By Hunter Levy
For Inland 360
An art exhibit in downtown Genesee is bringing artists together to showcase work centered around the theme of a loop.
Guest curator Lauren McCleary proposed the theme to regional artists for a show opening this week at the contemporary art gallery Studio 84.
“A loop is a structure, series or process in which the end is connected to the beginning,” was McCleary’s prompt to guest artists. McCleary is a member of the University of Idaho Art Education faculty.
“My recent work revolves around worrisome lines that our natural world is approaching and already crossing, leaving gaps and unknowns I can’t fill when I try to imagine a future,” McCleary said. “My process allows me to translate the mental and emotional chaos caused by social and climate events and changes into simple cuts of paper — a way of mending and meditating on matters at hand.”
The exhibit marks a return to action for some artists, whose ability to work was restricted by the COVID-19 crisis. For McCleary, the lack of studio space and a quiet location to work has made it hard to focus on her art.
“My current situation, and some of the artists in the show, is that we are now home all day with our young children. We’ve had more time as the calendar goes, but I’ve had less time devoted to the art. I’ve been stealing hours and minutes when I can, trying to get work done alongside my kids, which makes it different than when I’m off in my studio on campus by myself,” McCleary said.
The upcoming “LOOP” exhibit is a chance for many of these artists to flex their creative muscles after a period of relative hibernation. Some work in the show was created before the prompt was released and then selected because it fit the theme, while other works were tailored to it. For Kristin Becker, a Moscow-based visual arts specialist with training in printmaking and photography, the prompt acted as a form of motivation.
“I really appreciated getting the ‘LOOP’ concept from Lauren. I think for most exhibitions the work has not been generated as a reaction to an idea or a theme imposed by somebody else. It was kind of like being given an assignment at school — a good assignment, a specific and open-ended assignment — and I think that that’s been nice and different. It was a good way to get back into making again when I hadn’t been making as much,” said Becker.
Studio 84 is a private gallery run by Ellen Vieth, a Genesee artist and businesswoman. The name comes from the year Vieth originally occupied the space, then as a producer of dried wreaths and herbs. It has transformed into a space focused on highlighting work by local artists.
“For rural communities, it is my hope to bring beauty, curiosity and appreciation for both crafts and fine contemporary work. The availability of galleries and museums are somewhat limited, thank goodness we do have access to the universities — not everyone has that option. I am proud to say, pre-COVID, our space was available to the Genesee junior and senior high school students to give them an idea of what contemporary work, and a small gallery, could look like,” Vieth said.
McCleary, a resident and art instructor on the Palouse for more than a decade, agreed that choosing to show art in rural locations has additional benefits.
“I think art plays an important role in rural communities. For one, we don’t expect it. We are sort of trained to think that if you want to go to an art gallery you have to go to a city, but that doesn’t have to be the case, because artists live everywhere. Viewing art shouldn’t be limited to cities, either. That connection to where I live and creating dialogues might lead to something, and we’ll have conversation and get to know each other better based on artwork in the show that people see.”
The “LOOP” exhibit is supported by the Latah County Arts and Culture Committee, a group appointed by Latah County Commissioners to emphasize the arts in the county’s rural communities. It is events like these, Becker believes, that bring people on the Palouse together.
“I see the location in Genesee as a kind of a destination. I haven’t been to Studio 84 a ton, but my feeling about it is that it draws people from the whole Palouse community — from the bigger towns as well as the smaller towns — and I think that the gathering and the congregating, as much as is possible right now, is essential for people to socialize and feel like they belong somewhere, and we don’t get to do it as often in a place where people are more dispersed. It is pretty cool to have a place like that in Genesee, where you might not expect it, that can draw people from a bit farther away and to get them to participate in that small community,” said Becker.
For Vieth, the importance of shows like this during isolating times is clear: “More than ever we need the arts.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Contemporary art exhibit, “LOOP.”
WHEN: 4-7 p.m., Thursday Aug. 13; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday Aug. 15 and 16.
WHERE: Studio 84, 134 W. Walnut Ave., Genesee.
OF NOTE: Masks are required in the gallery, and no more than eight people at a time will be allowed indoors.