Fall 2008

Vinyl and Soul: The Work of Dario Robleto

By Tucker Costello

Dario Robleto calls himself a “materialist poet.” Drawing inspiration from music and his own experiences, Robleto conceptualizes an art piece and begins by writing down the materials he has in mind. From melted vinyl to crushed sea horses, the materials he uses range from the everyday to the obscure. He explains that while writing these lists his thought process jumps from one place to anotheruntil he has a concrete idea of what he wants to use for materials, but he rarely has a specific result in mind.

On September 27th 2008, Dario Robleto’s show Alloy of Love opened at the Tang Museum. Occupying the entire second floor, Alloy of Love represents ten years of Robleto’s artistic narrative, from his earlier work with records to his later works dealing with war and human emotion. Robleto says that this show is “the first time [he’s] been able to pluck examples from all of [his] shows.”

Robleto strives to “capture the soul” in his work. This is best illustrated in The Diva Surgery (2000-2001) where he attempts to extract the physical “souls” of many female recording artists, from Björk to Ella Fitzgerald. He does this by manipulating each of their vinyl records, and in some cases audio tapes, in order to distill their voices from the media they were transcribed on. This particular piece evokes nostalgia and inquiry with a juxtaposition of Victorian tonsil extractors and crushed audiotape in butterfly nectar.

Despite Robleto’s interest in the soul and the essence of human emotion, there is always controversy surrounding his work. The Creative Potential of Diseaseis a framed doll created by a “Civil War Union soldier amputee while recovering in the hospital.” According to the artist’s description, the doll’s uniform was “mended and repaired” using material from “a modern day soldier’s uniform.” A leg for the doll was cast using the dust of a femur bone. The controversy of a piece like this lies in the reconstruction of an artifact or the defiling of history. Robleto justifies his belief that people in the 21st century are removed from damage. He said that by dealing directly with materials like bone dust he could make everyone understand what happens on the battlefield; “men turn to dust.” He wants to challenge his audience to grant new narratives to forgotten histories.

However, in spite of his critics, Robleto continues to be inspired and has lots more that he wants to create- when the time is right. His sensitivity extends not only to the materials he uses but the appropriateness of timing as well. Robleto’s work is a refreshing perspective on a modern society that often wishes to only see that which is safe and beautiful; bone dust can be beautiful too. Continue reading

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Fall 2008

13 Isolations: An Experimental Art Nightmare

By Nikkitha Bakashani

Art experiments, be they noble or clever in concept, do not always advance as planned. Sanyu Nagenda ‘09 studied abroad at the University of Amsterdam this past spring and found a link on Holland’s Craig’s List for the art experiment 13 Isolations. The program aimed to put thirteen artists in solitary confinement in a prison in the Netherlands with personal and social objectives in mind. Nagenda, along with twelve other artists, signed up this past August to discover what art twenty-nine days of solitary confinement would bring out of them.

According to the 13 Isolations website, the objective of the experiment wanted to test the consequences of solitude on creativity and to seek answers to questions posed about the nature of art: What artwork can one produce without external influence? Does solitude summon someone closer to the meaning of art? The social objective was to raise awareness: “Their imprisonment will be a metaphor for the discrimination, exploitation and stigmatization in Europe and the world, of millions of asylum seekers, racial, ethnic and religious minorities and women confined in ‘spaces to a-void’ such as ghettos, refugee camps, housing projects and prostitution.”

Sanyu Nagenda admits that the project the organization had in mind was never carried out. Episodes failed to provide commodities they promised upon the artists’ arrival: drinking and running water, art supplies, food, beds, chairs, and tables. Consequently, seven of the artists dropped out in the first week. Nagenda stayed. In the middle of the experiment, the organization started to receive bad press because it was discovered that the head of Episodes, Anthony Murrell, did not sign the contract that allowed him to conduct 13 Isolations, yet the local government still gave the organization the keys to the prison. Since the organization took no responsibility, the artists had to fend for themselves.

