Last Thursday was a pretty normal afternoon in the Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts lobby. Students were doing homework, heading to practice, laughing and enjoying conversation. Everyone was a little tired from the busy few days behind and anticipating an even busier next couple. Musical Showcase was coming up, and the vibe of the music community inside the Jack H. Miller Center reflected it.
Later that day in my biology class, I forgot all about it, though. As I learned more than you could ever imagine about phylogenetic tree (I major in biology and play the oboe), the Musical Showcase concert was off my mind. But that didn’t last long. Within a few hours I was preparing, practicing, and waiting excitedly for the lights to go on at 8:00 p.m.. The dress rehearsal was long, but well worth the effort.
Musical Showcase concert features almost every single area of the music department at Hope. Some students participate in ensembles, others with solos. Many of us feel a bit nervous, since it’s the biggest concert of the year. Most of that vanishes, however, when we greet a good friend with a smile. “Hi! I can’t wait to hear you tonight!” “You got this girl, it’s going to be amazing!” The supportive community here is what motivates me to make the best music possible. When we’re on stage, each of us brings our best selves, which together creates a spectacle that is great to see and hear.
To me, that is the essence of music: a reflection of the soul through sound.
At Hope, we not only strive for excellent technical musical execution, but also the creation of beautiful, authentic music. With the help of our professors and peers, the sound that comes from our instrument or voice is a reflection of what’s inside our soul. To me, that is the essence of music: a reflection of the soul through sound.
Last week at Musical Showcase, when the hall was filled with awaiting audience members, I thought of my musical community, which brought me through every hardship and celebration. When the spotlight turned to me and others, the audience witnessed just how incredible it is when musicians come together to create something unique.
I met Dr. Damani Phillips in the spring of 2018. He came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where I was a doctoral candidate, to give a lecture and perform at the local jazz club, The Iron Post. During his visit to UIUC, I enjoyed not only hearing his unique voice on the alto saxophone, but also a great conversation on jazz in academia. Shortly after he left to resume his teaching duties as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Iowa, his book What is This Thing Called Soul: Conversations on Black Culture in Jazz Education arrived in my mailbox. I read this book in one sitting, finding myself constantly saying “Yes — this is what we need!” I knew that it would find a place in my teaching, especially considering my passion for creating opportunities for students to explore issues of diversity and inclusion in academia.
Fast forward one year. As I began my career at Hope, Dr. Marc Baer, interim chair of the Department of Music, encouraged me to dream of what my first year could be like. I knew immediately that I wanted to bring Damani to campus — as a performer and also to fulfill the mission of Hope College in “embracing and nurturing racial, ethnic, cultural and geographic diversity” through his scholarship. Working collaboratively with Vanessa Greene from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, we designed a residency that would introduce Phillips to a greater portion of the campus community while remaining an enriching experience for our music students.
As our 2019-2020 Hurtgen Jazz Artist in Residence, Dr. Phillips will be teaching lessons, visiting classes across campus, meeting with faculty, conducting masterclasses with Hope students, and presenting his keynote lecture. About the lecture Dr. Phillips writes, “During the Civil Rights movement, many musicians joined African-Americans in using their musical voice as a catalyst in demanding change in America. While popular music artists such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and James Brown were more overt in voicing their opposition to the status quo through their music, many overlook the more subtle sonic contributions that jazz musicians made to this righteous cause.”
So then on Tuesday, February 4 at 5:30 p.m., Dr. Phillips will present the Black History Month Keynote Lecture “Jazz in the Fight for Civil Rights.” This presentation is a one-of-a-kind collaboration which highlights seven examples of how jazz music echoed the cultural sentiments of African-Americans in the years leading up to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Through the combined use of live performance featuring a big band comprised of Hope College students and local professional musicians, spoken remarks (providing context/backstory for the program selections) and a visual display, the program offers a unique synergy of historical narrative and performance demonstration meant to both entertain and educate. The Hope College community Gospel Choir will open the program. The program is free, open to the public, and appropriate for all ages.
It is often said that jazz is the quintessential American art form. Jazz is a language that tells the story of the journey of the African American experience. On behalf of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Black Student Union, and the Department of Music, I invite you to join us on Tuesday as Dr. Phillips shares this story with us to celebrate this indispensable part of our nation’s past and present.
