Images and ideas associated with falling in love abound in popular culture. Happy couples hold hands and look at each other longingly while walking carefree along the beach. Hearts, diamonds, and flowers. Romance and passion. Chocolate and cherubs. Conversely, we associate heartbreak with all things bad. Darkness, depression, and despair. A solitary figure trudges silently in the rain without a jacket, soaked and despondent. A person in pajamas with tear stained cheeks sits alone on a bed. This cultural iconography surrounding love and heartbreak is widely prevalent. But reality often belies the stereotype. As the interviews in Molasses & Lemon vividly reveal, the ways people talk about their experiences with love and heartbreak are often eerily and intimately related. Could it be that we simply can’t have one without the other? Love. Heartbreak. Does it even matter?

 

Somewhere along the way, most of us reach a point in life at which we come to terms with who we are and how and where we fit into the varying communities in which we live. Part and parcel with this understanding comes a level of comfort and confidence. And every once in a while, often when we least expect it, in what would otherwise be the most mundane of circumstances, somebody randomly interacts with us in a way that forces us to gaze upon ourselves through the lens of how others see us and that can forever alter our perception of how we fit into the world. Through an innovative blend of documentary audio and mixed media visuals, Seven Ways From Sunday compellingly chronicles a series of these unexpectedly startling moments of personal revelation, resulting in a powerful meditation on how seemingly fleeting moments of human contact can have profound long-term repercussions.

 

Iron Man, Batman, Superman, and Captain America, from the exhibit “Whatever We Need Them to Be,” originally featured as part of SEEING STORIES: Traversing the Graphic Narrative. Cur. Kynde Kiefel. Sheehan Gallery, Walla Walla, WA. September 1st to December 11th, 2015.

Since Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster’s Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in the spring of 1938, superheroes have occupied an inexorably growing space in American popular culture to the point that superhero movies are now the dominant force in international box office and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.  But we tend to see our world through a contemporary lens, and in so doing we forget that comic book characters leaping from the printed page to the silver screen is a phenomenon almost as old as Superman himself.  The same stories have been constantly retold for new generations, so that images of Batman’s parents being gunned down in Crime Alley or an infant Superman crashing to earth in a Kryptonian space capsule are so ingrained in the cultural imagination that these mythic creation stories have attained folkloric status.  Despite some of these characters now approaching 80 years old, they remain forever in amber, eternally of a certain age and status, even as the world around them rapidly changes.  Their ongoing appeal is rooted in a universal desire for eternal youth and vigor and the ability to overcome mortal and corporeal limitations. 

And the idea of superheroes’ appeal being universal is important not just culturally, but financially.  Indeed, the international appeal of superheroes is why these four characters have been chosen by Time Warner (which owns DC Comics) and the Walt Disney Company (which owns Marvel Comics) as the lynchpins around which to build multiple narrative film franchises, which themselves are merely the tip of an iceberg of ancillary products produced and distributed by the various subsidiary platforms of the monopolistic parent companies.  This conflagration of art and commerce has always been at the heart of the entertainment industry, and it’s no different here.  But, perhaps more importantly, why have these companies pinned their commercial ambitions on these four characters? What is it about them? Batman’s comic books are top sellers, but Superman’s aren’t nearly as successful, Iron Man’s are even less so, and at the moment Captain America doesn’t even have a solo title.  And they certainly aren’t reflective of the diversity that increasingly characterizes both American life and mainstream comic books.  

But for better or worse, these characters are the yin and yang of the respective companies that hold their copyrights.  As such, they are simultaneously representative of varying aspects of American culture and philosophically at odds with each other.  Superman is a being of the light, a man whose power comes from the sun and who typically does what he’s asked to do by those in traditional positions of power.  In contrast to his iconoclastic wiseacre persona, Iron Man is also a person who frequently acts in support of governmental desires.  Conversely, Batman is a creature of the shadows that does everything short of killing to ensure his idea of justice is served, laws to the contrary be damned.  Likewise, even though he was created in an era of overwhelming public support for the American government, since his “rebirth” in 1964, Captain America is much more interested in defending individual civil liberties than supporting actions of a government he believes to be in the wrong.  The ongoing tension between these pairs of characters is central to their appeal; you can’t think of one without considering his relationship to the other.  While these characters’ ideologies have shifted with the times through the varying eras of comic book history, their being in opposition to each other has remained constant as has comic book geeks reveling in the countless resulting conflicts.  And the movies have followed suit as in the spring of 2016 these characters finally faced off on the big screen in DC Entertainment’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Marvel Entertainment’s Captain America: Civil War.  Regardless of what happens in the subsequent films and comic books, it’s safe to assume that both mediums will reboot these characters ad infinitum and if history tells us anything it’s that audiences will keep coming back for more.

 

In having lawns, are we giving in to societal expectations that have no real rationale, or do lawns have more meaning than we are typically willing to give them? Is the grass really always greener on the other side? For a lot of people, “in lawns we trust” is more than a motto: it’s a way of life. Conversely, many folks see their lawn as an enemy. Lawns actually have a lot in common with other hot button social issues in that there's no ambivalence where they're concerned--one way or the other, everyone has an opinion. American Lawn explores this fascinating dichotomy, resulting in a lighthearted, surprisingly insightful, and kaleidoscopic portrait of Americans of all stripes grappling with their relationships to lawn.

 

Through the process of challenging the old maxim “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Sterling Hallard Bright Drake parses the line between truth and memory in solving the mysteries surrounding one of the world's most notorious and talked about tombstones. The result is a surprisingly funny and unexpectedly profound meditation on the seemingly inexhaustible optimism and promise of youth, the subsequent inescapable mortal realities of aging, and the bittersweet double-edged sword that comes part and parcel with true love.

 

Walla Walla Wiffle is an annual one day round-robin wiffleball tournament wherein 48 men from all over the country gather in Eastern Washington to play wiffleball. Most of the participants are in their 30s or 40s, married with children, highly educated and well-employed. The film documents the joy they take in being able to revert to the simplicity of their youth, if only for a day, while also showing the conflicts that arise from the inescapable responsibilities that come with jobs, relationships and families. Walla Walla Wiffle. Where men are boys.