The main summer exhibit at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe is titled When I Grow Up. Its goal is to break the stereotypes students and other people have about older folks.
"College students don’t even think about getting old and their own mortality,” says Museum curator John Spiak, “but the future is out there. Seniors really aren’t that different from the rest of us: they vote, they pay taxes, they pay rent, they live.”
- ASU Web Devil, 1 June 2004
Five artists are featured in the exhibit, which opened on 22 May, whose works include video documentaries, photographic stories and comic books about older folks. One series by photographer Troy Aossey, titled Sun City West Jazzy Poms, documents a cheerleading team of grandmotherly types who are determinedly thumbing their noses at the limited expectations imposed on older folks.
"For every Sun City West Jazzy Pom,” says photographer Aossey, “there are hundreds, or more likely thousands, of older people who because of society's pressure cannot do what the Sun City West Jazzy Poms do for us, defy aging by putting on the uniform and kicking away our outdated cultural attitudes toward the elderly.”
Villa Capri 1998, a video produced by Vincent Goudreau, is the portrait of life inside a Los Angeles nursing home showing the stark reality of daily life and planned activities along with interviews with residents revealing what led them to spend the last part of their lives at the Villa Capri.
“With existing taboos of aging and death,” explains Mr. Goudreau, “the work attempts to allow a space or an opportunity for the voices of those who have been culturally set aside.”
You are likely to have heard of another of the artists, David Greenberger, and his work, The Duplex Planet, which began as a homemade magazine in 1979, and has continued in a variety of forms ever since: comics, musical compositions and performances, theater pieces and Greenberger’s personal commentaries on National Public Radio.
"I took a job as activities director at a nursing home in Boston,” explains Greenberger. “I had just completed a degree in fine arts as a painter. On the day that I first met the residents of the nursing home, I abandoned painting. That is to say, I discarded the brushes and canvas, not the underlying desire to see something in the world around me and then communicate it to others. In this unexpected setting I found my medium. I wanted others to know these people as I did.
“From the start, my mission has been to offer a range of characters who are already old, so that we can get to know them as they are in the present, without celebrating or mourning who they were before. Since the elderly are already thought of by what they have in common - that they're all old - I try to recast them as individuals.”
David Greenberger has been doing that now for more than 25 years and he has succinctly put his finger on one of reasons I began this Weblog:
“With most every important transition in our lives we draw on our observations of others who have made similar changes. In the universal experience of aging we are desperately short of meaningful guidance. The Duplex Planet offers some lessons and examples.”
For anyone who lives near Tempe or can get there this summer, admission to the exhibit is free and runs until 11 September. The Museum’s Website has additional information about these artists and the other two who are included in the show.