For more information on Dr. Damani Phillips, please visit:
Sylvia Rodriguez (‘21) and Maddie Zimmerman (‘20) are art history majors and gallery assistants to Dr. Heidi Kraus, Director of The De Pree Gallery. What follows is a conversation between the two of them regarding the current show, (re)collection by Nate Young, as well as the gallery space itself.
(re)collection is Young’s reflection on the African American experience during the Great Migration of the 20th century, He will deliver an artist’s talk on Thursday, February 6, at 4 p.m. in Cook Auditorium for the DePree Art Center, with a reception following in the gallery from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Sylvia Rodriguez: Maddie, what did you think when you first visited the exhibit?
Maddie Zimmerman: I was immediately struck by the relative emptiness of the space. Normally, we have so much work down in the gallery, whether on the walls or on the floor. In (re)collection, however, there are truly very few pieces in immediate view. I think this really makes the viewer focus on the art on display. When we have a show with a lot of art, patrons tend to wander more quickly between pieces. I would say the opposite is true with Nate’s show, where folks are more intentional about spending time with the work. How was your first experience in the immersive installation?
SR: Honestly, it was kind of challenging! I think, especially as an art history student – maybe you can add to this – we’ve been trained to look at a piece rather than experience it. This piece challenged me to do that. And for me, that experience was honestly kind of frightening! I was in a dark place with unexpected moments of light and sound with no apparent pattern. I found myself trying to grab some hint of reality.
MZ: Yes! Certainly very unsettling at first. But the more I’ve entered that space, the more captivating I’ve found it. Art historical tradition can be so removed and distant in terms of viewing work, which is why I think I am so drawn to contemporary art. So many artists are experimenting with ways of literally bringing the viewer into their work.
SR: Yes, I totally agree.
“I think the gallery as a teaching tool is so powerful. This exhibit in particular could be used for a sociology or psychology course, as personally, being in that space was incredibly challenging.” — Sylvia Rodriguez
MZ: Something that I think many people forget is how important art is as an educational tool, especially those who aren’t as involved in the art world as we are. How do you see Nate’s exhibit and The De Pree Gallery in general being used as this kind of space?
SR: I think the gallery as a teaching tool is so powerful. This exhibit in particular could be used for a sociology or psychology course, as personally, being in that space was incredibly challenging. The darkness, the sound of the bones. I think it fuels interesting questions about where society is right now and what the exhibit can teach us. I think the De Pree Art Gallery has enticing and thought-provoking exhibits. It really is up to professors to see how they can integrate this tool into their courses.
“I particularly enjoy talking to those who proclaim themselves as knowing very little about art because these people often have the most interesting interpretations. They see the work in ways influenced by their own worldview or field of study, which brings so many new meanings to the art!” — Maddie Zimmerman
SR: What do you think? I feel like you might have a lot of input since you work down here in the gallery.
MZ: Yes, so because I work as a docent in the gallery, I get to have a lot of interactions with visitors regarding the shows. I love when patrons come up and ask me questions, or offer up their opinions, because it means that people are doing more than just passively viewing. I particularly enjoy talking to those who proclaim themselves as knowing very little about art because these people often have the most interesting interpretations. They see the work in ways influenced by their own worldview or field of study, which brings so many new meanings to the art! This is why the gallery isn’t just for art majors; it’s for everyone, because everyone can take something away from the show. And for us, since we’re both art history majors, the gallery is such a fantastic, tangible resource. How do you see it impacting or influencing your study?
SR: For me, The De Pree Gallery always pushes me. Every semester there is new subject matter, new material, new techniques. It’s easy to look and discuss art that you like, right? Like, I bet you could look at Chinese photography all day and talk about it freely. With exhibits like (re)collection we are forced to look differently, think differently, and infer differently. I think that is the most valuable input the gallery gives me.
MZ: That’s a great way of putting it. Art should challenge us, and that’s what makes The De Pree Gallery so great. Every show, every semester, from internationally-recognized artists to student work, brings something new to the table. As someone who wants to eventually work as a curator, getting this experience in a gallery that has such variety and such challenging work is so critical.
SR: Yes, absolutely! Thanks for talking with me, this was fun.
One of the most exciting aspects of presenting performers to the community is the opportunity to offer an event that connects artists working together for the first time. Artists are constantly creating and reinventing themselves, and when they are in the midst of a new path, they are as excited as the audience.
