Art and Space Connect and Encourage Empathy

Dancers in front of exhibition “Monumental”

Denison artists-in-residence Christian and Anne Manns noted that Licking County, Ohio, has a long history of noteworthy architecture, including the ancient Hopewell Indian Mounds built 2,000 years ago, and the seven-story basket that served as the headquarters for The Longaberger Company. Now, thanks to the Manns, tucked around the corner from Newark’s Courthouse, you can find a mountain.

This structure, composed of found bricks, barn wood, and screens, is the product of the two artists from Dresden, Germany, who completed a seven-week residency at the Denison Art Space in Newark (23 West Church Street) in the fall of 2018. Their exhibition “Monumental!” is an interactive tribute to their time in Ohio and an investigation of how size, scale and dimension in art pay homage to communal pride in history, culture and place. The exhibition is open until Jan. 8, 2019. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, and by appointment.

“‘Monumental!’ is exploring what humans do to be visible by looking at Ohio and our home of Dresden,” says Christian, a painter. “In some ways the need to make our mark is universal. In some ways it’s incredibly unique.”

“But we understand these structures through scale,” adds Anne, who specializes in set design. “And this is the idea behind our mountain, which fills the gallery but is literally small. The same goes for the other paintings in the space. Depending on where you stand and what’s around you, they feel either large or small.”

As they explored these concepts, the Manns’ invited the community into their process. For instance, they hosted three public workshops that focused on how to use scale in stage, Halloween makeup, and a collage workshop using pictures of historic Newark and Licking County. Columbus-based UCelli, a quartet of virtuoso cellists, including Denison faculty cellist Cora Kuyvenhoven, performed amid the developing installation in October.

The couple also collaborated with Newark Visual Arts Educator Emily Cline and her 5th grade classes at Cherry Valley and McGuffy elementary schools to create a bottle cap collage for the instillation. All this was in addition to their regular work with Denison students and faculty in the modern languages, studio art, theatre, and dance departments.

“The heart of Denison comes from the profound dialogue we have with one another – students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.”

“I think one of their strengths is a desire to interact with different people, perspectives and disciplines. They want to both intellectually engage and entertain. My students really enjoyed their collaboration with the artists, and playing with and on the ‘mountain’,” says Professor and Chair of Dance Sandra Mathern-Smith, whose class “Site Dance” performed an improvisational dance in response to the art installation at the artists’ opening reception.

Director of Fine Arts Programming and the Vail Series Michael Morris agrees: “The Manns’ residency is exactly what we had in mind when the Denison Art Space in Newark was opened in 2016. It connects visual and performing arts with the Denison and Newark communities.”

Furthermore, the interdisciplinary nature of the Manns’ work fits with Denison’s dedication to use arts methods and methodologies across the campus. The Mellon Arts Across the Curriculum Grant has been essential in this commitment, says Morris, and is responsible for funding the Manns’ residency (in partnership with the Ohio Arts Council) as well as the work of ensemble-in-residence ETHEL, artists-in-residence Available Light Theatre, and other shorter-term residencies since the grant was awarded in 2015.

“The arts aren’t created in a vacuum and so they shouldn’t be studied in a vacuum,” says Morris, summing up Denison’s philosophy. “That’s why we introduce them across campus through team-taught classes, specialized Denison Seminars, and artists-in- residence like the Manns.”

Essential in this process of using art to engage complex problems are relationship and discourse: two things, according to Associate Professor and Chair of Studio Art Ron Abram, the college and Manns do well.

“The heart of Denison comes from the profound dialogue we have with one another – students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community,” says Abram, who first met the Manns when he participated in the Ohio Arts Council Print Making Exchange Program in 2015.

“I invited them to apply for residency because I knew they would be individuals who would take advantage of the experience and seek connections with people as well as creativity.”

December 3, 2018