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‘Senior Show’ in Flaten offers interactivity, impact

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At first glance the Senior Show in Flaten looks more like one of those fun science museums for kids than a traditional art gallery. Bulbous knit tubes hang from the ceiling, a rack of colorful scarves flutter in the air conditioning and an animated neon maze flashes in the window. The spirit of play and exploration continues once inside the museum. The kitchen table in the back corner is set for dinner, and the replica clay processing station feels like someone has just stepped away from an archeological site. The back wall has accumulated a collage of coloring pages. To be clear, I intend these comparisons to be entirely complimentary. Throughout the exhibit, the student artists accomplish something that few galleries make an effort to achieve. They welcome the viewer to touch and to participate. They masterfully use texture and color and space to invite the viewer to directly engage with the intimate and the important and the beautiful.

The Senior Show is an annual exhibition of senior studio art majors’ capstone projects. This year’s gallery features the work of 28 students. Most of the artists started planning their projects during interim and worked on their pieces for the duration of spring semester.

Sarah Swan-Kloos ’21 created the aforementioned coloring page for her exhibit.

“My work aims to break down the hierarchy between the museum space, artist, and viewer in order to establish a communal sense of creativity,” wrote Swan-Kloos in her artist’s statement. “Art should be for and by the people: it is the shared experience of the artist’s creative process combined with the wisdom in the viewers.” Swan-Kloos invited museum-goers to color in a print using the provided colored pencils and tack it up in the gallery. By the time I walked through the exhibit, a sizable cohort of Swan-Kloos’ pensive swimmers had collected on the wall.

Devin Cuneen ’21’s sculptural knit installations welcome similarly radical involvement from the viewer. In a statement to the Messenger, Cuneen wrote, “I invite all to interact with these pieces however they see fit, with the hope that they can guide an encounter that strengthens or affirms connection. Push, pull, hug, kick these works. Treat them like your best friend.”

This type of immersive, interactive experience was a common thread in many students’ work. Natalia Grantquist ’21’s semi-circular hanging canvas allows the viewer to physically step into her dreamscape, and Eammon Stanton ’21’s typographical ode to his father gives permission for viewers to take individual posters home and gradually change the scheme of his display.

Across the hall, GH Wood ’21’s collection of pottery is displayed on the sun soaked windowsill. Like many of the other artists, Wood welcomes tactile participation with some of his pieces. He asks viewers to “stop, take a seat, and spend some time with these cups – to live fully in this moment … Before you leave, please, help build a community of moments by writing a note with the provided pen and paper. Afterwards, crumple it up and toss it into the pitcher to add your voice to the moment.”

Despite explicit encouragement from the student artists, it is still difficult to cross the deeply ingrained and often staunchly enforced barrier between art and consumer. It still feels like alarms will start blaring if you get too close. However, this sort of humility and accessibility is precisely what makes the exhibit so compelling.

In the midst of this atmosphere of experimentation, students also used their gallery platform to explore issues of personal interest, social justice, family and identity.

In “Memento mori,” Simon Stouffer ’21 offers a resin coated cow skull mounted on a wire as commentary on sustainable agriculture and ethical food production. In his artist statement Stouffer writes, “The piece is a specific examination of the beef industry in the United States in which an average of 30-50 million cows are slaughtered each year. My interest is in the value and respect for life we as humans hold for the animals we raise to feed our families.” The slack in the wire lends an unsettling and effective life to the piece.

DeAnia Brown ’21’s series of bronze cast faces explores the experience of addiction within marginalized communities, while Marcel Hones ’21’s haunting and bleak audio-video work delves into familial trauma and loss.

The extension of the gallery across the hall is anchored by Melinde Madsen ’21’s hand-dyed curtains and Rida Ali ’21’s wooden mosaic.

“Islamic geometric architecture patterns and Islamic Calligraphy is part of my culture and religion,” Ali said in an email to the Messenger. “Nothing could be more fascinating for me to work on than these elements. The process was tiring, exhausting yet wholesome. After the completion of the piece and receiving such amazing feedback after the opening of the exhibition, it is quite rewarding, and all the late-night hours at the studio were worth it.”

The Senior Show runs in Flaten until May 29, and a virtual gallery is available on the website. I highly encourage taking a break from the ordeal of finals and finding time to engage with the joy, talent and vulnerability our art students have put on display.