Mar 3: “Artists in Absentia” gets vital supplements in a docu-short, web series

The Oakhill Humanities Project’s new exhibition begins this Thurs with a reception and a screening of Marc Kornblatt’s new film

Editor’s note: LakeFrontRow Cinema is one of several series in Madison Library’s Central Cinema program. A big reason why is because of Trent Miller, who runs Madison Bubbler’s maker space.

Throughout all of Mar, the Central Library will host “Artists in Absentia,” a show dedicated to the creative work of artists in the Oakhill Correctional Institution. An extension of the Oakhill Humanities Project, the exhibition furthers Oakhill’s mission to improve the lives of inmates through arts and education; the Victor Hugo quote “He who opens a school door closes a prison” is proudly emblazoned on the project site’s masthead.

The exhibition kicks off this Thurs at 6:00p with an opening reception in the Central Library’s Bubbler room, the centerpiece of which is a new documentary project by Marc Kornblatt.

Kornblatt isn’t a student in the program. Rather, the Madison-based director’s film (also titled Artists in Absentia) is a reflection of the exhibit, and it’s about as dedicated to its subject matter as possible. Inmates deliver spoken-word dialogues on their claustrophobic experiences or interpret themselves as objects via handpainted symbolism. Several live recordings of Oakhill musicians are staggering in their displays of talent — and poetic with the proximity of Kornblatt’s camera.

Intimacy is a real draw here. The Madison Bubbler provided several collaborators (in association with its Artist-in-Residence program) in addition to serving up the show’s space. Its greatest value to the community though is in leveraging arts with a public institution’s outreach, uniting established artists with the city’s youth and curious adults. Whether it’s arts or education (or both), face-to-face interaction with artists matters. Kornblatt recognizes that, sticking artists front-and-center. While he occasionally cuts to faculty members or program schematics, there’s a reason things begin and end with live music.

As a film, Artists in Absentia can be enjoyed all on its own, but it’s also a continuation of Kornblatt’s work with the Oakhill Correctional Institute. His Dostoevsky Behind Bars shows an empathetic side to the project’s instruction and outreach, nabbing a Golden Badger award in 2014. Kornblatt’s also devoted his time to a web series that further explores inmates’ creations.

The Madison Bubbler has been an invaluable resource for Madison for several years now. Interested in podcasting? Check. What about animation? Check. Poetry? Game design? Audio engineering? Check. Check. Check. The variety (and strength) of the maker space’s offerings is impressive. Even when the artists themselves can’t be present, it’s fulfilling to see Kornblatt continue that diversity.

  • “Artists in Absentia” begins this Thurs, Mar 3 with a 6:00p reception in the Central Library’s Bubbler room. Marc Kornblatt’s documentary Artists in Absentia screens at 7:00p. The exhibition runs all month-long.