Tag Archives: Doug Hayko

Art as Social Justice

June 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitmann

This article appears in our July/August 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

During one of Tim Guthrie’s exhibitions, a woman commented to one of his friends, “Tim is such a great photographer!” The friend replied, “He’s a really great painter, too.” The woman, somewhat perplexed, asked, “He can paint?”

That conversation encapsulates much of Guthrie’s work. The Creighton University professor who teaches in the department of journalism, new media, and computing can be classified as neither painter nor photographer, but as an artist who focuses on concepts rather than media—an approach that leaves many struggling to describe his work.

“I’ve been criticized about that ever since college,” Guthrie says. “My professor told me to pick a concentration. I chose painting, sculpture, and photography. He said, ‘No, you’re supposed to pick only one.’ I still did all three. I didn’t like the classifications. I didn’t want to be a painter. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t want to be a sculptor. I wanted to be an artist. The medium isn’t relevant.”

What is relevant is Guthrie’s message. While his mediums vary widely, he uses them all to advocate for social justice, often by focusing on controversial issues.

In Extraordinary Rendition, a 2010 exhibition in collaboration with performance artist Doug Hayko, Guthrie created large-scale drawings that called attention to the CIA’s secret detention program and use of torture. For Big Art Giveway (2012), he commented on the one percent by creating more than 500 artworks that he gave away to local members of the 99 percent—people who typically can’t afford art. In 2013 he curated The Museum of Alternative History, an exhibition inspired by the Texas school board’s reinterpretations of history that are often included in textbooks nationwide. He invited writers and visual artists to create their own versions of history, which were presented to the public as authentic.

Although all his subjects are potentially provocative, Guthrie’s work has been acclaimed by the public and critics alike. Over the past eight years, he has received Omaha Arts & Entertainment Awards for best show, best new media artist, best visual artist, and best group show. He has shown his work regionally and nationally. Guthrie’s experimental animated film, Recalling the Trinity, which focused on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, went international with a presentation in 2010 at the Sorbonne in Paris and was shown at the Hiroshima Animation Festival that same year.

Guthrie’s current work continues to address social justice issues. For Koch Money, he overlays images of the billionaire Koch brothers—known for donating millions to finance conservative political campaigns—onto the faces of the founding fathers on U.S. currency. It’s an unconventional way to bring attention to campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United, but, Guthrie notes with a smile, “No one’s ever turned down my money.”

No matter the media, Guthrie remains committed to using art for a specific purpose. “There is a consistent thread,” he explains. “I want to make information available to people.”

Tim Guthrie

Performance Man

December 25, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

By day he’s a mild-mannered assistant director of learning and development at Omaha’s Hyatt hotels. By night and during weekends, though, Doug Hayko is one the city’s most well-known—and perhaps most infamous—performance artists, one who frequently makes people uncomfortable in the most thought-provoking ways.

The 44-year-old became interested in performance art while studying theater at Creighton University. “It was pretty basic,” he remembers, “but I had an affinity for unique performance pieces.” He continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he again focused on theatre as well as the history of theatre and its more academic side. “I was interested in techniques that did something to engage the audience in different pieces,” he explains, “and I was really interested in doing and embracing and watching pieces that were fused with societal issues. Here were really profound, engaging issues.”

But Hayko found that performing in a university environment was doing so to a limited audience—one who already understood what performance art could deliver intellectually—rather than to the general public, with whom he could more profoundly engage. For that reason, he left graduate school and put performance art on hiatus and instead moved to southern California where he began working for Hyatt.

In 1998, though, Hayko returned to Omaha and in 2005 staged an ambitious adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Bemis Underground. It involved layers upon layers of text, with each audience member taking something different from the experience. That’s something Hayko strives for with every performance he gives. “Even though we can’t catch it all,” he emphasizes,  “we all carry away something unique.”

Since then, Hayko has offered numerous such experiences, each exploring a situation designed to create provocative encounters, such as East of 72nd: Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts (2007), Toxic Lawncare (2010), and Experts at the Museum of Alternative History (2013), each of which represents a small selection of his work. At times, Hayko’s performances have been controversial, such as Sickened at the Shelterbelt Theatre in 2008, which featured the artist curled in a fetal or a kneeling position smeared in fake blood while holding a doll.

Controversial or not, each piece has Hayko’s inimitable sense of intensity. The artist remarks: “Even if it’s a one-time performance, my hope is that it sticks with people and continues conversations long after the piece is over—not the next day, not the next month, but something they recall, and talk about. Isn’t that what any artist wants —for art to have legs and continue to be talked about?”

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