The lasting mark of art

In her Dairy curatorial debut, Jessica Kooiman Parker wants to show art in a new way

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Detail from ‘The Wave’ by Clay Hawley
Courtesy Greg and Rachel photography

In any given art gallery, viewers know not to reach out and touch a piece of art, no matter how tempting it seems. But for those who finally want their chance, the Dairy Art Center’s latest exhibit, Touch, invites the onlooker to explore with more than just their eyes. Showing through March 3, Touch features myriad artworks with hands-on opportunities, like pressing buttons, making sounds, rearranging elements and even the chance to step into an artist’s mind.

“It’s been crazy how much it changes the experience,” says Dairy Curator Jessica Kooiman Parker. “People relate to [the art] in a different way. They’re more engaged with it. They think about it longer.”

After spending six years at Longmont’s Firehouse Art Gallery, Kooiman Parker started at The Dairy last summer. For all 2019 exhibits, she chose the theme of connection, with Touch as her curatorial debut. In the exhibit, the tactile element deepens the emotional linkage to the pieces, which was Kooiman Parker’s goal.

“I want you to connect with art in a new way,” she says. “I want you to look at art in a new way. I want to surprise you.”

One element of surprise she’s adding is infusing every free space in The Dairy with artwork. You can find pieces of Touch hanging under signs and in corners; sitting on top of walls, counters and windows; or even on the floor itself. Kooiman Parker even invited Thomas Scharfenberg to repaint the floors of the McMahon Gallery. Scharfenberg created a maze on the floor aptly titled, “Alien feng shui/Imaginary Garden Labrinth.”

Not only is Kooiman Parker engaging new surfaces of the gallery, she’s also opening up new viewing areas. Audience members are welcome to climb the staircase overlooking the McMahon Gallery to give them a new view of the space.

“We’re starting the year off by showing you things you haven’t seen before, sometimes literally changing your perspective,” she says.

And that is, in essence, the function of art.

“You’re able to see someone else’s perspective. I consider myself a perspective collector,” Kooiman Parker says with a laugh.

After growing up in a small town, she appreciates the new viewpoints she’s acquired over the years, saying that the more you learn, the more open-minded and empathetic you become.

Moreover, her goal as curator is to foster a deeper relationship between the viewer and the artist.

“Always my underlying idea is to gain a new appreciation for the artist,” she says. “I find it fascinating how we consume art. We look at it, we judge it and we move on, and that’s fine. But I almost want people to pause a little bit more, just a tiny bit more, and consider the person behind the work and not just the work.”

This is clearly seen in Kenzie Sitterud’s piece “The Wardrobe.” Standing in the middle of the Dairy lobby, “The Wardrobe” is its own portable room. Inside, viewers interact with mirrors, clothing and shoes while Madonna’s “Ray of Light” plays on repeat. The work explores Sitterud’s queerness in a heteronormative binary society. Leaving the wardrobe forces you into direct contact with the idea of “coming out.” Sitterud invites members to literally try on someone else’s shoes and see the world in a new way.

The element of touch in the show questions the audience’s role in art consumption. Mark Bueno’s pieces feature artwork with a lottery ticket-like scratch off medium and small disks to slowly unveil the art underneath. This encourages viewers to leave their impression on the paintings — initials, shapes, even illustrations of their own.

Clay Hawkley plays with that idea more conceptually by questioning the audience’s metaphorical mark on artwork. In “Mona,” “Skull,” “Frida” and “Wave,” Hawkley displays posters of famous images crumpled, faded and ripped.

“Clay was riffing off the idea that the more a painting gets looked at, the more it degrades it in some way,” Kooiman Parker says. “[These images] are just getting more and more distressed.”

In another piece, “Charcoal Touch,” Hawkley covers a sheet of paper in charcoal, luring the viewer to rub their finger on it. By doing so, they end up leaving with a smudge on their hand.

“You touch it, and you’re left with a mark,” Kooiman Parker says. “You can’t just touch it and leave unaltered.”

ON THE BILL: ‘Touch’ — Breaking the barrier between art and viewer. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, thedairy.org. Through March 3.