This Holding: Traces of Contact by Jana Harper

Art of the Week

Though the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought untold hardships to communities around the world, it has also proven the resilience of Nashville’s arts community. In response, artists throughout the area have created work that helps audiences process and confront this difficult time and curators and arts spaces have found creative ways to display it.

This is the story of The Holding: Traces of Contact, a dance and visual art piece by artist and Vanderbilt professor Jana Harper. Originally conceived as a live performance, the work has been rethought to convey its timely reflection on our responsibilities as global citizens in a prerecorded video, so that audiences can interact with it from their own homes.

Nashville’s OZ Arts performance and installation space is streaming The Holding: Traces of Contact on its website and social platforms until June 30, 2020.

When it became clear that OZ Arts could not premier the piece in person, Harper collaborated with videographer Sam Boyette to restructure the piece and ensure that it could still reach audiences, adding the subtitle “Traces of Contact.” In its adaptation and subject matter, the final piece reflects an interesting dynamic that is being woven into visual arts across the world: many artists are creating work that confronts their experiences with coronavirus in ways that are tailor made for the realities of consuming and contemplating art at this time.

“The piece reflects the restrictions and adaptations made necessary by the coronavirus, including dances without any physical contact,” OZ Arts explained in a statement. “All of the videos were shot outside and with sufficient space between the dancers, and if at any point the dancers do touch, they are performers who were already quarantined together. This piece encompasses many of the feelings people are experiencing throughout these days and is designed to foster empathy for the shared human experience.”

The piece features ten dancers and music by composer Moksha Sommer. It includes the use of multicolored ropes of fabric, which seem to represent the burdens we carry, our ties to each other and the boundaries imposed by social distancing guidelines.

“The project began with a simple question, ‘What are the burdens we carry?’,” said Harper in a statement for the piece’s program. “Without a doubt, the burden we are collectively experiencing right now is COVID-19. It has changed daily life for everyone and it caused us to transform our project… It also informed our creative process: it caused us to ask new questions about the rhythms of COVID life and what burden sharing looks like under these new circumstances.”

Though it unflinchingly addresses the weight of our burdens and difficulty this new normal presents, through the resilience of its production and uplifting nature of its composition, The Holding offers a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles.

Jana Harper is an associate professor of the practice at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Art. She has exhibited and curated work throughout the country.

OZ Arts Nashville is located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle.

Copper Lilliputian 25 by Rod Moorhead

Art of the Week

Among the small businesses that are adjusting to the new normal in Nashville and resuming business as part of the city’s second phase of reopening is Bennett Galleries, an art gallery and custom framing shop in Green Hills. Following a brief closure last month, it has returned to its regular hours and a full staff, giving patrons the chance to invest in unique pieces of art.

“COVID-19 has been a challenge for us as it has been for many small businesses,” the gallery said in a statement. “We were fortunate to be able to pay our entire staff while our doors were closed, and we took the down time to give the entire gallery and custom framing area a thorough cleaning… It was a tough couple of months, but art sales and custom framing projects have been steady since our re-open. We continue to remain compliant with the Phase 2 requirements for retail locations.”

That means Nashvillians can stop in and consider pieces like Rod Moorhead‘s Copper Lilliputian 25. The name of this 12-inch tall, pit-fired copper statue alludes to Lilliput, a fictional island in Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels inhabited by diminutive people. Though small in stature, the piece’s material and composition are significant and it is one in a series of similar figures set in various poses.

Moorhead is a sculptor based in Mississippi, where his work is displayed in prominent public installations.

“Among his public commissions are Concerto, a seventeen foot bronze of a violinist and cellist which stands in front of the Gertrude Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi, and a life-sized sculpture of James Meredith for the Civil Rights Memorial also at the University of Mississippi,” according to the gallery. “He has twice received Mississippi Arts Commission grants.”

Bennett Galleries is located at 2104 Crestmoor Road in Green Hills.

