c/o Aiden Malanaphy

c/o Aiden Malanaphy

The Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery (Zilkha) was re-installed last week with a second group of boundary-pushing senior art studio thesis projects. Harnessing multiple skills from coding to craftsmanship, the exhibition once again transformed Zilkha into a series of potent expressions of student creativity. Despite inhabiting the same space as last week’s show, this second installment brought an entirely new experience, rich with color, form, and complexity. 

Walking through the gallery’s front doors, I first came upon “.join(),” a computer-driven interactive installation by Luisa Bryan ’21, which stood at the end of a hallway flanked by red, green, and blue tinted windows. This entrance, which recalled the basic color values that determine the hue of a pixel, contained a stand with a QR code that invited visitors into the bay of the gallery. Once inside, a sign with sleek lettering asked participants to place their phone on a translucent box and speak into three microphones hooked up to three computers and three projectors. While talking into the microphones, the computers used voice-recognition software to project the speaker’s true words on one screen, rough synonyms on the other, and on the third, a repetition of the sets of words the speech produced. Beginning as an array of three fundamental colors, Bryan’s project culminated in a complex lexical program that displayed the impressive yet fallible workings behind artificial intelligence.

“I think that we have a fantasy [surrounding] modernity and black boxes and computation,” Bryan said. “This is why I wanted to expose the tools of computation both by having the microchip be visible but also by having the code on the screen and people seeing how there’s computers and there are projectors that are making it so like a million black boxes in that. This is inherently tied to the idea of the way that these technologies fail, that we take for granted [coding] of being neutral and logical because there is no inherent logic to coding.”

Mustering the courage to speak in a silent gallery space, I found that Bryan’s system accurately captured, then modulated, my words with impressive speed. After removing my phone from its resting place, two of the projections displayed glitchy, colorful graphics alongside lines of code, while the third repeated some of the words I had triggered in a sequence. The element of performativity was crucial to Bryan’s eventual ideas surrounding the project. As the system acted and reacted around me, reiterating the imperfection that my voice had created, I could sense this unravelling of the digital world.

It was cool to see people actually interacting with it,” Bryan continued. “Kind of getting stuck in the feedback loop where you talk and the screen can show your words or a weird version of your word and that kind of back and forth situation.” 

Calling my attention to Zilkha’s south gallery with a splash of neon green, Gabriella Banda ’21’s “MIRA PA’CÁ,” an installation of paintings, used brilliant coloration to describe intimate scenes of family. Based on home videos of Banda’s immediate and extended family in Chile, Banda’s oversized canvases brought the viewer into an abstract yet personal world of images. The paintings not only featured close up stills of children playing or reading in bed, but more routine interactions between family members captured within the frames of a home video. The works nevertheless displayed a distance from reality, demarcated by splotches of bright pigment that bisected or trailed off at the contours between figures. The installation’s title, which translates to “look over here” in English, predicts this kind of distanced warmth—the video stills allow us to view these memories without quite touching what is there. 

Back in the main volume of the gallery, Tyler Barr ’21 presented an architectural vision for a new community center in the Smith Houses development on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Standing almost adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge, the mid-century high rise buildings prioritize a highly angular, efficient model for public housing that Barr attempted to contrast with the circular forms of his proposal. Drawing from more opulent modernist landmarks such as the Guggenheim Museum and Lincoln Center, Barr hoped to both structurally and programmatically bridge the gap between the wealthier and lower-income communities of New York. In doing so, his proposal lays out a dynamic set of floor programs for features such as a fitness center, library, art gallery, and more.

“The new building that I propose for the Smith Houses tries to rectify some of the access issues on the site by providing a multi-use public space that mines a lot of the ideas and aesthetics of high-end modernism,” Barr wrote in an email to The Argus. “The idea being to unite the two halves (cultural and pragmatic) of the modernist experiment in New York in a place that, when it was originally designed, would not have been considered a suitable location for a cultural institution despite housing a large community of users who could benefit from access to just such a space.”

Expressed through a series of informational graphics and 3-D representation of the building’s interior and exterior design, Barr’s presentation itself gave me an accessible impression of what his structure would be like. In a city that is increasingly populated by luxury commercial and residential developments, the community center appeared attainable without giving up impressive architectural design. This comprehensive simplicity defined the way in which Barr chose to display his plan.

“I didn’t want to present a building as an artwork, because to me they are different things,” Barr continued. “I basically just treated the gallery as a large-scale pin-up presentation for an architecture critique. It’s pretty information-driven. The main goal is just to present the building in a way which is easy to understand.”

To the left of Barr’s proposal, Candice April Cirilo ’21’s “Fluxodreams” created a space of its own composed of plexiglass panels that captured the colors and forms of the nearly microscopic natural world. Inspired by videos of pills dissolving in liquid as well as her own relationship to medicine, Cirilo filled these panels with abstract expressions using materials such as acrylic, watercolor ink, and marker. The resultant images, highly varied in color, each arose from a different formal perspective on the effervescent dissolution that often occurs within our stomachs.

