Yesterday morning, we took the Science 120 students to this year’s BFA Exhibition in the university art gallery – a collection of works by students getting ready to graduate from the Bachelor of Fine Arts program. The motivation for this visit was to allow our students – who have spent the past semester designing, performing, and presenting scientific experiments – to get a feeling for the ways in which carrying out an art project may be different, or similar, to the process of science.
Our visit was graciously hosted by Art Department Chair Greg Roberts, along with three of the artists featured in the exhibition: Carley Herrera, Shannon Edwards, and Mindy Kral. The artists had agreed to speak with our students, to give them an overview of the creative process, from each of their individual perspectives.
When we arrived, we all wandered around the gallery for a few minutes. I’d never actually been inside the gallery before, and it’s a lovely space. Some of the pieces that stood out for me were a toothed ceramic jar (pictured below), handmade books that featured stunning images of a Mexican-American family and some of their family mementos, and a cascade of porcelain artifacts called “The Unrecognized Economy” (more on this piece a bit later).
After we’d wandered for a few minutes, Greg welcomed us to the gallery, and asked us to break up into three groups, so we could hear from the three artists who had agreed to speak with us.
I was part of the group that went with Carley Herrera, who told us about the inspiration for her installation, which focused on the memories that had taken place in her grandparents’ house. Along with blueprints of the actual house, and wallpaper which Carley had “stolen” from her grandparents’ garage, an array of white porcelain pots were hung, of different sizes, in a shape meant to represent a welcoming arch. In some of the pots, actual family memories were written on slips of paper.
I felt a connection to the story Carley shared about how important these memories are to her. The house my own grandparents lived in up until their deaths is so strongly tied with own childhood memories, and even now – 20 years after the last time I set foot in the house – I still dream about it frequently (actual nighttime dreams), even more so than the house in which I actually lived. I loved reading the memories that Carley had shared.
After the presentation, we had some time to browse the gallery again, and I returned to the piece that had caught my eye earlier: “The Unrecognized Economy.” I had been drawn to it earlier, as I found it aesthetically pleasing in many ways . . . the composition, the play of light and shadow, the delicate “blossoms” hung on thin wires. This time, I had the opportunity to speak with the artist, Shannon Edwards, and that’s when I really fell in love with this piece.
Originally, I had thought the porcelain pieces were meant to be poppy flowers, but Shannon told me that they’re not meant to represent anything specific – they’re meant to be non-specific artifacts, each of which represents some unpaid work performed by a woman. The piece as a whole highlights how all of these little things we do – unnoticed, underappreciated, and unpaid – add up to a substantial “unrecognized” economy. Red beads beneath each artifact represent the way our menstrual cycles can reflect the passage of time. As much as I loved the piece visually before hearing the story behind it, it means that much more to me, now. I hope very much that it is able to find a permanent home . . . it’s so, so lovely.
When I asked her what got her interested in ceramics, we had a good conversation about the divide between useful items and “art” and how she wants to bridge that gap – by creating pieces that are functional, but also beautiful and meaningful in ways that our current disposable economy so often ignores. I have personally created a lot of useful items (in fabric or yarn), and putting her work into this context helped something to shift for me, as well. For example, the afghan that’s currently on my bed is something I made myself – I crocheted it out of my favorite colors, in a pattern that I thought was pretty – and now I sleep under it every night. I tend to think of it as nothing more than a blanket most of the time, but after speaking Shannon, I realize there’s absolutely no reason I can’t also view it as a work of art.
In watching the students interact with the artwork, and the artists, it seemed as though many of them really enjoyed this excursion, and learned a great deal from it. The thing I hadn’t expected was just how much I would get out of it, personally. I definitely want to make this a tradition in future years.
The BFA exhibit will be on display in the Art Building gallery through May 21st, 2017.