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We the People: Collaboration as a Political Act

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When they started collaborating on their “color map” project, Summer Ventis and Karin Davis didn’t know it was going to get political. Their first piece, “Elizabeth Bishop, You, and Me,” translated said poet’s poem, One Art, into two individual but complementary pieces wherein language becomes color.

“We are not synaesthetes,” explains Ventis, a member of SOU’s Oregon Center for the Arts faculty. “This is an interpretive act, trying to make visible our reading of the text.”

The two artists developed individual systems for translating language into a field of swatches, demonstrating both how scientific and how personal color can be from both an artistic and a human standpoint.

“[Davis] approaches the text very intuitively,” explains Ventis. “She feels each word and transcribes that feeling.  The same word might take on a different color depending on the context – the words that are touching it.”

Ventis refers to the “uneasy edge between the desire for order and separation and the desire for connection” in her own work and how that resulted in a “ridiculously elaborate system” for her own part in the project. Ventis recently described this system, which breaks the language of the text into color-coded categories, at the First Friday Art Walk “PechaKucha” event hosted by Kyle Peets at the Meese Auditorium.

The most recent installment of this creative team’s “interpretive act” reacts to issues surrounding gun violence. Their piece, simply titled Second, is on display through March 18 in the Thorndike Gallery at Southern Oregon University and applies their translation approach to the short-yet-potent Second Amendment. This group show is titled Campus-Safe-Campus “My Campus is My Home!” and Ventis and Davis’s piece is one among many. As stated on the gallery wall, “this show engages our response as students and faculty that our campuses are our homes, and that the aftermath of these tragic events is similar to that of a home invasion.”

As artists working in the university system, it is no surprise that Ventis and Davis found their work delving into this issue: “Karin and I have talked a lot about gun violence and its effects on the university campuses where we teach. The arguments surrounding gun legislation all come back to this short text and the wildly different meanings people take from it.”
Second is on display as part of Campus-Safe-Campus “My Campus is My Home!” in the Thorndike Gallery at SOU through March 18.

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