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Student artists compete at MoCA

Nov. 23, 2010

Eva Sachs '14

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Oberlin College is known for creativity and artistic talent, and recently this artistry has found a home at Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Oberlin students participated in two art competitions at MoCA, Another Vibrant “Fight, and the Student Slideshow at MoCA, where Oberlin swept the awards.

Currently, a work of art by Oberlin students is one of five student pieces on MoCA’s white walls. Oberlin’s piece, entitled a volt, a form and composed of colorfully collaged cardboard starbursts and tendrils backed by a web of bright strings of yarn, is the work of seniors Mary-Kate Kelly, Claire Lachow, Calder Singer, and Isabel Yellin. According to the artists’ statement, “the work was inspired by images of the human neurological system, in particular the naturally decentralized arrangement of the cells and how they connect to one another.” The student work is part of MoCA’s Another Vibrant Art “Fight” competition.

The four other student pieces displayed in Another Vibrant Art “Fight” come from the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland State University, Kent State University and the University of Akron’s Mary Schiller Myers School of Art. Each one is its own unique response to ilegitimo, a show by the artist collective known as “assume vivid astro focus” (avaf), which, like the student art it inspired, is on display at MoCA through January 9, 2011.

“Our installation was a response to the concepts within ilegitimo, and we made a conscious decision not to emulate avaf's style,” Lachow, a studio art major, says of Oberlin’s work.

“We realized that avaf primarily discusses the multi-tasking, multi-media world we live in today and the overwhelming qualities of that,” says Yellin, also a studio art major. “Because of that, we wanted to try to systematize the way information is received, especially through imagery and text, such as what we see on the internet.” Thus, different sections of the piece have different themes.

In early September, Visiting Assistant Professor of Studio Art and Drawing Don Harvey proposed to the students that they represent Oberlin in the competition. This gave the four volunteers two weeks to complete their project, which was installed on September 27.

Harvey says that he also helped find some funding for the students, but “aside from that, I simply checked in on their progress from time to time, otherwise they were very self-directed.”

The ultimate recognition went to the University of Akron team, which won the competition. “When all of the groups were installing the pieces a few days prior to the opening, it was pretty clear that their piece was a more sophisticated installation. It is incredibly well-executed, really stunning to look at,” Lachow says.

And though Akron won, says Yellin, “The feedback and praise we got from the staff at MoCA, Oberlin's Art Department, and our family and friends makes us feel like we were the winners.”

Even MoCA’s Director of Education and Associate Curator Megan Lykins Reich, who helped organize the event, had praise for the Oberlin students’ work. She called the work “unique” and “thoughtful,” commending it for being the one school that “did not stay within box form. There is more of an openness.”

The praise was even greater for Oberlin students November 3, when Allison Fontaine-Capel ’12, Elias Steltenpohl ’11, and Frances Lee ’13 swept first, second, and third place respectively at the Student Slideshow at MoCA competition. Contestants had to submit between eight and 10 slides of their work and give a short introduction about each. Finalists were selected from Oberlin, University of Akron, Kent State University, Cleveland Institute of Art, and Cleveland State University.

Fontaine-Capel, a studio art major, addressed her identity as an artist. Discussing and getting recognized for what she calls “just the byproduct of my personal creative outlet,” Fontaine-Capel says, “made me consider more deeply what it means to be an artist.”

“Articulating one’s artwork is not easy,” says Steltenpohl, an environmental science major and studio art minor. But, he admits, “the event provided a good opportunity to work on communicating some of the ideas I am thinking about while working.”

Rosemary Burke, a graduate student at Case Western University and MoCA intern who organized the slideshow competition, says she was impressed by how well all three Oberlin students spoke. “They were all very articulate. They were able to explain what the art meant to them,” she says.

The three winners received monetary awards, “though the event was much more about getting a little bit of exposure and recognition,” says Steltenpohl.

The artists behind a volt, a form think the same of their work. “As a young artist and undergraduate student, showing work in a museum is a real accomplishment, and it's definitely emblematic of what was a very fruitful collaboration,” Lachow says.

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