Women, art, activism, protest, event.
By Melody Owen
I’m going to guide us back through the unexpected networks of art paths I walked this winter; through a deluge of rain and what seemed like books exploding in the air overhead, showering me with pages of text. This is a guided tour through some of the art I wandered through over these past few eventful months.
We started the term during a period of shocking transition in our government. A new faction is coming into power, an administration working to kill every government agency that protects the environment and supports the arts, humanities, libraries, public broadcasting, women’s health, threatened species, clean water, clean air, forests, press freedom, climate change research and on and on… the constant barrage of news reports have been interwoven with the dark, cold, grey of winter.
Pulsing through this cloud of gloom are bursts of light, moments of coming together with other people in solidarity and consolation. Yes, we are going through our daily routines; working or going to classes and meeting deadlines, always behind, but once in awhile an essential event will take place, whether it be through a performance, visiting a collection of objects, or listening to a person talk about their own path. In our time of screen living, half in and half out of the screen, when we meet together in a physical place for an event, a tangible moment of hope may be manifested.
About ten years ago, I lived in Quebec for a couple of months in a tiny cabin with no hot water all by itself in the middle of a giant field on the edge of the Saint Lawrence River. A short walk brought me to the rocky shore. The rock there was smooth in shades of yellow, red and copper. I hosted a small party one night on the shore for my comrades at the residency program, a handful of artists. We lay on smooth rock, watching the stars shoot through the sky and talked in French and English and joked. There might have been a campfire. And then, across the river, northern lights started shimmering in magnetic but very subtle blues and yellow.
The northern lights and meteor showers, the sparks of light in the darkness of my first winter in Corvallis were embodied mainly by creative women. I started the term by suddenly deciding to curate a show of some of the women artists who are on the faculty at OSU and U of O. I called the gallery Optic and the show Nasty Woman because galleries across the country and world were holding Nasty Woman events in response to the misogynist comments made by the incoming President and in an act of solidarity with the women’s marches. I wanted to contribute to this movement because I had both space and knowledge of a number of extremely talented women, all of whom teach in the area. It just made sense to bring the elements together. It took place at my studio on the night before the inauguration. (Meanwhile in the EAH program, we are reading ecofeminism. I discover Donna Haraway.)
We are coming together to protest against the misogyny of the incoming administration. We are coming together in solidarity with the women’s marches occurring around the United States. This show is meant to display the strength, innovation, talent, fortitude, unity, and excellence of women in our community.
Event photo: University of Oregon women’s basketball team taken in the 1910s. University of Oregon Libraries – Special Collections and University Archives
Corvallis Advocate preview by Johnny Beaver
Jessie Rose Vala
In addition, we held an event on Not-My-President Day, which was also linked up with events around the world. There were many kinds of meetings and interventions, large and small, that simply made a gesture of solidarity or protest, even if that gesture was very quiet, just a whisper. Mother was just such an event. The artist’s 6 year old daughter, came dressed as Alice in Wonderland, prepared to recite from the Disney movie. We read the Pink Floyd lyrics which she handed out on scraps of paper. When one of us asked, while holding in our hands the cake of bacteria and yeast, “Mother, will they drop the bomb?” she delightfully shrugged her shoulders. The feel of the mother was cool and smooth and reminded me of the time I touched a whale.
Following is the event announcement, written by artist: Karin Bolender
In honor of Not-My-President’s Day, this intimate, improvisational ceremony, led by K-Haw Hart and hosted by Optic Gallery in Corvallis, Oregon, will bring some worried, wondering humans together to artfully question/resist the opacity and absurdity of present political regimes. As we gently pass around a Mother (the thick, fleshy, semi-translucent body of symbiotically cultured bacteria and yeast that brews an ancient drink called kombucha), we will ask the Mother questions sourced from the lyrics of the Pink Floyd song by that same name. Other questions and gestures are also welcome.
Jessie Rose Vala, mentioned previously, hosted an event on a full moon and an eclipse. This event occurred in the distant lands of Springfield, an hour away. I could see the lightning from where I was watching through the virtual world of social media. A woman sang while sitting on a horse in the center of Jessie’s marvelous installation of sculptures. I did stand for a moment in the room with those sculptures at Ditch Gallery, but the horse was not there. It was another day.
The next event at the Optic Gallery will also be themed around women and the environment. Julia Oldham will be showing her amazing drawing from the series Ahab’s Mother. This event will take place on March 25th, 2017. Please come.
Ahab’s Mother, a series of ink drawings by Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham, follows a woman through the depths of the ocean as she drifts among schools of sardines and shivers of mermaids and alongside a giant white whale. Borrowing from both the visual language of graphic novels and the classic illustrations of Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent, Oldham creates dreamy images about longing for impossible companionship with animals and seeking the darkest and most mysterious places.
I visited Julia at an event that she hosted at the gallery Bison Bison. She was playing the entire audio book of Moby Dick as she drew and invited others to come and draw with her. At another event she hosted yet another amazing woman artist, Mandy Hampton, who spoke about her recent work with portals.