Basketball Bloom (Rawlings) by Brandon Donahue

Art of the Week

As many are hoping to prove in the face of a global pandemic and widespread civil unrest, beautiful things can emerge from whatever is encountered, given the right perspective and ingenuity.

Nashville’s David Lusk Gallery has assembled a group exhibition, “Tactile Response,” that is putting that hope into practice and setting an example for the rest of the world. It consists of work from six artists who have leveraged found material and a handcrafted approach. Materials transformed into pieces for the show range from reclaimed wood and steel to ceramic vases and crocheted yarn.

Featured artists include Maysey Craddock, Tim Crowder, Greely Myatt, Mary K. Van Gieson and Tad Lauritzen Wright. But the transformative beauty wrought by artistic ingenuity and applied skills is no more apparent in the show than through Brandon Donahue’s Basketball Bloom (Rawlings).

“Donahue collects repurposed everyday objects to create assemblages that break down the barriers between traditionally-defined high and low art forms,” explained the gallery in a release. “Comprised of found basketballs and shoelaces, Basketball Bloom (Rawlings) references the sacred geometry of a Mandala through materials loaded with communal history and shared experience.”

By arranging artfully dissected used basketballs into a spiritual bloom, Donahue has imbued the found objects with reverence in a way that should inspire us all to make the most of our surroundings. By elevating objects that are unique and worn with use, Basketball Bloom (Rawlings) may also provoke reflection about the power we impart on even the most everyday objects as we use them.

Donahue is originally from Memphis and received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His work has been exhibited around the country, as well as in Cuba. He is inspired by street art, pop art and Arte Provera, an Italian contemporary art movement that emphasizes simple objects and the elevation of seemingly commonplace objects.

The David Lusk Gallery is located at 516 Hagan Street in WeHo.

My Existence Is Political by Beizar Aradini

Art of the Week

On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee House of Representatives narrowly passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting states and the federal government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. As the 36th state to approve the amendment, this was the final vote necessary for the amendment to become law and for the long-fought women’s suffrage movement to finally affect national change.

One hundred years later, Nashville’s Frist Art Museum is hosting “We Count: First-Time Voters,” an online exhibition featuring the work of five local artists addressing the history and challenges of American voting, with a focus on the first voting experiences of a diverse group of Nashvillians. It is available on Frist’s website until the end of the year.

The selected artists — Beizar Aradini, M Kelley, Jerry Bedor Phillips, Thaxton Waters II and Donna Woodley — connected with people throughout the city to learn about their first voting experiences. Though it has been nearly a century since women won their battle for access to democracy in the U.S., many people in this country do not exercise this right today. Among all states, Tennessee ranks 49th in voter turnout and 45th in voter registration, according to a release from Frist.

“Some topics that emerged from the conversations were disenfranchisement, awareness of everyday inequities, the challenges of the immigration and citizenship process, and the restoration of voting rights,” Shaun Giles, the exhibition’s curator, said in the release. “The resulting works of art embody both individual and collective insights on civic engagement and responsibility, as well as the systemic hurdles that prevent people from participating in our democracy.”

What may be most striking and best conveyed through the creative results of these conversations is how, even 100 years after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, many citizens of the United States still struggle to participate in the country’s most critical practice. But this is often evoked through celebrations of the power that voting can imbue, as in My Existence Is Political by Beizar Aradini. This visual portrait, accompanied by an embroidered poem in both English and Albanian, celebrates the artist’s friend Drenusha Kolshi, whose family immigrated to America from Kosovo in 1999.

“My conversations with Drenusha inspired me to think about the ways in which individuals are identified with society,” Aradini explained in a statement for the exhibition. “In this work, I wanted to visually mimic an ID portrait… The poem, written by Drenusha herself, signifies the deeper personal lives that all people live — both immigrants and citizens.”

Pairing the portrait and poem together emphasizes the wealth of expression that American citizenship, at its best, can afford those who enjoy it. Through that lens, exercising the right to vote becomes a beautiful and unique proclamation.

