Momentary mosaic, lasting legacy

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 3/14/17

Alaskan arts activist Mavis Muller is drawn to Port Townsend not only because it is connected to the northwestern state via watersheds, but also because it reminds her of her hometown of …

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Momentary mosaic, lasting legacy

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Alaskan arts activist Mavis Muller is drawn to Port Townsend not only because it is connected to the northwestern state via watersheds, but also because it reminds her of her hometown of Homer.

“When I’m in a coffee shop, I see doppelgängers everywhere,” she said.

And it was at a Port Townsend coffee shop on Christmas Day – when Muller was here on tour last year with her Burning Basket Project – that the seed was planted for another community-building art project, which Muller has planned for this Sunday.

Muller said she was sitting next to Port Townsend resident Sue Hoover at Better Living Through Coffee on Dec. 25 and shared some pictures of her community art projects, including “human mosaics” she has coordinated in Alaska.

The concept resonated with Hoover, who became involved with the project and helped organize it.

“When I saw pictures of some of her community art projects, I became excited at the thought of doing one here,” Hoover said.

After three months of slowly planning with other volunteers and scoping out possible locations, Muller got a permit from Fort Worden to orchestrate her second art project in Port Townsend.

Muller invites the community to arrive at 1 p.m., March 19 to participate in the piece. Commercial photographer David Conklin is scheduled to take a photo from a bucket lift at 2 p.m., to be widely shared to inspire and energize others, Muller said.

HAMMER & SCALES

Muller, who calls herself an “artivist,” cites a quote by Bertolt Brecht as something that galvanized her in her early days as an activist: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, it’s a hammer with which to shape it.”

“I always love that quote,” she said, “I am so grateful [it] came to me early in my life.”

That notion of using art as a hammer to shape reality rather than reflect it is what Muller sees her community art achieving.

Muller’s last project here, part of her “Weaving Watersheds” tour, involved building and burning a 6-foot-tall basket.

The Port Townsend project was her 36th ephemeral piece.

“I consider [the human mosaic] to be a continuation of my ‘Weaving Watersheds’ tour,” said Muller. “It is a celebration of connecting community.”

So far, Muller has orchestrated eight mosaics in Alaska, which have been centered on the theme of advocacy for salmon and clean water.

For each project, a design is laid out on the ground using fabric, around which people are invited to gather.

The image Muller has designed for the Port Townsend gathering is a raised fist – “which historically has been a symbol that represents unity and solidarity” – holding the balanced scales of justice.

“This symbol of the raised fist holding the balanced scales of justice is, I think, something that everyone can get behind during these times where we feel divided as a people, or that we feel the scales have been tipped somehow,” Muller said.

“What we’re hoping is to bring people who have been uncertain about what they could do,” Hoover said.

Muller stresses that the event is for the entire community, regardless of political orientation and religious affiliation.

“It’s this reminder that what we can all move toward is the notion of balance,” Muller said.

INTERACTIVE, IMPERMANENT

The 25-foot cloth image will be created out of donated cloth, said Muller, who is asking the community to be involved with its creation by contributing to it.

“I’m inviting people to bring an article of brightly colored clothing and then they can add that to the design.” (After the event ends, individuals may leave their clothing item to be donated, if they wish, Muller said.)

The art will also include a banner that reads “United,” which Muller plans to take back to Alaska for another community art project in April. Other words and phrases – such as gender quality, right to dissent, religious freedom, indigenous rights, climate justice – will be written on signs and added to the design.

“There are so many values we are all working for,” said Hoover, who added that the community is invited to write down and contribute what they want to see actualized in the world.

Finally, to create the human mosaic, Muller leads everyone around and has them gather and stand in a group while onlooking volunteers drum on 5-gallon water jugs.

“I think people feel best about themselves when they are being a part of something bigger, ” Muller said. “This is a way to get grounded in our creativity; to imagine beyond what we already know.”

Like the concept of the burning basket, Muller said, it’s also significant that this type of art is impermanent: It’s about the process of creating and actualizing, and then erasing and leaving no trace.

“It’s impermanent art that leaves a lasting impression and sustains itself in the image that we get and the memories that we make,” she said.

“The tangible takeaway from this is to become aware of the local and national nonprofit organizations that are focused on building a world that is habitable and humane.”

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