“122 Conversations: Person to Person, Art Beyond Borders” celebrates humanity

 Scrolls made for Duluth by Anne Labovitz. Photo by Morgan Pint

Scrolls made for Duluth by Anne Labovitz. Photo by Morgan Pint

An opening reception of “122 conversations: Person to Person, Art Beyond Borders” is on Oct. 25, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Tweed Museum. However, it has been open to the public since Sept. 25, 2018.

After six cities, meeting over 3,000 people, and creating close to 2,000 pieces of art, Anne Labovitz's traveling exhibit came to a stop in her hometown of Duluth.

 Labovitz wearing a “celestial generosity apron” standing in front of pictures from her art workshops. Photo by Jakob Bermas

Labovitz wearing a “celestial generosity apron” standing in front of pictures from her art workshops. Photo by Jakob Bermas

Labovitz is a freelance artist based out of St. Paul, Minnesota, but was born in Duluth. Much of her work is done through drawing, painting and printmaking. Her main interest is human relationships, the human spirit and how it conveys itself emotionally.

For this six year project Labovitz traveled to Duluth’s six sister cities: Raina, Iraqi Kurdistan, Vaxjo, Sweden, Petrozavodsk, Russia, Thunder Bay, Canada and Ohara Isumi-City, Japan. The project was organized by the Tweed Museum of Art with collaboration with the Duluth Sister Cities International. It was meant to celebrate the 122 years of relationships with the sister cities.

The project was captured in various mediums. In order to first establish a cross cultural connection with people in each sister cities, Labovitz conducted interviews with people either in person or via Skype. Labovitz took inspirations from those interviews and interpreted them by painting on long scrolls that stretch from the ceiling to the ground.

During her exhibitions in the sister cities, Labovitz also held art workshops where she engaged with the public. Participants sat at tables with bins of colored pencils, sharpies and ink pens. They took small colorful square tiles out of aprons on the wall and created their own unique design on them.

 Paula Ralph, a junior and Nathan Dunaway, a senior work on a tile to add to the Duluth contribution wall. Photo by Jakob Bermas

Paula Ralph, a junior and Nathan Dunaway, a senior work on a tile to add to the Duluth contribution wall. Photo by Jakob Bermas

The interview questions were simple, such as, ‘who do you live with?’, ‘what's your occupation?’ and ‘what's your favorite color?’ Then, they turned more personal: ‘describe yourself’ and ‘what do you hope for?’

“It was more conversational,” Labovitz said. “People were so eager everywhere to participate. It was outstanding. It’s an overwhelming feeling to have people open up to you that you don't know.”

“People were so eager to share and tell their stories,” Labovitz said. “Some people divulge really personal things. Even though the questions were generic in a way, people just reached out and really wanted to share. It was beautiful.”

Upon first glance, visitors will notice the myriad of brushstrokes and use of energetic colors on the long scrolls. The colors aren't random, but were inspired from the interviews.

“Part of [my color choice] was intuitive and part of it was maybe the person said, ‘my favorite color is blue,’” Labovitz said.

Labovitz talked about her influences for conducting interviews. One of her influences was German philosopher Martin Buber who believed that human to human interaction has the potential to become a spiritual experience.

“My grandmother always used to talk about [Buber],” Labovitz said. “The interviews were a space where everything else faded away and I only saw the people. It was a beautiful moment and I feel in love with each of them.”

Visitors are encouraged to contribute to the exhibit as well. In Canada, Japan, Sweden, and here in Duluth, Labovitz set up an area for visitors to create their own tile. The areas for people to make their own tile and see what others from around the world made are meant for a moment to “pause and see one another.”

 Tiles made from participants in Thunder Bay, Canada. Photo by Morgan Pint

Tiles made from participants in Thunder Bay, Canada. Photo by Morgan Pint

“When you’re viewing these, you’re viewing the voices and the experience I had interviewing these people,” Labovitz said. “The project was really about one-on-one. You have a moment with a person in another country through these little tiles. It’s a cascade of moments.”

Ken Bloom, director of the Tweed Museum of Art, believes that its a bit “magical” to be able to create your own tile.

“You go over there and actually make [a tile], and all of a sudden you start to get it and think, ‘oh this is what everyone of these people did,’” Blood said. “Then your kind of a sister and brother to at least 5,000 or 6,000 other people. The whole dynamic of your experience shifts after you’ve tried one yourself.”

Workshop participants were from many backgrounds. Students from drug and alcohol treatment, high school students, elders and the general public engaged in the art workshops. Labovitz also conducted an art workshop with refugees in Sweden.

 Choice Tiles made by participants in Russia. Photo by Jakob Bermas

Choice Tiles made by participants in Russia. Photo by Jakob Bermas

After traveling to all these countries and seeing thousands of people Labovitz found what people commonly hope for is peace and education for their children. She also found that her love for humanity is stronger and became humbled because of it.

“I’ve always loved people always, and I think I love people more,” Labovitz said. “I feel honored to have had these experiences where people didn't know me and wanted to talk to me. Everybody, everyone of us is amazing and if you just pause long enough to ask enough questions you’ll find out.”

After the project Labovitz realizes that she hopes for connection in the world.

“I hope for greater human compassion and connectedness,” Labovitz said. “There's a way to bridge that gap that seems so big, our religious difference, our cultural difference, skin tone, whatever that is. There's a way to build bridges so that we can see each other.”

The opening reception of “122 conversations” is on Oct. 25, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Tweed Museum. At the reception Labovitz will give a tour of her exhibit and will be selling a necklace she made symbolizing her journey. The exhibit will be on display in the Tweed Museum until Jan. 6, 2019.

CultureJakob Bermas