Aradini is originally from Kurdistan and immigrated to Nashville with her family in 1992. Her work explores her family’s immigration story and the larger issues of cultural displacement and duality. Her pieces have been featured throughout the country.

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.

Hop Scotch by Omari Booker

Art of the Week

As gallery spaces and museums in Nashville have been forced to get creative about how they present visual art due to city-wide social distancing requirements, they’ve uncovered some approaches that are not merely substitutes for traditional in-person exhibitions, but are unique and valuable in their own right.

In that vein, Wedgewood-Houston’s Channel To Channel gallery is presenting an online-only show through the summer of 2020 called “Pockets of Real Passion.” The show features work from artists Eric Mack, Jessica Gatlin, Omari Booker, Ridge McLeod and Frances Berry hanging over Cutting Edge, a piece on the gallery wall by Dustin Hedrick.

“In place of Channel To Channel’s regular programming due to the pandemic, this show will be shown exclusively online and by appointment only,” the gallery indicated in an announcement. “‘Pockets of Real Passion’ includes artists who have a connection with the Southeast United States and integrate illustrative qualities to produce unique paintings. This show is an extension of Cutting Edge … which introduced red tape over light blue paint covering the walls and the floor of the gallery.”

Hop Scotch, by Nashville’s Omari Booker, is one such unique painting from the show. As part of Booker’s Red Line series, it incorporates red razor wire to recall the 1930s practice of red lining, in which the federal government created color-coded maps that delineated areas preferred for investment based on racial and ethnic populations, with areas considered less desirable due to the presence of non-white residents outlined in red.

“Booker explores this history both physically and metaphorically through the use of red razor wire, figures and color,” the gallery explained. “Of the series, the artist stated: ‘As [it] progressed, I investigated how division based on race has affected nearly ever aspect of society in the United States.'”

Booker is native to Nashville and serves as an art instructor at the University School of Nashville. His work has been featured in local shows for years, as well as exhibitions throughout the Southeast.

Channel to Channel is located at 507 Hagan Street in We-Ho.

Sweets for the Sweet by Martica Griffin

Art of the Week

An observation frequently made as a result of the isolation and stop to human activity imposed by the spread of the novel coronavirus is that “nature is healing.” Indeed, it’s hard to ignore that as spring blooms, natural splendor appears to be thriving despite — or because of — this global uncertainty.

Even more powerful is the fact that as the world’s natural elements flourish, they can bring some much needed positivity and optimism to us, even in hard times. Visual artists like Nashville’s Martica Griffin cannot help but be inspired by the world they see around them and, by interpreting it into their work, help us all see that the places we inhabit remain beautiful.

Despite the area’s recommended lockdown, Griffin has been regularly working on a series of paintings that capture the season’s blooms in her signature abstract style. They are each a standardized 18×24″, created with graphite, crayon, marker, oil and acrylic paints.

“Since early March I’ve created over 30 of these abstract botanicals inspired by trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers,” she told Art of Nashville. “I had a dozen or so out on my studio floor drying and they reminded me of a wide-open field filled with color.”

Griffin’s abstract approach lends itself well to the bright, energetic and untamed blooms of spring and Sweets for the Sweet is a particularly potent example from the series. Its balance of chaotic movement and controlled form, color palette and mix of media bring the explosion of life seen around us at this time of year onto the canvas. In addition to the technique, Griffin’s general approach to her work and goals for this series almost certainly added to these effects.

“I feel compelled to be working in the studio daily,” she said. “Finding ways to connect with others, now remotely, drives me. Bringing a smile, sense of peace or something new to the everyday is my motivation.”

Griffin is based in Nashville and focuses on non-representational and figurative work. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from East Carolina University and studied postgraduate painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her work has been exhibited throughout Nashville for more than a decade.

More of Griffin’s work, including pieces from this series, can be found on her website and Instagram page.