Such is the case when Pedrito Martinez and Alfredo Rodriguez come to campus on Jan. 24 for the Great Performance Series. Both artists are highly acclaimed jazz musicians now working together for the first time. Not only will the audience see two leaders in Cuban jazz on stage, but they also get to see them building on each other’s skills and experience.
What makes this even more interesting is that the two men come from different backgrounds and experiences. Pianist Rodriguez, who is younger than Martinez by more than a decade, was a child prodigy who studied classical piano at the prestigious Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán and Instituto Superior de Arte. In the midst of this classical education, he was playing popular music in his father’s orchestra by night. While performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006 he was discovered by his future mentor and producer, the legendary Quincy Jones.
Martinez, meanwhile, was honing his craft on the streets of Havana, learning the deeply-rooted percussion and vocal style of Afro-Cuban folkloric and religious music. He brought his voice and percussion skills to the U.S. in 1998 and was soon awarded First Place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition, and appeared in the documentary film, “Calle 54.” He co-founded and recorded several albums with the Latin fusion group, Yerba Buena, and begin fielding requests from Wynton Marsalis (who calls Pedrito “a genius,”) Eric Clapton, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Chucho Valdés, and James Taylor. He created his own quartet in 2005 and in 2013 received a Grammy nomination.
Although they worked together on Rodriguez’s 2012 album, this new venture lets them work together in a new format. The Wall Street Journal notes that “When Messrs. Rodriguez and Martinez first performed as a duo at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard two years ago, their deep rapport and shared joy was evident. So was their intention to combine the traditions of their native island, Cuba, and their tantalizing technical skills into something accessible yet, beneath the surface, complex. “
Their 2019 album, Duologue, is winning plenty of praise. Jazz Times says “the true beauty of Duologue is the sheer joy that spills forth from every note that Rodríguez and Martinez play together. Their styles blend to create songs with aching lyricism, watercolor soundscapes that are driven by captivating mambo grooves.”
And now, at Hope College, we have the chance to see this great combination play out live on stage. Plus, our students get to participate in a workshop with both artists, something all of our visiting artists do. The concert is Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall at the Jack H. Miller Center. You can purchase your reserved seats online or by calling 616-395-7890.
The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was a society of believers that began as an offshoot of the Quakers in Manchester, England at the beginning of 1747. Later, the group was dubbed as the “Shakers” because the believers commonly expressed their faith through dancing, trembling and shaking.
The production is set in the early 1900s within a small community called Mount Lebanon. The plot follows Sister Anha and Brother Robert as they work to restore their community of Shakers. While they are both working toward a common goal, the two elders disagree on the best methods by which to build their community. Sister Anha takes a more liberal stance on the process whilst Brother Robert takes a very conservative view on the matter. During the time in which The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month was set, there was quite a bit of anti-semitism. This also surfaces in the play. Strong hatred of a religious sect is a human pattern that echoes forward throughout history to the present.
Throughout the story, we watch differing outlooks manifest as a significant conflict amongst the characters. As the play develops, the characters explore underlying issues very relevant to our world culture today, including gender equality, gun control, political division, and religion. The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month paints a strong picture of how our society tends to repeat patterns, helping to give another perspective on where our current culture has arrived.
The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month playwright Hutton spent a week’s residency at Hope College in September during which she collaboratively revised and edited the script with the cast and director Richard Perez, assistant professor of theatre. The production includes a cast of over 20 Hope students, ranging from freshmen to seniors. The creative team is made up of Caroline Dargay (stage management), Professor Richard Smith (scenic and properties design), Assistant Professor Eric VanTassell (lighting and sound design), and Professor Michelle Bombe (costume design). The production’s assistant stage managers are freshmen Emily Dykhouse, Katie Hayduk, and Jack Slevin.
Tickets to see this inspiring and thought-provoking production can be purchased at the Hope College Ticket Office, by calling 616-395-7890 or by going online.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, November 15 and 16, Thursday, November 21, and Saturday, November 23. There is a free Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on November 17 and an 8:30 p.m. performance on Friday, November 22.
