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Working Together

A Vest for a Friend: Augusto Ferriols' multimedia construction with wool gloves is part of the "Heartwork" show.

A new show at the Euphrat highlights the power of collaboration

By Ann Elliott Sherman

The stereotype of the artist as an egocentric loner obsessed with expressing a singular vision, either oblivious to or contemptuous of the world at large, is a persistent one. Many artists, however, find inspiration in working with others for a collective purpose. Heartwork: Creating Something Together, the new show at the Euphrat Museum of Art at De Anza College in Cupertino, highlights the art of collaboration and community building, presenting a sampler of what can result when artists use their skills to turn the creative process itself into a way of connecting with others.

The show includes familiar genres of community art, such as Zhunwang Zhao's ink and watercolor studies for his murals The Long March and Spring in Cupertino. The sketch of his triptych donated to Cupertino City Hall captures the artist's love for his new home, its rolling green hills and vestiges of its orchard past amidst clusters of buildings and homes.

It's Gonna Take More Than a Crane is both a collaborative installation and community education project, created by Ellen Bepp, L. Tomi Kobara and Norine Nishimura, using reference material provided by Dennis Jennings. Originally part of an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the piece manages to do that and more, translating the legacy of that destruction into an effective call for action.

On the installation's back wall, the work's title is spray-painted in red over a diagram for the seventh step in folding an origami paper crane--referring to the antinuke symbol based upon the traditional belief that folding 1,000 paper cranes will make a wish come true. In front, a woodcut print is hung in five banners--traced body outlines, footsteps and baby hand prints raising specters of the bombs' human toll.

The panels hover over a big sheet of Plexiglas placed on the floor for a reflection-pool effect. Atop a mound of rock salt in the center rests a gnarled wire globe, surrounded and embedded with knots of folded white paper. In an inspired inversion of the Shinto tradition of tying a knotted prayer on a tree branch before leaving a shrine, viewers are asked to take a knot with them. Once untied, each paper strip sets forth a nuclear-related news item or fact, along with information regarding the corresponding organization working to address the particular situation. It's Gonna Take More Than a Crane is that rare bit of agitprop that blends aesthetic elegance and restraint with a direct yet thoughtfully presented message.

Hands-on collaboration and outreach to a worldwide community is made possible through an interactive CD-ROM connected to the Internet. Lucia Grossberger Morales' Sangre Boliviana is a beautifully realized example of the creative possibilities of the digital medium, right down to the tabernacle housing the screen.

Viewers can select one of a series of eight picture poems from the main menu, which features the Virgen de Guadalupe de Sucre animated by a vividly colored shawl that truly pulsates. Text and visuals move and flow to the accompaniment of Andean flute, bringing to life the artist's exploration of her native culture in a weaving of personal and political history as deft and striking as a Bolivian textile.

A multilayered kind of collaboration occurs with Lissa Jones and Curtis Fukuda's tinted silver gelatin prints of Oaxacan Dia de los Muertos rituals. The artists document the altars and grave decorations created by Oaxacans and then add their own embellishments by painting the photograph.

The documentation of the restoration of Costanoan Indian culture on Ann-Marie Sayers' ancestral lands of Indian Canyon Ranch includes some lovely tinted photographs by Cara Brewer. Unfortunately, the piece requires the exhibition publication's further explanation of the spiritual, cultural and educational activities taking place there to fully appreciate Sayers' open-ended collaborations and the work of the affiliated nonprofit organization, Costanoan Indian Research, Inc.

Half of the museum space is devoted to objects created by members of the Oakland-based Artship Foundation/Augustino Dance Theatre for use in their interdisciplinary performances. These works combine visual arts with storytelling, performance and dance--costumes, props, sets, poster graphics--as well as documentation of various community art projects undertaken by the organization.

The group is committed to collaboration, always working with guest artists in the creation of a new piece and inviting local community members to rehearsals. As Augusto Ferriols, the group's artistic co-director, explains in the exhibition catalogue, "This is something you dedicate your life to. Working with people. Making art. Showing people they have it in themselves. Often things work out totally differently than you imagined. I learn to trust more, be braver. We all influence each

Many of the pieces are compelling in and of themselves, especially Ferriols' vests of knitted fishing line or layered wool gloves, and the structures of stacked, interwoven cut wood fashioned by Ferriols and fellow artistic co-director Slobodan Dan Paich for the installation set for Absent/Present. Often, however, the art functions as a visual shorthand for a concept not readily apparent outside of the performance context.

Recognizing this distancing factor, curators Jan Rindfleisch, Diana Argabrite and Paich have put together a written guide to the Artship Foundation/Augustino Dance Theatre segment of the exhibition. With the accompanying explanations, what might otherwise seem like an extremely creative household's yard sale becomes an eye-opening overview of the organization's wide-ranging infusions of energy into the cultural life of its community. Artship/Augustino's efforts to realize the "quality of heart" aspect of its stated mission begin to make art for art's sake seem a rather narrow devotion.

Heartwork: Creating Something Together runs through April 17 at Euphrat Museum of Art, De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. (408/864-8836). A free Family Day, featuring hands-on activities and performances, takes place noon-3pm on Saturday (April 6).

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From the Arpil 4-10, 1996 issue of Metro

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