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Interaction With Audience Becomes a Key Ingredient in Artist's Works

January 27, 1989|CHRISTINE ZIAYA | Ziaya is a frequent contributor to Valley Calendar.

Beverly Naidus believes that she is a social activist as well an an artist. Her work relentlessly reminds onlookers of the injustices in our society and the world at large.

"If I have access to space, I have access to raising consciousness," she said.

So when an exhibit of her work opens Monday at the Main Gallery of Cal State Northridge, Naidus hopes that her audience will find her work, at the very least, provocative.

Three of her audience-participatory installations will be on display through Feb. 24. Viewers are encouraged to share their reactions, and their feedback is subsequently incorporated into Naidus' creations. Such interaction is her trademark.

Two of the installations, "Please Take a Number" and "This Is Not a Test," have been exhibited before. In the former, viewers, with their shoes removed, actually walk on top of the art, which is a maze with a series of platforms on which people can stand. As they proceed through the maze, participants are faced with the juxtaposition of confronting the world's problems versus the individual need and desire to escape through drugs, TV, shopping and the like.

In "This Is Not a Test," Naidus presents an eerie scenario of what the world will be like in the event of a nuclear war. A bedroom in shambles sets the mood for this work, as slides commemorating the beauty of nature flash in front of the dreary backdrop. An audiotape expresses the thoughts common to many people--they never realized a nuclear holocaust could really happen.

Naidus' "The Nightmare Quilt" makes its debut in this show. Ninety-two painted images reveal both the evils that plague society and the possible alternatives that can bring about a better world.

In all three works, viewers are invited to write down their nightmares, hopes, fears and dreams on slips of paper and then deposit them within the artwork. "If I can make one or two people out of 100 feel less isolated, then it's all worthwhile," Naidus said.

The practice of having audience members reveal their feelings began by accident when Naidus exhibited "This Is Not a Test" at the New York Coliseum in Manhattan. "People left me notes under the bed," she recalled. "People wanted to talk about the issues. So, I thought, why not make the exhibits more of an invitation for people to speak out?"

Also on exhibit at CSUN's gallery will be 12 drawings from Naidus' series "Taking the Empire's New Clothes to the Laundry." In each drawing, she depicts an environment and then proposes alternative behaviors--for example, she has drawn a health club but then suggests that viewers might not necessarily benefit from the anxiety of working toward a perfect body. Once again, it is social change that Naidus is striving for.

Originally from Glenrock, N.J.--a town that she describes as conservative--Naidus studied art at Carlton College in Minnesota before moving to New York City in 1975. "I was interested in sociology, history, language, theater and art, and saw this as the best way to synthesize everything," she said. She received her master's degree from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she said it was safe to experiment in new artistic genres.

Naidus, 35, continues this tradition of exploring and encouraging the development of new methods of expression in a class, titled "Art and Social Issues/Mixed Media," that she teaches at Cal State Long Beach.

"It proves a wonderful outlet for students," Naidus said. "Things they've experienced and issues that matter to them--suicide, apathy, racism--they can now include in their work."

Despite the somewhat depressing quality of her work, Naidus is interested in focusing on the importance of change and choice. She sees the empowerment of people as a viable alternative to apathy and hopelessness. In keeping with this philosophy, from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 25, Naidus and social ecologist Bob Spivey will offer a free workshop at the Mai Gallery that deals with the individual's capacity for change and self-empowerment.

"A lot of people are aware of what is going on, but they become numb," she said. "There are a lot of things wrong in society, but people can still have a sense of hope. People need to know that we can have a future--and not one of endless war, crime and fear. It all starts with individuals doing little things, getting involved. People need to hold on to their dreams for a better future because if we lose our dreams, we lose everything."

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