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Leaves of Light with Writer Kendra Greene

 

Kendra Greene, the DMA's current Writer-in-Residence

Kendra Greene, the DMA’s current Writer-in-Residence

Since July 2014, the Center for Creative Connections (C3) has worked closely with printer and essayist Kendra Greene. As our Writer-in-Residence, Kendra is assisting in the evaluation and re-purposing of thousands of visitor responses received in relation to a recent C3 installation.

Images (left to right): A Panel Depicting the Tuba Tree, with the 99 Names of God on its Leaves, c. 1900, watercolor on paper, The James and Ana Melikian Collection; Visitors leaving responses at the C3's Tree of "LIGHT" interactive

Images (left to right): A Panel Depicting the Tuba Tree, with the 99 Names of God on its Leaves, c. 1900, watercolor on paper, The James and Ana Melikian Collection; Visitors leaving responses at the C3’s Tree of “LIGHT” interactive

In the spring of 2014, in connection with Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World, C3 asked visitors to respond to a painting of a Tuba tree with the 99 names of God written on its leaves. Nur is the Arabic word for “light,” so we asked visitors to write a characteristic of light on a gold leaf and hang it on our tree. Over three months, we received 4,394 contributions.

Uncrated sat down with Kendra and asked her a few questions:

Tell us a little about your background with museums.
In my first job, as a preparator, I used to put text on the museum wall—one vinyl letter at a time. As a curatorial assistant, I started writing those texts. I was managing a contemporary photography collection when I discovered the best day I could have was introducing a visitor to some remarkable thing they could never have known to ask for, which may or may not have led to volunteering at a natural history museum to costume their giant ground sloth.

What interested you in working with the Dallas Museum of Art?
Museums are storytelling institutions, and yet so many of those stories go unheard. There’s never enough room on the labels to say everything worth saying, and then there’s the internal stories, the fragile oral history of what it is to live with a museum, that almost never get recorded in the first place. I wanted to capture stories that might otherwise be lost, and I wanted to give voice to surprising things well worth hearing.

Describe your process of unpacking and making sense of the information in the leaves.
The prospect of coming to grips with thousands of discrete words and phrases was overwhelming. I started alphabetizing to organize the leaves, and doing so I found not just patterns of meaning but rhythms of language. I got really interested in the effect of proportion in the responses: the power of “Love” being repeated 242 times, and the power of “Flowers & Weeds” being said just once.

Kendra’s notebook documenting the Tuba tree responses

Kendra’s notebook documenting the Tuba tree responses

What are some of your favorite poems that you generated from the leaf responses?

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How does this kind of creative re-purposing support the process of meaning making?
I’m a writer and a maker essentially because I believe in conversation. It’s exciting whenever creating something generates a response, but when that response generates more making, the whole exchange grows that much richer. It was really important to me to listen to everything this collection of visitors chose to say, and then think about what those writings had to say both individually and en masse. I see a lot of my questions and interpretations in my compositions from the leaves, but mostly I see a portrait of a community that can only happen through collaboration.

Join Kendra Greene for an evening of discovering the galleries through language, unlocking the power of art to spark poetry and prose, Thursday, February 12, from 6:00 to 8:50 p.m., and experience Kendra’s assembled poetry at the February Late Night on Friday, February 20, in the C3 Theater at 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Jessica Fuentes is the Center for Creative Connections Gallery Coordinator at the DMA.

