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#ArtistatCB: Vanessa German + NEW PODCAST!

Museum Way Podcast

Podcast Interview with Vanessa German available here!

Read this episode’s transcript

 

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Vanessa German is an acclaimed artist whose work has been exhibited across the world. She made her Crystal Bridges debut in the 2014-2015 exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. Out of the 1,000 artists the curatorial team visited in 2013, German was one of the 102 artists selected to be featured, due to her innovative assemblages, complex compositions, and meaningful ideas engaging with the past and the present. German uses her authoritative role as an artist to express her concern about today’s issues dealing with identity, gender, violence, and discrimination.

During her time at Crystal Bridges this past August, German was kind enough to sit down with Stace Treat, host of Museum Way, for an interview. This special episode is an exploration of the power of art from Vanessa’s perspective and was recorded in the gallery near Vanessa’s “power figures” (scroll down to learn more about these). Hear about the driving force behind her work, the studio visit that landed her in the groundbreaking exhibition, State of the Art, and everything in between.

 

About Vanessa German

Vanessa German, born in 1976 in Wisconsin, is an artist, sculptor, poet, performer, and activist living in Homewood, Pittsburgh. Covered in paint and plaster, she used to make her artwork on her front porch, and as the local Homewood children passed by, curious of what she was doing, they would ask if they could help her. German, instead, gave them the tools to be creative and encouraged them to make their own art.

She founded Love on the Front Porch and ARThouse, an art initiative that advocates for the children to have a safe space to explore their artistic abilities away from neighborhood violence. The house offers ample outlets for people to express themselves—they can mold clay, make glass mosaics, handle jewelry, and paint. Decorated in colorful imagery, mosaics, and paintings, ARThouse is used as a refuge for women and children to gather to express their emotions through art.

artist vanessa german

“We were surrounded by a lot of death as little kids. I had a difficult time understanding how somebody could just die. If this can happen, then what do I want to see happen with my life if I get taken out tomorrow? I am always looking for a way to be the most alive while I’m alive.”

-Vanessa German

Don Tyson Prize

Last year, Crystal Bridges announced that she was the recipient of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, which recognized an individual artist or organization for outstanding achievement in the visual arts. She was awarded $200,000 for the great quality of her work and for her positive impact on the community around her.

Artist Vanessa German with Alice Walton

German’s Work at Crystal Bridges

Crystal Bridges acquired three of German’s works: Souvenir of Our Trip; White Naptha Soap, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting; and Artist Considers the 21st Century Implications of Psychosis as Public Health Crisis, and Critical/Comedic Analysis into the Pathophysiology of Psychosis, which can all be viewed in the Contemporary Art Gallery. Her sculptures, also known as “power figures” or “power dolls,” are life-sized and small scale compositions of vintage and found objects that evoke her love and compassionate nature to protect children and fight against racism.

Vanessa German, Artist Considers the 21st Century Implications of Psychosis as Public Health Crisis or Critical/Comedic Analysis into the Pathophysiology of Psychosis

The arrangement of her artwork is often complex but each object is identifiable, loading the sculpture with powerful content and imagery. In her 2014 work, Artist Considers the 21st Century Implications of Psychosis as Public Health Crisis or Critical/Comedic Analysis into the Pathophysiology of Psychosis, the central figure is painted black and is embellished with tightly-packed blue objects and raw nails stuck into the figure’s shoulders and torso. Captured in motion as she pushes herself on the skateboard, the viewer has the opportunity to see the figure swinging a child by the hair behind her and holding the American flag in front. The figure steadies herself on one leg as she vicariously balances on her head a bed filled with aristocrats.

Referring to the title, psychosis is a condition that affects the mind and can cause the individual to lose track of reality. German is combining objects that are imbued with history to create an impactful work that shows that American behavior is disconnected from its reality. German purposely uses these items that have so much meaning because it reflects how we interpret the world around us.

 

This post was co-written by Justice Henderson, Interpretation Intern.

 

Episode Transcript

Stace Treat:
We are here with Vanessa German, a force of nature, and I’m really excited that you’re on the podcast with us.

Vanessa German:
It’s good to be here.

Stace Treat:
There’s a lot of things to talk about with you. First of all, congratulations on winning the Don Tyson prize.

Vanessa German:
Thank you.

Stace Treat:
That made everybody here at the museum extraordinarily happy. I’m not lying.

