This year is a particularly exciting one for the Art and Visual Culture Department; with 17 seniors, it is the largest class of Studio Art majors that Bates has seen yet. As a Studio Art thesis occupies both semesters and Bates is a rather rich community for the arts, I could not wait until the Annual Senior Exhibition to see what is being produced. In an attempt to satisfy all of our curiosities, I met with four seniors, Hannah Tardie, Calvin Reedy, Mary Schwalbe and Alyssa Dole, to talk about their bodies of work.
As a double major in Studio Art and English, Tardie incorporates poetry into her installation work. The fact that the “female body has been excluded from literature as a thing that has a brain and can be autonomous, smart and creative, [and that] art, just in its basic, formal elements is based off of being a man” has inspired her to craft feminine objects. And while Tardie draws on a contradiction in her work, noting that, on one hand, creating representation of women is important, on the other it is “ridiculous … like why is my body being feminized.” Pushing past this feminist puzzle of representing without necessitating or objectifying, Tardie is well on her way to creating an extremely successful body of work that is neither an autobiography nor a representation of the female experience, “because there is no one female experience.”
In a similar vein, photographer Reedy is focusing on creating a new kind of representation for black men. “Growing up in America, especially as a Black person surrounded by white people, is going to make your race salient to you, it’s always been something that I’ve had in my life.” Frustrated with a narrow representation of Black roles, Reedy wanted to make a series depicting what black men are normally not seen as: intimate, loving and vulnerable. Painting their cheeks with real gold, the photographer “adds connotations of worth and value, while also referencing the idea of price and the Transatlantic slave trade that exploited the Black body to build wealth.” Having successfully captured the Black man “with a certain agency that is often taken away from us,” Reedy has an exciting semester ahead, filled with refining his already powerful series and finding methods of presentation that will emphasize the impactful experience for viewers.
Schwalbe continues in this direction with her project; while her work looks at the experience of being a woman, she focuses on what is beautiful and grotesque. Having spent a lot of time in Philosophy and English courses thinking about beauty standards and the syntax involved, Schwalbe thinks that “beauty is something terrifying.” To her, beauty is more raw than what is messaged through pop culture and is more easily found in a medical textbook. Growing up in a medical household and looking at depictions of chronic diseases inspired the artist to explore the relationship between beauty, weight and illness. “Historically, women in painting are pale and frail and have consumption–tuberculosis was viewed as a beautiful way to die.” Disturbed by thinking about how disease can be beautiful, Schwalbe’s exploratory phase of her painting series is focused on how “there really is a historical context for women suffering separately and silently.”
Dole, whose consideration of representation also inspired her work, uses documentary photography to give people a voice. In a Humans of New York style, Dole photographs and interviews members of the Lewiston-Auburn community. Curious about the different views of life that different people may have, Dole originally wanted to portray new Mainers. Soon finding difficulties in accessing such a specific population, the “process first semester was very much revolved around learning what worked well… now that I’ve figured that out, I feel confident going forward that I can produce more photographs of higher quality.” Though it depends on what people are comfortable with sharing, Dole hopes to present the final portraits with the subjects’ stories; “everyone has such unique stories,” and while portraiture is complete in itself, the background adds a touch that makes it deal more with individuals.
Though the seniors that I spoke to seem to all be in different phases of their production, what has been produced thus far is impressive. For more of a sneak peak, the incomplete work of all 17 students is hanging on the wall of the second floor in Olin.