Walk through the Figge Art Museum’s newest offering, “Jefferson Pinder: Ghost Light,” and you’ll quickly realize this is not the venue’s typical exhibit.
Installations include a stack of 16 TVs, a large-scale wooden sculpture, video projections, audio and, perhaps most striking, a replica of a barbershop chair and mirror, modeled after Joe’s Barbershop on Harrison Street in Davenport.
“It’s the first of its kind for us,” Andrew Wallace, manager of collections and exhibitions, said.
And the exhibit as it looks this week is only the beginning.
As part of the site-specific mixed-media collection, billed with the goal of “exploring race and conditioning in the Midwest,” Pinder will present three accompanying live performance events, including one scheduled for Saturday.
Pinder, a Chicago-based artist, will document, with audio and video, the live performances and add them to the installations, which means the exhibit will change in several phases during its run, ending June 4.
Performance events include:
• 2 p.m. Saturday, March 11: "Token," featuring Quad-City based figurative artist Dean Kügler leading a public discussion about his personal experience crossing boundaries of race and contemporary definitions of family.
• 2 p.m. Saturday, April 1: "Joe's Barbershop," highlighting Davenport-based barber Joe McLemore and an effort to demystify "the allure of the black barbershop."
• 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 5: "The Conversation," a talk-show inspired installation inviting renewed conversation about a race riot that took place at Rock Island High School in the early 1970s. Quad-City community activist Gaye Burnett and actress Pamela Couch will lead the talk.
Wallace said there’s plenty to see in between these dates.
“If you’re here and there’s not a performance happening, you’re left to your own devices to think about what might occur here or what might’ve occurred here,” he said. “It’s not all that different from standing in front of a still painting."
Wallace said “Ghost Light” as it stands today, before any performances have happened, is akin to a stage set.
“It’s similar to if you walk into a theater where the performance is about to start and there’s no curtain and you see the stage all set up, you start thinking about things you might see or hear,” he said. “If you allow yourself, you’re putting yourself in a place where you’re open to hear about other people’s stories and people you may have never intersected with. As a result of that, you may be enriched, or you may be disturbed, or you might become more thoughtful.”
Hidden part of the community
Before commissioning a piece with the Figge Art Museum, Jefferson Pinder had made headlines for his artwork inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls in 1963.
And then Pinder, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, visited the Quad-Cities about a year ago in search of the African-American experience. Since then, Pinder has spent several months in the area working on the exhibit.
As Wallace said, it took some searching to find Pinder’s direction.
“When he first came to the Quad-Cities, the (African-American) community was not immediately visible to him,” he said. “His task was to meet the community, reach out, talk to people about their experience.”
When Pinder walked into Joe’s Barbershop, he immediately knew it was a scene fit for his exhibit.
“I started out with this big question of ‘How do you unravel the African-American experience in the Quad-Cities?’ and, you know, there’s not a book about it,” Pinder told me back in January, during a filming day at Joe’s Barbershop. “I think you have to look at individuals who know the community really well and give them the platform."
Along with Joe McLemore at the barbershop, Pinder landed on including Dean Kugler, a figurative artist, and community activist Gay Burnett.
“These museums tend to ignore people that are right in front of them,” Pinder said. “The idea is to show a slice of the community that’s hidden and that people forget about.”
In using a variety of voices, Pinder hopes to bring Quad-Citians to the exhibit who have never been to the Figge before.
“What you go looking for at the museum is part of yourself,” he said. “I want to provide an experience where people can go and see parts of themselves and also parts of the human experience they’re not familiar with.”
The exhibit isn’t the norm for the Figge, and that’s the point.
“There’s no one doing work like this around the Quad-Cities,” Wallace said. “We feel an obligation to bring artists and ideas from elsewhere to the Quad-Cities. If we only focused on art from here or the same kinds of art, we’d see the same thing over and over.”
“Ghost Light” certainly offers a lot of new things for the Figge.
During the “Joe’s Barbershop” live performance, McLemore will lead a discussion about his life and community while cutting someone’s hair.
"That's another first for us," Wallace said.
Across from the barber chair, a stack of TVs display 16 muted videos of Quad-City men, McLemore’s customers, fresh from a haircut.
“You look at them and all you see is their faces, so you don’t know where they’re from or what their story is,” Wallace said. “Those experiences aren’t my experiences, but if I’m open to them as a person, they can help question how I interact with the world.”
After all, the exhibit’s description, which Wallace wrote, starts with this question: “How often does a community look at itself through the eyes of ‘the other’?”
“As a whole, it’s focused on a part of Davenport that people rarely see,” Wallace said. “It’s giving things new life by shedding light on them."