projector and camera communicate to trigger sounds when someone dances on the colored grid below. Amanda Willoughby made a racing game for the facade of the building, where players will use standard video game controllers to navigate mazes, also mapped to color grids over Rust’s iconic screens. Working with the concept of digital painting, Stephen Harris’ piece will take viewers into the separate layers of a painting with a 3-D image projected onto a traditional canvas surface.
The bike parade is set to start at 3 p.m., with bikes decorated by MCA students as well as members of the community. Envisioned by Cinema 7 member, Aimee Easter, the parade is intended to promote awareness, encourage bicycle travel, and provide an unusual opportunity for creative expression. People are welcome to decorate bikes on-site and anyone can participate, with absolutely no registration required. Check-in for art bikes will take place in front of Rust Hall at 2 p.m. and live music will be going on all day.
Targeted to at-risk youth, adults, and families in partnership with local social service organizations, the year-long program combines the personal, yet connective outlet of creating art with the social aspects of a museum environment to facilitate interactive and ultimately therapeutic group experiences. This year, the Brooks' art therapy resources will extend to the Memphis Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, Youth Villages, and the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program, with a specific focus on victims of trauma.
The Art Therapy Access program is tailored to meet the individual needs of selected participants - approximately 60 people in 2012 with 20 from each individual organization - who all receive a total of 45 hours of therapy, with some sessions held at the museum and some at the outside institution. The program will culminate in a public exhibition of participant artwork, on display at the museum for two months, as well as a website that will detail the benefits and outcomes of art therapy, to be used as a resource for other organizations.
Art Therapists Sarah Hamil and Karen Peacock are integral to the program's ideals. Ms. Peacock, who previously worked with the VA Medical Center, has served as the Brooks’ Art Therapist since 2007 and wrote her master’s thesis on the particular benefits of art therapy within a museum setting. Ms. Hamil acts as Ms. Peacock’s clinical supervisor, and both are board certified professionals with substantial experience in art therapy and social work.
The Brooks has undertaken the multi-visit outreach since 2007, which includes art making sessions with licensed art therapists, museum tours, and an exhibition of the resulting work. Originally, the Brooks collaborated with Alzheimer’s Day Services of Memphis, then with the VA Medical Center in 2008, and in 2009 with Youth Villages. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, the museum teamed up with the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program to offer instruction and experiences in the arts to children raised by a family member other than their parents.
The NEA was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, awarding more than $4 billion since its inception to support artistic innovation. Art Works was created to encourage and support the arts in terms of creation, public engagement, lifelong learning, and the strengthening of communities, with 788 grants awarded to nonprofit national, regional, state, and local organizations, totaling $24.81 million to date.
A talented group of friends and senior photographers at the Memphis College of Art recently formed a collective they've dubbed The New Memphis Photographers, composed of Elaine Catherine Miller, Yeinier Gonzalez, Amanda Gahan, Jonathan Rogers, Julie Kopel, and Andrew Edwards. The name seemed fitting as the group nailed down the very first, full-fledged gallery exhibition to be held at the Sears Crosstown building, coming up on May 11th.
"We like to think that we are the fresh faces in Memphis photography right now, and want to advertise ourselves as such. In the coming months some of us will be moving up to Chicago, while others may be staying here. We want to keep Memphis in our title to inform where our artistic roots were essentially established while also furthering a positive awareness of the city," says Miller.
The collective's self-titled show, The New Memphis Photographers, will undoubtedly make for a larger scale than Fotocopia, a week-long exhibition at the quaint Adam Shaw Gallery included in the recent Broad Ave. Art Walk, but the small showing was a wonderful reminder of the clean simplicity of thoughtful artistic vision. Each photographer has a noticeably individual style, in both subject and overall composition, yet when you step back and consider the pieces as part of a greater collection, you see how truly complementary the separate sets are; that these artists are all wrangling with the same issues, only on different fronts.
Elaine Miller exposes Americana with a diligence that seems to effortlessly bind modern issue to vintage atmosphere. Julie Kopel explores the uncomfortable implications of sadomasochism with a delicacy that somehow fully articulates the beauty of the feminine body. Andrew Edwards creates dark, layered depths that further clarify his photographs rather than drown out the image in shadow. And Yeinier Gonzalez brilliantly documents a quite personal basis of culture and family in Cuba.
"I feel like we each bring something new to the field and I really enjoy exhibiting with them," says Gonzalez.
The Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes hosted the college's Annual Juried Student Exhibition last Friday and Saturday, including a singularly entertaining performance piece from Johnathan Robert Payne that drew a small crowd of delighted students.
According to gallery director and professor, Hamlett Dobbins, students enrolled in his gallery management class have selected pieces for the juried show for the last few years. They also chose the prize winners. The Senior Thesis Exhibition looks to be every bit as intriguing and goes up this week, opening on Friday from 6-8 p.m.
Crosstown Arts recently put on the third annual MemFeast in collaboration with Indie Memphis in the cavernous domain of the Sears Crosstown building's lowest level. This time around, projects were limited to film and devoted entirely to the unifying theme of "neighborhood."
