Learning to See the World: A critic’s perspective on a new kind of exhibition model in The Granite State

More like this from the Opening Reception for Accessibility Through the Trees via Manchester Chamber’s Facebook Page.

Set to the scene of one of April’s signature showers which brings new life after the winter’s freeze, tucked away in the Greater Manchester Chamber was an art show exhibiting select works of Richella Simard and Amber-Nicole Cannan.

The show, Accessibility Through the Trees, started at 5 p.m. Musing on the slow trickle of visitors in an earlier evening hour, curator Yasamin Safarzadeh said off handedly, “I remember when I did a show for just my mom and my sister. It’s the rain, it does this.”

The time was 5 p.m., exactly. The clock struck 5:01 and a gaggle of eight walked through the entrance. I ate cheese from the charcuterie table nearby as Yaz explained the interactive project to the gallerygoers. I think in each exhibition there is an aspect of interaction that Yaz and her team find integral to the entire process of viewing and experiencing themes in art.

Glass panes and wooden panels had been glued and lapped seam-to-seam and others were invited to engage in collage-making. Each person – Amber Nicole Cannan, Richella Simard and Yasamin – brought pressed flowers and leaves, colored adhesives, printed plastics, and various interesting fabrics. One of the eight, who had walked in earlier, said “I think I’ll do that later. I have to go look at the art and get inspired first!”

Many more people filtered in throughout the night with wet heads and wide eyes. They took their turns perusing the main gallery pieces, filling their bellies with diverse foods, and gluing thermoplastic shelf mushrooms to bio-wooden window frames. Everyone seemed to enjoy that – kids, in particular. One set of little ones really took a shine to the whole play-with-glue thing. Sticking every doo-dad and knick-knack onto the glass she could reach until a parental-seeming figure told her they had to go home and eat dinner. She left reluctantly. Art will do that to a person.

No metaphors, no similes, art touches people like that. Kids in particular are especially open to the abstractions of such expression. Richella touched briefly on it in her Keynote speech, an hour or so after the function had reached critical mass and there were plenty of live bodies to listen in. Being a teacher for West High Manchester, she’s thinks young people are the future of art and healing our communities. She really gave most of the attention to some of her students who even stopped by. Although her work in the exhibit explores nature more than anything else, these were still touching words.

On stark flat monochromatic paper, Richella’s work was portioned into dinner plate-sized pieces each guiding the viewing towards a narrow window with a smaller illustration cut out through an opening; all the while somewhere else on the canvas was a fern or shrub affixed somewhere juxtaposed with plenty of breathing room for reflection and thoughts, intrusive or otherwise. She [Richella] described herself as an avid hiker and wanted to give people a way to ponder nature in a way that they might not have considered prior. I think they remind me of those early iPod commercials with the dancing silhouettes and the color fills. I thought it out loud to Yasmin, who had her own ideas: “She’s definitely making a statement and leaving on openness with the framing.”

I asked her the hard-hitting questions next: “In 2015, Google defanged the serif font, supplanting it with a flat borderless text type with flatter even colors. Lots of companies and other artists have seemed to follow in these footsteps in a similar timeframe before and thereafter. Your work, particularly the background, is a bit reminiscent of that new-age flattened unemphasized style, but in a way that does ask questions. Do you think the artistic zeitgeist is moving more toward that direction?”

Richella had a follow-up question for me, “I think it is interesting to think why does your phenomenological makeup harken to these pop culture references? What does it say about you? Does it work? Does it not work? Does it matter? Is it pretty? Would you buy it? I think it’s [most] interesting if you consider it without the context and just take it for what it is. See what it makes you feel and just feel that”

Totally understandable.

Amber-Nicole Cannan, artist and founder of Unchartered Tutoring.

Another guest I talked to, Dan Bergeron, was chummy with the other featured artist, Amber-Nicole. I asked how he found out about the event, something I asked most people I talked to last night and he echoed the sentiment, “Oh you know, Facebook.” I think certain online engagements are potentially beneficial to creating space making IRL. It’s a great place to find local events like these, and a great reminder to plug yourself into whatever outlets and digital communities can create a sense of camaraderie in the real world. He went on: “Yeah I’ve known Amber-Nicole a while, but this is my first time actually getting out here to see her work and it’s about what I expected. She’s always been great, it’s just confirmation.” Another satisfied customer. Belly full and brain brimming with inspiration.

Amber-Nicole’s work focused more on mobility, and how we engage with the community from an able bodied perspective. For the most fortunate of us, walking and generally moving isn’t a problem, so ANC made art relics to make a person consider life from another perspective. Her pieces feature, a running theme here, smaller illustrations encased by larger structures funneling eyeshot towards them through a weave of bones, ferns, or other elements which hinder movement of people with canes or who utilize wheelchairs.

Her other section was comprised of her cyanotype quilts. A marriage of chemistry and design which is made by placing objects or markings on photo sensitive dye marinated fabric squares and placing them in a radiation chamber where their impression is left in shades of blue to be later sewn together into patchworks. One of these quilts was actually more of a banner made for a parade for a group called NH ABLE [Venmo for donations @nhable], and a representative from that group also gave a crowd rouser at the key note. I keep hearing his summative statement towards the end, “Lots of people have disabilities, and they engage with nature in ways that are unique to them.”

So let’s wrap this all up neatly. In closing, we’re thankful to Positive Street Art for letting us continue to curate really inclusive art exhibitions. And to the Greater Manchester Chamber. There was a great showing of people from all economic sectors which was really cool. You just have to give these things some time and the culture spreads. If you’ve never made yogurt before, the process is essentially the same. Take a spoonful of successful product like Greek vanilla or minted cyanotypes and bring them to a dark wet place where they rest and the culture will propagate.

Art Still Available for Purchase

On an ending note, this exhibition will remain up until June 3. You can still purchase art and should in order to incentivize this type of placemaking exhibitions and champion these artists.  The team will then be replacing the art with the work of artists for the co-curatorial  feat, Echoes and Shifts. This is a production featuring largely Haudenosaunee artists from across the country and Canada with the direction of artist and curator, Margaret Jacobs.

Hang tight; summer is gonna be lit.

Excerpts from this month’s 603 Diversity featuring content on upcoming exhibition. 

About the author

Nathaniel Pepe is an artist and musical talent who works with Yasamin Safarzadeh LLC to ensure innovative programming for the arts throughout the Granite State. He is open to collaborations and new, empowering experiences.

About the Inkubator

The Inkubator program is aimed at nurturing and growing New Hampshire’s local journalism ecosystem – support for educators, opportunities for students and pathways for future journalists, artists and creators. And beyond that, we want to engage our community in this process because together, we rise.