Photo by Sara Peak Convery
Photo by Sara Peak Convery

Article by Randall Van Vynckt

It’s fitting that the result of a presidential election that took much of the country by surprise—and continues to keep the nation on edge—would kick off Hairpin Arts Center’s new series called “Art on the Fly.” The series at the prominent Logan Square/Avondale venue was launched in order to have formal exhibit and discussion programming around current, relevant events.

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“Election Ramifications Through the Lens of Art” demonstrated how artists can respond to events such as the presidential election with rapid-fire, yet organized, creative responses, and how related, community-driven activities can keep the momentum going.

Group art shows typically take many months to plan, but in this case, the time frame was reduced to less than ten weeks—and that included the call for artists’ submissions. Enrique Morales, co-director of “Art on the Fly,” curated the art show that ran from January 13-23.

Hairpin Arts Center hopes to encourage artists and the community to participate in conversations through art and together explore a focused way forward. Toward this end, Morales co-hosted a panel discussion on January 19 concerning the art itself, the wider issues concerning the election and what the future might hold for this country, and the role of artists in this ongoing dialogue. Policy analyst David Westlake was on hand to provide context.

This first art show in the series featured an impressive diversity of talent, about twenty artists in all, including those who shared their observations poignantly through dance or the spoken word. The visual artists expressed themselves in everything from pen and ink to painting, photography, fabric, sculpture, and multimedia.

Beth LeFauve’s grandfather clock decked out with scenes of the good and the bad from 2016 sadly bade farewell to Barack Obama while Trump in the form of a screaming brat with an apocalyptic, Barbie-doll comb-over “welcomed” us to 2017.

Visitors to opening night of the exhibition experienced everything from Ramadi Asati’s pop poster with Donald Trump’s face above “HATE” in large block letters to Sarah Peak Convery’s politically themed flags to Ulises Rivero’s multimedia installation re-creating a living room—including children’s toys on the floor—that could have been abandoned in a panic after Trump’s victory, to Kelly Matthews’ exquisitely layered mixed-media piece—gold-leaf lettering included—called The Deterioration of American Empathy.

In one group of cleverly titled flags, In Case of Emergency: Boxer Rebellion—Bravo, Foxtrot, Uniform, Victor, Convery ironically used 3XL men’s boxer shorts with distress or warning flags sewn onto them. But the flags’ disturbing messages were anything but ironic: “I am carrying dangerous cargo,” “I am disabled; communicate with me,” “You are running into danger,” and “I require assistance.”

Penelope Thrasher challenged one American tradition with her whimsical Nasty Women, featuring a big, bold yellow dollar sign surrounded by Lady Dollars: dollar bills with a range of cartoonish women’s faces drawn in bright, bold marker replacing that of George Washington.

Jeff Lassahn’s Color Me Drone Warfare project commented not so much on the election as on controversial tactics of the U.S. military. His interactive project focusing on action-packed coloring books he designed invited visitors to sit down and color, presumably more to make a statement than to show that they could stay within the lines.

Readers of The New Yorker would have recognized Tom Bachtell’s distinctive pen-and-ink political caricatures, which flanked Jenny Gringer’s piece with the word “RESIST” superimposed on text from George Orwell’s 1984.

As impressive as anything were the three performances that highlighted opening night. They included spoken word and interpretive dance. In A Man Was Lynched Yesterday, Tanniqua-Kay Buchanan and friends explored the post-election normalization of discrimination, bigotry, and supremacy shielded by the First Amendment.

A dance by Noelle Awadallah and Juliette Perez, you’re not supposed to be (here), focused on the continued oppression of indigenous peoples. Katharine Steinberg’s spoken word “Donald Trump Makes Me Feel Like I’m Dying: A PTSD Story” punctuated the evening powerfully, as the performance artist shared her personal story of how recent events have forced her to relive a sexual assault as a girl.

Nothing in the quality of art in this exhibit suggested that any of it was hastily assembled, and assuming Hairpin Arts Center can consistently generate work like this, their “Art on the Fly” program is off to a rousing start.

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