Trinca explained that she was contacted in October of 2020 with the idea of an exhibition that would respond to current political events and discord, as well as the impact of the pandemic.
"We wanted to incorporate programs, partnerships and installations that would help people cope with distress and suffering," she said. "We also wanted to celebrate the positive effects of looking at art, learning about others and opening your heart."
Because she believes that "every artist is a healer," it was no small task to narrow the scope to just 18 artists. "We researched artists who had previously partnered with their communities or had produced new work in reaction to the pandemic," she said.
Kienzle noted that several of the artists have shown work previously at the center, such as Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, or have had residencies there.
It might be expected that a show with such serious themes might be heavy going. That's not the case here, both because there is an array of media (everything from video to ceramics) but also because the artists were free to express their own take on the subject.
Most of the work is contemporary, often created just last year, but the show opens with four bright, bold and hopeful prints by Corita Kent, dated from the early 1970s. Kent, a former nun, enjoyed a second career as an artist (she was most often associated with the pop movement) in Los Angeles. The serigraphs here are typical of her playful abstractions, usually involving calligraphic strokes in primary colors, each with thoughtful quotations by such literary notables as D.H. Lawrence penned at the bottom. They may not be current but they are still relevant and food for thought.
Jeremiah Jenkins is represented by an eye-catching display of ceramic bowls and plates, each a simple form in off-white, that have been embellished with shards of blue and white pottery. These broken pieces are affixed in such a way as to be decorative, as well as a great example of recycling. According to the label statement, the artist is interested in "the way things are made and the way they break."
Addressing the need for healing during a time of illness is the work of Tucker Nichols. His "Flowers for Sick People" could not be more homespun — small, childlike renderings (done in oil on canvas) of flowers that are displayed with a penciled message on the wall below. The messages address prosaic occurrences, such as "Flowers for the cure of hiccups," as well as those more profound, "Flowers for the last thing my father said." The artist started posting the flower drawings on his website and social media in order to "use the everyday language of flowers to soothe everyday suffering with everyday kindness." Just looking at them will bring a smile.
On a more somber note, Angela Hennessy has created a large-scale wall hanging that is dedicated to her African American ancestors. Made from synthetic hair that has been braided, woven and crocheted, the piece commands attention, both because of its bold black and white contrast but also the laborious nature of its construction. In her label statement, Hennessy, who is an associate professor at California College of the Arts, said that her work "calls upon African and European grief and mourning practices, as well as the significance of hair in racial identity and beauty politics."
Lynn Beldner, a fabric and fiber artist, has three pieces in the show, including "Emergency Blankets." This piece consists of nine small squares of flannel fabric in an array of colors and patterns that have been bordered in corresponding colors of satin and hung on the wall. It may be the colors, or the softness of the fabrics, but this piece felt like a comforting hug. The label explains that Beldner made these pieces right after 9/11, "but they still feel emotionally and conceptually necessary." And, she sagely notes, "emergencies seem to be our new norm."
A lighter approach has been taken by San Francisco artist Leah Rosenberg with her video piece, "At a Loss for Words." As the title implies, the piece consists of 10 one-minute videos created to look like silent movies — complete with ragtime soundtrack. In these charming black-and-white vignettes, the artist turns the camera upon herself as she makes tea, sorts a stack of books, plays guitar and ices a cake (to name just a few tasks), all in the comfort of her white pajamas. It's a fun and clever take on how we have all learned to make the best of isolation by making even the simple tasks meaningful and fun.
When asked why this exhibition is especially timely, given the current pandemic situation, Trinca responded, "I see artists as second-responders, attending to our emotional needs and offering hope. Art can help us relax and slow down and it helps us to connect to other people. My hope for this exhibition is that visitors are deeply affected and have the chance to process complicated emotions."
There are numerous free public events offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including a discussion with two of the participating artists, Christine Wong Yap and Marcel Pardo Ariza (March 4, 5 p.m., via Zoom) and a Community Day Celebration on April 10 that will feature hands-on art activities. The Center is also sponsoring weekly virtual meditation sessions with stress management consultant Julie Forbes, Thursdays at noon through June 30.
For more information, visit cityofpaloalto.org.
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