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“What is passion?”

The camera follows a camouflaged hunter as he walks through a sunlit forest, his steps crunching leaves underfoot. A slight breeze rustles golden foliage while an orchestra of chirping crickets fills the crisp early autumn air. A doe suddenly pops up from the underbrush and the hunter slows his steps. He gradually aims his bow and arrow, slowly pulls back the string and, with a snap, lets go.

Tracy Portrait

This is a scene from the documentary film Hunting Nature, New Media and Photojournalism graduate student Joe Van Eeckhout’ s NEXT multimedia thesis project. The film follows hunter Tracy Groves and explains how the outdoorsman reconciles his strong faith with his passion for hunting.

“I think Tracy’s perspective on hunting and faith turns an often politicized topic into a human story,” said Joe, who began his project last summer with the intention to focus on the issue of raising children in households with guns. He reached out to families in hunting communities, giving them little criteria other than asking they hail from a strong hunting tradition.

His search eventually led him to Tracy and his family. Within the first few minutes of their interview, Joe learned that Tracy mostly hunted with a bow and arrow.
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Interested in families and gun culture, Joe was almost dissuaded from continuing the interview. But Tracy explained how hunting was much more than shooting prey and having trophies. He expressed how his talent strengthened his faith in God which inspired him to create Heartwood Outdoors, a ministry highlighting nature and Christian fellowship. Based on a 160-acre plot of woody farmland in eastern Maryland, Heartwood Outdoors serves as a haven for people struggling with hardships in life, Tracy said.

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After speaking with Tracy and learning about his ministry, Joe was intrigued.

“When people think about hunting, they think about guns and killing innocent animals,” Joe said. But when Joe spoke to Tracy, he realized that the hunter provided a new perspective. Joe’s potential politically-charged project turned into a true human interest story.

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The Story Behind the Passion

Learning to hunt at age 12, Tracy was taught at an early age the value of land conservation and the value of life. As he grew older and gained recognition for his marksmanship, he began competing in professional bow and arrow tournaments. In the film, Tracy explains how his growing passion for hunting initially caused him to shift away from his faith. The long hours spent perfecting his craft became a hindrance to the man he was destined to become, he said.

“At one point, I would come home at night and start practicing—shooting 200 to 300 arrows a night,” Tracy said. At the time, he did not realize that he was turning his valued talent into an obsession, losing precious moments with his family and forgetting the purpose of his faith.

“The little stuff we worry so much about…it really doesn’t mean anything,” Tracy said. Now, he tries to teach others the same.

Joe spent many days following Tracy, his older brother, Troy Groves and other members of the Heartwood Outdoors team into the woods where they mentored members of their ministry on technique, patience and being grateful for the gift of nature. They opened their arms to youth, individuals with special needs and the financially distressed.

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“My success is watching people enjoy harvesting their first animal,” Tracy said. “It’s watching other people experience the same joy I have.”

Outside of fellowship, one of the most important aspects of hunting Tracy emphasizes is giving back to nature, Joe said. As a landowner, Tracy could shoot as many deer as he wanted. But it was not an example of what he called, ‘a good steward.’

“A good steward is harvesting what you know you’ll eat, what you’ll use and be done,” Tracy said.

The Film and the End Result

Throughout the film and in his photographs, Joe seized all aspects of Tracy the hunter and outdoorsman, the minister and the family man, and captured the glint in Tracy’s eye as he spoke of passion and purpose. The film also characterized nature as another character in Tracy’s story, with brilliant shots of tranquility and stillness.

Joe highlighted Tracy’s respect for nature and in the outdoors in a way that reminds the audience of simpler times – a society that was more aware of receiving and giving back to the land.

“This project required a lot of empathy,” Joe said. “I truly respect Tracy in the way he views his role in the world.”

One of the quotes Joe took away from his project was used as a voice over during a scene in which Tracy and his daughter carefully skinned and gutted a deer. In that scene, Tracy says: “The decisions we make as individuals, of what soil we will be planted in, will determine how well we grow.”

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“That line really spoke to me and really says a lot about what he wants to instill in other people,” Joe said. “I think I’ll carry it with me for a long time.”

You can view Joe Van Eeckhout’s multimedia project Hunting Nature at the Corcoran School’s NEXT Thesis Exhibition until May 18 and at Huntingnatureproject.com.