Continuing down the street and around the corner, Bruce Burris is an artist who draws acres and acres of ink pathways, and also curates an art space in the storefront window of a huge old apartment building called the Benton Plaza. He sometimes features artists who live in the hotel itself. It is something of a small Oregon town version of New York’s Chelsea Hotel, with all kinds of quietly sparkling residents, self taught artists and craftspeople, writers and tinkerers making maps and scrolls, detailed plans for ships and volumes of comic books. Treasures be here.
Other Corvallis event makers and artists I met on the paths this season were Lainie Turner, Co-Founder/Owner at Darkside Cinema; Hester Coucke of the Art Center and Corvallis Art Walk; and Helen Wilhelm who is crafting an elegant and hidden gallery in a science building on campus. It is called the Little Gallery and is currently hosting a show organized by our very own Samm Newton on the subject of the microbiome.
Ava Mendoza hosted by Michael Gamble
Another unexpected fork in my path led me to, the incredible Ava Mendoza. She played a surprise concert organized by fellow musician, Michael Gamble, a teacher at OSU. They played together with a small group including Dana Reason, who reached right into the piano strings to play it. This amazing, spontaneous group assembled together on the top floor of the hundred year old music building to play for us, sending twisting metallic, discords lilting ribbons of electronica, and little bursts of fireflies up into the high ceilings and the wooden rafters.
This is where the path gives a sudden shake and I am at a lecture by Carson Ellis hosted by the Fine Arts Department. I sit at edge of a giant classroom filled with students. Carson stands at the front and tells the story of her life via a slide lecture prepared for a group in Romania… I think it was Romania, in my mind are Russian spires of buildings in inky backdrops to bundled children having snowball fights. Carson’s career is amazing and I won’t recount it here. You can follow her website (below) into that rabbit hole. She and her husband are both profoundly talented and accomplished. From time to time, in the midst of children’s book illustrations and album covers, she will create and share (via social media) a spontaneous image of protest or solidarity, like the paintings she did for the Black Lives Matter and the Queer Pride movements. She has done so much beautiful work, My very favorite is the collaboration she did with her brilliant son Hank, in which she illustrates some of his extensive creative research into alien life forms, as shown below.
Then, the path twists back on itself and time shifts. I am sitting in this same giant classroom, actually in the very same seat. Only now there is a different person sitting next to me. It is a young man. Wasn’t it a woman sitting next to me at Carson’s talk? Or is it the same person who has now simply shifted gender like le Guin’s Gethen in Left Hand of Darkness.
The readings from school leak into reality and back and forth until I am so confused it almost seems as if I myself am standing in front of a slide screen with an image of my virtual avatar projected behind me and I fumble with my notes as she speaks or I put words into her mouth, words like gender and illusion and identity. Anyway, I am here again, in the chair in the classroom, with a girl or a boy sitting next to me, either one of them secretly checking his or her cell phone. But now, before of the slide projector stands Ryan Pierce, another longtime Portland artist and colleague. He shares his story too, in fragments, talking about leading groups of artists camping in the mountains and the desert in the summer, and about painting in his studio all winter. He shows slides of his paintings, many of ecological degradation, human impact on nature, paintings which in real life are almost as big as the projections. My favorites are his collections of treasures and delights, a little like the collection I offer you here. Who knew you could walk a path through a wood and find all these tiny treasures. (Well, the child knows this but shhhhh… puts finger up to lips) A Cabinet of Curiosities. Who knew you could walk a path through a small town in winter and scoop up all these shining stars.
Ka’ila Farrell-Smith shows slides with Ryan. She is a painter too. My favorite piece was the drum material she stretched over canvas. It is visceral, referential and reverential to a profoundly painful and simultaneously beautiful heritage as well as reflecting a contemporary presence of mind and place. Her work evokes the story, the moment the story is told, the retelling of the story. They both tell stories about Signal Fire. Ka’ila started on the trips as a resident artist and became one of the trip leaders. She shares a moment of revelation in which she met a small animal, I think it was a turtle, and she followed it around and studied it for hours, which makes perfect sense to me. We see so little of those creatures really. They are in the wild, keeping their magic to themselves, unless we are lucky enough to come upon them, while walking those paths.
Ryan started Signal Fire with his partner, Amy Harwood. Amy is one of the most hard working and innovative environmental activists I have ever met. She is full time protecting the wilderness and ancient forests with organizations like BARK in Portland. Signal Fire hosts artists in tents in the mountains and in deserts. They take groups of students on long hikes while making art and reading about environmental issues along the way. They take artists on canoe trips and on adventures along the borders between countries. I really admire the way Ryan and Amy have manifested this residency and have been watching it grow year by year. Talk about bright lights in the darkness… these two humans have added a warm campfire glow, complete with spreading sparks, to help us light the gloom we are currently navigating.
Freda by Anna Fiddler
Now we come to the end of winter term’s winding path. In the last few days, on every plant and tree in town, tiny buds and flowers have started bursting from branches, all soft and fuzzy like microscopic lambs, like fallen stars.. I’ll see you when Spring explodes and future events mark our way.