While most of the selected filmmakers chose a more straightforward, traditional approach, with documentaries and narratives based inside the borders of a specific neighborhood, some branched out to the greater concept of the Memphis community as a whole. Out of eight hand-picked proposals, stretching across the city from Binghampton to Vance Avenue, the work of Nicki Newberger, Alan Spearman, Mark Adams, Morgan Jon Fox, and Sean Faust was chosen by the audience of more than 250 locals to receive a $5,000 grant - funded by ticket sales from the event as well as sponsor donations.
The exceptionally talented collaboration took a unique and somewhat risky strategy, producing a sort of preview of the film to come. April will tell the story of a 9-year-old girl living in what has become the marginalized neighborhood of Soulsville, the former site of Stax Records and current home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Named after a special tree in the area that the little girl turns to as a source of shelter and comfort, her tale of hope mixed with fear is juxtaposed against the hard reality of a middle-aged woman in failing health and ever-dwindling opportunity within the same boundaries, to merge the compelling story-telling of a narrative format with the unyielding truth of a documentary.
In line with the overall focus, Paul Taylor of the Stax Music Academy will compose the soundtrack for April, with plenty of input from his students. The completed film is set to premiere at this year's upcoming Indie Memphis Film Festival, on Nov. 1-4.
The medium of film is decidedly close to the heart of one of Crosstown's founders, Christopher Miner. An artist himself, Miner came to film after a roundabout career that primarily focused on photography and writing. With the organization's goal of inspiring creative dialogue about Memphis through film, and the unshakeable power of April's preview in mind, we spoke with Miner about his personal views on art and the fundamental vision of Crosstown Arts.
What is your background as an artist?
I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for my undergrad degree, studying photography and creative writing. Then, I went for a Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, thinking I would go back to Mexico — where I did a photo project as my undergrad thesis — but while I was there I ended up studying creative writing with Barry Hannah and writing fiction for my master’s degree. The next year I went to Yale for graduate school in photography. We had an assignment for the whole class to make something other than what you normally do. The point was to shake up your mode of work.
When I would show my photographs in critiques at Yale, the major criticism was that my stories were more interesting than the pictures themselves, so for this assignment somebody suggested that I make a video. All of my work prior to this point was traditional black and white photography: in my process I would just walk around and get mixed up with any kind of situation, sort of in explorer mode. I had never decided what my work was going to be about before I made it, I’d always just go out and discover something. Basically, that video ended up being like the cornerstone of my art career. It was in the greater New York show at MoMA PS1, and pretty much everything, even the content of my work flowed from this one starting point.
I finished at Yale in 2000 and all my friends were moving to New York, to be famous and successful in the art world, and I just wanted to live in Memphis. It’s the coolest, most perfect place in the world. It’s Southern and random and eclectic. When I came to Memphis from New Haven I had this idea that I should start a nonprofit to teach photography to kids, but I had no idea who to connect with or what to do. I was trudging all over town looking at old buildings, and — it was fully naive — I sat in the parking lot of the Sears building and had no idea what it was, thinking it would be an amazing place to do something with.
Why did you choose Memphis?
I moved back to New York and ended up teaching photography at Hunter College and video at Yale for a couple of years. Then we moved back to the South. It feels like in this city there’s a figure from a movie around all the time, the whole place feels like a set. It’s real-world stuff, and there’s an authenticity to the people.
What led to the formation of Crosstown?
I left New York with my wife, Amanda, and moved to Mississippi to help run my dad’s business when he was diagnosed with multiple melanoma. He owned health clubs in Jackson, and actually, it’s kind of crazy how much that involvement has helped with our project. I think this opportunity wouldn’t have even come about if I hadn’t had some experience in business.
My wife and I got married in Clarksdale and had a big wedding weekend at the Shack Up Inn. All of our friends from New York needed somewhere to stay, so we found this perfect place, and I got to be friends with the owner. He has a building on the property that’s an old feed-house and didn’t know what he was going to do with it. I thought it would make a great artist residency program, so I started a non-profit organization in Jackson to put a program in this feed-house.
In New York I was surrounded by a big art world, and I didn’t think I needed any of that stuff to be an artist. Jackson was an opportunity to have all this space and time, but within months I was devastated. I didn’t realize that seeing my friends and going to their shows kept me engaged. The idea was to bring in artists from all over the world to Mississippi to be a source of inspiration there.
I came to Memphis to talk to Todd Richardson about it, we had been friends for a long time. The people who were affiliated with the Sears building heard about the idea for the feed-house, and also knew that Todd had been talking about how the Sears building could be used. Things like MASS MoCA and other large-scale industrial recaptures of old buildings for arts purposes were happening at the same time, so Todd and I decided to put a plan together.
What are your goals for the organization?
The thing people don’t totally understand about the building is that it’s over a million square feet. It’s monstrous. It’s more like an urban village with a major emphasis on the arts inside. Studio space for artists was not even a part of our original concept. Rent is one thing that nobody is hard up for in Memphis, that’s not the point. It includes a residential program, a gallery space dedicated to bringing art to Memphis, with an equal amount of attention placed on exhibition opportunities for local artists. Then there’s plans for an art-making facility, sort of like shared labs for local artists so that people like you and me don’t have to go out and buy a kiln.
Why did you choose to pursue art?
I am naturally inclined to operate in an imaginary place more than a real one. As making art takes shape, it’s that same impulse that the world makes more sense in a kind of fictionalized version, like how a movie makes more sense than reality sometimes because it can get at some higher truth in a more accentuated way.