Immersive Inner Space exhibition debuts at Centrum

By Diane Walker
Posted 4/10/24


Writer, artist, and filmmaker Jessica Plumb is locally known primarily for her documentary work – most notably her award-winning film Return of the River, a feature-length …

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Immersive Inner Space exhibition debuts at Centrum



Writer, artist, and filmmaker Jessica Plumb is locally known primarily for her documentary work – most notably her award-winning film Return of the River, a feature-length documentary about the removal of the Elwha Dam. But with her immersive multi-media installation, Inner Space, which opened at Centrum on April 5, Plumb has unveiled a collaborative multimedia effort that has been several years in the making.

The story, she says, begins over 20 years ago, when Plumb first met her sister-in-law, Michelle Mackenzie Felsenhardt, a photographer and musician who also happened to be a trained psychotherapist. Despite residing on different continents (Plumb in Port Townsend; Felsenhardt in Chile), the two women formed a lasting friendship, their shared experiences as artists and mothers making true sisters of them both.

But in 2018, just as Felsenhardt’s husband, David Plumb (who is Jessica Plumb’s brother) was planning to leave Chile to attend a North American event celebrating Return of the River, Felsenhardt was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news was devastating, but Felsenhardt’s response was uniquely unconventional: in conversation with Plumb, she declared “the narrative version of my story is depressing – but the visions I’m having are not.” Inspired by those visions, she proposed to approach her disease as an opportunity to explore the journey with curiosity and creativity.

In her words: “Something unexpected happens: the dark seed of despair can open a crack into something that is so big  that it can only be touched by your soul: it’s the journey into the center of your heart where your holy  spark dwells..." Together with their close friend Aura Shahaf Woelfle, a fused glass artist in Brooklyn, the two women began to visualize an abstract multi-media art installation which would explore the elements – earth, air, water and fire – in the context of mortality, transformation, and the process of letting go.

“As her journey deepened,” says Plumb, “she asked me to engage in a form of alchemy, by translating her visions into video and light…And the truth is, we had a wonderful time collaborating: we laughed, experimented, talked about very hard things, then laughed some more.” But none of this made saying goodbye any easier for Plumb, who is still clearly grieving the loss of her dear friend, who passed away six months before the project was completed. “This installation,” she adds, “is a small window into her inner journey, designed to literally encircle those she loved. It is imbued with her curious, generous, buoyant and fearless spirit.”

The completed installation was first presented in August 2018 at Felsenhardt’s home city of Santiago, Chile, as part of a communal celebration of life. Felsenhardt’s husband and children then moved back to the Plumb’s hometown on the coast of Maine to be close to Plumb’s parents, and a second presentation of the project was displayed in Freeport, Maine in late fall 2019. Plumb had hoped to bring it to Port Townsend at that time, but with the advent of the pandemic the installation was packed away.

But then, in 2022, Centrum expanded its presence at Fort Worden and developed its new In the Making residency program. As a former Centrum instructor herself, Plumb realized the new space was a perfect venue for displaying Inner Space. She applied for the residency and for a grant from the Artist Trust to bring Felsenhardt’s vision once more to life for the community that means so much to Plumb.

Libby Pratt, who took over as program manager for Centrum’s artist residencies in January of this year, is excited to be featuring Inner Space as In the Making’s inaugural exhibition. “We’re really looking forward to exhibiting this very thoughtful and powerful installation.”

Compiled by an expanded artistic team, including Felsenhardt’s husband, the project continues to draw inspiration from Felsenhardt’s words and visions, and the installation itself promises to be a warm and welcoming immersive experience. Ignited with video projections, light, and shadow from Plumb, and with giant fused glass drops by Woelfle suspended from above, the whole is surrounded by Felsenhardt’s photographic creations on fabric, and not only welcomes children and adults but also invites attendees to participate in the experience, both of creativity and of letting go.

The artists write: “We all make and remake our lives in recognition of limited time, and awareness of mortality. We invite the experiences of others, as we build a larger piece imbued with questions and experiences we bring to this unknown journey. The artwork is designed to be interactive, and we expect it to grow and change while installed at Centrum. The piece we install initially, while large, will become greater still with each visitor who leaves a mark.”

“Michelle did not choose this journey,” muses Plumb, “but she did choose to face it with creativity, curiosity and remarkable positivity. Hers was a profound act of generosity, and with it she modeled living as fully as possible. Her fearlessness and generosity of spirit brings light to the darkness, and I am very grateful that an Artist Trust GAP grant and a Centrum residency have made it possible to bring this piece to Port Townsend this April.”