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The Scarlet & Black

Familiarize yourself with the [un]familiar

By Meg Schmitt

The current show at the Grinnell Arts Centre and Gallery, entitled [un]familiar, is the culmination of work from this summer’s Emerging Artist Residency program at Grin City Collective.

The Grin City Collective supports a group of newly graduated artists at a local Grinnell farm as part of a four-week program that combines artistic development and community outreach to provide a local artistic experience.

The intention of the program, now in its sixth year, is to break the tradition of an artistic “retreat” and instead create “place-based art”, said Molly Rideout ’10, the Grinnell Area Arts Council Arts and Residency Director.

A central aspect of the Grin City Residency program is to encourage the artists to actively engage the community in their artistic processes by initiating dialogues using local service projects as the conduit for interaction.

The collaborative themes of Grin City’s Residency philosophy are clear in the work presented in [un]familiar, which displays the performed, individual and combined pieces of the five artists Janna Avner, Marika von Zellen, Mary Kaiser, Cindy Kim and Alyssa Lundgren.
Two of the artists, Zellen and Kaiser, were authors who presented spoken pieces at the opening of the show on August 16. The remaining artists contributed paintings and drawings.

There were several combined works in the show; the first and largest being the group project “Free Bagel.” The artists dispensed free bagels from a stand in downtown Grinnell for additions to a landscape painting they provided, documenting the process in a video. The piece encapsulates the collaborative effort and outreach element of the Grin City program, as a product of the artists and local residents. Each of the artists also had a selection of individual work displayed at the gallery.

Janna Avner’s paintings included an untitled piece depicting a murky scene of unfolding drama, a dark color scheme reflecting the obscure nature of her piece. In her artistic statement, Avner described her affinity for telling stories in her art.

“I paint the lives of others to uncover their mysteries … a person is, among other things, many memories and thus many people,” said Avner.
Through a lens many of us can recognize, Alyssa Lundgren uses her series of drawings and photos to attempt to understand her own generation of adults and the advent of self-portraits through cell phones.

Photo by Ellen Schoenmaker

“In my pocket is something that gives instant feedback, in the case of the image it takes, an unforgiving reflection. I am exploring the not-so-new phenomena of the human making images of itself,” said Lundgren in her artist statement.

Cindy Kim creates a more inquisitive and existential perspective through her art, focusing on very planar, two-dimensional constructions. Her piece “Still Life #2” became the image of the exhibit’s promotional poster, with its shock of color and precise, yet realistic, style.
“I want my work to express our visual culture: how we look at art, how we recognize something as art and how we talk about art,” said Kim.
Grin City Collective hopes to build on the existing residency program, and has already added an additional off-season session to invite artists of all skill levels and ages to participate in the program.

Rideout has witnessed the effectiveness of the Residency programs supported by the Grinnell Area Arts Council, both for the artists themselves and increasingly the Grinnell community.

“The art residency program has benefited the community by allowing direct engagement with the community, and I think Grinnell benefits from new perspectives, especially challenging perspectives,” Rideout said. “We’re still working on community awareness of the program … [but] we’ve had community days, volunteering at PALS, and outreach programs and … it’s still growing.”

If the community day mural is any indication, the Grinnell community seems to have no problem embracing the unfamiliar.

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