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Art of war at ArtPrize 2014

ArtPrize 2014 includes many thought-provoking entries that address the experience of war.

[Fashion Has Heart] At ArtPrize For Third Year In A Row

[Fashion Has Heart] ([FHH])was founded by US Navy veteran Michael Hyacinthe in 2012 and appeared at ArtPrize for the first time that year. In 2010 Hyacinthe was inspired by his encounter with designer Tyler Way to create a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that would combine art, design and fashion with service to veterans.

At annual workshops designers and veterans are connected in a partnership resulting in wearable products; the creative process enables veterans to tell their stories in a visual form, and sales of the t-shirts benefit that veteran.

The partnerships that support [FHH] include Bates boots, threadless and Kendall College of Art and Design. Bates boots make a unique connection between veterans and Michigan because the Rockford Michigan company is the leading manufacturer of the boots worn by uniformed personnel.

Five veterans are featured in the "HERO [series] 2014" currently exhibiting at ArtPrize, Aaron Hale, Gonzalo Duran, Henry Bartrum, James Monroe and Juliet Madsen in a small building at Veterans Memorial Park that once served as a recruiting station.

Look for upcoming expansions of [FHH] include Vet’s Voice, an online platform for veterans to tell their stories, and Vet-Hats, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

ArtPrize 2014 goers will notice works scattered throughout the exhibition venues addressing the experiences of war. These artists have given their Grand Rapids audiences a reminder that we live in a nation currently involved in military action and with a history of military engagement around the globe.

Some of the most moving entries are by veterans, "Eros and Agape," a collaboration by writer and US Army veteran Zachary Gruchow and artist Erwin Erkfitz, at Avenue for the Arts at 307 S. Division. This poetic interaction of text and image deserves the walk up the Division Avenue for the Arts for the subtle and surprisingly peaceful atmosphere inside the gallery.

The "HERO [series] 2014" by [Fashion Has Heart] at Veterans Memorial Park is a project that pairs veterans with fashion designers to co-create boot and t-shirt designs. The installation, mounted in a former recruiting station, leads viewers through the design process to the finished designs, available for purchase. The [Fashion Has Heart] designs are vividly expressive of the veterans’ experiences, rendered in the cool rhetoric of street fashion.

Other contributions call attention to the trauma experienced by soldiers and their families, including"The Walking Art Project" by Roger Carlson, at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and Janice Haringsma’s "Color is the Universe" at GRCC Spectrum Theater Lobby. Sales of these works will benefit the Disabled American Veterans, and the Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Reservation via Re-Member organization, respectively.

Lisa Spielmaker’s "Patriotic Acts of Selflessness" at The BackForty Saloon, Lorai Wilson’s "Amidst the Gray Unknown" at Arnies and Robert D. Schoonover’s "Altarpiece" at Fifth Third Bank all invite viewers to reflect on the sacrifices soldiers make for their countries.

Both meditative and provocative, Suzanne Opton’s photographic series, "Soldier," at the GRAM has appeared on the 2D Jurors' Shortlist. The work explores the complexity of surviving battle abroad but living with PTSD once home. The subjects’ blank-eyed stares powerfully capture the ambiguity of their survival for the veterans and their families.

More unsettling are the installations and images that push viewers to question the role of the U.S. as a military superpower. These include Debra Van Poolen’s "Artistic Witness of Chelsea Manning's Court Martial" and Scars and Stripes, by David Marsten, both at Fountain Street Church. "there's something happening here..." at UICA by Henry Brimmer will startle viewers with its skyline silhouettes of gun-wielding soldiers monitoring our comings and goings throughout ArtPrize. 

Ryan Spencer Reed’s photographic installation, "Despite Similarities to Reality, This is A Work of Fiction" stands out from other entries dealing with war for its scale. Sixty-one photographs mounted on walls, in floor boxes and behind partitions that allude to a military environment can be found on the second floor of the GRAM. The photographs were made during Reed’s time embedded with a unit in Afghanistan. They unromantically capture what war feels like for soldiers in the arena of combat, a phenomenon that is often sensationalized in the movies but is in fact unknown to most viewers. Reed has taken the works one step further, creating an exhibition within an exhibition by positioning the photographs in a constructed space to lead viewers through a carefully crafted narrative of tension, boredom, camaraderie, doubt and loyalty.

There are no easy answers to the great costs, both human and financial, demanded by a nation’s decision to go to war. But war has been a theme in the arts since prehistory; as much as war is apparently intrinsic to human society, so is art, and art offers a profound means of grappling with war’s complexity. While you’re at ArtPrize this weekend, give some attention to these provocative and thoughtful works.

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Didn't know you were working on this, Elizabeth.