From afar, the shapeless paper sculptures seem to unfurl, unravel and deconstruct like organic matter – like pulpy fruit fermenting on lush undergrowth, harvested cornstalks soggy from autumn rain or colorful moss hanging from willow branches. While approaching the sculptures, you realize that they are in fact cardboard boxes – torn and peeled by the artist’s hands. And upon closer inspection, you recognize hints of letters that suggest brand names like Nabisco or Sketchers.

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In her installation, “reBoxes,” Adjoa Burrowes, Art Education, MA ’15, explored the transformation of industrial prefabricated objects into art and created a version of the object that would fool the eye.

Adjoa started her thesis journey in Professor Judy Southerland’s Cross Media class, where students altered and expanded the implications of everyday objects that could be found on a desk or even in the trash. She found her first object, a bathroom tissue roll, in a pile of carefully-selected trash that the professor spilled onto a classroom table.

“Go for it, pick whatever speaks to you,”Adjoa recalled Professor Southerland saying. “I never considered myself a sculptor before, but after transforming that tissue roll, my horizons started to expand on the kind of art I can produce.”

By peeling back layers of the roll and adding touches of color, Adjoa altered it into something more whimsical — a small creature that could fit in the palm of a hand.

“I’m not sure what kind of creature it was…but it looked alive.”

Exhausting the Implications of an Object

Adjoa’s work progressed and she began to research different variations and presentations of ordinary objects. One of her most memorable projects pushed her to create different variations of a measuring tape.

“This was a harder task, because the assignment asked us to create a language version of your object. I represented my measuring tape in braille, if you can believe that…”

Transforming the measuring tape forced Adjoa to think about her thesis project. She wanted her audience to experience what she studied in her Cross Media class – to think about an object subjectively, objectively, emotionally and functionally.

“To research all the aspects of an object makes it easier to deconstruct and create something completely new,” she said. “I wanted my thesis project to make the audience think outside of the box,” she said with a chuckle.

Consumption and the Intricacies of Cardboard Boxes

“When I look at a cardboard box, I don’t just see a box anymore … it has layers that can be peeled, torn and exposed.”

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In a previous life, Adjoa was a freelance package designer for companies like Mattel Toys, Disney and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Adjoa decided to use cardboard boxes as a medium for her NEXT thesis project because it was in direct opposition of her previous career.

“For 25 years, I created designs that would go on these huge boxes, that would hold the smallest things,” Adjoa recounted. “Excessive packaging for the purposes of marketing and sales was the rule.”

“Now my art represents a breakdown of that packaging – almost in its simplest form.”

The exhibit serves as a snapshot of consumer habits and speaks to the issues of mass consumption in modern society. Adjoa was conscious of the amount of cardboard boxes she used for her installation, trying to use her own recycled boxes when possible. .

“I wanted my installation to leave a small footprint and I didn’t want to create work that would be behind glass. It’s the reason I recycled my own boxes and made my pieces modular.”

Another reason why Adjoa chose the cardboard box as a medium was because of its intricate layers. She was drawn to the larger boxes in her installation because of the contrasting surfaces of the unadorned smooth liner board and the fluted corrugated layer.
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By tearing and peeling back the layers, she was able to expose the complicated textures within the object, further changing the box’s original state into an object she referred to as a “naked sculpture.”

The wall hung installations, however, incorporated color that was originally printed on the box surface, in playful constructions.

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She pointed out that her piece wasn’t necessarily what one would call ‘pretty.’

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“As a younger artist, you sometimes want your work to be beautiful,” she said, “but as a mature artist, you recognize that sometimes art in its most naked, simplest and ugly form has the most to say.”

What’s Next?

Adjoa said she wanted to use bigger cardboard boxes for her next project. “I’d love to use refrigerator boxes,” Adjoa said, “I want to make monumental pieces.”

She is also in contact with a New Orleans shoe designer and hopes that he will donate shoe boxes for future installations.

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“I think at this point, I’d like to get the word out. I’m accepting donations from all sorts of places.”

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Adjoa Burrowes installation, “reBoxes” can be found in Gallery 31 at the NEXT 2015 Thesis Exhibition.

A stand of metal bleachers, devoid of ornament or fanfare, occupy one of the Corcoran Museum’s galleries, not facing “out” at us viewers but aimed at an empty wall. Maximum capacity is listed as 50, and we are allowed to sit there, but it’s also possible that no one will be seated on any day that you encounter this work.