The artwork produced dealt not only with the concepts of isolation, but also with capitalism and authoritarian responsibility. One artist tried to figure out how many people would fit in the floor space of the prison, relating it back to the space in slave ships. He left the outlines of the other artists’ figures on the prison floor. Similarly, Nagenda wrote her thoughts on the walls of the prison, as pictured. The walls say, “(YOU) can no longer afford the luxury of being ignorant.” Nagenda’s account of her experience, “The Oostereiland Journals: An Artist Resistancy”challenges capitalism and old school thought. It was a shame her emotions were interrupted by the disillusion the program instilled.

The act of isolation yet togetherness did fuel great artistic products dealing with communication. In her journals, Nagenda asserts how shocking it is to still have arguments based on archaic concepts, and how important it is to recognize this—hence, “Human beings can no longer afford the luxury of being ignorant.” The words are magnified and dominate the whole wall, alluding to the passion and uncontrollable emotion that results from the early onset of isolation, that is before isolation sucks out passion in small doses and de-humanizes the individual. The magnitude of the letters also acts as an antithesis of ignorant—ignorant is bleak and calm, but the huge message on the wall breaks the peace of ignorance by first glance.

The italics in ‘Resistancy” demonstrates the cooperation of the artists that remained after the organizations left. “It wouldn’t be art if it wasn’t for the interactions with artists from around the world. It wasn’t really isolation (after the first week), but living in prison with no guarantee of what will happen.” I asked Nagenda if it was like torture, and she replied that it was a form of psychological torture. Nagenda and the remaining artists did not have to stay, but they nevertheless did so to uphold the integrity of the project’s idea.

Torture in its many forms has bled through news stories and is touching art. For example, Costa Rican artist Guilermo Vargas Habacuc confined a dog to no food or water and the slow death of the dog was his art exhibition. “The other artists and I talked about this,” said Nagenda, “and torture may be considered a form of art, but not a form of art I respect. What angered me was that for all the outrage, nobody gave the dog food or water.”

Does torture make good art? Does putting thirteen people in isolation for twenty-nine days in a prison with no running or drinking water, make any thing worth respecting? “It was a humanitarian effort that backfired,” says Nagenda.

Had Episodes provided all the essentials for the artists to survive, sorted out legal issues, and not backed down due to negative press, 13 Isolations could have been a more successful art experiment that deals with these very sensitive and salient issues like torture and isolation. In the end beautiful art did result, but that’s because of the talent and cooperation of the artists’ involved, not the inventiveness of the organization. Continue reading

Fall 2008

Student Artist Profile: Peter Sheldon

By Heather Gilchrist —

Name: Peter Sheldon
Class: Senior
Major: Art (Ceramics)
Hometown: Norwich, VT
Favorite Music: Pearl Jam, Bach and jazz
Hobbies: Ships in bottles, taxidermy and collecting flowers

Every time I lend Peter Sheldon something it comes back covered in clay and dust. Peter is a budding ceramicist at Skidmore College who has cultivated his interest in art over the past three years and is about to unleash his talents into the big world at the end of this year.

Although Sheldon explored both ceramics and photography in high school, he started college aiming toward a degree in religion, philosophy, or education. His resolve to be a full-fledged art major came into fruition during his sophomore year when after dabbling in classes as a minor, he decided to make the leap and focus more intently on his artistic pursuits. Sheldon’s decision was influenced largely by his father who taught Peter at an early age about his love for black and white photography and by his mother and grandmother, both working painters.

Working towards the ever-anticipated senior show at the end of the year, Peter is currently focused on making sets of functional ceramic pieces that exhibit matching and repeating forms, geometric patterns and abstract shapes.

