Posts in: Block 2
Over the past two blocks, Victoria Ehrlich has led me and 15 other students on a journey through the history of western art. It has been a fun and eye opening experience that has shown us all how art has developed into what it is today, as well as the politics that surround the art sphere. To conclude our First Year Experience in AH112, each one of us has created a presentation on our final papers. These presentations have honestly been one of my favorite portions of the class. They have allowed each student to show how we have gone from knowing so little about the evolution of art of the Western world, to now understanding most aspects of almost all past art movements. We’re able to show each other what aspects of art we are most passionate about, and why they are meaningful in our own lives. We have a new passion and understanding of art that I hope everyone will be able to experience someday. Art makes up a huge portion of our daily lives, and being able to value it and have a better understanding of what artworks are trying to convey makes life so much more rich and exciting.
On October 12th, our exhibition titled, Faces, Places, and Spaces: An Exploration of Identity, finally opened. Clad in our spiffy gallery opening outfits, our class met outside the Fine Arts Center. For many of us, this was the first time entering the exhibition since adding our finishing touches, and the satisfaction on everyone’s face was evident. Victoria explained to us that we would be in groups of four standing and answering questions in the exhibition each for twenty minutes. When asked who wanted to take the first shift a surplus of hands waved in the air. Everyone was excited to share with others what we had been working so hard on for the past two blocks.
During my shift I talked to fellow Colorado College students and Colorado Springs community members about the two works I studied closely: Chuck Forsman’s Native Lands and Enrique E. Montenegro’s Artist In Studio. It was fascinating to hear the questions people had about the works. Many visitors mentioned aspects I had yet to consider myself. A fresh pair of eyes in combination with my background knowledge on the artwork led to great and unexpected dialogue between myself and the museum visitors. It was refreshing to be reminded of the ways in which you can always discover new things about a work (even if you’ve been staring at it for two blocks already!) Prior to this class, curating an exhibition and confidently speaking to visitors about it was something I never imagined myself doing, yet this experience has helped me to realize such capabilities, as well as the numerous ways one can engage with art.
At the beginning of Block 1, I knew little to nothing about art history. We would look at artwork and it wouldn’t mean all that much to me. Over time, I slowly gained knowledge about how to analyze certain works of art and what the characteristics and formal elements of different time periods were. I really started to understand the process of analyzing art when our class exhibition rolled around. I found it slightly difficult to pick a work of art to concentrate on, but eventually, I did. The work of art, Native Land, by Chuck Forsman, hung next to my artwork of choice, San Vato, in the exhibition. Prior to the exhibition, our class had looked through a PowerPoint featuring artworks available to us from the permanent collection, and chose which ones we felt worked with our theme centering on identity. When Native Land came on the screen, everyone wanted it in the exhibition. Except for me. I didn’t see what was so special about it. I simply saw just another work of art. I was fine with it being in the exhibition, because I didn’t not like it, but I couldn’t fathom what was so special about it. Fast-forward to today, as I sit here writing this blog, I now understand why everyone was so enthusiastic about Native Land. It touches on a very sensitive subject in a powerful and respectful way. Forsman focuses on the land that belongs to the Native Americans that is being taken away from them piece by piece, and industrialized. I couldn’t help but stare at the dog with three legs, but then it finally hit me, the dog must represent the land of the Native Americans. Still functioning, but not to its full, beautiful capability. Forsman makes great use of diagonal lines to show the split between industrialization and untouched grassland. He even extends the most prominent line further outside of the regular rectangular frame, causing the need for an outcropping to be made to contain this strong line by the frame, which is definitely not your usual rectangle. This experience with one particular work of art is just a tiny insight as to how this class boosted my intelligence greatly, pushing me to think critically in ways that I wasn’t used to, and for that I am forever grateful.
