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Guided Disorientation: Using Art for Civic Wellness – Art Institute of Chicago



Would this artwork cry with you? 
Would you introduce it to your parents? 
Would you whisper “everything will be okay” to it?

Jasper Francis Cropsey

Does this painting have unspoken courage?
Does it listen to achy music?
Did it have its heart broken long ago, and has been a little different ever since?

These questions are prompts intended to connect people with this artwork in a counterintuitive way. This exercise practices guided disorientation as a method of inspiring transformative thinking, a process introduced to me by my colleague, Evguenia S. Popova, PhD, OTR/L, at Rush University. If you shake up someone’s intuitive thinking process with something counterintuitive, you can help them open a previously unconsidered doorway for seeing. On the surface, asking if a painting listens to achy music may seem silly. But if one looks closely, allowing the question to set the terms by which they encounter the artwork, new truths will be revealed.

This is a tool we have used in our civic wellness programs, which are collaborations with partners in hospitals and medical schools, as well as individuals working in allied fields such as law. One thing an emergency room doctor and an Illinois judge have in common is that they both frequently come into contact with vulnerable Chicagoans from a position of expertise and authority.

Our medical students have been surprisingly good at this. When two of them, responding to the prompt, said this painting had its heart broken long ago and has been a little different ever since, I felt like I was seeing the image for the first time. My experience of the painting has been permanently altered. Permanently enhanced. The new truth is there and cannot be denied: the forlorn tree bent with disaster, lonely and weeping at the edge of a darkness it will never be free of.

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Blasted Tree (detail), 1850

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Jasper Francis Cropsey

I know what it’s like to be heartbroken.
I want to be with that tree.
I want to repair its broken heart.

This is a profound example of a new kind of question unlocking valuable qualities that had existed in the painting all along. Students must then consider how they can translate this way of seeing to a patient or client. How can they unlock the truths in another person, especially someone who may not look or act like themselves?

For another exercise, we ask participants to take three minutes to write the most objective statement possible describing the image below.

Ivan Albright

Once each participant has written their statement, we put them into groups and ask them to write a new objective statement that the whole group can agree on. Most statements sound something like this: “An individual is sitting in a room that is partly dark and partly bright with a piece of furniture in it.” Or something equally broad. The vast majority of groups will avoid any kind of “feelings” language, trying with all their might to stick to neutral vocabulary that most people can get on board with. However, when they are told to stop worrying about being objective, the flood gates open and we start hearing words like “sad,” “longing,” and “lonely.” The question is: Why?

We do not attempt to answer this question definitively. Instead we discuss some of the various dynamics that contribute to our concept of objective reality and think critically about the pitfalls of those dynamics. How does implicit bias impact what we perceive as objective? What about peer pressure or the fear of looking unprofessional or of being wrong? When can we consider information gained through emotional intelligence objectively true? When does the courage of conviction come into play? And most importantly, how does all of this inform the way we interact with others, in particular those who may be in our care?

Innovative programs such as ours have proliferated along with the studies showing that engaging with the humanities increases not only observational, collaborative, and critical thinking skills, but also one’s ability to think empathically and connect thoughtfully with others, what occupational therapists call non-technical skills (NTS). Furthermore, empathic thinking is a cornerstone of anti-racist, equitable, compassionate decision-making, a crucial quality for anyone, and especially for those in medicine, law, and policing.

We are creating new civic wellness programs like these all the time. The activities and conversations we lead are inspired by conversations with our partners in the field. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, because no two groups are exactly alike. Working collaboratively with doctors, law enforcement, administrators, educators, researchers, and others allows us to learn continuously, and to develop programs that effectively contribute to the training of those unique professionals whose work has a powerful—often immediate—impact on their communities.

I’d like to leave you with one more artwork.

Archibald John Motley Jr.

Does this artwork have insomnia?
Is it haunted?
Is it your soulmate?

—Sam Ramos, director of Gallery Activation, Interpretation

Read the author’s article “Why Connecting Legal and Medical Professionals to Art is Essential,” published in Hyperallergic.

Learn more about arts-based training in occupational therapy.

Author’s note: These questions are taken from a much longer list generated by myself and my colleague and spouse, Maura Flood, associate director of Creative Spaces, and published in Wicked Arts Assignments (2020) as “Who Is Your Soulmate?”


