To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sister-state relationship between the State of Michigan and the Shiga Prefecture in Japan, DisArt and Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (FMG) have teamed up to create the ArtPrize 10 exhibition, Process and Presence: Contemporary Disability Sculpture.
Before ArtPrize 10 officially kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 19, the Process and Presence: Contemporary Disability Sculpture Exhibition will open its doors at FMG on Friday, Sept. 14 and continue throughout the holidays until Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. This exhibition, which will be free of charge during the ArtPrize 10 season, will highlight 16 contemporary artists from all around the world, including Michigan, Europe, Australia and Japan.
Because “one of the things that Shiga is so well-known for is the fact that they have had a very deep appreciation for artists with disabilities for a long time,” FMG and DisArt wanted to bring that appreciation to light. The exhibition honors, not only, the 50thanniversary of the sister-state relationship between Michigan and Shiga, but also illuminates the unique talents and “universal commonalities” shown in this global event, said Joseph Becherer, chief curator and VP of collections and exhibitions at FMG.
“The primary purpose is to share with our many, many visitors the wonder and the intense experience of those individuals who live creatively because of their disabilities every day. We want to share that and we want to look at that creativity, but we also want to look at what kind of processes they go through,” said Becherer.
Through sculpture, ceramics, performative works and video installations, this exhibition aims to showcase “the best Disabled artists working in the world today,” said Christopher Smit, co-founder of DisArt.
“At the most basic level,” Jill Vyn, co-founder of DisArt, hopes visitors can “experience Disability Art and recognize its power and quality of expression.”
With gallery chats, artist demonstrations, lectures and film screenings scheduled during the exhibition, there are plenty of educational opportunities for the community to come together and engage with one another and world-renowned artists. “Art can help you think about the world in new ways. This exhibition helps us to think about the world and to think about others in new ways,” said Becherer.
This exhibit also inspired DisArt and FMG to think of accessibility in new ways by designing specific access measures, such as altering how artwork is displayed, the way lighting is used and adding furniture and ample space so all visitors can participate in an experience that is comfortable for them.
With the help of DisArt volunteer Zoe Pentaleri, who wrote the descriptions for the artwork, and musicians Lizzie Dunn and Tyler Zahnke, who composed the music, those with visual impairments or communication issues can also enjoy the exhibit by listening to musical descriptions of each piece of art. This innovative take on audio description is just one way DisArt and Meijer Gardens have been “trying to create this really full experience for those who otherwise would have difficulty when coming to an exhibition,” said Smit.
Even though FMG has “a long history of trying to be as accessible as possible,” collaborating on these additional accessibility measures has given the organization the “opportunity to become stronger, more open, more aware and more sensitive,”said Becherer. “In many ways, this exhibition, these artists and certainly DisArt are making us a better cultural organization for everybody who comes here.”
For DisArt, this exhibition is just one component of its Process and Presence season of events, which also includes a fashion show, premiering on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Featuring 15 Disabled models, all from Michigan, in this ArtPrize 10 time-based entry fashion show, Vyn intends “to make a statement to the fashion community that there are people with different bodies and minds that have a desire to be beautiful and express themselves through their clothing.”
Because DisArt aims to show audiences a different side to disability “that historically has not been shared,” this fashion show enables “people who are Disabled to tell their own story and choose how they want to be represented,” said Vyn. “It’s their voice and we’re trying to amplify those voices.”
By giving a voice to these Disabled models, DisArt hopes to bring both Disabled and nondisabled audience members together by providing a spotlight on the “authentic experiences of Disability” and “creating conversations about the essential human need for belonging and connection,” said Smit.
During the fashion show, a portrait photo book, made up of photos taken this summer of the models by local photographer Hwa-Jeen Na, will be for sale, with a 100 percent of the proceeds supporting the organization of DisArt. Though the fashion show is a one-night event, DisArt’s goal is to create a traveling fashion exhibition beyond Grand Rapids that would continue to impact communities beyond the ArtPrize 10 season.
For more information on DisArt’s Process and Presence season of events, check out DisArt’s website. To learn more about the Process and Presence: Contemporary Disability Sculpture Exhibition, visit Meijer Garden’s website.
*Main image: Petra Kuppers Salamander, by The Olimpias. Courtesy of the artist.