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Paul Rucker performs cello, talks art with students

By AMANDA AUBLE | March 5, 2015

Musician, composer and visual artist Paul Rucker entertained a small group of Hopkins students on Feb. 26 with his unconventional performance style and thought-provoking art pieces. As the first installment of Baltimore Artist Meetups (BAM) spring season, Rucker performed multiple improvisational cello pieces in the John Astin Theatre.

Originally from Seattle, Rucker has recently relocated to Baltimore in order to serve as a resident research fellow at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for the 2013-2014 academic year and to present his own exhibition titled Rewind. At MICA, he guides students through the concept of adding sound to art and has helped with the Empathy Project, performances and conversations meant to inspire cross-cultural discussions.

After a brief introduction describing his experienced music career, Rucker immediately took to the stage to grab a hold of his aged, faded cello. The small stage was cluttered with various props as Rucker introduced students to his unique playing style.

He scraped his bow against the cello’s body to produce a harsh, splintering sound, sang into the cello’s holes and beat his hands against the wood to provide a percussion effect. To create an overall cohesive piece, Rucker also recorded all of these sounds onto a looping device, which he controlled through a foot pedal.

He managed to layer these unique sounds while also incorporating the classic cello melody. Whenever the looped recording grew too chaotic, Rucker paused the sound with a simple pedal click. Growing tired of playing the same symphony pieces in the same manner, Rucker explained that he developed this improvisational style because he enjoys the freshness of never performing the same sound the same way twice.

After his musical performance, Rucker transitioned to discuss the artworks and concepts featured in his latest exhibit, Rewind, his largest display to date, which is currently on display at the Creative Alliance.

The exhibit centers around the racial and social injustices evident in America’s past and present culture. Rucker maintained a conversational, casual tone with his audience and even provided supplemental newspapers that further explained his art.

Rucker also used a slideshow and video clips to demonstrate some of the socially conscious art pieces he creates. For instance, one video clip showed individual colored lights illuminating a darkened map of the United States in order to indicate the vast amount of prisons still functioning in the country.

He also scrolled through pictures of a collection of woodwork sculptures that all maintained the resemblance to a cello’s body. Despite the uniform design, Rucker explained that he adds details like paint or wood texture in order to dedicate each piece to a specific victim of societal injustice without being too literal.

Rucker’s other works also make a bold statement on America’s controversial racial and social issues and its often repressed history. He does not shy away from startling imagery like Klu Klux Klan paraphernalia, slavery and photographs of lynchings. In fact, he has even constructed his own Klan uniform designs in bold colors, which are on display and range from adult to child sizes.

Not only are the images shocking, but Rucker also places stress on unsettling statistics and historical events in order for his audience to take away more knowledge about a topic that may not always find open discussion. The current media is also a focus as some of Rucker’s art references the controversesies surrounding media frenzies like Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson riots and the Eric Garner case in New York.

Rucker remained open about his art and took questions from the audience on topics ranging from his artistic to political perspectives. Once the questions ended, Rucker once again took the stage to perform more cello pieces. This time he utilized more stage props like drumsticks to increase percussion and picks to pluck individual strings. This concluded the intimate performance and the audience received refreshments in the lobby of the Merrick Barn.

BAM will be sponsoring several more events throughout this spring semester. Interested viewers still have the oppertunity to see Rucker’s Rewind exhibit, which is free to the public and will remain on display in Studio 6 of the Creative Alliance Gallery until March 7.

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