Studio Art Theses In Conversation

Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews Studio Art majors whose senior theses are being shown in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery March 23-April 11.

The second week of studio art senior thesis shows opens today. Each week, the work of 4 to 6 artists is installed in the Main and South galleries of the Zilkha Gallery. A wide variety of media are represented, from plaster sculpture, painting, woodcuts, photography, and even eggs. The first week of shows by Nicolina Baxter, Patrick Serr, Eric Bissell, Gregory James and Lorena Estrella has closed, but there are still opportunities to see this week’s and next week’s exhibitions. I sat down with a few of the artists to find out how the thesis process has been going for them.

Though the students I spoke to indicated that while for the most part crafting a studio art thesis is a solitary procedure, in a liberal arts setting there is ample opportunity for conversation and dialogue, both among artists and academic disciplines. “I’ve been trying to balance this academic requirement and just wanting to make things,” says Angus McCullough, an architecture student whose work, Dormant, goes up in the third week of exhibitions, “but I think that’s been really fruitful—I’ve definitely come up with a lot of ideas I’m not necessarily going to use in my thesis, but could use in the future.” His work, a large-scale sculpture-room, deals with latent architectural spaces. Rachel Schwerin, who is presenting work this week that tells the story of a Chicago superhero named Red Hot Chicago, says she was inspired by both her courses at Wesleyan and her summer experience taking courses at Northwestern. “I think all of my art history classes have been really influential in terms of the way I intellectually think of the art I’m making,” she says. Eric Bissell noted that his coursework in Buddhism and anthropology—specifically ethnography—has been instrumental for his process.

For me, the most exciting part of this series is getting to see the work of people I know—both personally and academically. In the first week of shows, I found myself noticing ideas and patterns that I remember several of the artists discussing in class or working through in the studio. For example, both Eric Bissell’s HERE IS EXPANSIVE and Gregory James’ SATISFIXATION dealt with themes I’d seen them working with in Professor Jeffrey Schiff’s course, Topics in Studio Art, the former exploring our understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the latter using eggs as a medium to explore human contact and sexuality. I also remember seeing an earlier series of Nicolina (Nyki) Baxter’s work related to her thesis show, Flay, our sophomore year at her Sculpture II show.

The familiarity and consistency that arises out of working in a setting like Wesleyan is also important within the community of art thesis students. Eric, who has worked with Professor Jeffrey Schiff for all four years, remarks, “To have someone watch your progression as an artist is a really interesting thing; it allowed him to know when to really step in and give me advice. I really respected that.” Rachel noted that for the printmakers, who share one space unlike other thesis students who typically share a studio with two other students, “it’s been really interesting working in one big room. You’ll see a lot of common images and themes across our work, despite the fact that we’re working in very different styles. That’s something you get out of a shop mentality, which is cool.” Even in the smaller studios, though, thesis students are in dialogue with one another. “I’ve been going around as much as possible…it’s important to [look at each other’s work] because you look at your own work every day, until you can’t see it anymore,” says Angus. Nyki notes, “I think we’re always a sounding board for each other. You’ve established a little bit of a style or a conceptual vein they’ve seen in your work, [and] even if you don’t have a specific question to ask, being in the studio late at night and just having a conversation—even off topic—will lead you back to where you need to be.”

Remaining shows:
Tuesday-Sunday, March 30 – April 4
Reception: Wednesday, March 31, 4-6pm
Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li

Tuesday-Sunday, April 6 – April 11
Reception: Wednesday, April 7, 4-6pm
Genesis Grullon, Lily Bushman-Copp, Ray Brown, Angus McCullough, Anna Mendes, and Josh Lederer

Turkish Music: A Different Sound World

“You enter a different sound world,” says Wesleyan’s Private Lessons Teacher and renowned guitarist, Cem Duruöz, when describing the music of his homeland, Turkey. “The scales and rhythms are uniquely intricate and beautiful. I grew up hearing them on my mother’s radio.” This Saturday, Duruöz will give the pre-show talk prior to the final Crowell Concert Series performance of the year, a concert by the Boston-based Turkish music ensemble, Dünya.

According to Professor of Music Mark Slobin, Turkish music is “one of the great art musics of the Middle Eastern complex that includes Arabic and Persian music and dates back many centuries.” Slobin’s former student, Robert Labaree, who received his Phd from Wesleyan in 1989, founded Dünya and is also chair of the music history department at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Slobin describes his dissertation as a “pioneering comparison of medieval music and Middle Eastern music examined through the songs of the troubadour.”

