Finding a common theme for the crowning event on the visual arts calendar during this academic year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University wasn’t easy for the eight artists who will participate as part of their capstone experience before graduation.
While the exhibition includes digital and mixed media, ceramics, fiber and audio art as well as drawings and paintings, the senior class of art majors has at least one thing in common: They’re all women. Thus, they found similarities in their experience and what they want to convey through their work, and the result is “Through Our Eyes,” which opens April 1 and runs through May 6 in the Alice R. Rogers and Target Galleries in the Saint John’s Art Center.
The contributors include Kennedy Christensen, Amanda Dressel, Carolina Gonzalez, Ami Kitajima, Marisol Montes De Oca, Anna Renee Nation, Grace Schneider and Luhan Zheng. Their collection speaks to the growth of their personal philosophies and outlooks on the world through various stages of life, as well as anticipation for people to understand or relate. To help facilitate that, they will appear during a reception from 1-3 p.m. April 1, with an artist talk at 2 p.m. Admission is free and it is open to the public. The students also will present during Scholarship and Creativity Day, from 2-3:30 p.m. April 27.
It’s the first time during the 18-year tenure of art professor and department chair Sam Johnson that the senior show has been defined by eight inherently unique women. They’ve worked on their contributions since the beginning of fall semester. But the emotion they put into their efforts is the result of many years of observation.
This is an example of a piece of art Kennedy Christensen is exhibiting as part of "Through Our Eyes." The candle in the intersection of light and shadow emphasizes "hope in a dark time."
Ceramics an homage to lost loved ones
For Christensen, who is from Cambridge, Minnesota, her ceramics are at least partly a monument to her grandparents, who greatly influenced her childhood. While she grew up in Brooklyn Park and attended Robbinsdale Cooper before graduating from the Perpich Center for Arts Education, she often spent summers with her grandparents, Kari and Elsa Hough, in Garrison.
“I’ve always loved drawing, painting and pottery,” Christensen said. “Even in middle school, I was doing those things on my own. I never thought I’d go to college at all, but I enjoyed my art teachers in high school so much that I thought about being an art teacher.”
That’s what brought her to Saint Ben’s, where she’s minoring in psychology and has decided to pursue a career in art therapy, perhaps working with at-risk individuals – especially adolescents – in mental health facilities, prisons and schools. She knows the benefit of artistic expression and how it helped her deal with the death of both of her maternal grandparents in the past two years.
“My work represents dealing with grief, and that’s highlighted in how light and shadow interact,” she said. “One of my five pieces is the mold of a dome, and it’s meant to have a lighted candle in the middle. The way the light and shadows flicker with the movement of the flame represents hope in a dark time.
“I think a common denominator is that all of these works are personal to us and, in many cases, represent life-altering events we’ve gone through from childhood to adulthood. Regardless of culture or ethnicity, we all found we had something to say about our personal journey and we were surprised how often those experiences intersected.”
This is one of Grace Schneider's fiber art installations that will be on display as part of "Through Our Eyes." The inspiration for her art is the body and the evolution of growing.
Fiber art emphasizes beauty in imperfection
Schneider, who is from Rockville – just a few miles from campus, came to Saint Ben’s because of music. She performs in the CSB women’s choir and occasionally sings at “Praise in the Pub,” a weekly faith-based gathering of students at Brother Willie’s on the SJU campus. But music has become her minor and art, for which she’s also had a passion since she was old enough to carry a tune, has become her calling. She will display five fiber art sculpture installations.
“As a child, I would make stuff and then go try to sell it,” said Schneider, who also has developed her own clothing business through the Entrepreneur Scholars program at CSB and SJU. “I wanted to study something that I love and then go out in the real world and apply it.”
The inspiration for her art is the body and the evolution of growing. She said it’s important for society – especially women – to embrace aging and the wrinkles and skin discoloration that comes through time.
“I’d like us to be able to appreciate those changes and find the beauty in them,” Schneider said. “I stick pins into the mounting panel, start winding the thread and go from there. What I produce depends on how I’m feeling and what in my life I’m thinking about at that time. What’s nice is that I can always remake something if I want. It’s not like I’m working with a chisel and stone. I can always take the pins out and start over. And some of the pieces are so large that, just by moving them, it’s going to feel like a different experience.”
She dreams of opening her own gallery someday, specifically to highlight up-and-coming artists. But she could also see herself working in art therapy, in an apprenticeship, or just beginning a career and pursuing art on the side – just like some of the other seniors.
“We understand each other well and I think we were able to give productive critiques to our peers because, as women, we’ve all struggled with some of the same issues,” Schneider said. “I don’t know if a man can have that same level of understanding, and that’s why our themes correlate so well.”
Anna Nation shows an example of performance art that will be part of her contribution to "Through Our Eyes." Her work is about "processing and healing from traumatic events, finding beauty in brokenness, and learning to live with the aftermath of destruction."
Broken teacups yield performance art quilt
Nation, who is from Rochester, is student teaching this semester. She considers her art “process based,” which means that the making of the art is more notable than the end product.
“My work is about processing and healing from traumatic events, finding beauty in brokenness, and learning to live with the aftermath of destruction,” said Nation, who is minoring in secondary education and soon will be licensed to have her own art classroom somewhere in Minnesota. “To me, that means rediscovering joy, wonder, and purpose in my life while still being able to address and accept the damage that displaced my abilities to do so in the first place.”
Her exhibit consists of one quilt, one painting, eight teacups and a teapot. The result is a performative piece that her classmates and professor helped with. Each person poured dye into a broken teacup, which then created a stain on the tablecloth beneath it. She then turned the dyed fabric into an everyday comfort item: a quilt.
“I chose to work with these materials because I find myself to be really drawn to the fragility and function of teacups,” she said. “I feel that there is a strong metaphor between the human experience of trauma and the breaking of fragile objects because of how the object’s ability to function is irreversibly disrupted after an impact. I also work with cotton fabric because of how easily this material stains. The permanence of staining is similar to how the human mind holds onto trauma. Cutting and processing this stained fabric into a quilt is like doing the work to turn difficult memories into something that one could live with every day.”
Like Schneider, Gonzalez also is a fabric artist who works with multicolored crocheted spheres. Montes De Oca has produced charcoal drawings and a six-minute film that explore her experiences as a first-generation American with parents who immigrated from Mexico. Dressel has created framed illustrations and a children’s book about a timid monster who opens a donut shop. Kitajima has produced scrolls and ink printing, and Zheng is presenting graphic designs and a video game. Gallery hours through the end of the semester are 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday except for 2-8 p.m. on Thursday.
This is a sample of charcoal drawing by Marisol Montes De Oca, who also is contributing a six-minute film to "Through Our Eyes." Her work explores her experiences as a first-generation American with parents who immigrated from Mexico. She is one of eight senior art majors participating in this year's student exhibition at Saint John's.