Opening of Student Show “Ennead” and Embracing Pressure

Margaret Goddard ‘19

Features Editor

“Ennead” Exhibition at the Cantor Art Gallery.

This past week, the senior Studio Art majors opened their exhibition, titled “Ennead,” at the Cantor Art Gallery on campus. “Ennead” is a word that means a group of nine and reflects the ancient sanctity of that number. The nine senior majors have spent the year in the Studio Art Concentration Seminar, finding their medium and subject independently, keeping their own studio space in the Millard Art Center, and creating a cohesive body of work. During the Academic Conference, the artists each gave an artist talk about how they arrived at the work installed now in the gallery. At the opening reception for the show on Thursday night, students, faculty, mentors, family, friends, and the community mingled among the pieces and celebrated the outcome of a year of work.

As one of the nine artists, I was stunned not only by the feeling of concluding a huge endeavor, but also by the surprising realization of how far each of us had come this year. Attending friends’ talks in other disciplines at the Academic Conference, chatting with fellow seniors celebrating ends and beginnings, and noticing my seminar classmates’ joy all made me feel proud. All of a sudden, the tentative first-years we once were had converted into excited adults with a sharp focus. Of course, this didn’t happen “all of a sudden.” Rather, this is the culmination of many long nights, difficult decisions and consistent work. Seniors in every department know this, but here I will speak about how consistent work contributes to studying art as an undergrad.

It took me awhile to embrace the value of consistent work. All year at my work-study at the Cantor, I would look around at the high-ceilinged, elegant and professional space, the place where I knew my work would soon inhabit. I would recall my little studio in Millard in the state it was at that moment, with all its unfinished projects and stray ideas lying around. I was always feeling the pressure to make something grand and deserving of such a spotlight. Now that the spotlight is shining on my work, I don’t think I could have avoided feeling this pressure. Only through trial and error did I find ways to sit comfortably in it. What helped me manage the paralyzed feeling was to repeat to myself a couple things: this is my opportunity to experiment and see what feedback I get; I am the only one who can make this idea come across successfully; and if I show up for myself, in the studio, willing to work, several times a week, that can be enough. What’s even more effective than any of these theories on how to work hard, why growth hurts so much, and why I felt paralyzed is just … to act.

It seems obvious that to “act” is the key to making art, but for me at least, there are moments when to act seems like the most intimidating thing to do. The structure of the Studio Art Concentration Seminar relies on action as the key to evolving as an artist. Senior majors are responsible for staying on top of their studio practice, coming up with their own ideas, and showing up in the fall with a passion to work on something. The Studio Arts faculty are there to guide, inspire, and direct, but the pressure lies on the students to present their ideas physically for feedback, not just theoretically.

I asked a few of my concentration seminar classmates: did they feel the pressure was a huge obstacle? Did they feel it at all? If they did, how did they handle it?

Sara Vo used her instincts and knowledge passed down through generations to create pieces that succeeded conceptually and physically. She wanted to laser-cut banana leaves, which are traditionally used for cooking, with letters written by women in her family about their Vietnamese and North American identities. Her leaves kept drying out or yellowing within a few days. Generic instructions for preserving leaves didn’t work for the banana leaves, so she came up with her own intuitive recipe to preserve them. She says, “it came down to trusting my own instincts because no one else knew how to work with the material better than I did.”

Anna Lenney wrestled between making art that viewers could relate to and making art that reflected her experience as an individual. She was afraid of alienating anyone with the strong spiritual beliefs and struggles she wanted to show. However, without a personal and specific focus, Anna felt paralyzed. With the boundaries a small focus provides, she could dive deep and explore. After getting personal with her ideas, she could figure out how to execute them in an open way for the diverse public to view.

Alexandra Yoeckel found starting a print intimidating, but after experimenting by pressing layers of random colors and materials, she found the roots of a good idea. From those initial prints, she knew where to begin for her complex and intentional pieces.

Elisaveta Mavrodieva only finds starting a painting intimidating. For her, gaining momentum is easy because when she is in the middle of a piece, she “can’t think about anything but finishing what she started.” Elisaveta’s paintings are often large and layered with complex and unusual materials. Her process is very physical, and one could witness that at any point this year by walking by her full, chaotic, and colorful studio.

The answers from this survey are hardly surprising, and you could find advice like this practically anywhere from all kinds of creators, but the fact that these lessons were discovered in just a year, amidst other studies and commitments, continues to impress me. With all the disparate concepts, mediums, and methods in our group, individual mechanisms for dealing with pressure arose. Conversing in the studios at night, critiquing with professors, and sheer hard work helped us get to that point. For having this community all year we are grateful.

“Ennead” at the College of the Holy Cross Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery is open to the public until May 24th. I strongly recommend passing through, reading each artist statement as you go to learn about the journey behind the pieces that are up.

Thank you to Professor Michael Beatty and Professor Cristi Rinklin for guiding us each semester this year and to all the Visual Arts faculty for your constant input and investment. I would like to thank Roger Hankins, Paula Rosenblum and Tim Johnson for organizing the show and its installation. Thank you to John Carney for helping us construct and problem-solve at the most frazzled moments. Thank you to Kerstin Bean for coordinating supplies and trips to New England art institutions. And of course, thank you to all the senior majors in the show for the camaraderie this year: Katherine Badenhausen, Sarah Behrens, Abigail Kostecki, Anna Lenney, Elisaveta Mavrodieva, Mae-Chu O’Connell, Sara Vo, and Alexandra Yoeckel.

Photo by Margaret Goddard ’19.

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