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Thursday, January 28, 2021

“In-Site: The New Realism” gives art graduates a chance to exhibit their thesis projects

“The Dining Room,” a multimedia installation by Amanda Kartes, a BFA Studio Art graduate from Western Washington University.

Artwork of BFA Art Studio graduates displayed virtually after exhibition postponement.

By Sophia Pappalau

After a five-month postponement, the Western Gallery is hosting the exhibition “In-Site: The New Realism.” Comprising the thesis work of the 10 Bachelor of Fine Arts Studio Art spring 2020 graduates, the exhibition highlights the artists’ durability under pandemic circumstances. 

Originally slated for exhibition in May, the BFA Studio Art program faced a delay when, on March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee issued the statewide “Stay Home — Stay Healthy” order. Like other colleges and universities across the state, Western cancelled its in-person classes.

For the BFA Studio Art students, this meant that their final thesis exhibition would be delayed until fall quarter. The Western Gallery will focus on online programming, with the artists giving talks accessible via Zoom and Facebook Live the week of Oct. 5.

Katy Tolles, Allied Arts of Whatcom County Artist Services Coordinator, said that local galleries have taken similar approaches to the Western Gallery’s by moving their exhibits online.

Madison Dowling, a BFA Studio Art graduate, said she felt disappointed by the postponement of the exhibition. “Personally, I am just excited that it sort of feels like an ending; like I did complete it, even though it was anticlimactic,” Dowling said.

For Amanda Kartes, a BFA Studio Art graduate, the BFA exhibition was the ultimate conclusion to the year-long course; it represented a shot at exhibiting her work to gallery owners, other artists and people within the community. Kartes went through “a lot of stages of emotions” when the exhibition was postponed.

“The entire curriculum was about this show, fundraising, preparing, and a lot of it was about the opening reception,” Kartes said.

Tami Landis, Museum Educator at the Western Gallery, said for Studio Art BFA graduates, the final thesis exhibition represents an opportunity to exhibit their body of work in a professional setting. It is the culminating aspect of the program and the cherry on top after several years of preparation.

“It really launches them into the artistic field,” Landis said. “We knew we needed to make it happen.”

According to Landis, arranging and planning the exhibition required jumping through a lot of hoops. Tentative plans to hold the exhibition solidified when international artists began pulling out of their scheduled gallery dates. 

“As things continued to be cancelled, we saw that there was a window for the fall and that it would be really exciting to start the fall quarter with a community-based exhibition,” Landis said. “To be able to start the quarter after such a tumultuous time and be able to showcase our BFA artists and all the things that they had to persevere and go through to finish their bodies of work.”

With the shutdown of Western’s campus, the BFA Studio Art students faced the challenge of completing their graduate projects with limited access to Western’s Fine Arts facilities, their professors and peer interaction. 

Kartes and her peers were given access to the studio two days a week for nine-hour periods. “I was used to being able to go into the building whenever I wanted and work whenever I wanted in this space,” Kartes said.

Limited access to the Fine Arts facilities also meant students had limited access to studio tools. Students in the BFA program utilized various mediums and methods to create their final installations, ranging from printmaking and textiles to woodwork and ceramics. 

Karte’s multi-media installation, “The Dining Room,” includes a large-scale dining table with a matching chair, broken dishware and broken glassware: elements which required access to the kilns and woodshop.

The new studio limitations required Kartes to rethink her process. 

“I struggled with being able to know how long something would take me,” Kartes said. “I was building my gigantic table and chairs, and I was painting and working on my ceramics. Normally I had a very solid understanding of how long that would take me generally, but that was within the 24 hours where I could go in whenever I wanted.” 

Students also felt the loss of the peer side of the BFA Studio Art program. 

“It was definitely difficult not having the soundboard of my peers and other art students too,” Kartes said.

Students in the program normally spend three quarters with one another researching the various mediums, methods and content of creative activity, installing their pieces and offering critiques and thoughts on each others’ work. However, social-distancing orders amid the pandemic barred students from meeting face-to-face. 

“It was pretty sad because we were alone in a building for 9 hours and couldn’t interact with our cohort,” Dowling said. “We were constantly having critiques and showing our peers our progress and asking questions. Especially with our professors, having that visual critique constantly was really important for all of us to push our work even further.”  

To Landis, “In Site: The New Realism” is also an extension of the circumstances that led to its debut.

“There’s a whole other layer of meaning that these artists have tapped into because of the pandemic,” Landis said. 

Payton Dickerson’s photography, for example, focuses on “mundane” spaces within Western’s Fine Arts building — a place that people have not been able to visit due to the pandemic. 

“Some of these artists are offering us physical interactions or visual strategies evoking sites that often don’t seem accessible or sites we longed for,” said Landis. To be reminded of these spaces instantly evokes feelings related to social isolation brought on by the pandemic.

The exhibition “In-Site: The New Realism” is accessible online with the Artist Talks Series, a one-on-one Q&A with Tami Landis and featured artists through Zoom and Facebook Live. Those interested may register for the talks by selecting any of the events listed on the exhibition webpage


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