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'Strangers That We Know' @ Sicky Nar Nar
The work of Grace Gutekanst seeks the magic of strangers.

'Strangers That We Know' is at Sicky Nar Nar, 125 W. Duffy St.

As the city prepared to be rocked and rolled the next morning, a new art exhibition by Grace Gutekanst testified that there is no need to run a marathon because we are all participants in the human race.

Around the corner from the finish line, at the Sicky Nar Nar Gallery, Gutekanst presented a collection of paintings and letters from her series, Strangers That We Know, which is an intimate look into the lives of the people of Savannah.

Their stories are told on paper and plywood through portraits and handwritten letters. The exhibition is a story of strangers and an exploration of what it means to be human.

On a weekend such as this many of the people that come to Savannah are strangers. They roam the streets before or after the race captivated by the magic of live oaks and the charm of the South.

But what of the people who live here? Those that are here for school, work or a vacation that lasts longer than expected.

Even those that were born in Savannah find that sometimes they are strangers here themselves. They too seek the magic that Savannah is said to hold and they too long to connect with the people and places that surrounds them.

It is this belief in magic that drives Gutekanst to approach strangers throughout Savannah in order to discover their stories and share in this thing called life.

Her enthusiasm reflects Roald Dahl's sentiment, "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it," and Gutekanst finds magic in each person that she encounters.

Gutekanst works with the awareness that the technology that is meant to bring us closer, is also creating distance between us. Sometimes, our ability to connect with wi-fi results in our inability to connect with one another and while we hold the world in the palm of our hand, we keep those around us an arms length apart.

But Gutekanst is not interested in what separates us. She is concerned with what brings us together as human beings and she engages with strangers through photography and conversation. Some are hesitant, but most welcome her company for they all recognize that her interest lies in their lives, what makes them human and the ways in which they connect with world around them.  

During her conversations she asks the strangers to write an anonymous letter to someone they may never meet. They write, forgetting that they will also receive a letter from someone else when Gutekanst departs.

They do not know who will read their words, but they are content in the mystery. Contained within the letters are their stories of hopes and fears, dreams and regrets, and in many are found words of comfort or encouragement for their fellow human.

After her interactions with these strangers, who, for her, are no longer strangers, Gutekanst returns to the studio where she paints their portraits on paper and plywood, focusing on their eyes and the lines that tell of laughter, days spent in the sun or the unavoidable tales of time.

Colors are used on the paper paintings and scattered words from their conversation are written along the lines of their clothes.

The portraits on the thin veneers are painted with rustic reds and browns with the grains of wood adding more texture to their lives.

At the gallery the portraits are hung side-by-side or suspended with string next to one another. Each portrait reveals another person's story in Savannah.

Although the portraits are without bodies, their eyes crowd the room. Dangling from strings are the letters written from stranger to stranger. In silent conversation they speak through letters passed from one stranger to the next; they are messages without bottles floating among a sea of strangers.

These paintings share a commonality with Richard Rinaldi's Touching Strangers, a body of photographs in which Rinaldi asks strangers to pose with one another, resulting in intimate portraits of people who have no connection outside of the photograph but reveal a human connection nonetheless.

Whether we are strangers or not, both of these artists show the connection that we share with one another through our interactions and through art.

At the end of the night, Gutekanst spoke of the now familiar faces of Savannah; the ones that greet her as she passes them on the streets, the ones named Angel who consider her an angel too, and the ones that shared their lives with an artist.

For this is what art does. Art connects. Words bond.

And Strangers That We Know reminds us that we are not alone.