Vanessa German:
Oh, good, good.

Stace Treat:
We were all thrilled to see that, and I hear you were quite surprised by it.

Vanessa German:
I was very surprised. Yeah, it was a complete surprise. Nobody uttered a whisper. Sometimes I get nominated for a thing and somebody would be like, “Vanessa, I nominated you for this thing,” so you have this inkling, but it was a beautiful surprise.

Stace Treat:
Okay. Well, we’ll talk a little bit more about what you’re thinking with that prize a little later, but what I want to do right now is sort of catch up our listeners as to who you are.

Vanessa German:
Okay.

Stace Treat:
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and where you come from, where your practice is based.

Vanessa German:
I live in Pittsburgh, grew up in Los Angeles, middle of five children, four birthdays because there’s a set of twins.

Stace Treat:
Oh gosh.

Vanessa German:
I grew up with a mother and father who were raised by people who grew up in Jim Crow, who were raised by people who were formerly enslaved Africans, which has informed the way that my mother raised us to be both creative, courageous human beings who lived a life and created life through art.

Stace Treat:
You say that’s your mother Sandra?

Vanessa German:
My mom, Sandra who died four years ago, almost five years ago. Yep.

Stace Treat:
But she was here, she was able to see your success when-

Vanessa German:
No.

Stace Treat:
No.

Vanessa German:
She wasn’t. She didn’t never come here. No.

Stace Treat:
Okay.

Vanessa German:
Not to Crystal Bridges.

Stace Treat:
Not to Crystal Bridges.

Vanessa German:
No, but my mother was a successful artist.

Stace Treat:
Was she?

Vanessa German:
I used to go to openings and write your name down on the book, and people would see my name and they would say, “Are you Sandra German’s daughter?” That happened to me. I was getting coffee last week somewhere. A woman said-

Stace Treat:
No way.

Vanessa German:
Yes. I wrote my name and she said, “You’re not by any chance Sandra German’s daughter, are you?” And I said, “Every day of the week.” Then she said, “She passed, didn’t she?” And I said, “Yes, but she’s everywhere, all the time.”

Stace Treat:
She’s still present, absolutely.

Vanessa German:
Yeah.

Stace Treat:
Well tell us a little bit about, of course, State of The Art is how we came to discover you, here at Crystal Bridges. That was in 2014. Do you want to talk about that experience a little bit, because you are featured in a PBS documentary?

Vanessa German:
Sure, sure.

Stace Treat:
On State of The Art.

Vanessa German:
State of The Art, I get an email one day and the email says, these two people want to come and do a studio visit, and I think, “Oh wow, this is my first studio visit. I’m not going to make a big deal out about this,” because at that point I had had several interactions in the art world that were not positive, that were difficult. I was like, “Look, I’m going to make art. I’m going to roll, I’m going to make an appointment, these people are going to come visit me from this place, this house,” like it’s a country music singer. So Crystal Bridges going to come to my house. They’re going to come to Homewood.

Stace Treat:
Crystal Bridges rolling on up to Homewood.

Vanessa German:
Crystal Bridges is going to come. And I said, “Yes, you can come.” I told the people, I said, “I work in a basement in the ‘hoods you’re welcome to come visit there.” They showed up, and it’s these two beautiful human beings, and I didn’t know if they knew that I was… If they were coming to visit me as a performer and a writer, or as a visual artist. They came in and I said, “So…” Because there are some people who to this day say, “Oh, I had no idea you were a sculptor. I thought you were an actress and a performer.” They came in and I performed for them in the entryway to my house, and we went down to the little basement, and I showed them the work, I showed them the ARTHouse. Then probably a couple of weeks later I got an email with a link to a New York Times article, and it said, “This is what this was, and this is the show.”

Vanessa German:
I was like, “Wow, that’s a big deal,” and then they also said, “Yeah, don’t tell anybody about it either.”

Stace Treat:
Keep it a secret. Oh.

Vanessa German:
They said, “Keep it a secret.”

Stace Treat:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vanessa German:
I kept it a secret, and then little by little it was revealed, and they chose work, and I got to come here and meet the other artists. it was probably, at that time, the single most life-affirming, art-affirming experience that I’d had because I’m a self-taught artist. I grew up making art in the home with my mother as an integral part of how we knew ourselves, our family, and how we interacted with the world. To always do something and then to have people who have focused their intellectual prowess around thinking and writing about that, look at my work and say, “Yes.”

