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Clough Center Hosts Artists to Talk Visual Arts and Democracy

Edward Hirsch, American poet and critic, opened up a discussion in Devlin on Thursday by asking the audience why artwork is necessary. He then noted that art looks at culture in a different way. According to the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, contemporary visual art serves to create, define, and critique the American democratic vision by transfiguring what is often seen in ways that suggest new patterns and interactions.  

The Clough Center developed The Arts and the Culture of Democracy Lecture Series in order to explore these relationships. Liza Lou, Ramiro Gomez, Lawrence Weschler, and Edward Hirsh discussed the role that their contemporary visual art has played in the relationship between democracy and the arts. Weschler and Hirsch offered commentary and encouraged discussion of both Lou’s and Gomez’s visual art.

“Art brings out things that the culture needs. It’s a way of looking at things that are not utilitarian. This is because art carries a certain type of information that is not demonstrated in culture.”

-Artist Edward Hirsh


Series Director Kim Garcia opened up the discussion with her own experiences as an artist interested in democratic relations. Garcia won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize, Backwaters Prize, Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambridge Fellowship, and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant. She teaches creative writing at BC.

Hirsch was the recipient of an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. In 2008, Hirsch was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Hirsch first emphasized the importance of the arts and its role in politics.

“Why do we need artwork at all?” Hirsch asked the audience. “Art brings out things that the culture needs. It’s a way of looking at things that are not utilitarian. This is because art carries a certain type of information that is not demonstrated in culture.”

Ramiro Gomez, a Los Angeles-based artist, utilizes his visual art to highlight what is invisible to most. Students could visit his pop-up gallery Los Olvidados (The Forgotten) on display in Devlin Hall on Jan. 21, 2016. Through cardboard cut outs, magazine reappropriations, and digital drawings, Gomez focuses on domestic labor in unconventional locations.

“I am an artist practicing an interesting form of art, focusing on domestic labor inside spaces that aren’t displayed in the arts,” Gomez said. “It’s a necessary visual statement demonstrating that time gets lost. I work in ways that draw attention to labor itself.”

Liza Lou, an American visual artist, is best known for her large-scale glass bead sculptures. She has received an Anonymous Was a Woman Artist Award and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Her art often takes years to complete, which makes her contemplate time as an element of the artwork itself.

“I set out to describe an environment through objects and wondered if objects could tell a story. I set out to do a kitchen project in five months, but it took me five years,” Lou said. “I think in a way what I was trying to do was make a monument to a woman who was maybe living in the 19th century and had fathoms inside of her and found herself making pies. If she was washing dishes for all eternity, I wanted to honor her labor.”

Both Gomez and Lou contemplate how art has helped them evolve not only as artists, but also as individuals. Gomez and Lou both discussed how the art may have been intended for a specific audience, but the forming of the art came from an intrinsic desire of their own.

“In the process of making the work, I changed fundamentally as a person,” Lou said. “I wasn’t given to slow, painstaking work, but that curiosity kept me going on the project. Working on one work of art for five years made me think about time in a different way.”

Although both artists develop visual arts, they both lamented the work that is not shown at all. The artists explained the sadness that is associated with creating art, more specifically the passing of time and the invisibility of it all.

“The thread remains underneath everything, but it is invisible,” Lou said. “It is present in each one of our lives, no matter what we do.”

Gomez also discussed the importance of the location of his pieces of guerrilla art. Intending to make audiences think deeply about his visual art, Gomez focuses on the people and occupations that are often ignored entirely. He explained the importance of the location of the art, telling the audience that he puts the images in public places.

“Art is important to me and it needs to be brought to the attention of the public,” Gomez said. “My art is an example of me taking the same idea and using the cultural reference—locations—and always using this work to think about what it means to do work which is ephemeral and represent people who aren’t supposed to exist in art or art history.”

Featured Image by James Clark/ Heights Staff

January 24, 2016