This past weekend the Cultural Council worked with photographer Terri Unger and writer Kelly Schwenkmeyer‘s Visible Ink Project on an interactive community art experience. We were given use of Time & Tide’s gallery space while the owner Kristina Brendel is away.
So we’ve been asking people to join us, either inviting them through social media or press or right off the street, to come have portraits taken. We use digital cell phones to snap photos. Print the photos, and request that people write what “Art Means to You” on the image.
These pictures and words are hung with clips from strings, like laundry on clotheslines, throughout the gallery. We’ll continue the project for one more week. Later in the year, we’ll display these images again, and attempt to continue this thematic conversation in new ways that also engage the public.
Some people come by, bold and confident, strike a pose and quickly jot down a provocative reflection. Others turn away or aside from the camera, and hesitate over the text. One man turned his back and gave us permission to put a question mark on his snapshot. Some people don’t want to be photographed. Others want to be instructed about how to stand and express themselves. Some people like the results, others are critical of the final product, fussing over a double chin or hair out of place.
What do we see in our own photos? In each others’ portraits? And what words do we choose to include? What do we edit?
These are fleeting moments. They don’t sum up our lives, just the mood and the second in which the lens captured the image, that light bent in a certain angle, that muscles twitched a certain way, that we moved or stayed still.
Some folks pose solo. Friends cluster together. Spouses and partners lean into each other. Parents and children hug tight, wrestle or argue, grin at each other.
Often there’s tension in shared photos; dynamics seem somewhat visible. Other times, you cannot guess the story behind the person who jotted down some ideas in black marker on the inkjet portrait.
What do you see? What do you say? What is hidden? What is visible?
What does art mean to you? Is it as essential as breathing? Is it just something you go look at, and maybe think about hanging on your wall? Is it a form of expression that makes you pause and think in a new way about an idea? Is it a sensory experience? Why does art have relevance?
Of course, I’m biased. I paint in oils, outdoors, recreationally, but it’s as good as yoga class when I do it. On the other hand, writing is part of my freelance income, so in some ways art is also a form of sustenance. Painting and journaling? For me, they offer are ways to explore emotional states, to make meaning, to process experiences and information, to express myself.
So yes, I’d have to say that art has meaning for me. And I have seen different forms of art used as powerful and liberating therapeutic tools for many others, too.
Usually the local Cultural or Arts Council simply passes out grants to artists. Or like our Council, organizes an annual art show. After all, we’re just a committee of volunteers, serving the town by administering funds made available through the state to support local and regional fine and performing arts projects.
This community art project, engaging our friends and neighbors in a creative and ephemeral process that explores what we as individuals and a community, think about art? It’s more ambitious than most Councils get. Yes, the people who volunteer as members of the Cultural Council are fans of all kinds of art.
Yet part of this experience is to find out what everyone thinks. And maybe to convince you that art touches all of us. And that we all have something to say and share, through art, when given the opportunity.
So feel free to speak up. Stop by. Lend your face to this fun and experimental dialogue.
By the way? It’s free. That seems to be a major selling point for the experience.
You’re invited to join this conversation. To make a statement. To be counted among those friends and citizens of Ipswich who believe creativity has a place in community, and that art matters. Join us again next weekend.