Artist and Activist Jen Berger Presents Multidisciplinary Project 'The Opposite of Hate Is Mending' | Performing Arts | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Artist and Activist Jen Berger Presents Multidisciplinary Project 'The Opposite of Hate Is Mending'


Published April 14, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.

Jen Berger with laser-cut quilt squares - COURTESY OF JEN BERGER
  • Courtesy Of Jen Berger
  • Jen Berger with laser-cut quilt squares

An outdoor performance on a spring afternoon is a welcome antidote to months of hibernation. But with "The Opposite of Hate Is Mending," Jen Berger has more in mind than simply emerging from winter — or the clutches of a pandemic. Her title tacitly acknowledges a society grappling not just with a virus but with political divisions and the mortal ills of racial, economic and social injustice.

In the face of those divisions, Berger, a Burlington interdisciplinary artist, activist and Champlain College adjunct faculty member, chooses to focus on what might unite us. Over the past year, she says, "I have thought about the role of artists and the best way to serve our community." What bubbled up was the idea of a quilt, an apt symbol of piecing things together.

Her quilt won't be just figurative. One day last fall, on a walk along Flynn Avenue, Berger says, she spotted an empty signboard on the green just west of the railroad tracks, adjacent to Switchback Brewing. It was her eureka moment. "I needed to build this wooden quilt," she remembers thinking. "And it needed to represent different parts of our community coming together."

"The Opposite of Hate Is Mending" will be held on that very green on Saturday, April 17. It's a tripartite performance and art installation "that brings us together to think about shaping our post-pandemic future," Berger writes on her website.

Berger has been laser-cutting wooden "quilt" pieces at Generator; she will invite attendees to write on their backs. "I'm not sure of the prompt yet," she says, but it will have something to do with the question of "What do we need [to come together]?"

The artist will then assemble the pieces on the signboard à la granny squares, with musical accompaniment. Composer Matt LaRocca will play, on violin and guitar, an original "improvised score," he says, along with Randal Pierce on accordion, Polly Vanderputten on cello and Marie Hamilton on harp.

"I create musical benchmarks and phrases that we play off of," LaRocca says of such collaborations. "I don't ever know what's going to happen — that's what makes it fun."

A member of the music faculty at the University of Vermont and chair of creative projects at Vermont Symphony Orchestra, LaRocca has been no stranger to creatively adapting, aka improvising, in his professional life over the past year. He says the music he's prepared for "The Opposite of Hate Is Mending" will work in tandem with dancers to provide "a sense of actively moving together."

Those dancers are Holly Chagnon, Trina Isley and Brooke Moen, who will braid long strands of fabric, underscoring the theme, while Berger installs the artwork. Chagnon, who served as choreographer, notes that her trio took a collaborative approach to creating "gestures and phrases we can go back to" for the duration of the performance.

"It's so nice to get my brain thinking again" after the pandemic hiatus, says Chagnon, who also plays drums with local indie band the Smittens. "I really appreciated that Jen asked me to participate and that she trusts me and Matt to do this." Like Berger, she adds, her background in the arts is "entirely community based."

LaRocca, too, is feeling sanguine about Saturday's performance. "There's been more divisiveness than I've ever felt in my life, nationally and globally," he remarks. "We really need to come together. There's this hope for positivity now."

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Art of Mending"