Versus is the Thesis Project of Eliot Hicks and it’s included in NEXT 2015, an exhibition of the Corcoran School of Art and Design’s BFA candidates under the auspices of George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. As an example of pre-fabricated, industrial metalwork the bleachers are formidable in their understated structure and humble detail. But it is as an artwork that this object challenges both the novice museum visitor who may question it’s very presence there, as well as the visitor familiar with theories of art now over 100 years old. After all, Versus is a readymade and it must bear the weight of Marcel Duchamp’s original concept.

Eliot understands the responsibilities of this burden and readily acknowledges Duchamp’s legacy. Moreover, he speaks of “how manufactured objects allow for a shift in the reception and production of art objects.” However, because many museum visitors will now accept commercial objects appropriated as art, a young artist like Eliot Hicks must add something unique to the readymade experience.

This is where Versus excels because this pref-fab object’s functional use is manifested through action; the true purpose of the bleachers is completed when we sit on them. Like Marx said, “A dress becomes really a dress only by being worn.” Thus, these bleachers are “an object for the active subject.”

During Eliot’s Final Critique last week, one faculty member remarked that Versus might represent the “endgame of social practice art.” In his written Thesis Statement Eliot has envisioned viewers “witnessing the activity that had been stolen from them.” Versus certainly encourages visitor participation, an important methodology of social practice, and Eliot wants the bleachers to be used, whether we sit, or watch others sitting there.

A readymade’s presence in a museum context requires a contemporary artist’s precision of address. Positioning these bleachers facing a blank wall causes us to ask, “What are occupants supposed to be watching?” Does this obscure Eliot’s wish for us to see the occupants as ourselves, thereby “witnessing the activity?” Rather, one might have turned the bleachers inward, to face us in the gallery, to better imagine ourselves as spectators, viewing spectators who are watching us viewing.

In response to further questions, Eliot spoke of “spectatorship” and how museum visitors would be “addressing their own perception/interpretation, while activating the symbol (the bleachers) that represents them (their action, or lack thereof) and what they’re doing, spectating.”

Perhaps this is why Eliot named this piece Versus, suggesting options for his readymade’s positional address and introducing one more topic for our engagement. It has been said that the contradictions within a work make it possible for us to engage it in the first place. The subtleties of positioning and the address of the spectator, the circularity of our spectatorship, and the legacy of the readymade in the 21st Century – all these have made Versus a standout piece in NEXT 2015, and Eliot Hicks an artist to watch.

 Mark Cameron Boyd is an artist, art critic and Professor of Critical Practice Theory at The Corcoran School. His writing lives at Theory Now.

Senior Neha Pathare, Interior Design, B.F.A. dreamed of a workspace that provided more than just a place to work – she imagined a space in which start-up companies, small business owners, and entrepreneurs (like herself) could work comfortably in a community-like setting that thrives on a sense of belonging.

Neha’s thesis project titled, Con Nex employs design solutions to provide real estate property as a ‘service’ and provides an example of a co-working environment that replaces the traditional work solution with a virtual studio environment.

BFA Interior Design Student Neha Pathare, March 3rd, 2015.

“I want to provide a space that doesn’t conform with the typical nine-to-five office space or the distractions we usually encounter while working from home,” Neha said.

The traditional office working space is one we are all familiar with – the gray or beige small, cube-like spaces that partition us from our colleagues. The cubes are usually set in the midst of a huge office spaces where artificial light casts a drab dull hue, temperature settings are one of two extremes, and there is very little interaction with our colleagues except hearing them punch keys on their computers or inadvertently listening to their phone conversations.

However, working from home provides challenges as well. While most may feel as though they accomplish more because they avoid battling traffic, many are distracted by errands or the temptation of turning on the television. Plus, Neha pointed out; one is isolated from organic interaction with colleagues.

In the last decade, one-third of the US workforce has moved toward the concept of a shared working space or “co-working spaces.” Neha adopted the co-working space idea and tailored it to her own demographic (entrepreneurs and small business owners). She described her project as a “construction design industry nexus that is more than an appropriation of spaces.”

“I want to propose an environment that is more fluid to the way we now live our lives – where we are comfortable but invigorated to work. I am providing a space that is designed specifically for the end user to work at their optimum.”

Neha’s design caters to the human and interior environmental factors, like daylight consideration, temperature control, noise control, acoustics and ergonomic seating options. At the end of the day, the productivity of the end user relies on their work structure. Most importantly, the Con Nex project highlights real-estate properties that are accessible via public transportation.

