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SJU, CSB and School of Theology all represented among top entries for @Art student exhibition

Academics Campus & Community Fine Arts

November 27, 2023

@Art is a biennial exhibition of works produced by students at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. Many contributions went on display earlier this month at the Gorecki Art Gallery in the Benedicta Arts Center at Saint Ben’s, where the show is always held, and this year’s top three prize recipients represented a Johnnie, a Bennie and a graduate student in the School of Theology.

Chenxu Yu, a junior art and individualized studies major from Hangzhou, China, took first place for “Fragmented,” a project he conceptualized last summer when he returned home. It took him four months to produce a large photo book that celebrates what we think we see isn’t the entire picture.

“I met one of my friends in China, a young fashion designer, and he showed me the process in his book about how to make his clothing and I was really impressed,” Yu said. “I figured I could do a photography book and find a theme. I spent some time on trips and photography putting them together. I tried to use heavy layering to digitally create the fragmented feeling I wanted. I was trying to convey that we cannot always see the truth. That is why I used overlaying to hide the real images.”

Yu said art education means a lot to him.

“It changed my perspective of how to see different things,” he said. “I observe more detail in general.”

Lauren Reeves, a senior art major from Long Lake, Minnesota, earned second prize for her sculpture of “Divorce!” She drew inspiration from a friend who is a pastry chef.

“Originally, it was for a sculpture class, and we had to use plaster in our work,” said Reeves, who spent three weeks creating the piece. “It had to also be based on a memory, and the memory I chose was birthdays in relation to my family situation. There are three candles to represent me and my three siblings. Three also was my age when my parents divorced. The sculpture symbolizes how we only got together as a family after that for birthdays. The color of frosting, sprinkles, types of piping all represent the personalities of my original family of five.”

Reeves intends to become an art teacher.

“Any occasion where I can create on my own is just preparing for when I have to teach in the future,” she said. “The more I learn about different art mediums, the more I can teach those to others.”

Jacqueline Leiter, a graduate student from St. Paul’s Order of Saint Benedict Monastery in Maplewood, is pursuing a master of arts in theology. Her photography contribution, titled “Incarnation,” took third place.

“I really didn’t have a concept of what I wanted to create, and I didn’t even know the name of the piece or what it meant to me until after it happened,” Leiter said. “When I am working on my art, I feel quiet inside and it feels like prayer but without words. My photography takes several steps. It starts with going out into nature and walking or maybe sitting, and then observing and listening. The day I took the original picture for Incarnation, I was visiting Saint Benedict’s Monastery spirituality center for a retreat at the hermitage. I had gone for a walk in the woods, and the sky was becoming stormy. I took a picture of some trees against the beautiful clouds.”

After immediately heading indoors to avoid the rain, she used a tablet computer to create different effects on the image.

“One of them creates a circular effect,” she said. “I also experimented to make it painterly. I was grateful and joyfully surprised when it started to come together and felt right. It was a quiet feeling, and somehow the picture whispered. It was about the Word of God coming to dwell among us.”

Leiter also wrote a pantoum poem based on John 1, and someday expects to visually interpret what she’s learning in her SOT classes.

A “People’s Choice” award also was presented to Molly McGowan, a junior art major from St. Cloud, who produced a hanging sculpture “Cry Me a River.” She is moved by music and the piece is a tribute to a song by the same name by Julie London.

“I feel music quite intensely and I strive to share my feeling in a way that is tangible,” McGowan said. “Using found objects, wire fittings, glass beads, and my inspiration from the composition, the piece was born.”

Each bead strand was handmade and personally patterned while listening to the song, and it took more than 40 hours to produce the sculpture.

“I feel that my bead sculpture is delicate enough to convey the song, but strong enough to survive on its own since many viewers shared that they did not know the piece was inspired by music,” she said. “I think a pleasant outcome of this has been viewers pondering their own relations with music, rather than my specific piece and perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and cannot wait for the senior thesis exhibition next year.”

More than two dozen other students entered works in the show. The awards were announced Nov. 16 and cash prizes of $250, $150, $75 and $50 went to the first- through third-place finishers and the people’s choice award recipient, respectively. The works will be on display through Jan. 18.

Anne Meyer Jarrell, an artist and ceramicist from St. Joseph, served as the guest judge for the competition. She said she chose the first-, second- and third-place winners based on how well they connected internally and externally to the artist’s authentic selves and to their viewing audience. 

“Chenxu's piece was striking for its depth and richness,” Meyer Jarrell said. “I was enthralled with the visual landscape he created for himself to playfully explore the space between conscious and subconscious mind at the same time as the space between Chinese and Minnesotan cultures. And the second- and third-place winners wowed me with their impact through conciseness. Lauren and Jacqueline's concepts were impressively communicated through their color, scale, style and composition choices.”

Meyer Jarrell previously apprenticed for SJU artist-in-residence Richard Bresnahan and believes the current art culture at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s is thriving.

“I was impressed by the range of mediums in the student show, in particular the advanced ceramic and bookmaking pieces entered,” she said. “Most of the senior art majors' work is being reserved for the senior show in the spring, and many of the submittals were from non-art majors. Art is a powerful complement to other fields of inquiry or any form of curiosity.”

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Chenxu Yu's "Fragmented"

"Fragmented" by Chenxu Yu took first place at the biennial @Art student art exhibition. His work and others are on display through Jan. 18 in the Gorecki Art Gallery at the Benedicta Arts Center.

Lauren Reeves' "Divorce!"

Lauren Reeves earned second prize for "Divorce!"

Jacqueline Leiter's "Incarnation"

Jacqueline Leiter's photo "Incarnation" took third prize.

Molly McGowan's "Cry Me a River"

Molly McGowan's "Cry Me a River" won the People's Choice award.