In the summer of 2017, I began a long wait to hear the outcome for my application for a Fulbright Award in the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program to study Afro-Brazilian music and culture. I don’t remember what possessed me to apply for a Fulbright, but I figured it would be a great way to fulfill my dream of living in Brazil and legitimize my 15-plus years of studying Brazilian music and culture as a performer, educator and scholar. After waiting six months to hear that my project was accepted by the three peer-reviewed committees in the U.S. State Department and the Fulbright Commission of Brazil, I got the good news. I was a Fulbright scholar so the Fashun family packed our bags to spend four months living in the Afro-Brazilian capital of Brazil, Salvador da Bahia, in the summer of 2019.
Living in and learning a foreign culture is like unraveling a mystery with no end. It brings with it all the things shared by humans everywhere, but requires a special decoding ring of language, regional dialect, slang, cultural, social, political and religious history. In Brazil, and more specifically, Salvador da Bahia, these ingredients make for one complicated society where music becomes that decoding ring.
So, a bit of Salvador history . . .
Salvador is the most African city outside the continent of Africa. Of the three million people living in the city, 82% identify as Afro-Brazilian. Situated on a peninsula, Salvador was Brazil’s first capital, founded by the Portuguese, and was the primary city for slave trade. Of the 10 million slaves brought to the Americas, 4 million ended up in Brazil. Through years of miscegenation and cultural and religious syncretism, Brazil became a true melting pot. They even sell crayon sets representative of the spectrum of Brazilian skin color.
Now, back to my experience there. . .
My official project title, “The Dissemination of Afro-Brazilian Music and Culture in Salvador da Bahia” soon became a project with a much broader scope. A backwards scholarly approach, no? What I discovered quickly through interviews, observing and taking classes, and living in a place with such a volatile and amazing history, is that Brazilians learn and share music (folk, classical, pop, samba, etc.) on several levels-nationally, regionally, culturally, socially, and inter-generationally. It is a river that runs through the bedrock of their culture. Since music is not taught in schools, this led me to ask the question, “How do people learn music?”
The answer: social projects.
In Salvador, music and culture are taught through social projects that have to be approved by the government. Some receive government funding, some from private corporations/individuals, or both. When I say music, I mean all music — classical, pop, Afro-Brazilian, indigenous. One social project I visited in the heart of a favela (a Brazilian ghetto) taught music, theater and dance. Run by volunteers and funded by private citizens, it was clear that this project was a source of pride, joy and unity for the students and community.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had the honor of being invited to the inaugural celebration of the new NEOJIBA headquarters, a social project based on the Venezuelan El Sistema of teaching classical music to children ages 5-18. It was a day full of performances by the top NEOJIBA orchestra, choir, and band with a special appearance by Bahian Governor Rui Costa and other political dignitaries. The brass and percussion opened the festivities with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and I couldn’t believe the power and accuracy that projected from the horns and trumpets. Keep in mind that these are teenagers. There are places in the United States where youth orchestras achieve this level of musicianship and expression, but those are students who aren’t from extreme poverty with little or no quality of education. Not music education, just education.
Imagine hundreds of kids doing music everyday for three to four hours. In the United States, we don’t think anything of this when it comes to athletics, but I don’t know many places where the orchestra rehearses everyday for two-and-a-half hours.
In both social projects, there was a contentedness and happiness of life among the professors, students and parents, which is generally true of most Brazilians. They are enduring optimists always finding the best in the worst. They find joy and community despite their socioeconomic status, low income, small living spaces, and lack of systemic infrastructure for things that would agitate most Americans (insert any 1st world problem here). I would argue that the reason the Brazilians have such a strong sense of community is because they live with less. They have each other and they share the joys and challenges of life through cultural festivals, music, political instability, racism, and soccer.
Brazilians are enduring optimists always finding the best in the worst. They find joy and community despite their socioeconomic status, low income, small living spaces, and lack of systemic infrastructure for things that would agitate most Americans (insert any 1st world problem here).
In light of my research, I started to think about the state of music education in America. I think that America is positioning itself ever closer to relying on social projects to inspire our children to become involved in music and the arts. My daughter goes to a great public school that has an integrated Montessori program, but she only gets music once a week for 40 minutes. In comparison, students in a social project like NEOJIBA have a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal everyday of the week, plus group lessons with a professional musician on their instrument. Imagine hundreds of kids doing music everyday for three to four hours. In the United States, we don’t think anything of this when it comes to athletics, but I don’t know many places where the orchestra rehearses everyday for two-and-a-half hours. The best part of this is that this program is funded by the government and private corporations. The students don’t pay a single centavo.
