Interview: Pamela Blotner and Elizabeth Addison, by Anna Vaughan

Crossing To Safety, March 3rd – 31st

Pamela Blotner and Elizabeth Addison curated “Crossing To Safety” at the Abrams Claghorn Gallery this March; a show of eleven Bay Area artists addressing immigration, environmentalism, colonization, refugee struggles and gentrification.

Anna Vaughan- an accomplished artist in her own right and resident artist at Abrams Claghorn- asked them a few questions about their work as artists, activists, and curators.

Anna: Hello Pamela and Elizabeth, thank you both for agreeing to do this interview! I am excited to learn more about this compelling group of artists, and about the process of curating the “Crossing to Safety” exhibit. I’d like to start off with some background information about the two of you. Where and how did you first meet?

Pamela: We met about five years ago in the Art Department at JFK University, where Elizabeth was earning her MFA after a career in advertising, and I was teaching a course while transitioning from educator to full-time artist and curator.

PB with _Harken!_Anna: How fortunate! It sounds like you were both in a place of discovery. I believe the two of you have worked on a number of projects together. What was the nature of your first collaboration?

Pamela: Yes, that’s true. We found, in the process of working together, that we shared a number of the same interests, conceptual orientation and goals. A joint project seemed inevitable, and Elizabeth soon invited me to collaborate with her on an installation for the SOMArts “Day of the Dead” exhibition. Shortly after that, I asked her to create the invitation and catalog for “Envisioning Human Rights,” an exhibition I was curating for the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Anna: Both of you are working artists. What drew you to curating?

Pamela: In some ways, curating comes with the territory of being an artist. I find it an extension of the creative process. When I was in art school, a professor said something I’ve never forgotten: “the very best art affects the viewer on on three levels: visually, intellectually, and viscerally- all at once.” And it is a joy to be able to create an exhibition of works that do just that. That, I hope, will motivate and move viewers, and send them home with a more broad vision of the world.

Anna: Ah, words to live by: visually, intellectually and viscerally- all at once. I feel that in the selected works; many of them communicate a narrative, and have a strong visceral quality. What about for you, Elizabeth? What excites you about curating?

Elizabeth: Coming from an advertising background, I always enjoyed the collaborative process; kind of like a team sport. I bring this to my fine art practice, and I find working with other artists especially energizing. We have a rich artistic culture in the Bay Area, and having many artist colleagues and bringing them together as a curator is a wonderful extension of sharing visions to create a larger whole – to share important messages.

Anna: I agree that it is invaluable for artists to be part of a creative community. I’ve been looking at the artists who were pulled together for this show, and one thing I notice is that, in addition to dealing with concepts around immigration, the show also has a strong component of environmentalism. Do you see these two topics as intrinsically linked?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. It’s only in relatively recent years that a healthy environment has come to be considered an inviolable human right. And it is, perhaps, more recent still, that humankind has begun to understand and take responsibility for climate change. We’ve known for some time that climate shifts have played a large part in many of the migrations that have crisscrossed the globe; populations forced to emigrate by flooding, or droughts that destroyed homes, crops and livelihoods- like farming and fishing. So a vicious cycle begins: scarce resources drive people into new territories, whose inhabitants are often unable to tolerate an influx of different beliefs and customs- let alone share precious resources and overcrowding. Disease and war are logical outcomes. It follows that environmental issues are, indeed, at the root of many of the issues and situations represented in this exhibition.

Elizabeth: Yes, environmental degradation caused by climate change and war have displaced entire groups and cultures throughout history. I see this as an interwoven component, especially in our lifetimes. Sharon Siskin’s map “Rising,” in particular, points out the displacement of an entire tribal group in the Southern United States due to rising waters. She spells it out in a wood-burned paragraph. Having lost 98% of their land to rising sea levels, these indigenous people are our country’s first environmental refugees.

Anna: What about the piece that the two of you made together… was this artwork made specifically for the “Crossing to Safety” exhibition?

Pamela (answer for both Pamela and Elizabeth): Elizabeth and I hesitated about including our own work because we wanted to showcase the artists we chose for the exhibit. Two of those artists, however, Art Hazelwood and Emmanuel Montoya, strongly encouraged us to create something specifically for the show. With this “permission,” we decided to make an installation that might symbolize the aspects of the journeys – both discoveries and perils – that many immigrants experience and that would serve as as threshold into the world of the show. Hence, our mixed media “Portal” hangs just inside the gallery doors.

Anna: Do you have any plans in the works for future exhibitions?

Elizabeth (answer for both Pamela and Elizabeth): We are both big dreamers and, sometimes, overwhelm each other with ideas and schemes. At the moment, an arts organization/gallery in San Rafael asked us to submit a proposal for curating a variation of “Crossing to Safety” that includes a juried component to include Marin artists. We are working on that now and hope we can bring “Crossing to Safety” to even more venues. We are also developing plans for more or our collaborative artworks and installations as well as our own solo exhibitions coming up this fall- in September and October, respectively- at the Abrams Claghorn Gallery.

Thank you Anna Vaughan, Pamela Blotner, and Elizabeth Addison for your time and words.

We look forward to hearing more about arts and activism at the Artist Panel on Saturday, March 26th, 5 – 7 PM.

The show runs from March 3rd – March 31st. More information is linked here.