Posted October 21, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in Arts & Entertainment

Sensations that Announce to Future

At The Evergreen Art Gallery

By Jules Prosser

I am sitting on a couch with a glowing blue light beneath it, eating an orange I took from a giant handmade clamshell. Boards painted in bright, warm colors surround me on two sides. I’ve been told that the place I am in is a spaceship of sorts, specifically, Matthew Offenbacher’s Decor for Interstellar Flight, a multimedia installation tucked in the farthest left-hand corner of the Evergreen Gallery.

Time works differently here in the gallery. The tranquility and softness of the space can easily pull one in and keep them there until closing time. Which is exactly what happened to me when I went to the exhibit, Sensations that Announce the Future, on a sleepy Monday afternoon: I could not pry myself away.

The exhibit showcases fourteen artists and a number of mediums: video, photography, prints, paintings, sculptures, mixed-media, and an interactive installation. Included in the collection are Evergreen faculty Shaw Osha, Naima Lowe, and Amjad Faur.

Sensations that Announce the Future was put together by Osha, with the help of five students. It is based on the book that was assigned this summer to incoming students, Thinking in an Emergency by Elaine Scarry. In her book, Scarry explores the relationships between disasters, world politics, citizenship and humanitarianism, among other topics. The book underscores the dire ethical need for “equality of survival,” and encourages the reader to actively engage their ability to assist those around them.

The exhibit takes Scarry’s ideas and turns them forward to anticipate the future. It uses the very important, inextricable concepts of community and visual art as lenses with which to predict what’s next. The exhibit statement speaks to this shared ability:

Sensations that Announce the Future asks the Evergreen community to consider a central concept in Scarry’s book–the importance of habit in relation to one’s ability to increase deliberation and to act.

The works in this exhibition were selected for their attempt to transcend, transform or re-imagine inherited histories. They sample, re-mix, and re-purpose to disrupt, re-write or map alternative trajectories for those histories, art forms, and social relationships. As much as we might want to find answers in the works here, they insist instead on abiding in the questions, holding open space and time for us to imagine possible futures ourselves. As if walking backwards into the future, we search for patterns, sequences, repetitions and arabesques–new structural possibilities that both give and take instruction. We are affected and can affect.

The gallery as a general space is valuable, serving to bridge art and community. In a world where emphasis is placed on quantity, utility, and efficiency, the gallery is a haven for what can’t easily exist in many places, because it isn’t allowed to: reflection. In the gallery, one is simultaneously in communion with the work and with themselves. The gallery urges us all to open up and let everything in, in every way possible. A truly successful community cannot exist without a space in which friends and strangers can safely share image and thought.

The Evergreen Gallery is an important pillar in both the communities of the college and of Olympia because it is exactly this: a bridge, a haven, a space for thought, comment, and statement. These qualities allow community members to move forward through the processing of challenging ideas.

Sensations that Announce the Future is, indeed, very challenging. The ability of precognition is often seen as both a blessing and a curse, and the exhibit reflects that. The work operates especially in the liminal space between the two qualities, a space that is murky, ambiguous, and ever-changing. Furthermore,  it challenges the future by directly engaging with the present.

The exhibit examines the present by exploring the realities that make it so. One reality that is portrayed are the very specific, very real, very scary issues of racism and sexism (as well the intersection between the two and the issues that relate to them), as shown in the powerful and poignant work of Naime Lowe’s Thirty-nine questions for white people, a series of prints on index cards; Shaw Osha’s Arabesque, in Remembrance of Kajieme Powell, a series of 8 oil and acrylic paintings exploring the August 2014 shooting of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis; and Steffani Jemison’s Personal, a 6 minute single-channel video deconstructing the notion of “racial progress”. These are just a few of many important pieces.

Another important reality that plagues present-day that is explored here is that of isolation. Two installations are paired beautifully in the exhibit, Cassie Thornton’s Creatures of Obligation: Debt Visualizations and Offenbacher’s Decor for Interstellar Flight. Creatures of Obligation  is an expanding collection of “debt visualizations:” records of interviews in which a specially-trained facilitator guides a person through a visual exploration of their debt. Debt is of growing concern in the United States, and Thornton translates the alarm and panic many feel into a call to arms: through inviting all to participate in these visualizations, she attempts to ease the distress of their situation, thus directly relating to the theme of assistance in Scarry’s book.

Decor for Interstellar Flight is the tangible framework that holds Thornton’s recycling bin full of recorded visualizations. Made up of a series of mixed-media polymer boards inspired by the extreme conditions of astronauts, and their simultaneous experiences of isolation and closeness.  Offenbacher really dives forth into the spaceship microcosm: along with the boards, which investigates the psychological need for decor, he compiled a collection of literary passages to accompany the boards. In this document, he juxtaposes non-fiction writing on astronauts, environments, art, and Greek mythology with sci-fi feminist erotic literature, old-school nautical fiction, and Colette. The blue-lit couch and the clamshell are offered, perhaps, to accompany the reading.

Decor for Interstellar Flight and Creatures of Obligation were created completely independently of one another, but merge together so seamlessly in the exhibit that Thornton created a manifesto specifically for it. A sign-up sheet is hung nearby, for all those interested in debt visualization. Thornton trained five Evergreen students to facilitate and collect the visualizations for the piece, and all are encouraged to join.

Of course, this is just a small sample of the many complex pieces in the exhibit. There is so much more to behold. The Evergreen Gallery space is a perfect vehicle for Sensations that Announce a Future: their aim here is to reach as many as possible. Whether you are interested in solitary reflection, group discussion, or both, the gallery seeks to accommodate all. As well as their weekly hours, tours for both the public and the Evergreen community will be offered. The exhibit opened on October 10 and will continue through December 2.