Marlboro College is collaborating with Vermont artist Nye Ffarrabas to present an on-campus exhibition of her work in Fall 2020, thanks to a grant from the Vermont Arts Endowment Fund as well as generous donors. The exhibit, titled “Serious Play,” is the latest move in efforts by visual arts professor Amy Beecher to make more use of Drury Gallery to showcase local artists and to draw people to Marlboro’s rural campus.
“Our effort is to mount shows that reflect the ethos of our learning community, highlighting interdisciplinary work that is collaborative and interactive,” said Amy. “Because many of the people who have been exposed to Nye’s work are urban, we expect that most, if not all, of the audiences who engage with her artwork on our southern Vermont campus will be new to it.”
Ffarrabas was part of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and 70s that centered around experimental art performances, emphasizing artistic process over the finished product. Formerly known as Bici Hendricks, she was active in the avant-garde communities in New York during these decades of intense social change, working with other Fluxus artists such as George Brecht, Yoko Ono, and Geoffrey Hendricks. Now in her 80s and living in Brattleboro, Ffarrabas has spent the last five decades engaged in creating and co-creating artwork that challenges the audience and also invites participation.
“Lending a special richness to this collaboration, there is a unique connection between Marlboro College and Nye,” said Amy. “Her former husband, the late artist Geoffrey Hendricks, was the son of the college’s founder, Walter Hendricks. Given Nye’s close proximity to the college, her unique relationship to Marlboro’s history, and her advanced age, we feel a special urgency to exhibit her work.”
To give this exhibit the most impact, the visual arts faculty have invited guest curator Alison Burstein, who specializes in this period and brings an expertise in community engagement and ephemeral, performative work. In her proposal, Burstein focused on the quality of play in Ffarrabas’ work.
“As defined by Nye in the introductory text of Language Box (1966), ‘serious play’ is more than a mode of entertainment: it is a vehicle for engaging with the world—a practice through which open-ended, low-stakes investigation can yield meaningful insights,” said Burstein. With its provocative, non-traditional style, Ffarrabas’ art will engage students, artists, and non-artists alike.
There are plans to promote the Ffarrabas exhibit to the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, local schools, and colleges in southern Vermont including Bennington College, Middlebury College, and Landmark College, to reach the widest audience possible. The exhibit will be installed in September 2020, with ample time for programming and regional outreach before the closing in December.