An Asian American conceptual artist whose work includes a mix of fragrance, cuisine and science along with collaborations with biologists and chemists will be the subject of a Kalamazoo College faculty member’s presentation at noon on December 7 at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Eunice Uhm will discuss Anicka Yi, a Korean American artist, who has created memorable works of art that have famously contained olfactory effects. Uhm’s presentation will analyze how Yi’s work transgresses the boundaries that are established and sustained by the conventions of Western aesthetics to investigate the racialized and gendered politics of space. The presentation considers the deodorization of the museum in the context of a larger cultural and political process of deodorization in the U.S. that simultaneously excludes smell from aesthetic judgments and establishes aromatic phenomena to be “non-Western” or primitive.
Born in 1971 in Seoul, Yi began working as an artist about 15 years ago after a career in fashion. Yi’s work has won her top honors, including the Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize in 2016, which included an exhibition there the next year. Yi’s work elicits visceral sensorial responses in the visitor, demonstrating the subversive aesthetic possibilities of smell to underscore and negotiate biopolitics of race and gender.
Uhm, who serves as a postdoctoral curatorial fellow at K and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a transnational focus on the United States and East Asia. Her work examines the conditions of migration and the diasporic aesthetic subjectivities in the works of contemporary Japanese and South Korean art from the 1960s to the present. She has previously taught courses on modern and contemporary art, East Asian art, and Asian American studies at Ohio State University. She has organized panels and presented her work on Asian American art at national conferences.
In examining how Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff have adjusted to distance learning this spring, it’s easy to see the community’s ingenuity in shifting from in-person instruction.
For example, if it’s true that art imitates life, what is an art professor to do when distance learning forces a college’s classes online? If you’re Sarah Lindley, the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership Professor of Art, you paint plans that provide students with the personal interaction they expect, sculpt activities they can do at home with common household materials, and craft an environment that stimulates creativity in technology.
Lindley this term is teaching World Pottery, a sophomore seminar ceramics class, and Mold Processes, an intermediate sculpture class for juniors. The first requires student research and reflection in a class that introduces a variety of clay-forming techniques and historical perspectives. The intermediate class uses mixed media casting processes to develop the more advanced body of work expected of art majors.
The sophomore seminar’s technology is Padlet, a colorful and easy-to-populate online system of boards, documents and web pages that looks a lot like many social media platforms, especially Pinterest. The format allows an asynchronous course model where students view instructions through mediums such as video and submit their projects before meeting individually with Lindley.
Their first project involved creating pinch pots with paper and egg whites in an activity like papier-mâché. A second assignment asked students to stack objects from around the house, look at their curves and see how they might emulate pottery.
The juniors also utilize virtual classroom technology, including the use of Microsoft Teams, a collaborative platform that combines chat, video meetings, file storage and more to allow for regular face-to-face exchanges. Lindley wants her advanced students to build confidence for creating art under any circumstances and learn they can start a project from nothing. Lindley added creating something from nothing can feel like one of the hardest things to do and developing that skill will help her students for the rest of their lives.
“A lot of what we are doing this term is creative problem solving,” Lindley said. “Course planning is creative problem solving. This is just a more extreme version than we are used to. I’m also hearing from a lot of students that they really appreciate a curriculum that acknowledges different learning styles.”
So, given the term in distance learning, how does Lindley measure the success of her teaching methods this term?
“I look for indications of depth of learning in lots of little ways—an unanswered question someone raises in a reflection paper, a connection to contemporary pop culture in a presentation on historical objects from a distant past, or an “aha” exclamation in a one on one virtual chat,” Lindley said.
“My goal would be for everyone to participate in each activity this term,” she added. “The students still have rubrics, but students would have to persistently not respond to assignment prompts and feedback not to pass. So far the quality of work has been pretty good to great.”
When artists create, they express a piece of themselves. Art, therefore, can provide an outlet for underrepresented people to communicate their feelings, struggles and realities with those who will listen. That makes ARTifact, a program offered through Kalamazoo College’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), an empowering resource.
ARTifact, fueled through K students serving as civic-engagement scholars, is a weekly studio-workshop series for high school students interested in visual art and social justice, while otherwise having limited access to art instruction. The program creates a space in which participants communicate about complex social issues and express their identities through art.
The program, including the cost of materials, is offered at no cost to participants thanks to the CCE. Since its founding, the CCE has provided service-learning courses, research opportunities, internships, and student-led programs, engaging more than 10,000 K students in partnerships that foster academic learning, critical problem-solving and a lifetime of civic engagement. Through the CCE, students, faculty and staff have worked with thousands of community residents, more than 50 organizations, and in more than 30 community-based courses across K’s academic disciplines.