As I walked into the Fine Arts Center with my parents, I beamed with pride. It was like giving them a tour of my second home, as I have grown to feel comfortable in a place I previously found intimidating. I led my dad, who majored in Art History, and my mom to our exhibition, and I could answer most of their questions about the objects we passed in addition to pointing out objects I found interesting. Then I had the pleasure of showing them the room I have spent the past two blocks creating. I finally could share the product of so much hard work with them, and I was so excited. Making the experience even better, they were clearly so impressed and so proud. As a girl who had little to no previous knowledge of art or anything that went into curating an exhibition, I was proud of me, too. I explained the piece I was responsible for, as well as other pieces I found interesting. Since our exhibition centered on identity, it felt fitting to talk to my parents about how my childhood had shaped the way I examined Nostalgia Baggage, focusing on the Pez wrapper and the fishing fly as those evoke memories I hold close. My dad and I discussed Native Lands, commenting on its unusual frame that adds to the work in a unique way. Similarly, I was able to give him context for some of the other images of indigenous peoples in the exhibit. The ability to connect with him on this new level is something I am incredibly grateful for, and it is just one of the gifts this class and this experience has given me.
It is the third week of the second block now—and I can hardly believe how quickly time has flown! The opening of our class exhibition at the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is just around the corner. During the last 10 days, we have been working on the didactic labels for each artwork and the wall text for the whole exhibition. Coming up with a ‘perfect’ 300-word label is indeed more complicated than I thought it would be.
To start this phase of the project, Jessica, the curator for the UnBlocked Gallery, came to class last week and gave us a working session on how to write the didactic label. With the help of guidelines and label examples, we began to draft our own by researching our artists’ backgrounds, analyzing the artworks, and exploring their connections with the theme of our exhibition: identity. After peer review, another gallery visit, professor comments, and reading them aloud, our didactic labels eventually made it to the final draft after revising a couple of times. It is amazing to see our labels printed and mounted on the wall! I used to visit the public galleries without paying much attention to the wall text or the arrangement of artworks on the wall. The wall paint, frames, labels and wall texts: I took the entire set-up at galleries for granted. However, after taking part in an exhibition-curating task myself, I realized that everything in the gallery is the result of curators’ attentive design and hard work.
In addition to the exhibition preparation, our art history lecture in class has moved on to Impressionist paintings and modern art. As our class approaches the end, it’s amazing to look back and see how far we have come through the history of western art—from the pre-historic period all the way to modern times. As this was my first class on the block plan, it has been quite surprising to see how much progress we made in just eight weeks. This FYE class has not only taught me a lot about art, but it has also helped me to adapt to the special block plan schedule at CC.
After all of our discussions and planning, our chosen works of art are officially up in the UnBlocked Gallery! I was anxious to see how it all turned out, especially because it was set up while we were away on Block Break. Our class stopped by to see how everything turned out, and it was amazing to see how our ideas translated into a real space! Seeing all of the works in real life rather than in a two-dimensional picture completely changed how I thought about each of them. I was able to see so many small details that I had missed before, and the texture and feeling of each object was much more accessible to me when I was able to stand directly in front of a work. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t fit everything into the space. Planning it on the floor of our classroom was much different than actually seeing the objects together in real life because the reproductions we had been working with were not printed to scale. Many objects that we chose were much bigger than we expected, so we were forced to really think about which pieces we wanted to include. Because of the limited space, certain works had to be cut, and we were left with those objects that really emphasized what we wanted the viewer to think about when experiencing our exhibition.
Even though we didn’t get to include everything that we had hoped, I was glad that we came across this obstacle. It taught me so much about the job of an art curator. Before taking this class, I had not given much thought to how much work goes into putting an exhibition together, but our professor, Victoria, and Jessica Hunter-Larsen of the FAC Museum at CC, have shown me that it is actually a very complex process. Each object not only plays its own role within the exhibition, but it also affects how the viewer will think about all of the works positioned around it. Because of that, our class had to think very carefully about how these art objects would speak to one another if we put them close together and whether the message that we created with a particular arrangement supported the theme of our exhibit. Thus, we had to consider where in space we wanted to situate the works and how this arrangement would affect the viewer’s understanding of the composition. For example, we originally considered lining up three of the works in a step ladder pattern, but Jessica Hunter-Larsen pointed out that using a decorative set up just for aesthetic purposes could cause the viewer to focus on the organization of the pieces rather than the content of the works and the ideas we were trying to convey by putting them together.