Stace Treat:
There’s something there.

Vanessa German:
“There’s something there,” so that was really important, because up to that point people had said, “Well Vanessa, you’re walking around your neighborhood, and you find stuff, and you make stuff, and you’re going to be a certain kind of artist, and that’s cute. That is so summer arts festival, and you should enjoy that, and yes, but always, work really hard at your day job.”

Stace Treat:
Right, right. It doesn’t happen for everyone necessarily, but I have to say looking at your work, I remember I didn’t even work at Crystal Bridges during State of The Art. I started just afterward, but I remember coming to that show, and of all of the artists that I recall the work kind of hitting me in the gut, was your work, were these power dolls, as you call them.

Vanessa German:
I call them power figures.

Stace Treat:
Power figures.

Vanessa German:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stace Treat:
Now, tell me a little bit about how that started for you.

Vanessa German:
It started for me in a way that I can start a story without acknowledging that everything that happened before is important, and is an ingredient in the next happening. My mother was a fiber artist and wanted us to spend time together, and at Christmas she wanted us to make Christmas tree top angels, at the time I was very sad. I was sad, I was a little depressed, and I was experiencing the sort of despair that a strange fat, queer, black girl would feel moving from Los Angeles to the Midwest. I was surprised by the shape of the world. My soul was shocked by the shape of the world. At the time I didn’t want to make a Christmas tree top angel, I wanted to make the way that I felt. I wanted to make something physical of the experience that I was living.

Vanessa German:
So I formed a self-hardening clay over my thumb, and outside of my mother’s studio, there were all these… My mother’s studio was a horse stable, was a barn, and so I picked up all these old barn nails and I stuck them into the head of this figure. I baked the figure in the oven. I strung hundreds of seed beads out of the face of the figure, and my sisters looked at it when it was done and they were like, “Vanessa, that’s not a Christmas tree top angel. That’s not what we were supposed to do. Why is yours so sad? Why is yours so scary?” But what happened in that experience was a place of internal transformation. Inside of the process of making that I was able to contend, without static or anxiety, with the weight of my body, and the weight of the world, and the pressure of that.

Vanessa German:
I experienced a power that I could not language inside of that process, and I took that little figure to a summer arts festival because people are always like, “Hey, Sandra German, do any of your children make art?” So I’m there with this figure and a professor from Carnegie Mellon walked by a Gullah/Geechee expert-

Stace Treat:
Really.

Vanessa German:
A pre-colonial African history expert walked by and said, “Hey, you’re doing that thing, that thing that they do in the Congo,” and I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And there was this silence and they said, “You should do some research.”

Stace Treat:
The Gullah/Geechee and they’re the ones that are in South Carolina, and spread out.

Vanessa German:
Yeah, African retention. They said, “Do some research, because you’re doing something innately that has been done with deep meaning and communication for thousands of years, you should look into that.” That started this path of research into African retention and into what I call the technology of the soul. The way that your physiology, the way that the invisible parts of you, if you’re human beings are 99.9% genetically identical. There’s this very small part of us that we have no language for how the consciousness, and how imagination, and the how and the why of it. Activating that within dimensions of time, like the simultaneity of time and the body, I began to work through really trying to figure out what is inside of a human being, what is contained inside of a body, how is an imagination function and to present itself, and why and how, and can we work with this power intentionally and deliberately?

Vanessa German:
I was thinking about that place with intention and creating with intention, but also creating with deep instinct, and trust, and faith in myself, which is something that can be really difficult if you haven’t been either affirmed by the Academy, or affirmed by a traditional familial process in a craft or something like that. For me, it was like going off the grid into my own imagination and into the depths of my humanity, and I would work, I would begin creating works, because I wanted them to do something and I said like, “I want, I need to be well, my community needs to be well, the children that I am around deserve deep wellness. How can I make work that activates this part of ourselves that is magic, and that is soul, and that exists in the simultaneity of time, and do this in a way that is generative. That makes more space for more human beings to go off the grid into to their own intellectual and imaginative prowess, into the technology of their soul?”

Vanessa German:
When I was making this work, I was really actively involved in both researching and in what my friends who are big researchers call me-search, and how when you really follow a true vein of research, you’re going deeper into yourself.

Stace Treat:
Absolutely.

Vanessa German:
Doing that and really work, trying to be as brave as possible.

