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|No Boundaries - "Coexistence: The Art of Living Together" Merges Art, Education, & Controversy|
|Art - Feature Stories|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Wednesday, 15 August 2007 02:49|
From August 31 through September 27, the Quad Cities will host the touring exhibition Coexistence: The Art of Living Together, and there'll be practically no way to miss it.
A collection of 45 panels each 15 feet wide and nine feet tall - arranged in 15 triangles atop concrete bases - this free outdoor exhibit showcases the work of 43 international artists, and will be displayed in downtown Davenport's cultural district. (Tentatively, two triangles are to be positioned in the grassy area in front of RiverCenter South, two in the plaza by the Davenport sky bridge, four or five in the plaza of the Figge Art Museum, and the rest in the Rhythm City Casino parking area across River Drive.)
Originating in Jerusalem's Museum on the Seam in 2001, the exhibition finds its artists exploring the theme of global coexistence through a series of striking, thought-provoking images. The billboard-sized pieces are accompanied by text panels featuring quotes from international philosophers and world leaders, verbalizing the works' theme - as voiced by Museum on the Seam curator Raphie Etgar - of "not necessarily learning to live together, but perhaps learning to live side by side."
Since leaving Jerusalem for Belfast in 2001, the exhibit has only traveled to two dozen cities worldwide - among them Sarajevo, Berlin, Zurich, Vienna, and Prague - and only to large metropolitan areas; the Quad Cities represents the smallest community Coexistence will have appeared in, and one of only two in the Midwestern United States.
"The exhibit, in the Midwest, has only been in Minneapolis, and that was three years ago," says Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities Executive Director, Allan Ross, who shepherded the project. "It hasn't been to Chicago, it hasn't been to Des Moines, it hasn't been to St. Louis ... ."
In short, Coexistence: The Art of Living Together represents quite a coup, one that Ross hopes will be an important aesthetic, educational, and economic boon to the area.
So why does Ross appear to be tempering his excitement?
"There's going to be controversy," he admits. "Ultimately, as we go through this month of it being here, it's not going to be everybody holding hands and singing a traditional ‘Kumbaya.'"
Richer and Poorer
Jerusalem's Museum on the Seam was founded in 1999 by award-winning Israeli artist Etgar, who has designed more than 1,000 posters for theatrical and cultural events worldwide. The museum's name, explains Ross, was inspired after the 1948 formation of Israel, and the cultural and religious separation that resulted.
"When Jerusalem was divided after 1948," says Ross, "there was a line right down the middle, between Israelis and Jordanians. That was wiped out in '67 when the Israelis took over the city [after the Six Day War], but even though the barriers were wiped out, in Jerusalem there is a seam between religious and non-religious, between richer and poorer, between Arab and Jew."
According to the Museum on the Seam's Web site (http://www.coexistence.art.museum), Etgar was moved by the "pressing need to bring about dialogue, understanding, and existence side by side in this region," and thought the clearest way to do that was through art.
"Art," Etgar is quoted as saying, "is a language with no boundaries. It is, therefore, universal and it speaks to all ages, religions, and nationalities."
In 2000, Edgar initiated the Coexistence project and enlisted artists from around the world to create visual representations of its theme. In May 2001, Coexistence: The Art of Living Together was displayed on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. In August of that year, the exhibit traveled to Belfast, kicking off a European tour that lasted until late 2003, when the exhibition made its way to the United States - Florida, then Minneapolis, and finally Washington, D.C.
Ross says he first became aware of Coexistence in early 2005, when two members of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities raved about an exhibition they had seen in Sarasota, Florida.
"They were on vacation and saw this exhibit there," he says, "and they came to me and said, ‘This was really a great project - why don't you think about doing it?'"
Ross found the idea of hosting it intriguing, but at the time was busy preparing for Beyond the Holocaust: Lessons for Today, a month-long community-remembrance program organized by the Jewish Federation.
"So I said, ‘I'll think about it,'" says Ross.
Yet the success of Beyond the Holocaust - which, says the federation's executive director, saw some 14,000 people visiting its Putnam Museum exhibit and/or participating in related events between April and May - convinced Ross that Coexistence might be worth pursuing. "People kept saying, ‘What next? What are you gonna do next?'"
Ross knew that the subjects broached by Coexistence would have a strong educational component, as they dealt with, as he lists, "issues of poverty, conflicts, different religions, different cultures, different languages ... ." He also knew they could easily fit into a school's curriculum, and it became clear to Ross that the exhibit might have particular resonance on the banks of the Mississippi River.
