Artist Anna Tsouhlarakis has never seen an eclipse.
As a Native American from the Navajo tribe, it’s against her traditions to stand outside and stare upward as the moon passes across the sun. Instead it’s a time to be inside, to reflect and take stock.
Her work, “Edges of Her,” currently on the Center for the Arts lawn as part of the “Observatories” exhibit, reflects that. The large wooden spiral naturally shades you from the sun. It feels cooler in there, and as you walk toward the inside of the spiral the signs hanging on the wood force you to look inward as well.
“There’s always some question or subject I’m trying to deal with in my work,” Tsouhlarakis said. “Because of that it creates questions for the viewer. A, Is this Native American art? And B, What the hell do these signs mean mixed in with the wood? Then, because I’m female, that’s a whole other loop.”
Creatives in Residence
Tsouhlarakis’ piece, as well as eight others that will take shape on the arts center lawn before the Aug. 21 eclipse, are all part of an exhibit curated by Camille Obering, Andy Kincaid and Matthew Day Jackson. Obering is a longtime art advocate and curator. Kincaid runs the Holiday Forever Gallery. Jackson is an internationally renowned artist.
The three of them make up 2017’s Center for the Arts Creatives in Residence. A new program coordinated by Carrie Richer, it seeks curators and artists to create interdisciplinary work.
“The project is supposed to activate our Center lawn and Center campus,” Richer said. “This is such an awesome way to start out with a bang with all of these awesome artists, and the lawn has more life in it than it ever has.”
The trio knew they wanted to do something different for this exhibit, centered around the idea of the American West and the eclipse. So, as Kincaid put it, they made about “7 million phone calls” to artists they liked and found some willing to participate.
“Conceptually what we’re trying to get at with this show is taking ideas about Jackson Hole or the American West and offering new perspectives on those notions or ideas,” Obering said. “Cliches about the Western town or the vacation motif. I think all of the pavilions touch on different perspectives and ideas we encounter living in Jackson Hole.”
The idea with the exhibit was to parcel out the land for different pavilions to hold art pieces, almost all of which are interactive.
That setting placement allows the curators to comment on the West and the state of art in Jackson Hole.
“To understand the American West is to understand how it’s marked and how things are placed and what is yours and what is not yours,” Jackson said. “One of the things we see here is the conservation land, big space of nothing ... but at the same time you are really aware of where those boundaries are.”
The setting also allows the team to put a spin on the idea of public art.
“Anytime that people don’t have to go through the ‘double door’ barrier, for me, it helps open up art to a broader spectrum of people that may be intimidated,” Obering said.
While Obering is out in Wilson, Kincaid is right across the street, and he and Jackson have been in charge of installing all the major pieces. Thus far the reaction has been positive.
“It’s been great and rewarding to see families who are on vacation, one of their kids gets curious and runs out to the pavilions,” Kincaid said.
“It’s always the youngest kid, usually the girl and they’ll go out there,” Jackson said with a laugh. “The thing that’s fun is to see the transformation on people’s faces from weary to seeing the art and going, ‘Oh, this is cool.’”
Richer said the exhibit does exactly what she envisioned for this program: Engage the community.
“I’m blown away with what they’ve done,” Richer said. “It’s really impressive, and it’s exciting for the community. It pushes the community a little bit, which is what we we’re looking for.”
Each piece is completely different.
Glenn Kaino’s is almost psychedelic and begs the viewer to interact with it, and even, as has become a trend, photograph it.
Tsouhlarakis’ is fun to explore, and walk through again and again as you read and decipher the signs.
Michael Dopp and Isaac Resnikoff’s is a mini gallery. Obering joked that the group has to “bring in a gallery to be able to show art at the Center for the Arts,” but it allows the space to take on entirely new qualities.
While each is different in content and form, they all have one thing in common: the eclipse.
Kaino’s plays with the light and darkness of the eclipse, as well as the circle shape. Tsouhlarakis’ uses her Native American roots to explore what such an event means.
Dopp and Resnikoff’s goes off the theme that such a major astronomical event is surely apocalyptic.
“It’s nice to compare the darkening of the sky to the apocalypse or to something that would cause you to take stock,” Kincaid said. “It’s just ways to reconsider and recontextualize the place and how we go about things.”
For Tsouhlarakis the piece is also a chance to reflect on masculinity and feminity, even in terms of the eclipse. She said the eclipse is always talked about in terms of the sun, which is a masculine figure in her culture, but really it’s about the feminine moon.
“The eclipse is about the sun, and it’s funny because to me the eclipse is about the power of the moon and the feminine power to obstruct this,” Tsouhlarakis said. “‘Edges of Her,’ it’s not about the sun or how powerful it is, it really becomes about the feminine power.”
Even the setup is eclipse-esque. The first piece went up in June, and it’s slowly building so all of the pieces will be up in time for the eclipse, only to be taken down immediately afterward.
For Jackson and the other curators, the exhibit provides some serious contemplation amid an event he calls a “dark comedy.”
“I feel like a lot of the concern of the roads and traffic jams, so on and so forth, is really this kind of beautiful dark comedy of humanity,” Jackson said. “It’s, like, the 22nd will happen, and the Earth will keep flopping around the sun and you’ll wake up and eat breakfast.
“But, there is a really nice dark comedy involved in the concern of how it’ll affect the infrastructure of this small town,” he said, “because it is temporary. It’ll all go back.”