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I Hope We Feel Like This Forever-ever

The day-by-day of collaboration in studio practice

By Alumni, Arts & Culture, SAIC

The School of the Art Institute’s graduating class of 2024 has entered its final stretch; it’s a historically busy time, filled with shows, performances, and theses.

In October, SAIC organized an Open Studio Night,  followed by the annual Graduate Student Salon.

Between Sept. and Oct. 2023, students nominated each other to be featured on F Newsmagazine. The nominations revealed the sense of community so many people feel while attending SAIC. Students across departments admire and take inspiration from each other’s work.

Jim Ter Meer of AIADO Department said that 10 or 15 years ago, students would be guarded, paranoid even, about their neighbors seeing their work, worried that their ideas would be stolen. That’s no longer the case.

As a student graduating this year,  I have witnessed a supportive community sharing ideas with an openness that asks, “Will you imagine with me?” It can be hard to see, but small-scale collaboration does exist between and among individual students.

This collaboration occurs within cohort groups who find friendship and affinity in the subject matter of each other’s art or in the expression of their deepest-held thoughts. Students who share openly and freely find each other and form friendships.

These interviews serve as a time capsule, capturing liminal moments in the studio before the sense of evanescence defines our experience of graduate school in the days after matriculation.

A close-up portrait of Reevah Agarwaal.

Reevah Agarwaal, Print Media and Interdisciplinary

F News: What does your daily practice look like?

Reevah Agarwaal: I work in a lot of mediums. I make quilts, collage, I also write, and I think there are threads that connect all my work together. When I come into the studio, I get right into making, so if I’m not having a visit with someone, it’s usually really messy because I leave things as they were the day before, so when I come in the next day, I’m ready to get back into the progress that I had made in the piece. Then about halfway in the day, I take a break to write or read. So I take about 30 minutes to an hour to write and reflect what I am making, or write a poem related to the narrative that I’m engaging in my work, or read some other text that relates as a form of research.

F News: Tell me a little bit about how collage making and quilt-making overlap in your work.

RA: What I’m doing is a lot of taking fragments and building narratives with those fragments. So I’m not really too concerned with what’s factually accurate or correct when it comes to memory or telling a story. But I’m trying to find threads that sort of fit together. So when I make a collage, I usually start with a photograph that I erase parts from, and whatever’s left becomes the matrix for the collage.

Then I take paper or I make monotypes that intuitively feel like would fit in the spaces, and then that becomes the material for the collage that I then either cut or tear into the shapes and fit everything together. And then similarly for quilt work, I take fabric that I have associations with that I stitch together to create these narratives and these figurative images that address the themes that I’m interested in.

The themes that I’m interested in have to do with the role of women in the home and intimate relationships and power dynamics that exist in often-neglected domestic spaces and the tensions that exist within them. So I take material that belongs to people that these narratives are about and make the work from it.

F News: Are there books or artists who you draw from or inspired by?

RA: Louise Bourgeois is a huge influence for me. Her practice was extremely interdisciplinary, and she never shied away from the personal. Even in my practice, it’s really important to engage the personal and to think about what material is the right vessel for the story I’m trying to tell because I think every concept and every idea or image that I’m playing with demands its own unique set of materials. And I think that’s why I work in a lot of different mediums and with a lot of different methods because I want to be able to address the specificity of things and I think in her work too. Like, she made books and she made drawings and she also made sculpture. Each theme that she’s trying to address within each of these works fits well because she paid attention to what her material was trying to tell her. So she’s a major influence for me personally.

F News: How has your practice changed since the first time you walked into your studio?

RA: When I first came to SAIC and I selected a studio, it was about half this size, and I felt very timid in that space. I didn’t allow myself to feel comfortable in that space because I had a sort of preconceived expectation about what would be expected from me in this institution and as a graduate student working towards a career as an artist. I think that in a lot of ways, that made my work quite rigid because I was thinking a lot about what my visual language is and what my practice is as opposed to just making for the sake of making. In the first year, I would also hold all my critiques in the studio, which, again, was me feeling not yet situated in the space that I was in. And I think taking the summer to actually move studios, move into a bigger space made me realize that maybe I had outgrown that smaller space.

I just let myself be more free here in terms of testing things out, pinning things through the wall to the wall, writing on the wall, having things on display, and also having multiple things going at the same time. Typically, I have two or three works-in-progress going at the same time, and I work on each one when it speaks to me as opposed to the pressure of needing to finish it by a certain date.

