The shape of collaboration


POSTED: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jaimey Hamilton's contemporary art history students grappled with real issues facing today's artists as they researched, conceptualized and designed the interactive installation “;Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor and Economics.”;

The University of Hawaii-Manoa exhibit explores the perennial challenges artists face in America's capitalistic society, exacerbated by the economic downturn.

“;The value of artists and artists' labor are mismatched,”; says Theresa Worden, a UH senior who attends Hamilton's class. “;Because artistic labor is creative and (consequently) unseen, it's valued less. Our current economic and societal structures do not appreciate or recognize it.

“;This exhibit calls attention to the labor we all do as artists—the work it takes to conceptualize and then put together art—and (illustrates) that it's all labor and it's all valuable.”;






        On exhibit: Noon to 4 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow through Friday


Place: University of Hawaii Commons Gallery, UH-Manoa art building


Call: 956-5253




“;Art Work”; is a collaborative project between the UH class and Temporary Services, a Chicago-based art initiative. Temporary Services organized and printed a 40-page newspaper, “;Art Work,”; that is filled with first-person accounts of the harsh realities of creating art amid America's economic challenges, as well as perspectives on creating new economies. The publication served as a platform for the UH exhibit.

“;My first reaction is that this is a good thing,”; says established Hawaii artist May Izumi upon hearing about the show. “;There are a lot of people who don't seem to think art is work. They think it's fun or it's a hobby.”;

Izumi says that when times are tough, social issues take precedence over the arts in the minds of the public. But she says the arts contribute to the greater good.

“;It seems as though the arts aren't producing anything useful to the community when people are going hungry or face homelessness,”; she says. “;Yet people in the arts community do give back to those issues. We create art events on behalf of those issues. We're part of the community, too.”;

The “;Art Work”; installation converts the University of Hawaii Commons Gallery into an assembly-line artistic work space, complete with a time clock and printing press. The concept of the beehive, selected by Hamilton's students to carry the “;work”; theme home, bears a multifaceted presence.

“;The hive is a living, breathing entity, and we wanted to mimic that action,”; Worden says.

Students designed a show logo around the image, and the hexagonal shape of a hive cell serves as a canvas for artwork produced at the show. That includes pieces students have already created, as well as the contributions of gallery visitors.

Participants employ scissors, glue and sheets of the “;Art Work”; newspaper to fill blank hexagons, then find a home for their work on gallery walls marked with hive matrixes.

Meanwhile, students will be operating the press to print more hives.

“;We're reducing the artists' work into what's familiar,”; says Worden. “;Visitors will say, 'Oh yeah, this is work,' though the way artists really do work is different than what most people understand.”;

Hamilton says she's proud of the work of her students, who “;stepped up to the challenge of putting together a show with nothing but 100 newspapers.”;

“;No budget, no time, no 'art,' even, to hang up on the walls,”; she says. “;They've been amazingly resourceful at creating a whole economy with just paper, scissors and glue.”;

Marilyn Cristofori, chief executive officer of Hawaii Arts Alliance, says the UH class is on the right track. One of her own recommendations for promoting the arts is collaboration with community.

“;The argument that the arts are valuable—the next generation isn't interested in that anymore. What they do value is creativity,”; she says.

But it's not enough to just talk about creative effort.

“;The arts must figure out how to give creative experience to the community,”; Cristofori says. “;Once someone experiences creativity with all its challenges, they find out it's fun—and they will always learn something. You can learn a bit by being passive, but you can learn a lot more by being active.

“;It's no longer about just putting up an exhibit or giving a free concert. We must require people to participate. It makes the arts more accessible.”;

UH senior Bronson Shimabukuro says the show is meant to engage audiences on various levels.

“;There are people who will view it and do the art activity. Some people just like to view. But just in that action, they're doing something—just by showing up,”; he says. “;There are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned, lots of things to take away from it.

“;We don't define it too much. It's not just a social, political or artistic endeavor. It's there as a piece of art. It's there on multiple levels, to encourage participation and awareness. And most art is about creating awareness.”;