Senior art show participants speak about projects

Today at 4:30 p.m., senior art majors will unveil their year-long projects in a professional display at the Colby College Museum of Art. The mediums range from photography to video to painting, all holding special significance to the artists. This event is a triumphant cumulation of the painstaking work and love that went into each and every one of these projects. The Echo reached out to all participants from this year’s art show to discuss their thoughts on their own works.

The Echo: What is your project about?

Esther Mathieu ’17:  My project Atlas: Hallowed Ground is about the ways my experience with mental illness has shaped my experience of the world. It is an exploration of my own body and the space it occupies. In particular, it is about reclaiming myself, accepting and living through my depression, anxiety, eating disorder, trauma, and other mental health issues. It is about understanding the space I live in, which is a kind of in-between, with the tangible world on one side and the world of my own mind on the other. It is an atlas because, while these are self-portraits, they are also a topography of myself. It is my way of regarding myself as a sacred place, as hallowed ground.

Saraj Grady ’17: As someone who left Colby half way through my senior year, I have realized how important it is to be here now. These images, some of which I took in the fall of 2015 before I left and others during my visits back to Colby in the spring of 2016, help me reflect and appreciate the importance of living in the moment. I hope to inspire an appreciation for the fleeting moments that pass in college. 

Anne Vetter ’17: My project is a dream scape, it’s about intimacy, it’s about liberation, it’s about sweetness. It’s about slightly altering reality. It’s about gender. It’s about connection.

Ernie Aguilar-Arizmendi ’17: My project is an autobiography, a response to the letters my father wrote to me when I was a kid. I have not seen him in ten years and have held a lot of anger towards him that I could not continue letting him partake in my life as I grew up. My photographic letters are me finally responding and acting as a closure to having grown up in a fatherless household, semi-allowing my father to learn about my identity.

Echo: Why did you choose the medium you did?

Danielle Bagley ’17: I’ve been in painting classes since my sophomore year at Colby. I took Painting I and II, took a year off because of scheduling conflicts, and picked it back up this past fall with Painting III. In Painting III we are given structures on how to base our work for the first half of the semester, this included two impressionist inspired pieces, two invention/other, and two hard-edged/geometric. The geometric piece was the easiest for me to plan out since I used grid paper, but after painting the first layer of green I was stumped on how to make it more interesting. One day during one of my sociology classes I had an idea to sand down the painting a little bit so it wasn’t so rough, and then cover it with a coat of paint and scrape it off to see what it left behind. That was my first painting (Green #1) of the series that has now carried over into this semester and is the basis of my work for the show.

Aguilar-Arizmendi: I chose platinum-palladium prints because it’s a really beautiful tone that enhances my photographs. The main reason though is that producing this type of print adds an additional handmade process to it unlike other photographic mediums, where I have to hand coat the chemical onto the paper with a brush, as if I am writing a letter through photography.

Mathieu: I chose to work with cyanotypes first and foremost because of the dreamlike quality of the prints.

Teddy Simpson ’17: I chose photography (color film, archival pigment print) because that’s the only specific medium I’ve worked in at Colby.

Echo: Who is the intended audience?

Aguilar-Arizmendi: The intended audience is my father. I am sharing with my father aspects of my identity, but I am not revealing those identities so fully because that is a privilege and a gift that he does not earn back so immediately. Anyone who views my photographs may see these identities and traits very obviously because they may already have those “gifts.” so the impact the images present vastly differentiate depending on who views my photographs. Just as an example, I have several self portraits but my face has been concealed in various manners. My father does not really know what I look like currently, but those viewing the exhibit most likely do; why should I show my face then?

Simpson: I’d hope that my photos can reach a really wide audience, but I’d bet it will speak more to people who have spent time in New England.

Mathieu: The intended audience for this project is, I think, everyone who sees me and consumes me as a body and an identity. It is all the people who believe they know me, and all the people who truly do. It is other people who feel the way that I do. It is probably also strangers, people who don’t know what these mental illnesses feel like—of course they are different for everyone. This is what they are for me, this is how I want to explain what I am right now.

Echo: How did the project come together/what was its conception?

Grady: The idea for this project really came conflicting emotions I had going into senior year and how I felt about graduating. My roommates and I moved into our off campus house about two weeks before classes started and during that time it became really important for me to document the sentiments all of us were feeling going into our final year at Colby. As my life changed throughout the year, the project evolved.

