The School of the Arts Launches a Season of 'Repair'

BY Kristina Tate, September 25, 2020

When School of Arts Dean Carol Becker imagined the theme of Repair for the 2020-2021 Public Programs and Engagement season, she was thinking about the election. “Whatever happens, in the next period there’s going to be a huge fissure, a rupture, a break, however you want to think about it, that will need to be mended,” Becker said in an interview. “I always had this image of a cloth that needed to be stitched back together. It’s not as if I believed you could stitch the country together again and it would be whole—or that it ever was––but in some way Repair is transitional. What do you do when something breaks? Even if you can’t create a totality or the whole reconfigured, you at least try to fix it, so you can go on.”


Featuring conversations, films, theatrical presentations, events, and podcasts, this year’s season will explore creative practices that engage social and political initiatives committed to reimagining and transforming frayed relationships between humans, other species, the planet, and ourselves. And though the pandemic wasn’t a consideration in planning this year’s theme, it fits. During a time when people have been forced to cancel plans, shut down events, halt travel, and drastically alter routines and expectations—the day-to-day has become immediate—even the way we connect has changed, suggesting that if we truly want to repair, everything must transform.


A multicolored Kantha quilt was commissioned from artist Cynthia Director specifically for this year’s programming to represent Repair. Kantha is a quilting tradition of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, in which pieces of worn fabric—often from saris or dhotis—are layered, embroidered, and held together with running stitches.

The theme is abstract. It considers not just the tangible act of repair but in an effort to do so, the act of creating something entirely new. “It’s a word that is fluid and you can take it almost into any context,” Becker said. “What has been out of repair? What is broken? What is ruptured? How do we bring it together in a new way? I like the word, but I also know that some things will take generations to repair, if ever. I don’t know if we can repair the earth. We can certainly stop continuing to damage it and it will heal itself, but we have to repair our understanding of it.”


One notable event, Experimental Preservation, is a conversation with restoration artists, Sam Van Aken and Jorge Otero-Pailos, that will explore the concept of not just restoration in a traditional sense, returning something to what it once was, but in the very act of restoration, creating something new and different. “Sam, someone who grafts trees and plants, became obsessed with the notion that Upstate New York in the Hudson Valley, had become a mono-culture of just producing apples for example,” Becker said. “All other fruits that used to be produced had stopped being produced and now it had become predominantly a mono-culture of apples, so he started grafting, and grafting is a great image too for bringing disparate things together. When I was a child—I grew up part of my life on a farm—my uncles grafted, so we had cherry plums and apricot peaches, fruit that was hybrid. Grafting is a really interesting idea that you can take one thing, put something else together with it, and you get a third thing. In that sense, almost like dialectics, you start with a thesis, a hypothesis, then it’s contrary, and when you move through that, you end up with a distillation of ideas that creates a third thing.”


Another event–– a conversation with speakers involved in the creation of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, Gregg Bleam, E. Franklin Dukes, Eric Höweler, Eto Otitigbe, Diane Brown Townes, Mabel O. Wilson, J. Meejin Yoon, and Farah Jasmine Griffin–– aims to explore the history, form, and process behind the creation of this powerful new memorial. The structure is installed on grounds that, designed by Thomas Jefferson and now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were built and maintained by 4,000 enslaved men, women, and children. Featuring marks and the names of these individuals carved into granite, this memorial was designed with input from their descendants and Charlottesville community members, turning “grief for a hidden past into a healing space,” according to The New York Times. “How do you retell stories so that they’re accurate to what actually occurred?” Becker posed. “How do you repair mythologies, illusions, and misconceptions?” 


One word that came up again and again in talking with Becker—a word that not only ties this year’s events together within the repair theme, but also captures a monumental shift that has the capacity to touch everyone— was consciousness. How do we repair our consciousness?


“Some things feel quite irreparable, like nature and what we’ve done to the earth. I’m not sure that any of the climatologists or people who are really interested in the state of climate change would ever agree that you can repair the damage that has been done,” Becker said. “On the other hand, we have to somehow imagine how we can go on—we have to repair our consciousness. We have to imagine another way of living on this planet.” 


On the whole, this season’s events feature ideas that dovetail from one Repair-related theme to another, but whether they’re talking environmental repair, indigenous perspectives, mythology, preservation, translation, and more, all—in light of increased political tension, the pandemic—seem to echo a universal message: a call for fundamental change. “In our small way, we’re trying to bring attention to those issues. It is in keeping with what artists do, which is to focus on that which the rest of the world does not want to look at in one way or another. Or artists change the way we see the world, whether through plays, film, visual art, or writing. They shift our perception of things, sometimes the shifts are very subtle, sometimes they are extreme.” 


Whether it be repairing what once was or transforming it into something else entirely, the future ahead of us as a species, a nation, a planet must transform—a healing so profound that it will confound even our traditional methods of repair itself. 


This season’s programming will be available online, via podcast, and video, and is free and open to the public. For a full list of events, visit the link below.

2020-2021 Public Programs and Engagement season
Conversations, films, theatrical presentations, events, and podcasts will explore creative practices that engage social and political initiatives committed to reimagining and transforming frayed relationships between humans, other species, the planet, and ourselves.