Runs August 4 – Sept. 8
When Ann Kresge first crossed the Blue Mountains and drove into the Grande Ronde Valley, she felt something special. The transition from forested slopes and plunging canyon walls into the open valley spoke to her.
“It felt full of potential,” Kresge told me, and she marked it in her mind as a place to return to. “I am interested in landscapes that grab you, sites that resonate with communities and individuals throughout history.”
When she found out about the possibility of exhibiting her work at La Grande’s Art Center East, Kresge jumped at the chance, proposing an installation-style show with works tailored to the gallery space and created with the region’s unique qualities in mind.
Her exhibit at Art Center East includes three featured pieces; two wall installations (Gathering Spaces #1 and #2) as well as a floor installation situated between them (Gathering Space #3). Her works encompass several artistic mediums, including printmaking, cast paper, metalwork, painting, and an artists’ book. Kresge is primarily an abstract artist and doesn’t focus on creating lifelike depiction of her subjects. Rather, she attempts to evoke an experience for the viewer. The show’s theme, gathering spaces, explores how populations, individuals, and thoughts converge and disperse, cross thresholds and are changed by them, in ways we understand and ways we don’t.
To elaborate, Kresge told me about a high school trip to India, where she visited the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, sacred sites in ancient India where people traveled from long distances to connect with the holy, expand their spiritual understanding, and mingle: “It was like an ancient conference center, bringing people together for a shared experience, a community of the moment.” In some ways, an art exhibit serves a similar purpose. Entering the gallery means taking a step aside from your hectic life to gather in a sanctified space and open yourself to what you find there.
When putting the show together, Kresge couldn’t help but notice that it would coincide with August 21’s total solar eclipse, a celestial event many people will travel far to witness, and that may turn out to be one of the largest one-day mass migrations in U.S. history. The idea of people gathering to watch the sun disappear behind the moon – taking that experience and its images away with them – seemed the perfect complement to her fascination with the power particular pieces of land have to gather people together for a shared purpose.
As if they themselves are a form of landscape, Kresge’s installations transform the gallery space, guiding you to navigate between them, inviting closer inspection and excavation. More concerned with provoking questions and sparking discoveries than she is with providing answers, Kresge asserts, “My goal is to create something that attracts interaction. I am not in control of what people get from it. I don’t complete the circle.”
A print-maker by training, Kresge has long explored sense of place through her art. As part of her exhibit at Art Center East, Kresge will debut her newest artists’ book, made in collaboration with Oregon poet, Dawn Diez Willis. Titled Sacred Spaces, the book makes aesthetic nods to world religions and embodies a shrine-like quality with its design.
Kresge has traveled and taught widely, visiting sacred sites along the way: the caves in India, ancient Greek temples, places of worship in the Middle East, Japanese shrines. Throughout her travels, she has collected impressions, some in the form of patterns and motifs that she incorporates into her aesthetic, some as intangibles – questions, experiences, and insights that flow through her work, building to the occasional crescendo but never reaching a conclusion.
The question of how a place instructs you seems fitting to an artist. Like a sculptor inspects a hunk of stone for the shape that lies within, Kresge contemplates what elements of the natural and human worlds contribute to the power of a place. As with a landscape that grabs you, she hopes that viewers are momentarily transformed by her art, then go on their way, perhaps revisiting it later in thought as something new again.
“I have a need for and faith in the commonality of human experience,” Kresge told me. With her art, she has worked to create a conduit for that commonality – art as an experience that transfers energy and power from land to viewers to the infinite places they will go.
Kresge’s work will be on display at Art Center East in La Grande from August 4 – September 8. Art Center East will host an opening reception on August 4 from 6-8pm. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 10am – 4pm, Saturday 12-4pm.