‘Reflections’ at River Road: art to process the pandemic | Arts & Culture

Emilee Geist

On the corner of River Road and Briarcliff Loop, the wooden fence facing the street has become a canvas for 3D art. Flowers made of materials like wood, glass, paper and yarn climb the fence: their centers are circular mosaics, and willow branches bent into teardrop shapes form the petals. […]

On the corner of River Road and Briarcliff Loop, the wooden fence facing the street has become a canvas for 3D art. Flowers made of materials like wood, glass, paper and yarn climb the fence: their centers are circular mosaics, and willow branches bent into teardrop shapes form the petals. As cars whiz down the road, pedestrians pause in front of the fence throughout the day, taking in the art created by their neighbors. 

The display is part of Reflections Space 2020, a public art project aimed at helping the community process experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project includes five visual exhibitions, from video projects to fabric prints, created by local arts organizations. This one, Reflections Space: River Road / Santa Clara, was organized by Eug-Art 404, a local group named for the zip code its members share. 

“Art seems really essential right now,” said Lisa Yu, a Eug-Art 404 member and the lead artist of the exhibit. “Everybody I know has really depended on art as a lifeline during these times.” 

When the city announced Reflections Space 2020 and put out the call for project proposals in May, Eug-Art 404 started brainstorming. But as the deadline approached, the group came up short on ideas, Yu said. What Yu did have was a pile of willow branches she and another local artist, Patricia Donohue, had gathered as natural art material. Yu noticed that the branches bent naturally into teardrop shapes, and these drops became the building blocks for the installation. Donohue created about 160 that community members could design to reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. The drops center around four themes: disruption, loss, reflection and hope.

Working on Reflections Space — through a handful of Zoom sessions, in-person mask meetings and leaving art in neighbor’s lawns — has kept Eug-Art 404 connected. “It’s given me a sense of purpose and also that I’m interacting with other people,” Yu said.

The project has also been a way to untangle unfamiliar experiences. “We don’t always have words to express the things we’re dealing with, especially in times of trauma,” Eug-Art 404 member Stephanie Jackson said. Jackson leads a therapeutic art group at the nonprofit Christians As Family Advocates that has created its own drops for the installation. 

Collaborative projects like Reflections have kept Donohue connected to art. When the pandemic started, she struggled to spend just half an hour in her studio, and after the murder of George Floyd, she was too angry for even that. As a Person of Color raised by a Black man, she poured her energy into the Black Lives Matter movement. Working on Reflections helped pull Donohue back into the art world where she could process what she was witnessing. 

For Reflections Space: River Road / Santa Clara, Donohue created a collection of petals titled “Say Their Names,” wrapping them in fabric and writing the names of 124 Black people killed due to their skin color since the late 1900s. “When I would write down their names on the petal, I researched why we were calling their names, and it was pretty disturbing. I know I could have done a lot more, but looking at each one of those names, it was a lot,” she said. 

Donohue hopes the installation will encourage understanding among its observers. “I hope the community sees that no matter what you’re going through, whether it’s the fires that you’re going through, we all see each other’s pain,” she said. “I hope that people can understand what their neighbors are going through.” 

Jackson’s goal for the exhibit is for its audience to feel loved and heard. She created the circular mosaics of glass pieces that form the centers of the flowers including one designed as an eye with the words “seen, heard, loved” running over the eyelid. Working on the piece, Jackson caught her reflection in the glass shards and imagined how others would also see their faces reflected in the exhibit. 

“I almost cried because I feel like we’ve all encountered, for many different reasons, a lot of hardship and pain, but my hope is that as people saw themselves, they would understand their value,” she said. 

Eug-Art 404 pieced the individual drops and mosaics together into colorful flowers scaling the fence at River Road and Briarcliff Loop. The group plans to install another display farther north along River Road in late September and to continue the outdoor exhibits through October. Afterward, Yu hopes to find an indoor location, such as a public building, to give the art pieces a more permanent home. 

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