Amid the three October weekends of programming Artspace has planned for this year’s City-Wide Open Studios is an art invasion of Yale West Campus on the weekend of Oct. 26 to 28. Dozens of artists from around the state will take over room after room of the facility, along with 12 commissioned works — focused on the theme of wellbeing — that range from an exhibit about dirt, roots, and insects to a communal steam room, to a dance piece, to a choir.
“I was trying to think of a container that could house an interdisciplinary project and could include [art] nonprofessionals,” said choreographer Rachel Bernsen. She and writer Rachel Kauder Nalebuff conceived of a piece that included text, music, and choreography that could involve people in the healthcare professions. The participants would start as strangers and eventually become a cohesive whole.
“The idea of a choir immediately gives you a sense of community,” Bernsen said.
Earlier in the summer, Bernsen and her team put out a casting call for people who might be interested in joining her choir. “We were looking for 10 people,” she said. They got a lot more responses than that. It took about a month for them to winnow it down to 11 people, including a nurse practitioner, two doulas — one a birth doula and one a death doula (and biomedical research scientist) — the former director of CT hospice, director of the therapeutic arts program at the Yale New Haven Children’s hospital, an obstetrician-gynecologist, a physical therapist, the director of the Hispanic Clinic at the Yale School of Nursing, a healthcare reporter, and a person who cared for an elderly family member at home. They ranged in age from the 20s to the 70s. Bernsen and Nalebuff held their first informal workshop in August, in anticipation of rehearsals.
“Everyone who came to the workshop ended up joining it,” Bersen said. The text that the choir will be basing its performance on, she added, “is built from their language.”
At the workshop, the participants were asked first to pair off. The birth doula and death doula ended up paired together. “They were pleased with the idea that they were commingling. One is all about beginnings and the other is supporting life at the end,” Bersen said.
The choir will perform its piece — which combines music, text, and choreography — at 4 p.m. on Oct. 26, 27, and 28 in a large, empty space at Yale’s West Campus during City-Wide Open Studios’ Alternative Space Weekend (which replaces the Armory weekend of years past). The audience will be able to walk around the piece as it’s being performed, getting closer to it than they might in a more typical performance space. “It allows the audience some flexibility in how they experience it,” Bernsen said. For the 21st year in a row, in October, New Haven’s art scene is open wide.
Those who find their way to the campus’s presidential suite will find it transformed into a therapist’s office. Artist Neil Daigle Orians chose the space while touring the West Campus facility with Artspace curator Sarah Fritchey. “I didn’t know it was presidential suite until I called dibs on it,” Orians said. With a receptionist’s area, a main office, and a shower, the space seemed to Orians a great place for his project, which campily and humorously uses the form and process of conversion therapy to instead impart a queer-positive message about self-acceptance.
Orians never underwent conversion therapy. But he did go to church camp in the summer two hours outside of Omaha, Neb. from third through 11th grade. “Church” — the evangelical First Covenant Church, to be exact — “was my entire social circle,” Orians said. He played drums in the worship band. He was involved in the church’s youth group and did mission trips. At camp he attended services twice a day. “I totally gave my all to it,” he said.
“Then, in middle school, I started having feelings,” Orians said, and “I tried to convert myself.” He believed his sexual orientation was something about himself that he could change. But then, in high school, he found another peer group in a nonprofit that dealt with social issues. In the church, looking back on it, he had been “very sheltered,” he said. With his new peers, he was introduced to a wider world. He learned about racism and sexism. And suddenly, he was among people who “no longer had that expectation that I had to be straight.”
Orians came out to his parents, who, he said, were not surprised. They were surprised, however, when he came out publicly in an opinion piece in his high school newspaper. For a little while he was the talk of the church, before he “weaned himself off” it, he said. “In retrospect, it was amazing and dramatic — I love it! — but it was terrifying to go through.”
Orians’s piece, however, will be anything but terrifying. Audiences will first be greeted by audio from interviews with people in the local LGBTQ+ community, asking the question “what would you want to say to yourself?” The results, Orian said, have been overwhelmingly positive and affirming, and taken together, constitute a powerful message.
“Sometimes the extremely personal can become universal,” he said.
As in any therapist’s waiting room, there will be literature pointing people at resources for the queer community in the area. It’s only the beginning regarding what happens in the office itself, which Orian described as “very celebratory.”
Elsewhere in the building, among others of Artspace’s 12 commissioned pieces for 2018, Lilliana Marie Baczeski and artists from Musical Intervention will set up an open mic and recording studio for people recovering from drug addiction. Suzanne Kachmar, from City Lights Gallery in Bridgeport, will have an exhibit of art dealing with breast cancer and health, titled BOOBs. Kellie Ann Lynch and Elm City Dance Collective will perform a piece that takes people throughout the building and grounds. And a doctor who works at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital along with a group of collaborators will set up the Center for Adult Swaddling, based on the practice in Japan. (Click here for a list of all Artspace’s commissioned pieces.)
And that’s just the final weekend. City-Wide Open Studios begins Oct. 5 with a street party at Artspace itself, coinciding with October’s First Fridays On9. Oct. 6 and 7 are CWOS’s Erector Square weekend, when the artist studios at the Peck Street complex throw their doors open to the public. And Oct. 13 and 14 feature events in the center of Westville and in private studios, respectively. For the 21st year in a row, New Haven’s art scene in October is open wide.
City-Wide Open Studios runs throughout October in places all over New Haven. Visit Artspace’s website for more — a lot more — information.