Entering the Foreground Gallery in the Imagination Butte Resource Center on Park Street, you will find many different works of art. There are paintings, drawings, a comic strip, a poem, a large shimmering fabric hanging from the ceiling, and a few videos, all courtesy of ‘Toward a Totality of Effect’, an exhibition showing works by ‘Open AIR Montana 2021 residences.
Missoula resident John Knight, who organized the exhibit, said the location for this first exhibit is excellent because it can reach people in Helena, Bozeman and Great Falls. The Open AIR Expo is historically set in western Montana, and it’s sort of an “eastward expansion.”
The Artist-in-Residence program gave artists from across the country the opportunity to spend four to six weeks in towns across western Montana, honing their craft and creating new pieces.
Open AIR has residency partners in a variety of locations, including Missoula, Lolo, Polson, Philipsburg, and the Historic Clark Chateau Museum and Gallery in Butte.
“Toward a Totality of Effect” – the exhibit that shows the culmination of residents’ work from the previous year – is on view at the Imagination Butte resource center through July 16.
Residents were at Clark Castle from July 5 to August 31. Sept.-Oct. 9 and 20 18 in 2021, according to Stoney Samsoe, the director of Open AIR.
Knight met the artists during their residencies and after they left, via Zoom and email. Between the end of the residencies and the setting up of the exhibition in Butte, it took about a year, he said.
A concept artist, Knight said he originally applied for the residency as an artist. He had worked as a freelance curator in the past and organized exhibitions for galleries, so he was offered a curatorial residency instead of an artist residency.
Knight said that while he’s hosted shows before, this one was different.
For one thing, he was working with 22 artists instead of just one or two.
“Having so many artists across the country for a long time…it was a marathon,” Knight said, adding that with many artists he shared a series of about 60 emails.
Knight said he chose the name “Toward a Totality of Effect” after Steven Parrino’s essay: “Toward Expanding the Post-Modern (After Robert Smithson)”. Knight said Parrino was a very influential curator and artist for Knight, who re-read Parrino’s book, “THE NO TEXTS” while he curated the exhibit.
He said the title spoke to him because it encapsulates how artists are always heading towards something in their work.
“An artist is always working, resting, evaluating in different directions of his art,” Knight said.
Maria Ylvisaker, 29, from New York, applied for the residency because she wanted to visit Montana.
“I was looking to spend some time in Montana,” Ylvisaker said. “My dad was from Montana and I grew up there visiting family…I wanted to be there in a different way than visiting family.”
Ylvisaker, who has been creating art for more than 10 years, said she specializes in drawing using watercolors and markers and making prints.
While she worked on a few pieces during her residency in Missoula, the one featured in the exhibition is a triptych – a painting on three separate panels, meant to be enjoyed together. The name of the work is “Missoula 5”.
One thing Ylvisaker said she enjoyed about the residency was meeting artists from all media. “There were people working with textiles, poetry, comics, flag making,” she said.
Missoula-based artist Nico Larsen, 27, attended the residency at Butte when she was in her second trimester of pregnancy.
She said she found out she was waiting a week or two before she found out she had been accepted into the program. She finally decided to go.
“I had never spent time in Butte before, but I had heard so much about it and wanted the chance to go,” Larsen said. “Having a new baby, I wasn’t going to be able to do something like this on my own for a while.”
Larsen, who went to college for painting, said the residency allowed her to explore painting again, which she loved. She also enjoyed doing the Art Walk, she said.
“I was super nervous going into the art walk knowing that was going to be an aspect of the residency because I’m very introverted,” Larsen said. “All these wonderful artists from Butte showed up and I got to meet a bunch of people and talk about my paintings. It was an awesome experience”
Larsen said the residency was a great and peaceful experience. She said she had drawn about 10 designs while she was here, but specialized in weaving tapestries.
She said she brought her big loom with her. One of his pieces in the exhibit is a woven piece called “Rabbits Warren”.
Larsen’s other work on display at the exhibition is titled “My Meat Heart (Dogmother)”, which is a colored pencil drawing of a dog feeding seven nursing puppies, while growling. She came up with the idea for a video of a dog nursing her puppies and took screenshots of it.
“She’s beautiful from a distance and then is really aggressive and protective of them,” Larsen said.
Knight said the best part of the residency for him was “building personal and professional relationships with some really wonderful artists” and breaking into the Montana art scene.
“The ecology of the arts in Montana is different than in big cities,” said Knight, who has curated exhibitions in Los Angeles and Portland. “And it’s good that it’s different.”
Although “Toward a Totality of Effect” is holding an exhibit in Missoula from Aug. 5-31, Knight said he loves Butte’s exhibit space.
“I love that we’re at the Imagine Butte Center,” Knight said. “And I love the fact that we’re next to a cafe. I love that it gives us access to a different demo[graphic] it’s not looking for art but falling on it and appreciating it. And that’s important.
The second exhibition for “Toward a Totality of Effect” will be held at Gallery 709, 709 Ronan St., Missoula. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on August 5.