Editor’s Letter, March/April 2020

KC Studio editor Alice Thorson, photo by Mark Berndt.

The arts often serve as a beacon and cultural corrective, highlighting the important issues facing a society and helping to identify problems and omissions.

Several stories in the current issue of “KC Studio” explore the problematic role of technology in our lives, including the threat it poses to privacy, environment and overall quality of life.

That artists and museums are keenly aware of the effects of technology on the world we inhabit and what they may mean for the world of the future is apparent from the growing number of exhibits around the region addressing the issue. At present, the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum at Kansas State University is presenting “Field Station 4,” an immersive installation incorporating repurposed equipment cases from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by Charles Lindsay. Lindsay describes it as “a place to . . . to tune out, or in, to contemplate the nature of information, reality, the other, the future,” while writer Brian Hearn compares the installation to “an abandoned space station in which the scientific research has taken on a strange sentient twist.” Meanwhile, as Hearn reports, the Ulrich Museum at Wichita State University has opened a trio of exhibits featuring prints, installation, film and photography that address technology’s capacity for surveillance, deception and manipulation.

The discussion will continue through the summer and into the fall, as Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art broadens the geographic scope with shows of Ethiopian artist Elias Sime and Mexican-born Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, two artists who explore the fraught relationship between humans and technology in singular ways.

Actor Kyle Hatley’s re-envisioning of Mary Shelley’s classic, “Frankenstein,” part of KCRep’s Origins New Work Festival, also weighs in on the topic. As Robert Trussell notes in his story about Hatley’s latest venture, “From nuclear waste to the fear of autonomous artificial intelligence, the modern analogies to ‘Frankenstein’ remain distressingly relevant.”

Securing a better future requires scrutinizing the past. At KU’s Spencer Museum of Art, the just-opened “Staging Shimomura” exhibition highlights the racism that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In his performance art and large, Pop-inspired paintings and prints, the KU Distinguished Professor of Art, Emeritus draws on the diaries his grandmother kept while living in one of the camps as well as his childhood memories of his family’s experience.

Closing March 6, an exhibit at the Mid-America Arts Alliance looks at a dark chapter of our country’s past that began in the 1870s. “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” features photographs, artworks, interviews and other materials documenting the U.S. government’s attempt to assimilate American Indian children by placing them in residential boarding schools far from their families.

Casting light on hidden histories, like the Confederate Truce Flag that forms the focus of Sonya Clark’s exhibit “Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know” at the Kansas City Art Institute’s H&R Block Artspace, has become an increasingly important part of the American cultural enterprise.

The latest round of National Endowment for the Arts grants includes funding to several KC arts organizations for projects that help fill out the African American story and experience.

Theatre for Young America is the recipient of a $10,000 Challenge America grant to support a production of the play “Fair Ball: Negro Leagues in America” about the history of Negro League baseball.

The Unicorn Theatre received a $10,000 Art Works – Theater grant to support a production of Lisa Langford’s play, “Rastus and Hattie,” described by “The Cleveland Plain Dealer” as “a tough, darkly funny take on race and America’s original sin.”

And the soon to open The Rabbit Hole KC got a big thumbs up from the nation’s major granting agency in the form of a $35,000 Works – Museums grant to support an exhibition based on jazz-themed children’s picture books by author and illustrator Chris Raschka, a two-time Caldecott Medal winner. The exhibit will focus on Raschka’s “Mysterious Thelonious,” “Charlie Parker Played Be Bop” and “John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.” According to The Rabbit Hole, the exhibit will span nearly 3,000 square feet and offer a “radically immersive adventure of rhythm, color and sound.”

For the arts, building a richer, more inclusive American story is an ongoing priority. It begins with the tales we tell our children and benefits all.

About The Author: Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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