Needless to say, I have more questions now than when I started my Fulbright research. Beyond the call to return to the beautiful beaches, amazing cuisine, and musical richness of Salvador, I have been welcomed into a new community to help me unravel more of the cultural mysteries of Brazil.
truth to power is a non-violent way of challenging political, economic, social
and cultural leaders, and holding them accountable for actions and words that result
in injustice, inequality and harm to others. The tactic requires courage and a
willingness to risk one’s reputation, livelihood and sometimes even one’s life
to express beliefs that go against entrenched interests and public opinions.
The phrase “speak truth to power” originated in the Civil Rights and Peace movements of the mid-20th century. Although the phrase is relatively recent, the idea of speaking truth to power is ancient, and can be found in cultures around the world stretching back thousands of years. The term “speak” suggests that this form of protest is primarily verbal, but challenges to established power structures can be expressed in many different ways, including art.
An upcoming Kruizenga exhibition highlights a small selection of 20th and 21st-century artworks from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, all of which represent the spirit of speaking truth to power. The exhibition is offered in conjunction with The Big Read Lakeshore, which will soon kickoff with this year’s focus on In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.
Truth to Power runs from November 1st
through December 20th, 2019. Admission to the Kruizenga Art Museum
is free and all are welcome.
Plowers. Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945), 1906. Etching and aquatint. Gift
of David Jensen, 2004.6.2
This print belongs to a
series called The Peasants’ War that was
inspired by a historical rebellion that occurred in Germany in 1524-25, when
hundreds of thousands of poor farmers rose up to protest the harsh conditions
imposed on them by the aristocracy. Plowing
is the first image in The Peasants’ War
series. It depicts two impoverished farmers being used like draft animals to
drag a plow through the soil. Kollwitz created the series to remind viewers
about the possible consequences of similarly mistreating the working classes in
the modern age.
Refuge in Your Heart, Poor Vagabond. Georges
Rouault (French, 1871-1958), 1922. Aquatint and drypoint. Hope College Collection, 1967.2.5
George Rouault’s Miserere (Have Mercy) series was designed between 1914 and 1927 in response
to the horrors of World War One. The series
explores the importance of maintaining faith in the face of suffering, and hope
in the face of tragedy. This print is plate 4 from the Miserere series. It depicts an adult reaching out to a child with a
gesture of comfort. The title and the imagery suggest that the figures are
refugees, a sight that would have been all too familiar to Rouault in the years
during and after the war.
of Peace. Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000), 1952. Woodcut. Hope College
This life-size woodcut depicts a smock-clad
man standing in a tangle of barbed wire, holding a dead bird in his hands. The
man represents a prisoner of war or a concentration camp inmate, while the bird
symbolizes the dove of peace. Baskin created the print in response to the death
and devastation of World War II, as well as the conflicts of the Korean War and
the Cold War. Such an overtly anti-war image was controversial at the time the
print was made in 1952, which coincided with the height of Senator Joseph
McCarthy’s “Red Scare” campaign.
Milton Derr (American, born 1932), 1965. Brown ink and wash on paper.
Hope College Collection, 2018.20.2
This drawing portrays the bodies of
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three Civil Rights workers
who were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the summer of 1964
while campaigning to register African American voters. The bodies of the three
activists were buried in an earthen dam and remained hidden for two months
before their remains were finally discovered by the FBI. Public outrage over
the murders fueled support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the
Voting Rights Act of 1965. The title of the drawing is deliberately misspelled
to approximate the vernacular pronunciation of Mississippi in that state.
to Juanita. Lorraine Garcia Nakata (American,
born 1950), ca. 1990. Lithograph and
chine collé. Hope College
The text written on this print
reads, “During World War II, sometime after the Depression, soon after Pearl
Harbor my Japanese friends were whisked away after their families sold all
their belongings.” The inscription refers to a shameful episode in American
history when, following the 1941 Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States government rounded up approximately
120,000 Japanese-Americans living in the western United States and incarcerated
them in military prison camps with no trials and no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Many of the imprisoned Japanese-Americans were forced to sell or abandon their
homes, automobiles and other personal possessions, and a significant number of
them suffered physical injury, psychological trauma and even death as a result
of their forced confinement.