In my first year when I first walked in, I had this sort of pressure of, like, “Okay, I need to finish four pieces by the end of the semester,” which is a benchmark. I think in grad school, that’s kind of the point, to have things just be more dynamic and evolving constantly.

F News: Can you tell me a little bit about how you go about getting your materials?

RA: I go to India about two times a year, and every time I go there, I bring a lot of fabric with me that my family was discarding. So it’s clothing they don’t wear anymore, clothing that’s that I inherited from my grandmother who passed, and they were getting rid of; some cabinet that they just cleared. And I get to pick out things that were otherwise going to go to waste. Other things are my own clothing, clothing that I’ve outgrown or don’t wear anymore; trims from things that I altered. I even just go to a thrift store and pick out wood and textiles that I think intuitively, to me, relate to a person or of a memory instead of just purely their aesthetic value.

That becomes the framework of collecting and sourcing the material. Then I keep a little journal where I put a scrap of the material and write about where it’s from and what it reminded me of just so it can later add to the narrative. And then sometimes these small notes become full blown poems about the material. This main fabric that’s on both these pieces, I have been working on a lyric essay about this sari because it belonged to my late grandmother and it keeps coming up in a lot of my work. So thinking about this specific garment, my relationship with her, and my relationship with my mother through this garment as the medium is sort of the process in which I select what fabric to use.

F News: Is there anything that you want to add that I didn’t ask?

RA: I think trust is important, especially trust within myself and what I’m doing. And it’s easy for that trust to sort of labor at times, especially after a bad studio visit or bad critique. But I think what’s important is that the demands of an institution can sometimes be different from the work you’re doing, and sometimes you might not find your audience here. As long as there’s trust in what I’m doing, who I’m doing it for, and who my work is in service to, I think there’s this sense of determination there that I’m excited about, that I I’m excited to leave and find my sense of community outside of this setting even though this setting has given me a lot and given me a lot to think about. It’s also given me a sense of being less apologetic for having a certain vision or being who I am as an artist.

Kimmah Dennis showing off one of her paintings.

Kimmah Dennis, Drawing and Painting

F News: I wanted to know a little bit about your practice since you’re a 2nd-year student, and you’re gonna be matriculating out of the university very soon. And so my first question is, what is your daily practice look like? Can you introduce yourself and then tell me a little bit about how you operate in your studio?

Kimmah Dennis: My daily practice looks like me coming into the studio around like 4 p.m., 5 p.m., staying until, like, 2 a.m., 6 a.m., maybe 1 p.m. that day, and then sleep all day and then come back and repeat over the weekends and when I don’t have classes. My practice is about my family archive or the lack thereof. I was born during the first Liberian Civil War back in 1996. My story begins with this separation from me and my culture. My family had to get pulled from Liberia to go to Guinea, and my mother was pregnant with me at the time.

I was moved from Guinea to Cote D’ivoire where I was born, and then Cote D’ivoire to Ghana. There was a lot of displacement, not really knowing where I belong because this is being uprooted from one location to another, and then finally my family got torn apart where my mother stayed in Ghana with my little brother, my little sister, and my dad, and my big sister, and I came to the US back in 2005. So there’s this kind of disconnect with my family where I didn’t grow up with my siblings and I didn’t grow up with a mother until I turned 15. My practice is kind of rediscovering my family archives, looking at photos, looking at images, hearing stories. It consists of me rebuilding that connection.”

I’m African, and we have a very strong tradition of, like, family, you know, hospitality, connectivity, um, and deeply rooted in one another. Just, uh, a community a strong community. And I feel like that’s kind of where my practice touched place. I’m interacting with people who kind of make an impact on my life and interacting them with other people who maybe they did not know, but now because they know me, they could get to know each other and kinda build that extended family.

F News: Are you inspired by anyone that you see in the school? Who or what are your influences?

KD: My influences are my family, 1st and foremost. Some very extremely amazing professors I had back in undergrad and some advisors that I’m advising with now, but also my cohorts. I know a lot of students who are touching base on the archive. One of my cohort, Lisa Debreau. She also touched base on the family archive. She’s a Jamaican native but she was first generation American so she’s never really got that strong cultural upbringing because she was raised here. So this is this connection between the islands and her and she’s trying to rediscover that connection. Another cohort of mine that’s doing extremely well is Lindsey Adams. She’s a 1st year MFA student. She is a bit less figurative than me and Lisa, but she is still touching on that archival of where Blackness comes from or, how can I explore this in many different ways? She uses a lot of expression of movement; a lot of vibrant colors to create these floral patterns. Check it out. It’s amazing.

