Recently, I was in Washington DC for the Uprooted exhibit at the IA&A at the Hillyer. The artworks examined the definition of home and the displacement when left behind. The juror was Adriel Luis, Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Mr. Luis selected two of my braille pieces HOME and WALL.
Artworks description: Lady Justice is a symbol of impartiality in our judicial system. Standing stoically with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other, she is blindfolded representing that power, status, or money have no influence. A standard braille sign becomes repurposed by altering its function. The art serves as a marker questioning how President Donald J. Trump’s policies of separating families, wanting a border wall, implementing travel bans, and ending DACA have weakened the fundamental principles of democracy. Citizens must demand the highest standards by preserving truth and justice for all in our home America.
The IA&A at Hillyer is a contemporary art leader other institutions should follow. Nestled near The Phillips Collection art museum, their website states: “IA&A at Hillyer (formerly Hillyer Art Space) is International Arts & Artists’ contemporary arts center based at our headquarters in Washington, DC. Committed to serving the public and supporting artists at all stages of their careers, Hillyer presents a series of exhibitions and programs that feature local, regional, and international artists. Founded in 2006, Hillyer continues to provide significant support to both local and international artists, as well as presenting programs that reach a broad audience and create a platform for dialogue.”
The Uprooted exhibit reflects the philosophy, practice, and life experience of juror Adriel Luis. According to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center: “Adriel Luis is a musician, poet, visual artist, curator and coder from the California Bay Area. Adriel is currently based in Washington, D.C. as the Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, where his team has been developing a series of ‘culture labs’ as community-created alternatives to traditional museum exhibitions. He is also a founding member of the psychedelic spoken word collective iLL-Literacy, and moonlights on design projects with artists and non-profits. Adriel frequently travels, with particular interest in how digital space shapes global communities.”
The juror statement provided a clear path to the binary world of place and identity. Luis: “…The works here rest in the tension between intimate and alien. The artists express that being at home is an active relationship with place, an ongoing practice in making the foreign familiar, and that being rooted isn’t the same as staying put.” The exhibit questions how the concept of home can transcend definitions and borders.
Highlights included Stacy Isenbarger’s I.M.M.I.G.R.A.N.T (HERITAGE Status), Katie Latona’s Escutcheon and Slot, and Ruth Lozner’s Aftermath. Isenbarger, Latona, and Lozner: three masters deconstructing and reconstructing the memory and reality of one’s home. Isenbarger’s artist statement: “Viewers are asked to challenge their assumptions of their environment and the restrictive barriers they build for themselves.”
The adjacent gallery hosted the MIRCO-MONUMENTS II: UNDERGROUND exhibition curated by Artemis Herber and Dr. Ines Janet Engelmann. From the gallery handout: “Reflecting on the ring sanctuary of Pömmelte, often referred to as the German ‘Stonehenge,’ the exhibiting artists investigate deep time and explore the idea of what is hidden below ground, as well as what will be rediscovered, unearthed, and revealed.” Visitors experienced a natural wonder in a manmade world.
Diane Szczepaniak’s Green Quietude, Esther Eunjin Lee’s A Spoonful of Sugar, and Ursula Achternkamp’s TIMETEMPLATE I-V question perception, form, and history. Perspective becomes skewed and according to Szczepaniak’s website: “One could almost say that the subject matter of my artwork is form itself, an attempt to capture the essence of an object as I see it in space.” While Lee states: “Though much of my concepts + inspiration are drawn from Korea, personal perspective, and the translation of events/human experience across time and culture, I hope to speak to a deeper universal awareness by subverting and interrogating boundaries of various ideals we have established into our collective consciousness over the years.”
Exhibitions must activate the curiosity of visitors through critical thinking. The uprooting of traditional platforms is what the arts community craves and longs for. Excellence is rare but abundant at the IA&A at Hillyer.
Uprooted. IA&A at the Hillyer. Washington, DC. September 7-30th, 2018.