September 27, 2007

Fort Collins Coloradoan
Artisans capture a world of pain, love, destruction

By Stacy Nick


War and politics are powerful. They have the ability to save, to destroy and to create.

Some of the most revered art has come from the most reviled atrocities.

From film to photographs and paintings to plays, war and politics have a place in art.

"You can go to an Egyptian tomb and you will find images of a pharaoh's conquests," said Marianne Lorenz, executive director of the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art.

Art tends to be about ideals, Lorenz said. Artists usually have a strong goal to improve the world, a motivation to sort of show people the way, to be the beacons of the future.


New exhibit

This week, the museum debuted its new exhibit, "In This Life: Reflections on War and Politics," in which three artists reflect on the events of 9/11 and the current conflict in Iraq.

"In This Life" looks at society in 2007 from three perspectives, Lorenz said.

Fort Collins artist Kumiko McKee uses collage as a narrative to capture the reality of war for the civilians caught in the middle.

Felipe Echevarria, also from Fort Collins, used his paintings to respond to the conflict in Iraq from a somewhat detached perspective, giving an environmental view of the destruction.

New York artist Miguel Tio experienced first-hand the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Initially unable to paint after the shock of 9/11, Tio later experienced a "spiritual vision of healing and peace" and his paintings express a place beyond religious, racial and political divisions.


World premier

In addition to MOCA's exhibit, this week Colorado State University debuts the world premier of a bilingual version of Samuel Beckett's most political play, "Catastrophe."

Written in the mid-'80s, the play bears an eerie resemblance to some of the photos that surfaced during the scandal regarding the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, director and Beckett scholar Eric Prince said.

"Catastrophe" is a play within a play about a silent, actor in black, standing on a pedestal, tortured and manipulated like a puppet by the director, who represents totalitarian control.

The play presents a stripped down, unambiguous metaphor of the violation of human rights, and reveals a surprising parallel between art and politics, Prince said.

Beckett wrote "Catastrophe" in 1982, in support of Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, who was being held by the government as a political prisoner because of his writings.

"He put all these things into this really small play, it's only 15 minutes, and it can say more than any political speech ever could," Prince said.

The decision to present the play both in English and in Spanish wasn't about politics, but about sharing an artistic conversation.

"Here in Fort Collins we all know how vital the Hispanic community is to our growth and our community health and yet they are often neglected in a lot of the important forums," Prince said.

That goes for race, religion and representation.


Underlying issues

Great art isn't Republican or Democrat, it isn't overtly political at all, Lorenz said. It's about the underlying issues of humanity, of equality and of hope.

"I always think of Francisco de Goya's painting 'The Third of May,' " Lorenz said when asked what she considers to be some of the greatest socio-political art. "Of course there's also Picasso's 'Guernica.' "

On April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, an estimated 1,600 civilians were killed in the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain.

Pablo Picasso already had been commissioned by the government to do a mural to represent Spain at the World's Fair in Paris. While his 11-foot-tall by 23-foot-wide, black and white painting depicts a scene of death, brutality, suffering and helplessness, no cause is shown.

"It's simply about the horror and pain of war," Lorenz said.

"It's easy to have an opinion about war and politics and who is right or wrong," she added. "You identify with the victim or the victor. That's why I think with really great artists, there's always a sense of ambiguity. There is no clear-cut answer... When there is, then you have to ask: Is it art or propaganda?"

That doesn't mean art should always be a flip-flopper.

"I don't make political speeches, but I do operate (in a socio-political way) through art," said Prince, who also is a playwright. "Theater has a wonderful tradition of entertainment, but it also has an equally important role in making people question the world."

Unprompted, Prince also referenced "Guernica" as a strong artistic and socio-political statement.

"Everyone knows Picasso's 'Guernica,' " he said. "It's like a tsunami in people's heads; it makes you rethink war and the way people should be treated."

Contentious bedfellows

As deeply intertwined as they are, politics and art also can make contentious bedfellows.

"In the past I've written plays that were political and I've had people walk out in the middle of the show because they were offended," Prince said. "But that's why theater is one of the most exciting art forms. Theater houses are stages for democracy. The Greeks knew that thousands of years ago.

"You have to do what you believe in and hope people are able to see it and at least consider it."


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