Notes from the Quarantimes

6 Michigan Artists Reflect on the Pandemic & Edenville Dam Flood

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 922   By: Robert E Martin

25th November, 2021     0

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum invites you to reflect on the past 18-months through their new exhibition “Notes from the Quarantimes”, which is currently on display through January 15, 2022.

This engaging thematic collection is an exhibition of works by six Detroit-based artists:  Clinton Snider, Graem Whyte, Michael McGillis, Mitch Cope and Scott Hocking who left behind, if only temporarily, the tragedy of COVID back in May 2020 to literally bail out their friend and fellow exhibiting artist Andrew Krieger in the midst of another tragedy - when twenty-two billion gallons of water breached the Edenville Dam, and suddenly the  home and piece of the Krieger family heritage became badly damaged.

This 100-year pandemic when juxtaposed against this 500-year flood, while different in scope and scale, cast a heavy weight into each artist’s creative reservoir. While rebuilding Krieger’s historic family home, the friends found creative inspiration in the changed landscape from the flood, and the changed world from the pandemic.

As artist Scott Hocking – who’s exhibition artworks include two video works and one sculptural installation – puts it:  “In a grim twist, one calamity afforded us the time to clean up the wreckage of another. Throughout it all, kayaking became a way to navigate, observe, meditate, and find solace in nature, as well as spend physically distanced time with friends in-the-midst-of the most isolating years we can remember.”

The artists formed a  text group  during this time that allowed them to communicate fluidly, giving them a vehicle for venting using a great deal of cathartic humor and sarcasm, ultimately filling the need for a basic human need to stay connected. Indeed, this daily nearly 24-7 open line of communication became a crucial, almost vital tool for keeping their collective sanity and in several cases, may have quite literally saved their lives. 

Their works exhibited in “Notes from the Quarantimes” run the gamut of art mediums, from paintings and mixed media sculptures, to photographs and films. Megan McAdow, Director of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum notes that “these artworks tell the story of isolation, devastation, and loneliness — but they also relay resilience found in community and among friends.”

Each of these unique artists issued the following Collective Statement about this Notes from the Quarantimes Exhibition that summarizes the alchemy that transpired:

“In our small universe of six artist friends, it felt like the growing scale of the Pandemic opened up a muted intermission from life’s routines. Into that expansive, uncertain space was inserted, of all things, a catastrophic dam failure that occurred just a half-mile upstream from Andrew Krieger’s family cottage on the Tittabawassee River. With those two epic events unfolding simultaneously, we experienced a kind of ‘tragedy vertigo’, confronting the immediate, visceral destruction of a familiar place, while a global tragedy raged in the background. All of it was disorienting, fascinating, and strangely invigorating, as both events invited all levels of reflection, and strengthened existing friendships.”

“As the Pandemic rolled on with no end in sight, a bond solidified between all of us, tied together by daily, sometimes manic texting as a way of coping with the uncertainty. From the moment the floods took Andy’s family boat house away, their freshly painted adirondack chairs, the beloved pontoon boat and the surrounding landscape our ‘tragedy vertigo’ continued.”

“Magnified by being shut in and isolated throughout 2020 and much of 2021, our lives have become filled with personal follies. Everything from everyday annoyances, some falling under the category of a comedy of errors and others having serious life and death consequences. One of us went through a difficult divorce and another broke his femur, twisting and fracturing the bone which required emergency surgery, titanium screws and supports followed by months of being bedridden. We all experienced the stress and grief of losing friends and family during this time. All aspects of our lives have been challenged and put into question, priorities rearranged, relationships stressed to the breaking point, but together we were able to find comfort in seeing the humor, beauty and meaning within despite the calamity.”

“The works in this show represent a small window into how we have just barely begun to process the past year and a half as working artists. Having the show at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum is meaningful for several reasons. The scale, grandeur and commitment Marshall put into his work has been inspiring to all of us. The relationship he had to the human scale, the human condition and how he elevated this condition in many symbolic and literal ways has many parallels to our own recent experiences. The proximity of the Museum near the TIttabawassee river and its tributaries makes having the show here significant in that we have shared experiences and interest in regard to the origins of the flood and how we see ourselves in relation to the regional history as well as Marshall Fredericks’s legacy.”

Notes from an Exhibition

In rallying together to help fellow artist Andrew Krieger rebuild his home following the dam breach, while also using the trauma of the personal & collective devastation wrought by the Pandemic as a vehicle to explore their respective artistic impressions & insights, what did the artists feel were the most important and illuminating lessons learned from this creative exercise?

“As artists we are often isolated in our work, our thoughts and our process, “reflects Mitch.   “When the 6 of us came together to help Andy it was not only a way to help a friend, but also a conscious decision for all of us to break free from the pandemic and being quarantined. We had to decide it was a risk worth taking to come out of the pandemic isolation in this emergency.  It soon then became a bonding moment for all of us. And it also provided obvious material for us as artists.”

“Collectively experiencing the same event, as individuals and as a group, I don’t think any of us immediately thought that we were going to make art out of the experience. But we all knew it was a significant enough event to document as much as possible.   It was pretty overwhelming to tell you the truth.  But what that did was forces us to not worry about the artistic process and to just find ways to make it fun, to have some levity about the situation.  Art would come later, but now we must live and figure out how to support each other and deal with the immediate tasks at hand.”

