Documerica, with The Vail Series & Ethel
Documerica is presented in conjunction with the Vail Series Documerica concert by Ethel, a multimedia concert that melds video projections of images from the Documerica archives with original music by some of today’s top composers. Documerica was launched in 1972 by the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a geographic project to document the American landscape. In response to Ethel’s performance Denison faculty and staff selected images from the Documerica archives, providing captions that describe their thoughts of and responses to the work.
Documerica was presented in conjunction with the Vail Series and indie-classical quartet Ethel’s Documerica concert at Denison. The concert was a multimedia experience that melds projections of images from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica archives with original music into a meditation on America’s relationship to our land, our resources, and ourselves. Denison’s Documerica was inspired by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Project Documerica, a project launched in 1972 with the aim of creating an archive of America’s environmental state. Denison staff and faculty selected images from this project and provided captions describing their responses to the work in response to Ethel’s performance. The final product was a collection of evocative imagery and a compelling snapshot of a tumultuous era that powerfully connects to today’s environmental and social issues.
Described by The New York Times as “new music bonding with old images in rich, provocative and moving ways,” this evening-long program was created in collaboration with projection designer Deborah Johnson and directed by Steve Cosson. ETHEL’s Documerica juxtaposes manipulated vintage 1970s visuals with the music of today.
Featuring new work by ETHEL members and commissioned composers Mary Ellen Childs, Ulysses Owens Jr., Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, and James Kimo Williams, the program’s music is in constant dialogue with the projections in an arc that is by turns urban, rural, pastoral, and gritty. The composers selected for ETHEL’s Documerica represent the diversity of America. Hailing from different regions, backgrounds and generations, and influenced by a variety of musical practices, genres and forms, each contributes his or her distinctive voice to the program.
Denison faculty and staff took part in choosing photographs for the Documerica concert. They include Lauren Araiza, associate professor of history; Tabitha Chester, visiting assistant professor of women’s studies and black studies; David Greene, professor of geosciences; Rebecca Homan, associate professor of biology; Justine Law, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies; Andrew McCall, associate professor, of biology; Michael Morris, director of fine arts programming and the Vail Art Series; Margot Singer, associate professor of English; Geoffrey Smith, professor of biology; James Weaver, assistant professor of English; and Sheilah Wilson, assistant professor of art.
“It’s difficult to adequately describe the impact of ETHEL’s Documerica, said Dr. Michael Morris, director of fine arts programming and of the Vail Series. “They have created an incredible melding of music and visuals that is greater than the sum of their parts. They added, “As our ensemble-in-residence for the past two years, ETHEL has interacted with the campus in classrooms, concerts and in one-on-one advice with students and faculty that have enriched us all. We are so grateful for our collaboration.”
Documerica was presented in April 2016 with Farmscapes, a juried exhibition of the work of 16 Denison students who spent a semester learning about the American food system.