There’s no place like home Feast Arts Center installation looks at the nexus of identity and geography

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Priscilla Dobler’s “La Sala” installation, now showing at Feast Arts Center, includes a video featuring interviews of people talking about the racial landscape of Tacoma and other places. The show explores the intersection of identity, architectural space and urban geography. Photo courtesy of Feast Arts Center

Whether by design or coincidence, the last few shows at Feast Arts Center’s gallery have taken a good look at the facets of personal identity as they relate to place. Anida Yoeu Ali’s “The Buddhist Bug,” Minoosh Zomorodinia’s “Colonial Walk” and now Priscilla Dobler’s “La Sala” all explore the intersection between a person’s self-conception and the place in which they live.

It is probably no accident that all three are female and were born outside the United States. Yoeu Ali is Cambodian-American, Zomorodinia is a recent Iranian immigrant and Dobler was born on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula but was raised in Tacoma. The current political climate can do nothing but highlight questions like: Where do I belong? What is the meaning of “home?” Who are we, as a people? Concepts of race and place intermingle to form a complex civic topography that we all navigate on a daily basis.

In her installation “La Sala” (Spanish for “living room”), Dobler creates a sort of cargo cult version of the standard living room with an easy chair, a couch, a coffee table, a television and a couple of paintings hung on the walls. All of it, however – even the wall art – is made of nothing but colorful, cotton string woven over simple wooden frameworks that have a general, boxy shape of the specific living room items.

Projecting through the string mesh of the “television screen,” and landing on the back wall, is a video, which consists of a variety of interviewees from Tacoma who speak about matters of race and identity in Tacoma and in the other places in which they have lived. The mesh serves to obscure the identity of the speaker, so one cannot always discern the race of the person speaking.

Dobler is an interdisciplinary artist who was raised by an immigrant mother. Her artistic process comes from self-investigation of how identity is constructed in a globalized society and how architectural spaces can represent gender roles and cultural structures. She is interested in developing her own unique artistic interpretation of her cultural identity through weaving, woodworking, audio, video and performances.

“Being raised in a single parent home,” writes Dobler, “my brothers and I grew up watching a lot of television. We didn’t have separate formal or informal living rooms. Our living room was not only an entertainment room but also a bedroom (couches for bed) for my illegal Mexican family members arriving to America. This space along with the rest of my mother’s house have influenced my creative perspective.”

The audio and video interviews in “La Sala” will be projected and triggered when viewers walk into the space. For the past few months Dobler has been interviewing individuals in Tacoma on expressing their perception of how their identity has been shaped based on the political and social structure of identity in society and in private/public spaces. Dobler also created a movie called “Mass Culture,” which is a combination of multiple videos of telenovelas, Mexican cumbias, pop hip-hop music videos, Nike commercials, basketball games and popular movie clips that are representational of Mexican-American media culture.

Dobler’s video of people being interviewed is made into something visually fascinating – very lovely – by its being projected through the wide fabric of the interwoven strings. The effect is haunting. It is the overall concept and the stories and recollections of the interviewees that really bring Dobler’s concerns into focus. The installation taps a rich vein of speculative looking, both inward and outward. Who are we as a city and as a community? Are we a patchwork of tribal groups viewing one another with mutual suspicion? Or are we a rich mix of individual citizens enjoying the blessings of civilization together and cherishing what each of us can bring to enliven our communal life?

Todd Jannausch, one of the co-founders of Feast Arts Center, noted that, “If you have an art gallery that’s not in it to make money, you might as well be asking big questions.” It is in hosting shows like “La Sala” and asking big questions that Feast is providing some much-needed artistic heft to our City of Destiny.

Dobler is still seeking individuals who would like to be interviewed for her video project. Contact www.feastartscenter@gmail.com to get Dobler’s contact information, or stop by and see the show and get it there.

Feast Art Center gallery hours are Saturdays noon-4 p.m. and Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Feast Arts Center, located at 1402 S. 11th St., is a valuable arts resource, offering classes, studio space and workshops in many art media and techniques. Visit www.feastarts.com or www.facebook.com/feastarts for more information.

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