In July, we took a field trip to the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) with a group of Empower Youth‘s summer interns. For many of them, this was their first visit to the CAC.

Designed by Zaha Hadid, the museum’s architecture is an experience unto itself. The CAC’s lobby is made entirely of glass, a nod to the museum’s philosophy of public accessibility, which is also evident in its policy of free admission.

The museum’s exhibitions were in transition when we attended, but we were able to view the entirety of Ugo Rondinone‘s ambitious two-floor exhibition, let’s start this day again, curated by Raphaela Platow.

Per the museum’s website:

This exhibition will celebrate a new iteration of the Swiss-born, NY-based artist Ugo Rondinone’s color spectrum series that congregates his art, the gallery architecture and every visitor to the space as collaborators in an all-encompassing experience. Rondinone conceives his solo exhibitions as total art statements, offering the visitor a multi-sensory epiphany that, in his words, ‘revolutionizes your whole being.’ This hypnotic installation will be carefully layered in groups that include a neon rainbow, colored gels on the windows, floating mandalas, blurred target paintings, painted windows, gradient color walls and a surreal cast of life-size, clown sculptures. Presented as a constellation, Rondinone marries elements he has used in the past to ‘bring all those groups together in a colorful symphony.’ This groundbreaking collage epitomizes the artist’s ongoing desire to translate a heightened spectrum of psychological states into environments that provoke corresponding moods in the viewer. Beyond just seeing this show, one feels immersed in its enveloping environment – re-imagining what the CAC can be, and what art can be to an audience. In so doing, let’s start this day again will not only revamp the way visitors see and understand the CAC, but will also add a unique new iteration of this exhibition that also appears in four other venues across the world: each one reorganizing the elements to fashion a continually evolving experience.

The CAC is also unique in that its top floor is dedicated to what it calls the UnMuseum:

The UnMuseum, in the Sara M. and Patricia A. Vance Education Center, represents a groundbreaking concept in museum education for children, schools and families. Located on the sixth floor of the CAC, the UnMuseum is a gallery of interactive art designed to offer children and parents an enjoyable experience with the most innovative art of our time. As the CAC’s Education Center, the UnMuseum goes far beyond your normal gallery guides and learning stations. Rather, the CAC commissions first-rate artists to create special exhibitions and works of art for young audiences.

The UnMuseum’s motto is “Creativity and curiosity for everyone,” something that resonates deeply with us.

For us, the trip to the museum was about more than encountering contemporary art; it was also an opportunity to build our community. After spending a few hours at the CAC, we ate lunch in Fountain Square and discussed what we’d seen. How might Ugo Rondinone’s work fit into or challenge our notions of what art can be? Were there works we found more compelling or successful than others? What works did we have trouble understanding? How did the museum’s architecture contribute to the experience of the work? These were some the questions we wrestled with together.

We finished off the day with some Graeter’s ice cream and a trip to the top of the Carew Tower.

By contrast, our August field trip, during which we volunteered with Living Lands & Waters (LL&W) to help clean up the Ohio River, was dirty, physical, and exhausting.

We first learned about the Ohio River cleanup from Joe Glassmeyer, a local farmer and soil and water advocate. LL&W is an environmental organization that has been cleaning up rivers for almost two decades. Founded as a one-man operation by Chad Pregracke in 1998, it has since grown into a fully staffed operation. For nine months of the year, the LL&W crew lives on a barge, leading teams of volunteers in “Community River Cleanups”, conducting classes and workshops, and sorting millions of pounds of debris collected from the waterways.

Once Joe made us aware of the organization’s next cleanup — which was taking place the next day — we jumped at the chance to pitch in. Despite the short notice, a handful of Empower Youth volunteers and interns asked to come along, and we organized a last-minute group trip.

Our experience proved fascinating and rewarding. We were greeted at the Moscow boat ramp by Monique, a member of the LL&W crew, who transported us to the fleet of barges anchored nearby. Once we were on board, the LL&W crew invited us to enjoy a home-cooked lunch on the roof deck, after which they treated us to a tour of the facilities. Toys, dolls, and other knickknacks that had been pulled from the river decorated the living spaces and classroom. Monique explained that many of the barge’s furnishings and construction materials came from recycled river finds.

After the tour, we piled into a johnboat and headed to our cleanup site, where we spent the next three hours digging through silt and mud, filling bag after bag with washed-up refuse. In the end, our group filled a boat halfway with trash, a small but meaningful contribution to the 21,762 pounds of waste collected during Living Lands & Waters’ week-long Moscow cleanup.

While these two trips may seem incredibly disparate, we feel they perfectly illustrate our multi-faceted social drawing practice, which aims to develop and expand networks of nourishment in Bethel through the generative juncture of community resources and artistic practice.

Our visit to the museum offered artistic, intellectual, and cultural nourishment, while the Ohio River cleanup was aimed at improving the ecological health of the area’s most vital waterway — and, by extension, the health of the people who live and work around the river. The museum and the river both, in their own ways, exemplify the varied points comprising the vast nutritional networks that sustain our communities.

Looking ahead, we plan to arrange more trips like these to continue nourishing ourselves, our community, and the broader ecosystems to which our community belongs.

Posted by:SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing

SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing was a process of serial socially engaged research facilitated by artists Francesca Fiore and Hillary Wagner in collaboration with the rural community of Bethel in Appalachian Ohio. From 2017 to 2019 SOIL SERIES took many forms including conversations, public programs, projects, and collective imagining. A drawing in the most expansive sense, SOIL SERIES was an exercise in relational mark-making. By creating the conditions for new conversations and possibilities around artmaking, the public, and social imagination, SOIL SERIES proposed social drawing as the generative engine for community-initiated action.

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