Stace Treat:
I’m curious how you’re a poet, you’re a singer, you’re an actress, you-

Vanessa German:
Don’t tell singers I’m a singer. I make sounds.

Stace Treat:
Well, you are definitely a vocalist, I’ll say that.

Vanessa German:
Yeah, that’s true.

Stace Treat:
I will say that… I’m just wondering how… I love the sort of very kind of… What feels like a very deeply spiritual practice to you. In a way, it kind of even cosmic if you will, that something where somehow the ancestors practices that you discovered through your own kind of turmoil, if you will, manifests itself in the different ways in which you express or make.

Vanessa German:
Okay. What’s the easiest way you can ask that question? What are you asking me?

Stace Treat:
How do you know in what way you want to express yourself? Whether it be sculpture or visual art.

Vanessa German:
Okay. How do I know-

Stace Treat:
Where does that come from?

Vanessa German:
I listen. Listening is dimensional, so I listen, and I pay attention to myself, and to the way that I feel, and what I think inside of myself, and then the experiences that my body and my being are in within the world. I’m working purposefully. I believe that there is a way that art is of service. Art is of human, spiritual, intellectual, communal service, and so I do not have the privilege to not ask art and every process of art to be as generative and as loving as it can be. I do not have the privilege to distance myself from any part of the process, because I need and want to live a whole full existence.

Vanessa German:
So I’m asking a lot of the work, I’m asking a lot of the process, and that requires me to both protect the space of creativity, because when I protect that space, whether it’s my mental space and physical space, then I’m able to listen to, and I work with assemblage, so I’m listening to how I create the archive of objects that I’m working with.

Vanessa German:
Because there’s so much stuff in the world, how do you know what to use, I sort of call it a frequency of yes. I recognize physically when there is an object that is for me, that is for the work, and I don’t have to know exactly what I’m going to do with it, but I know that it is right. I know that it is a yes thing, and so I turn up the frequency of my own capacity to recognize what rightness is for my work. While it is a spiritual process, it’s also an intellectual process. The studio is a spiritual and intellectual space. It is a space that is active in my physical body, and it’s active in the invisible body, the places of imagination and memory, and there’s science behind that.

Vanessa German:
Einstein told us that all time exists in one plane. So we’re active in the simultaneity of time, which sounds cosmic and sounds spiritual, but it’s a law of physics.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, it’s actually fundamental.

Vanessa German:
It is fundamental, and if we think about the physical body in the studio, and your bones and the marrow of your bones, this DNA, the spiral of your DNA, the genetic code, and how much information for hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of years you are walking around with every day. Part of my studio practice is being in communication with all of this information, which allows me to clarify the frequency of my own humanity, the frequency of yes inside of my studio. Then to work with that power intentionally, then to contend with the pressures of on my body and on my soul, on my political, sexual, living being, using that, all of that practice as a tool.

Stace Treat:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). You work with kids a lot, and in fact that’s so much about what you do with the ARTHouse and the Front Porch in Homewood. Can you talk a little bit about what’s so important? What do kids bring to your practice and to…

Vanessa German:
Well, kids are often just more courageous than adults. I work with humanness. It just so happens that… People know how the ARTHouse works. Whenever the door is open, anybody can come in.

Stace Treat:
It doesn’t have to be a kid, it can be really-

Vanessa German:
It doesn’t have to be a child.

Stace Treat:
It can be anyone.

Vanessa German:
But children are accumulating so quickly through the energy of curiosity and their imagination, and so they leap past certain fears that adults have built obstacles, have allowed to become obstacles. There’s always a moment when a kid comes in with their grandmother, their grandmother is like, “So I’m dropping Ebony off, and that’s so interesting, and wow, how’d you do this?” And I was like, “Well, you can sit down.” “No I can’t. I don’t do this anymore. I don’t want to look like a fool.” There’s all these layers of fear and shame and resistance. But then when I say, “Well, I’m going to be over here with the little people, because they crazy and you could sit over here and do this,” and there’s always a moment where an adult says, “I forgot how good this felt. I forgot I always loved this. I forgot that this is what brought me peace when I was in prison.”

Vanessa German:
I have people come to the ARTHouse who grew up in Homewood, got arrested for something, do a bit in prison, come back and say, “That’s new. We used to live in this house,” and “Oh you like art. Can I show you my art?” And they’ll show me like entire notebooks of graphic novels that they made in prison, and I have to tell them, “You know that this is real, right? This is a form of art called a graphic novel. You know that you could publish this. This is real. Your creativity, the product of your imagination is a real thing.”

