This online exhibition is the culmination of a semester’s worth of work by the Senior Majors in Visual Arts. One of the primary objectives of this course is for each student to develop a sustained body of work over the course of the semester, and then to curate an exhibition of that work at its conclusion. It is an opportunity for each student to direct their own investigation into ideas and methodologies that they have cultivated during their time studying art at Bowdoin. This is usually an opportunity for each student to either investigate a new body of work or to delve deeper into an earlier studio experience.
As most students were developing their direction and rhythm in their work, the floor gave way beneath them at the Spring Break, and they were forced to uproot their studios, their practice, and their lives, and to recalibrate their projects on the fly. One of the course objectives for Advanced Studio has always been to enable and develop each student’s abilities to forge their own creative path post-Bowdoin, and they suddenly found themselves on the other side of that threshold earlier than they could have possibly expected. But they stepped up and not only met the challenge, but surpassed it and used their work as a way of processing these events, either directly, or indirectly.
It is not surprising that in such an unprecedented time of fracture, students responded to their situations with a keen interest towards the ideas regarding dislocation and the reconfiguration of traditional roles. Not surprisingly, several students used the vernacular of landscape as a way of investigating dislocation.
Walter Gadsby created a suite of digital works as a continuation of ideas originally posed by Thomas Cole’s series The Course of Empire. Sharing its concerns about the tenuous balance between the natural environment and the constructed world of the Anthropocene, this suite of six digital works remains as cautionary a tale now at the start of the 21st century as it was in the middle of the 19th century in Cole’s Jacksonian America.
Gabriella Koenig brings a sculptor’s sense of the tactile world within reach as she documents the environs of her life in Maine. Her photographs document both the appearance of a timeless continuum of nature and the coastal landscape, as well as the conclusion of her ephemeral experience in that same landscape, as she prepares to relocate away from it. Her photographs reveal an expansive, thoughtful, and yet intimate world of complex surfaces and textures that are often overlooked in such a scenic landscape.
Tala Glass is another artist with a deep connection to the materiality of the world that surrounds us. Her project is interested in all of the vast possibilities that any given material can yield if you are curious enough, and dogged enough, in your willingness to experiment with it. Her work explores landscape as both image and an arena for action, as she repurposes her photographs of the Maine landscape as objects to be physically engaged. By combining the ubiquity of a landscape snapshot and the delicacy of a line of string, she transforms them into an enigmatic theater of possibilities. Like both Gadsby and Koenig, she poses questions about how we occupy the natural environment, and how we locate ourselves between our shared histories and our own experiences.
Amani Hite is also interested in that idea about how we position ourselves in the landscape, especially when it spans two very different communities. In her work she combines various elements that represent both her life in Maine at Bowdoin as well as from her home in Baltimore, MD in a hydraulic relationship of ebb and flow. Her videos use both transparency and montage to reveal the contemporary experience of dislocation as seen through the matrix of technology, and the avalanche of images and sounds that occupy the space of our daily lives.
While Hite’s work investigates the relationship between identity and diverse locations, Phoebe Nichols’ work is a long exposure document of a single site, the domestic interior of suburbia. Her painting is an aggregation of moments and details that lay out before the viewer an analog for memory, in all of its broken, vibrant and resonant form. The impulse towards order and unity is teased, and beautifully crafted, but never allowed in the traditional sense. It is a double portrait of both dislocation and flux. Here the mechanism of collage echoes the accumulations of experiences in the home and memory’s dissolving of the connections that separate those moments. What remains is engaging and animated, a singular painting that both reflects on the past while looking forward into new constellations of possibilities.
David Leen’s digital works also deal with a sense of portraiture in dislocation, but unlike the multiple figures of Nichols’ kitchen, they are all separated as singular portraits in quarantine. The solicited photos of his friends who were also confined to their spaces during social distancing become the points of departure for a series of digital works that explore both separation and connection in a time of rupture. Closed eyes convey a sense of a private interior life, but they are all connected by the same sunlight streaming through their windows, sharing the promise of warmth, illumination and connection.
While also separated like Leen’s portraits, Julio Palencia uses that isolation as a way of engaging line as a vehicle of exploration, utilizing improvisation as a way to build new conclusions and prospects. Rather than employing a line to describe an external form or idea, for Palencia the line is a tool of meditation, one that benefits from a thoughtful process of reflection and response. His works are tableaus of agency, where individual actions create subtle complexities. Each new addition contributes to a tapestry of other lines and forms, and slowly builds its own internal sense of logic, order, and discovery.
Caroline Dranow creates paintings that inhabit the territory between the symbolic and the personal, especially in the realm of portraiture. Her work seeks to reconfigure the idea of motherhood past a surface veneer into something much subtler and more complex. Her work is sourced from both public media and private archives to construct an identity that is an aggregation of both, becoming both familiar and exotic at the same time. Her painterly touch and sensitivity to the expressive potential of color suggests an open range of possibilities in each of the portraits, never locking down their identities and falling into the trap of simplistic and established stereotypes.
Each of these students surpassed expectations, which is all the more impressive due to the conditions under which they were required to operate. The approached it all with unfailingly optimistic attitudes, supporting each other along every step of the way, and in that process have shared a unique experience in both their education and their creative life. This exhibition, though virtual, begins to reveal the range of abilities and potential that this cohort shares, and will undoubtedly serve them well as they move into the next phase of their journey after Bowdoin. It has been a privilege to have been able to work with all of them this final time, and I will look forward to following their successes post-Bowdoin.
We would also like to extend our thanks to Information Technology, and especially David Israel for helping make this exhibition a reality.