November/ December 1990
Visionaries of Their Time
By Beth Chico
Moving beyond the sacred space of the traditional art gallery, “Projections in Public” took its conceptual, collaborative agenda to the streets. Using imagery and text created specifically for the front of SPACES’ new building, ten artists from Cleveland and around the country presented ideas, in slide form, on regional and global issues.
Coordinated and curated by Karen Atkinson of Los Angeles (the third of its kind credited to her), this nontraditional venue was designed for immediate communication with a non- art audience as well as the conventional gallery visitor. The window of SPACES gallery transmitted images via a large rear-projecting screen, spilling light onto the dark street and coaxing a personal dialogue between an impromtu audience and an enlightened consciousness.
A common thread of concern seamed the presentation. An underlying myth suggested that the public still claims little voice in decisions dictated by some larger “machine”. Each artist addressed an issue faced by an anesthetized public that nonetheless may draw roughly the same conclusion in each case: that they are indeed responsible for issues affecting their lives.
The 15 minute presentation, continuously repeated for two hours after dark, began with A Display of Visual Inequity, by Connie hatch, Los Angeles. A collage of cutouts of lips, clean- shaven faces and faceless hair were underlined by subtitles, “Forced to smile, forced to shave,” illustrating the idea of a passive public being calculatedly, almost willingly, led into anonymity.
Beverly Naidus, Long Beach, introduced the language of an apathetic public. Drawings of a complacent public were punctuated with excuses like “ Don’t bother us would you please…We’re really busy right now.” Regret soon replaced the excuses: “ We didn’t pay attention…We didn’t realize we had a choice.” “ DON’T LOOK AT THIS” suddenly resounded as portrayals of the homeless, weapons depots, and environmental waste invade the visual plane. Taking another tack, Susan Squires of Cleveland enticed the viewer to look at deforestation by sequencing photos of a tranquil forest scene, slowing zeroing in on the devastation of cut trees being hauled off to a mill, leaving behind a raped landscape.
Communication and gender were addressed by Susan Silas, New York, and Robyn Einhorn, Cleveland. Silas’ simple use of homonyms and homophones, such as content/content and aural/oral, produced an eerie sense of innuendo. The words at first explained, but at second glance, insinuated. Einhorn, on the other hand, directly confronted the interpersonal gap between a woman and a man, illustrated photographically, the hands of a woman subtly gesture as she painfully tries to express her immediate feelings, to which a torso of a man replies, “ Dijiste aigo quierido?” ( “Did you say something honey?”)
Two collaborative teas directed their attention to war and warriors. Kerr and Malley, Santa Monica, asked “ What is contraception?” by intermingling fetal images with cattle as a backdrop for a quote ( Roseliep, 1973) :” Contraception is an Anti-militaristic plot…If contraceptives are given to the poor, where shall we find the men to fight the next war?” as Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama, and Iraq flash on the screen. Winet and Crane, San Francisco, go one step farther by graphically depicting the ignorance and abominations of war. A final image of a tiger jumping through a fiery hoop is captioned, “we were meant to live like flames.”
Wayne Draznin, Cleveland, projected the epitome of economically troubled cities’ attempts to “revitalize” at taxpayer expense. Of Cleveland’s controversial “Gateway” project, Draznin pointedly asked” “Gateway from?…to?…for?” frank Green, also of Cleveland, delivered a glossary of adjectives, nouns, and verbs pertaining to the atmosphere that we voluntarily or involuntarily inhale/exhale, with poignant visuals.
ARTtorneys At Work, Los Angeles, addressed censorship by asking “ How do you define obscene?” In Visionaries of their time,” Jesse Helms is compared to Hitler and McCarthy in their attempts to suppress freedom of expression. The artists used Edmund Burke’s quote to powerfully conclude the final work and the exhibition” “All that is required for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing.”
In the past decade, art in public places has often been confrontational (e.g., Richard Sierra’s Tilted Arc). Atkinson’s concept provided a format empowering artists who are already savvy in contextual materials, resulting n what she calls a “means to engage the public in a comfortable way, on their own terms, at their own pace, and expand some current notion of how public art can function.” However comfortable the public may be with this nonconfrontational venue, the images and narratives remain potent in their impact.
The Plain Dealer Cleveland, OH
September 21, 1990
Spaces ‘fronts’ public art
By Helen Cullinan
Spaces, newly relocated at 2220 Superior Viaduct, begins its exhibitions program with a window installation of social and political content titles “Projections in Public: Cleveland.”
The showing of 11 slide commentaries by artists from Cleveland, New York, and California was organized by Karen Atkinson, a West coast artist who specializes in public art. The presentation will run from 8 pm to 10 pm today and tomorrow and Thursday and Friday and Saturday evenings thorough Oct. 5. Viewers can watch the action in the store front windows from their cars or the curb. Nighttime hours are required to see the projections.
Spaces has opened its “inaugural” show even before restoration of its new home and gallery begins, and even before a telephone is installed. It’s a controversial bill of fare about issues of the day, with a Cleveland-to-global focus.
Topics include, censorship, U.S.- Soviet relations, gender and reproduction rights, language and manipulation, health issues, the environment and ecology (including the loss of forests) and galloping urbanism (featuring Cleveland’s Gateway project). The artists, working singly or in teams have deftly combined images and works in succinct presentations of evocative power.
The Cleveland artists who responded to Spaces’ call for entries and worked with Atkinson to fit into the project are Wayne M. Drazin, Robyn Einhorn, Frank Greene and Susan E. Squires. Their works were incorporated with presentations by East and West coast artists whom Atkinson has worked with in the past. The Cleveland portions will become part of an ongoing project in other cities.
“Projections in Public,” funded by the Cleveland Foundation, represents a transition for Spaces. The organization has been without show facilities since last April.
“We decided to do downtown window installations to replace gallery shows while we were searching for a new location,” director Susan Channing said. “That didn’t work out because the owners were nervous about the kind of work we would show and we didn’t want to censor the artists.”
After Spaces’ decision to buy the Superior Viaduct property, the first show was scheduled to celebrate the mortgage signing last Friday. Months in planning and preparation, the entire collection of slides to be shown by rear projection could be quickly assembled in the building’s storefront. Despite a premiere evening dampened by rain, viewers came in large numbers and were not disappointed.
Atkinson, who teaches at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, is an activist in the battle for public art. Formerly director of San Diego’s nonprofit installation artists’ group, similar to Spaces, she now concentrates on projects for an audience outside galleries and museums.
“I also was concerned about the public’s response to permanent sculptures plunked down on street corners. I wanted to generate work that is temporary and, because of that, less threatening,’ she said. “This project (minus the Cleveland artists) has been shown in commercial spaces…During the day the space was a business, and at night the window was transformed into a “gallery” space. The images are designed for this context.”
Although Spaces’ new location is not a heavily traveled area, Atkinson feels the work will draw viewers from both sides of town. “The parking is great,” she said.
Spaces will have a “Homecoming” fund- raiser in the building on Oct. 27, and plans to open an indoor show in November. Meanwhile, the staff is working in donated temporary offices in the Rockefeller Building.