The Con Nex project offers a month-to-month leasing solution with a virtual office set up, and an in-house material library that individuals can create collaborative nodes and moments of opportunity and innovation.

“This is the point where community and creativity intersect,” Neha stated.

To physically display the interaction, Neha created an elaborate open-faced sculpture using thread and pieces of yarn to display the intricate connections that emulate possibilities of interactions facilitated by Con Nex.

“Each point represents the endless possibilities of innovation and how ideas can be exchanged.”

“I believe my project provides an honest work place solution. Con Nex is a 24/7 fully functioning, sharable modular professional environment that lets its end user work for themselves rather than just by themselves.”

Neha Pathare’s project, Con Nex is now on display at Corcoran School’s NEXT Thesis Exhibition.

A coonskin cap on a quilt, a colorful canary in a birdcage and a piece of colorfully embroidered cloth are three of the seven images Senior Aria Maisey, Photography BFA, used to describe the emotional bond she shares with her mother and sister.

In her photography series titled, The Three of Us, Aria asks her audience to feel the connection she shares with her small family but also to consider how particular objects can bring about emotional memories or cues from one’s past.

“I really want to convey how it worked with just the three of us,” she said. “And the fact is, we grew up in a household full of vintage things.”

Aria recalls going through some of these “vintage” objects in her childhood home and having instantaneous flashbacks to scenes from her youth.

“The coonskin hat reminds me how playful my mom was – even under all the pressures of being a single mom, she still had the time to play dress up,” Aria said. “It was emotional. Seeing some of these objects made me revisit things I didn’t realize were so important – that no matter how awful things got, I’m glad they happened.”

Some of the “awful things” she describes are the hardships of single motherhood – she watched her mother work multiple jobs to support both her and her sister. They barely saw their father.

“It’s funny because we always knew which apartment building he lived in but to this day, I still don’t know which apartment is actually his. That’s the reason for the apartment door images.”

Though her work may seem disjointed at first, Aria wants her audience to further contemplate each image and realize that she is extending an invitation to experience her emotional journey.

“My mother, my sister and I have a bond that is inexplicable through words. I want my audience to feel the starkness and raw emotion each object and image brought forth for me.”

Senior Aria Maisey’s work, The Three of Us, is now on display at the NEXT Thesis Exhibition.

Framework

Whitney Waller is building a house. In a museum.

It’s a house you could see at an exurb housing development, coming up in raw softwood white pine in frames of twenty two inch spacing. Taking over the north atrium of the Corcoran’s Ernest Flagg-designed building, the two raised wall shells parallel the Doric columns rising around each of them, but only geometrically. Spatially, in contrast, they are sticks to the weighted masses of concrete, heightening the fragility of a domestic scene yet to play out.

 

Study for Desein

 

Waller has built the work, “Dasein,” before, in the nook of her studio, where its blue walls were the college and museum’s own walls. Here, she makes her own walls, and with them notes to “sand the (expletive) out of” a corner of a doorway. If there’s a sense of having been in the space, even, as it is, one full of dead leaves and cratered impressions of clay, it’s in the piece’s title itself.

There is a presence here. ‘Être la,’ “being” in the referential Heideggarian context, but the philosophy is not necessary to understand that the artist and the viewer have shared the same plane, the same spot in space. The piece is open: to the museum, with only two walls to its four sides. And it is open to the audience. She may walk through, rustle the leaves, and carry one with her to the adjacent gallery as if spreading a seed.

 

Keys, Tile, Braile: A triptych of materials

SooHo Cho and I are hanging paper keys, each with a loop of thread and a memory attached (“evidence of thoughts”), to a wall with thousands of hooks, one for each key. In what looks to be the hybrid of a darkroom, a stark airport bathroom and an OCD-perfected hardware store display, the undergraduate BFA candidate has created a sort of memorial to memory itself. We spoke as she finished her days-long installation work in a corridor of the Corcoran’s museum space built specifically for the project.

Unveiled: How did you get started with this piece for NEXT?

SooHo: It’s about time, memory, moments. My is all about remembering my identity, what I lost when I came to the US. My dad moved here with his work as a distribution manager for an exports company, and I came when I was 12 years olds, in sixth grade, 2 months before September 11th, 2001. I hadn’t really learned English until I came to college. There were so many Koreans in my community, and I spoke with my parents at home.

