Intern Morgan catches up with William Bert and Kira Wiesniewski, curators of the Call + Response: Textures art show at the Hamiltonian Gallery on U Street in NW Washington, D.C.
Morgan: Where did you get the inspiration for this project?
William and Kira: We attended the opening of an art show called Paper Cuts in June 2009 that showcased a bunch of brilliant rock show posters, and there was a moment where we looked at each other and said, This is great. Let’s do one ourselves! William had attended a show pairing writers and artists years earlier in Tucson, and he had been thinking about doing something along those lines for a long time, and Kira brought art show experience and a ton of energy and organizational skills to the table.
M: Do either of you curate other shows?
W+K: Kira curated a show in Miami back in 2005. William hadn’t ever done anything quite like this so we were stoked that the first edition of Call + Response last January turned out so well. For that first iteration, we had 16 pairs — 32 participants in all! Quite the logistics challenge. After that, we felt prepared to do just about anything.
M: How do you come up with the artist-poet pairings? Are they completely arbitrary, or is there a hidden logic behind it?
W+K: This year, we had a computer put the artists into a random ordering. The first one then got to read all the writings (without knowing who wrote which) and choose one to respond to. We gave the remaining writings to the next artist to choose one, and so on.
M: What is the selection process for your participants, specifically your poets?
W+K: This year’s two poets happen to be friends of ours. We both had the privilege of working closely with Naomi Ayala when she served as the first executive director of 826DC (a youth writing center), and we have remained in close touch with her. And Kira met Srikanth Reddy at an Asian American Literary Symposium in spring 2010, where they hit it off. Their work, of course, speaks for itself — they are both incredibly talented. We chose other participants in different ways. William emailed Stuart Dybek, one of his all-time favorite short story writers, out of the blue, and was thrilled when he agreed to participate. Kira has known TM Sisters for years. Jackie Ionita, the Director of Hamiltonian Gallery, suggested Jon Bobby Benjamin and Maggie Michael. Amanda Burnham’s work just caught our eye. Reese Kwon is a recent addition to DC’s literary scene and a gifted fiction writer.
M: What do you wish your visitors to experience at your exhibit?
W+K: The biggest ideas driving the show are conversation, connection, and creating bridges between two very fertile artistic grounds. We hope that visitors can take something away from each of the pieces, whether they’re accessible or challenging, and that they savor the commonalities between visual art and writing and celebrate the differences. Beyond the run of the exhibit, we hope the seeds are planted for new projects and collaborations.
M: We published one of your participants, Naomi Ayala in a previous issue. Could you give us a preview of what she has put forth, or discuss how/what you believe she contributes to the world of poetry in D.C.?
W: That’s great that Naomi was published in PR. Her poem is the most “local” piece, the one most concerned with D.C., and its particular rhythms, tensions, and images. We did the pairings randomly, but I was secretly rooting for her to be paired with Amanda Burnham, whose work feels very urban to me. Amanda is coming from Baltimore, which is a very different city from D.C., but I think their work will resonate in really interesting ways. Naomi writes in Spanish as well as English, and I’ve always been in awe of people who can create art in more than one tongue. I wish I spoke the language well enough to appreciate her verse in it. D.C. has a strong Latino poet community and tradition, one that I am far too ignorant of, and I hope that Naomi’s participation in Call + Response will contribute to some new connections between the District’s Spanish- and English-speaking writers and artists.
William and Kira are great pals who collaborated on the first edition of Call + Response last year. They met while helping to start 826DC, a youth writing center.
William lives in Washington, D.C. and writes fiction. He has been published in Anomalous Press, Colorado Review, pacificREVIEW, and Sonora Review, and was awarded one of D.C.’s 2011 Young Artists Grants. Beyond writing, he spends his time volunteering with 826DC, and co-curating Call + Response.
Kira was raised on Florida sunshine and has worked on both a US/Canadian metal tour and the Presidential Inaugural Committee. She has a pet bunny named Billie Jean.
Call + Response: Textures is an art show that pairs writers with artists and will run from April 16-May 7, 2011, at the Hamiltonian Gallery, 1353 U St, NW, Washington, D.C. Metro: U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo