April 17, 2017

Artist Pepón Osorio's CCA Biennial project opens April 20

Varela and Osorio
William Staffeld/AAP
Frances Gallardo Varela, MFA '16, left, works with CCA Biennial artist-in-residence Pepón Osorio on Osorio's Biennial installation "Side by Side" in Rand Hall.

Multimedia artist and educator Pepón Osorio will unveil his large sculptural and media installation “Side by Side” at an event Thursday, April 20, from 5:15 to 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of Rand Hall.

The site-specific installation, created through a yearlong process involving interactions with members of the campus and local communities, is Osorio’s contribution as artist-in-residence to the Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) 2016 Biennial, “Abject/Object Empathies,” focusing on the cultural production of empathy. It will be on display through May 30.

Osorio wanted to get to know members of the various communities who live and work in the area to develop a concept for the installation, and how it would occupy its space. Beginning in early 2016, the artist made frequent trips from his home in Philadelphia to Ithaca, seeking inspiration from Cornell faculty and students on campus and from community members he met with at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC).

When Kent Kleinman, dean of Architecture, Art and Planning, suggested Rand Hall as the project site, Osorio liked the roughness of the space; the building is being renovated this year.

The artist’s work often conveys the toll that systemic inequity and social alienation has on individual and community life.

“‘Side by Side,’” said CCA director Stephanie Owens, “stands as a physical and symbolic interface between the various communities from which the work emerged” and is “an intimate portrait, social critique and compassionate expression of inclusion and persistence.”

The installation depicts a local family, who will remain anonymous – a matriarch and the nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren she is raising. The centerpiece of the installation is a house that is flipped and tilted on its peaked roof, wedged into the Rand Hall space from floor to ceiling.

The house is fitted with LCD screens for windows, and covered in lottery tickets promising the dream of a better life. In each of the nine windows, video is displayed of the family members. Metal and glass window and door screens partially filter the observer’s view of the house upon entering.

Largely constructed by students of the Hammerstone School: Carpentry for Women based in Trumansburg, New York, the installation invites visitors into the personal world of a family facing the challenges of daily exposure to financial turmoil, dislocation, loss and trauma through resilience and determination.

A table placed at the entrance to the installation will host a series of public conversations, organized by Osorio, among community members including Cornell students and faculty, GIAC members and downtown neighborhood leaders.

Focusing on intergenerational communication, the role of women in the community and migration, the “Encuentros/Encounters” conversations will be moderated by local farmer and community activist Rafael Aponte and include invited guests from the Cornell and Ithaca communities. A campus/community conversation is scheduled for April 21 from noon to 2 p.m.; youth and elders discussions are April 28, at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.; and the third program, “Women: Home/Migration,” is May 5 from noon to 2 p.m.

For more information, visit the CCA website, email Erin Emerson, program coordinator, or call 607-255-7274.

Patti Witten, staff writer in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, contributed to this story.