These are layers of memory. I wanted to appreciate memories from the past, any memories. Specifically, the ones that are harder to access.

Unveiled: Regret?

SooHo: “Sort of. I connect the key to the connection to unlock those moments. All the thoughts that hidden.”

“This is where the thoughts and moments gather together to create a memory. The coolness of the tiles, the privacy of the space of the bathroom. It’s important that you can see yourself in the tile as well, in its reflectivity. But it’s also like a pixel grid. The tile is like that grid, combining together to make a image. Everything is geometric in graphics. ”

The day of the opening, the artist is affixing a huge roll of braille text to the wall that falls off in to the room like a giant manifesto. In a perfect contrast to Waller’s work, she’s still deciding whether to require the audience to wear Tyvek paper booties so that they don’t scuff the floor of the space as they walk through. They are her memories, after all.

The NEXT Thesis Exhibition is opening tonight. NEXT undergraduate work is open April 9th through May 18th. The NEXT graduate opening is April 29th and joins the undergraduate until its close. 

 

Noelle Smith, Photojournalism, BFA ’15, remembered the night she pulled into the Annapolis gas station where her friend Zeus worked. Just days into her senior year, Noelle was contemplating the subject for her thesis project. Broaching the topic in casual conversation, Zeus proposed an idea.

“Why don’t you just follow me around with your camera?” he said. Noelle snickered at first. But he wasn’t kidding. “I’ve got an interesting life,” he told her.

What began as banter at the local gas station became a photographic journey that has changed Noelle’s life. Zeus invited Noelle to the small section 8 apartment his girlfriend Mira shares with her mother and their two children. For the past six months, Noelle’s camera documented the couple and their children, six-month-old daughter Kimari and newborn son Marlin.

She has captured the arch of their relationship, from their struggles with poverty to the strains of parenthood to the dangers and temptations of their urban streets. The result is a photojournalism tour de force called Threshold, a starkly intimate portrait of a family navigating life in one of the poorest sections of Annapolis.

Noelle started taking photos on the spot, catching Zeus in his most unguarded moments. Noelle slowly entered his personal life – picking him up from his late shift at the gas station and finally accompanying him to Mira’s apartment. Noelle was hesitant at first; would Mira and her family accept her into their home? Noelle was surprised when Mira embraced the idea.

“I started out standing in the background snapping pictures,” Noelle said. “After a couple of sessions, I was really getting into the thick of their lives.”

Over the next few months, Noelle’s black and white images captured the texture and intricacies of the couple’s life—from washing dishes and watching television to playing with little Kimari. Zeus and Mira’s story, Noelle explained, details the cycle of poverty, the hardships of parenthood under trying circumstances and the effects of people’s choices. Her images also give a glimpse into a world that is tucked away from the seemingly picturesque city of Annapolis. Her project’s goal is to expose the preconceived notions about what it is like to live below the poverty line.

“I want to make people aware of the hardships that families in poverty go through,” she said, “to open their eyes to a different kind of life.”

A Study in Isolation in Relationships

The images speak volumes about how the depth of poverty is interlaced with the relationship Zeus and Mira share, Noelle explained.

As she watched them struggle with mounting bills and argue over the status of their relationship, she discovered her photos were painting a relationship defined by isolation and disconnection.

“I realized as I was developing the photos that every image of them together portrays a disconnect. They hardly ever look at each other. They are often looking off to the side, on a cell phone or watching television,” she said. “It’s like they build screens and self-imposed dividers between them. The only time I capture them looking at each other is right before an argument.”

Noelle was often an uneasy audience to the couples’ arguments. To highlight the impact of poverty’s frustrations on an entire family, Noelle framed shots of baby Kimari against her parents bickering in the background.

As her project progressed and Noelle spent more time with the family, she recognized she was becoming intimately involved in her subjects’ lives.

“I’ve come to really care about Mira and the babies,” Noelle said. Kimari routinely jumps into Noelle’s arms when she shows up at the apartment. “It’s like I’m part of the family,” she said.

But not everyone in the family welcomed Noelle into the home. Mira’s mother vehemently opposed the intrusion upon their lives. Threshold features just one image of her — a snapshot of her fast asleep beside baby Kimari.

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“She worries that I’m exploiting them,” Noelle said. Noelle herself struggled with that moral dilemma; was her camera taking advantage of a family’s hardship? However, she aided the family the best she could, driving Mira to doctors’ appointments, buying Christmas and birthday presents for the family. Meanwhile she hoped her camera was documenting an often hidden American issue.

