Separation and in-between – Jan-Ru Wan @ Visual Arts Exchange

Photo by Jan-Ru Wan

Several years ago, Jody Cassell and I performed a sound and movement work at the opening of Jan-Ru Wan’s collaborative installation entitled Resolving the Disquiet at the Durham Arts Council. Jody and Jan-Ru had connected over their mutual grieving around the deaths of their respective fathers. Grief was the focus of the exhibit that featured visual and performance work by two other artists, as well. In a recent email exchange Jan-Ru said that what motivated her to focus on grief in her art was the way Western culture encourages hidden grieving. Both Jody and Jan-Ru have connected with a public that is crying out to come together in a shared grieving process.

This weekend at Raleigh’s First Friday event, we will once again collaborate in a new exhibit Separation and in-between, which approaches grief from another point of view. In the time since the DAC exhibit, my youngest brother died and Jody has accompanied her Mother through many changes of aging. Both Jody and Jan-Ru continue to carry their fathers as well. Time and reflection change the shape, texture and weight of grief.

Jan-Ru’s Artist Statement inspired Jody’s movement and my soundscape:

For over two years Jan-Ru Wan gathered discarded hair from salons around the world (Arnhem, Netherlands; Taipei, Taiwan; Cary, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina) to create this installation, which speaks to global migration and culture.

Our hair is highly personal and yet universal. Hair is a marker of our identity—of our current self and of our desired self in that it can easily be altered in color and style. Hair is part of our body and yet we purposefully dispose of it, leaving behind pieces and strands in public places like barbershops and salons.

Here, DNA from countless hair samples from strangers across the globe have been combined by chance and stitched into printed silk pouches. Within each pouch, one person’s DNA intermixes with others, blending numerous identities into one piece to represent this global and confusing world.

Separation can refer to the hair physically separated from our body or to the emotional separation from our love ones. It can also refer to the separation from our past cultural identity that occurs when we are immersed in the global melting pot.

As Jan-Ru gathered hair, I gathered sound samples from my last visit to Trendsetters, where I have my hair cut. These samples have been layered in and slightly distorted so that the act of cutting away part of one’s self is suggested as well as represented. The tones and intervals of the soundscape are in the form of the pentatonic scale created when only the accidentals (the black keys on the piano) are played. This scale lies outside the more familiar Western intervals of the Aeolian/Solfege scale of the white keys. For the first part of the soundscape, these two worlds are separate.

Jan-Ru ends her Artist Statement with this wonderful image:

For my late father: The moment you left me our identities and destinies changed. We now have infinite space in between us, a constant that pushes us apart and yet draws close our hearts. The moment you separated from my body you took on a new adventure and a new identity, but here I am without you, my old memories combining with fresh ones.

The last section of the soundscape is made up of three tonic tones (BDE) with their natural harmonics articulated. So, for example, B is presented with A (its fifth) articulated in the second octave, and F# (its third) in the third octave. Usually triads are presented as chords in the same octave, in this case I have spread them out over several octaves representing infinite space and separation. As this plays out in long, slow waves, I improvise with just the three tonic tones as a drawing close of the hearts.

Jody’s movements interweave and juxtapose both the physical installation and the soundscape. Her use of angles, gestures and the overall space are an evocative exploration and expansion of the themes of Jan-Ru Wan’s work.

The opening is tonight, October 7, from 6 to 9 at VAE located at 309 W. Martin Street in Raleigh. Our first performance is at 6:45 pm, and we plan to present at several other points during the evening. We would love to see you there.

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