By Abby Weingarten
Depicting anxiety, emotional repression and identity, the student paintings in New College’s The Embodied Mind exhibition are undoubtedly of the times.
A virtual experience, viewable online from April 20 to May 15, the senior thesis showcase celebrates the work of Miranda Chapman, Kayden VanAntwerp and Samantha Zellner. It is the culmination of the students’ yearlong studio art research project—one that was initially planned to have an in-person finale in the Isermann Gallery but was moved to an online format during the pandemic.
“At a moment when the world has been forced into a period of inward reflection, New College thesis students have been creating outward expressions that activate and affirm their positions in the world,” said Kim Anderson, an associate professor of art and the three students’ academic adviser. “Through a celebration of queer pride and gender fluidity, and by foregrounding issues around mental illness awareness in the 21st century, this year’s thesis students tackle timely and relevant topics.”
Chapman’s thesis is centered on physically representing the different facets of anxiety disorders and dispelling René Descartes’ theory of separation of body and mind, she said.
“My highly realistic oil paintings feature horrific scenes of the human body that represent what it is like living with anxiety. The anxiety is represented by embroidery I do on top of the paintings, manifesting as dermatological conditions, parasites and other infectious diseases,” Chapman said. “My paintings seem to really affect people—disgusting them, horrifying and amazing them. It seems that people are able to really feel in response to my artwork, which was my goal.”
Chapman is disappointed, however, that the exhibition will not be held in a physical gallery space; she was looking forward to seeing the viewers’ reactions to her pieces. Zellner feels the same way, as she was anticipating having conversations with the attendees about how her artwork impacted them.
“Each painting in my body of work depicts a specific mental illness, using landscapes and elements of surrealism. The titles I used are motivational quotes pulled from motivational posters commonly seen in office settings, schools and recovery facilities,” Zellner said. “The combination of landscape imagery and motivational titles is used to emulate the belief that relief from mental illness is a destination to be achieved (even though coping with mental illness never ends).”
VanAntwerp’s thesis promotes a positive view of queer identity and how “queer” can unite and create a better sense of community among all LGBTQ+ people, he said.
“My work consists of eight portraits with each one’s base color being one stripe from the original gay pride flag. All of the people depicted are queer loved ones of mine who gave me permission to depict them,” VanAntwerp said. “Also, I paired each of their portraits with specific flowers, butterflies and moths to symbolize the natural beauty of growing through queer identity.”
Anderson was adamant that Chapman, VanAntwerp and Zellner all had a platform for their incredible work, and she never considered canceling the exhibition due to the campus shutdown.
“It would not be right to go without a thesis exhibition; this is a rite of passage for art students everywhere. Other institutions were mounting similar exhibitions, so this is a strongly shared sentiment across academia,” Anderson said. “When the campus closed, I knew immediately that we had to come up with an alternative.”
So, Anderson enlisted the help of Cal Murgu—New College’s research, instruction and digital humanities librarian—to create a virtual gallery. Anderson is also grateful to Dan Bethune, an assistant in humanities and a studio technician, for providing a scaled replica of the gallery.
The overarching concept of The Embodied Mind is about negotiating various sociological and psychological states of mind, which is something people are certainly grappling with in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. It is a relatable theme that is now even more accessible to the masses, as anyone can experience it online.
“I hope [the virtual gallery] might be a way to connect students to future generations of New College art students, as well as to their peers from other institutions, because now we will have a record of the show, which creates a kind of virtual legacy,” Anderson said.
Murgu agrees. Anderson’s goal was to recreate the ambiance of the Isermann Gallery, with custom exhibition spaces full of digitized artwork. It took Murgu weeks but he even made the online exhibit viewable via virtual reality gear.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it has encouraged us to think outside of the box about how to continue to support student success with the tools and expertise that we have available,” Murgu said. “This virtual exhibit is just one example, and it certainly does not entirely recreate the experience of a physical art exhibition. But it will focus our attention on celebrating the fantastic artwork of our students. They definitely deserve that.”
For more information on The Embodied Mind exhibit, visit dss.ncf.edu/2020embodiedmind.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.