For the last three years now, I’ve had the great pleasure of attending a yearly art show in Grand Rapids each fall. In 2014, my parents invited me and my then-girlfriend (now wife) Rachael to come with them to this thing called ArtPrize — a city-wide art show open to the public, where people enter and display their art at various venues all over the city (many of the pieces are installments located at random points throughout the downtown area, other places — businesses, restaurants, banks — are transformed for several weeks into public galleries displaying tens or hundreds of individual pieces). The goal of this is twofold — one, for artists to display their work to an enormous audience of hundreds of thousands of people, and two, to hopefully win the grand prize of $200,000 via public vote. Every piece is entered into a contest wherein people can vote via a mobile app, and after several rounds winners are chosen in various categories (2D, 3D, installment, etc), as well as an overall winner. Judges also vote and award prizes separately from the public.
It’s a truly incredible event, and something I’ve come to look forward to each year. Besides the obviously really cool aspect of getting to see some pretty awesome art, I’ve come to cherish it as time I get to spend with my family, enjoying time together critiquing various art pieces and just in general having a lot of fun. For anyone who’s even marginally interested in art, it’s worth a day trip/overnight stay to check out (assuming you live within driving distance of Grand Rapids), and I can’t really recommend it enough.
Unfortunately, this year my wife and mom weren’t able to go, but I had set aside an extended weekend for me and my dad to just go out together and take some photos. We worked out a destination together in northwestern Michigan to drive to, and stopped in Grand Rapids for a day to continue our tradition of visiting ArtPrize. It’s always a mixed bag of what we’ll see — over the course of the three visits I’ve now made, I’ve started to recognize the work of all the usual suspects — people who submit something each year that tends to be in the same style as whatever they’ve submitted previously — and while it’s all very impressive, much of it treads similar ground and so is just not as surprising or eye-catching as their work was the first time.
This year, we split our day into two halves that were distinctly different from one another — the stuff we saw before lunch, and after. The morning yielded very little that was of much interest to me — plenty of technically interesting things, but nothing that really spoke to me on any kind of emotional or visceral level. After lunch, however, my dad and I came across a whole bunch of unique, powerful pieces, and while it still wasn’t my favorite trip to ArtPrize from a quality standpoint, I did come across probably my favorite thing that I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been to ArtPrize — BOURGEOIS.
This is not typically the kind of thing I’m drawn to. Interpretive dance set to artsy music, everything in black-and-white…yeah, this is usually the stuff I make snide comments about under my breath because I can be a colossal jerk like that about certain types of art, if the mood suits me. And I was ready to do that this time around — I actually have no idea why my dad and I went into the theater that this was being shown in when we did, but after about 30 seconds of watching this I was glued to the screen, and while I was sure my dad was suffering (he’s definitely not into this kind of thing, at all), when I looked over at him he didn’t look like he wanted to leave either.
So we stuck around and watched. And…well, you can watch for yourself. This is an absolutely mesmerizing video, in every aspect — the music, the movement, the editing. It’s so fluid, smooth, and just gripping in every element of its presentation. I don’t know what the artist is saying. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really care, because I don’t think it’s meant to be interpreted on any kind of literal level. But it hits emotionally, with its stark imagery and monochromatic color scheme. There’s joy, sorrow, confusion, and peace contained within the various settings, movements, and the dancers’ facial expressions. The editing is also worth mentioning, as it’s about the only thing I can comment on that shares any kind of similarity with the kind of videos I normally feature on this blog. The cuts and speed manipulation almost always work in the video’s favor, creating an off-kilter pace that tugs the viewer along in different directions, always ending up in some intriguing location, or finding itself in some bubble of distress, or on the brink of some realization. It’s all very abstract in what it’s trying to convey specifically, but as a viewer the emotions always seemed to make sense.
I don’t pretend to be any kind of knowledgeable art critic; I’m not evaluating this based on anything more than my immediate and undeniable emotional response — which is perhaps all the qualification I need to be one. I don’t know, and I’m not about to go down that definitional cul-de-sac. All I know is that this is a beautiful, moving, poignant video that hit me harder than the thousands of other things I’ve seen in three years of this art show.
Sadly, it didn’t win anything, and to my knowledge it didn’t even come close. But holy crap, it should have. This is not the typical thing I write about on this blog, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever write about this kind of thing again. It’s not what I normally seek out, and it’s not something that would normally warrant my serious attention. But I find myself struggling to find anything negative to say about it — it’s certainly one of my favorite “unexpected” discoveries of this type this year. If you find yourself turned off by the idea of a video like this, be adventurous for a few minutes and let this wash over you.