“I wanted to capture an informative story that people should be aware of and at the same time, elicit an emotional response from the audience,” she said.

While Noelle has come close to telling that story, she realizes she is anxiously approaching its final chapter. Once she completes her project, she concedes she will step back from the family’s life.

“Mira often calls to check up on me and sometimes I stop by without my camera just to spend time with the kids,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll lose touch. I’m too invested in their well-being at this point.”

Noelle’s images from Threshold will be on display at the NEXT 2015 Corcoran School Thesis Exhibition from April 8 – May 17.

Luminaries at Brady Gallery runs through April 24th

Luminaries is a show that, at first, seems to be in a state of confusion. Warhol next to Ulke?

Who wants to be a luminary? Warhol is an easy answer, and his prints here are the self defining answer to that question. Remember these works, for there are multitudes, editions, copies; each signed by the artist, elevating this commercial technique to the fine art realm and ensuring the work will outlive its creator.

The luminaries here are not the painters but the subjects of this wide-ranging portraiture show that opened February 24th. From the outsider art of Clark V. Fox and the cheek-to-cheek insider art of Warhol and Botero, the show presents George Washington, William Wilson Corcoran, Queen Elizabeth and a Primativist portrait of a child bishop.

The Henry Ulke Corcoran portrait is weighted by the man’s connection to George Washington’s early founding–himself the founding president of Columbian School at GW–and book ended by the eventual partnership between his eponymous institution and the older Foggy Bottom University whose campus already had a building in his name. It’s formalism and the smaller size of the Brady Gallery oddly makes the painting appear even larger, a sitting man with  cane is suddenly hulking and brooding.

Clark V. Fox’s contribution here is a return to George Washington, a persistent subject for the post-pop artist. Contrasting Ulke’s portrait, there is no grandeur or classicism outside of a standard sitter’s silhouette. Fox borrows from Robert Indiana’s color palette on top of a background with all the fleshiness of de Kooning–a militaristic camo pattern that posits Washington as a general first, and history as a psychedelic wash of post-modernism. (Clark worked at the Corcoran, collaborated with stalwart faculty and Washington Color School champion Gene Davis, and showed in the 1977 Corcoran Biennial.)

What is consistent in the show is that each subject has been tweaked in a idiosyncratic manner, telling the viewer more about the artist than the subject. That seems to be the curatorial intent. From Warhol and Botero, this can be expected, too, seeing a Warhol half in focus from a distance would lead you to his colors and cut-out shapes before you made out who the subject was or is. And Botero’s cherrubs live in their own Grecian mythology, plump beyond reality, while his subject remains an unknown bishop. The painting is his. The painting is him.

 

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“DAVID PAGE HATES ART.” The graffiti that adorns the lockers of the basement of the Corcoran is not, as it appears on first look, an admonishment. The artist hates the canon. The heraldry. The romantic notion of the lone wolf artist–at its best, someone like Mingering Mike, at its worst self-serving. Though the MFA graduate assistant-laden factories/studios of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons present the opposite extreme to the soloist hand-of-god rococo painter, Page would argue for the middle. So the artist and Corcoran faculty member welcomes collaboration, by rote. Why? (a brief listicle)

1. His sculptures need people. They can be vessels, helmets, suits or restraints, all of which need to be filled.
2. People provide entropy, chance and push-back. With strangers, with students, peers, colleagues and–unwittingly, once or maybe twice–the police.
3. He escapes the institution with new places and settings for his work, including works with no home but an ambulatory nomad-state. His still sculptures become kinetic.
4. Have you seen his motorcycle? His custom modifications/works are welded on to it, he parks it on the south side of the Corcoran in good weather, and it’s caused more than one passer-by to look for a placard explaining its medium and title. Arguably a Honda collab.

Before what would come to be an orchestrated movement of two stalwart art and university institutions, a dance of its own, Corcoran’s Page and GWU’s Dance Professor Maida Withers began a collaboration that could be seen as a microcosm of those larger bodies. Maida (who, despite this introduction, needs none) can be described as an icon without the danger of approaching hyperbole: her practice at the university is in its fifty-first year and her own Maida Wither’s Dance Construction Company has reached forty. Though rooted in modern dance, Withers is a polymath in her practice, incorporating dance, neuroscience, 3D projected computer art, and live interactive music. Her dance work took her to West Berlin and Essen where, during her residency at Mary Wigman School, the Berlin wall moved from barbed-wire-topped fence to concrete barrier. In 1970, with the venerable Yvonne Rainier, Maida introduced some of the first Vietnam War critique to her campus with her and her students bodies in a fifteen week workshop.