Common Thread

This month the Center for Creative Connections (C3) says goodbye to a few of our favorite works of art currently on view. Anytown USA by Jack Pierson, The Minotaur by Marcel Dzama, and Starry Crown by John Biggers are all set to come down the last week of April. It has been a joy to witness the frequent Instagrams taken of Anytown USA, to see the countless drawings made by visitors of all ages of The Minotaur, and to read the numerous visitor responses to Starry Crown.

samaran89 I saw this at an art gallery today in #Dallas. I feel like it should be the image of my travels around America!

samaran89 I saw this at an art gallery today in #Dallas. I feel like it should be the image of my travels around America!

marc.os.c

lisavanahn Loved this interactive piece of art at DMA, it asked you to write a piece of advice a wise woman had given you and pass it down. and right there front and center "you are enough" #bestadviceevergiven

lisavanahn Loved this interactive piece of art at DMA, it asked you to write a piece of advice a wise woman had given you and pass it down. and right there front and center “you are enough” #bestadviceevergiven

In honor of the thousands of visitors who have responded to our prompt related to Starry Crown, with the help of C3 Visiting Artist Kendra Greene, we have compiled booklets of visitor responses to give back to the community.  Stop by the Center for Creative Connections this month to pick up a keepsake, “Common Thread: Selections of women’s wisdom, guidance, counsel, advice, experience, notions, revelations, hard truths, and plain facts.”

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Stop by C3 at the beginning of May to see these new additions to the space. How will they inspire you?

Jessica Fuentes is the Manager of Gallery Interpretation and the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA.

The Answers She Gives

In honor of Employee Appreciation Day on Friday, March 4, we asked Writer-in-Residence Kendra Greene to share one of the stories she’s been collecting at the DMA. The following is from her conversation with Genet Mamuye, Visitor Services Representative:

Genet Mamuye and Kendra Greene in front of one of Genet's favorite spots, The Icebergs.

Genet Mamuye and Kendra Greene in one of Genet’s favorite spots, in front of The Icebergs.

On a slow day, Genet Mamuye talks to hundreds of people. There are little kids and people in their nineties and first-timers and non-English speakers. There are regulars who come almost every day and there are people who don’t know where to start. There are people who ask where to eat downtown and how to get their art on the walls and is there anything for sale? What should I see?

Genet started with the DMA 23 years ago, and spent her first nine years as a gallery attendant. In the early 2000s, she moved to the Visitor Services Desk, where you’ll find her now. There was a time when she only saw big crowds when there were big exhibitions, but now she sees more people than ever.

Visitors are always asking Genet what her favorite thing is at the Museum. That’s where they want to start. But the short answer is: She doesn’t have one. Sure, she walks the DMA two or three times a week to see if anything is new. She also keeps up with the cultural goings on in the area so she can answer the questions that have nothing to do with the Museum she represents. She believes the main thing is to ensure whoever walks in has a good experience. Which is to say, she wants to give an answer, but what she really wants is for visitors to connect with the things that matter to them. She knows people who swoon for contemporary work can’t be sent anywhere else. She finds it’s a safe bet that children and families will fall in love with Egypt on the third floor. If you announce you only have fifteen minutes for your visit and time’s a-ticking, you’ll be sent to the Reves Collection on Level 3. And when Genet asks you on your way out how it went, chances are you’ll thank her.

Once, years ago, a young man asked his father to go to the Museum. It was the young man’s birthday. The pair was from out of town. The young man adored Ellsworth Kelly, and only when they arrived did he realize there was an exhibition of Kelly’s work. What luck! The young man and his father asked Genet about it, and were crestfallen to realize the installation wasn’t quite done, the show not quite yet open. They had come so far, and they wouldn’t be back in time to see it.

It was at that moment that Mr. Kelly’s car pulled up. They could see it through the glass doors. Genet quietly noted the arrival to the young man and his father, and left it at that. Mr. Kelly was so gracious, so nice. He took that young man on a private tour of the not yet open show. The young man was overjoyed, and even now thinking about it, Genet brings her hand to her heart.

Working with the public, in Genet’s view, means you have to be open to learn. You have to be respectful and you have to be positive. Certainly, you can’t assume. There are people that wander past three times, obviously lost, and you have to find the way to approach them. Visitors come back on later visits and remember Genet. But, as she says, “It’s not just me. All my coworkers are really good. We have to be. We open our doors for everybody.”

A. Kendra Greene is The Center for Creative Connections Visiting Artist at the DMA.


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