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Works-in-Progress Festival begins today

BY JENNIFER DOWNING | OCTOBER 14, 2010 7:20 AM

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For Eric Asboe, communication doesn’t always mean words and sounds. It means movement and the use of body language, the use of different senses other than just hearing.

During the last year, the 27-year-old has worked with semaphore flags — which, when moved in particular patterns, replicate letters and words. Normally used for maritime communication and famously in a Monty Python skit, they have a different use for Asboe. He uses them to translate his dreams as part of a larger project that showcases nonverbal communication.

“I’d been noticing that my dreams contained more and more instances of me being an artist,” Asboe said. “I became interested in the disjunction between what I was able to do and who I was in the dreams and what I’m able to do and who I am in waking life.”

The Iowa City resident will present a portion of these translations at this year’s Works-in-Progress Festival, an event designed to show unfinished projects in a variety of different artistic media. This is the festival’s second year, and it will begin at 7 p.m. today and continue through Saturday evening at numerous locations. All events are free and open to the public.

Andrew Ritchey and Richard Wiebe, doctoral students in the University of Iowa cinema department, came up with the concept for the Works-in-Progress Festival last year as a way to meet other artists in the area. Almost 30 dancers, musicians, painters, and writers participated last year, and Ritchey and Wiebe expect just as much participation in the festival’s second year, especially now that they’ve teamed up with the International Writing Program.

“Collaborating with the International Writing Program means that the extreme mission of the festival is reached even greater,” Ritchey said. “I’m excited to see the writers presenting at the festival.”

One of the goals of the Works-in-Progress Festival is to erase boundaries among artists across different media and among different experience levels. This year’s event features professionals, such as visiting filmmaker Robert Todd, as well as 7-year-old writer India Stewart. Each event includes a presentation of the artists’ works, then a panel discussion, which encourages audience members to give their thoughts and opinions about the unfinished works.

“Audience members sometimes very boldly and generously give suggestions,” Wiebe said. “Everyone becomes a creator at the festival, whether you are or aren’t an artist.”

“Inspiring” is the word Ritchey and Wiebe use over and over to describe the festival. Artists get the chance to build relationships among one another, gathering the opinions of people from a variety of different artistic disciplines. A filmmaker showing her or his work might be inspired by a comment made from a dancer, which creates an even stronger arts community in Iowa City, Wiebe and Ritchey said. It can also inspire artists to create for the first time in months. Last year’s visiting poet, Orlando White, wrote his first poem in more than a year at the Works-in-Progress festival.

“He told us point-blank that it made him realize what a festival could be if it went outside the boundaries,” Wiebe said.

The festival encourages artists to explore all kinds of media, which Asboe is taking advantage of.

Along with his semaphore-flag presentation, he will also showcase a collaborative project, A Literal Letter Service, with John Engelbrecht, a free service in which Asboe and his partner write and send letters for customers. For another work, Asboe and collaborator David Dunlap will also attend many of the events and write brief reviews for a project called Sudden Brick Works. And though he doesn’t consider himself an artist, Asboe sees the Works-in-Progress Festival as a chance for people like him to receive real feedback for their unpolished works.

“It’s important for people to see a process as opposed to a project,” Asboe said. “The divide between viewers and presenters … is broken down in really wonderful ways in the festival.”


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