Sunday, June 21, 2015

Playing Telephone - or the Artistic Response Chain

We all probably played the game "Telephone" as children - in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first.

But what happens when a group of artists (composers, poets, painters, etc.) play the game?

An Artistic Response Chain!

Tess Miller, musician, asked that question and set the game up. It started with her husband, Scott Harding, who's "message" was the first movement of his suite Scenes of Mackinac, called North Shore at Dusk, which evokes the sound of the waves lapping against the beach on Mackinac Island at dusk.

An interview with Tess and Scott can be heard here, as well as a portion of the inspiration music.

It then passed to poet, Jim Bogan, who wrote "Antiphon", which definitely focuses on the water surrounding our island. And remember, this was inspired by only the sound of the music.

The next team in the chain, Amanda and Joel Wyse, created a large diptych in collage, based only on the poem.

And then I was next...

I was very excited to be asked to participate in this project; the entire concept was so unique, especially the combination of visual art, music and the written word. I was also more than a little bit nervous about participating – it’s quite intimidating and somewhat presumptuous to attempt to interpret another artists’ work and the time limit was a huge concern, as it takes many, many hours to combine thousands of tiny glass seed beads into a finished cohesive piece.

After seeing the diptych created by Amanda and Joel, I chose to focus on four aspects of their work:

1.) The gridded background

2.) The colors blue and rust, and

3.) The map imagery.

Water and boundaries are frequent themes in my work, for this piece I decided to focus on the interaction of the Island’s rocky shore and the surrounding water – after all, an island is defined by water. I collected stones from the beach and created a beaded bezel around each one, then joined them together vaguely in the shape of the Island as shown on a map and then added beaded water. This was mounted on a rusty wire grid, left over from the construction of our home. This in turn was mounted on a piece of driftwood, which was again found on the shoreline. A small compass and a reproduction an antique tintype depicting both sail and stem driven ships docked in the harbor finished the composition.

The piece is titled “Charting the Boundaries” and while it was intended to be an interpretation of the preceding diptych, I also wanted to express the intent that is needed to reach Mackinac – you don’t end up here because you took a left instead of a right, it usually takes planning and effort. But sometimes if we allow ourselves to drift, like the base of my piece, we may end up here. You have to want to be here, but sometimes, like the driftwood, something out there says you need to be here.

Due to my tendency to see things very differently than most people, I was concerned that the project would take a massive left turn when it reached me, afraid I might send it in an unintended direction. At the first reveal, Scott shared his intent that his music sound like waves reaching the shore and I was thrilled – He started with water and my piece continued that theme exactly!


Pam Finkel, painter, was next. In her artist statement, she commented the following:

“What struck me,” about Mrs. Dorman’s artwork, “was the sense of nostalgia and melancholy— a longing for times gone by,” which harkened back to how Mr. Harding described the feelings expressed in his song that initiated the game.

“Kelly included a small, oldtime compass in her piece, so I used the compass image around her representing all the roads leading away from her, but she remains in the middle, holding down the fort, with the feeling of home, sweetness, and comfort to which we may always return.”

Next was another musical piece, by Alex Graham, who was inspired by the compass points of Pam's work.

This was followed by filmmaker Rob Kalmbach used to direct him while filming a six-minute, winter documentary of Mackinac Island, which can be seen here.

Mauve Croghan, felt the film expressed the warmth of the community, and chose to use warm colors in here painting seen above.

Those warm colors and plant life depicted in the painter inspired, potter Julie Porter to create a large serving platter of stoneware pottery meant to be used while sharing a meal with a group.

The final artist in the chain, was another composer, Whitney Ashe.

He said the flowers painted around the platter’s border largely inspired his piece “Last Call.”

“Also important was the way that the stems are positioned on the outer parts,” he said. “They lend a kind of spiraling, swirling motion to it so that the overall effect of the piece becomes one of something essentially serene juxtaposed against a subtle yet inconsistent motion, like the wind off the lake as it passes through a flower bed...The piece itself begins in an almost perfect stillness before being transformed through the swirl of eddying winds that lift it to its peak before allowing it to fall away at its end.”

At the first reveal, it was amazing to all involved that the first piece of music evoked water and the final piece of music subtly echoed it - different, but yet the same!

The discussion after the reveal was quite interesting, looking for all the echoes of the initial inspiration music and it was fascinating to see all the pieces all together.

An article with more information is available here.

It was a fantastic project, and I'd love to do it again - but not to soon!

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