The Recorder – Arts collective’s ‘Maintenance & Repair’ to unveil work created during the pandemic

In this second pandemic year, it feels essential to perform maintenance and repair individually, and in community.

According to a press release, the poetry/performance/art collective group Exploded View will unveil new work created during the pandemic in the curated community art exhibit titled “Maintenance & Repair,” which opened Nov. 6 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls.

A premiere for the featured piece “Bitter Sweet Feast” will be held Saturday, Nov. 13, with following events on Nov. 21 and 28 with participating artists in attendance. Exploded View members Trish Crapo of Leyden, Edite Cunhã and Nina Rossi of Turners Falls, and Samantha Wood of Greenfield addressed this topic for close to a year and a half during the pandemic by creating “Bitter Sweet Feast.”

Working intuitively and often discovering mythic resonances along the way, Exploded View explored questions of masking, identity, isolation and the search for connection. In creating this multimedia project, the artists asked: “What has been revealed about us, and what has been changed? What nurtures us through difficult times? What do we offer, and what do we sacrifice — not only to survive, but to evolve as a civilization? How do we reclaim joy?”

“We, like everyone, entered into it without knowing how we were going to get out of it,” Rossi said of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This multidisciplinary piece, which employs video, photography and literary arts, is on display at the Great Falls Discovery Center, located at 2 Avenue A, during regular hours Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed Monday and Tuesday.

According to Crapo, Exploded View’s display includes photos from the making of the piece, the feast table that artists used, their masks and other props. The film project will be displayed on a TV.

Going around with a blue table to various locations, and during some of the most bitter weather, was mysterious “even to the performers” at first, but they kept working through the project. After initial meetings, the performers focused on themes of trying to recreate civilization, and finding civilized culture in the midst of the very isolating effects of the pandemic. The lace napkins, the real silver, the vintage plates, Crapo explained, all seemed to be emblems of more stable and civilized times.

“I keep trying to find another word for ‘civilized’ but it’s a great word. At its root is the word ‘civil,’ which means not only ‘pertaining to ordinary citizens and their concerns’ but also ‘to be courteous and respectful.’ These latter traits have become imperiled.”

The choice to include the animal-themed masks, she said, originated from riffing on the idea of masks because they had to “mask up” when meeting. She also referenced the famous images of the masks doctors wore during the bubonic plague that resembled a crow with a long beak.

“Apparently what were thought of as ‘purifying herbs’ were put into the beak so that doctors would breathe purified air, an attempt to protect doctors from contracting the disease they were trying to cure in others,” Crapo said. “Crows are scavengers, and that got me thinking about how, if we were at the end of the world (which it sometimes seemed — both in terms of the pandemic and politically), we would need to become scavengers ourselves. We would need to learn to rebuild the world from what we could find.”

While the group has held performances for projects in the past, Rossi said they decided to film “Bitter Sweet Feast” as they did not know if they would be able to host a live performance amid the lasting pandemic. Filming the project will also allow them to share the video across different online platforms.

Many have experienced different forms of suffering during the pandemic, Rossi said. This project “offers hope” to viewers “in a place of fear” or those who have experienced tragedy, and encourages looking to silver linings.

“We’re offering hope,” she said.

Rossi said the film is “the essence of almost two years of work, and distilling it all into one short film was quite the challenge.” The final cut of the short film features the artists in different costumes, many of which are animal inspired. Narration in the footage includes a mixture of prose, poetry, song and characters speaking to the camera.

“When I sat down to write the poems that went with the images, they came almost immediately,” Rossi said.

In the full curated group exhibit, “Maintenance & Repair,” artwork from roughly two dozen area artists reflects on processes of mending, reconstruction, redemption, fixing, rebuilding, healing and transformation. The work spans a variety of mediums including sculpture, drawing, painting and fabric arts.

On Nov. 13, 21 and 28, “Bitter Sweet Feast” will be shown on a large screen with participating artists present. Rather than holding one large reception, three smaller events are planned to safely allow viewers to meet and talk with Exploded View members, as well as artists in the group exhibit. Social distancing and masks are required at all events.

A gallery event will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. each day, with a large-screen showing of “Bitter Sweet Feast” at 2 p.m., and performative readings by Exploded View, in conjunction with Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s Big Read weekend, which is a wrap up to this year’s Big Read of “Station Eleven,” a novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Light refreshments will be served in the courtyard with artists from the gallery show. A limited number of copies of the novel will be available to give away.

Also in the courtyard on Nov. 13 is the (Giant) Listening Ear, with Christian McEwan, from 1 to 3 p.m. In a world dominated by cellphones, computers and other devices, the Listening Ear is intended as a joyous and subversive antidote, reminding us of the special pleasure to be found in face-to-face conversation. Participants can talk about anything that happens to be on their mind or pick a question from the basket if they prefer.

Friday, Nov. 26, it’s a post-Thanksgiving naptime. Bring a mat and pillow into the Great Hall and enjoy restorative rest and repair with members of Exploded View. Spread out on the floor and enjoy an ambient soundscape. Social distancing and masks are required. This will be held from 2:30 to 4 p.m. after the Go Green on Black Friday Walk.

This project is supported in part by grants from the Montague, Greenfield, Gill and Leyden cultural councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Exploded View’s “Bitter Sweet Feast” project is supported by: Dancing Bear Farm, Leyden; Emily Wood, Tom Ashley and William Hays for photography; Michi Wiankco and Antenna Cloud Farm, Gill; Hannah Brookman and Omeed Goodarzi of Looky Here in Greenfield for videography; Montague Community Television; and Janel Nockleby and the Great Falls Discovery Center.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.