Lying on his back on a bench in the gallery space of his exhibit, Richard Kamler was almost missable when I walked into the space.
Celebrating four decades of art that seeks to make a change in social problems, “Richard Kamler: A Retrospective” is currently on display at the University of San Francisco (USF). Kamler is an artist who works in multimedia which incorporates audio recording, sculptural installation, and, drawing encourages interactivity with the viewer.
The artist Kamler, small for a man, wore loose, bohemian clothing and a knit cap. He spoke to me with a gentle but purposeful approach to his theory of art, his face showing his experience with natural wrinkles and a laid back expression.
“We’ve never really tried art in terms of changing the world,” said Richard Kamler, who works in the Bay Area.
Kamler is currently working on two new pieces. One is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the other on the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez is a city in Mexico just south of Texas where a female homicides have occurred. Kamler frequently incorporates communication and the involvement of multiple perspectives into his pieces, giving a voice to those who are least listened to. This is true in his current work as well, which he describes as “a memorial for the grieving” and a public display to “make someone accountable” for the death of over 550 women who were victims of “sexual-torture killings” as described by the organization in support of these women, Amigos de las Mujeres de Juarez.
Kamler has been using his work to try to affect change, and it has worked.
Kamler’s most popularly successful piece, “Table of Voices,” led to a program at the San Francisco County Jails for restorative justice. “Restorative justice brings together the victim, the perpetrator, and the community,” said Kamler. Restorative Justice Online, a service of the Prison Fellowship International Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, describes restorative justice as “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour.”
Restorative justice relies on cooperation from all affected parties by crimes. It “brings together the victim, the perpetrator, and the community,” explained Kamler.
Kamler was an Artist in Residence at the San Quentin prison for two years.
In “Table of Voices” Kamler interviewed convicted homicide perpetrators as well as a member of the victim’s family. These voices are juxtaposed together at a table. One side of the table is coated in lead and the other in gold leaf. Phones are set up on opposite sides of bulletproof glass. The voices are divided, with murderers on the lead side and victims on the gold side. When you pick up the phone at the mock-visitor station, you can hear the recordings of people answering questions, with each side sounding oddly similar.
“My goal is to create a common ground, a context, for communication to occur.” said Kamler. This has been a theme in many of his pieces.
Kamler wants artists to “be at the table” with politicians in making world decisions as “experts on imagination.” He believes this can lead to changes in social justice.
His piece on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will emulate the Tower of babel for “voices to come together.”
Restorative justice is just one manifestation of what Kamler hopes to achieve with his art. He wants to reach “a level of engagement from other people” that causes them to interact and move to action.
For individuals who are trying to make a change in social movements with art, Kamler wants them to be patient because change happens as he reminds young artists to “keep [their] antennae up all the time” and to “be engage in the world as an artist.”
“Richard Kamler: A Retrospective” is currently on showcase at the USF. The show is going on until March 4, located in the Thacher Gallery of the USF library 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
An excerpt from Richard Kamler’s Artist Statement
I practice art to communicate.
I practice art to make the world a better place.
I practice art because it is the most meaningful thing I can think of doing.
I practice art to come to the table and engage in dialogue.
I practice art to have fun.
I practice art to be part of the global community of artists and to participate in our common and creative struggle for freedom.
I practice art because I sing while I’m doing it.
I practice art to respect my grandfather’s request when he screamed at me to show him the face I had before I was born.
I practice art to have ONE un-edited activity for the full swimming of my imagination.
I practice art to say YES!