Bookcase display engages public with artwork

Photograph by Arran Hashim

By Audrey Barrett

Every year, the senior art majors design an exhibition so that the community can engage with their artwork. In the spring, they do a more formal show at Hoffman Gallery. Right now, there is a bookcase right by the entrance of Watzek that features work from each student. It started off in Fields, and will move around campus in the next couple of weeks,. Its next destination is Pamplin Sports Center.

Jess Perlitz, Assistant Professor and head of the Sculpture Department, helped to organize the showcase. The process was democratic and student-led.

“We always want to do something where it’s the students that actually organize the catalog for it and they figure out where the venue is,” Perlitz said. “We started with a giant brainstorming exercise and then we worked on distilling our ideas down, and then everybody voted.”

The design of  the bookcase, with comfortable chairs nearby, is meant to make the artwork accessible to onlookers.

Michal Mandil ’19, who helped design the  art exhibit, said that she hopes the cozy setup will help people feel more comfortable approaching the display.

“A goal within the art department is to get people outside of the department to engage with the work, which is tough because a lot of people feel intimidated by art,” Mandil said. “It breaks my heart. Ideally people can sit in the chair and relax and have a moment to really engage with art that’s not necessarily intellectualized or in a museum setting where there’s all those external factors where people might feel like it’s not necessarily a space for them.”

Hongyi Jiang ’19, a Sculpture major, was initially nervous about exhibiting her work, but also realizes it is the way she can get her artistic message out.

“Everybody’s work in this show is sort of related to their thesis, but there are some people who took this art show as a way of connecting with the community as well,” Jiang said. “I think it’s really important, because here everybody’s trying to make meaning with their artworks and its important that it lives with the public, and it’s out there. You have voice, you have a message you want to convey in artwork and it’s important that other people hear that too.”

Jiang’s piece in the show, entitled “Ten Months,” is a wearable sculpture which resembles the belly of a pregnant woman. Much of her work, including this piece, is inspired by her background. Jiang was born in China under the one child policy, which has since been relaxed. As a result, her generation is composed mainly of only children, making it one-of-a-kind. She feels that it puts a lot of pressure on young people.

“It becomes this unique generation where there’s like significant decrease in the population, and a lot of us are facing a lot of pressure with being the only hope of the family,” Jiang said.  

Perlitz hopes the show can be good experience to help the art students after they graduate. As young artists, they will have to take risks to get their work into the public eye.

“I think the students like getting their work out, so I think that’s sort of the best reason to start being entrepreneurial about what you’re doing,” Perlitz said. “Just behind the scenes for us as professors and practicing artists, we know that the official venues are really important but we also know that you need to also make your own possibilities happen to keep going.”

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