"There are some tremendous challenges globally," says Ross, "and there are challenges locally. Immigration is a big one. People here [in the Quad Cities] speak up to 20 languages - how do we deal with this? How do we deal with living side by side? And Illinois and Iowa do things entirely differently. How do we function with two different states, two different communities competing, a lot of times, for the same resources?"
Yet Ross was also cognizant of the potential windfall for area businesses, as the arrival of Coexistence - with its one Midwestern appearance since the exhibit's creation - would, for many, be "a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"It would not just be an important educational message," says Ross. "It would also be something to bring people to the Quad Cities and see what we have to offer." (All told, Ross is anticipating that Coexistence and its related programs will see a collective audience of "well over 25,000 people," though he does admit, as an outdoor exhibit open 24 hours a day, "It's gonna be tough to count them.")
Organizations and venues within the community - including the Putnam Museum, the Bettendorf Public Library, and New Ground Theatre - expressed interested in the project, and financing was secured from exhibition sponsor the Riverboat Development Authority (RDA) and project sponsor the Scott County Regional Authority (SCRA). Yet the idea of bringing Coexistence to the Quad Cities still had to be broached with Raphie Etgar, who makes the final determinations on where his exhibit travels.
In December of 2006, Etgar and several associates arrived in the Quad Cities to meet with Ross and the project's financiers and interested parties. Ross recalls that, on that December morning, "it was freezing - I think they just came from 100-degree weather and they came in to freezing and snowing." But it's unlikely that, for Etgar, the cold was as big a potential stumbling block as the geography; this would mark the first time that the Coexistence exhibit would be broken up into a number of locations as opposed to being seen in just one.
"Everywhere it's been," says Ross, "it's been at one central location. In Europe it's easy to do, because Europe has these big plazas that everybody goes to. But here, when you have four different cities ... . I mean, you could put it all in LeClaire Park, but there's not a lot of traffic there."
Artists are notoriously hesitant about splintering their works, and as a piece of art, Coexistence's 45 panels are meant to be seen together. However, Ross says that after Etgar spoke with representatives from the RDA, SCRA, DavenportOne, and Davenport's HoweCreative! company (responsible for the Coexistence advertising campaign), conversed with arts organizations and community groups, and walked the exhibit's proposed path of travel, he and his associates "agreed to split [the exhibit] up.
"They were here for a day, day-and-a-half," says Ross, "and came away pretty impressed that this small community could do something like this."
The Museum on the Seam's curator, though, was adamant that Coexistence be about more than the artworks themselves.
Melanie Shields, marketing director of HoweCreative!, says, "One of the things that Raphie challenged us to do when he came to visit was to think about how closely this applies to our community. He met with us all and said, ‘What will you do within your community?'"
She continues, "He said that art is a universal language, that this will get people to talk about things that are maybe uncomfortable, or that you don't typically talk about standing next to somebody out in public. That art is the catalyst for that dialogue, and that's why it's the perfect medium."
Fittingly, the Quad Cities' Coexistence project will branch out into art forms beyond the nine-by-15-foot panels. As Ross states, "We hope to maximize the effect, the importance of it, in many different venues and many ways." (See "Coexisting with Coexistence," below, for a schedule of Coexistence events.)
"Why is that out in public?"
Yet the cornerstone of Coexistence, of course, is its conglomeration of panels.
Of the 45 individual pieces, one is reserved for sponsor recognition, and one for the winning entry in Quad City Arts' Coexistence-inspired regional art competition; the winning artwork is scheduled to be unveiled at an August 30 reception at the Bucktown Center for the Arts, and will subsequently travel the world as part of the permanent exhibit. The piece was selected by representatives of the Museum on the Seam, and Shields says, "In Hartford [Connecticut], they did not have a local, winning entry, so that's kind of a coup for us. Better than Hartford!"
The other 43 images on display employ a gamut of styles and stylistic choices: There are black-and-white entries and startlingly colorful works; a photograph featuring two faces and a hand-drawn assemblage featuring 18; a complex tapestry involving the Mona Lisa and a simpler image of a pair of contrasting eggs. (Yoko Ono, bless her heart, gives us two crudely drawn cylinders, one labeled "sky," and the other labeled "water.") Yet they all strive to express what Etgar describes as "concepts of coexistence that are often difficult to express verbally," and Ross sees the exhibition, currently, as having particular relevance for the United States.
"How do we, in the 21st Century, face the tremendous challenges we have?" asks Ross. "We're in a precarious position environmentally, and with the moving economies of China and India who are now using more oil, more raw materials ... . How are we gonna deal with it? We're in a global world now, and we're depending more on other countries for certain things, so how do we coexist? Can we do it?"