Raid. Ester Hernandez (American, born 1944), 2008. Screen print. Hope
College Collection, 2017.16
Ester Hernandez has been well-known
since the 1960s for her mural paintings, posters and other artworks that
celebrate Mexican-American identity and culture. This print parodying the
imagery of the famous Sun Maid raisin
brand is one of several artworks created by Hernandez to draw attention to the
exploitation of migrant farm workers in the United States.
(from the Great Criticism Series). Wang
Guangyi (Chinese, born 1957), 2006. Lithograph. Hope College Collection, 2015.16
Wang Guangyi is a leading figure in
China’s Political Pop movement, which emerged in the early 1990s in response to
the contradictions between China’s ostensibly communist political system and
its increasingly capitalistic economic system. Wang’s Great Criticism series juxtaposes imagery from political propaganda
art that was ubiquitous in China during the 1950s and 60s with brand names and
slogans from Western-style commercial advertising that began appearing in China
during the 1980s and 90s. At one time the artworks in the Great Criticism series could have resulted in Wang’s arrest and
imprisonment by the Chinese government, but since Wang became internationally
famous the government now tolerates his work.
Lamidi Fakeye (Nigerian, 1928-2009),1993. Mahogany. Gift of Bruce M. Haight,
This carving uses traditional Yoruba imagery to comment on
contemporary Nigerian politics. The central figure of Justice is portrayed as a
priest of Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. The priest is
blindfolded to signify impartiality, while his hands hold a sword and ritual
wand to signify power and wisdom. A
guard and two prisoners appear beside Justice, but are depicted on a smaller
scale to signify the comparative insignificance of individual fates in relation
to universal ideals. Lamidi Fakeye was inspired to carve this panel by a 1993
democracy movement in Nigeria that aimed to end decades of military rule and
restore civilian control of the government.
Against War. Andrea Gomez y
Mendoza (Mexican, 1926-2012),1956. Linocut. Hope College Collection, 2016.48.2
the 1920s to the 1950s, Mexican art was dominated by the so-called Mexican
Muralist School. Heavily influenced by the goals of Mexico’s 1910 Revolution,
the Muralists maintained that art should promote political consciousness, social
justice and economic equality. This
image by Muralist artist Andrea Gomez y Mendoza was used in a 1957 political
poster denouncing the threat of atomic war and helped win the artist an
Professor Steve Nelson’s exhibition Tug: A Great Lakes Odysseyis a photographic installation comprised of his most recent photographs documenting the tugboat industry in the state of Michigan. I had the privilege to listen to Nelson’s artist talk and experience the installation on view now in the De Pree Art Gallery at Hope College. To follow-up, I asked him a few questions to further the conversation and contemplation of his work.
Here’s what I asked and what Steve said.
Greg Lookerse: Your work, on a basic level, is documentary photography, but there is something else behind each image that goes beyond just documentation. What does the process of making a photograph mean to you and how does it relate to this body of work?
Steve Nelson: I consider the work a very personal narrative in that it is an extension of my thoughts and dreams. I start with imagining images, then search for the opportunity to find them by choosing the subject, time of day/night, season or the year, along with other conditions.
Although the style of photography may seem documentary I approach the project in a very different way than a documentary photographer would. The major difference would be that a documentary photographer would likely have tangible goal to inform or instruct the viewer about the subject of the photograph, whereas I am interested in bringing the viewer on a journey where ‘what is encountered’ brings a level of self-reflection and uncertainty with seeing something unknown in great detail.
GL: During your artist lecture you mentioned three themes in your work; artifact, apparatus and experience. How does the apparatus and aperture of the camera affect your experience of the places you photograph?
SN: By physically viewing the places through the aperture of the view camera, I see the world inverted and backwards. Of course all images are received in our eyes this way, because of the nature of lens optics, but, for me, seeing the images presented this way is much more aligned with memory, than reality. It feels more primal where what is encounter while under the hood inspecting the ground glass is both familiar and disjunctive.
“As a young teen I remember carving a tug boat out of a block of wood, it was fitted with tires from my toy cars for bumpers like I saw on the real tug and was painted red, very similar to the tugs in the exhibition.” — Steve Nelson
GL: I detect a care or love behind your photographs for the subject matter in the work. Did you have a care for the subject before you embarked on this series or is that something that developed as you made the images and visited the places?