The CCE employs 25 civic-engagement scholars including Angela Pastor ’21 who are student leaders facilitating programs with community partners in which they and their peers learn from communities. The scholars are supported by generous endowments and grants.
The culmination of the ARTifact workshops for the academic year came in an exhibit at the June 7 Art Hop, a fun evening of art exhibits and events in and around Kalamazoo, sponsored by Arts Council Kalamazoo, that takes place during the first weekend of every month. ARTifact’s exhibit during Art Hop was stationed at the Park Trades Center, a former manufacturing facility on West Kalamazoo Avenue that houses a creative community of more than 100 designers, entrepreneurs and small business representatives.
The ARTifact workshops gathered participants for three hours every Saturday, where they created art, physically crafted their displays and created advertising posters before spreading word of its Art Hop show.
“It’s an honor to be able to provide this experience,” said Pastor ’21 of Los Angeles, a Posse student at K who also benefited from participating in a similar experience as a high school student. “When I went through it, it taught me a lot about what I could create. I know high school is a time for questioning for a lot of people. Art, I think, is a way to figure out yourself.”
Pastor said she enjoyed ARTifact week to week, although long term success would mean expanding the program to more high school students by getting more K students to volunteer. That would also mean realizing ARTifact’s full potential.
“I know some of the high school students explore their identity through sexuality or mental health,” Pastor said. “It’s a way to use art as a tool that educates and helps students explore their identity. It can be used to support their social justice issues and anything they’re passionate about. There was one workshop where we used only recycled materials. We also talked about what makes art worthy of being exhibited and we questioned what art is and what it can be. It makes me feel proud (the high school students) were able to learn about art and have all these experiences.”
When Mattie Del Toro ’20 reflects on choosing Kalamazoo College, she remembers an experience brought to her by the letter K.
As a high school senior, Del Toro attended a Colleges That Change Lives fair near her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a good friend had been looking into Knox College. Next to the Knox table, among the Ks and in alphabetical order, was Kalamazoo College.
“I remember thinking, ‘Is (Kalamazoo) the name of a city from a Dr. Seuss book? There’s no way that’s a real place,’ ” says Del Toro, a business and art history major and studio art minor. “I thought if anything it had to be a college named after someone rather than the name of a city.”
“I fell in love with the campus,” says Del Toro, who ended up enrolling at K. “I graduated with a high school class of 50, and when I saw how small and intimate the school is, I was sold. I received a great financial aid offer that made it about the same in terms of affordability as the University of New Mexico, and it was a chance to go across the country for the whole liberal arts experience.”
Talk with Your Roommate About What to Bring to Campus
K students living on campus this fall should already have received their room assignment with their roommate’s name and kzoo.edu email address. Del Toro suggests contacting your roommate to arrange who will bring what, especially if at least one of you is coming from a considerable distance.
Del Toro, for example, arrived in Kalamazoo for her first year by plane with her mom and then-boyfriend, now fiancé, bringing Del Toro’s belongings in a total of nine suitcases. Appliances, for example, weren’t an option for her.
“What you bring might depend on whether you’re from Michigan or someplace farther,” she said, adding that a roommate brought a microwave, curtains and mini-fridge, which she was happy to stock with food.
Shop for What You Can in Kalamazoo
Nine suitcases might not sound like much for transporting everything someone might need for an entire term. Del Toro, however, admits she packed too much and advises that less is more.
“When I left for fall, I packed stuff that I took home during winter break,” Del Toro said. Those items included several blankets and some heavy winter gear after she realized she only needed some long-sleeve shirts, jeans and jackets for the crisp weather that arrives late in the fall term.
When those items and other bulky items are necessary, shop for them in Kalamazoo or place online orders from your hometown and pick them up in Kalamazoo. Del Toro says to consider items such as mattress pads, shower caddies and “items that Mom would normally provide,” such as cleaning supplies and laundry detergent.
Preview Your Room Space
Residential Life doesn’t keep floor-plan measurements for specific rooms. Del Toro, however, advises that students look at pictures of residence hall rooms in K’s virtual tour to estimate their potential floor space. Those visuals should provide ideas as to where students can put items such as small cabinets and bins.
“You get a closet and drawers, but it’s beneficial to have bins and totes of your own as well,” Del Toro said. “I quickly realized I didn’t have the surface area I needed for certain items, and the virtual tour would’ve helped me plan better.”
