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January 10 - February 29, 2004 at Multiple Venues, Pomona

by Betty Brown

In this pessimistic era--distressed by economic decline, threatened by terrorism and twisted by political deceit--it is difficult if not impossible for solitary individuals to imagine a positive future. But, perhaps, if several of us imagine together. . .?

Such imagining is the stuff of Judy Chicago’s current artistic project. Envisioning the Future (ETF) is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary project facilitated by Chicago and Donald Woodman, an accomplished photographer who happens to be Chicago’s husband. The ETF project began in September, 2003 with two weeks of lectures and panel discussions about art, globalization and the future, led by such art world luminaries as Henry Hopkins (former director of the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), British Art Historian Edward Lucie-Smith, Los Angeles muralists Judy Baca and Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, and New Mexico photographic artist Patrick Nagatani. They were joined by artists, art historians and scholars from all over North America in conversations on the impact of globalization and new technologies on art and the future.

Subsequently, Chicago and Woodman selected and trained nine artist facilitators who worked with 70 participants to create diverse images/visions of the future. The facilitator training and, in turn, the collaborative image-creation process were based on Chicago’s Participatory Art Pedagogy, which is informed by feminist principles. (Chicago developed and deployed the same feminist principles for her seminal work, the Dinner Party, at the Los Angeles Women’s Building, as well as in in her Birth Project and Holocaust Project, all of which have been collaborations involving numerous participants.)

The process begins with research and the assembling of various readings on the chosen topic. Participants do self-presentations, then engage in exercises to build group dynamics, most especially to develop active listening. They generate content possibilities and debate art-making goals. All of this happens before the artist-participants select their media, format, etc. The Participatory Art Pedagogy articulates and advances the creative process; it also enables in true collaboration. (See, a site designed by Karen Keifer-Boyd and Wei-Chung Chang, for further information on the process.)

Overseen by Judy Chicago,
“Envisioning the Future” artists
and facilitators at the Pomona
Arts Colony mural project
location, Thomas Plaza.

The "Envisioning the Future" mural, in process, artist team lead by Kevin Stewart-Magee. Permanently located at Thomas Plaza, Second and S. Thomas Streets, in the Pomona Arts Colony.

Frank Rozasy, "Homo Sapiens:
The Destroyers," 2003,
mixed media installation.

Pamela Grau Twena, "Instant
Friends," 2003, mixed media.

For Envisioning the Future, the process has resulted in art of enormous variety--photography, digital media, video, painting, performance, installation, sculpture--and most viewers will have a wide variety of responses. Some will resonate to the digital media, such as Margarite Garth’s collaged combinations of medieval manuscript pages and contemporary landscape images (exhibited in the photographic exhibition, at the Millard Sheets Gallery in the Pomona Fairplex, juried by Woodman). Others will prefer Nelson Trombley’s series of “painterly” photographs that move from the figurative (signs indicating radioactivity, Guanajuato mummies, etc.) to empty, Rothko-esque abstractions that poetically evoke violent action and loss (also at the Millard Sheets Gallery).

Still others might prefer the performances, particularly We Are All Sibyls, the “Electro-Acoustic Interactive Opera/Installation for Voices, Percussion and Electronics” composed by Pamela Marsden (and performed at three different venues in the Pomona/Claremont area). Four very gifted singers, two percussionists, and two electronic musicians present texts by three poets, among them Anne Sexton. The accompanying music includes a score of Hildegard von Bingen’s, The Sibyl, a woman endowed with the power of prophecy in Greek mythology and therefore a natural symbol for the challenges of imagining the future. According to the myth, Apollo so loved the Sibyl that he agreed to grant her anything she wished. She asked to live as many years as she had grains of sand in her hand. . .but she forgot to ask for health and youth. So she aged and declined, but lived for hundreds of years. She spent the centuries writing prophecies on leaves that held her messages and were laid at the mouth of her cave. Tossed and disrupted by the winds of time, they became inscrutable riddles. Like the Sibyl we will endure the millennia, but the question is in what manner?

The pedagogic process of collaboration at the core of Envisioning the Future has culminated in this series of exhibitions and performances held at mulitple sites within the downtown Pomona Arts Colony, the Millard Sheets Gallery, and several galleries in nearby Claremont. The overall exhibition concept was originated by Project Coordinator J. Cheryl Bookout, and the sprawling exhibition design was directed by Dextra Frankel, former gallery director at California State University, Fullerton, who curated Chicago’s first major exhibition in 1967.

Few viewers will be able to see all of the work. No doubt fewer still will like all of the work they see. But surely, the longterm and widespread benefit/outcome of Envisioning the Future derives from the application of the Participatory Art Pedagogy to the challenge of future imagining--that is to say, from practicing interaction and collaboration. Its aesthetic merit stems from the cumulative effect of the rich diversity of art, rather than from any individual piece, be it masterpiece or disposable.