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Anne de Marcken's Invisible Ink

Socially conscious art at Feast Art Center

Anne de Marcken (with hand on hip) talking to gallery visitors. Photo credit: Natasha Marin

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Anne de Marcken, whose stunning "Redaction Project" at Salon Refu this past spring I reviewed in this column, is at it again with another intriguing, intelligent and engaging art project. This time it is what she calls a "performative piece" at the Feast Art Center.

This project defies easy categorization. It is not exactly visual art, but it is in a gallery, and there is a strong visual element. It might be called an installation or a happening - who is old enough to remember happenings? - or a social experiment designed to help people meet their real needs.

To explain, I must first introduce conceptual artist Natasha Marin and audio artist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, both of whom collaborated with de Marcken on the project. Sycamore's "Reparations" project began as a movement on Facebook where she wrote: "I invite People of Color to ask for what we need to feel better, be happier, be more productive by posting in this space. ... I invite people who identify as White to offer services or contributions to People of Color in need of time, energy, substantive care, and support."

In the gallery, de Marcken copies onto a 1,000-foot-long sheet of butcher paper word for word in invisible ink (lemon juice), the requests People of Color have sent in to the "Reparations" project.

The butcher paper hangs from a rod attached to the gallery ceiling, across a work table on one end of the gallery and onto an ironing board at the other end. De Marcken irons across the invisible ink, which then becomes visible. Finally, she posts the requests on the white walls of the gallery where White people can take them down, take them home, and fulfill the requests in whatever manner they may.

Examples of the requests are: "... rent is still a struggle. We had to do a payday loan and overdraft our bank account to pay chunks of our bills this month. Now my car is making a funny noise ..." and "We can't find a safe, clean place to raise our baby; they keep trying to rent us condemned places."

Visually and symbolically it is an installation in white on white with invisible ink and with the subjects of the requests being invisible as in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man."

"Writing with lemon juice (homemade invisible ink) on white paper turns out to be incredibly arduous: like the effort to see one's own privilege or to make one's own vulnerability seen," said de Marcken. "It is also basic, magical, and almost impossible to perfect."

The gallery describes the piece as "a 1,000-foot-long enunciation of the ways whiteness protects those affiliated with its power from awareness of and accountability for the costs and benefits of that artificial construction. Participants are invited to iron out the lemon juice messages, enacting the process of making need and harm visible ... and are then invited to go further: to take simple actions to meet need and remedy harm by responding materially to the original messages."

During open hours, a two-track audio plays, simultaneously, sound bites from Hillary Clinton speaking to a reporter at Nancy Reagan's funeral and Barack Obama speaking at a memorial service for the five police officers killed in Dallas, Texas.

De Marcken, who teaches writing at The Evergreen State College, also teaches writing workshops at the Feast Center. She will be teaching from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 and Feb. 4.

"Invisible Ink," noon to 5 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, and by appointment, through Feb. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, feastarts.com

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