“I was very much interested in this concept of trying to render something that we can’t physically see ourselves,” Cirilo explained. “A lot of these videos were not even taken from the stomach, they were taken from a petri dish, and I was really interested in this hyper-saturated, almost fantasy-like rendering of something that we will never ever see with our eyes, and I think that was also talking about the inner emotions and feelings of our relationship with pills themselves, and it’s almost paralleled with this relationship.”

c/o Aiden Malanaphy

c/o Aiden Malanaphy

Looking over the works, which both hung from the ceiling and rested on the floor, I was unable to settle on a single association from their abstract naturalism. While certain pieces featured otherworldly masses of dripping, Takashi Murakami-esque coloration, others were dotted with soap-like bubble shapes that took on entirely new meanings when considering their medicinal inspiration. This variability of natural and synthetic forms managed to provide a range of interpretations while still fitting under the umbrella of Cirilo’s foundation in the study of pills.

“Thankfully, people got it,” Cirilo continued. “The people who talked to me after my show were talking about how I’ve gotten responses from dissolving to nature. Someone told me that when they saw the green piece on the floor they thought it was moss on trees, which was a very interesting take.”

Moving back to a world of built environments, “Subsurface,” a large, pyramidal structure of wood, piping, and wire by Ben Lyon ’21, highlighted the unique imprints of the builder and their materials. Beneath its porous exterior, Lyon’s installation featured a series of not-curated tools with which he created the structure. Peering through this diverse assemblage of materials, I couldn’t help but think I was seeing a part of the building process that one is usually not meant to experience.

“In past architecture styles and construction methods, there was an intense honesty of depictions of labor and how materials operate,” Lyon explained. “For example, with Gothic architecture, you can very clearly see how the loads of the building are passed down from each stone, and it’s all very visible. It’s all just stone, there’s nothing embedded within, and within each stone you can see the individual tool-marks of the laborer whereas if you shift to looking at a [modern] building it’s all about concealment, it’s pretty much a blank surface on the interior and a blank surface on the exterior, and it operates as a skin that conceals all the details within.”

The sheer number and variety of pieces Lyon attached to create his structure reflect a deeper experience with construction that goes beyond formal aestheticism. Having worked for the University’s Physical Plant since his sophomore year, Lyon applied his strong foundation in handiwork to both inform his choices and help source un-doctored materials for the project itself. Lined with white pieces that resemble the exterior of a house, blue circles with black text, and stark wooden planks, his structure stood as a testament to the variety and complexity involved in his work. This connection between labor and visuality is in fact the very gap that Lyon’s project filled, expressing a level of artistry through craft that is often left out of conversations of art history.  

“What I’m really interested in on a broader scale is the integration of architecture and design work with the physical fabrication and building,” Lyon continued. “The building practices of building a house I think are equally meriting of the label of art as kind of the more conceptual work itself which is a really old school medieval opinion to have where they believed that stone workers were just as vital to artistic production as painters of portraits.”

An Pham ’21 turned Zilkha’s back bay into a celebration of anatomy on paper with “This Daughter Mine,” a series of portraits of the body. Standing as a distinct artistic statement of its own, Pham’s installation was part of a joint thesis between the Art Studio and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) departments that included a lengthy written component. Without frames or glass to distance us from the intimacy of their depictions, Pham’s markings appeared stark in their mostly ink and charcoal-based self reflection on bodily form. The celebratory nature of Pham’s work was nevertheless accentuated by the sparing use of rainbow oil pastel colors to highlight parts of the body from the face or the core. From tactile drawing materials to slight indents in white, black, and brown paper backgrounds, Pham’s figures felt closely connected to the world of the viewer.

“The intention was to play with showing vs. obscuring,” Pham wrote in an email to The Argus. “The black on black pieces depict more intimate, vulnerable moments between me and my partner, such as being caught mid-sex. The brighter pieces confront the idea of the gaze, especially the gaze directed at Asian women’s bodies in art and pornography, and return the gaze to them. They are self-aware, accusing, and have the capacity for agency. I wanted to juxtapose these different levels of being looked at, contend with the question of what it means to be in control of one’s sexuality and body.”

Like the first week of senior thesis exhibitions in Zilkha, this second culmination of months of student work featured ideas that existed at far-flung corners of the creative spectrum. The projects nevertheless managed to bring narrative, concept, and skill into a highly interactive conversation between artists and viewers. Although the seniors were restricted in the physical ways they could facilitate this conversation, they expressed a surprising sense of togetherness throughout the fabrication and presentation processes.

“I’m just thankful for everyone who helped me, this honestly would not have been possible without so many individuals,” Cirilo said. “Coming into the thesis I thought it would be an isolating experience because it’s what I want to do, what I want to create. But over time I realized it has so much to do with your community and who you’re around, which I think makes it even more worth the while.”

Tickets for the third and final week of senior thesis exhibitions are available at the CFA Box Office.


Aiden Malanaphy can be reached at amalanapahy@wesleyan.edu.

Comments are closed