When entering Touchstone Gallery, a large screen with video interviews of the artists participating in One House Project first catches the eye. The Artists in the video are placed before a white backdrop that frames their faces and a set of black earphones gives the viewer an intimate auditory experience with each recorded speaker. On the left , a large DIY-looking, rough-construction house using a barn raising system, implemented by architect and sculptor Alan Binstock, uses small 12” square wood panels, cut by David Mordini, an artist working at the Otis Street Studios, to form the walls of the “House”. Evi Altman then built the final structure which secures all 220 panels. Each panel tells a US immigrant story. Project Founder Ellyn Weiss, who worked in collaboration with Jackie Hoysted to envision One House Project through the ArtWatch collective, which they both helped found, initially distributed these panels to local artists to complete. Each artist was given the task to dedicate a panel to an ancestor who came to the US. Local immigrant artists were also encouraged to tell their own stories and to return their panels for a collective exhibition at Touchstone Gallery.
The psychological power of storytelling leapfrogs the video technology and draws the curtain on intimate immigration experiences as viewers engage with the work on display. Pamela B. Rutledge, the Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, stated in a Jan 16, 2011 Positively-media blog post that stories reveal how we think. They are schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors or narratives. Rutlege states: “Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”
The idea behind One House Project—to have 220 local artist stand-up for tolerance, inclusion and unity—was incubated immediately after the Trump Election. Jackie Hoysted, and Ellyn Weiss gathered about 24 artists, curators and journalists on December 19, 2016 (electoral college day), gave them warm soup and a table in her post-contemporary house, and initiated the first conversations in an event called the Hope versus Despair Soup Kitchen. This small group became ArtWatch which now constitutes over 300 members.
One House Project engages the formats of community building projects focused on History Harvesting. Organizations such as the StoryCorps archive which comprises one of the largest digital collections of human stories recorded in all 50 states, is housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The later institution partners with organizations and individuals across the US to collect, preserve and share rich histories since the program was started by Will Thomas.
One House Project clearly draws on this intersection of local cultural histories while bringing art, immigration and community together in a discussion of post-election concerns. Visual artist Kathryn McDonnell, states that the overriding principle of ONE HOUSE is the vision to unite as one community rather than stand divided. She states that the ONE HOUSE exhibition universalizes this message by bringing it to a very personal level—it is done through immigration narratives.
The exhibition will travel next to Blackrock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD in 2018.
The exhibition is on view November 3-25, 2017 at Touchstone Gallery located at 901 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001. Visit their website at touchstonegallery.com
Editor’s Note: an updated version of this article includes Evi Altman as the person who built the structure. East City Art was made aware of this information post-publication.