F News: From the very first day you walked into today, how has your studio practice changed?

KD: Honestly, this is the work I submitted to get in. Right? And that’s the very first work I created when I came to SAIC. So you can kinda see the difference in the way I create, but there’s still the strong root and figuration. There’s been pushback from a lot of my advisors of me kind of pushing away from figuration. I’ve had questions as to why this figure is so important. That’s texture, the backgrounds, the materials, it’s doing all the things we’re trying to get out. So the cigarette isn’t really necessary. But I feel like as a Black woman, all my works, even though they may not intend to be political, there’s still a political statement being said. Just being a female painter’s political statement within itself.

If these figures that have been so long neglected in history, especially art history, why should I remove them? Yes, right now there’s a lot of that figuration going on, but there aren’t that many if you think about the spectrum of what art has been from the first 21st Century until now. That’s when they kinda started to get the recognition they deserve. But then it’s like, ‘Okay. We’re tired of seeing this. Do abstract. Do expressionism. Remove the figures.’ Why? Those figures mean something. They’re someone.

F News: Are there any other themes that I didn’t ask you about that are present in your work?

KT: A theme that’s very present in my work is that I’ve lost that missing time with family, that missing time with people. I feel like there’s always a search for connectivity in my work, like when I remove the figure and make it a more abstract version of the figure.

There’s a work that’s entitled “The All Fall.” It’s not like right now, but it is of four girls playing “Ring Around the Rosy,” but then one of them is obscured in like this mirror-like silhouette, where you can kinda see your reflection but disoriented. And there’s a sense of loss there. I feel like that kinda carries through on how it works subtly. So there’s also a sense of finding what’s missing.

A close-up portrait of Yukyeom Kim.

Yukyeom Kim, Art and Technology Studies

F News: What does your daily practice look like?

Yukyeom Kim: I am usually interested in making movement with some electronics. So yeah I make a lot of watercolor straws to make a mark of my emotions. So all of those things have become my material for my work.

F News: Whenever you’re in your studio, what are the influences that you use to make your work? I know you set your emotions, but is there anything else that you used to inspire you?

YK: I met a lot of performance people here, and they affect me a lot, I guess. I was interested in movement, and then they usually use their behavior as material for their work. I think human behavior represented in artwork could have the power to affect other people.

Kim’s piece about baby fever and the way babies use and are used by technology.

F News: Can you tell me a little bit about this piece?

YK: It surprised me, I have a baby fever. It’s a big baby fever. So I browsed a baby’s image a lot on the Internet, and then I saw the way people film their babies, and there’s a popular baby’s image and an unpopular baby’s image. So I was interested in what people expect from babies. I wanted to talk about expectations or the reason the baby should be born. My baby is learning other babies’ images. So it is a baby researching.

F News: How has your practice changed from the first day you came into your studio to today?

YK: I was a sculpture student before I got here. After I got into art and technology classes, I learned a lot of skills to make my works interactive. They can move, and this school taught me how to make sophisticated visual language with movement.

Mel Ramaker spinning fibers into yarn on a spinning wheel.

Mel Ramaker, Fibers

F News: Tell me a little bit about your daily studio practice.

Mel Ramaker: I focus a lot on slow craft. So I do a lot of knitting, a lot of crochet, and painting as well. So all the things that I do take a lot of time. In my studio, I work long hours just kind of working really close to the body — really small movements, with really small things and I want to use that to create bigger things as well.

F News: What influences you? What themes are in your work?

MR: I use a lot of themes of white conservatism, American Christianity, and the context of me growing up in that space, and what my actual experience with that was like. There’s also a lot about life and a lot about death — just a human human experience overall.

F News: How has your work changed from the very first day you stepped in your studio to today?

MR: Oh my gosh, it has changed so much honestly. I was previously a ceramicist and a painter, and I still love to do those things. But I came into the fiber department, and I’m self-taught in fiber. So it was definitely a new situation for me to learn technically all of these things. I came in and I did a lot of embroidery. I’m thinking a lot about things like religion and community and spirituality. But about halfway through the first semester, I found craft, crochet, knitting, and I literally never looked back; like, oh my god.