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Home + Away artwork opens in Vancouver’s Hastings Park



A new art installation now towers over Vancouver’s Hastings Park fields in celebration of the city’s history of spectators and sports.

Home + Away is a sculpture by Seattle artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio, which opened Monday in the southeast end of the historic park.

It’s a 17-metre-tall structure that resembles a narrow set of bleachers — similar to the stands of the Empire Stadium, which stood on the site of the park from 1954 to 1993 and hosted The Beatles, among many others. It recalls a covered ski jump that stood there in the 1950s and the nearby wooden rollercoaster at the PNE.

The city says the public is invited to walk the stairs and sit on the benches.

“In addition to being visually striking, this artwork is intended to be ascended, sat on and experienced. It offers exciting experiences of height and views and provides 16 rows of seating for up to 49 people, making for a unique spectator experience when watching events at Empire Fields,” the city said in a release Monday.

The idea for the park to include public art was outlined in the Hastings Park “Master Plan,” first adopted by the city in 2010. The city says Han and Mihalyo first presented their design in 2015.

“It’s wonderful to see this piece realized within the context of such a well-used public space,” said Han.

Home + Away was inspired directly by the site history of spectatorship, and we hope it will connect Hastings Park users to that history and the majestic views of the environment for many decades to come,” added Mihalyo.

The artwork features a large light-up sign, in the style of a sports scoreboard, that reads “HOME” and “AWAY.”



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Bill Viola, Video Artist Who Established the Medium as an Integral Part of Contemporary Art, Dies at 73



Bill Viola, whose decades-long engagement with video proved vital in establishing the medium as an integral part of contemporary art, died on July 12 at his home in Long Beach, California. He was at 73 years old. The cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. The news of his passing was confirmed by James Cohan Gallery.

Viola’s works are centered around the idea of human consciousness and such fundamental experiences as birth, death, and spirituality. He delved into mystical traditions from Zen Buddhism to Islamic Sufism, as well as Western devotional art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in his videos, which often juxtaposed themes of life and death, light and dark, noise and silence. These explorations were achieved by submerging viewers in both image and sound with cutting-edge technologies for their time.

“I first used the camera and lens as a surrogate eye, to bring things closer, or to magnify them, to experiment with perception, to extend vision and make lengthy observations of simple objects,” Viola said in a 2015 interview. “Once you do that, their essence becomes visible. So I suppose I was always interested in the inner life of the world around me.”

Beginning in the 1970s, Viola created videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces, and works for television broadcast—all of which expanded the scope of the medium and established Viola as one of its most notable practitioner.

Video still of a man diving into water that has been reversed. The image is mostly black and teal.

In 2003 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Tate, London; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris jointly acquired Bill Viola’s 2001 three-channel video installation Five Angels for the Millennium.

Photo Kira Perov/©Bill Viola Studio

Bill Viola was born in 1951. He grew up in Queens and Westbury, New York, and attended P.S. 20 in Flushing, before receiving his BFA in experimental studios from Syracuse University in 1973. There, he studied with visual art with the likes of Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

Following his graduation, between 1973 to 1980, Viola studied and performed with composer David Tudor in the music group Rainforest, which later became known as Composers Inside Electronics. He also worked as technical director at the pioneering video studio Art/tapes/22 in Florence, Italy from 1974 to 1976. During that time he encountered the work of other seminal video artists like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci.

Viola was subsequently an artist-in-residence at New York’s WNET Thirteen Television Laboratory between 1976 to 1983, wherein he created a series of works that premiered on television. He traveled to the Solomon Islands, Java, and Indonesia to record traditional performing arts between 1976 and 1977. Later that year, Viola was invited to show work at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, by cultural arts director Kira Perov, with whom he married and began a lifelong collaboration.

He was appointed an instructor in advanced video at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California in 1983. He was the Getty Research Institute scholar-in-residence in Los Angeles in 1998 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.

In 1985, Viola received with a Guggenheim Fellowship for fine arts, and later that decade, in 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His work was also featured in some of the world’s most notable exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977, Documenta XI in 1992, the 1987 and 1993 editions of the Whitney Biennial, and the 2001 Venice Biennale.

In 1995, he represented the United States at the 46th edition of the Venice Biennale. For the pavilion, Viola produced the series of works “Buried Secrets,” including one of his most known works The Greeting, which offers a contemporary interpretation of Pontormo’s oil painting The Visitation (ca.1528–30). The Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and New York’s Guggenheim Museum commissioned the digital fresco cycle in high-definition video, titled Going Forth By Day, in 2002.

