OF ALL THE changes at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in 35 years, one constant has remained since the organization's founding in 1981: a commitment to providing resources and support for artists to practice their crafts.
By the mid-1980s, that mission developed into the Bemis' celebrated artist-in-residency program — at its heart, a no-strings-attached opportunity for those selected to use their allotted time and space however they see fit. Artists from around the world have called Omaha home because of that program, one by one adding to an alumni group now several hundred people strong.
Today, the Bemis opens the first of a two-part exhibition, aptly titled "Time + Space," celebrating its 35th anniversary.
The first chapter, "Beginnings," takes a long view of the organization's origins — going back to an earlier era in the Old Market, when the Bemis headquarters at 12th and Leavenworth Streets was the domain of the Bemis Bag Company. The show features a large, reproduced photograph of a "recreation room" at the bag company taken in 1916, with one woman seated at a piano, three others at a card table and yet another seated on a swing suspended from the ceiling.
"It looks staged," said Nicole J. Caruth, the Bemis' artistic director of exhibitions and public engagement. "I think that's the striking thing about it."
One hundred years later, it will be re-staged. Visitors to "Time + Space" can take a swing from the ceiling, and perhaps even a seat at a piano. More importantly, they can see work by former Bemis residents, pulled from the organization's vault and organized around the theme of "earth as medium and subject matter," a reference to the organization's early years as a program that placed artists, particularly those working in ceramics, at industrial work-sites. The exhibition's second chapter, "Futures," opens in June and revolves around a theme of science fiction.
"Time + Space: Beginnings" kicks off with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight.
The opening coincides with two others at the Bemis.
"Crossroad: A Social Sculpture" by New York-based artist Derrick Adams. The third distinct iteration of Adams' shape-shifting, interactive radio station, "Crossroad" serves as a lifesize game board. During designated DJ sets, hosted by a rotating lineup of guest artists, visitors will move about the board, then respond to historical and Omaha-based questions. Can't make it to the Bemis? Tune in online. More about the project at crossroadradio.tumblr.com.
Also opening: Benjamin Tiven's "Everyday Static Transmissions" features a film ("A Third Version of the Imaginary") and photographs documenting the artist's 2012 dive into the video archives of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), described as "an original effort by a state to fashion its image and to legitimate its power through control of visual mass media."
Both Adams and Tiven will speak about their projects during an art talk from 6 to 7 p.m. tonight. A reception will run until 9 p.m.