Art in Odd Places explores matter and historical interpretation

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Pedro Lasch’s “Fire and Ice,” performed on April 1 at the Main Street Arena, recontextualized fire from tiki-torch invasion to positive force. It’s part of Art in Odd Places: MATTER, which continues April 5 on UVA Grounds and April 6 on the Downtown Mall. Photo by Eze Amos Pedro Lasch’s “Fire and Ice,” performed on April 1 at the Main Street Arena, recontextualized fire from tiki-torch invasion to positive force. It’s part of Art in Odd Places: MATTER, which continues April 5 on UVA Grounds and April 6 on the Downtown Mall. Photo by Eze Amos

This week, New York-based artist Ed Woodham brings his Art in Odd Places festival to Charlottesville in a two-day, intensely collaborative event with the theme of “matter.” Sponsored by the UVA Studio Arts Board, the mission of AiOP, Woodham writes in the program guide, “is to engage and activate the everyday places in our lives. In creative, unexpected and sometimes unusual ways we claim our shared rights to public spaces, while also making sure to question, subvert and occasionally shake up the socio-political status quo that regulates it.”

Woodham, who takes AiOP to various cities across the country, says, “It’s important for me being an outsider to be very mindful.” During numerous visits to Charlottesville, he has met with and listened to residents, UVA students, community leaders and artists. In past AiOP festivals Woodham has mostly brought in outside artists, but with AiOP MATTER, “the focus here is that there’s so much good work going on in Charlottesville that has been going on for years.” Consequently, the festival features 16 local artists, three regional artists and nine national and international artists. Woodham says the events of August 11 and 12 last year framed a narrow view of Charlottesville that he wanted to reframe by showcasing local artists “doing really innovative, change-making work.”

Local artists Leslie Scott-Jones and Brandon Lee have designed re-enactments for the festival in a work titled “Historical Matters,” which tells “the story of how the other half lived…our ancestors, the names of those Hoo are largely responsible for the building and upkeep of the university,” Scott-Jones and Lee write. Re-enactments on UVA Grounds will portray the lives of enslaved persons who built the university, as well as the first black students. On the second day of the festival, their work will celebrate Queen Charlotte, Charlottesville’s namesake, a descendant of Margarita de Castro e Souza, a black member of the Portuguese royal family. In a procession led by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps, Queen Charlotte will travel in a carriage from the Rotunda to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, before meeting the city’s mayor on the Downtown Mall. The procession will include the Monacan Indian Nation and historical interpreters representing enslaved persons and soldiers from various American war efforts.

Local performance artist Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell will contribute a work titled “Please Move Along, Nothing to See Here.” Four performers atop a pedestal will recreate Charlottesville’s statues of Robert E. Lee and George Rogers Clark in an animatronic-style human tableaux with songs and dialogue.

“This short performance will take place every half-hour at both [festival] locations and promises to be entertaining and absurd, and ultimately raw and personal,” says Tidwell. “I am interested in the juxtaposition of women of color portraying colonizing war ‘heroes.’ I think this is going to be an effective device to allow the audience to have a more visceral understanding of what is hidden or invisible in our community—from the geologic features to the erasure of documentation related to enslaved people at UVA and Native Americans here, to the misrepresentation of history solidified in the statues.”

National artist Pedro Lasch, a professor at Duke University, applied both a conceptual and literal interpretation of the theme of matter. His April 1 performance at the Main Street Arena was the last public event held there before the building’s scheduled demolition. “Fire and Ice” recontextualized fire from tiki-torch invasion to positive force.

“Early on,” he says, “I knew I wanted to do something related to the tension and tragic incident of last fall but I did not want to be heavy-handed about it.” Before he came to Charlottesville, he considered a project involving fire and ice and knew he wanted to honor the life of Heather Heyer. When he arrived, he ambled down the pedestrian mall at night, and the arched windows of the Main Street Arena revealed figure skaters spinning on the ice and the idea sparked.

The final act for the installation included hundreds of votive candles placed in the center of the rink with an invitation to the public to skate around them. “It’s celebratory for both Heather Heyer and the building,” says Lasch.

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