M. Michelle Illuminato, Andover, NY
Belgrade: Dexterity Games
www.nextquestion.org

Nemanja’s Day, print of original drawing and story, mixed media interactive sculpture. 
To play: Balance the five bombs on the holes, being careful not to detonate the red one!

Sonja’s Secret Weapon, print of original drawing and story, mixed media interactive sculpture. 
To play: Drive the red Yugo to Tanja’s store (the secret weapon) and park in the lot.

Belgrade: Dexterity Games

These works began as conversations between Illuminato and a group of young artists from Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia. Their informal talks about place and memory took a visual turn as the young artists struggled to describe places that were distant either in time or memory or no longer accessible to them due to the politics of their country. Illuminato created sculptures based on their words and drawings, using the interactive form of dexterity toys as a metaphor for navigating through memory. In those navigations, certain pathways become well worn, yet familiar elements can shift unexpectedly, and the effort to recapture a moment can prove both frustrating and rewarding. The intimate format brings the viewer in touch with the art, but more importantly in touch with stories from people who have experienced war up-close and personal.

Artist Statement

I am interesting in creating events, public-exchanges, and artworks to help reveal the complicated and often contradictory relationship between people, their culture and the land they live on. I set up creative structures that seek to open dialogue. Sometimes those structures are large events, tours, workshops and listening stations. Other times, I use sculpture or my camera as a way to reframe both the physical and conceptual subject at hand. In addition to social geography, my recent work has explored foraging, collecting, and the tourist guide. My ongoing project, Ruralscape, investigates the everyday culture of rural life. Over the course of this year, invited artists and locals are exploring rural Allegany County New York, via guided tours, lectures and discussions that I am organizing. Their works inspired by these experiences, as well as my own, will form the core of a publication and exhibition. Other recent works have taken the form of slideshows with audios that focus on details of a place or museum in a poetic twist on the traditional tour guide or family slideshow.Over the years, I have created projects that have:

• Asked people from Ithaca to Aurora to get on a soapbox to talk to their neighbors
• Invited 100’s to collaborate on the main street of a once prosperous steel mill town
• Asked older adult women to teach their neighbors games that they play
• With young poets, created dialogue between high school and middle school girls
• Created audio tours that shared personal landmarks on the Southside of Pittsburgh
• Facilitated a new multi-voiced guide for Belgrade and Allegany County
• Created a photo-story that explored tourism and fan culture in Florence, Italy.
• Created public meals as a way to enhance food-consumption and conversation.

From all of these interactions, I’ve learned that people speak about their lives in ways that are striking, often poetic, and when placed next to the words of their neighbors, may provide us with great insight. It is that insight that I seek to make available to a wider audience. - M. Michelle Illuminato

Artist Bio

M. Michelle Illuminato is the recipient of many awards and grants, among them the Key to the City of Aliquippa and Best Event in Pennsylvania. She has been featured on CBS Radio Network’s The Osgood Files. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and recently completed residencies at AreaOdeon in Monza, Italy and the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France. Other exhibitions include: Local Histories: The Ground We Walk On, 523 East Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC, Explor-art, International workshop of territory exploration, AreaOdeon, Monza, Italy, Wild Food Cook-Off, MK Gallery, Portland, Stations, CSMA and String Room Galleries, Ithaca, NY, To Let, Ithaca, NY, GUIDE/VODIC, Kontekst Galerija, Belgrade, Serbia, MIX: Musical Swap Meet, The Cube, Belgrade, Transit Art, PAT Bus Poster Project, Pittsburgh, Five +, James Gallery, Pittsburgh, Junk is Back! Due Settemani, Ballabio, Italy, Paradise Gardens, Vogelfrei 6, Kunstentdeckungen in Privatgärten, Darmstadt, Germany, Living Statues/Statue Vivante, La Corte Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy, Live Video Karaoke, Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.