After the University transitioned to online learning, many seniors majoring in visual arts struggled to adapt their practices to home settings that lacked the equipment and studio space they relied on at Columbia.
Visual arts seniors initially considered postponing their thesis exhibitions to the fall, as many students looked forward to presenting their three-dimensional or interactive works to in-person visitors. However, with help from their thesis advisors, students instead opted to present their exhibition in an online format.
The visual art senior thesis website’s home page resembles the start of a Zoom call so that viewers can click on each participating artist’s icon and explore their work on individual pages. Spanning a variety of media, the works range from sculpture and painting to works more often presented in a digital format, like video and photography. The site is accompanied by a print catalog that contains a foreword addressing the project, as well as personal statements from each student on their work.
“Between anxiety and uncertainty, we found a crucial liminal space where spontaneous creative production was still possible,” the students wrote in the foreword of their catalogue. “This catalogue, paired with the online exhibition, is the evidence of the existence of that crucial liminal space, and of those slippery moments where we reminded one another: even while apart, we were in no way alone.”
According to visual arts major Isabella Norris, CC ’20, the project of creating the site was largely initiated by the students themselves, with help from their thesis advisors, Emily Henretta and Gregory Amenoff. Creating the website and catalog required departmental funding that the professors advocated for to ensure students would have a platform to share their work.
Norris’ page on the senior thesis website presented her sculpture work, which consisted of numerous “soft sculpture” pieces resembling stars, some of which were interwoven while others were hung from strings. She also presented several colorful quilts with intricate texture patterns.
Students managed to take advantage of the online format, surrounding photographs of their pieces with interactive borders that move with the viewer’s mouse, in an attempt to recreate the communication between artist and viewer that they initially feared the online format would make impossible.
Clara Hirsch, CC ’20, for example, surrounded her portrait photography with a background of yellowed sheet music and envelopes that shifted as the viewer scrolled down the page, which complemented the antique style of her depictions of figures dressed in formal, vintage-looking attire.
Fiona Noring, CC ’20, adopted the same background techniques to display her sculptures and cyanotype print. The sculptures, which included the piece “Memory:Magic:Vessel,” were placed upon a background that resembled a bird’s-eye view of a landscape. This landscape moved as the viewer scrolled through the sculptures, allowing for a more dynamic experience than static photographs of the sculptures.
Dahee Kwon, CC ’20, Norris said, was an “integral” player in creating the site, given her interdisciplinary interests as a visual arts and computer science double major. Her page, like several other students’ pages, used music to complement the work by playing an instrumental song on a loop as the viewer navigated the page.
Other students’ pages integrated these techniques and more, serving as a testament to how digital and physical art can coexist and enhance one another.
Despite the challenges visual arts students have faced in the past several months, especially with the loss of spaces and resources necessary for making art, Norris reflected on the positive effects she hopes will come from an online exhibition. With the website accessible for a full year, Norris hopes students’ work will reach a broader audience, providing students increased visibility in the art world as they navigate an uncertain job market after graduation.