FRONT triennial to adopt art as a therapeutic process | Culture

This summer, the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art aims to be a kind of rainbow – an exhibition of brightness and healing in northeast Ohio after a very severe storm.

Launched in 2018, FRONT will return to host international artists at 20 Northeast Ohio locations July 16 through October 2.

Entitled “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows”, the second edition of the contemporary art festival aims to approach and embrace art as an agent of transformation, a mode of healing and a therapeutic process. The name is in homage to a 1957 poem, “Two Somewhat Different Epigrams” by Langston Hughes: “Oh God of dust and rainbows, help us to see. That without dust the rainbow would not be. I look up to the human race with admiration. And God, who sometimes spits in his face.

Prem Krishnamurthy, artistic director of the 2022 FRONT Triennale, said the theme and title for this year’s triennale dates back to 2019, after extensive research and several visits to regional arts hubs like Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin, visits with institutions and partners in these communities. , artists and other historical or contemporary sites which seemed important to the curatorial team.

“It was born out of a reflection on the history of the region and the type of industrial production that produced prosperity and wealth, but also had negative effects on the environment and on social infrastructure,” said Krishnamurthy. “And also the very tense and difficult relationships that exist in Cleveland and in the region between different types of communities.”

Continuation of the formatting of “Oh, Gods”

After the theme was announced in January 2020, Krishnamurthy said full-scale planning for an event in 2021 had begun. But no one knew what the next two years would bring and how the theme would remain relevant – almost too much – he added.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, FRONT has been postponed to 2022.

“What’s been important is thinking about how art works in all these different time periods,” Krishnamurthy said. “This fact that artistic creation, exhibition creation and triennial creation are all long-term processes that do not emerge overnight. At the same time, there are these ways that art can create fun and joy and bring people together around shared aesthetic experiences, which can happen very quickly. Almost like a rainbow – they are very fast, but can quickly create a sense of community and belonging between people who don’t know each other.

After two years of limited physical interaction and collaboration, Krishnamurthy said one of FRONT’s priorities was to tap into the local aspect of the triennale, working closely with venues across the region to create a ” exhibition of exhibitions”. This sets FRONT 2022 apart, to some extent, from the inaugural event in its efforts to ensure that works by international artists match the existing collections at each local institution.

“With each partner institution, we’ve been in conversation for about three years now to try to find artists who make sense in their program and resonate with the people who are already there,” Krishnamurthy said. “We worked with them to showcase a body of artists who live in Cleveland alongside artists who aren’t in Cleveland but whose work can be seen in dialogue. It has become a rich dialogue between theaters and us – which is a bit different from the first FRONT. Each place will be a rich experience.

The pandemic experience has also sparked interest in public artwork, Krishnamurthy said. An example to exhibit is “Dawn” by Brooklyn, NY-based artist Jacolby Satterwhite, who worked with local contributing artists RA Washington and LaToya Kent to ask residents of Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood to describe and draw their version of utopia. This exhibit will be presented at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the University Circle neighborhood as a virtual reality arcade and as a free-standing sculptural screen outside the Cleveland Clinic’s new BioRepository building in the Fairfax neighborhood.

“Jacolby’s work is a good example of non-traditional exhibitions and installations taking place in museums or art venues, but also in non-art venues and even public spaces,” Krishnamurthy said. “I think that’s important because ultimately FRONT is a free, open arts event meant to invite and engage as many people as possible.”

Leverage Fairfax

As Satterwhite’s first public artwork in collaboration with Cleveland communities, “Dawn” uses a combination of traditional and digital media to explore ideas of contentment and utopia from the perspective of 100 Fairfax residents who contributed to the project.

Kent, who lives on the east side of Cleveland, and Washington, who lives in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, first got involved following a community meeting announcing the project, hosted by Cleveland’s Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, Cleveland Clinic and FRONT International.

“I thought (Kent and I) should get involved because you need a fine touch to get the community involved,” Washington said. “I thought it was our business and that we could help deliver these interesting community stories. We wanted to serve as emissaries.

Kent, who previously worked in the community at a halfway house for formerly incarcerated women, said he noticed neighbors had a lot of interesting stories, in part because of the neighborhood’s foundation built over generations.

“It felt a strong sense of family and togetherness,” she said. “I found a lot of people, once they knew what we were doing, they would phone up and tell others to get involved. You saw this interconnectedness within the neighborhood and the residents.

As the project continued, Kent said he noticed some of the submissions reflected that residents felt their current living situation was their definition of utopia. This was evident in attendees from the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held across the street from where they were based, who Kent said had “beautiful inspiration from their experience there.”

“It wasn’t some distant fantasy,” she said. “It’s not far from what they wanted. It seemed like being able to be supported in their neighborhood felt like something beyond their dreams in a way. I felt a sense of euphoria from this group of people – they were well served and we all want to be seen, served and respected.

Exhibits tap into the community, deliver international messages

This concept of being seen, served, respected and involved pervades many of FRONT’s exhibitions in 2022, Krishnamurthy said.

Other exhibits on this theme will include Community Explorations by Kameelah Janan Rasheed at the Cleveland Public Library. His project will be anchored by a generative prompt such as “Tomorrow there will be…”. Rather than a content, the artist proposes a protocol of engagement. “Contact” by Renée Green, a sprawling exhibition occupying all of moCa Cleveland’s public spaces, seeks to intertwine the conversation around the works of other participating artists. At Transformer Station in the Ohio City neighborhood, Sarah Oppenheimer and Tony Cokes are developing a large-scale, participatory installation that combines tactile and interactive interventions in architecture with videos that investigate representations of race, gender, and gender. class using text and music.

“Some of these projects almost look like rainbows,” Krishnamurthy said. “These are more fleeting and fleeting things, but which can bring together a certain community at a certain time for a certain purpose. I think the experience of visiting FRONT, whether from out of town or Cleveland, is a bit of a rainbow treasure or adventure.

Similar to karaoke, Krishnamurthy said he wanted visitors to approach the 2022 triennale by sharing joy with strangers – the “aesthetic pleasure of art can bring people together across differences”.

“It’s not just the color of a nice paint job or something that looks nice or fun to you,” he said. “These are things that slow you down, that are actually complex, and that make you think or experience things in a way you’ve never seen before. I want people to come out of it with a feeling of emotion. To feel like they don’t just have to sit or stand in front of a painting, but are whole bodies. And that something happens by experiencing art in a space with other people.

This story first appeared in Canvas, CJN’s sister magazine for arts, performance and entertainment. To read more stories about Canvas and to subscribe to its free bi-weekly e-newsletter, visit

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