When faculty members from the Department of Art and Art History were asked to create art inspired by personal research, the results were questionable. “Inquiry,” the Visual Arts Center’s latest exhibit, features a towering stack of manuscripts, flasks of preserved goldfish and hand-drawn hieroglyphic translations.
“Inquiry” allows faculty members to showcase different modes of creative expression in each division of study in the College of Fine Arts: design, studio art, art history and art education. The exhibit features work from 58 of the 70 department faculty members who taught in the fall. Running from Jan. 30 to Feb. 21, “Inquiry” aims to foster unity between the four divisions of study.
Elizabeth Welch, a Ph.D. Curatorial Fellow and the co-curator of the exhibit, said the curators hope to give all divisions equal emphasis. Generally, studio art is the focus of the VAC’s time and space, according to Welch.
“The theme was a way for us to think about what a studio artist does, what an art historian does, what a design artist does, what an art educator does and what they have in common,” Welch said. “And that’s [the fact] that they all have to read and do research before they create their work.”
In order to make the exhibit more inclusive, Welch and VAC director Jade Walker decided to use the term “inquiry” to tie four areas of study together.
Gloria Lee, design associate professor and “Inquiry” contributor, said many creative types spend time on extended research.
“A lot of people believe that people who make things may not actually reference reading,” Lee said. “If you spend some time with them, a lot of the faculty who are makers, artists and designers actually read a lot.”
Faculty were encouraged to accompany the art with a list of books — career-related or general — that were important to them. Gallery manager Emily Kelly said faculty had the option of submitting a bibliography, a biography, a physical piece of artwork or any combination of the three.
Lee contributed all three forms. Aside from providing a biography and bibliography, she submitted a series of text messages printed onto blank cards using letterpress printing. She said her inspiration stemmed from text messages she shared with her children.
“I treasure the ordinary moments, and a lot of the texts we send are really kind of precious,” Lee said. “People like to preserve things, and it’s harder to preserve things that are digital. I [began] to realize that if I ever lost or upgraded my phone, some of these really great, fun, sweet or emotional texts would be gone.”
Welch said the faculty aspect is what sets “Inquiry” apart from traditional galleries and exhibits.
“I think students tend to forget that faculty members do work other than in the classroom,” Welch said. “When we spend time in the exhibition, it can really remind you that the reason [the professors] teach is because of what they do. They have their own practice, they make exciting things, they do exciting research.”
Lee said the exhibit embodies each faculty member’s research interests and inquisitiveness.
“People tend to view things just as pretty,” she said. “But we actually have a question in our mind that we’re answering — not with words necessarily, but with form.”