When asked about his dreams for the future, Peter responded quickly that he plans on going to space camp and becoming to first artist to throw a pot in an anti-gravity field. Whichever way the graduated wind ends up blowing him, the future is certain to be bright and vast for this Skidmore artist and we wish him luck in his journey into infinity and beyond. Continue reading

Fall 2008

Break-up of the Year: Art and Art History

By Emily Devoe —

After more than fifty years of partnership, the Department of Art and Art History is no longer together. Separation was initiated by the Art History side of the department and presented first to the Committee on Educational Policies and Planning and then to the Skidmore faculty. The decision to split was unanimous. The Art History major was introduced to the college as part of the Art Department during the 1953-1954 school year. Art History was added to the Art Department with the intention that it would benefit the training of studio artists. From this point on, Art History remained under the auspices of the Art Department. The formal title “Department of Art and Art History” was a recent peace offering towards the field of study, but left an even stronger desire for freedom. As interest in the field was cultivated in students and the professional involvements of professors grew, Art History Faculty began to speak out about their desire for an individual identity as a department by way of separation.

When Skidmore relocated to its North Broadway campus in the 1970s, Art History received its first taste of independence. Physically the “department” separated from its maternal figure and moved into the Scribner Library. Art historians, with their heavy tomes laden with reproductions and text, slides, and Artstor images still reside there today. For years the Art History Professors’ offices consisted of little more than carrels in the library, surviving without a formal office or secretary.

Professor Penny Jolly took the initiative to become the first Director of the Art History Program in 1985. This position did not lend itself to much power within the greater Art Department but it did allow her to act in evaluating the Art History Faculty, arranging speakers, approving student requests, setting up art history courses, evaluating student credits, and running a separate budget. This improvement within the program allowed for greater and more influential changes. Real offices, an Art History prize, and a part-time secretary all participated in the legitimization of the department.

Reasons for the break-up stemmed from the professional and scholarly differences that exist between Art and Art History as academic fields. How student work is evaluated, how professors work with students, and expectations all differ greatly between the two subjects. Under the conglomerate department all professors had to collectively evaluate many decisions concerning tenure, hiring, promotion, and reappointment. With the increasing differences in practices and methodologies amongst studio artists and art historians, such influential decisions became increasingly difficult to make. For artists and art historians to evaluate each other in subject areas out of their academic domain was challenging and uncomfortable. Thus, breaking into separate departments became the apparent solution.

Seemingly, this change can only be positive. More focused attention in a smaller setting makes more sense both professionally and in creating stronger academic departments. Independently, the Art History Department may be small, but it certainly has gained recognition, especially with the upcoming Alfred Z. Solomon Residency at the Tang Museum which devotes a large sum of money to inviting speakers related to topics concerning art and art history. The residency is focused on uniting the museum with what faculty in the art and art history departments feel is most relevant to their courses by way of inviting artists and scholars to campus. The first Alfred Z. Solomon Residency is titled “The Future of Art History” and will be taking place Thursday November 20th, and Friday November 21st at 6:30pm at the Tang. Speakers include James Elkins of the Art Institute in Chicago and Robert Lehman of Yale University

While the initial impact may seem as minimal as a change in stationary, each department has a shot at securing a solid place within Skidmore’s academic departments. With regards to the future of the newly independent Art History Department, Professor Penny Jolly says, “let’s celebrate!” Continue reading

Fall 2008

Lost Inside the Rabbit Hole

By Emily Cohen —

Barry Moser should have been a travel agent. Entering the illustrator’s exhibit in the Schick Art Gallery was like stepping through a portal into another world. His creative interpretations of story characters depict familiar figures like Alice and Dorothy in unfamiliar manners.

The exhibit opened with pictures from “Alice in Wonderland,” starting with the never-ending tunnel and moving on to the Mad Hatter and the perpetually late Rabbit. Although already spewing inanities in the book itself, there is an added element of the bizarre present in Moser’s illustration. Equally unsettling is the Rabbit in the next frame, looking more severe and intense than I had ever imagined him to be. The disturbing quality the picture leaves seems to be a connection to the feeling of utter insanity Alice might have felt upon seeing a rabbit fully dressed and spluttering; yet it seems as if she takes the matter more as one of wonder. The aura of darkness surrounding the illustrations is a more sinister angle than the story is generally viewed through. From there, the pictures only become more ominous. The wood engraving entitled “The Reverie of Alice’s Sister” depicts the girl as rather elusive. Her eyes are not in sight, and she seems to be frozen in some slow act of motion, as her hair is floating through the air and her arms are up. A shadow cuts across her face and she is not smiling; merely looking out of the frame at the viewer, suggesting observation.