Even though I have already learned much about this process, we still have a long way to go. Our last trip to the museum was spent selecting individual works to examine. We have each chosen one to two works of art for which we will write a short label that will be placed on the wall for the benefit of the viewer and then write a longer summary that will be available for visitors who would like to delve even more deeply into the exhibition. As a class, we are currently making decisions about what type of labels we would like to write, and must write an introduction to explain to visitors the theme that we are exploring. Clearly, there is a lot left to do before our opening reception, but I am excited to learn more about the works we have chosen, and to begin the next steps in completing our project!
In these past couple of weeks, we have finally begun curating our gallery! To begin this process we went to the museum and each picked a featured exhibition to explore and dissect. With a graphic organizer and maybe a partner or two, we looked at how curators and artists come together to convey a central theme of an exhibition. For this exercise, I explored the exhibition, Raizes and Roots, which focused on Brazilian culture and the ways in which it has been misrepresented. This was an incredible exhibition to look at, in part, because of the innovative ways in which the works of art were arranged. Toward the rear of the exhibition, drawings hung from the ceiling by thread and were surrounded by beautifully cut tissue paper. Seeing this innovative set up, my partner and I were able to see not only how a certain work of art can shape the trajectory of an exhibition, but also how its location within the space impacts the viewer’s experience. We left with a greater understanding of how to convey a unifying theme through many different mediums.
The days preceding and following our gallery visit were spent flipping through slides and looking more closely at certain objects from the museum’s large storage area with Jessica Hunter-Larsen. We jumped back and forth from theme to theme but finally settled on one surrounding identity and how it is created and shaped. By narrowing down a theme, we were able to go from looking at objects and judging them based on aesthetics to really considering their purpose and message. We were really starting to make progress!
Some pieces jumped right out at us and we knew collectively that they had to be included. On the other hand, some took a little more time to figure out. To help us with our decisions, Jessica took these objects out of storage and let us have a look at them. This close-looking exercise changed everything. We could see sizing, proportions, color, and so many other compositional elements that weren’t translated well through a photo in a PowerPoint. After noting what would and wouldn’t work, we printed out all of the pictures and begin mapping out the gallery.
Since our gallery is oddly shaped (there are six walls to work with), we had to pay close attention to sizing. This was hard considering we were working with printed black-and-white photos that weren’t similar to the actual works of art at all. Still, after numerous MTV Cribs jokes and references to the Real World, we were able to turn our taped floor into a mock-up of the gallery. As a class we experimented with different placements and the use of sculpture within our exhibit. Although nobody got mad, there was some heavy debate over whether aesthetics or theme are more important when grouping pictures together — something we are still exploring as a class. Being able to have this taped-up model was extremely helpful and fun because we were able to truly begin visualizing what our gallery would look like. It was becoming so real! After experimenting with salon walls, sculpture, and varying wall placement, we were able to agree on a basic layout for our gallery. Over block break, Jessica Hunter-Larsen and her team hung our objects in the space. Stay tuned for updates on how it all turned out!
Fourth Wednesday in the Physics department means donuts, I have discovered. As we munched away on that sugary morning goodness, we tried to wrap up everything that has happened in this block. By the nature of taking a cross-listed anthropology and physics class, the content of this block has been pretty varied. Our final projects (and there were a few) ranged from notes on a book about ethnoastronomy – the socio-historical study of the relationship between culture and celestial features – to a project using Starry Night software to compute the visibility of celestial events through history. We completed a block long project measuring the angle between the Moon and the Sun, when they are both visible in the sky. In this project, we applied the theoretical knowledge gained throughout the block regarding the angle of the Moon and Sun, relative to earth, and the way this relationship dictates Moon phase. We have talked physics and culture, and the two have complimented each other immensely.