Viola’s work was the subject of a major 25-year survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, which subsequently toured internationally. His work has been the subject of major museum retrospectives in the years since, including at the Grand Palais in Paris (in 2014), the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain (2017), and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (2019), as well as an exhibition pairing his work with that of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2019.

Viola is survived by his wife Kira Perov, who has been the executive director of his studio since 1978, and their two children.

“One thing that’s very exciting about video that has turned me on since I first saw this glowing image way back in 1970 is that it can be so much,” Viola said in a 1995 with Charlie Rose on the occasion of this US Pavilion at the Biennale. “Furthermore, what’s really exciting is I don’t think it’s been since really the Renaissance where artists have been able to use a medium that one could say is the dominant communication form in society.”


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Couple’s winning art projects adorn overpass



Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot are partners: in life, love, and art. Thanks to their creative pursuits, now they are also joined in the recognition of their work along the Lakeshore overpass.

The City of North Bay, in collaboration with the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC), recently held an event to acknowledge the successful applicants for the Lakeshore Drive overpass banner project. This initiative features 14 artworks created by local artists, highlighting the ongoing commitment to bringing public art to the community and celebrating local talent. The banners were installed early last week.

On behalf of PAAC, Katie Bevan noted that 71 submissions were received for the banner art project. “Selecting just 14 artworks from such outstanding submissions was no small feat. It truly highlights the incredible creativity within our community — and it’s only growing.”

Bevan acknowledged all who submitted their work and congratulated the 14 winners:

  • Caitlin Daniel
  • Corbin Elliot
  • Adam Fielder
  • Ian Gauthier
  • Ruby Grant
  • Annabelle Harvey
  • Penny Heather
  • Robert Johannsen
  • Robyn Jones
  • Gerry McComb
  • Victoria Primeau
  • Tessa Shank
  • Rana Thomas
  • Claudia Torres

“This is the first time I’ve participated in something city-wide, and I’ve been really interested in getting more involved in the art community,” said Harvey, a teacher by vocation when not helping to beautify North Bay. “I’ve worked a lot with the WKP Kennedy Gallery and I’ve been putting in submissions for some of their group shows. So, this is a cool opportunity to try something new. This is the first time I have done digital work. Usually, I like painting and collage. So I was interested just to try something new.”

In September 2023, public art gained more prominence in North Bay as 12 pieces by eight local artists selected by the Public Art Advisory Committee were placed on aluminum panels mounted onto the public buildings in both Champlain and Sunset parks.

Harvey’s partner Elliot is an emerging artist and a Fine Arts graduate from Nipissing University who says his passion for bringing his vision to life has only grown, thanks, in part, to these public art initiatives.

“There is so much opportunity to have a lot of different public art in different spaces,” he says. “So, when I saw that there was a variety of different artists and voices being accepted, of course, I wanted to have my vision out there in the city, to make my mark and be a part of that kind of trajectory of building the art scene within the city.”

The couple share a studio space, often working on separate projects at the same time while collaborating with encouragement and ideas.

“We are working on different mediums, a lot of the time,” Elliot said. “We have our own corners set up in the studio and I’ll usually be on my easel and Annabelle will be doing something…”

Harvey picked up his thought, “I’m usually at my desk doing pottery, jewellery, collage — I do a lot of different things.”

Couple Annabelle Harvey and Corbin Elliot each earned a spot among the 14 winning banner art projects. Stu Campaigne/BayToday

For Harvey, working so closely together is her “favourite part, especially watching his creative process.”

Elliot added, “I think I’m more non-verbal as I’m creating. I often hear you saying, ‘Oh, I think I like this.'”

Both have active Instagram pages featuring their artwork, Harvey’s can be found here, and Elliot’s here.

Elliot has a show at the WKP Kennedy Gallery, entitled “Upon a Star,” opening Sept. 13. “I’ll have my own solo exhibition. I typically work in painting. I have a big body of work with paintings,” he said.

The City of North Bay and PAAC encourage everyone to take a moment to appreciate these works of art when passing by the overpass.

Harvey and Elliot are thrilled about the banner art project.

“It’s like seeing your vision come to life. We’ve had lots of friends, even before we saw them today say excitedly, ‘I saw your work on the overpass,’ it’s just a proud moment to have so many eyes on our work.”



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