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The Cherry Arts fosters collaboration between theatrical and gallery work

The Cherry Arts Gallery is located across a parking lot space from the Cherry Artspace inside the Arthaus building on Cherry Street. (Kalysta Donaghy-Robinson/Ithaca Week)

On the bank of Cayuga Inlet, The Cherry Arts stands nestled on the edge of Cherry Street. On a brisk evening in Ithaca, as the river splashes along the shore, a crowd gathers to experience a message of imagination, innovation and technology. This experience was a collaboration between two artists, a collaboration between performance and gallery work.

Mara Neimanis is a professor of physical theater and aerial studies at Niagara University. For 15 years, Neimanis has been touring with and performing the solo aerial performance “Air Heart,” inspired by the famous pilot and feminist Amelia Earheart. 

From Oct. 19 to 29 at the Cherry Artspace, a total of eight performances of “Air Heart” starring Neimanis took place. Featuring a 13-foot spinning steel airplane sculpture, Neimanis said the show unpacks themes of flight and women’s place within history as well as being applicable to modern day ideas of feminism.

Mara Neimanis created and starred in the production of “Air Heart,” which took place in the Cherry Artspace from Oct. 19 to 29. (photo provided by In-Flight Theatre)

“I think that Amelia Earhart became a lens through which to speak about flight and what women had to do to accomplish things that [are] for real, that we are still struggling with now,” Neimanis said.  

Across the parking lot from the Cherry Artspace, inside the Arthaus building, an exhibit titled “Stringmachine” created by artist Rita Scheer fills the Cherry Art Gallery. 

When Scheer first learned about Neimanis’ production of “Air Heart,” they said they felt drawn to the way in which Neimanis approached imagination in coordination with machines. 

“I think it’s just like the feeling of imagination after feelings of defeat and coming out of those feelings and moving forward,” Scheer said. “That … was tackled in the show and is something that I deal with in my work.”

Rita Scheer created the exhibition entitled “Stringmachine” which is currently displayed in the
Cherry Art Gallery until Dec. 2. (photo provided by The Cherry Arts)

“Stringmachine” is a combination of drawing, sculpture and installation work that transforms the Cherry Gallery into a suspended drifting loom. Through drawings of imagined machines and heddles hung from the ceiling of the gallery, Scheer’s piece begs the audience to immerse themselves.

“In my work, it’s very important to me to kind of create playful spaces that [can] be altered and pulled out that are very tactile, and something that you can move around in your imagination,” Scheer said.

A conversation between performance and visuality

Jen Pearcy-Edwards, general manager of The Cherry Arts, said she was eager when Scheer approached the gallery with “Stringmachine” because of how well the piece aligned with “Air Heart.”

“It’s just such a perfect match for what’s happening on stage and ‘Air Heart,’” Pearcy-Edwards said. “Not only because we’re looking at space and freedom and exploration and all of those great things, but also because they’re non-male-driven.”

The Cherry Arts featured a similar collaboration between the artspace and gallery this past summer  when they featured a performance of “As You Like It” in the artspace at the same time the gallery housed the exhibit “Genderqueer Pioneers: The Lavender Hill Legacy.” Both of these works touched on themes of gender identity and an entrance into an unfamiliar land of rusticity. 

“Stringmachine” created by artist Rita Scheer acts as an invitational art piece and experience that works as a commentary on the history and utilization of machines. (Kalysta Donaghy-Robinson/Ithaca Week)

“We figure if we’ve got these spaces, it’s really nice to find ways to create links and tie them together,” Pearcy-Edwards said. 

Pearcy-Edwards said The Cherry Arts hopes to feature more collaborations like this to link together the two spaces. Having “Stringmachine” echo “Air Heart” was not a new idea for Neimanis either.

“‘Air Heart’ really was [born] out of this exact kind of situation,” Neimanis said. “I had a workspace above a gallery that also had a theater and I premiered the piece in the theater … It was very nice to have both things happening at the same time. I felt very much at home.”

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