Sondra Perry: Opening Up Through Technology and Media

Artist Sondra Perry is the first video artist to win the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize! Using a wide range of digital platforms and tools including 3-D avatars, blue screens, Chroma keys, and computer graphics software, Perry’s installations and performances draw from an eclectic mix of inspiration. She is focused on how a lens can turn a subject into an object. See Perry’s immersive and unique (bring your hard hat!) installation, Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY from December 8, 2017 through July 1, 2018 at SAM.

Below, Perry discusses how the internet, technology, and her personal history factor into her investigations into representations of black identity. This is taken from a talk she gave to SAM staff this February. She opened the talk with a tutorial video from YouTube on how to play an Isley Brothers song on guitar, so we will too!

The interesting thing about this clip is that he’s talking about that soaring note at the beginning of the song. That’s an E Flat played backwards. In the sidebar, all of these people who have also done tutorials for this song reference this video for showing them how to play that note. This is a piece of internet archaeology that touches on my interest in the parallel; two things happening at the same time in this YouTube space. The original and the improvised other. And also, like he’s amazing. He reminds me of my uncle who played guitar for lots of different people.

I spend a lot of my time on YouTube. Tons, probably too much. Not too long ago, when there were many black people dying, being murdered at the hands of police. I found this YouTube channel that was not connected to any news agency that does 3-D renderings of space travel, biology, and crimes. One of their 3-D renderings was the slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I am interested in the rendering of the body, of this man in a 3-D render space. I’m interested in circulation and how these images are represented outside of the video of someone being killed. That’s not what I’m interested in at all. I’m interested in how those things are able to happen.

When I was younger I read the Superman books. In the Superman Universe, the Phantom Zone is a parallel dimension that acts as a prison, an ethical one. Superman’s father, Kal-El, was the Security Minister on Krypton before it blew up, of course. He created this parallel dimension that was the Phantom Zone where you could send people to be rehabilitated. In the Phantom Zone you could see what was happening in your dimension, but you couldn’t interact with it. I’ve taken this Phantom Zone, spinning, 1980’s special effect to visualize some notions of double consciousness. I’m also playing with how a video can act as a space where there are multiple perspectives. So, you’re not just looking directly at an image—there are other things happening. I’m trying to encompass all these things into one really vibey piece of art.

I’m interested in video and its production spaces. In 2016 at The Kitchen in New York I created an installation, Resident Evil. The back is a Flesh Wall—an animation of my skin with the contrast boosted. I do this through programs used to make 3-D renderings of things. The ocean modifier I used for this is supposed to help you make a realistic 3-D rendered ocean.

This installation is where I transitioned from using the Chroma key green to the blue screen. The Chroma key is a video, film, and photo production technique that allows you to separate the foreground of an image and a background. So usually these images have a person in the foreground and in post-production you’re able to take that out and replace whatever kind of background you want in there.

The blue screen became interesting to me because it’s the technique you would use when you’re trying to replace a background with something that’s dark because of its relationship to the end of the spectrum. I like this idea of this blue space that is simultaneously a black space that is my grandmother’s house, a park at night, or the Avengers destroying Manhattan. I like the collapse of all of those things and that’s why I decided to start covering as much of the physical spaces I was putting these videos into in this color, that is also a space.

It’s also a proposition to myself and the viewership because it is a space of production. In thinking of these colors as spaces, they are not complete. I’m trying to propose that maybe we’re the ones who figure out what’s happening there. It’s a space of contemplation.

via GIPHY

Have you seen Coming to America? This movie is really funny, but there’s also a lot happening in it. You have two American men making a film about a fictional African country and there’s the contrast of Black folks from the states and Black folks from the continent. I was thinking about this family of upwardly mobile Black people who make a fortune on selling other Black folks things that change their visage in order to assimilate. There’s something complex about what it takes to be an upper-class, upwardly mobile Black person. Maybe you have to shapeshift. In that shapeshifting, there is this kind of grotesque thing that happens. They left a mark of themselves, like on this couch. I’d wanted to make this couch for a really long time and I finally did.

The bike is a workstation that comes with a desk. They’re sold to people that work at home and want to maintain their physical health while they’re working. I’ve been thinking a lot about these efficiency machines that do that capitalism thing. They fix a problem that is kind of inherent in these issues of overwork. People shouldn’t work as much as they do, but rather than change, we make objects like this is bike machine. I made an avatar of myself that kind of serves as the Operating System and it talks about being efficient, efficiency, what that does for you. I don’t primarily work in video, but when I do I like working on a multi-monitor workstation because it’s a lot easier; you have your preview monitor and you have a monitor where you can edit. This set up is just a way to produce video that I wanted to mimic in the installation.