I’ve always been fascinated by the maritime industry. As a child I grew up in a major port city on Lake Michigan and lived near the channel where commercial vessels pass through, literally towering about the houses in my neighborhood. This was a very impactful experience. As a young teen I remember carving a tug boat out of a block of wood, it was fitted with tires from my toy cars for bumpers like I saw on the real tug and was painted red, very similar to the tugs in the exhibition.
By visiting the various sites over the two year working on this project I found great affection for the tugs. In particular they enduring forms, as ‘little engines that could’ (move great things.) Their personal traits, with the variation of the hulls and other design features made them feel like members of a family, where subtle differences realized through close observation. As I encountered them over time I became more aware of the differences and familiar qualities.
GL: How do you go about exploring a location to find the image you want?
SN: Mainly through visiting the site. This was somewhat predetermined by the scope of the project as I decided to work with one fleet of tug boat because I was interested in the long trajectory of this particular fleet and the wide geographic distribution across a familiar body of water (The Great Lakes.) Some of my access was restricted in time, because of security issues around accessing the site in major industrial complexes. Other sites were more accessible. Both presented challenges, in that I had some ideas about taking photographs in both daylight and at night. Working during the winter allowed me to access the sites at night because I could go onto the ice to take the picture, giving me more perspectives choice and working around security and access issues.
GL: How many images do you take versus how many you exhibit?
SN: Probably one image exhibited for every two taken.
GL: There are many ways to interpret the title of the exhibition; The odyssey of the tugs you photographed, your odyssey in going to photograph, and the narratives that the viewer can develop in a careful look at your work. What odysseys are most prevalent to you in the work?
SN: I can’t entirely separate these layers. Maybe this is because they are all interwoven, as I am both the photographer who took the journey and the viewer. The odyssey of tugs are probably the most prevalent, because the work would not exist without them.
GL: The term odyssey carries with it a sense of growth. Odysseus’ journey was a coming home. Is the odyssey you have captured and created one of growing towards and end? What is that end?
SN: Yes, the journey was not planned, meaning the result was never predetermined for the work. In retrospect, compared to my other recent bodies of work, both of industry with dealing with past operations in mining and manufacturing, this work is most satisfying for me because of my growth capturing and creating a growing narrative, in that the industry is not only the past, but also present and future, which to me is a more hopeful narrative, one that is circular in nature.
GL: Your circular photos seem to have morphed and changed over your career. I would characterize your older circular photos as little worlds. Now the circular photo has taken on a new meaning in the tugboat work. You mentioned the idea of a looking glass or periscope, I cannot help but see a porthole. Do you think that the circular format has found a new way to serve your subject matter in this series?
SN: Yes, they are both portals (into other worlds) or portholes (into a specific existence). In this context they hopefully serve to bring the viewer into the porthole to a dormant existence of a primary industrial form. This serves like a dream motif, to bring subconsciousness into awareness, to move the view from the states of sleep to clarity where the edges fade from the subject.
“Beyond that my hope is to make work that opens up possibilities in multiple realms, both in the imaginary and real.” — Steve Nelson
GL: You spoke of how invention is developed to address a need. Are your photographs developed out of a need as well?
SN: Maybe only in fulfilling my creative need. Possibly in that they provide an experience for a different kind of encounter, one that is physically experiential and reflective.
GL: Speaking further of invention, you described these industrial sights and vessels as fulfillment of individuals’ dreams. Does you work further those same dreams? Augment those dreams? Take the burden of the dream to some other context?
SN: I think that it takes the burden of the dream into another context being one that could be experienced intimately with in the gallery environment. Beyond that my hope is to make work that opens up possibilities in multiple realms, both in the imaginary and real.
GL: This may be my own interpretation bias coming in, but do you think of the tugs as people or entities that are fallen? Are you helping sanctify them?
SN: That would not be irrelevant, mainly because you mentioned it. My earlier comments about the familiar relationships of this particular fleet reflects this interest. Hum…maybe not sanctify but more acknowledge their fragility and endurance, as well to recognize the limitations of physical form over time with the images of the construction of new tugs in the fleet.
I would like to thank Professor Nelson for his consideration in answering my questions and for creating this body of work. It is both monumental and quiet.
Tug: A Great Lakes Odyssey, is on exhibit in the De Pree Gallery until November 8th.