Vanessa German:
I don’t have to do that with the children. I do a lot of reinvigorating the creative spirit, and the adults around me who bear the weight of a lot of trauma, and it isn’t just… What is it, the word that you used about what it’s like to deal with bad days or something, but the way that you said that was casual, you said that as though, “I have just had a hard time.”

Vanessa German:
We have to acknowledge that the hard time that I have and a lot of people have around me is because we live in a society that carved a very clear path for certain people to have a hard time. Right?

Stace Treat:
Right.

Vanessa German:
So there I live within the ricochet, and the horror, and the terrorism of white supremacy, which is terrorism, right?

Stace Treat:
Absolutely.

Vanessa German:
Institutional racism, which is active every day of the week, 24 hours a day, and white privilege, which looks like, every day like calling the police for help, and the police turning on you. It looks like me watching the police handcuff eight year olds to light poles in my neighborhood. It looks like people putting knives in my front door and the police coming and playing with the knives. It can be unbearable to try to fight and find a way through that to create. It’s not an accident that my neighborhood looks the way it is. It’s intentional. Poverty is intentional. If you’re the richest country in the world poverty is intentional. So it’s, “You said that it’s though it’s like you’re just having a hard time,” I’m like, “No, we’re actually all having a hard time,” because white supremacy also prevents us from loving each other and being whole with each other in the way that it’s like the scientific truth of our bodies, which is we are mostly each other. We are mostly water, and without each other, and without this water, we don’t exist.

Stace Treat:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I think, was the term I used… I don’t remember. Dismay or distraught, or something like that.

Vanessa German:
Yeah. It’s something that’s like…

Stace Treat:
It’s easy and sort of familiar.

Vanessa German:
It’s easy. Yeah. It’s sort of, and then it’s also… We’re not together in it. It’s something that happened to you. It’s something that you were dealing with. It’s something that was yours. You said turmoil. That’s the phrase you used, and it is.

Stace Treat:
Turmoil.

Vanessa German:
It is.

Stace Treat:
Turmoil.

Vanessa German:
But it is, we share this turmoil, it is shared.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, we’re in it together.

Vanessa German:
Yes, we are in together.

Stace Treat:
Right. Well, I was just wanting to get back to… You got this Don Tyson prize, but you have a project that you’re working on called the Museum of Resilience. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Vanessa German:
The first thing that I will say is that… Let us work together to find language that is truer to what’s happening between us, and what’s happening when we share what we love and when we share spaces of creativity. Because the word project means that there is a hierarchy, and there is distance between our needs and our realities, which as we just discussed. We just here, we here together and we’re doing stuff, and so we need to find language that acknowledges that there’s mutual dimensional work, benefit, labor, love in all of it.

Stace Treat:
Okay.

Vanessa German:
When I hear the word project, I think of being projected upon, I think of the creation of The Projects after World War I and World War II-

Stace Treat:
Got it.

Vanessa German:
… when black and brown people couldn’t get the GI bill to get mortgages, and they created The Projects.

Stace Treat:
Right.

Vanessa German:
Low income housing, redlining, banks not allowing black people to get mortgages, or create bank accounts so that you could stack wealth, have generational wealth. For me, the word project is really loaded and violent.

Stace Treat:
Got it.

Vanessa German:
It also creates a distance. What I would say is let us keep working to find the truest language that we can find, about the ways that, that which we love and that which we invest our time and our energy in, generates. The Museum of Resilience began with this idea… And I actually talked to Chad about it. Chad is the first person I talked to about this, and I said, “I live about a mile and a half away from The Frick art museum in Pittsburgh, and I noticed that it’s very clear that it’s a completely different world.” It’s a completely different neighborhood. It’s a completely different reality. But if you’re standing at The Frick, you can hear gunshots across the street, 15 gunshots, 20 gunshots, sirens, and there’s this main street that bisects these realities.

