“I was always at the window," she says. "It was an incredible window into our society."
There she had a firsthand view of the many emotions the pandemic evoked: hope, fear, anger and resilience.
Nowadays, Svendsen believes people need to grieve the past year but don’t feel they can. The thought inspired her approach to the art installation that will complement Avifauna’s multimedia album release at Walker Fine Art on June 25. Both Svendsen and keyboardist and singer Mark Penner-Howell are visual artists and have created an immersive concert that is a gentle, nurturing way to welcome people home to a freshly reopened society. The band will release We Go On, an album created during Trump's presidency and COVID-19.
We Go On is “a historical document of the time that we’d all rather forget. In that way, it’s a little bit difficult to have released,” Svendsen explains. “We’re in a moment now where we’re still processing all of the grief that COVID has given us to process. It’s hard to be talking about the album itself when we’re all so tender.”
She explains that many of the songs on the album were products of “therapy sessions” between bandmembers Svendsen, Penner-Howell, drummer Robert Treta and bassist Christopher Nelson. Although they were all long-time friends, and bandmembers since they dropped their first release in 2017, national politics turned their rehearsals into an avenue for more in-depth discussion and emotional release. At times their conversation would shift from words to sound, and soon, songs began to rise to the surface.
Many of the songs are topical and tied to specific current events, such as “Boys Were Boys,” written during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings; “Monster,” as environmental regulations were being stripped; “Contagion,” as COVID-19 was becoming a reality; and “Howl,” which Svendsen wrote alone during the quarantine as she served front-line workers from the Starbucks window.
Although the concepts of the album may be layered with the painful processing of the times, the sound itself is an easy-to-listen-to blend of electro-folk, dream pop and psych that creates an atmospheric landscape full of harmony, lush tones and hypnotic rhythms.
Further, the music is meant to be relatable. “I’m really intentionally wanting to keep it open. I don’t want it to be stuck in a historical moment,” Svendsen says. “I write the lyrics intentionally in an open and obscure way, so people have a place for themselves in [the songs], in whatever way it’s resonating with them, in whatever moment they’re in.”
Svendsen began playing guitar and taking voice lessons around her fortieth birthday. That instruction and feedback prompted her to start writing songs. Still, “I never in a million years thought I’d have a band,” she says.
Previously, Svendsen had funneled much of her creative energy into visual arts. She has been a ceramic sculptor and installation artist for about 25 years, and she is currently represented by Walker Fine Art. Her work often “references the shared impact and cross-pollination of the human-made and natural world,” she writes in her artist statement. And she often approaches those visual exhibitions with an intent to challenge the viewer, specifically with regard to environmental issues.
That is not the case with the installation she’s planning for Avifauana’s release. It’s truly meant to be soft. “I’m thinking very intentionally about creating a multi-sensory experience that’s not [made] in an overwhelming, immersive, Meow Wolf kind of way,” she says. Instead, it’s about “those subtle experiences of being in the world.”
Svendsen is planning to fill the gallery with elements of nature such as leaves and other materials she’s been collecting for decades. She will fill the space with recorded birdsong. And while her intention is passive, she hopes the installation and event will prompt healing if people are ready. “It’s really important: Don’t give into this collective amnesia that we have for too long. I’m sort of an activist at heart. We’re looking at a pretty problematic future if we don’t process that past,” she says.
In addition to Svendsen’s installation, Penner-Howell will stream videos behind the band’s performance. Some of those videos are already available on the group's website.
Svendsen suggests that audience members arrive a little earlier than the scheduled event to take a moment to explore the gallery. There are other shows available that thematically connect to the intention of the Avifauna immersion piece. It’s about “how we need one another,” she adds.
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