However, it is a difficult bridge to cross. Fundamentally, we have no idea whether our current understandings of the movements of stars and planets are anything akin to the understandings of those who passed before us. We do not know what they believed, and we do not know how important such beliefs were to their culture and way of life. We have indications, but no empirical facts. This is the danger of history, especially when dealing with indigenous and marginalised populations whose peoples, culture and lifestyle thrive today: how do we infer without Othering; how do we extrapolate without stereotyping?
And once we’ve mentally wrapped our heads around all this, where does the physics fit in? How do I marry Kepler’s Third Law with the potential alignment of great kivas to the cardinal directions, when we are not even sure whether the Major Lunar Standstill was observed? In today’s world, very few people know the stars or pay them much heed. The knowledge is specific, rooted in mathematic jargon, and thus at least seemingly inaccessible to a regular Joe. Looking back we ask – how was this knowledge, whatever extent of knowledge there may have been, shared? Did these people we so easily romanticise truly turn their faces upwards to their great nightly television, or are we too easily lulled by the dream of human beings as environmental stewards?
Throughout this block I have found myself gazing skyward. A few nights ago, my housemates and I lay on the roof and gazed at the moon. I told them the story of how the earth and the sky are like a great kiva – the kiva that encompasses us all, and is the home of those ancients who built the first kiva on the ground for human dwellings. Biking home at night, I slow down to gaze at the stars, weaving my way across the road and trying to not hit parked cars. I’m currently in New Mexico, spending block break camping near Santa Fe. Last night, I pointed out the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt, and explained to my friend why we could see a waning gibbous moon rising at midnight.
If there is one thing I will take from this class, it is to look at the sky more. I have navigated by the stars before, and remember making the same assertion then. In the mania of everyday life, both at CC and elsewhere, it is too easy to forget the stars. To run from class to meeting to study to practice to work to bed without once looking up and saying hello to the moon. But this time I’ll try to stick to my mental note – while biking at night, while walking from the Mod Pod to Worner, while staring out the window in search of motivation to write – to look not down, but up.
One class, two professors; this week diverged in two educative directions. Dick’s material is the numbers and figures I, in all honesty, have a much harder time translating into words. My head is swimming with the ratios of the surface area and volume of Earth and Mars – tonight’s homework. For my visual mind, far more practically applicable was the experiment we conducted during Friday class. We used something called a gnomon to determine the cardinal points – North, South, East and West. This process was extremely simple – we recorded the shadow of a piece of string (the gnomon) held vertical at hourly intervals, in relation to a circle drawn such that its radius was the same length as the gnomon. At the two points of intersection between shadow and circle, we drew a straight line – this was West-East. By drawing a second line, perpendicular to the first, we now knew North-South. The applicability of this experiment? Let me show you an excerpt from my group lab write up (the introduction):
Imagine you are lost in the woods. You do not know up from down, left from right, North from South. You know you need to walk South-East to reach the highway, from where you can hitch yourself a ride home, but you have no idea which way that is. You have the whole day ahead of you, until nightfall, to work your way out of the forest and back to the city lights. You come across a clearing in the trees, where a patch of light falls upon the forest floor. In your pocket, you find chalk and a piece of string. You realise: I can use these things to determine the points of a compass! And once I know which direction is which, I can walk on out of here. This is where the question “what can a gnomon tell you” comes into play. A gnomon is a simple, basically tools free method of determining the directions West and East, from which North and South can be calculated. It takes time – the shadow of the gnomon needs to be monitored every hour for a good part of the day, if true cardinal points are to be determined. But if you have time and a piece of string and a tool to write with, it could just be your ticket out of the woods.
(This was what our gnomon experiment looked like – the straight lines show West-East and North-South, just like a compass!)
