Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hand to Hand Project:

Last winter, I heard of a project called Hand to Hand, a daily record of what happened in Iraq day-by-day as seen through the eyes of artists, all using gloves or other representations of hands in their interpretations.  Begun by Cecilia Kane at the start of the Iraq war in 2003, it expanded to include nearly two hundred other artists, each taking a week or two.  The artists are from all over the world, including Iraqi citizens and American soldiers who've served (and in some cases, are serving) in Iraq.

I immediately wrote Cecilia and asked if she had room for me.  She did, and assigned me the week of July 12.  That week, I searched a score of sources, printing out dozens of stories.  At the end, I sorted through the stories, looking for as broad a representation of what went on that week as possible. As I read the stories, I began to recognize the ways in which all of them were intertwined.  It was slow winnowing down to one per day. Though there was one day, to my amazement, when I could find no stories at all-- to be followed the very next day by stories about bombings that killed dozens and injured dozens more.  People who were going to work, looking for jobs, buying food, people who left families behind.

Doing this project took me far deeper emotionally than I expected.  Each story made me think profoundly about not only the direct implications of that event on people's lives, but also how each of the stories linked up to others to weave a web of cause and effect, position and consequences, abstract numbers and real lives.  Working on each piece, simple as they of necessity are, moved me deeply.  My mind is now populated with people I do not know, but who have become part of me.   I ended up spending a great deal of time pondering how best to express each story, and the human story buried in it.

Before I began my week, I had done some background reading to refresh my memory of the political and cultural history of Iraq. I went to college (decades ago) with many middle easterners, and got to know many of them as friends.  My university had a strong middle east program, and a course on middle east history that I audited opened my eyes to the fact that Americans have no sense of Iraq's true history, or of the factors that created the land it is today.  If they did, they would understand why Europeans have been so reluctant to become involved. It was this very sort of involvement on their part for centuries that created the rupture of the middle east. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate.  I learned so much, both from the reading, and from the process of creating art from it.  When I saw the photos of the exhibit, I was deeply moved.  It is stunning to see all those hands, and all the ways in which artists incorporated the hand motif into their expressions of their stories.  I am honored to be part of it. 

Here are the pieces I created for the project (click on the images to view a larger version. Use your browser back button to return to this post):

My pieces are on their way to be included in the current installation in Athens, Georgia, at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art, where Hand to Hand is the featured installation along with other installations addressing related themes.  The exhibit at ATHICA opens August 21st and runs through September 26th.

 The Hand to Hand website has some striking photos of the exhibit, including links to samples of work from each year-- over seven years in all.  The cumulative effect of the hundreds of hands and nearly 200 artists' visions is stunning. Cecilia is working to secure a final resting place for the installation.  I hope she is successful. 

Ironically, the final installation will be at the gallery I am most involved in, the Chaffee Art Center, in Rutland, Vermont, something I did not know when I signed on.  It opens there on October 8th and will run to November 20th.  If you are nearby, please come to the reception! 

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A note about method: I used what are known as "museum gloves", light-weight cotton gloves worn to protect art works from the oils of human skin.  They allowed me the flexibility to shape the gloves as needed.   I chose to mount the gloves on 7 inch by 10 inch pieces of matboard, in a collage incorporating other materials and paint, ink, and pencil.  On some gloves, I used an acrylic polymer hardener to make it possible to create a three-dimensional aspect.  Others were glued flat because that seemed to fit the day's story better. I added the daily "headlines", word for word,  by printing them on a laser printer and lifting the print using translucent acrylic gel, then using the same gel to mount them to the matboard.  I used the same method to incorporate snippets of photographs in some of the pieces.


jeannette said...

hey there! this is a new side of your art. i have always loved the collage form of art and think i did my best work in that form. i am no longer wondering why you were scarce for awhile... it takes immersion to work with this sort of subject. cudos to you, dear friend. btw, i would have sworn that first one was a gardening glove, and i was thinking of the involvement in sacrificing one of those to your art.

Annie D. Stratton said...

I have not done collage in a while and found that it was perfect for this project. You are right: this kind of thing is so intense that it did mean total immersion. I feel totally revitalized as an artist, and will probably do more collage. And I will almost certainly do more art connected with meaningful social and cultural events. I think that's what I've been missing.

Now you mention it, the glove in the first one does look sort of like a gardening glove in the pic! But in real life, it appears more gauzy and almost translucent-- which I think added to the sense of tenuousness about the Iraqi legislature right now. I wanted some color, so I tea-dyed it before using the hardener. I actually put it on my hand and blow-dried it until it had set enough to hold the shape! Getting it off was a bit of a challenge, but it worked. I shaped it with a chopstick and used pins to hold it in place as I finished drying it with the hairdryer. What an artist will do...

GalleryJuana said...

Thank you for your visit and comment on my blog.

Your collection for the hand to hand project is impressive. The last one really hits me. Sometimes it's easy to forget the headlines are really about people and not just numbers.