Arts News: Central Library Exhibit Collects Wishes

In advance of his installation “Here Where You Wish” at the Central Library, Ryan Wilks created a version of the altar-based work in his studio. (photo by Ryan Wilks)

The whole idea started with a rock. “THIS ROCK GRANTS WISHES,” written on the side, a tangible, weighty object infused with mythical promise.

“I picked it up because it felt really significant when I saw it, like it was mine. It was right before 2017, the year of thoughts and prayers,” said artist Ryan Wilks. “I started thinking, well, what about a wish? I think there is something a little bit more accessible about wishes. You don’t have to practice any one particular spiritual thing.”

Now that thought has metamorphosed into the installation “Here Where You Wish,” with a sound component by composer Tim J. Harte, on view through June 17 at the Kansas City Public Library Central Library.

Wilks is a self-taught artist who gained attention for his portrait work in the exhibits “Gender Treason” and “Queerotica,” exploring concepts of gender and sexual identity. Departing from those themes, “Here Where You Wish” explores spirituality, belief and magic.

“I think people are really seeking out something greater than us. People are really alienated from religious culture and . . . are starting to seek out different avenues of spiritual expression,” Wilks said.

At the Central Library, visitors navigate a labyrinth of fabric hung from the ceiling, created by Ari Fish. “The fabric acts as a filter from the outside world so you can have a more intimate experience once at the altar,” said Wilks.

The altar, built by Wilks and Sean Prudden, is a 40-square-foot, 6-foot-high multilayered construction. Black and gold painted cubbies are stacked in a way to create multiple and sometimes hidden pockets for the offerings of visitors. They “hold people’s stories and people’s wishes,” Wilks said, and include a bowl of rose petals, fox tails, rabbits’ feet, beads, shells, crystals and other trinkets.

To preside over the altar, Wilks created a wish deity, a playfully repurposed baby doll —nonreligious, ageless, genderless, raceless — as a colorful, welcoming figure. Above, he hung 200 wish catchers, stringing feathers (some painted, some gilded), found items and the rolled-up wishes on threads to create a mesmerizing layer of twirling, shifting manifestation.

“The idea is that the slightest breeze picks them up and they rotate slowly and the wishes are put into motion,” Wilks said. Wilks hopes the serenity of the space stimulates visitors’ inward examination and helps discover their most authentic wish.

“This is an opportunity for people to think about a manifestation. Long term: What do you want to attract into your life?” Wilks said.

Visitors write down their wish and leave it in a box. Three times a week Wilks gathers the wishes and attaches them to the wish catchers in a performative ritual.

Tucked into some of the cubbies are speakers playing Tim J. Harte’s original work, looped in a serene wash of layered microtonal harmonies.

Harte wanted to use the element of water as a metaphor for cleansing, and captured tones from water glasses to create the work. Using a slip-stick technique, he produced the pure tone of the wine glass and captured over 160 individual microtonal samples, creating a grid and score and manipulating the samples on his computer to form the work. “It allows me to play a lot more glasses at once than a person can play,” he said, layering up to 24 individual tones at once.

“I don’t have to worry about all those interference tones and I can create this wash of really strange tunings that to me are very consonant and very beautiful, and offer it as a peace offering.”

After the installation closes, Wilks will create a book, produced by the Heidmann Art Salon. They will take pictures of the handwritten wishes and offerings. “Putting them into a book, there’s actually a visual and literary documentation of what Kansas City is wishing for in the year 2018. It’s like this time capsule of people’s hopes,” Wilks said.

“Ryan Wilks: Here Where You Wish,” created in collaboration with Ari Fish and Sean Prudden, with music by Tim J. Harte, continues at the Kansas City Public Library Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., through June 17. Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 816.701.3400 or www.kclibrary.org.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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