While the “Alice” pictures focused on the details of the character’s faces, other illustrations moved into the realm of shadow, as in the two drawings “The Last Judgment: And I Shall Make All Things New” and “When He Created the Heavens, I Was There.” The only recognizable character is a sinister-looking Jesus figure, and a crowd of vapid looking skeletons surrounds him. A dark character present in both pictures is a mysterious woman entirely encased in shadow, with outstretched wings and a battle helmet obscuring any possible view of her face. Her presence is intriguing; both her seemingly dark nature and the leering skeletons are interesting companions to the Messiah.

With his tendency to draw the eerie, one may imagine Moser with a formidable personality. However, the display’s description characterizes Moser as a “big bear of a man” and his light-hearted demeanor drew forth many a hearty laugh from the packed crowd during his talk when he visited Skidmore as the Twentieth Annual Fox-Adler lecturer on September 25.

One of his many anecdotes covered the process he employed to create his view of the monster Frankenstein. With his daughter, Moser took the skin from chicken legs and sewed them together. He used this makeshift facial skin to cover a human skeleton he had in his studio, and morphed together a sort of lopsided, grinning, grotesque monster. Scarecrow-style, Moser related watching the makeshift Frankenstein decompose in his backyard, noting the maggots, rotting, and all. Rather than induce disgust, the entire process influenced his decision to “use warm color as a sort of metaphor for the empathy I [he] felt for him,” he said.

Indeed, Frankenstein is the only character Moser used color for. The exhibit showcases a row of ten images of the monster, all of his face, or at least various parts of it. The progression of pictures changes in both color and portion of face drawn. The first nine are all done in warm tones, moving from earthy greens to warm oranges, capturing an idea of the monster’s innocence and freshness to the world, which is striking against the hideously gaping face. The last few images lose this purity and the monster takes on a disillusioned, dissatisfied look. The eighth picture is the first time a viewer sees both eyes, and most of the face is present. The next picture is a shot solely of the eyes. They are a grey-blue, but still not cold; they are full of emotion and weariness. The last picture is colored an icy blue, and the face is pushed to the side. The monster’s mouth is open, in a vacant and expressionless manner, perhaps suggesting Frankenstein’s death. Through the images Moser has perfectly conveyed his empathy for Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, leaving the viewer with a resounding feeling of remorse and meaning. The end of the monster makes for a fitting end of the exhibit. Continue reading

Fall 2008

Figuring the Abstract

By Kacey Light —

On a Saturday evening at theTang Museum, Amy Sillmanbegan her dialogue with curator, Ian Berry saying, “to think about someone’s work you need to go backwards. They are always coming from that, or contradicting it.” For many viewers familiar with Sillman’s work, her statement refers to how she progressed from her earlier, more figurative or landscape works to her now bright and bold abstract pieces. However, for those like myself, unfamiliar with her previous body of work, her statement can simply apply to her current show, Third Person Singular.

When walking into Sillman’s exhibit, viewers are first met with a wall of her black and white drawings that resemble figures. Around the corner viewers come across large, bold, bright abstract paintings. Then it’s time to look backwards, around the first corner, and revisit the drawings. The drawings are of couples, friends of Sillman’s, who agreed to pose for her. Sillman relies on the use of couples for her work because they are more comfortable with each other than strangers or models, and therefore create more interesting angles with their bodies. However, the drawings on display in the exhibit are not Sillman’s first observations. Her process is to sketch the couples, and then leave those sketches to sit for a while – days or even weeks – until she tries to draw them again, from memory. The result is a series of drawings that become more and more abstract. What the viewer sees in this exhibit is Sillman’s third stage of drawings.

