August 23, 2007

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Berlin pride
Expats organize contemporary art show about their town
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Rochelle Beaudoin, 25, grew up in Berlin, N.H. When the last paper mill there was closed in 2006 to be demolished, it left a vast hole in a northern town that had always been known for the paper and forestry industries. The upheaval and uncertainty about the future inspired Beaudoin’s plan for a project for a data landscape class at Rhode Island Institute of Design. She realized the idea was too big to pull off — it involved GPS transmission of audio recordings of locals’ memories, hopes, etc., digitally mapped around the empty mill site which visitors would hear as they wandered through wearing headphones.

Beaudoin thought there should be some kind of artistic outlet during this turbulent time. She took a class in grant writing and started working with the Northern Arts Alliance and Northern Forest Heritage Park to produce the “Now / Then / When” juried exhibit that will run at Heritage Park from Aug. 24 through Sept. 8.

“My main goals were to incite reflection about the situation and to encourage dialog about the changes the city is going through,” she said. “I was also thinking about how this is really a global situation — this shift from manufacturing to a service economy,” Beaudoin said. She also wanted to expose the community to non-traditional art forms.

Cambridge, Mass., musician Shawn Marquis is organizing a concert that will run in conjunction. Log Jam is a duo who posted a Berlinized version of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “Sweet Home Berlin, New Hampshire,” on MySpace last year.

“Everyone just kind of gets it,” Beaudoin said. It’s had thousands of plays, lots of comments, and “a lot of positive vibes from people from the city,” Beaudoin said. The concert will start with an acoustic set and video projection and finish with “art band” Log Jam — the members don’t reveal their identities.

Beaudoin had put a call out for current and former Berlin area residents to submit artwork that had to do with Berlin’s connection to the paper and logging, with an emphasis on current changes in the city. Local artists juried, including Roland Simard and Andre Belanger.

The result is “all over the place,” Beaudoin said. There’s a good amount of photography of the mill. “It was such a prominent structure,” she said. Mark Ducharme has provided a narrative series showing it active, dormant and torn down.

The celebration of Berlin is meant to be intergenerational and Beaudoin especially hopes to attract young adults who left. The majority of her high school class moved to Manchester for jobs, she said.

Beaudoin lives in Peterborough. She finished her MFA in digital media in June and will teach digital imaging art and technology at Keene State and Chester colleges in the fall. She returned to Berlin after college for a short stint as a high school teacher. One of her students, Elizabeth Woodward, is exhibiting double exposed images — the mill active and dormant — in “Now / Then / When.”

Marc Cloutier, 23, of Manchester, is displaying his video installation, televisions set up “kind of like a junk pile,” which show 15 two-minute video clips of Berlin, he said.

The installation was Cloutier’s senior thesis at Chester, where he majored in photography. Photography captures a moment, but with video “you get the feeling of what it’s like there,” Cloutier said. “Each video can be considered pretty or it can be considered awful,” Cloutier said.

Cloutier now works for Perfecta Camera Corp. in Manchester. His feelings about Berlin are complicated, he said. The mill has been torn down. A state prison is meant to be a new revenue source and meanwhile the extremely low cost of living has attracted a lot of people on welfare, and drug use has risen, he said.

Beaudoin said she feels disconnected when she visits because so much has changed in the past few years and the burnt-out buildings from recent fires make it “hard to see past the emptiness or overall physical appearance of the area,” she said. “However, the people make the community and bring the character to the place ... people in Berlin are very hard workers and extremely giving and genuine,” she said. She hopes the city finds a new sense of purpose and identity but knows getting there will be a struggle.

“Berlin was an amazing place to grow up and my experiences there have shaped my life,” Beaudoin said. She still plays ice hockey and uses handmade paper in artwork.

Beaudoin is hoping to bring “Now / Then / When” to other galleries around the state. Tri-County CAP joined in sponsoring and NH State Council on the Arts provided some funding.

Once the exhibit is assembled, Beaudoin thinks the overall tone will “definitely be sort of reactionary ... not quite hopeful yet,” she said. “It’s really expressing how people are feeling at that moment.”

“It’s not sugar-coated,” she said.


For the fallen
• Now/Then/When runs Aug. 24-Sept. 8 at Heritage Park, 961 Main St., Berlin, 752-7202, nowthenwhen.net.
• The Log Jam free concert is Saturday, Aug. 25, at 8:30 p.m. at Heritage Park (St. Keiran Community Art Center, 155 Emery St., in case of rain.)
• Rachelle Beaudoin will discuss conceptual public art projects featuring the work of Alfredo Jaar and the Situationists, and Pyschogeographic, on Sept. 7.
• See some of Beaudoin’s original ideas at risd.digication.com/millyard/project.


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