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Sunday, June 23, 2013
My life for the past several months has been a four-letter word: M-Y-T-H.
That’s also been the case for 20 other artists and interns, all of whom are collaborating with me this summer on a 40-foot totem comprising the word “myth” that’s being assembled for installation at the end of July at the Taubman Museum of Art.
While collaboration among creative types was once equated with “herding cats,” the making and exhibiting of art at every level is becoming increasingly collaborative. This project has been a group effort from the start. My sister, in the true spirit of familial cooperation, offered to share warehouse space at Building 9B1 at the Roanoke Industrial Center. Her business, The Wallace Agency, is a complement to our hands-on efforts in the big space, and her young designers have proved very handy carpenters.
Titled “Myth,” the piece is as big as the scope of its theme. Each individual letter measures 10 feet, and all four collectively weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Stacking one on top of the other is an engineering and architectural feat that cannot be done single-handedly. With construction drawings provided by the museum’s exhibition manager, the giant letters have been made in descending weights and stack one on top of the other.
Many people have, and will continue to, contribute their talents, know-how and just plain elbow grease as we work to completion.
The “myth” theme is an homage to the potency of our greatest stories, and includes images ranging from animal drawings to old comic books. There are four ongoing bulletin boards in the studio where sketches and other images appropriate for each letter can be tacked up and considered by everyone. One 10-by-8-foot plywood wall on the ground floor letter “H” will feature heroes chosen by each of our studio workers. These will be shown on hinged doors or portals that will open to text or additional images.
Working on this scale was daunting at first, but as we crawl around these letters and literally make them from piles of lumber, we become increasingly comfortable with the size and scope of what we will soon be painting. Our interns say this is giving them courage to be more expansive in their studio work.
Working with others didn’t occur to me at first as an artist. Painting was solitary; it wasn’t until years later, when I participated in efforts to create events, that I discovered transformative power in collaboration. Part of that sea change came when groups of us founded “Best in Show,” an inclusive art exhibit for the Roanoke Valley SPCA, the Open Studios tour and The Market Gallery more than a decade ago.
In fact, it was in that gallery that the “myth” totem initially had its start as a small experimental piece. The sculpture we are now constructing will have to be transported by a flat-bed truck and assembled with a crane.
This isn’t sculpture that could be created on its own and is a prime example of how my experience as an artist has evolved. The process of art and its creation is more interactive than I first thought. Its creation can be inclusive.
Similarly, the process of sustaining and supporting an artistic community is a matter for participation at every level. For instance, there were many stages that brought “MYTH” to this point, including the first curatorial idea from the Taubman Museum, followed by ongoing contributions from artists and friends and every capacity of The Wallace Agency. Having more hearts and hands involved continues to develop the ideas and execution of the piece.
The way I see it, collaboration is critical to this creative project. And once we trust that members of a group can imagine and develop an idea, we are off and running.
As the influential and multi-disciplinary artist John Cage said, “It doesn’t matter who holds the brush.”
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