Solidarity by Vittorio Politano

Art of the Week

Visual art is often as communal of an experience as possible. One primary intention behind paintings and sculptures is usually to have them exhibited widely, spreading messages and evoking the emotions in as broad of an audience as can be assembled.

In a time when large gatherings are strictly prohibited in most parts of the world, this dynamic has been forced to change. While online audiences are still accessing artwork, international artists are corresponding on a more intimate level, rarely addressing or interacting with large audiences all at once. “My View From Home,” a mail art project led by Nashville’s Jason Brown, is exploring this dynamic in an interesting way — it is collecting pieces sent by post from around the world in an attempt to document daily life and artistic vision in what has become the new normal.

“Mail art is a form of artistic expression that is typically sent through the postal system,” explains a media release from the project. “Due to mandatory quarantines in several countries, pieces can also be sent via email. To date, the project has received submissions from Italy, India, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Uruguay, England, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Singapore, Turkey and the United States, with pieces being received daily.”

Participants are free to leverage whatever technique they like and can submit artwork of any size, provided it can travel through the postal system. As the name implies, the theme is the sender’s view from home, whether that is interpreted literally or with imaginative liberties. Pieces from the resulting collection are inspiring, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and whimsical.

Solidarity, submitted by Vittoria Politano, came from Catanzaro, Italy, a country that was struck acutely by the novel coronavirus. From a place where the infection rate has been incredibly high, leading to some of the most severe lockdown orders in the world, the piece evokes anxiety, pressure, faith and ambiguity.

The front of the postcard from Politano

In addition to soliciting work that can uniquely convey these feelings from around the world, “My View From Home” has resurrected a form of art curation that predated digital submissions. The most famous mail art program was instituted by mid-century collagist Ray Johnson, known as the New York Correspondence School. Johnson’s program has influenced Brown’s at a time when distance is required, but some form of artistic contact is still sought.

“A work of art becomes mail art once it is dispatched, disappearing forever from the artist’s hands,” per the “My View From Home” website. “Mail art forms a community of likeminded artists. Each piece of mail art is unique and often a collage that might aggressively engage social, artistic and hot topical political issues or might harvest images from pop culture… Rubber stamps, stickers, paint and other material are frequently combined in mail art collage. After artistic treatment, items such as common postcards to plastic bottles enter into the mail art network.”

Brown is soliciting work for the project until May 31, 2020. After its deadline, the project will be donated to the special collections department at Vanderbilt University Library.

Zebra Dreams by John Gunther

Art of the Week

Throughout the Nashville area, quarantine orders, widespread economic strains and general uneasiness about coming into contact with groups of people have taken their toll on art galleries. But despite the forces working against them, many of these local curators are remaining optimistic and doing what they can to continue serving their neighbors with creativity and inspiration.

“Here at the gallery our goal is to support all of our artists and share their handmade pieces with our many visitors,” The Copper Fox Gallery, located in Leiper’s Fork, wrote in a recent email update to patrons. “We now must ensure safety for you and our staff. We are closed as of now and available via email and look forward to hearing from you if we can be helpful and/or ship any of our pieces. Please continue to keep in touch and we will reopen as soon as we can!”

Despite the mandates and personal decisions that are keeping so many at home for the foreseeable future, The Copper Fox wants to continue offering visual art experiences. Its presenting dozens of pieces on its website and Instagram page, and even though it’s not the same as experiencing these works in person at the gallery, it’s an effort that will be appreciated by all local art enthusiasts who are stuck at home.

Recently, it has promoted Zebra Dreams by John Gunther as a piece that can be appreciated from afar.

Gunther has been a weaver and woodworker for almost 45 years, first gaining experience in a self-sufficient community in the mountains of Southern Appalachia where his skills were functionally necessary. In the 1980s, he began selling his work at regional and national arts and crafts shows and in the ’90s began artistically dying New Zealand Merino wool and weaving it into representative landscapes. As his artistic horizon expanded, he began incorporating a unique material into his weaving work: aluminum sheeting.

