Visiting Faculty Deliver Dead Rats, Dancers, and Dark Humor

A mecca for those involved in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts serves many functions for those interested in photography, film, painting, and the like. Until October 9, the Carpenter Center is giving everyone in and out of the department an opportunity to observe the innovative work of VES visiting faculty in the temporary exhibit “Visiting Faculty 2011-2012.” Jeff T. Sheng ‘02, David Hilliard, and Amber Davis Tourlentes will be among the eight featured artists. Though small, the exhibit boasts a mélange of eclectic styles that combine to form an atypical collection, including compelling black-and-white comics, visionary short films, and striking photographs.

The comics of artist Peter A. Kuper occupy the far right corner of the exhibit. Drawn in black and white, the comics depict the short stories of renowned 20th-century novelist Franz Kafka. “Black-and-white has a quality of the time period in which the work was written,” says Kuper. “It kind of brought the work back to a period of German expressionism that seemed very appropriate for the tone of the stories.” Whether it is an entrapped mouse being devoured by a cat or a human bridge tumbling to the jagged rocks below, Kuper’s work uses the sharp contrast between shadow and light to evoke the poignant emotions characteristic of Kafka’s celebrated tales. “I found his work to have a particular dark humor to it, and I was drawn to that initially,” Kuper says.

Other pieces include Sue J. Johnson’s photographs of female boxers. The subjects of her series “Boxing Lessons” are captured in poses that range from frighteningly fierce to celebratory, and these photographs stimulate varied reactions. “It makes people uncomfortable,” Johnson says. “It is intriguing. To some, it’s sexy. Others are repelled. Whatever the response, it tends to be visceral and strong.”

The photograph of amateur boxer Camille Currie right before her match is of particular interest. As expected, her face is a mask of pure intensity. In reality, however, Currie stated that she was clearing her mind in that moment. Johnson emphasizes this contradiction between appearance and reality by printing the boxers’ quotes alongside of the photographs. “I can talk about the issues of being women and redefining what it means to be feminine or strong or how to integrate aggression,” says Johnson, “but I find that their own words convey so much more than I could ever say.” Her photographs deliver a message beyond the bounds of a female fighter’s ability; they express the potential of unadulterated feminine expression. “These women make no apologies for their aggression, violence and strength,” she says. “They own it. They are proud of it.”

Most of the other pieces in the exhibit are photographs, as well. Terah L. Maher and her collaborator Michael Langan contributed the only multimedia work. The piece is displayed on a large flatscreen TV and is composed of two short films whose novel interpretation of space and time command attention. “Choros,” the longer of the two, features Maher herself as a dancer whose figure and motions are multiplied, blurred together, and illuminated by a glowing stream of light. “We were trying to depict the feeling of a sustained moment of ecstasy,” says Maher. “All the moments of time are extended. They are sustained.” Maher and Langan use a process similar to pixilation but with the opposite effect: instead of taking still photographs and streaming pictures together to make an illusion of motion, they use techniques such as lingering, offsetting, and blending to create pauses in time.


“Visiting Faculty” is a teaser of sorts, only a sample of the talent of well respected artists who have shared their knowledge either here at Harvard or beyond. Each featured piece comes from a larger series—Kuper’s from “Metamorphosis,” Sheng’s from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Bright’s from “Destruction Layer.” With varied backgrounds and unique individual styles, this Carpenter Center exhibit brings together a motley crew of artists to create an original exhibit and familiarize the public with snapshots of their work.