Numeric Variations from Maida Withers on Vimeo.

Their collaboration is part of a massive fortieth celebration, renaissance in the width of its reach of mediums. MindFluctuations is a choreographic direction and concerted-exercise to Brazilian artist Tania Fraga’s 3D VR and projected artworks. In real-time, those projections will be manipulated by the emotions and expressed states of the dancers wearing an Emotiv neuro headset. The Electroencephalography (EEG) device measures voltage from the brain to use as a controller, here altering the entire composition uniquely at each rehearsal and performance.

Unveiled spoke with David Page to plot out his role in the disciplinary soup: manufacturing a helmet for dancer Anthony Gongora in MindFluctuations to shield his head from the neural headset, acting as interlocutor.

Unveiled: How did you meet Withers?

David Page: I met Maida through student Lorenzo Cardim, who worked with her on his performance for NEXT, last year. He started the Wear, Strut Occupy, 2013 spring class. It was the type of thing where the class gels, and it comes together, or it doesn’t.  They excite one another or they don’t. Last year was particularly active.

The name caught, as a course, in 2011, team taught with Nick Cave, part of the Corcoran Gallery’s 30 Americans show. The name stuck after Occupy. The name is almost more fraught in its current context, with the so-called occupation of George Washington.

 

Unveiled: How did you get involved in the MindFluctuations project?

 

David Page: Lorenzo sicked Maida on to me. I thought this would be a good idea, as much as I resisted the GWU thing, once it became a done deal, what’s the point of not collaborating? The possibilities–what could happen–let’s not wait for a policy, let’s just find peers and work with them.

 

We started talking, and I met with principal dancer Anthony Gongora. There’s something fractured about his movements; it’s OK to mention, we spoke about it.  I was thinking about the possibilities of a percussive suit, and they were thinking of dance, freedom of motion. He’s thinking that what I do is I make these movements, roll around on the ground. The last thing he needs is for this thing to hurt him.

 

So instead of a suit, we started to look at helmets.

 

 

Unveiled: Helmets?

 

David Page: It’s the one thing you can wear and still move your body a whole lot. This was to be a brain-wave blocking helmet to counter the dancers wearing the neural headset. I went to the studio and watched him dance. He was making these primal sounds out loud. No matter how graceful a dancer is, they still make grunts and noises–somewhat animal and mechanical.

 

So I made sketches of the grunts.

 

I played around with different alloys. I had the remnants of an older project that was expanded with panels on the side. Took it back to them, and they said, it was really uncomfortable. Anthony has the biggest head around!

 

Unveiled: How did that resolve, between your idea and the logic of the piece. What was the compromise?

 

David Page: I was interested in the interior resonance of the helmet. I had ideas for it inside my own practice. That was the first helmet, it functioned. Now it’s more like a motorcycle helmet, and resonantly the acoustics are completely dead.

 

So I took apart a regular hard hat, and looked at the suspension system of it, and that allowed for more resonance. His head still pushed against the leather. It wasn’t working properly still. The third one was padded out with hard leather.

 

now I used a caliper to measure his head. Then we got the fit right.

 

After getting the size, we go in to rehearsal. The thing for me is that we go in to collect sounds and parts of the performance. Now I have the production down of the helmet down, with any number of templates for future use.

 

Unveiled: The role of the collaborator, as it is for Withers, is important to you. I think of your work with alumna Jessika Dené Tarr as one example.

 

David Page: The level of collab changes, sometimes the pieces are insprired by someone’s work, or we have anonymous, one-day volunteers. A quick tryout or a longer working relationship.

 

Jessika and I really did work together for a long time. The thoughts about the piece start to become collaborative. It’s frightening as well, there are times when safety is at stake with a third person, things could go wrong–there’s a responsibility. But they haven’t gone wrong yet.
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Unveiled: What projects are coming up for you?

 

I’m working on a exhibition called “Security Theater.” At the Creative Alliance, we’re talking with the gallery about a large solo show where all the pieces work together as a large machine. Looking at using mechanisms and sandbags. Using bellows, gallery-goers can aid the flow of air supplies to the persons inside my suits. Cooling them down so they can breathe, for example. It impicates the viewer, even if they’re supporting the person inside, helping them, they are still responsible by being present. They become something more than a participant.