Across all of this my interest is in the possibilities of blackness related to my body and also blackness as an idea of expansion, of radicalism. These things open themselves up to me through the technologies I use and through the media I gravitate towards. The issue I find with representation is that we assume that all we have to do is figure out the right way to look and we will know what something is or know what someone is. I think that’s an impossibility.

– Sondra Perry

Awarded bi-annually since 2009, the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence prize grants an early career black artist who has been producing work for less than 10 years with a $10,000 award, along with a solo show at SAM.

Images: Young Women Sitting and Standing and Talking and Stuff (No, No, No), April 21, 2015, Sondra Perry, performance at the Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery in NYC with performers Joiri Minaya, Victoria Udondian, and Ilana Harris-Babou. Installation view of Resident Evil (Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation in foreground) at The Kitchen, 2016, Sondra Perry, Photo: Jason Mandella.
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In the studio: Creating a K-12 art lesson on Wyeth

Going through Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect you will see a white house over and over again. The house belongs to the Keurner’s, some of Wyeth’s neighbors. Wyeth was fascinated with Karl Keurner and his wife Anna and his paintings reveal that.

For students visiting the museum we wanted to create a lesson that captured the narrative point of view in Wyeth’s paintings in order to share how the artist’s perspective reveals much more than a hillside with a white house on it. We also wanted to bring in some of his process as an artist. Wyeth’s work is so technically beautiful that we were afraid students would be intimidated, so we decided to create a model in the studio. We bought a simple doll house, painted it white and grey, and paired it down to open rooms and windows with doors swinging partially open. Stories abound just looking at the house.

Students were first asked to look at Wyeth’s work and to find the large shapes in it. Wyeth often worked by breaking a scene down into large shapes, and sketching them out on paper. Students then translate it into their own looking experience. We created eight points of view based on the paintings in the show, ranging from bird’s-eye view in Northern Point to looking-up view, in Mother Archie’s Church, to the windswept view in Airborne. Students can choose their point of view, or if they can’t decide, they can roll some dice for a random pick.

After all this, students begin drawing through observation. They are invited to move around the house to find a good spot, older students can take a photo with their phone if they want. All the while they should be thinking about the larger narrative. What information will help them tell their story? We are using water color pencils on watercolor paper and, once they have their sketch, they can activate the dry colors by using water, brushes, and blending to create fields of color. As students finish up their artwork they can create a visual story together with their class or table groups.

For more info on School Tours and Art Workshop Programs at SAM, please email or go visit our website. Try a variation of this lesson plan with your school group if you come for a self-guided tour!

– Lynda Harwood-Swenson, Program Associate for School and Educator Programs

Photos: Natali Wiseman, Elizabeth Humphrey, and Lynda Harwood-Swenson
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Curator Ping Foong on the Seattle Art Museum's Grand Staircase

Muse/News: Arts New from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

#AsiaNow, the blog of the Association for Asian Studies, interviews SAM curator Ping Foong about her book, The Efficacious Landscape, which won the 2017 AAS Joseph Levenson Book Prize, Pre-1900 Category.

“During a field trip with classmates to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we were able to see a handscroll attributed to Guo Xi, believed to be painted in his style centuries after he lived. At that moment, I had a strong reaction to the imagery, causing me several nights of sleep: I was seeing the very poems about Guo Xi’s paintings, composed by Su Shi and his circle that I just read.”

Art in America reviewed SAM’s recently closed installation, Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, noting how its formalist explorations transmit a “foreboding ambiguity.”

“With the subtlest of moves, he weds abstraction to extra-aesthetic concerns: Black Lives Matter protests come to mind, with the chilling recollection that the white-clad Klan has had a presence in the state of Washington since the 1920s.”

Local News

Claudia Castro Luna has been named the 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate; the poet and teacher is the first immigrant and woman of color to assume the role.

City Arts offers this helpful summary of recent leadership changes at Seattle arts organizations, including the appointments of Rachel Cook at On the Boards and Tim Lennon at LANGSTON.

Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald shares a nostalgic look at the city’s historic moviehouses.

“Old moviehouses, where we sit in the dark with the ghosts of generations and get lost in someone’s dream of flickering light, just might do the same. They hold our stories; they become part of our stories.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic exclusively shares the trailer for Beuys, a documentary about the legendary conceptual artist Joseph Beuys; his Felt Suit (1978) is currently on view in Big Picture: Art After 1945.

On December 2, artist Cai Guo-Qiang will present an explosive performance piece on the site on the first-ever human-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in Chicago.

