The newest exhibition at the Rio Gallery had its genesis five years ago. In 2010, Ernesto Pujol's group performance Awaiting involved more than 80 participants in a 12-hour walk/meditation, during the time it takes for the sun to make its trek across the sky. The project created a space for participants—including local artists, University of Utah educators, students and local community leaders—to reflect on subjects both personal and regional. Artist Stefanie Dykes, co-founder of Saltgrass Printmakers, proposed the exhibition Collective Experience to the state-operated gallery, prompted by her own reflections on that day.
"I had noticed over the years themes of walking, gender roles, embodiment, the gestural, site-specificity and notions of waiting in works produced by a few individuals [who participated in] the Awaiting performance," Dykes says. "I wondered if others off my radar were working through these ideas. What I was seeing wasn't multiple people making the same innovative idea in different places; I was seeing many people involved in a certain place and time subsequently creating very different type of works with similar themes.
So, Dykes contacted her "brain trust," local artist Ed Bateman, who said the idea sounded like musician/producer/artist Brian Eno's idea of "scenius"—"how a group of people gathered together in one place for a specific time have an incredible creative output," she says.
As opposed to the notion of the creative genius working alone, Eno's neologism refers to a place in time where the combined thought processes of a large group of creative people creates an "ecology of talent" that produces "new thoughts and good new works." It is an experimental environment that can lead to prolific and inventive results.
Artists represented in the Collective Experience exhibit—all of whom participated in Awaiting—include Dykes, Sandy Brunvand, Michael Handley, Jenevieve Hubbard, Satu Hummasti, Beth Krensky, Colin Ledbetter, Dawn Oughton, Suzanne Simpson, Jim Frazier, Heidi Somsen, Amie Tullius and Lucia Volker.
"I think I may be the best example of 'stimulus to create,'" Dykes says of her own contribution to the show. "While I was writing this proposal, I developed a new performance piece, 'Inscribed,' for the opening event. It will be an opportunity to create a work that is well beyond my personal practice; to echo the Awaiting experience and to extend themes of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's ideas of the 'sedimented body.'"
Dykes describes "Inscribed" as "a walking performance. Performers will be wearing gray clothing, carrying deep white ceramic bowls filled with ink. The bowls will be left at the exhibition following the performance to allow the ink to evaporate and reticulate."
Both Beth Krensky and Sandy Brunvand are also addressing concepts of place and walking, Dykes notes. Krensky's work is performance-based, with video and stills as evidence of the action. Krensky's performance pieces are part of a "larger series of portable sanctuaries that are intended to respond to the natural or built environment while providing a refuge—a space within a space. ... I am wandering (perhaps aimlessly) in my own desert land looking for the road to the road that can lead us in a new direction." Brunvand walks the hills above her home; her evidence of place is a paper-trail installation.
Joey Behrens, meanwhile, asks her performers to wander through the city with their homes on their backs. Behrens describes her piece, "Architecture Embodied," as one that "utilizes walking as a tactic in the production and dissemination of a body of work that examines notions of place, community and our relationship to the built environment. The project involved 13 volunteers, each of whom shared with me their sense of Athens, Ohio, as a place by taking me on a walk intended to show me something.
"The structures and landscape I was shown, along with what I gleaned from the individual during our conversation, and my own observations of place, became the basis for the wearable sculpture I built for each volunteer. The volunteers wore their sculptures as they walked separate routes through various Athens neighborhoods to converge in the gallery where the sculptures were then installed."
Jenevieve Hubbard's description of her performance work "Touch" could extend to the show as a whole: "What the piece may mean in a literal sense is not as important to me as the many shifting possibilities of what it may mean to an individual," she says. "One small, often-insignificant mark that can mean the world in different circumstances. A great equalizer. A record of what is."