Regarding the displayed works, Ross adds, "You can find a hundred messages in any of these." And some of those messages, he concedes, won't appeal to everyone.
While Coexistence has safely traveled the world almost without incident, an act of vandalism did disrupt the exhibition's December, 2003 appearance in St. Petersburg, Florida, when anti-black racial slurs were spray-painted on the backs of several panels. (Ross notes that the Quad Cities exhibition will be under the watch of both professional and volunteer security 24 hours a day.)
"I'm sure once it goes up, there's gonna be some issues because some of the panels are ... provocative, I guess you could say?"
You could say. One doesn't have to be an art major to be struck by Marten Jongema's representation of a young boy with a devil's face superimposed on his, or Lejla Bulja's composition of dozens of identical men with what appear to be bar codes on their backs, or Mark Cross' haunting image - which Ross calls "my favorite" - of untold hundreds sifting through a field of bones. (These and the rest of the Coexistence panels can be found on the Museum on the Seam's Web site.)
Ross is prepared for several of these works to be greeted with a confused, or even hostile, response. "There are gonna be some groups that are unsure, that are gonna take issue with some of them [the panels]," he says. "And there are gonna be some groups that say, ‘We don't like that - why is that out in public?' So we're expecting some controversy. And hopefully we'll learn from it, and we'll try to resolve any big differences."
In the end, Ross believes, if attendees' responses lead to an open dialogue on the themes expressed in Coexistence: The Art of Living Together, Raphie Etgar's traveling exhibition will have served its purpose. "That we're able, at least, to talk about these issues in a respectful manner ... I guess that's the best we can hope for.
"When the exhibit leaves, hopefully the effort continues."
More information on Coexistence: The Art of Living Together is available at (http://www.jfqc.org).
Coexisting with Coexistence
The following are events scheduled in conjunction with Coexistence: The Art of Living Together. For schedule updates and more information, visit (http://www.jfqc.org/coexistence).
August 19: Jewish Film Series - Live and Become, Olin Hall, Augustana College, 4 p.m.
August 26: Jewish Film Series - The Syrian Bride, Olin Hall, Augustana College, 4 p.m.
August 28: Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - A Contract with God by Will Eisner, led by Rachel Magdalene, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
August 30: Coexistence Opening Event, Figge Art Museum, 4:30 p.m.
August 30: Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - Modern Marvels: Jewish Adventures in the Graphic Novel, led by Sean Leary, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
August 31: Coexistence: The Art of Living Together opening day
September 9: Jewish Film Series - Keeping Up with the Steins, Olin Hall, Augustana College, 4 p.m.
September 9: Multi-Cultural Festival, LeClaire Park, 1 p.m.
September 12: Discussion of 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye, led by John McBride, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
September 13: New Ground Theatre reading of tolerance-themed play Afternoon of the Elves by Y York, River Music Experience, 7 p.m.
September 15: Zoofari Ball and "Coexisting with Animals," with guest speaker Jack Hanna, Niabi Zoo
September 16: Jewish Film Series - Black Book, Olin Hall, Augustana College, 4 p.m.
September 19: Discussion of Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places by Naomi Shihab Nye, led by Hedy N.R. Hustedde, Bettendorf Public Library, 1 p.m.
September 20: History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict Part I, "The Genesis," by Dr. Arthur Pitz, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
September 25: Discussion of Hibabi by Naomi Shihab Nye, led by Gwen Pokora, Bettendorf Public Library, 4 p.m.
September 26: Naomi Shihab Nye presentation, preceded by an inter-faith dinner, Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, 6:15 p.m.
September 27: Naomi Shihab Nye presentation, Davenport West High School, 9:30 a.m.
September 27: Naomi Shihab Nye presentation, Rivermont Collegiate, 1:30 p.m.
September 27: Naomi Shihab Nye reading winning entries of the Coexistence Poetry Contest, Bettendorf Public Library, 6:30 p.m.
September 27: Coexistence: The Art of Living Together closing day
October 4: History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict Part II, "The Israeli Side," by Dr. Arthur Pitz, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
October 9: Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer by Ben Katchor, led by Rachel Magdalene, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
October 11: History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict Part III, "The Arab Side," by Dr. Arthur Pitz, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
October 17: Discussion of Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places by Naomi Shihab Nye, led by Hedy N.R. Hustedde, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
October 17: History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict Part IV, "The Future," by Dr. Arthur Pitz, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
October 23: Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - The Quitter by Harvey Pekar, led by Rachel Magdalene, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
November 6: Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar, led by Rachel Magdalene, Bettendorf Public Library, 7 p.m.
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