Art installation inspires hope, levity and action

Dana Lynn Louis in front of a segment of her glass painting.

Sometimes the most effective ways to make change in the world is not to focus on problems across the world, but rather the ones closest to home.

Portland-based artist Dana Lynn Louis’ latest exhibit “As Above, So Below” implores audiences to consider the ways they can make an positive impact on the world. The show is inspired by nearly a decade of work Louis devoted to Ko-Falen, a cultural center in Bamako, Mali, which she also cofounded.

Once civil war broke out in 2012, Louis had to leave.

“As an artist, I feel that it’s my duty right now, instead of illuminating all the pain, to try to provide spaces where people can try to gain a sense of levity and hope, maybe feel inspired to take action,” Louis said about her exhibit at San Juan Island Museum of Art. “And that action could just being kind to each other, not necessarily traveling to another country and starting a nonprofit.” Louis’ present and past exhibits relate directly to people and their impact on the world around them.

A 2014 exhibit in the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon called “Clearing” began after Louis worked at Oregon State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital where mentally ill inmates are treated, and felt that many of the patients needed to talk about themselves, what their hopes and dreams are.

Contrary to what Louis expected, the patients were eager to talk to her, and she got an overwhelmingly positive response from them.

“And I thought, you know, it’s not just people who are mentally ill or locked up that have hopes and dreams of what they wish were different, or regrets or whatnot. So that’s what inspired the envelope project with ‘Clearing,’” Louis said.

That project, which started with a few sealed envelopes that contained people’s, wishes, hopes and dreams with a bit of mica affixed to the front, burgeoned into a total of 3,000 responses from all over the world. At the end of the project, the envelopes were burned, and just the bits of mica remained. The ceremony was live-streamed to people in Germany, Pakistan and beyond; anyone that contributed could watch.

Components of the project make an appearance in the current installation, including the burn bowl with the mica pieces, the video of the burning and a map with pins to mark all the countries that the envelopes came from. The current installation also has a number of hanging sculptures, and a painting on the glass of the atrium to integrate the very building into the exhibit.

“My work at present is dealing with trying to create a bit of softness and care relative to the things that are going on around the planet right now, environmentally and culturally and socially,” Louis said.

The painting that drapes across the glass walls of the atrium resembles strings of beads, which Louis said was intentional, as stringing beads together has cultural significance in a number of cultures, such as prayer beads.

“These really base acts have a lot of reverberation, and the potential for that to heal our communities, our countries, our worlds, the human world and animal world, I think there is a lot of potential if everyone felt like they could be powerful to work towards healing.”

“As Above, So Below” opens Jan. 23 and runs until April 4 in the San Juan Islands Museum of Art atrium, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Monday