Scott is the Anthropologist in the room, and my Sociologically trained brain grooves much more quickly to the rhythm of what he says (though I must admit, tonight’s ratio equations did give me a strange but definitive sense of satisfaction). We have been delving deeper into the people that inhabited the South West/North West region, and gazed at the stars. We have been asking: What did they see? What did they make of it? Why, even, did they turn their eyes skyward? This week, we read about the symbolism of the hooghan – the house – for various Native American peoples. The belief system emphasises an interrelated and interdependent natural universe, of which humans are a part. The Gods built the first hooghan or sacred building, as a personification of our natural world. This, there is the physical hooghan of the earth, but there is also a wider, metaphorical hooghan, in which the floor is our Earth and the roof is the stars. The physical house is a site of ritual and healing, through sand painting and chanting, situated within the wider metaphorical house of our universe. Just as the physical hooghan will decay and collapse with age, so too will we humans. Spirits, however, remain – they may continue to dwell in the physical hooghan, just as they linger in the universe.
Something about this story of interconnectedness and interdependence spoke to me. In my opinion, our lives are carried out independently, yet exist as part of a wider network of living entities. As I have mentioned, the act of chanting was also highly important. To chant was to make something real. To put desire into the universe, at full power. I guess I think similarly. I tend to consider my thoughts as formless until I say them out loud or write them down. Before this, they exist only as a jumbled, coherent cloud. Words, formed through speech or writing, give the cloud form. It may take a few tries until I reach true coherence, or grapple what I truly think into words, but that action simply cannot be done within my own head. I don’t think in words, so my thoughts aren’t ‘real’ until I put them into the physical world. My class reflection has wandered a little down the path of personal retrospection, but why else do we educate?
Coming to Baca makes perfect sense for a block on Cultural Astronomy. It’s not just the wide, largely un-light-polluted sky, but something about the sense of quiet tranquillity that engulfs Crestone, a site of important spiritual convergence. There’s something befitting of this mindful environment, as we turn our eyes to the night sky. Considering celestial bodies, I think, demands respect of the wider forces that govern our universe – how can I fully appreciate the gargantuan gravitational orbits of planets in our solar system, amid the frantic hustle of campus life at Colorado College.
We arrived to Baca on Wednesday of the first week of the block, and on Thursday travelled over three hours down to Chimney Rock, a site of cultural astronomical importance for the ancestral Pueblo people of the Southwest. From Chimney Rock, it is thought that people converged to observe the moon as it rose between two tall chimney-looking rock stacks, an occurrence called the Major Lunar Standstill. The orbit of the moon around the Earth oscillates, as it is offset by about 5 degrees from our meridian. As such, the moon rises and sets at different points on the horizon through the year – one can observe this on a weekly basis. Every 18.6 years, however, the moon completes this oscillation, and its point of rising and setting appears to freeze for a period of time – the moon rises at the same location on multiple nights. This is a Major Lunar Standstill, and Chimney Rock is thought to be the only place in the world with a geological formation that naturally serves as a viewing platform. The people who lived at Chimney Rock were here for this purpose – to study the moon and the stars and the sun and their relationship to each other. Dwellings and Kivas – ceremonial buildings – were built at the site to house such populations. At the time of the Major Lunar Standstill, it is thought that people from across the Chaco region flooded to Chimney Rock, which exists as a natural amphitheatre, to observe the celestial phenomenon.
Much of our first week in class has been focused on the moon and its phases. We all know that the silver orb of in the night sky is not a light shining from the moon itself, but a reflection of the sun’s luminosity. But if the moon acts as a mirror for the sun’s rays, then how does the angle of the moon and the sun, relative to Earth, impact the reflection we may see in Colorado? In other words, how are the phases of the moon dictated by the position of the sun and the moon, again relative to Earth? For the moon to be full, the sun’s luminosity must shine directly upon the side of the moon that is visible to us on Earth. Thus, the Earth and Moon’s orbits must be such that the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. We see a new moon, on the other hand, when the Moon lies between the Sun and the Earth. This is because most of the Sun’s luminosity is reflected back out to space towards the Sun, where we cannot see it, while only a slither of light – a crescent moon – is reflected back to us here on Earth.
In our second class of the block, Professor Dick Hilt asked how many of us had seen the moon the night before. I’m not sure that anyone raised their hand, and to clarity, it was not a cloudy night. Going forward in the block, I will make an effort to pay more attention to the sky around me at night, and observe the celestial bodies as communities through history have done.