Check out exciting photos from Prospect 4 Triennial in New Orleans, which includes work by 73 artists from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as Africa, Europe, and Asia.

And Finally

8,000-year-old rock engravings reveal that dogs have been good dogs for millennia

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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Tlingit Basket

Object of the Week: Tlingit Basket

Around this time of year, the cornucopia could very well be the most ubiquitous Western symbol of abundance, evoking a more agrarian past. However, this Tlingit “berrying basket” (kadádzaa yéit)—made by Tlingit women and children for harvesting berries—holds similar cultural (and more practical) significance for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, as it would be used to collect special foods for the culmination of potlatch feasts.1

The potlatch ceremony, as practiced by the Tlingit (as well as many other indigenous groups in the Pacific Northwest and Canada2), centers on gift-giving. Potlatches take place for a variety of reasons, ranging from births and deaths to weddings and house building. Often replete with dancing, singing, storytelling, and the distribution of gifts, an important aspect of these lavish celebrations is the communal feast, to which such baskets contribute.

As both a practical and aesthetic object, this berrying basket features a traditional Tlingit embroidery design identified as “head of salmon berry,” a modern motif likely copied from an oil cloth pattern.3 Decorative yellow triangles and trapezoids punctuate the zigzagging black and brown bands. Slightly wider than it is tall, flared baskets such as this would be used to collect berries by knocking them right off the bush.

While the imagery of baskets overflowing with corn, squash, and grapes might appear hackneyed during these autumn months, food plays an undeniably central role in our social gatherings. Whether your get-togethers take years to plan (as is the case with some potlatches!), a few weeks, days, or hours (there is no shame in take-out . . . ), these celebrations with friends and family surely incorporate enough food to fill a berrying basket, many times over.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

This basket in particular was one of many produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sold as souvenirs to tourists. Though derivative of traditional Tlingit berry and cooking baskets, it features the traditional geometric embroidery designs developed by the Tlingit.
2 This includes the Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Makah, Nuxalk, and Tsimshian, to name only a few.
3 Frances Lackey Paul, Spruce Basketry of the Alaska Tlingit (Lawrence, Kansas: Haskell Institute, 1944).
Image: Kak (basket) Kadádzaa yéit (berrying basket), ca. 1900, Tlingit, spruce root, maidenhair fern stem, and grass (twining and false embroidery), 11 1/2 x 10 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.234
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Short Films and A Long Shot: Wyeth Film Sprint Winners

Judges’ Pick: Based on a cumulative score of the following categories: creativity, connection to Wyeth, and concept.
Winner: This Film Instead by Team Wyethian (Lead: Peter Moran // team members: Christen Leonard, Audrey O’Neil, Kelly Hennessey)

When we say that Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect offers new perspectives on the life and career of this American master, one of the things we mean is that the exhibition explores the cinematic influence of Andrew Wyeth’s work. Wyeth drew inspiration from filmmakers such as King Vidor and Ingmar Bergman as well as visually influenced a wide range of moving image classics, from Twin Peaks to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To imbue this new insight into Wyeth’s work with more dimension, SAM invited local filmmakers to create a short film over the course of a week inspired by paintings in Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect during the Wyeth Film Sprint. There were very few rules, but the key was that the film had to incorporate one of the preselected Wyeth images.

Over 200 people attended the public screening on November 8 of 25 submitted films, followed by an awards ceremony honoring $500 each to three winning films. The judges were Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art; and local filmmakers and artists Clyde Petersen and Wynter Rhys. As well as the audience, which selected a winner. Here are the three winning films for your entertainment. We love them all. The Judges’ Pick, above, will linger with you, the Curator’s Pick grapples with the gossip surrounding Wyeth’s greatest muse, and the Audience Pick revels in the surreal oddity and dark humor that Wyeth dabbled in.

Curator’s Pick: Patti Junker selected a single film that she felt was most evocative of Wyeth’s practice and work.
Winner: Helga by Team Egg Tempera (Lead: Cody Whealy // team members: Sarah MacDonald)

Audience Pick: Visitors selected one film that was tallied at the end of the night.
Winner: New Tomorrow by Weird Dog Productions (Lead: Claire Buss // team members: Lindsay Gilbert, Amanda K. Pisch, Nick Shively, Andrew Hall, Dave Lubell)

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Visitor takes photo of sculptures in Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Here’s Jennifer Sokolowsky of the Seattle Times on how social media is shaping art; SAM curator Catharina Manchanda speaks about the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors experience.

