The “Painting by Numbers” debut at Raices Taller 222 gallery this weekend was a huge success! Throughout the evening, from 6pm to 10pm, participants were literally shoulder-to-shoulder, cramming together all night long to make their marks on the piece.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what exactly to expect, going into this project I wondered whether people would need some prodding to participate, but that wasn’t the case at all. On the contrary, Shloka and I found that our roles as facilitators consisted mostly of replenishing paint water and clean brushes, taking photos, and staying out of the way so the public could get their hands dirty (we supplied hand wipes!). It was immensely interesting and fulfilling to see everyone get involved and through the forced proximity to one another, engage each other in conversation.
Because this was our kick-off, an experiment within a larger experiment, we took note of how people were responding and interacting with the project more than we tried to control the process in any way. I would strike up conversations with people that inquired about the project and handed out additional information upon request. Specifically, I was trying to observe how the process of painting itself might inspire people, either to “go home and paint” as several people said they wanted to do after participating, or learn more about the issue of ICE detention and women. A lot of people responded by saying that they hadn’t done anything artistic in a long time and they really appreciated the experience. Others asked about the additional locations we were taking the project to, it seemed like there was a lot of interest in following up with the project as it progressed. There were even a few participants at the beginning of the evening that returned at the end of the night to see how much got completed, and it was almost finished!
For the most part, the crowd seemed overwhelmingly sympathetic to the political aspects of the piece; this was as I expected knowing that Raices Taller is a haven for liberal and radical artists and activists. However, there was an interesting moment in the evening when I had a conversation with someone who at first assumed that the project was in favor of ICE and their detention practices. They were surprised to learn that, to the contrary, the mural seeks to address concerns about ICE’s practices surrounding their detainment of women. I felt that, from my standpoint, the interaction was positive; the person did not try to defend their original assumptions or argue with my points. I am not sure exactly how the piece and our interaction sat with them in the end.
Perhaps the most profound and interesting observation of the night was made by one of the participants. They found it interesting and symbolic that the practice of “painting by numbers” involves, literally, “the recognition of borders and a necessity to work within them”. I have been thinking about this intriguing parallel ever since; it was wonderful to see how the project also provoked people to consider deeper meanings and implications.
I am even more excited than before to continue the “Painting by Numbers” mural tour throughout Tucson and at the Nogales border crossing. I now have an even better idea of how I want to document this process in order to learn the most I can from it. I feel inspired to evolve this approach to interactive art through the years, there seems to be an awesome potential.
I want to thank everyone who came out to participate, those of you who knew about it ahead of time and those who just stumbled upon it. Everyone who helped me along the way and took on aspects of the fabrication from start to finish, thank you, I could not have done it alone.
I also want to express my gratitude to Raices Taller 222 Gallery for being a gracious host and to Tucson Pima Arts Council for the P.L.A.C.E. Initiative grant funding that made this possible.
Be on the look out for more announcements. This week the project will be popping up at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet (Friday night) and the Corazon de Tucson annual ¡Pachanga! event at Armory Park (this Saturday, 5p-8p).
See you there!