“John expresses his artistic creativity through the use of aluminum sheeting as a woven medium,” The Copper Fox explained in a statement. “Using two equal-sized sheets of aluminum, John paints two similar but not exact images. Then splicing and weaving the two together, he creates a unique and one-of-a-kind work of art.”

At a time when the nuances of visual art may be more difficult to appreciate because they cannot be viewed up close and personal, it’s worth reflecting on the years of technical practice and innovation that go into producing them. In this sense, Zebra Dreams is the perfect work to contemplate now.

To craft such pieces, Gunther hand primes two 0.01″-thick sheets of aluminum with a heavy metal primer that creates an underlying texture and durable base for applying color and texture paints. He then hand paints matching, but slightly disparate, patterns on the surface of the sheets and applies his distinctive aluminum weaving process.

“I then fabricate various styles of framing from flat to curved, glue-mounting the woven aluminum fabric to these frames and securing the edges with matching hand-painted aluminum tape,” the artist said in a statement via Copper Fox. “From the landscapes and vistas of Lake Michigan to the mountains of Wyoming and the Appalachians, these experiences combined with the skills and intuitions given to me through my wood worker/engineer father have provided me with a life path of pleasure and accomplishment.”

Though it may be some time before visitors can see Gunther’s work, let alone the scenery it evokes, in person again, this is as good a time as any to appreciate the passion and ingenuity our local artists express.

Gunther’s work has been exhibited at craft shows around the country and in galleries throughout the Southern U.S.

The Copper Fox Gallery is located at 4136 Old Hillsboro Road in Leiper’s Fork.

Native Women Warriors: Lozen by Alison Fullerton

Art of the Week

Though Nashville’s galleries and museums have been forced to close to the public, the area has maintained access to local visual art in enduring ways. Many curators are exhibiting planned collections online, local museums are offering remote programming and at least one neighborhood source of visual art is displaying inspiration as usual.

The Nashville Sign, a billboard that has stood at the forked intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue since the 1940s, persists as one of the city’s most prominent outlets in a time of isolation, when entertainment and arts venues are closed but many are still traveling the thoroughfare in their cars. Since New Year’s Eve 2015, the Nashville Sign has featured a 34×36-foot digital LED screen, rotating advertisements, calls to actions and local art.

Recently, that has meant passersby can see Native Women Warriors: Lozen, an encaustic wax portrait by Nashville-based artist Alison Fullerton.

Fullerton’s work has long been built around “visual anthropology narratives,” which consist of series about different cultures or groups of people. A new series of “Native Women Warriors” pieces was inspired by her recent return to the U.S. after living abroad in Germany and a desire to apply that narrative approach to indigenous Americans.

“I wondered if there were any untold stories of native women who spurned traditional roles of sewing, weaving and cooking,” Fullerton told Art of Nashville. “I researched the stories of Lozen, Running Eagle and Buffalo Calf Trail Woman; all 19th century Native Women warriors who overcame patriarchal stereotypes to become leaders, fighting to protect their land. I decided this needed to be my American anthropology: their stories of resilience.”

Lozen was a warrior and prophet of the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache, born in 1840, who fought against white Americans who appropriated her peoples’ homeland and tried to force them to live on a reservation. It was believed that she could use supernatural powers to learn the movements of her enemies in battle.

The emphasis on resilience that Fullterton described is evident in her portrait of Lozen. The warrior stares unflinchingly and confidently at the viewer, rendered with a bold color palette. The theme is all the more striking when the piece is displayed three stories high above traffic and especially poignant at a time when the world over is struggling to maintain resilience in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.

In fact, Fullerton’s “Native Women Warriors” series was selected for appearance on The Nashville Sign specifically because of the resilience it inspires. It was chosen by ArtPOP, a nonprofit focused on showcasing visual art through billboards and other outdoor media to inspire those feeling overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, the artist explained.

