When visiting Concord this summer, between stops at the Emerson or Alcott house, visit some of the art museums and galleries that dot this historic city. The Umbrella Arts Center and Concord Art are presenting poignant shows that explore the past and present of the human experience.
The Umbrella Arts Center’s “Dazzleship” is a homage to seafaringvessels from the first World War that were painted with bold stripes and patterns meant to confuse onlookers. These “dazzle” patterns obscured the direction and velocity of ships on the water. The term finds renewed meaning with “Dazzleship,” a group exhibition curated by Michael MacMahon that – like dazzle paintjobs — aims “to toy with our perception.”
Along with MacMahon, who also has a painting in the show, “Dazzleship” brings together 13 artists: Julia Csekö, Gage Delprete, Maya Erdelyi, Laura Fischman, Sarah E. Jenkins, Cody Justus, Matt Murphy, Wilhelm Neusser, Loretta Park, Brent Refsland, Brooke Stewart, Erin Woodbrey and Michael Zachary.
These artists are not grouped by a common medium or subject matter. Rather, according to MacMahon, “this exhibition emerges as a study of the present moment from myriad positions.” Each piece surveys a different facet of modern life.
Neusser’s “Eagle with Drone (#2105)” depicts the eagle, a powerful symbol of the state, in a dogfight with a small ariel drone. This struggle, according to Neusser, is an exploration of the conflict between technology and government interests — inspired by Dutch police training falcons to dispatch drones in the way of airplane flight paths.
The style of the painting — which evokes images of 19th century landscape painters — represents “a battle between the old and new world.”
Jenkins’ stop motion animation, “Disappearing Acts” brings new life to logs. With screws inching their way into and out of wood, and with ink making its way up bark through creeping capillary action, Jenkins makes these logs breathe. Inspired by her life in Appalachia and a relationship to the land and its resources, “Disappearing Acts” could almost be described as woodland gothic – mysterious yet familiar for anyone who knows man’s impact on nature.
These 14 artists, with their feet firmly planted in the new 20s, are sharing their view of the world from the skies of Europe to the footpaths of Appalachia.
Each piece in “Dazzleship” has a story if you’re willing to look close enough. It’s a show that doesn’t give up its secrets at first glance. Because of this, going into each piece in detail would be a disservice to the experience of discovering this artwork in person. Engage with this work and you’ll find a deep and thought-provoking exhibit.
A short walk down the town’s main street is Concord Art. This historic building is home to “(un)seen,” a show that turns a spotlight onto grief, trauma and violence through the work of four artists: Lyssa Palu-Ay, Stephen Tourlentes, Rashin Fahandej and Keith Morris Washington.
“The conversations with and between Keith, Rashin, Steve and I are a long awaited, if partial, antidote to the unimaginable personal and collective grief we have experienced during the racial and global health pandemics of the last year,” said Palu-Ay, whose site-specific installation “The Shape of Grief,” marks the walls and floors of Concord Art.
Palu-Ay’s white oil and pastel linework is reminiscent of chalk outlines made by police. What objects, now removed or invisible, could have been placed there? In the middle of Concord Art’s second floor gallery, a large human-sized space is outlined, perhaps representing the unseen artist herself.
“In the aftermath of the murders in Atlanta of eight women of Asian descent, I grasped more fully my invisibility and hypervisibility as an Asian American woman of Filipino ancestry,” said Palu-Ay in a statement. “It did not matter my level of education, my status as a U.S. citizen, my job, my being a daughter, a mother, a partner, a sister, or a friend. I am (un)seen.”
Tourlentes’ photo series also deals in the unseen. During a trip back to his hometown in Illinois he noticed something new. “On the outskirts of town the night sky was punctuated with a brilliant glow that changed my perception of the horizon,” said Tourlentes in his artist statement. “This transformation of the landscape revealed an unseen human cargo held in time and place.”
His black and white study of American prisons frames them as glowing beacons to those on the outside. However, simultaneously, that brightness is a deterrent to escape for those held in detention, and a constant reminder of where they are held.
The theme of incarceration runs deep throughout “(un)seen.” Fahandej’s video installation “A Father’s Lullaby,” was started in 2016. Now, the 2021 edition is displayed at Concord Art on three screens and through six speakers. Beautifully filmed, “A Father’s Lullaby” is a deeply personal series of interviews that looks at “the role of men in raising children,” and what happens when these men are removed from a child’s life through incarceration.
In one scene, the men recall songs their fathers sang to them when they were young. While some can remember tunes of hope and strength, others can’t remember anything about their dad, let alone a song.
Loss too is a theme in “(un)seen.” Washington’s series of paintings line the walls of Concord Art and each present idyllic pastoral landscapes — a railyard, a highway intersection, forests and trees. Each piece, as explained by nearby placards, is the site of a lynching. Absent however, is the date the killing took place.
Washington’s work serves as a glimpse into an unseen past that still seeps into the modern day. His memorials to these men – some of whom may have been killed a century ago, others who may have lost their lives last decade — are peaceful memorials to the violence of America’s past.
(“Dazzleship” is on display at the Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street, Concord, Massachusetts until September 12. Umbrella Arts Center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week with free admission. Additional special events will be announced at a later date. For more information call (978) 371-0820 or visit theumbrellaarts.org. “(un)seen” is on display at Concord Art, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, Massachusetts until August 15. Concord Art is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 12 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free. For more information call (978) 369-2578 or visit concordart.org.)