Vanessa German isn’t an artist — she’s a citizen artist.
For her, that’s a critical difference. She makes work with a deliberative purpose, one that deals with issues of trauma, grief, violence and, critically, healing. Her sumptuously immersive exhibition, “sometimes.we.cannot. be.with.our.bodies.,” which opens Saturday at the Union for Contemporary Art, shows why the Pittsburgh-based artist has been hailed as “one of the most important artists” currently working in the U.S.
“The work is around issues of grief, life, love, trauma and loss that reckon with a new future of safety,” German said of the exhibition. “The largest continual truth we have is that we are all here together. That simple equation adds up to dimensional safety.”
The show begins before viewers even enter the Union. Text written by German and powerful excerpts from Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” greet visitors and set the stage for an emotional experience.
Inside, the gallery is wrapped in black and white lines and filled with intricately embellished, brightly colorful sculptures that bring viewers, consciously or not, into a procession to engage with the installation. Mirrors and other reflective materials like beads and sequins that amplify light allow visitors to capture glimpses of themselves in the work.
A soundscape envelopes the installation and features 17 layers of sound that German says aims to represent the “simultaneity of time — past, present and future.” Snippets of Sam Cooke’s iconic “A Change is Gonna Come” blend with a fictitious call-in radio program conceived by German. The use of a subwoofer means the sound isn’t just heard, but felt as well.
All the components combined create an atmosphere of intense joy and jubilation.
A multisensory experience requiring viewers to move and explore is precisely what German aims to create. She draws on the kinds of movements involved in pilgrimage, meditation and migration to prompt quiet reflection.
“It’s important to make work with a purpose,” she said. “One of the things that I ask of my work is that it be a vehicle that triggers transformative curiosity and that it be living, not static. It is actuated through movement. It’s the wonder of wandering.”
Movement plays a key role outside the exhibition. A public ritual reckoning performance follows the opening on Saturday. German, accompanied by performers, will embark on a two-mile procession in honor of Will Brown, an African American worker who was brutally lynched, mutilated and burned during the Omaha race riot of 1919, and other people of color whose lives have been lost to violence.
The procession will proceed silently from the Union to the building that houses the Douglas County District Court, where the group will perform a goodbye song inspired in part by West African birth and funeral rites.
“It’s the 100-year reckoning of the lynching,” German said. “It’s the right time to do this.”
Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St. “Vanessa German: sometimes.we.cannot. be.with.our.bodies.” Opening reception: noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, followed by a “Ritual Reckoning Public Performance,” 2 to 4 p.m. Through Nov. 30. Gallery hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission: free. u-ca.org or 402-933-3161.
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This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
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Amplify Arts at Generator Space, 1804 Vinton St. “Trope Honor.” Alongside work by Thalia Rodgers and video by Ameen Wahba, the show pairs spoken-word recordings by Amanda Huckins, Zedeka Poindexter, Paul Hanson Clark and Devel Crisp with ambient and percussive recordings by Nick Holden, Phillip Kolbo, Colin Duckworth and Graham Patrick Ulicny. Opening reception: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Through Oct. 18. amplifyarts.org or 402-996-1092.
Bancroft Street Market, 2702 S. 10th St. “Chalk Workshop.” A free outdoor workshop for making chalk drawings on pavement. 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. bancroftstreetmarket.com or 402-651-2327.
College of St. Mary Hillmer Art Gallery, 7000 Mercy Road. “An Evening of Culture: Alumnae & Community Art Exhibition.” Features art by CSM alumnae and friends. Opening reception: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday. Through Oct. 18. csm.edu or 402-399-2621.
Connect Art Gallery, 3901 Leavenworth St. “Variations on Blue.” Features Norm Melichar and his son Phillip, who explore the color, mood, feeling, look, sound, taste and humor of blue. Opening reception: 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday. Through Sept. 28. connectgallery.net or 402-991-8234.
El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th St. “ArteLatinX Opening Reception.” Presented by El Museo and UNO’s Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS), the exhibition showcases Latinx artists in Nebraska. Opening reception: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. Through Oct. 12.
Also at El Museo: “Gallery Talk: Memories and Knowledge/Memorias y Saberes.” Brenda Romero, Ph.D., presents a tribute to Mexican anthropologist and historian Miguel Leon Portilla. 6 p.m. Friday. Free. “Charla: The ‘X’ in the Archives w/ Josh T. Franco.” A presentation by the national collector for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Free. “Lunch & Learn Gallery Talk: Huipiles — Evolution of Embroidery Techniques.” Focuses on the current exhibition. Noon. Free. elmuseolatino.org or 402-731-1137.
Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. “Creative Mornings: Muse.” Omaha artist Bart Vargas discusses his prolific practice, which includes sculpture, painting, ceramics, printmaking and photography, and how he draws inspiration from the people, objects, images and events around him. 8 to 9:30 a.m. Friday. Free. creativemornings.com.
Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. “Garden Yoga.” Instructors from YOGA NOW guide participants through basic poses to help strengthen the body and center the mind. 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Suggested donation: $5.
Also at Joslyn: “New Fieldwork from Classical Olynthos (Greece).” Dr. Lisa Nevett, University of Michigan, discusses the importance of Olynthos for understanding the creation and expression of identity by the city’s inhabitants. 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Free. joslyn.org or 402-342-3300.
Mayflower Mobile Gallery, 5603 Northwest Radial. “MaMAW’s House.” Features découpage, ceramic painting and other craft favorites. 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. facebook.com/pg/MaMOgallery.
Midtown Crossing at Turner Park, 3110 Farnam St. “Chalk Art Festival.” Local artists and professional madonnaris transform stretches of Farnam Street sidewalks into pastel chalk masterpieces. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. midtowncrossing.com.
Project Project, 1818 Vinton St. “Feverdream Presents: Delighted.” The group show features an immersive and potentially interactive performance piece delving into and inspired by Dutch master Hieronymous Bosch’s famous triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Opening reception: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday. facebook.com/projectprojectomaha.
Stinson Park, Aksarben Village, 2232 S. 64th St. “African Cultural Festival Omaha 2019.” Showcases art, crafts, dance, music and more. 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday. afromaha.com or 402-543-0755.