The ability to see Sillman’s starting point is very effective. For most viewers, conceptualizing abstract work is more difficult than the art they are used to looking at, as it is nonrepresentational. By seeing Sillman’s thought process, she provides the viewer with a greater understanding of abstraction. Sillman related her experience of creating abstract works to when she first started viewing abstract art in college. She recalled that her art professors would recommend artists for her to look at, but when she went to look at them she would just not get it. So, she kept going back to look, and over time, and alongside the learning process of her looking, she began to understand – not necessarily about the art, but about how to look at the art. For abstraction she said, you even have to approach it with a sense of humor – hate even – before you can get it.

In learning to understand something so unfamiliar, Sillman tells her viewers that they need to just feel the art. In her show, her art suggests that one feel her color choices; look at the play between a palette where one half is bright and intense, and the other shadowy colors. Beyond the artwork itself, feelings of awkwardness are evoked in the viewer by the way the paintings are hung, unevenly spaced on the walls.

Since Sillman’s process is accessible to the viewer in the exhibition, her show becomes a unique learning tool which Skidmore students are already taking advantage of. It teaches people not only how to look at abstract art, but how it can be created. In looking at art, Sillman quoted a friend, saying, “the purpose of art is to return the viewer to him or herself, changed.” In terms of the creative process, her show gives viewers a place to start: take ordinary and familiar objects and look at them simply, noting lines and angles, the result being something nonrepresentational. The difference for Sillman is that she’s not afraid to rework things, re do them, or scratch them out – she seeks art that surprises her. Continue reading

Fall 2008

Unnatural Nature: Skidmore’s Freshman Perspective

By Elaine Burns and Melanie de Fiore —

As you rush to get to your first class on time, ever pause to wonder what those sculptures in front of Case Center are all about? This fall, two pre-orientation groups were given a head start on exploring Skidmore’s campus and downtown Saratoga and in the process created memorable art through movie technology and 3-D collages. Not only did the Tabula Rasa and Behind-the-Scenes of the Tang Museum pre-orientation groups get a sneak peak into college life, but the students also were challenged to apply the idea of creative thinking through the making of separate projects inspired by the themes of Dean Snyder’s exhibit at the Tang Museum. Both groups were given the opportunity to discover the educational and artistic features of the Tang and all that it has to offer to Skidmore students and outside visitors alike.

Although both groups explored all of the current exhibits at the museum, the students concentrated mainly on Dean Snyder’s “Almost Blue” exhibition. The sculptures on display represented a mixture of organic and hightech materials. Carbon fibers and steel made up most of the exterior portions of the sculptures and the shapes of the figures closely resembled those found in nature. Because of this clear clash between organic and inorganic, students of both groups applied this theme to their separate projects. Behind-the-Scenes of the Tang participant, Tucker Costello describes the pieces as, “being mechanically alive” and used this inspiration to create his group’s iMovie, “Organic vs. Inorganic”. The Tabula Rasa group crafted three sculptures based on the theme “Unnatural Nature” which permeated Dean Snyder’s work. Using industrial materials ranging from cans, foam, and wires; to organic materials of leaves and rocks, the groups created pieces that tied together seemingly disparate elements to create works that mimickednature. Says Aliza Chimene-Weiss of her group’s piece; “We really wanted to make a tree, somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s trees.” As all artists though, “we encountered a lot of problems; there is no way we could have anticipated our big golden blob [sculpture], but I think it’s a nice addition to Skidmore.”

After close observation of Dean Snyder’s sculptures, the students of the Behind-the-Scenes group took their inspiration and transferred it into a different medium: film. In groups of three and four, the students discussed the ideas they formulated from Snyder’s work and agreed on a theme on which their subsequent iMovie was inspired by. For two days, the groups took photos and video recordings of different objects both on and off campus that related to the theme of their movie. One movie was a montage of materials that appeared to be liquid, but in fact are not. Another movie was based on the collection of objects that reflected both shapes that were organic and inorganic. Tucker Costello’s group used the pieces to inspire a movie that “explored nature by looking at the unnatural in nature. Tucker’ groups biggest challenge “was really deciding how to put everything together so we could get across our message…the editing process.”

These pre-orientation experiences are just two examples of how Skidmore students are actively engaged in a community that fosters creative thought. Continue reading