For art institutions evolving with technology and visitors’ tastes, it’s a delicate balance. “In the end, it’s, ‘How do you have a meaningful experience of art?’ and the answers will depend. From a curatorial perspective, I just want to make sure that the traditional and core mission of the museum lives on,” Manchanda said.

The Stranger’s Slog revived their Short Film Fridays feature to share the winning short films from the Wyeth Film Sprint; the results are appropriately strange and sad and surreal.

SAM earned a reader’s “Rave” in the Seattle Times for Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect; they noted among the patrons “a keen concentration I’ve never seen before.”

Local News

Seattle Magazine recognizes the “Most Influential Seattleites of 2017,” including SAM friends such as C. Davida Ingram, Inye Wokoma, and the KEXP Gathering Space.

Bookend the Jacob Lawrence centennial celebrations with Woodside/Braseth Gallery’s “William Cumming & Jacob Lawrence,” which, the Seattle Times notes, “offers a chance to dig deeper into these two artists’ legacies.”

KING’s Evening Magazine visits MOHAI’s exhibit of the expressive black-and-white photography of Al Smith, which “chronicles 65 years of Seattle history, the Central District neighborhood, and the people who inspired him.”

Inter/National News

Clearly the biggest art world news recently was the dramatic and record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Antwaun Sargent for Artsy on the recent unveiling at Princeton of a public sculpture by Titus Kaphar, which was commissioned as part of the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery. Kaphar was the inaugural recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize in 2009.

Madrid’s Reina Sophia unveils “Rethinking Guernica,” a free website—available in Spanish and English—that offers a visual timeline of Picasso’s most famous painting.

And Finally

Hyperallergic on a forthcoming book that investigates the aspirational kitsch of midcentury album art that expressed “an era of shifting desires.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Male figure with balamwezi pattern

Object of the Week: The rising of the new moon figure

With the night sky subsuming our ever-shortening days, darkness takes on new meaning. Some might embrace these early evenings and winter constellations, while others surely count the days until the spring. No matter where we land on the spectrum, I think we can all agree that it is increasingly difficult to appreciate darkness as a larger force in our lives, especially with all the technology helping us override our circadian rhythms.

At the risk of sounding like a horoscope, a new moon begins tomorrow evening, November 18, and our night sky will be even darker than usual. While we might not be as in tune with the lunar calendar as preceding generations (or, if we are, we likely use an app), for the Tabwa people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the moon—and its absence—is certainly worth noting.

Though hard to make out, this figurative male Tabwa sculpture features traditional iconography called balamwezi, triangular patterns that reference the rising of the new moon and lunar phases. Balamwezi roughly translates to “the rising of a new moon,” and is a metaphor that contains both darkness and light. A moment of transition and rebirth, the new moon brings complete darkness while also holding the promise of illumination. To quote the scholar Allen F. Roberts, “balamwezi patterning was a visual proverb insofar as it conveyed its sense of uncertainty, transformation, and . . . the courage to persevere, even in the darkest hours.”1

In Tabwa culture, darkness—representing obscurity, ignorance, danger, and destruction—is balanced by more positive attributes such as light, wisdom, safety, and hope.2 Ultimately, forging a nuanced connection between darkness and light makes inextricable their disparate attributes and associations. Perhaps this way of thinking can change our own behaviors and attitudes toward darkness, and what better time than during the onset of tomorrow’s new moon!

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

1 Allen F. Roberts, A Dance of Assassins: Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo Page (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 87.
2 Rosalind Hackett, Art and Religion in Africa (New York: Cassell, 1996), 126.
Image: Male figure with balamwezi (the rising of the new moon) pattern, Tabwa, wood, 34 x 7 3/4 x 8 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.790.
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Volunteer Spotlight: Charlotte Beasley

Volunteer Spotlight: Charlotte Beasley

We can’t imagine what SAM would be without our hundreds of volunteers. Besides making the museum run, our volunteers are a talented bunch! Charlotte Beasley, for instance, is a robotics wiz at school and a coat check volunteer at SAM. One of our youngest volunteers, we asked Charlotte to answer a few questions about what it means to her to volunteer at SAM. Read below and share your reaction to the art at SAM with her the next time you pick up your umbrella at the end of your visit!

SAM: What is your current role?

Charlotte Beasley: I am a coat check volunteer at the downtown location.

How long have you been volunteering at SAM?

Since December 2016 (almost a year!)

If you could give only one reason, what do you most like about volunteering at SAM?

My favorite thing about volunteering at SAM is getting happy reactions of guests first hand. At the coat check, I am the first and last person people see, and I can chat with them on how much they loved the exhibits. I love that art makes people happy, and we do a good job of making people happy at the SAM.