“Personally,  I didn't feel the Covid pandemic brought a feeling of devastation, confesss Scott. “The pandemic, especially the quarantine, presented a surreal situation that I don't think any of us had ever experienced before.   But once the fear of a plague-like zombie apocalypse calmed down a bit, I found myself really enjoying the cancelled deadlines, alone time, and flexibility.  A huge part of my art practice involves working alone, and I need that kind of meditation and solitude to create work.  So the pandemic was really a strange blessing in that it afforded me the time to work on projects and ideas that I typically have zero time for.” 

“I think most artists like me don’t have 9-5 schedules, and are pretty used to unstructured and unpredictable workdays.  In that way, I think artists were able to adapt to the strange unknown times of the last 2 years.  I got a ton of work done, I had more time to spend in nature, and exploring my surroundings in my kayak.  I was able to make around 20 kayak trips around Southeast Michigan in 2020, the most ever in my life.” 

“It really drove home how important getting out there in nature, on the water, is to me and my practice.  When the Edenville Dam failed, and we all rallied around helping Andy Krieger clean up his property, it also illuminated how the pandemic afforded us the time to help.  I don’t think we would have been able to spend nearly as much time up in Edenville without the pandemic clearing our schedules.”

Given that much of art is centered upon engagement, yet  the isolation engendered by the lockdowns during the Pandemic literally divorced performing artists from engaging with their audience, and forced visual artists to exhibit their works on a video or computer screen as opposed to the 3-dimensional depth and immediacy of a live exhibition - what did these artists feel was the most challenging and difficult components involved with creating meaningful work within the limitations engendered by the Pandemic?

“For me creating the work is always in isolation so at the beginning of the Pandemic I thought this was going to be a good opportunity to get a lot of work done, since my day job was no longer in the way, explains Mitch.  “But I underestimated the disruption to daily norms and I also underestimated the stress and strain the pandemic would have on me and my family.  I got very little done as far actual physical work in 2020.  It wasn’t until a dramatic separation  at the beginning of 2021 and subsequent divorce that I began to really work again  this year. Still in the pandemic, but less quarantined.  It wasn’t until this dramatic shift in my domestic life I was fully able to start synthesizing and gathering what I and learned during the pandemic.  All of this has been put into the latest work, of which are in this exhibit.”

“For me, the engagement part of being an artist is not that important, states Scott.   “I'd be making art even if I was a hermit living out in the woods alone.  My art practice is about learning, exploring, meditating, working through thoughts and manifesting ideas.  It's therapy for me.  It's the way I translate and make sense of the world.  I get inspired by all kinds of things - books I read, news I hear, a walk in the woods, a conversation, a fleeting thought, a dream.  The pandemic and quarantine just gave me more ideas for artworks, and afforded me the time to work on old ideas that had been on the backburner.”

“Despite the way the Covid pandemic was wreaking havoc on the world, I made the best of the situation and thoroughly enjoyed my alone time.  Many of my projects over the years, like the Ziggurat installation, the Egg installation, the Barnboat project, the Garden of the Gods, and the Relics installation, involve me spending many months alone, often working in abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere.  I kind of love that way of working.  So, for me, the pandemic and quarantine were just a new situation to adapt to.  I like to think that being a successful artist is really all about your ability to adapt to whatever circumstances appear, and how good you are at navigating around obstacles.  I navigated through the pandemic in my kayak.

Creatively, collectively, and personally, do you feel that the Pandemic and the tragedy of the dam breach has brought people closer together or only fragmented and displaced society and these communities more?

“Andy might be able to answer the community aspect of the region more succinctly, but I know it diid bring us together, those of us in this exhibition,” admits Mitch.  “Even though we were all friends before that event, it gave us a singular focus to turn our friendship into something more concrete and practical.  The pandemic in general I think proved the old belief that  you can be friends with someone for a long time, but it isn’t until there is a tragedy that you really know who your true friends are.”

“The Edenville Dam failure definitely brought our group of friends together in a way that was different from the past,” concludes Scott.  “And the pandemic allowed us more time to spend working on helping clean up Andy's flood-damaged place.  All of us were friends before this - I've known Clint and Mitch for over 20 years, Graem for close to that, and Mike and Andy for over a decade.  We've collaborated on art before, and all of us have hung out and helped each other out in some fashion.  But prior to the pandemic and dam failure, I think there were always excuses as to why I couldn't make something: Couldn't make a camping trip, couldn't make a party, couldn't make an art opening.” 

“I might have been out of town, or just too damn busy with my own deadlines.  But the dual disaster scenario turned all of that on its head.  For the first time in a long time, I was able to spend a lot more time with these friends. I think there was a sort of bonding experience that happens when people experience a trauma together.  We didn't all feel the same level of devastation as Andy, but I think we collectively felt the importance of friendships in times of trouble.  And I think we were all experiencing some kind of constant low-level humming trauma from the ongoing unknown future and surreal reality of the pandemic.  As for society as a whole - well, that's a whole different ball game.  But regarding our personal connections, I think the double whammy definitely brought our friend group closer together.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” will be on view at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum out at Saginaw Valley State University, 7400 Bay Rd., University Center until  January 15, 2022.   Museum hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (989) 964-7125 or visit the Museum’s website at www.marshallfredericks.org.

 


 

 

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