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UNC Global, responsible for infusing a global dimension throughout the university community, hosted a multi-media event, “The Water of Life: Artistic Expressions” at the FedEx Global Education Center on the eve of the United Nations World Water Day. The three-hour evening focused on worldwide concerns about water as a fundamental resource. UNC’s African Studies Center provided support for the event.
At the beginning of the 7:00 pm program held in the Auditorium, Ron Strauss, Executive Vice Provost and Chief International Officer, welcomed the crowd of about 200 people, most of whom had attended the 6:00 pm reception and viewed paintings and photographs hanging in the James and Florence Peacock atrium. Throughout the program, the artists shared their thoughts about their works.
The oil paintings by Caroline Orr revealed her immersion in concerns of water shortages found in countries facing drought or lacking access to pure water, such as Tanzania, Cambodia, and India. The portrait paintings of children showed a depth in their eyes as they were fetching by hand water necessary for their family’s needs for the day. Their chore often took several hours, interfering with their school day’s learning. The dedication of the children to their task precipitated sweetness in their faces, for they fully realized the importance of the water. While in high school in Memphis, Tenn., Ms. Orr spent two summers in Tanzania working with children. On returning home, she raised $15,000 through the sale of her paintings, which will feed an entire village of Tanzanian schoolchildren for two years. At the end of her senior year in high school, Ms. Orr was chosen as a U.S. Presidential Scholar, and is currently a first-year student studying art and business as a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC.
In addition to Orr’s paintings, global water images submitted to the 2012-2013 Carolina Global Photography Competition are also on display in the atrium until July 25 in an exhibit designed by Bright Ugochukwu Eke, UNC Visiting Artist-in-Residence.
The musical portion of the program opened with two short works, "re:turn radius" and "Graffito" by Allen Anderson, professor and composer in UNC’s Music Department. In both works, Anderson collaborated with Tama Hochbaum, an artist/photographer in Chapel Hill, to produce scores and slide shows that delighted the eyes with images and charmed the ears with music whose notes and rhythms were carefully coordinated, whether they were matching fast-moving musical passages with fast moving slides or the opposite. Anderson mentioned that the visual images have an influence on how one experiences the music and vice-versa. The resultant dance between the music and the slides captivated and enchanted this listener. Further, Hochbaum not only focused on the realism provide by a camera, but also transitioned into unfocused close-ups of vivid colors and lines. The resultant effect brought my consciousness gently into the beauty and experience of an internal sphere, and then softly transported me back into an external landscape, with which we are so familiar. Hochbaum photographed these slides in and around the fountain in UNC’s Coker Arboretum before allowing them to flow through her lens of imagination.
Anderson composed the music of "re:turn radius" for solo flute, which was performed live by Brooks de Wetter Smith, Hanes Distinguished Professor on UNC’s music faculty. Anderson explained that the title of this work references the musical symbol of a turn, possibly as if water were trying to find its course. De Wetter-Smith produces a spectacular tone on his flute, diligently cultivated over many years. The tone defies description but perhaps can be likened to a strand of a spider web — focused, clear, with a tensile strength combined with wisps of phrasing that deeply affected my heart.*
Anderson drew on the sounds of computer music for "Graffito" — his first foray into this medium. He worked with highly processed sounds, one, among others, based on an electric guitar and another from kitchen gongs, that is, metal lids from pots and pans. These sounds blended beautifully into the realistic photos of graffiti Hochbaum snapped from a train on a trip from New York to Connecticut. She again changed distinct images into amorphous shapes, lines and colors, such as lights morphing into light trails. The combination of Hochbaum and Anderson’s work in this piece produced in me feelings of desolation and loneliness, those perhaps experienced in a deserted city.
Following intermission, Iceblink (2008), a highly successful and inspired collaboration between de Wetter-Smith and Anderson, served as the centerpiece work of the evening as an experience of frozen water through images and music. The work premièred in Raleigh under the auspices of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on April 27, 2008. Tonight’s performance was its second live performance. Iceblink is also a tale of adventure. De Wetter-Smith, drawn to the Antarctica, joined a National Geographic research expedition ship in 2006, sometimes encountering rough weather in that rather forbidding part of the earth, to take many photographs of its various moods, faces, and contours of ice and mountains. On returning to Chapel Hill and supported by the Institute of Arts and Humanities, he, as a published photographer, worked with Anderson to bring these photos into a new realm with music. Anderson not only composed the music but also researched writings about the South Pole, Captain James Cook’s Journals, Pablo Neruda’s Antártica, and others to overlay narration and songs into the threads of music and images.
Since 2008, de Wetter-Smith has returned to Antarctica, this time with a video camera. In this evening’s revised version of Iceblink, he has seamlessly edited the new video footage into the original still photos, so as not to disturb the music, which remains unchanged.
De Wetter-Smith describes “iceblink as the strip of luminosity seen on the underside of distant clouds caused by the reflection of sunlight off sea-ice.” He sees it as “a meditation on Antarctica — the color, the expanse and shape, the time, the change and the life. It’s about what is seen and what is imagined. It’s about the unfamiliar and the extreme. It’s about Antarctica as a real place and as an interior space, the edge of the world.” He and Anderson arranged the work into seven sections: "Crossings," "Albatross," "Loneliness and Fright," "Aerial," "Shackleton’s Job," "Scherzo" (about the penguins), and "Ice Cave."
Anderson’s music, as the only composer of the evening, is characterized by dissonances that are treated with unusual sensitivity and delicateness. His writing consists of sounds of sweet dissonances, a juxtaposition I would not have thought possible to experience.
Highly capable musicians performed the intricate score carefully, meting out lines that functioned in a contrapuntal relationship with the images on the screen. Evan Feldman, conducted; Louise Toppin, soprano, sang some of the texts; and Allen Anderson narrated others. Instrumentalists in the chamber ensemble included de Wetter-Smith, flute; Christa Van Alstine, clarinet; Jacquelyn Bartlett, harp; Jan Alamo, percussion; Katarina Uhde, violin; Noah Hock, viola; Brent Wissick, cello; and Robbie Link, double bass.
Many in the audience came away from Iceblink with memorable images and sounds reverberating in their heads. I can still feel, see, and hear in my mind the ominous power of the high seas... the calm, glassy surface of inlets... the magnificence of layers of ice centuries old ... the active and playful movements of penguins... the snow- and glacier-covered sharp-edged mountains... the sides of ice chunks whose walls appeared to have been carved with a very large cantaloupe spoon... the sacred majesty of ice caves... the graceful flight of an albatross. (DVD’s are available through Professor Smith.)
Throughout the evening, I could feel the neurons in my brain being activated in subtle and unusual ways from the extremely ingenious and inspired expressions in multi-media. As a result, the power of the focus on water during the three-hour evening was laid gently but deeply in my being. This cloudburst of creativity showered all of us with integrated sights and sounds, which I see as a new wave of artistry that we all drank with pleasure.
*Editor's Note: Minor edits to paragraphs 5 & 6 made 4/12/13 in response to suggestions contained in an email from Tama Hochbaum. We appreciate her recommendations.