Make Your Room Your Home
Del Toro says that on a residential campus such as K’s, it’s important that students make their residence hall room their home.
Items such as rugs, pictures of family and friends, twinkle lights suspended through adhesive hooks, and small pieces of furniture negotiated with roommates can ward off homesickness and make your room feel like an owned space.
“I didn’t want to get so comfortable in my space that I disrespected my roommate,” she said. “But any home goods can give you more than a brick wall, a desk and a bed,” allowing for greater comfort.
If you visit ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, be sure to check out three entries from artists with Kalamazoo College connections. Help Desk Administrator Russell Cooper ’89, Web Services Director Carolyn Zinn ’82 and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Firth MacMillan all are participating.
Cooper is competing for a sixth time at ArtPrize, the event touted by organizers as the world’s most-attended public art event. His two-dimensional work again features his daughter, Violette, although the end result reflects inspirations from photographers and artists who create optical illusions, and the Persian Poet Rumi, who said: “There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life. There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine. O traveler, if you are in search of that, don’t look outside, look inside yourself and seek that.”
Cooper’s art shows a black-and-white image of his daughter holding an oval frame at a playground. That frame is reflecting a color image of Violette on a swing. The final product is on display at PaLatte Coffee and Art, 150 Fulton St. E.
Zinn is entering ArtPrize for the first time. Her quilt – which is an image of her daughter, Kirsten, that uses 480 hexagons and 60 commercial fabric prints – was designed through a technique called English paper piecing. She said the technique involves wrapping paper shapes in fabric and then stitching the fabric by hand with a thread and needle. The paper is removed before the quilt layers are stacked and topstitched.
Zinn added she has been sewing her entire life, although she became fascinated with geometry and the color of traditional Amish quilts when she was a teenager. She made a quilt for the first time when she was a student at K and living in DeWaters Hall. In recent years, Zinn has become involved in art quilting, focusing on original design and nontraditional materials and methods.
“I believe fiber art is an underrepresented medium in the art world,” she said. “By entering my work in this open competition, I hope to raise awareness of the medium and inspire others who work with fiber to continue challenging the boundaries of art, craft and design.”
Zinn’s quilt is on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, 303 Pearl St. NW.
MacMillan has been teaching ceramics and sculpture since coming to K from The University of Colorado-Boulder in 2016.
MacMillan became familiar with ArtPrize while living in New York City through art critic Jerry Saltz. When she returned to Michigan, where she attended high school and college, she took her K sculpture class to ArtPrize, and decided that she should enter this year. Her work is being displayed at the U.S. Post Office at 120 Monroe Center St. NW.
MacMillan’s father, a photography enthusiast, was among the first to inspire her to become an artist. “He helped me learn to frame the world outside through the viewfinder,” MacMillan said.
In fact, her sculptures – including the pieces presented at ArtPrize – are often three-dimensional representations derived from her photographs.
“In my work I reinterpret experiences of pointed yet everyday moments from life like the play of shadows from sunlight filtering through a canopy of trees,” MacMillan said on the ArtPrize Web page showing her work. “I take these ephemeral moments and translate them into three-dimensional form.”
First-round voting continues at ArtPrize through Sept. 30. Anyone attending ArtPrize can vote in the first round for their favorite artist or artwork to win a share of a half-million dollars in cash and prizes. Public attendees vote through their computers after they register onsite or through the mobile app while visiting the ArtPrize district. Mobile app users need to tap the “thumbs up” icon after entering an artist’s five-digit code. Computer voters tap the “thumbs up” icon at each artist’s profile. The five-digit codes are 64719, 64662 and 66515 for Cooper, Zinn and MacMillan respectively.
ArtPrize runs through Oct. 8. Learn more about the event.
Artist Julie Mehretu ’92, of New York City, has worked for the past 14 months at a deconsecrated Harlem church on two towering paintings measuring 27 feet by 32 feet that required a scissor lift to develop.
“The liberal arts experience gives you the opportunity to learn, to fail, to succeed, to really find out who you are,” she said. “When I reflect on how my artistic work has progressed, I think of those early years at Kalamazoo College. My artistic process takes both intense thought and impulse. Balancing this has taken time and evolved over the years. It happens in all kinds of different ways. I’m making all these decisions, determining one thing at a time, and not even so much determining as understanding. I think that’s what Kalamazoo College was for me: a place to begin to understand.”
The final products of her latest efforts will be on display at the San Francisco museum for more than three years beginning Sept. 2. Read more and take a sneak peek of the paintings at the New York Times and Architectural Digest websites. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also has a news release at its website.