On View:  October 20, 2020 – April 5, 2021

Universal Language +
Q&A with the Creators (Video)

Universal Language is a short film (12 min) created by artist Hollis Witherspoon in collaboration with SOU students and the Schneider Museum of Art in the Spring of 2020. The film premiered in September 2020 at FiveMyles gallery in Brooklyn, NY.  The film is followed by a Q&A with the creators of the piece.

From Hollis Witherspoon, Creator of Universal Language
In March of 2020, my family and I landed in beautiful, ghostly Ashland after a panicked cross country drive from our hometown of Brooklyn. My partner’s SMA VAST residency and my teaching appointment at SOU coincided so neatly with the emergence of Covid-19 that the timing felt like an escape. We arrived with the promises of new friends and community suddenly erased, attached only to screens and each other as we tried to locate who we were and what we were doing.

When I began to teach via Zoom in April, my performance art students startled me with their hunger for creative connection in the virtual realm. Each assignment I gave or discourse I offered was met with vulnerability and bravery. As we all grappled with our numbing sense of isolation, I was inspired and energized by their eagerness to continue making art.

As an artist, performer and drama therapist, I am endlessly curious about the contradictory roles that we play in our daily existences. The “I am” poem format can be used as a way to witness without demanding coherence. I created a set of prompts for my students as an attempt to capture our shared but disembodied experience. Over several weeks, they anonymously contributed their thoughts and feelings in a poignant tone poem that evokes the confusion, loneliness, desire and ambivalence of this strange moment. In Universal Language, I act as a vessel for this experience, masked and barefoot as I navigate my new, temporary and unknown home. I wander through the town in the early morning, creep across the green of Lithia Park at dusk, and stumble over cracked streets and abandoned lots, searching for steadiness and forward progress even as I cannot not see or breathe. The arrhythmic soundtrack, improvised by my six year old daughter, underscores their words and urges me onward. It is a translation and a language, a search for understanding, a tribute and eulogy all at once.

More information on Hollis Witherspoon can be found at http://holliswitherspoon.com/

A Collaboration made in the time of COVID-19
Shot in Ashland, Oregon Spring 2020
12 min | USA

Created by:
Hollis Witherspoon

Text by:
Tori Bennett
Chella Foster-Flynn
KC Mahoney
Haley Nichols
Anuhea Nihipali
Elizabeth Rubio
Isabel Underwood
Patrick Vogel
Tabitha Wenke
Hollis Witherspoon

Grayson Cox

Emily McPeck

Original music written and performed by:
Winifred Witherspoon-Cox

Special thanks for the generous support from:
Scott Malbaurn
Emily McPeck
Jason Hayes
Schneider Museum of Art
Oregon Center for the Arts
Southern Oregon University