Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Madness

March is a time of emergence and stepping forth. The sun passes over the Equator and will stay with us for a few seasons. Lives that were thriving but hidden under the fallen leaves burst into the open bold and vigorous. Renewal is in the air in the countryside, and in the city too!

Back in old New York, Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida closed the book on their month-long #class extravaganza. They were kind enough to allow me to moderate the discussion on Artworld as High School. My session was fun, but my strongest impression came from the overall experience of being inside the larger exhibition—albeit for a short time.

I needed surprisingly much reflection to settle on the word exhibition to describe #class. Although there was technically some art on display, it was marginalized to a secondary room. #Class was not about the presentation of visual artifacts, as is typical in most gallery shows, but rather the pure exchange of ideas, usually ephemeral, in the larger conference- (or classroom-) configured main gallery.

On the night I was there, it started with a two-our table discussion about similarities between the Art World and a clique-infested school cafeteria. I wore my letter jacket, which I am proud to say still fits and we talked about how to penetrate the small group that inhabits the top of the social pyramid (for sake of discussion, we accepted the metaphor as valid) and the ways that art explodes stratification. It was a very worthwhile conversation, but it was just the beginning.

Following that session, the tables were rearranged and there ensued a 15 minute audience-inclusive performance that linked drawings of genitalia in a gender-crossing way with the names of respected public figures. The presenter took the drawings with her and no questions were accepted.

Immediately after that, the tables were re-shuffled again and an art-critic wrote an artist statement in real time. Poor Jen was shanghaied to be the guinea pig and, as her art is exceptionally personal, the process resembled open-heart surgery. Perhaps open-soul surgery would be a more apt description.

Then everyone left and we downed some much-needed beers in the back room. The three sessions were enough to make the head spin, more for the diversity of their offerings than their individual emotional intensity, which was considerable. I can scarcely imagine how it must have been for Jen and Bill to repeat the cycle every day for a month. I hope they’re able to retreat to rest and reflect for a while. I won’t even ask for their impressions until some time has passed.

Although the show was not visual, musical, lyrical, or many other things one expects from an art exhibit, it was most definitely an exhibition: a putting-on-display of ideas and artistic information in a discombobulating whirlwind that neither artists could have anticipated. A reshuffling of the creative deck in plain sight.

When I got back to Virginia a few days later, head spinning with thoughts about the non-visual things that an exhibit can do, Nature greeted me with gusting winds and torrential squalls. Neither coming nor going, March was behaving more like an indecisive lion than a lamb.

And green shoots were shoving aside Winter’s blanket.

Full #class thread

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