Crochet is amazing. So as you see behind you, everything is crochet now. So it’s a kind of a new and exciting world. I’m definitely thinking a lot about what it means to me because it is so new, And I’m just excited to grow and to learn new things and to see what else is out there.

F News: How do you source the fibers that you use and what ways do you like to go about getting the materials that you use?

MR: I really like to focus on long craft and I really enjoy taking the time, um, spend on making the thing from conception from the beginning through to the end. So I spin a lot of my yarn. I see. I get fiber, different types of fiber. I work in wool a lot right now. This [indicates] is TENCEL. It’s a wood cellulose fiber. Then I either dye it myself or it comes dyed. And then I ply it, and then I crochet it, and then I assemble it.

I really enjoy the process of just making. It seems to me that making a thing is more important to me than the finished product.

 

Chelsea Bighorn, Fibers

A close-up portrait of Chelsea Bighorn.

F News: Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your daily practice in your studio?

Chelsea Bighorn: I’m Lakota, Dakota, Shoshone Paiute, and Irish American. Currently, my practice focuses a lot on bringing forward adornment such as fringe and beadwork.

F News: Can you elaborate a little bit on adornment? What does it mean to you?

CB: When I think of it, I think of all of the extra things that are added within fashion to our clothing or specifically regalia, like powwow regalia, powwow dances. Fringe has played a really big part in that. You see fringe jackets, fringe dresses, And last year I was doing a project in micro macro, and we had to pick some kind of textile and I chose fringe. So I’m looking at the history of fringe, how it was used, and in dances how it’s used to emphasize body movements and I find it really interesting when it’s just stationary, not moving when it’s meant to be this thing that is active.

F News: Can you tell me a little bit more about the themes that you are exploring in your work?

CB: I currently am rediscovering a lot of my Native American heritage. I didn’t grow up traditional. So a lot of my work is based around that, Native American art, textiles, beadwork.

I’m working on another piece that is also kind of about movement and sound. It’s this one. [Indicates] Again, when it’s stationary, it’s just an object. But then when it comes off the wall and it moves, it creates this really amazing sound. Um, and when it can be worn on the body, you know, it drapes like fabric.

Bighorn’s piece blends sound and movement into a fabric-like sculpture.

F News: Are there any artists or any books that you’re reading or enjoying?

CB: I’m reading “Indigenous London” right now. It’s about indigenous peoples from the Americas who traveled to England; it’s about their experiences, their lives there. I’m also reading for fun, “Never Whistle at Night.” It’s an indigenous anthology of horror stories.

F News: How has your practice changed from the first day you walked in your studio to today?

CB: Oh my gosh. A lot. I didn’t come in as a fiber artist. Working with fabric and stuff is completely new to me. Still don’t know how to sew as a second year. I hand sew. I don’t use a machine. I mean, this is, like, one of the first things I started here. And, I mean, you just start, you know, playing with things in your studio and messing around, and all the classes here really allowed me to work with a lot of different materials. It pushed my practice to where it is now, which is great.

Xiaowen Bao showing off a handmade garment.

Xiaowen Bao, Fashion

F News: Tell me a little bit about your daily practice in your studio.

Xiaowen Bao (Bonnie): I do the garments, accessories, and I also do some fabric modification. My work is about transformation. Like, the transformation from the very traditional Asian Mongolian costume to a very modern contemporary clothes because I’m a Mongolian, but I don’t speak Mongolian, and I don’t live in that lifestyle. So it’s like a garment version of me. For my second year, I’m going to do this new stuff I’m working on, but it’s just very prototype. It’s a mimic of Chanel, and I’m going to incorporate some motors.

F News: What themes are in your work or what are you inspired by?

XB: I think I’m more inspired by very abstract things, what happens in the world, what happens in contemporary practice, and the impact from the world on me. So it’s kind of like a reflection and my influence on the world. My work is a reflection to the current happenings of the world.

F News: How has your work changed since your first day at SAIC?

XB: I’m more focused on the outcomes. I have transferred my major from finance to fashion design, so a very big transition. Before I focused more on the process; how does it go, and the reason behind my concept. And now I have more attention to focus on the outcomes and the visions. And I want it to be more obvious what’s behind it.

F News: What has inspired you at SAIC?

XB: I’m going to use some motors. I just saw a student using a robot to interact with people. She has them walk to the camera, and the camera will interact with them. And it’s like a mimic of AI, I think. I think it’s very interesting.

 

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