Wende Opens ‘Undercurrents’ with Artists Discussing Impact

Does art have the power to directly impact society? The new exhibit at the Wende Museum gives that question space to consider multiple answers, and multiple impacts. 

Beginning with an update on Visions of Transcendence, the current exhibit in the main gallery offers the inclusion of work by Gary Tyler and Nadya Tolokonnikova, both of who created art during incarceration; Tyler in the U.S. and Tolokonnikiva in Russia. 

Comments on specific exhibits were made by Chief Curator Joes Segal of the Wended, and co-curator Isotta Poggi of the Getty Research Institute, which led into the new exhibit in the smaller gallery space, Undercurrents.

The podium was set in the garden at 2 pm on April 27, 2024, and a crowd of more than a hundred people gathered to hear from Tyler, Tolokonnikova, Saun Santipreecha, and Jenny Yurshansky, each of whom had unique statements on the contributions of art to both society at large and the individual artist. 

Tyler spoke about his time in Angola Prison – more than 40 years for a crime he did not commit – and his reluctant but finally powerful embrace of quilting as an art form, and an expression of both African-American cultural history, and a means of providing real physical care for those suffering in hospice. 

“I thought that quilting was women’s work; and I was not about to pick that up. But the need to offer comfort, at the time of the HIV/AIDS crisis, a real physical way to give these dying men a way to feel cared for, that gave me a way in.” Tyler continues to create after being exonerated, and his work is a rich contribution to the  exhibit. 

Pussy Riot founder Tolokonnikova, who spent two years in a Russian prison for her political art and activism against the Putin regime, spoke of the need and the challenge. “We made art out of bread, out of toilet paper, out whatever we had at hand…” The ability to express her own humanity was part of her compelling drive to share those feelings with others, and inspire other prisoners to do the same. “We cannot stay silent, and all voices are needed.” 

Artist Saun Santipreecha spoke briefly about his guardhouse installation [0-I-RI-R] as another iteration in the Wende’s re-imagining of the East German ‘Checkpoint’ guardhouse in the garden. Santipreecha used multiple media and layers of context, with a curving copper feature sitting where a solider had been stationed.  Using  sound as a medium that both open up and then creates other boundaries, it’s a piece that delves into myth and meaning. 

Lastly, artist Jenny Yurshansky, whose work was created at the Wende using many of their resources,  spoke on her Rinsing The Bones project, now on display in open storage. She offered that the title referenced “an ancient Slavic reburial rite, in which the deceased was exhumed and ritually cleansed as their relatives recounted all the good and the bad they had done in their lives, allowing their soul’s release.” Her work includes the use of the Wende’s collection of ‘X-Ray Records,” audio works made by using medical x-rays as the ‘vinyl’ to imprint the sound.

Art and meaning flow throughout our lives and our societies, and influence us in ways we don’t see. The exhibits at the Wende offer an important moment of reflection at a critical time in our own culture. 

Judith Martin-Straw

Photo caption – Jenny Yurshansky, Generation Loss, 2023, modified record player, LEDs, acrylic, X-ray film, audio recordings of interviews with Rinsing the Bones workshop participants.

The Actors' Gang