In this year’s undergraduate thesis exhibition, 17 senior art students explored the personal, the political, the cultural and the technological as well as the physical, the metaphorical and the unknown in an effort to explore identity and representations of selfhood.
The exhibition, entitled “seventeen for seventeen,” was held in the Yale School of Art’s main gallery space between April 13 and April 22. It featured work from across the major disciplines — painting and printmaking, animation and graphic design, sculpture, photography and filmmaking — as well as work from two Computing and the Arts majors. “Seventeen for seventeen” abounded with students’ idiosyncratic examinations of individuality, producing a result best described by Director of Undergraduate Studies Lisa Kereszi in the exhibition catalog: “Personal histories and future anxieties collide in a wonderful mash up of 17 incongruous minds.”
“People can give you really great advice,” said sculpture student Wa Liu ’17, a former photo editor for the News. “But not every time will they point you in the [desired] direction. You have to figure out what [was] the original intention that motivated the whole process, where was the starting point of everything and try to go back to that.”
Liu’s senior thesis project, “Still,” was more than a year in the making. Her interactive installation combines seemingly analog elements — a desk, a book, a lamp and a houseplant — with neurotechnology in the form of an electroencephalogram headband. When unoccupied, the desk shakes, and the lamp remains dimmed. However, as the headband-donning viewer sits down and begins to focus, the light becomes more present and the trembling stills.
Like many of the students, Liu arrived at her final idea through a series of collaborations and conversations. Over the past four years, she has experimented with different art forms and clarified the set of themes that define her work, such as cultural representation, performance and the idea of “collective consciousness.”
Similarly, for Gabriela Bucay ’17, arriving at a thesis required she test out new approaches and ideas. Bucay’s project uses figures representing motherhood and childhood in a series of paper-based paintings and drawings. In the past year, she has started experimenting with printmaking, she said, which has opened up a whole new process of image making for her.
When asked about her artistic process, Bucay emphasized the importance of trial and error.
“I think it’s important to follow your curiosities, even if you aren’t quite sure how others will relate to the work,” she said. “Better to convince someone through making awesome work than to try to cater to what you think someone wants to see.”
Constructive criticism and the expectations that come with being an art major — critiques, presentations, workshops — were also crucial to her growth as an artist, Bucay added.
As part of a larger academic trend, other students have also looked outside of the department for inspiration. Liu is a double major in art and anthropology, Steven Roets ’17 is majoring in art and ethics, politics and economics and Sherril Wang ’17 is majoring in art and economics.
Double majoring has allowed Roets and Wang to discover the niches of art in which they can most naturally express themselves — for Roets, this is art about politics; for Wang, design.
“When I started as a freshman, I was concerned about making something visually appealing. … I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it was limiting for me,” Roets said. “I think just being able to break down the rules that I was imposing for myself as I went through the curriculum here and my own studio practice was really important in developing my practice to where it is today.”
This year’s senior art exhibition also featured work from Téa Beer ’17, Meg Brink ’17, Yanglin Cai ’17, Tess Hamilton ’17, Alex Inguaggiato ’17, Kristy Loya ’17, Meg Mathile ’17, Chris Paolini ’17, Jenny Park ’17, Sam Roller ’17, Christie Ramsaran ’17, Anna Wane ’17 and Jin Ai Yap ’17.
Correction, April 28: The previous version of this story misstated that there were 17 art majors featured in the exhibition. In fact, there were 15 art majors and two Computing and the Arts majors.
Just as we’re sure that Americans must speak in hushed tones about places they know only as, say, “London’s trendy Dalston,” or “Croydon,” places across the pond such as “Yale” are spoken of with reverence over here.
The mix of academic rigour, design history and one hell of a website make Yale seem a far-away and magical proposition in the design world, so when its senior critic of graphic design Julian Bittiner popped into London we jumped at the chance to find out more about his courses.
Julian, who teachers Introductory Graphic Design, Advanced Graphic Design and Typographic Methods, Conventions & Experiments, also makes some superb work himself, mostly designing for cultural clients under the moniker Applied Aesthetics.
He previously worked at places including Apple and Wolff Olins New York. So what’s it like to study on one of his Yale graphic design programmes? “There’s a huge difference in the way graduate and undergraduate is taught. In the undergraduate programme, some students don’t even start out with a portfolio. You have to be nicer, and more encouraging. We approach design holistically. I start with ‘what is design’,” he says.
“I introduce how design is everywhere and all throughout the built environment. At first we work by hand and do things like Bauhaus-inspired abstract exercises. I teach a type class where we use a Xerox machine, and it’s only in the final third of the class that we move on to working on a computer.
“I tell the students that their work will plummet: you don’t have to think any more once you start to use a computer. It’s so easy to make something, that you make anything.”
Sounds like a dream. Other lectures include an hour-long dash through typographic history, and a closer look at the Swiss design of the 60s and 70s, and their abstract compositions – something close to Julian’s heart both in its exemplary execution and his family history, having grown up partly in Geneva.
Julian’s nomadic life, having spent time in Geneva, a brief period in an English boarding school, time on the US west coast and his current east coast living has impacted his work, he feels. “Living in different places has definitely inflected my work. I find there’s always two different spectrums of opposing concerns my work bounces against: a dual interest in amateurism and professionalism.”
Having first studied fine art, Julian found that on graduating at 22, he “didn’t really have anything to say” as an artist. His move into graphic design slightly later has fostered this interest in both the slick, minimal design aesthetic and a far less refined approach. But it was only In LA that he became aware of the import of his Swiss forefathers on the graphic design world. “In Switzerland there’s a monoculture: you think design only ever looks like that. When I went to the west coast I realised that wasn’t true.” He adds: “I love the work of people who are untrained, as well as people who are hypertrained.”
So what in Julian’s view makes a brilliant graphic design student? “All the lecturers look for different things, but students have to be passionate, super curious, and we look for students who will surprise you. They have to be intense in a way.”
Julian is in London as part of an exchange visit programme with Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts, UAL, and is giving another lecture on Thursday 17 March. For more on the events programme click here.