 

The world premiere of Maida Withers’s MindFluctuations is at the Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, on March 19, 2015. Tickets are from $25-$38 and available at Lisner’s site.
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The scene is set. Shaky camera footage captures two unidentified men standing on top of a truck and detaching an enormous helium balloon that spells out “Banksy!”—a name associated to a pseudonymous English graffiti artist—from the side of a New York high-rise. As they climb down from their perch, an off-camera voice alerts them that the cops are on their way and someone else yells: “Arrest them! Thief!”

As one of the men tries to run with the crinkled balloon in hand, the NYPD apprehends him and a crowd quickly gathers. There is a scuffle and amidst the clamor, the helium balloon designed by Banksy is tossed about—everyone wants a piece of Banksy’s art. Meanwhile, the entire scene is caught on a camera phone.

Documentary filmmaker and Corcoran School alumnus Chris Moukarbel, Fine Arts BFA ’04, could not have asked for better footage for the opening sequence of his HBO documentary film, Banksy Does New York. The film centers on the impact of Banksy on the city during his month-long residency in October of 2013. The film premiered on HBO last November with numerous accolades for its originality because it is almost entirely based on footage generated from New York’s social media landscape.

“There really is no better way to tell someone’s experience than through their own footage,” Moukarbel said. “It makes the story more compelling and definitely more worth watching.”

When HBO approached Moukarbel about the Banksy project, his first documentary film, Meet Me @ the Zoo, had recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. That film starred YouTube sensation Chris Crocker, whose 2007 Leave Britney Alone video went viral and propelled Crocker to Internet infamy. Moukarbel and his team used clips from Crocker’s YouTube account to tell Crocker’s story. Soon after, HBO acquired Meet Me @ the Zoo.

Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms

“I think HBO was attracted to the idea that Meet Me @ the Zoo wasn’t your traditional documentary,” Moukarbel said. “We used Krocker’s existing footage and wove it into a form that not only highlights him as this dramatic Internet personality, but who Krocker is as a person.”

InstagramUsing the same premise for the Banksy film, Moukarbel and his team spent hundreds of hours mining the Internet for media. They sifted through Banksy hash-tags, finding breadcrumbs that would lead to a coherent account of how New Yorkers experienced Banksy’s residency in the city. And they found a gold mine—there were hundreds of sightings, images and videos of Banksy art throughout the city.

“The hardest part was going through all of that content,” said Moukarbel. “You have to start with editing right off the top.”

When he and his team finally had enough content to tell a coherent story, they reached out to the owners of the footage for interviews. These interviews were the only footage the team filmed.

I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are

Moukarbel’s interest in “user-generated content documentary filmmaking” stems from his days at Corcoran and his fascination with art involving identity and technology. As a student, he toyed with various video mediums. His first film project as a student involved piecing together different videos featuring aspects of popular culture and everyday life into video art.

“Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms … how I could creatively use the medium I had on hand to create something altogether different.” For Moukarbel, social media soon became one of those mediums.

“User-generated content is a great way for telling stories now,” Moukarbel said. “I think the fascination began when I realized that I live so much of my life online—it’s my actual day-to-day, as it is for so many [other] people.”

These social media archives, he noted, are windows into how individuals see and like to be seen—in effect, performing a version of their own identities online.

“I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are,” Moukarbel said. “That’s what makes this documentary format so interesting and more tangible to wider audiences.”

Moukarbel’s vision is the reason why, after the Banksy Does New York premiere, HBO signed him on to produce a modern version of the HBO hit documentary series Real Sex. The new version, titled Sex Now, is based on the Internet’s effect on relationships, sex and modern sexual culture. While the original Real Sex involved film crews traveling the country in search of participants, Moukarbel and his team simply search the web for users who already have their stories online.

“People who put their sex stories online already want to find an audience or are looking to connect with an audience,” Moukarbel said, “It makes our job easier because we audition stories just by surfing the web.”

“It’s an exciting project and I believe it will make people think about how technology has changed our interactions with even the most intimate aspects of our lives.”

His advice to Corcoran students: “Try to express your artwork with whatever resources you have available. It’s more exciting to let go of the preciousness of material and tell whatever story is authentic to you at that moment.”

Currently, Banksy Does New York can be found on HBO on Demand and HBOgo. Sex Now will premiere in late spring.