Wesleyan’s Concert Committee selected Dünya to perform in support of the University’s recent establishment of the Middle Eastern Studies Certificate Program. It also helped to have the resounding endorsement of Duruöz, who serves on the Committee. Duruöz grew up in Turkey at a time when conservatories did not offer the opportunity to study Turkish classical or folk traditions. He went to Stanford, San Francisco Conservatory and Julliard and then launched an international touring career performing classical Spanish and Baroque guitar music. Five years ago, he reconnected with the music of his youth and recently released Treasures of Anatolia, a CD of all-Turkish music for solo guitar.

According to Duruöz, “Many of the instruments audiences will hear on Saturday are the basis of Western classical instruments as we know them today including the ney (end-blown flute); the ud and saz (Middle Eastern short and long-necked lutes); the ceng (harp); the kemence (spike fiddle); and the darbuka (drum). Dünya are masters of a wonderful spectrum of music including folk songs from the rural areas, classical music from the Ottoman court and Sufi music that is more spiritual.”

Saturday, March 27, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk at 7:15pm by Cem Duruöz

Reflecting on Feet to the Fire

Many of you know that Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was a multilayered project that, from 2008 to 2009, took us from Middletown’s Veteran’s Park, to the Green Street Arts Center, to campus classrooms and CFA venues in a shared exploration of climate change using the arts as a catalyst. (The Feet to the Fire brand continues on campus this year, with a focus on water resources.)

We put together this summary video for a convening of higher education leaders hosted by the Association of Arts Presenters in January in New York City. The gathering, a follow-up to the 2004 American Assembly “The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education,” sought to understand what creative research programs like Feet to the Fire can tell us about the impact of the arts on learning. Directed by Middletown’s own Paul Horton, we wanted to share it with you.

Also, please save the date for Wesleyan’s Earth Day Celebration on Thursday, April 22 at 8pm in the CFA Hall. We invite you to the premiere of the full-length 30-minute documentary film produced and directed by Paul Horton. The documentary is about the course on tropical ecology co-taught by Professor Barry Chernoff, Director of the Environmental Studies Program, along with Cassie Meador and Matt Mahaney of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that took place in Guyana in spring 2009. During the course, students combined data collection and analysis with movement research, gaining first-hand knowledge of the tropical ecosystems of Guyana and creating site-specific artworks in the field.

Preceding the film, a panel of artists and scientists, moderated by Jeremy Isard ’11, will discuss current thinking about the envisioning of our environmental future.

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

An Immersion in Dance

I’m on a plane flying to Washington to meet with the National Endowment for the Arts about its continued support of the CFA, and I’m thinking about the caliber of dance artists we have been able to bring to Middletown thanks to the generous support of that agency and the continued support of our campus community and our Connecticut audiences. For the past five years, the NEA has helped to build DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan, an annual immersion in dance that happens every year right at the start of our Spring Break. This Saturday and Sunday, students in dance schools around the state and their teachers will join Wesleyan students for two intense days of modern, jazz, tap, African and hip hop classes. Their bodies are exposed to techniques they may never have experienced before, and their spirits enter into the passion of master artists from companies as diverse as Limón, Alvin Ailey and Brian Brooks. (Some class slots are still available, by the way.)

And on Saturday night, they join the public for a showcase of three masters of American dance…and this year there is real star power. We’ll open with a solo by Carmen deLavallade, a true luminary not only because she is an exquisite choreographer and dancer (she was a original Ailey dancer, founded her own company with her husband, Geoffrey Holder, taught at Yale for many years) but also because she is one of the first interdisciplinary dance makers. Her work has regularly intersected with theater, film and opera. She will be performing a new solo that premiered last July. We’ll then have the opportunity to see a series of duets by dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company that span thirty years of his choreography, performed with live music by John King. The company is currently on a final two-year legacy tour following Cunningham’s death in July of last year, and we are so fortunate that two of the company dancers will be performing on our stage.

And we’ll close with Paul Taylor’s masterpiece, Esplanade, performed by the dancers of Taylor 2. In 1975, Taylor was inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus and decided to create a work based on pedestrian movement set to two Bach violin concertos. If you’ve seen it before then you’ll never forget the joyful exuberance of the opening, the final section with dancers careening fearlessly across the stage, and the celebration of what it is to be human that happens in between. If you haven’t seen it before, then you should; it is truly a masterwork in the dance cannon.

DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan University
Saturday & Sunday, March 6 & 7, 2010
Classes on Saturday and Sunday; Showcase performance Saturday at 8pm in the CFA Theater

For more information, visit