State Of The Art: Artist Terry Adkins readdresses (and makes) history

Stephanie Haines, Development Editor

On Friday, acclaimed artist and musician Terry Adkins will perform “Facets” with the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, a group he founded, along with almost a dozen Northwestern students either orating or playing instruments. This event is an addition to the Terry Adkins Recital collection now on display at the Block Museum of Art until March 24.

The performance is a compilation of excerpts from other more extended works Adkins has created in the 30 years of his career, some of which have been revised for this occasion. The performance also corresponds to the exhibit, which consists of modern sculptures, photos and assemblages of metal or unique objects. Adkins stressed, however, that both the art and the music should stand on their own.

“He makes a body of work that would be called a recital even though it’s the artwork,” said Dan Silverstein, senior manager of exhibitions and collections at the Block Museum. “It would revolve around a theme or moment or historical figure in history. These figures Terry deems the Immortals, people he thinks are under-remembered or under-discussed in history and play an important role in history. His performance really activates these ideas.”

Adkins chooses some figures over others because of their unique importance to history that may not be so mainstream.

“They stand out to me because they are outstanding human beings. By their examples I think we realize,” Adkins said. “They show this possibility of achieving a certain kind of greatness not in celebrity necessarily because celebrity is fleeting … I’ll call them the Immortals as chosen by me.”

Although the Northwestern students participating in the upcoming performance might not have achieved Immortal status (yet), Adkins said he enjoys working with them because of their eagerness and open-mindedness.

“That’s something that is hard to come across with seasoned professionals,” Adkins said. “Given a group situation, (students) are a lot easier to work with because they are open. They are more receptive to absorbing new ideas than a seasoned professional. “

Kantara Eva Souffrant, a doctoral student in performance studies and instructor of an undergraduate performance studies course, said two of her students will be performing in Friday’s show, in which she will also be speaking.

“He shows you how to really get a little deeper with whatever you come into contact with, such as ideas and people,” Souffrant said. “He shows history that deserves a second look.”

While Adkins conducts and plays some woodwinds, some students will play the “akrhaphones,” 18-foot-long trumpets, instruments Adkins said he believes angels will play at the Last Judgment. “RHA” in the word “akrhaphone” stands for the initials of Adkins’ father, to whom the akrhaphones were made to honor when he died in 1995.

Adkins’s talent lies in art and music, particularly that which focuses on “(the) biographies of individuals whose legacies … are worth upholding because of the supra-human dimension of their contributions to the world.” These individuals include W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, John Brown and artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Ludwig van Beethoven. To Adkins, these individuals have left legacies that deserve more attention in the narrative of history.

“I choose to do this rather than to explore the dimensions of my own psychodrama because I feel I am remade each time I go through this immersion and absorption besides my own,” Adkins said.

Location is another factor Adkins considers in his art. He started his John Brown revival in Ohio, in a town where most people do not know that Brown worked a wool business. For a piece on lynchings, Adkins chose Chicago to feature Ida B. Wells’ campaign against these hangings because she wrote and organized meetings there. This time, Adkins integrated the site into performance by incorporating some of the location’s residents, Northwestern students, into the Lone Wolf Recital Corps.

“Northwestern is the local flavor that is making the performance unique,” Silverstein said.

In terms of how other people experience his work, Adkins said he cannot speculate on what his viewers think.

“I cannot speak for how others might experience it,” Adkins said. “My hope is it reaches them on a emotional and intellectual level that is transformative. In other words, having experienced it, they will never be the same again. That’s my ideal hope. But one can never know what to experience. “

By giving due attention to historical figures who deserve more notice, Adkins is simultaneously making his own history. Block Museum director Lisa Corrin said Adkins is the first performance artist to be featured at the museum.

“I think it’s important for our students to understand that art is a window into a perspective to a world different from our own,” Corrin said. “Work like Terry (Adkins)’ raises questions about the nature of our humanity.”