2 picks for February ArtHop: Shana Moulton and Kathy Wosika are flying high

The February installment of ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods, will be held from on Thursday, Feb. 6, from 5-8 p.m. at most venues. You can consult the Fresno Arts Council’s complete venue list and schedule.

I offer two picks, with stories about each one: Shana Moulton at Fresno City College Art Space Gallery; and Kathy Wosika at Fig Tree Gallery. Here’s my roundup:

Shana Moulton at Fresno City

I first met Cynthia a few years ago, and, man, is she a trip. With her sunny demeanor and stridently cheerful, childlike sense of ‘50s homemaker contentment, she’s like a kitschy cross between Betty Crocker and old-school Pee-wee Herman (before he got creepy). But get to know Cynthia, and you realize there’s something more complicated there. She’s been described as hypochondriacal, agoraphobic, and prone to surreal fantasies. Sometimes Cythia hangs out at home interacting in psychedelic ways with her alarm clock, furniture and other everyday objects. Other times she does an astral-blast daydream kind of thing and pops up in surprising alternate planes of existence: plopped on a yoga mat on the top of a mountain, perched upon a bandage-shaped magic carpet flying over Half Dome; inundated by colorful birds in a weirdly animated forest. Wherever she goes, her world is filled with high-tech video effects designed to look quaintly low-tech.

Pictured above: Shana Moulton’s ‘Morning Ritual,’ 2016, video still. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

This isn’t Hollywood CGI “almost reality,” but rather a kaleidoscopic immersion in bright colors and obvious digital layerings and manipulations.

Cynthia is the filmic alter ego of Shana Moulton, an internationally known video and performance artist (and an assistant professor of art at UC Santa Barbara) who grew up in Oakhurst. The title of her video series, “Whispering Pines 10,” is a reference to the name of the mobile home retirement community where she lived. She returned to the area when she was making the piece. That’s one reason why she’s particularly happy to have an exhibition in Fresno, she tells me.


“I was keen on showing this particular piece here because a lot of it was filmed locally,” she says. Locations include the top of Fresno Dome, Nelder Grove (just outside the Yosemite border) and a charming, airy home in Bass Lake that belonged to a former boss of hers in high school, Jill Cooley, who owned a tourist shop in Bass Lake.

“Her aesthetic and the shop had a big influence on my aesthetic and my work. It was great to get to film at her house.”

Moulton boasts other local connections, too. Her uncle was Chuck Moulton, who founded the Fresno Poets Association. He died in 1995, when Shana Moulton was a sophomore in college. She credits his free-spirited example of artistic life as something that ultimately inspired her to become an artist herself.

Shana Moulton, as her alter ego, Cynthia, enjoys a virtual bath.

Moulton’s work has been shown all over the world, and she has performed at such prestigious venues as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but chances to see it and her locally have been sparse. I “met” Cynthia in 2015 at an art exhibition titled “”The Hatchery: Fortress” that was held at the cavernous (and eerie) former Synanon cult compound near the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. Twenty-three artists from around the world took part in the curated show, which was part of a worldwide art event held nearly simultaneously in 10 alternative art venues. It was sponsored by the Urban Arts and Media Organization, based in Munich, Germany.

I was entranced by Cynthia, actually, and named Moulton’s work one of my Top 20 cultural offerings of the year. Other than the show at the Hatchery, her work has never been exhibited in the Fresno area.

There’s another special local connection in the Fresno City show as well: a display of Moulton’s grandfather’s Smokey the Bear collection of stuffed teddy bears, pins and other memorabilia. Her grandfather was the top administrator of the Sierra National Forest for many years.

“Whispering Pines 10,” which Moulton initially released in installments, is 36 minutes long. That’s a departure for her. Usually she has worked in the 4-to7-minute range. Another departure for her about the project is that she had a collaborator, composer Nick Hallett. Original music and vocals dominate the piece.

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Humor permeates the film. (I love when Cynthia takes a bath wearing a full body stocking, but she still gets the “blurred effect” on her breasts and genitals.) There’s also a big dose of social awareness. Moulton bases one of the extended vignettes in the film on the story of Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a California redwood tree for 738 days to prevent it from being cut down. The image of Cynthia floating/falling from the tree while a singer serenades her is startling, especially when she reaches the bottom.

The exhibition in the Art Space Gallery includes a bonus: two side video installations by Moulton for the show.

And mark your calendars: To celebrate the closing of the show, on Feb. 20, Moulton will be on hand for a live performance. She’s asked local poets and authors who have some connection to her uncle to read as well.

Wosika’s ‘Snow Drift 1.’

Kathy Wosika at Fig Tree Gallery

Do you ever get on a plane and find yourself nearly hypnotized by the landscape rolling by under you? Kathy Wosika has long had this infatuation. Her new exhibition, “Earth’s Canvas,” at Fig Tree Gallery, consists of photographs taken over a 20-plus year period of time from airplanes, flying between the East and West Coasts of the US at 30,000 feet.

From such a distance, she writes, “The Earth below offers us a rich canvas filled with beautiful yet ephemeral compositions. This amazing aerial art gallery is created by rock, water, soil and plants, as well as man’s interactions with these elements. Change is ever the constant.”

I caught up with Wosika to ask a few questions:

Q: I’ve always been fascinated with how empty the country is when I’m flying. What are your thoughts on that?

A: Yes, from up in the air it appears as though there are vast miles of uninhabited, open space. However, at a closer look, that space is filled with an unending and amazing array of visual compositions created by nature or our own interaction with the land around us. I’m so taken by this wonder that I literally HAVE to take photos if I have a window seat. Sometimes it makes the flight less restful because I’m constantly looking for that next amazing image that will surely be right around the corner — and it always is!

Q: When you were deciding which photos to include in the exhibition, how did you choose? Was it on the basis of graphic appeal (lines, patterns, textures), or location (famous places), or your own personal experiences (“I’m on the way to Disney World”), or something else?

A: It was hard to choose, so there are about 35 photos in this show. This collection has grown from a belief that if we are aware of the richness and nuances of the language that we all share, which is visual, we never approach the world around us without feeling amazed, inspired and appreciative. I loved teaching two- and three-dimensional design for this reason. Flying so high and looking down at the earth below gives me a whole new sense of wonder. I love seeing the edge of a mountain come down and nuzzle into a beautiful array of agricultural circles and rectangles. No matter how difficult things might seem day to day, there is always another view to consider or perspective to be a part of.

Q: A question revealing my age: When I was a kid, it seemed like a lot more people took photos out of airplane windows. Today, it seems rather unusual. (In fact, I’d say that many people don’t even bother looking out the window.) What do you think?

A: I didn’t fly in an airplane until I was in college (revealing my age, that was 1966-70!). That was a small prop plane going from Champaign-Urbana Illinois to my home in St. Louis and I was always queasy on those flights and focused on trying NOT to use the little brown bag in front of me. But you are absolutely correct. Now, when I fly, most people have the shade down and are sleeping, or working on the computer, playing games or watching movies, all while this amazing movie is going on right outside the windows! Perhaps we now expect our visual world to be dense and complicated and moving at a fast pace. From 30,000 feet, the ground below seems to move relatively slow. Also, I’ve never had someone ask me what I see or what I’m taking pictures of. I think we all could benefit from being a bit more curious.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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