VES Visiting Faculty Exhibition Prompts Conversation

In the shadowed, concrete exhibition space on the ground level of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts hangs a series of artworks as diverse in style as they are in medium. The gallery, which hosts a variety of student and faculty showings throughout the year, currently houses selected works by six visiting faculty members in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies: Lucas Blalock, Jennifer Bornstein, Paul Bush, Dru Donovan, Alexander Galloway, and Kianja Strobert.

This exhibition marks another iteration of a decades-long tradition, in which the VES Department invites practicing artists and scholars each year to join its teaching staff. This year, the visiting faculty lead a wide range of courses, from Donovan’s Introduction to Still Photography to Bornstein’s Sensory Ethnography. The diverse course offerings reflect the varied backgrounds of the visitors themselves: Blalock works extensively with layered photographs and Photoshop; Bornstein investigates multiple mediums including video, etching, and 16-millimeter film; Bush specializes in shorter-length stop frame animation. The exhibition gallery itself includes video installations playing alongside photo collages, rubbings, and acrylic paintings.

Also wide-ranging are the ideas the visiting faculty members seek to explore. Some of the works on display, like Donovan’s series of photographs from her “Carving the Lung” collection, carry a deliberate thematic focus. Figures in the photographs adopt various poses that convey a sense of performance. “I’m interested in the construction of identity, and the performance of one’s identity,” Donovan says of her work.

Other artists choose to keep quiet about the intentions behind the works on display. Bornstein, a former Radcliffe fellow and recipient of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s 2017 Foster Prize, falls into this category. In a video originally broadcast on cable TV, a 1990s-era Bornstein takes viewers through random memorabilia—cups, straws, napkins. Another piece features her blue encaustic and wax rubbings of equipment from the Film Study Center at Harvard. What does Bornstein hope viewers walk away thinking? The answer doesn’t seem to be definitive. “I hope people bring their own interpretations to the works,” she says.

While some visiting faculty members come from a traditional academic background, the majority, like Donovan and Bornstein, are studio faculty. Artistic practice, rather than instruction, stands at the center of most visitors’ careers. “[Harvard] has hired me to be exactly myself, to teach what I want to teach and to bring my own engagement to the class. That’s where I feel like that kind of teaching really intersects with my own work. I feel like I can bring in exactly what I’m thinking about in my own work right now, or just what I’m thinking about,” Donovan says.

Visiting faculty members cite the opportunity to work with other faculty members as another major draw of the program. “It’s wonderful, because [my colleagues] are wonderful artists whom I respect,” Bornstein says. “It’s wonderful to always be in conversation with them both personally and professionally.”

Donovan also stresses the importance of the VES community for nurturing artistic growth. “I like seeing how being in a conversation with my students informs and impacts my own work,” she says.

Organizers have taken care to make further avenues of research available to those whose curiosities are piqued by the exhibition. The bookstore located on third floor of the center, for instance, has just stocked up on Bornstein’s monograph and a magazine with Strobert’s work.

The Visiting Faculty Art Exhibition is jointly presented by the CCVA and Harvard’s VES Department. The exhibition will be on view at the CCVA through Oct. 1, 2016.

—Staff writer Qianqian Yang can be reached at qianqian.yang@thecrimson.com.

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