The portrait is notable for the technical unique approach Fullerton employed as well. Encaustic wax is a technique that dates back to ancient Egypt and involves heating pigmented beeswax and resin to 180 or 200 degrees, then building it on the canvas in layers that are fused with a blowtorch or iron.

“It dries quickly, so figurative encaustic takes painting fast and expressively,” Fullerton explained. “There are not many encaustic artists who do portraits, but I met a few while living overseas and I trained with them in Denmark, Ireland and France.”

The result is a respite for those who have missed the experience of seeing local art in person, inspiration for those who may not have realized they needed it and a reminder to all of us that resilience will carry us through this uncertain time.

Fullerton attended the Rochester Institute of Technology School for American Crafts and her work has been exhibited throughout the Nashville area, Europe and elsewhere. She’s a member of the Nashville Artist Guild and International Encaustic Artists.

The Nashville Sign is located at 1616 Broadway.

Covering Letter by Jitish Kallat

Art of the Week

As communities around the globe struggle with unprecedented isolation and adjust to a new normal in avoiding social contact, the medium of artistic installation is uniquely affected. While images of other visual art, such as paintings or sculptures, can be experienced remotely and recordings of music can be enjoyed at home, it is not possible to recreate the full effect of an installation designed for a certain type of space with specialized equipment.

But that is not to say that these installations are impossible to appreciate at a time when they can’t be seen firsthand. Just as an artistic installation can change our perception of a specific space or experience in situ, its composition, context and effects can inspire change within our own minds, and therefore, any space we find ourselves in.

That’s demonstrated clearly in “Jitish Kallat: Return To Sender,” a collection of installation pieces by the eponymous artist intended for display at Frist Art Museum. It includes a work from 2019, Covering Letter (Terranum Nuncius) as well as its 2012 predecessor Covering Letter, both of which offer plenty of impact and insight, even remotely.

Kallat, based in Mumbai and the first Indian artist to enjoy a solo exhibition at Frist, gained significant notoriety for Covering Letter, further establishing himself as an artist with unique perspective on the passing of time, permanence and correspondence. Covering Letter envelops an entire room with the image of a July 1939 message from Mahatma Ghandi to Adolf Hitler, sent shortly before the start of World War II. Covering Letter (Terranum Nuncius), meanwhile, covers a gallery space in sounds and images derived from the Golden Record, a vault of messages intended for discovery by interstellar beings and launched into space by NASA in 1977.

“Kallat’s works often engage with the ideas of time, transience, sustenance, the ecological and the cosmological,” according to a release from Frist. “In works such as Covering Letter (2012) … a historic moment is invoked, prompting a contemplation on our present by mediating it through the past.”

When Covering Letter is displayed as originally intended, the text of Ghandi’s appeal for peace is projected onto a curtain of fog in an otherwise dark room. The image of the letter is scrolled past the viewers’ eyes in about two-and-a-half minutes. In person, a viewer would dissipate the fog as they move through it, temporarily pushing aside and physically interacting with the text. Though it is believed that Ghandi’s letter never actually reached Hitler, the piece portrays the power that individual leaders possess as agents of peace or tyranny, the unforeseen gravity that the passing of time can grant to otherwise ephemeral moments and the emphases that experiential installations themselves can imbue.

“The artist employs it ‘as an open letter from the past destined to carry its message into our turbulent present, well beyond its intended recipient,'” per Frist. “To exit the exhibition, we must walk toward the light and through the mist, becoming enveloped in the political activist’s words.”

It’s undeniable that a firsthand experience would best emphasize the long-lasting impact of this letter as Kallat intended, but it’s possible to appreciate this designed experience and derive the installation’s effects from afar.

“Kallat describes the letter as a space for self-reflection — a petition from one of the greatest proponents of peace to one of the most violent individuals who ever lived,” Frist wrote.

Kallat received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai. His work has been exhibited around the world and has taken the form of animated video, photography, painting, sculpture and elemental drawing.

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.