A Look Inside the Gallery of Echoes
There has long existed a sort of disconnect between the various forms of art. Actors often do not understand writers who do not understand musicians, and nobody knows what designers do. They think and act differently. That occurs in performance art; the dissimilarities grow stronger when comparing performance to visual art. Most artists pick a medium or two and focus on them while still appreciating other forms. All of these artists share the arts emblem, but tend to remain very isolated from the other modes since they just do not speak the same language.
I fall into this boat, for obviously theater remains my thing. When I go to an art museum, I move too quickly I’m sure. True, I read notes about the pieces, but I know I miss details in the art because, for me, art museums are a passive experience and, moreover, I lack the knowledge to truly appreciate the work. I write this with the idea that museum patrons also feel a disconnect generally towards performance art. While desired, it seems that varying branches of art do not seem accessible to each other.
Perhaps that tendency caused Nancy Turner, Director of Community Relations at the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) to contact Stev Guyer, Executive Producer of the rock theater company Shadowbox Live. They wanted to collaborate, but coming from such different realms, neither knew what to do. This notion stayed on both of their minds for many months and in the fall of 2012, after delving into Google Cultural Institute, Guyer imagined a multimedia performance piece with original music for each work of CMA art. Nobody understood it, but the museum agreed.
Guyer and the Shadowbox band, Light, trekked to the CMA and noticeably strolled through too quickly. Turner and head curator, Dominique Vasseur, then joined the musicians through the museum, giving them artist information, backstories, and inspiration. The group delved into the museum’s vault, taking in all the treasures of the CMA’s permanent collection. From a vast array of art, Light managed to narrow it down to 22 pieces that really spoke to them. Thus began the intense task of Gallery of Echoes: the CMA Experience.
Gallery of Echoes is a 21 song cycle multimedia performance, combining original music, dance, spoken word, and video that focuses on the CMA artwork. Imagine strolling through a museum, but rather than glossing over paintings, the viewer sees each brushstroke transform into a moving entity, as guitar licks curate the piece, inspired dancers begin moving, and the art becomes alive in a way people seldom get to see it. This production feels akin to the polyscenic designs of Josef Svoboda and the Laterna Magika, a revolutionary multi-genre, multimedia performance piece that combined film, dance, and theater through projections in Prague in the late 1950s. Laterna Magika, which exists to this day as a theater in Prague, featured interactive and integrative theater that united other forms of artistic expression, thus making a more powerful experience that encouraged the audience to see things in a different light.
Moving forward in history, Shadowbox and CMA do a similar project that fosters new ways of breathing in art. Take, for example, the George Bellows painting Summer Night Riverside Drive. On first glance, one notices maybe six or eight people strolling through a park after dark, but upon closer inspection—in a way the projected video highlights in Gallery of Echoes—the viewer encounters about thirty people lurking in the shadows. It almost feels like a new painting. By combining the visual medium with the performance world, the audience gets to experience the art.
Perhaps this helps explain why the education program for Gallery of Echoes works so well. Stacie Boord, Shadowbox’s Community Relations and Education Director, went into three Columbus high schools to share the Gallery of Echoes experience. The students saw the show and engaged in talk-backs. She shared ODIP, an arts education process taught to her by CMA professionals, that encourages Observing, Describing, Interpreting, and Proving. Most students immediately began interpreting when shown an art piece, but by taking a step back, and using the process, the students gained more and were able to ask probing questions regarding the show and its incorporated artwork. The students’ efforts will continue in December as they create their own Gallery of Echoes where they make music and performances that express their selected art. These students are utilizing a process that fosters sustained arts education while simultaneously honing critical thinking akin to the scientific method.
The Shadowbox team used a form of ODIP in creating the show. CMA staff compiled historical information, appraisal papers, jury reviews, and the rights for each piece, while Shadowbox staff filmed, photographed, and wrote individual music for all of the selected art. In the spring of 2013, Light had written 22 songs in 72 hours. Unfortunately, the museum could not attain the rights to one of the paintings, thus finalizing the show to a celebration of 21 works of art.
With research, Guyer’s vision, and a year’s worth of time in their hands, each department (the band, video, and choreography) toiled independently to create something that showcased the selected art. Universally, it seemed that each department struggled a bit with not pre-interpreting the piece or adding too much to make it their own. Everyone really wanted to maintain the artist’s intentions. For the music, they asked, “What does this evoke emotionally?” and used that as the bottom line for the writing. By taking that as the foundation, they could create a representation that promoted observation and description, while allowing the audience to interpret and prove. “It became more of a conversation with the artist and less a list of demands from the artist,” said David Whitehouse, Chief Video Editor. With this attitude, they towed the line of remaining true to the artist’s intentions while still creating a new work of art.
Despite this, it was not until the first technical rehearsal, when the music played on stage with the projections of Albert Bierstadt’s King Lake, California, that anyone comprehended exactly what they were making: a beautiful, moving show. Audience members loved it. The museum did too.
In fact, Shadowbox did not expect people to like or understand it. I, for one, felt so captivated and mesmerized by the show: “Experiencing Gallery of Echoes conjures up much inspiration and many thoughts. I think about the legacy of art, how one soul inspires another, which in turn leads someone else to create something. The chain of artistic connectedness is a beautiful thing indeed.”
I wrote that in my review in May for the very brief run of Gallery of Echoes. When I heard the collaboration decided to remount the production, from November 5-16, I felt quite pleased. In fact, I deliberately wished for it in the spring review, “We need more of this—not just in Columbus, but in the rest of the world as well. Hopefully, Gallery of Echoes can find new life because, seriously, seven performances is nowhere near enough.”
This show is so beautiful, and a fantastical way to experience many forms of art simultaneously. Even if one type does seem inaccessible to an individual, the collaboration unites the elements so succinctly that all can appreciate this show and learn from it. As Guyer put it, “Art that inspires art that inspires art. That’s what we hope to achieve in Gallery of Echoes.” That, I believe, they did. Like Laterna Magika, this concept contains so much potential.
When asked about his ideal next steps with Gallery of Echoes, Guyer smiled. Maybe a major museum would want to work with them. Even outside of Columbus. The Gallery of Echoes experience can join many modes of art and bring creators together to design a museum journey in the comfort of a theater. Hopefully this idea can spread and inspire others to create experiential, collaborative art inspired by art.
Gallery of Echoes opens Wednesday, November 5 and runs through November 16, 2014. More information and tickets can be found at Shadowboxlive.org. Columbus Underground readers can get $10 off to any Gallery of Echoes performance, Wednesday – Sunday shows, Nov 5 – 16. Click here to reserve and input CODE: CU10 in the promotional code box OR call 614-416-7625 and mention the code.