As part of my musical globetrotting, I always look for exciting and appealing music from around the world that is not only a crowd pleaser but also has a transformative and enlightening effect for the mind, body, and soul. So the music for an upcoming concert, “From Armenian Dance to Argentinian Tango,” brings together Armenian and Argentinian folk and popular-inspired music written by iconic composers of these cultures. This concert will take place on Sunday, October 27 at 3 p.m. in the concert hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts.
The Trio in F Sharp Minor, by renowned Armenian composer Arno Babajanian, combines beautifully the soulful touch of Armenian song in its second movement that can literally bring one to tears, with the exuberant energy of the Armenian dance rhythm which at times reaches the intensity of fireworks.
As for The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by celebrated Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, it has become a cornerstone of the tango repertoire. Perhaps inspired by another famous season cycle (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons), it brings nostalgia and a romantic feel framed masterfully in a sensual dance flavor of the tango. Performed in the reverse order of Vivaldi’s “seasons,” it reflects nature’s course: the reversal of the four seasons between the earth’s northern and southern hemisphere.
The Concert will also include the famed milonga, Oblivion by Piazzolla.
As a violinist, I have the pleasure to perform this inspiring program with two excellent players: pianist Christina Giuca-Krause of Chicago Lyric Opera and Northwestern University, and Alicia Eppinga, principal cellist of the Grand Rapids Symphony and cello instructor at Hope College. The concert is sponsored by a grant from The Patrons for the Arts.
Admission is free. A dessert reception follows in the lobby of Jack H. Miller Center.
Dr. Andrew Dell’Olio, professor of philosophy, is returning to the Hope College stage in the theatre department’s next production Smokefall. The play, by Grand Rapids-native Noah Haidle, will appear on the DeWitt Studio Theatre stage on Friday and Saturday, October 11 and 12, and Thursday through Saturday, October 17 to 19 at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, October 13, there will be a free matinee of Smokefall’s at 2 p.m.
Through magical realism, the play follows four generations of an eccentric family in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The piece explores 70-years worth of familial drama in a dark yet also comedic light. The Hope Theatre Department is thrilled to have Professor Dell’Olio back on stage playing both the Colonel and Johnny in the upcoming production.
Dell’Olio is no stranger to acting. “I have been active in local community theatre, including the Holland Civic Theatre and the semi-professional company, Exit Left Theatre, whose co-artistic director is Hope’s own Richard Perez. I have been involved previously in a few Hope Theatre productions, including Big Love (2009), directed by Daina [Robins], and Stage Door (2013), directed by John Tammi,” he explained.
Professor Dell’Olio is able to use acting as a creative outlet that “is not always available in the world of academic philosophy,” he explains. Hope Theatre is lucky to have this willing and collaborative actor from the philosophy department.
“I was teaching Oedipus Rex in my Cultural Heritage I class the other day and as we discussed Oedipus’s failed attempt to avoid his fate, I kept hearing in my head a line from the play that my character [in Smokefall] says: ‘You can’t outrun a lineage!’” — Prof. Andrew Dell’Olio
Through these theatre experiences, Dell’Olio has been able to bring excitement and new lines of communication into the classroom that he might not otherwise have experienced. He has also found that Smokefall has snuck its way into his classroom as he compares the traits of his characters to those of the Greek classics.
“I was teaching Oedipus Rex in my Cultural Heritage I class the other day and as we discussed Oedipus’s failed attempt to avoid his fate, I kept hearing in my head a line from the play that my character [in Smokefall] says: ‘You can’t outrun a lineage!’” His experience with Smokefall has helped him create “contemporary relevance to age-old ideas” with the texts in his classes.
Smokefall is directed by Professor Daina Robins. It touches on themes of familial bonds, mortality, and the human condition in a serious yet whimsical way. Dell’Olio hopes that the audience is able to come away from the production with the thoughts that the “brief nature of our existence is to be cherished despite the brokenness, despite the suffering; to appreciate, in the words of playwright, Noah Haidle, ‘that the greatest possible act of courage is to love.’ And that it is through such love that our lives are ultimately redeemed.”
The cast also includes junior Maxwell Lam of Holland; sophomore Ellyn Purnell of Zeeland; freshman Katy Smith of Plymouth, Indiana; and freshman Adam Chamness of Holland.
Tickets are $10 for regular admission; $7 for senior citizens and Hope faculty and staff; and free for Hope College students and students ages 18 and under. Tickets are available at the Events and Conferences Office located in downtown Holland in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.).