Vanessa German:
And I thought, “Well, maybe if I put a museum in my neighborhood, it’ll look different and people will treat it different. People will talk about it differently. People won’t keep trying to project upon us and treat us like projects, which happens often. People come to me all the time like, “What do you need? What do you need in the community? And I’m like, “What do you mean by ‘The’?” We live three minutes away from each other. Am I in “the community” when I go to your neighborhood? Is that… No, so there’s this distancing, right? I said, let’s make a museum and then I’ll put up a sign that says, “This way to the Museum of Resilience.” The same way when you’re coming down the street, it says Crystal Bridges and there’s an arrow pointing this way, and I said, “And the Museum of Resilience will be a place that will be a living space where people can go and contend with their connection, and power, and suffering, and loving, and mothering, and community living, and building as human beings.”

Vanessa German:
That’s where we’ll end, because The Museum of Resilience will be my garage, and we’ll transform this garage, because it got to be on private property and this is what I have. And I said, “Chad,” I said, “what do you think?” He said, “You’re on to something, you’re on to something.” So I put forth this plan of how to build a Museum of Resilience, and I got an Arts Matter award for it.

Vanessa German:
I got $10,000 from Arts Matter, and that was to secure the building, and I called six brick pointers and said, “Hey, I need this building, this garage repointed to secure it.” They said, “Okay, so we’re going to come and give you a free estimate. Where do you live?” And I say, “15208,” because I didn’t want to say the neighborhood, because I know what people think, and they said “Where’s that?” I said, “The East end of Pittsburgh,” and they said, What neighborhood?” I said, “Homewood,” and they’d say, “Homewood, okay. We’re going to be there to do your free estimate.” Six brick pointers. None of them ever showed up, right? There’s this lag, and a little depression on my behalf, thinking, “How do I get people to know that this work is real? I have money to pay for the work.”

Vanessa German:
So I just started where I could. I get the Tyson prize and I think I’m roaring full steam ahead with this,” and I have, and so one of the things we started on right now, with the Museum of Resilience, is expanding the idea into the Museum of Resilience being spaces, and an experience. It’s almost like a pilgrimage that starts in front of the ARTHouse.

Vanessa German:
We recently redid the entire sidewalk in front of the ARTHouse and we put glass mosaic butterflies into the sidewalk and they are… People all around Pittsburgh wrote me letters and names about people who they loved and lost in Homewood, because when you have so much street death, we know that trauma is held in the body, and trauma is also held in the geography of places, and it’s something that there are monuments to acknowledge this trauma, acknowledgement monuments that bring people together to a central location to celebrate, to grieve, and to do the work of being whole. So we started with these butterflies, and people would write and say, “This is for my friend Jeff. He’s actually the man that you found dead outside of the ARTHouse, but he was my friend when we grew up, and I want you to make a butterfly for him.”

Vanessa German:
If you follow the path of these butterflies from the front of the ARTHouse, it’ll walk you around the corner to the garage space, Museum of Resilience. But there will be butterflies placed all along this walk, and so behind the ARTHouse is a street called Formosa Way that used to be called the Killing Fields. There were sets of row houses there and people would… They were abandoned and there were holes cut in the walls, and you can see this in the Rachel Maddow special on MSNBC, how people would hide bodies in one side of the row house walls and they would cut holes on the other side, and you could run from the police without being on the street and escape the police. That’s the alleyway behind the ARTHouse. This alleyway that has this incredibly traumatic history and will honor the lives of people who are lost.

Vanessa German:
One of my neighbors can stand exactly in the place where her son’s body was found, and then from the coroner’s report, she can point to the exact place across the street where the shooter stood, who shot her son. We have this traumatic public memory that we are working to transform, to honor lives, to celebrate lives, but also make safe places to reckon. To reckon with this violence, so you follow these butterflies, there’s the garage space and then we’ll walk through this alleyway for most of the way, up the corner to Love Front Porch, which is where the ARTHouse started, where all the kids would come to my porch. The first thing that I did with the money was the sidewalk, replacing the stairs, we’ve replaced the roof, and we’re going to mosaic that entire house in blue. I’m inspired by Alice Walker’s quote, “Every woman should live in a blue house at some point in their lives.”

Vanessa German:
There was a lot of… When Mr. Jeff was killed in front of the ARTHouse, he was killed, and it was like a trap run way, so there was a prostitution, drug dealers, and they would… You know what a trap houses is? They would lead you to a place, and one of the women… I would… They’re your neighbors, they’re just sort of your street neighbors, and I saw her laying out on a porch one day, and I thought something had happened to her. I found several bodies, it wouldn’t be the first time I found somebody’s body, and she woke up and she was just crying. She came up to my car and she said, “Miss Vanessa, would you please make a house for women?”

