In times of stress or anxiety or just plain limbo—quite the trifecta, which we all can relate to lately—the tortured soul often looks to escape the rigors of reality by turning to art.
It might be mass-market art, like movies or music or books or games, or fine art, like paintings, or niche art like poetry, or performance art, like comic monologues.
Fortunately, there are artists who deal with their own stress, anxiety and limbo by creating forms of self-expression that double as diversions for the rest of us.
We look to those artists as tour guides who will lead us away from workaday worries and woes, at least momentarily.
ART AVOIDS THE ABYSS
True, art is supposed to hold up a mirror to reality, but that’s the point; creating imaginary worlds allows us to reflect on the meaning of life at a safe remove, without staring into the abyss directly.
That’s one way to explain the simple rationale behind aptly titled virtual art festival Climbing the Walls, co-produced by Studio Theater in Exile (studiotheaterinexile.com) and Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art (hudsonvalleymoca.org).
The show’s co-curator Mara Mills, artistic director of Studio Theater in Exile, calls it a “Covid digital time capsule that asked for artists across genres to contribute, Working in all art genres, participating artists created work that reflects the emotion, meditations, memories, family stories, nature, and even re-cycling in this time of Covid. Their visual art, music, monologues, and poetry explore the ways we are experiencing life now and how we imagine the future.” The theater company’s producer and exhibition co-curator is Jeremy Gratt.
DEALING WITH DISCONNECTION
Mills adds that Climbing the Walls “was conceived from a desire to create in a time of disorientation and disconnection. We conceived of the project as a way to connect and explore a shift in the moment, ultimately looking both at Covid-19 and the protests.”
Since June, several new works have been put on display each week—viewable on both the museum’s and the theater company’s websites—with another helping of pieces due to go live Saturday, Sept. 19 (including a monologue by somebody you’re reading right now, based on a previous column, called “Distant Relative.”)
The more than 40 creations now on display in Climbing the Walls span an expansive range of cultural experiences, human perspectives and artistic sensibilities.
In his artist statement for “Enter the Bobbit,” G. Ray Mak says he wanted to “make art without the psychic pollution of the news or social media.” Instead, while watching a Blue Planet documentary, he became obsessed with bobbit worms. The skillful illustrations they inspired are fanciful and delightful, depicting bobbit worms skiing, ping-ponging, and presiding at the podium as the head of a certain country.
VOICES TO BE HEARD
Said Hudson Valley MOCA co-founder Livia Straus: “Artists have always offered a voice for the here and now, echoing our personal thoughts, emotions and swings. There are yet voices to be heard, those still quarantined, those fearful of violence, fearful of dispossession, and hunger.”
Climbing the Walls is a lively and colorful palette of homegrown art forged by extraordinary living conditions.
There are original music compositions, including a soulful ballad written 50 years ago, shadowy charcoal drawings that eerily evoke the artist’s loneliness, kids frolicking and sheltering in the safe confines of self-made fortresses, a choreographed video paying elegiac homage to a parent who perished in the pandemic, a series of starkly compelling black-and-white photos of New York City slices of Covid life, and so much more.
“Art as Power,” by Jared Hunter and the Crew, presents high-end, fantasy comic drawings depicting diversity and inclusion. There are shout-outs to first responders and t BLM, making a bold statement through totemic street images that have converged and collided throughout America.
I have to single out, too, this poetic little phrase by Thomasine Felicioni Graf in her monologue “Paranovid”—“Last week I was sent home from work to work from home.”
I got a kick out of “Suburban Anthropology: Cocooning in a Time of Covid-19,” by Moira Trachtenberg, with an assist from a photojournalist friend Todd Shapera.
As they ambled about eminently walkable Pleasantville, the videographers documented, as they describe it, “Cardboard artifacts piled at the curb for recycling. Each boxy assemblage prompted questions about, and gave clues to, how we are living now.”
Their eagle-eyed resourcefulness paid off for them, as it does for the viewer. You have to smile at the incidental visual puns hiding in plain sight as they cleverly zoom in for close-ups on the logos of empty cartons whose contents had served as the equivalent of war-time rations during lockdown.
Needless to say, no good deed—or art expedition in the name of an art exhibition—goes unpunished. One homeowner called the police on this suspicious-looking couple armed with a video camera. When the officers arrived, they quickly realized it was a false alarm, and let the alleged perpetrators be on their own way, without incident.
Like Sondheim said, art isn’t easy.
Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 914-275-6887.