The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Ariel Abonizio (Page 3 of 3)

How Hayes House became Hayes Art Gallery

This Friday, March 3, Hayes House hosted an art exhibit in its basement. The exhibition, named Splinters, contained sculptures, photographs, drawings, paintings, small installations and performances, all curated by the residents of the house. The show was composed of 61 very diverse artworks and four live performances. The ceiling, floor, and wall spaces in the basement of Hayes House were filled with art, people, or lighting equipment. It was clear that there had been a lot of work involved in constructing that atmosphere. Even though the art and the lighting were exceptional, the diverse crowd was a surprise. Splinters accomplished something that professional community galleries sometimes struggle with; it is hard to bridge the gap between different groups of people.

In interview, I asked the organizers of the show how Hayes House Basement became Hayes Art Gallery. Jack Shea ’19, one of the coordinators of the show and resident of Hayes House, told me that everyone in Hayes is involved in the art scene at Bates. Shea also made sure to acknowledge the help from the Bates Musicians Union for lending the audio equipment and connecting the event to student bands.

The show also counted with the help of the Bates Arts Society for planning the event and printing some of the 39 photographs displayed in the show. This comes to show that the Hayes Art Gallery was more than a spontaneous, pop-up event. It had required a couple weeks of preparation. Splinters is the result of the collective efforts of the art community at Bates to make art alive and accessible to everyone.

Alongside with the 61 pieces, Splinters had four acts perform. The live music brought many students that would not have attended the gallery otherwise. Many students showed surprise at the diversity of the group at Hayes, especially regarding the presence of athletes. While athletics are most certainly not contradictory with artistic productions or appreciation, the surprise of many students is representative of what Hayes Art Gallery has accomplished: it provided yet another space for an open celebration of student accomplishment in the arts in an informal setting.

According to Jesse Saffeir ’20, Splinters was the perfect combination of Bates’ student life and its arts scene. While throughout the night most of the attention was towards the performances, the gallery allowed for students to be immersed with art, even if that was not their primary interest. “This is a study in art politics,” said recent winter 2017 graduate Adam Maurey in regards to the theme and turnout of the gallery opening.

According to Shea, the purpose of Splinter was “to get involved in the student arts at Bates, and to get other people excited about it.” The theme came from Peter Nadel ’19, focusing on the creation of fragmented narratives through artistic creation.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Shea mentioned his candidacy for the vice-presidency of the student government, alongside with Zach Campbell ’19, running for president. Shea mentioned that, even though his running for the position was independent from the art show, his platform does include more student involvement in the arts at Bates.

“While Splinters was just the one night, we do look to help orchestrate future events in student arts at Bates,” said Shea. Hayes Art Gallery: Splinters is one of many upcoming informal celebrations of student accomplishment and creativity in the arts.

 

What it means to perform at KCACTF

From January 31th to February 4th, Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) hosted the Northeast Regional of The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). Through the course of the week, select Bates students had the chance to showcase their work and participate in workshops designed to improve American collegiate theater. The Festival offered a multitude of theater programs from journalism to playwriting. The Festival was started in 1969 and now reaches over 600 colleges nationwide annually. The program brings together students from around 50 colleges and universities to exchange experiences and learn more about theater.

Since its founding (by Roger L. Stevens), KCACTF has affected over 400,000 college theater students, creating around 10,000 with over 16 million spectators in total. Even though the numbers are certainly impressive, the Festival’s impact goes much deeper than numbers. KCACTF was designed to promote creative exchange, critique, and networking among college students in a unique chance to showcase works and develop new ideas. The week of events was organized as a competition, along with workshops and lectures on all theatric areas. John Dello Russo ’18 was one of the Batesies who had the opportunity to experience the Festival first-hand. According to him, the conference “was a great opportunity to compete against and be around others who shared that same passion.”

Dello Russo and Nora Dahlberg ’18 partnered to create two short scenes and one monologue. It was not an easy journey! In interview with Dello Russo, he mentioned that the Festival participation was full of challenges. “The hardest part was trying to provide the judges with something they would want to see without doing the same thing that everyone else would do.” Even though they had to compete at 8:00 a.m. after a long night of driving to get to WCSU, Dello Russo was very positive about the outcomes. “As a science major it was great to be able to experience and be immersed in the arts for a week to expand my horizons and think in a different way.”

KCACTF had much more than just acting. The Festival had opportunities for playwrights, directors, undergraduate scholars, art administrators, art journalists, critics, and others. Some of the areas, such as the “scholarly papers” section, awarded cash for winning submissions.

