Courtney Matthews is determined. A year filled with heartache, injury and tragedy demands it.
“I couldn’t imagine this crazy, screwed-up year going by without us getting to express the experience,” Matthews said.
Things began jubilantly. In February, she accepted the Mobile Arts Council’s Arty Award for Cultural Innovation. Matthews – simply CoCo to friends and colleagues – has been a presence downtown for over a decade, with her curio shop Lunatix and Co., her contributions to Arts Alive and monthly Artwalks, her creation of window installations for the Haunted Book Shop and her assembly of the Wild Maidens design team.
Mostly, the award was for Neu Dawn, a project melding 70-plus creative souls’ visual art, music and fashion into a unique exhibit. The 2020 rendition was slated for early May, but the closing of its old venue and then the global pandemic nixed it.
Now it’s back on again, for Sunday, Dec. 13, 4 – 7 p.m., at Alabama Contemporary Art Center (ACAC). It’s worked out for the best, better in some ways, but the journey has been rough.
Matthews’ father passed away suddenly over the summer. Her memories of his supportive manner reveal the source of her perspective and behavior.
“There was no way to have a gathering for him, so I feel like I haven’t even gotten to properly mourn him,” Matthews said.
Three months to the day after his death, Matthews had her own close call. A harrowing and horrifying auto accident on I-65 left her with six staples in her head.
“I’m not quite Franken-CoCo but I’m calling myself that anyway,” she quipped about the cranial hardware.
Her concussion symptoms have subsided. Hearing ambulance sirens while walking her dog gave her a flash of PTSD recently. She’s also developed a new relationship with images of her interior, thanks to modern diagnostic tools.
“It was crazy seeing my skeleton for the first time. You know that’s getting worked into my show, for sure,” Matthews said.
Her plans for the reimagined Neu Dawn were already underway. The previous incarnations were fundraisers for ACAC’s summer education programs so she asked staff if they might have space for her and anticipated being offered their large back room. Its industrial ambience harkened to her initial 2018 concept, employing the then-vacant Red Cross Building that now houses the Container Yard and Bay Gourmet.
Even better, Matthews was offered ACAC’s spacious main gallery at 301 Conti St. She was told a planned exhibit of art and music by Simeon Coxe fell through when the internationally renowned artist passed away in early September.
“When [Coxe] died, I was trying to remember the last time I interacted with or even saw him and it was in that exhibit hall,” Matthews said.
She immediately decided to implement his music. Matthews themes each Neu Dawn with a soundscape and the Pantone color of the year. For 2020, that color was Classic Blue.
“I didn’t realize how fitting that would be. Having the blues, the blue lights at my wreck,” Matthews said.
The more expansive environs afford a more finely tuned approach, inspired by the electronic aid museum goers utilize on their tours. Viewers are asked to bring headphones or earbuds for their smartphones.
“Will Fawcett is making us a web page and it will have a button per installation. When you click on it, it will have all the artists’ information and the audio,” Matthews said.
A few original participants won’t be there, mostly for positive reasons like new work or projects. There will be special nods to them utilizing their initial concepts, sketches and statements.
“I didn’t want to do this unless 80 percent of the participants were still in,” Matthews said. “I think what we’re using for their spots makes its own impact.”
COVID-19 awareness is stressed. A drop box will be used for the $5 entrance fee. Masks are required for ACAC anyway but some of the artists had implemented variations into their designs, respirators and gas masks included.
“They have a capacity limit and I’ll be clocking in people every two minutes,” Matthews said. “They’ll be told at the door, you can take as long as you want at the installation but when you see someone at the installation down from you, just be mindful of it and move on.”
For her, the harrowing year underlines the event’s necessity. It’s right there in the name.
“It’s all about things you need to escape from and grow from and be new from,” Matthews said.
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