Welcome to the conclusion of the Virginia Project Diaries! This is the last of four focused interactions with writer Tina Barry, a closing interview on her successful exhibition of 14 artists giving their interpretation of her words through a medium of their choice. You can see the amazing work done by these 14 women HERE and HERE.
We had a final chat with Tina Barry about the installation and her experience running it.
Bending Genres: This was a big endeavor with many moving pieces and the participation of so many talented individuals. What was the craziest part for you?
Tina Barry: My idea was to have a variety of styles and mediums, so the women’s lives—and my writing—would be interpreted many different ways. About a month before the show was hung, I sat up in bed at 3 am, and thought, what if it all clashes? What if it’s one incoherent mess? The artists I chose are all working professionals with extensive exhibition records; I didn’t want to embarrass them. Luckily, even with the different aesthetics, it all came together. I’m very proud of the show.
BG: What was the public’s reaction to all of these beautiful pieces? Were they gushing with love and light, or was it a more sedate experience?
TB: Well, there was some “gushing with love and light,” and not just from me and my family and friends. I had a lot of people come to the show who knew about the story. It was really gratifying to watch someone walk slowly around the gallery, reading the writing, then staring at the art, or vice-versa. I heard a lot of “One really enhances the other,” which is about as great a compliment as I could have hoped for. I had more sedate viewers, too. Some people walked in, made a quick circle and walked out. Or lingered and didn’t say anything, but I’m happy to report that they were in the minority.
BG: Your exhibit was held in The Wired Gallery in High Falls, on the same street where Chagall, Haggard,
TB: There was a sense of hometown pride. Many people knew of Chagall’s time in the hamlet and were glad to know more about Haggard and McNeil. Many of my stories are set in the town, close to the gallery, like “Water,” where Haggard goes for a dip in a local swimming hole. Someone asked me, “Was that right down here?” There are a waterfall and a swimming hole about two minutes from the gallery; he was right. That kind of connection can only happen when someone is intimate with the landscape.
I’m curious to see how viewers will react to the show when it opens at the Humanities gallery at Long Island University in Brooklyn on January 31st. The gallery is a glass-enclosed space on the ground floor of a modern building. It’s a very sophisticated urban setting. I think, though, that even if people are unfamiliar with Haggard and McNeil, the story of two women trivialized in history will resonate.
BG: Now that it’s done. What was the thing that you loved the most about the whole experience?
TB: There’s a long list of what I loved. Selecting and getting to know the artists is up at the top. Immersing myself in visual art was a joy; I’m a former designer with a degree in fine arts, so it was a bit of a homecoming in that respect. I’ve been in touch with Jean McNeil, which has been both gratifying and surreal, I think for both of us. It’s strange to be making up stories about a real person, and for her to read stories that are supposedly about her, and yet are so different from her reality.
And of course, seeing my idea turn into reality. I worked hard to get as much publicity as possible for the show, and I was lucky that several newspapers and Chronogram, a local arts magazine, picked up the story. I was lucky, too, that publications such as Bending Genres included interviews and stories. The write-ups went a long way to color inside the outlines of the women, to make them real, tangible players in their own stories. I’m grateful to you and all the editors at those venues.
The second part is the exhibition itself. That the work turned out so beautifully, and to have the visual art and the writing relate in such fresh, unexpected ways was just magical.
BG: The 14 artists that contributed their effort and time to this created some truly beautiful pieces. Were any of them able to come to the exhibit?
TB: 13 of the 14 artists attended. Seeing them all together, drinking wine and chatting in front of their pieces, made me kind of giddy.
BG: By putting the story of Virginia Haggard out there and sharing this side of Chagall’s life. Do you feel you’ve accomplished everything you hoped for with this exhibit?
TB: Creating awareness of Haggard and McNeil and their importance in the story of the life they shared with Chagall was/is my goal. I think I’ve done that, at least in the community where they lived. I’ve been contacted by historians who are interested in their stories, too. If my exhibit brought Haggard and McNeil to their attention, or gave them more information and understanding about the women, then great.
BG: What are your plans now? What’s next after the Virginia Project?
TB: The initial idea was to turn the stories into a book; the idea for an exhibit happened well into the process. I’m hoping that a book, either with the art or some of the art or just the writing gets published.
I’ve been asked to curate another show at the Wired Gallery in 2020, which feels like an acknowledgment of the exhibit’s success. I have an idea for the theme, too, but I can’t talk about it yet; it’s still percolating. I would love to curate more exhibits. And I’ll keep writing.
Thanks, Corey, and thanks to everyone at Bending Genres for cheering me and The Virginia Project on. Best in 2019!!
If you have questions about the Virginia Project, have some other projects you know of, or just want to share something amazing you’re doing shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Tina Barry is the author of Mall Flower, her first book of poems and short fiction (Big Table Publishing). Two pieces in the book were nominated for the Pushcart prize; one of the stories was included in the Best Small Fictions 2016 anthology. Her poems and flash fiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including The American Poetry Journal; Drunken Boat; Lost in Thought; Flash-Frontier; Yes, Poetry; Nasty Women Poets, an Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse; Exposure: An Anthology of Microfiction; and Veils, Halos and Shackles: Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women. Barry received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Long Island University, Brooklyn, in 2014. She lives in upstate New York.