Stace Treat:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vanessa German:
And I said, “Yeah, yeah, we could do that, and so the Museum of Resilience will start there, it’ll walk you through the physical structure, the Museum of Resilience, which is my garage, and then up the street to the house for women. It’s actually like a ritual walk, a pilgrimage, which is important in times, in even processing trauma to physically move your body, and then to be invited into this intimate space of reckoning and turning over, story, and space, and trauma into places where you can generate creative spaces, where you can generate, and be part of your own healing and future making. Right?

Stace Treat:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vanessa German:
That’s the Museum of Resilience. It’s not just a physical place, it’s also an experience. It’s a ritual.

Stace Treat:
I was thinking there’s a ritual feeling to it.

Vanessa German:
It’s a ritual.

Stace Treat:
Well, and yeah, it seems the body is such an important and central part of our lives certainly, and then therefore our expression.

Vanessa German:
Yes.

Stace Treat:
We don’t always think about that, and those sorts of performances that we have to… In many ways it’s how we… It’s the only way that we truly, I guess, reckon with things is nobody else in here. Yeah.

Vanessa German:
This is what you have. Yeah. And we have each other.

Stace Treat:
We have each other.

Vanessa German:
And nature.

Stace Treat:
And nature. Yeah. That’s something we certainly love here at Crystal Bridges.

Vanessa German:
It is important. This walk, and this land, and the water, it is important.

Stace Treat:
It is. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.

Vanessa German:
I’ve enjoyed talking to you too.

Stace Treat:
Thank you.

Vanessa German:
Thank you.

Stace Treat:
Thank you very much for being present with me.

Vanessa German:
Yes. I strive for presence, and loving. Thank you so much for your generosity of spirit and also for hearing me when I said… When we talked about turmoil.

Stace Treat:
Yes.

Vanessa German:
Thank you for meeting my eyes and recognizing our togetherness and that. I really appreciate that.

Stace Treat:
Yes. I appreciate it as well. We were both here for that.

Vanessa German:
Yes, we were. We were. I saw you find it too. You didn’t shirk, you didn’t turn around, you weren’t like, “I didn’t really do that,” because people do that. They’ll be like, “No, that’s not what I meant.” They don’t actually listen, because it hurts them, it can hurt to be called out in a way-

Stace Treat:
Absolutely it can be.

Vanessa German:
… and I tried not to do that in a way that was hurtful or punitive, but a place of recognizing and listening, and thanks for meeting me there.

Stace Treat:
Absolutely. Thanks for taking me there.

Vanessa German:
Cool.

Stace Treat:
It’s kind of, to me, it’s an invitation always, the moment to sort of make yourself heard. I mean, we started this conversation with you saying that your practice is fundamentally based in listening.

Vanessa German:
I dig listening.

Stace Treat:
So I believe in that too.

Vanessa German:
Yeah. I believe that listening is an act of love. Listening is loving. Are you still filming? I just wanted to say one other thing. One of the interesting things that we experienced sitting in the farmer’s market doing poems this weekend was… I’ve done this before, so I’ve done it and people cry. They sit in front of me and they say literally, I ask them for three things, a name, a color, and a purpose, and sometimes people are crying when they sit down. There’s this moment where I just look in people’s eyes and then I say, “Is there anything else that you want to say before we start?” People say things and there’s something about the close human proximity, how I keep saying we’re just here together, and the intimacy, and the vulnerability of it, it is such a potent moment of loving, and I think that it is because the listening that is shared.

Vanessa German:
I listen, and then they listen, but we are together inside of this ecosystem of our bodies, and our imaginations, and our hearts and that. It’s something that is… To bring it into institutional spaces and to bring it into spaces, it’s interesting. It is interesting because some people call it social practice art, and I think that phrase did not exist 12 years ago. What existed was sharing, what existed a hundred years ago was quilting bees, and listening, and creating. What existed 200 years ago was we got to make all these moccasins, so let’s sit together and tell our stories and be together.

Stace Treat:
Right, right.

Vanessa German:
It’s a way that we’ve always been together.

Stace Treat:
It’s communal, it’s making, right. It’s making together.

Vanessa German:
It is.

Stace Treat:
Listening, and sharing, and being.

Vanessa German:
It is. Being. Thank you.

Stace Treat:
Thanks so much.

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