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NewsOct 13, 2021

Video celebrates 2020 College of Art and Design graduates

After pandemic postponed exhibits, Lesley curator gave students professional portfolio

Every visual artist in our College of Art and Design exhibits their capstone work in one of Lesley’s professional art galleries or the historic Brattle Theatre…except when there’s a pandemic.

Just weeks before their final projects were to be exhibited, the Class of 2020 received the news that the culminating event of their undergraduate careers would have to wait and then, as Covid worsened, that it would have to wait some more.

Purple grow lights light up the inside of a hydroponic garden.
Grow lights illuminate a hydroponic garden in Nicholas van der Wal's photograph.

“The news was understandable but devastating,” says Director of Exhibitions Andrew Mroczek. “It’s such a celebratory opportunity to step back and look at what they’ve accomplished in their four years.”

When it became obvious that the exhibits would not be feasible given tightening health and safety protocols, Mroczek, an accomplished artist himself, decided to give the recent graduates an opportunity to display their work and have it professionally photographed and videoed.

“My rationale for that was to ensure that they would at least have the evidence of a handsomely installed and curated selection of their work within a professional gallery,” he says.

Triptych of a chunk of ice - Morgan Collins's artwork
A block of ice embedded with genetic code slowly melts in "Epigenetic" by Morgan Collins ’20.

For young artists, having those visuals improves their portfolios and gives gallery curators a sense of the impact their work can have in a physical space, Mroczek says.

He volunteered to install the students’ work in Lunder Arts Center’s Roberts Gallery and photographed each piece for a short film while photography alumnus John Dalterio (BFA ’17, MFA ’19) filmed the collections.

While only a few of the recent alums took Mroczek up on his offer, those who did were thankful to have the opportunity to have their work documented.

The big questions

The sound of dripping opens the short film as a sphere of melting ice embedded with text of human genetic codes comes into view. The piece is part of Morgan Collins’s exploration of religion and science titled “Cataphasis,” which also includes a 14-foot scroll of handwritten genetic code and a grid of translucent rubbery keys made of bacteria and yeast cultures.

“What interests me most are these sort of unknowns or big questions that we ask over and over again that have no perfect answer,” says Collins, an Interdisciplinary Studio Arts major with minors in Photography and Art History. “In science we repeat trials after trials and still don’t know exactly what’s inside an electron. In religion, we might pray, or we might repeat a creed over and over again waiting for some sort of answer that might or might not come to us.”

Keys made of cultures by Morgan Collins
"Bit and Bow" by Morgan Collins ’20

Collins said her work isn’t quite complete without the element of other people. For example, the dangling ice begins to spin as bodies warm the room. That can’t quite be replicated on film.

“There are these small human presences that introduce this little bit of alchemy that I really like,” she says, but the uncertainty she explores through her work is in keeping with the uncertainty of the world and the pandemic. “I grew up in a world where Pluto was a planet then it wasn’t a planet and now it’s a planet again.”

A strange land

Like Mroczek, photographer Nicholas van der Wal hoped his large-scale prints mounted on aluminum would be seen by gallery-goers at the Lunder Arts Center. But on video, van der Wal’s photos of the strange, unearthly world of industrial hydroponic farming are still arresting. For a year, van der Wal spent many of his weekends photographing operations throughout the northeast, where vegetables are grown in sterilized indoor environments and farmers often have little contact with their product.

“I was really trying to capture these idealized spaces in which vegetation is grown in this form of perfection,” he says. “They’re trying to control every single aspect of it, which is surreal in a way.”

A greenhouse glows purple with grow lights. Photo is outside. Nathaniel van der Wal
A greenhouse sits in an empty field. Photo by Nathaniel van der Wal ’20.

So are van der Wal’s images. In one, a greenhouse sits in an empty field emitting an extraterrestrial glow of purple grow lights. It’s “sci-fi,” “strange” and “unreal,” says the artist. “This new horizon, this strange landscape, is this our future?” he asks.

It’s a question he would also like his viewers to ponder as winters get warmer, wildfires consume the West and resources become scarcer.

Mroczek praised the diverse and thoughtful subject matter of each student represented on the film, from the haunting black-and-white photography of Nina Mollo and the ethereal quality of works by Ellysabeth Cianci, to the inclusive and detailed illustrations of Victoria Miller and the striking neon pieces by Nik Noel.

“Our 2020 graduates were working within a broad range of complex and thoughtful subject matter,” says Mroczek. “These six artists demonstrate how materiality, color, luminosity and concept work harmoniously in the development of thesis projects.”