Is there a favorite short story relating to volunteering at SAM you would like to share?

There are so many good stories, even though it’s been less than a year. I am on my high school’s robotics team, Reign Robotics. I was working coat check when a group of kids from Top Gun Robotics came in, wearing their team t-shirts. We got chatting about this year’s season, and we ran into each other again at a competition. They remembered me, even when I was out of team uniform when we first met! Small world, huh?

What is your favorite piece of art in SAM’s collection, and why?

I can’t just choose one piece of art, there are too many good ones! I was a huge fan of  Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style  last year. I visited with my AP French class shortly before I actually started volunteering at the SAM and the different outfits were so colorful and interesting! My family and I are also huge fans of going through European Renaissance art and giving each piece funny alternate titles based on the poses (we love when paintings and statues look like they’re taking selfies).

When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?

I make my own art in my free time (when I’m not playing video games). If you come to SAM on a slow day, you might see me sketching on my Surface. I do a lot of cute, digital art inspired by games, books, movies, etc., and have recently created my own website. Go check it out!

What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?

I am a tiny pacifist, but I also know Kung Fu (only for self-defense purposes, don’t worry!)

What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?

I am just shy of five feet tall, which can make getting large bags out of cubbies or the overhead bins difficult, but not impossible. My strategy is to grab what I can and use gravity and the edge of the cubby to make the bag fall into my arms. This can scare people, since I’m so tiny, but if I do it right, I can carry a lot of bags to the counter. People always apologize for the weight of their bags, but it’s honestly fine; my school books are heavier anyways, so I have lots of practice lifting heavy things!

What are the some steps you take to ensure that you are most effective during your shift?

Charlotte’s Coat Check Plan:

Step One: Look outside to see if it’s raining. If so, expect umbrellas (and lots of them).
Step Two: Sign in.
Step Three: Say “hi” to your fellow volunteers!
Step Four: Analyze the number of bags in the cubbies and ask yourself if you will have to get creative with bag placement or not.
Step Five: Get to work!

– Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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SAM Gallery Artists on Seattle: Enid Smith Becker & Barbara Shaiman

The days are officially getting darker and the work on view the current SAM Gallery show is embracing it. Hanging in the ground floor SAM Gallery is Darks and Lights, featuring Enid Smith Becker, Deborah Bell, Nick Brown, Nichole DeMent, and Barbara Shaiman. The artists in this show contrast darks and lights as autumn turns to winter. Nature’s cycles, retreating to our roots, and finding home are all explored by our premier Northwest artists. Hear from two of the featured artists on what living and working in Seattle means to them and see the show yourself before it closes on November 19. SAM Gallery represents many local artists whose work you can rent or buy. This is one of the numerous ways that Seattle Art Museum supports the arts—by supporting artists.

Enid Smith Becker

My work explores our relationship with the land, time, and space. Despite the different ways each of us approach a place, the land and its beauty is always there. As I paint, I begin with the natural space and into that I layer the rectilinear forms that represent human impact on nature and the different ways that each of us sees the world. One of the things that draws people to Seattle is its natural beauty. As a Northwest native I spend a lot of time outdoors. The paintings in the show Darks and Lights are inspired by places in Washington that we visit on the weekend.

In my work, I am inspired the colors and textures of the natural world. I work in acrylic, but I also build real texture through the inclusion of art paper, junk mail, plant matter, loose-weave cloth, and thread. The constructive nature of combining paint and collage appeals to me. The layering of paint, natural and man-made materials becomes a kind of a metaphorical rebuilding of the land.

 

Barbara Shaiman<

As a ceramic artist whose work references our natural environment and the affect of human activity on it, living in the Northwest plays a pivotal role in my imagery and ideas. Memories of the rock forms, arches, and cave entrances found in La Push and other areas of the Northwest coastline greatly influence my work.

Our relatively easy access to the ocean and mountains is a major part of  my love of Seattle, but I also value the intellectual and artistic stimulation of the city. Environmental justice issues are important to me, as are climate change and sustainability. While being at the coast inspires my awe and my imagery, an evening talking with friends in the city reminds me that we have a lot of work to do to conserve the beauty of our area and enable our neighbors and future generations to enjoy it as well.

While referencing issues such as climate change and  the intersection of natural and human-made environments, I prefer the work to be enigmatic, not to try to supply answers but to encourage us to think about our relationship to the environment with a somewhat altered vision.

Image: Planes, Enid Smith Becker, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in. Transition Arch, Barbara Shaiman, glazed stoneware, 15.5 x 16 X 5 in. Photo: Hernan Celis
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