My father was a historian.
He taught me to love the voices of the people who were there at specific moments of history: the diaries of Victorian ladies, slave narratives, letters from soldiers, poetry from hometown newspapers, meeting minutes of choir societies, and histories of the WPA (Works Progress Administration). They were time capsules, recording how people reacted to extraordinary conditions.
From this was born Climbing the Walls, a digital Covid time capsule.
Climbing the Walls was created by Studio Theater in Exile, where I am artistic director and Jeremy Gratt is producer.
We collaborated with Livia Straus, co-founder of Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art. Presentation of work in the virtual exhibition can be seen on both organizations’ websites.
Climbing the Walls emerged from a desire to create and communicate during a time of disorientation and disconnection. A public invitation to participate went out, describing the project, and brought together more than 50 artists to contribute visual art, music, performance, and poetry.
As the exhibition continues to introduce new works, artists have gone beyond Covid as a theme. Creators brought to their work protests, racial injustice, social inequity, and politics.
Describing the project, Livia Straus said, “Artists have always offered a voice for the here and now, echoing our personal thoughts, emotions and swings. There are yet voices to be heard, those still quarantined, those fearful of violence, fearful of dispossession and hunger.”
Ocean Morisset (Peekskill) contributed a multi-part series of documentary photographs that covered the pandemic: memories of the pre-Covid Pride Parade (in solidarity with the LGBTQ community), the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, and the re-emergence from sheltering in place, work both artistic and historical, one of which goes up each month.
We had a Teach-In for Juneteenth (commemorating emancipation from slavery), created by guest curator Lorraine Curelley, Bronx Beat Poet Laureate, about which someone wrote, “The Juneteenth works absolutely paralyzed me. Why didn’t I know this.”
Playwright Bara Swain’s (Manhattan) theater contributions set us all off on conversations about performance and Zoom, which spurred the creation of two theater pieces, to be posted online Sept. 26.
Several artists focused on the effect of Covid: the pain of loss is expressed by Katori Walker (Yonkers), about losing a mother, and by Charisse Brown (White Plains), for her friend. The comfort of magic and love is on the mind of Marjorie Conn (Hell’s Kitchen).
Adam Niklewicz (New Haven, Conn.) presents street-wise performance art of Mexican Gods killing Corona, while Inez Andruyck (Yorktown) re-creates, in isolation, Peekskill’s Painting Poets event that had to be cancelled.
Westchester Dance Company (Ossining) submitted Covid-relevant work that shows how creative relevant response can be.
ON VIEW 24/7
Working in all art genres, participating artists created work that reflected the emotion, meditations, memories, family stories, nature, and even re-cycling in this time of Covid.
Since June, new artists’ work has been up on the websites every Saturday morning. The final group of artists will go up on Sept. 26. However, all the participants’ work will continue to be on view online through the New Year and beyond.
Mara Mills is artistic director of Studio Theater in Exile and curator of Climbing the Walls.