There was an impressive diversity of categories. “One thing that surprised me was the many different people that were there. I feel as though many people have a particular vision of theater kids in their mind, but to meet so many other students who came from different walks of life was refreshing,” Dello Russo mentioned. The event mobilized an entire structure and engaged students from the most diverse backgrounds to promote the development of college theater. According to the WCSU website, the 2015 version of the Festival was expected to bring as much as $1.5 million in total benefits to the surrounding community.

The Kennedy Center for American College Theater Festival had much to offer. A quick look at the Kennedy Center’s website shows that there is an entire task force associated with the event – there are multiple support structures, partner institutions, media professionals, lecturers, and administrators that make the event possible. Events like this come to show that theater is alive, and has an enormous presence and potential in American colleges and universities today.

 

Two more punches – it is a Knock Out

This past week was full of activities at the Bates College Museum of Art. On Monday, January 23 the museum held a pop-up exhibition show on Lisbon Street. The visiting artist, Nugamshi, performed his Calligraffiti – an intersection between calligraphy and graffiti in the museum’s downtown studio space. And on Thursday, January 26 Bates hosted a talk by Abdulnasser Gharem, one of the most influential artists in the history of Saudi Arabia.

As someone who is passionate about art I may be biased, but I find show openings to be fantastic. They often provide the visitors with the unique chance to interact with artists. Even though an artwork can often stand on its own, talking to artists reveals their thought process, biography, and interests. It gently complements the visitor’s understanding of art. This was the case for Tuesday’s pop-up exhibition by Nugamshi. The museum’s studio space downtown was filled with incredibly diverse people who wanted to experience Saudi Arabian art. Through the course of an hour and a half, Nugamshi created several calligraffiti art pieces that blended canvas with the walls. Nugamshi makes his own brushes to fit his controlled body movement. The result is an impressive body of work dealing with some of the most pressing topics in the contemporary world: justice and morality in black and white paint.

While Nugamshi’s pieces from this show will be destroyed (the artist often destroys his works), his website and social media presence offer a way to support his ephemeral performances. As an artist myself, it is priceless to be able to experience other artist creating first hand. It is a privilege to have insight on someone else’s creations. For me it means more than simply an intellectual understanding – it is an exercise of empathy.

On Thursday, January 26 Bates College had the honor of receiving Abdulnasser Gharem as a guest speaker. Gharem is internationally known as perhaps the most influential contemporary Saudi Arabian artist – it is not an exaggeration to say that he has changed the cultural scene in his country. Gharem spent 23 years in the Saudi Arabian Army as a Lieutenant Colonel while dedicating himself to promoting art in his country. In his speech, Gharem mentioned that his works started in the early 1980s, trying to find his path in the world of arts in order to have his voice heard. Later, he created performances in his small town in Saudi Arabia and created pop-up works in his country. Gharem gained an international audience in the art world when he reached a record price for the work Message/Messenger in Dubai sold for $800,000 at auction. Gharem mentioned that at the time, he had to sell his car in order to build the work.

In his speech, Gharem told the audience that conceptual art was not quite popular in Saudi Arabia before the 2000s. The internet provided him with a tool to find his ways, exchanging ideas with other artist. Today, art is received differently. He mentioned how the public reception of his artworks went from confusion to appreciation. Gharem now has a studio in Riyadh – he provides ample support to the new generation of Saudi Arabian artists who follow his steps. This new wave of artists has someone to look for support and advice, which is more valuable than words could possibly express.

Talking to Gharem during the exhibition reception, I was astonished to see how one humble person has the capacity to change the ways of art history. He is someone to be followed, not only because of his superb technique and art pieces but also because of his ideals. He is genuine about making a supportive, creative community in his country. His studio promotes the introduction of a new wave of art in Saudi Arabia – which also introduces the world to Saudi Arabian art and culture.

Last week’s events were a continuation of the Phantom Punch exhibition, which will stay up in the museum until March 18. The show, curated by Dan Mills and Loring Danforth, presents over a dozen Saudi Arabian works in a one-of-a-kind show. This exhibition is as much about Saudi Arabian culture as it is about the human condition in a globalized world. In times such as ours, empathy is something to be actively maintained and constructed. Having a museum in our backyard is more than a privilege: visiting it is priceless.

 

Mission IMPROVable saves the day

Last Friday January 20, Bates College was filled with the unexpected. The comedy team Mission IMPROVable presented their Always Original show in Memorial Commons. The show is constantly new because it is created on the spot based on audience participation – the audience gives ideas for places, objects, and characters and the “mission” starts. The show was created by four actors: Agent Pepperjack, Agent Sugarbear, Agent Binary, and Agent X. Mission IMPROVable had the incredible capacity of creating laughter out of anything, from “riding a miniature giraffe” to having a fictitious breakfast with Zac Efron.

