Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington




Just about had it with the interminable presidential race? Becoming sated with the endless commentaries and prognostications of seemingly thousands of political gurus, each with their own ax to grind? Convinced that we are wallowing in campaign minutiae and rhetoric and brushing the real issues under the rug?

Then you must rush to the Arlington Arts Center to see – experience – its new exhibition: Picturing Politics 2008: Artists Speak to Power. It opens tomorrow, August 15, and will run through September 27. It is going to be a powerful experience.

We dropped by the center on Tuesday to check on the installation and meet a couple of the artists. Claire Huschle, the center’s director, told us that the new exhibit, organized by curator Rex Weil, sought to shift our attention from the mechanics of party politics and partisanship to broad public policy issues, albeit in a “loose” way.

While we talked, I glanced at a painting of the White House flanked by a huge fork spearing a bleeding heart. Try to tell us something?

We went downstairs to watch the installation of a multi-media exhibit being put together by Randall Packer and John Anderson.

Packer moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. in 2000. He was particularly struck by the unique lack of a ministry of culture in the capital city of a major nation. So, he created one on the Internet, The Department of Art and Technology, and made himself Secretary.

He then embarked on a two year journey through a nation gone awry, and this journey is the principal focus of the installation. The journey was made by Orf (after Orpheus), the main character of a media opera, the score of which was written by Packer and sung by Los Angeles opera star Charles Lane. He sang “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” over moving shots of the Arlington Cemetery, and “I’ve Been Scorned, I’ve Been ‘Buked'” at the Jefferson Memorial.

Orf went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras after Katrina and performs dances of self immolation. He travels through the Bible Belt and to a slave cemetery. The journey ends symbolically in Death Valley where Orf destroys all media – shown in several operating television screens being buried in a cemetery in the middle of the floor of the hall.

And this is only one of several memorable installations.

For example, The Tiffany Gallery will be filled with digitalized images of local people by Helga Thompson. As you walk into the gallery you will hear “white noise” until you come to stand directly under the speakers, where you will hear conversations among these ordinary people discussing how they balance their daily lives with politics, if in fact they do.

This is just a taste of what you will see, feel, and hear at this remarkable exhibition. While it opens tomorrow, the gala opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, September 5. I am sure that it will make a big splash both locally and nationally. So – go see it – tomorrow! I promise that you will want to return.

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