Simpson: It came together naturally after a lot of time—I didn’t have an idea about what the project would be about before I started, I just started shooting places that I thought were interesting. I settled on interiors for a bit because I enjoyed the sense that I got when I took a picture of an empty space, lived in, that doesn’t have people. That warmth is something that I then chose to replicate.

Vetter: I intended to do a project about performances of masculinity that I thought incorporated vulnerability and non-violence, but after being sexually assaulted by one of the men I held in such reverence as a “good man” a “soft and sweet man,” my ideas of masculinity and violence changed. In my Black Radical Imaginations class this fall, we were talking about Freedom Dreams (see Robin D. G. Kelley and Suzanne Cesáire for reference), dream spaces that of imagined realities only possible through collaboration. I came to understand dreaming as necessary for revolution, for change. So, I wanted to dream for men, dream of different men who weren’t so different than the men I already knew, but slightly freer. And then, if I was going to dream for men, I was going to dream for masculinity, and if I was going to dream for masculinity, I was going to dream for gender, and if I was going to dream for intimacy because gender is about connection for me.

Echo: How do you hope people view it?

Mathieu: One of my greatest fears is the “that’s so brave” reaction people have about mental illness so often. I just want people to see the human-ness of it. I want people to understand that this is my space, and mine alone, but I hope that it is recognizable. I hope that it is resonant both of pain and healing.

Aguilar-Arizmendi: I hope my letters will allow others to reflect on what privileges or “gifts” they have given to those around them that they care about. Throughout working on this project, I realized how oblivious I was to my simplest identities that I take for granted, which every individual person can hopefully relate to.

Vetter: With openness, with curiosity.

Echo: How do you feel about its completion?

Simpson: I feel extremely proud about being finished with this project. It’s easily one of the most satisfying projects I have worked on at Colby (in any discipline).

Grady: There are a lot of emotions I’m feeling right now but I’m mostly excited. I am excited that I get to exhibit these images of my friends who I was supposed to graduate with last spring, they really kept me grounded at Colby. Monday especially as I turned in my work to the Museum I felt a huge weight off my chest and I feel like my life is finally coming together.

Bagley: Painting has been a huge part of my time at Colby, and is something I hope to continue in the future. I’ve had so much fun in this process and I hope that the people viewing my work.

Vetter: I don’t think it’s complete. I’m just showing where I am at right now.

Echo: How long did it take to complete? Did you work with faculty advisors and other students?

Grady: I started this project in fall 2015 and though I left Colby in 2016, I continued  photographing for my project through my last visit to Colby in May 2016 for Commencement. When I returned to Colby in February I immediately began printing the images from the film I shot last year. In total, the work in the show is the product of about a year and a half’s worth of work. Aside from working with my professor Gary Green, I worked with students from this year’s and last year’s studio art capstones through critiques in class.

Vetter: I’ve been taking photos for this project for close to nine months, but thinking about it for almost a year. I view each one of my portraits as a collaboration between me and the people in it.

Mathieu: This project took the better part of a year to complete. I began working independently last summer and finished shooting only a few weeks ago. During the fall semester, I explored a number of digital printing formats, including very large prints and finally settling on 4×5 black and white prints, before moving on to cyanotypes. I have worked on cyanotype printing all semester, to master the medium and make the prints I wanted for this project. I have worked with our photo professor, Gary Green, extensively on this project all year. I have also worked, through critique, with all the other students in the Studio Art Capstone—seeing their work, hearing their feedback, and working alongside them has been essential to this project. In particular, I have worked alongside Ernie, as he and I worked on alternative processes and all their fickle tricks together. Thank you, Ernie.

Aguilar-Arizmendi: This was a year-long project with some early sketchbook conceptions beginning end of spring junior semester/summer. The work runs with the Art Capstone where we get guidance, feedback, and criticism from the fellow senior artists, along with the Art faculty members, especially Gary Green since he is my photography professor, who I’ve had the privilege to have taken classes with since my freshman spring semester. Esther Mathieu and I both worked with alternative processes this year and our supplies and station were in the back closet of the photo studio so I spent tremendous time working with her. She had become a strong support for me. Having her by my side as we did our work really gave me the mental and emotional support needed to tackle an autobiography with a heavy background. So thank you, Esther.

The show in the museum includes works by Ernie Aguilar-Arizmendi, Saraj Grady, Anne Vetter, Jackson Hall, Emmy Held, Danielle Bagley, Patt Lamon, Teddy Simpson, Silas Eastman, and Esther Mathieu.

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