There is one thing Mission IMPROVable did impressively well: creating comedy out of participation. It is typical of improvisation comedy to call on their audience, simultaneously drawing inspiration and laughter out of embarrassment. Different from typical comedy, the spectator is far from passive. Mission IMPROVable drew constantly from audience participation, soliciting input and choosing assistant “agents.” The audience could provide any setting, characters, and imaginary props of a scene, and then the actors would create the scene impromptu. As good improvisation often does, Mission IMPROVable also drew from the specifics of the place that they presented, in this case Bates, by mentioning Newman’s Day and Puddle Jump, traditions of our college. Personally, I felt always on the verge of being called on stage (and I was, at one point). It is this excitement and surprise that makes improvisation comedy a unique experience.

When I was called to a surprise “mission,” I realized that I was not supposed to be the passive spectator I usually am. In the “mission” I was called onto stage for, the agents were speaking statues. They developed the scene as they performed, but their bodies remained still unless my other audience partner or I decided to move the actors. We were free to move them however we wished, challenging the “agents” to create meaning out of the unexpected poses. Improvisation comedy involves a sense of wonder: how to make sense out of their nearly random poses? How to create everything out of nothing? More often than not, I found that there is always something profound behind laughter – and improvisation comedy has a unique way to make something wonderful out of playfulness.

Mission IMPROVable was able to turn randomness into humor. From experience, I have noted that comedy is often overlooked as an art form, despite being one of the hardest and most complex genres: transforming what is seemingly absurd into something meaningful seems easy when watching a show by experienced performers – Agent Pepperjack has been performing for over ten years!

Comedy has a relaxed atmosphere that can overshadow copious amounts of practice. The perfect example is the last “mission” of the show. These last short performances involved creating complex, coordinated scenes using only gibberish words and body language. Three actors had to explain to the fourth actor an entire scene in gibberish. I cannot describe how convincing their gibberish was. It is not easy to explain someone that they are “wearing Donald J. Trump” without using actual words! Now imagine explaining “you are having breakfast with Zac Efron, but your eggs are rocks and your toast is cyanide.” Believe it or not, they did it nearly perfectly.

On my way out of the performance, a friend told me: “I have never seen anyone speaking gibberish that well; there is no way!” I remember leaving the show trying to mimic gibberish to come to one conclusion – fluently speaking gibberish is more than child’s play.

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The art of sexting

Contemporary art museums are weird. You go past the reception and enter an unusual place where anything is possible. You see canvasses painted with one single tone of red and you see benches on which no one can sit. If you are lucky enough, you will also see a small metal can in which artists have stored their own excrement. For your surprise, no one seems to notice that there is a can full of literal sh*t inside a museum. You ponder and after a long consideration but you still have no idea what the hell you are doing looking at contemporary art. You are not alone.

This break I embarked on one of these adventures, but with one difference. This time around I challenged myself to not dismiss the absurd, the ugly, or the weird. I would carefully watch the one colored canvasses as I would with a renaissance painting. I would embrace it just long enough to feel a connection. The simple brick sculptures, the awkward deformed human shapes, and the stuff hanging from the ceiling…I would watch it closely. No text, no arts history, no fancy explanations.

That day I entered the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to discover one of the most beautiful pices of art I have ever seen. Walking by the contemporary art section of the museum, I found myself in a small white room. The piece was called Osservate, leggete con me by Frances Stark. Inside the room, words were projected on three walls. There was classical music. To my surprise, the sentences projected on the walls seemed to be some sort of flirtatious texting. No canvasses, no paint – that was all. It was slightly obscene, oddly uncomfortable. I sat down on a bench placed in the middle of the room (I was confident it was “sittable”).

Of the two people talking, one of them was an artist, presumably the one that created this piece. The artist was talking to someone from Italy, followed by others. It was not only flirtation. Between teaching dirty words in Italian, they talked about the political situation in Italy and about the very meaning of artistic creation. It was so spontaneous, free of any pretension or worries. The quick summary about European politics was followed by sexting as if it was just a natural transition. I never truly considered how profound the daily life is. But there was more.

While watching that video for 30 minutes or so, I was constantly expecting grandiosity. The MFA is an awesome museum with an interesting curation and particularly good contemporary art section. I was constantly on the verge of epiphany, from discussing Tantra to the Medici family in Italy. At one point, the artist is asked “is art for you, art, or business.” This conversation would be so heavy, so serious, if it was not for the context. “Art.” The intensity peaks along with the music and suddenly, the discussion goes back to flirtation.

This is one of the hidden powers of a museum. Museums bring to the spotlight something that would have gone unnoticed. I expected to see art and I saw it even in the least pretensions, simplest contexts. You just need to give it time, observe it for long enough.

Apparently, sexting is sublime if you give it a chance.

 

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