The FirstNight Team - (left to right)
Jason Olsen, Amy McCann, Rik Nelson,
Heather Phillips, John Whalen.


FirstNight 2002

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FirstNight 2002 was a family-oriented New Year’s Eve celebration held in downtown Spokane, WA. The evening-long celebration had many venues and many activities, including music, performance and art. The evening’s theme was “It’s About Time” and the organizers encouraged artists to consider incorporating the element of “time” in their projects.

Rik and poets, Amy McCann, Jason Olsen, Heather Phillips, and John Whalen participated in FirstNight 2002 with a visual poetry in action performance called “It’s About Time For….”

FirstNight Logo
Poemboard
Detail of Poemboard
Rik & Poemboard

The poets “interviewed” FirstNight children and adults, asking them, “What’s it about time for?” Or, in other words, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?”

From the people’s responses an impressionistic poem evolved and its words were cut by Rik and the poets from plastic, aluminum and cardboard. The words were then divided into syllables or syllable-like parts and dispersed, confetti-like, on a 7’ x 7’ panel. By midnight, the poemboard had evolved into a huge postcard commemorating the FirstNight New Year’s Eve party spirit!

Splitting each word into its component syllables, then distributing those syllables “to the four corners of the globe” as it were, at once destroyed and created meaning. Take, for instance, Rik’s own response to “It’s About Time For….” “It’s about time for ENDEAVOR,” Rik said. “Time to go to work.” Time to go to work for the art gig of the evening and a resolution to work hard on art throughout the year. Rik’s word was divided into the syllable-like parts END and EAVOR. Once separated, the word could be read as being made up of opposites: the end (finality) and “ever” (unendingness). EAVOR was placed on the poem board at the lower left corner (the “beginning,” reading left to right) and END at the lower right corner (the “end”). To read the word correctly, the viewer must engage the world of the poem board, the globe, and read “around the world.” It takes a little work – endeavor – to get the meaning.

All of the letters of “endeavor were cut from duplicates of the same version of Wheaties box (featuring Tiger Woods, a model of endeavor), so that color became the key to link the syllable-parts to recreate the word.

Likewise, all the words on the poem board have their own color, their own uniqueness. This aspect echoes the poem board border itself which is “red and yellow, black and white” and recalls “all are precious in His sight.” The face-hand motif in the border conflate the elements of timekeeping (face of a clock, hands of a clock) to show humankind’s commonality and individual uniqueness. The hand silhouettes are the poets’ hands. The fACE are from around the world as depicted on the covers of a decades-worth of National Geographics.

On the eve of war with Iraq, as rhetoric became inflamed and the meaning of words obscured, the poem board became a plea for consideration of language at its most elemental (the word) and for contemplation of the beauty of fACE like/unlike our own.

Each syllable has above it a diacritical mark (in orange) to indicate it’s stressed or unstressed. These marks indicate the use of breath. In fact, the whole background is embedded with these marks (in blue). They represent words yet to be spoken, waiting for us to give them breath, to make them real. We choose the words. We create our world.
So fill in the blank: It’s About Time For ________________!

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