2021–2022 Smart Scholars

Archive of 2021–2022 Smart Scholars projects

Sarahi Rincon Molina
2021–2022 Smart Scholar
Andrew Luk is a contemporary artist who uses non-traditional materials in his art practice, highlighting form and materiality, from the history of a material to its chemical properties. His Horizon Scan series involves the mixing of gasoline and polystyrene to create homemade napalm, which he then burned on painted canvas. Intrigued by Luk’s practice and his work in the Smart Museum collection, Horizon Scan No.12 and Horizon Scan No.13, third year Art History and Chemistry major Sarahi Rincon Molina researched the artist’s use of modern materials, specifically plastics, to ground their Smart Scholars project.

Molina established a foundation for their project by learning the history of plastic materials, notably how plastics were discovered in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, and further developed in the 1930s as a result of WWII that then made them accessible, to the general public and artists. The exploration of plastics as art materials led to their consideration of art conservation and the natural degradation of unstable polymers.

From in-depth research into Luk’s studio practice, Molina found that through the destruction of plastic materials, his Horizon Scan series convey an apocalyptic landscape scene that juxtaposes the utopian ideals of plastics and the dystopian reality of plastic waste in the environment, plastics in warfare, and plastic degradation as an art conservation concern in museums.

Influenced by Luk’s studio practice, Molina conducted hands-on experiments with everyday plastic materials. Their process involved mixing, melting, and destroying polystyrene, plaster, polyurethane foam, spray paint, and more. Molina worked with abstract industrial products and exposed the materials to harsh conditions, like fire, which made chemical changes visible on the surface of the polyurethane foam.

In the spring, they concluded their research with a public program at the Smart Museum, Exploring Modern Materials Art Lab. The lab included a short lecture, where Molina shared their research on Andrew Luk’s practice, the history of plastics, and their art-making experiments. After the lecture, participants were able to get a sense of Luk’s practices by spray painting Styrofoam, which erodes the material, and collaging the plastic fragments into their own artificial landscapes.

Daisy Coates
2021–2022 Smart Scholar
In her zine “Queering Greco-Roman Mythology,” fourth year Art History and Cinema and Media Studies major Daisy Coates examines and applies a contemporary lens to Greco-Roman myth and ideas of gender through two works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Through an exploration of Witkin’s works Canova’s Venus and The Graces, Los Angeles, from the Smart Museum collection, Coates shows how Greco-Roman mythology supplies context for gender archetypes and metamorphosis that are then appropriated into queer culture and resulting art.

Coates began her research by closely examining Witkin’s work, the narratives attached to Greco-Roman gods/goddesses, and the practices of representing the gods in visual art. She also studied Witkin’s practice through interviews, documentaries, and exhibition publications/texts; as well as related theory and the original texts that representations of Greco-Roman gods draw from. Together the photos and the narratives produce a compelling argument for the application of gender mutability to Greco-Roman myth.

Coates noticed that within Greek and Roman mythological narratives and art, rigid gender roles and archetypes are at times present in the tradition of depicting gender and gender differences. These integral aspects of Greco-Roman media give way to a gender mutability that allows for an appropriation of their narratives in queer and transgender art. Joel-Peter Witkin’s work draws from these popular narratives and iconography in his photos, often using transgender people.

To share her research thesis Coates created a zine “Queering Greco-Roman Mythology” which focuses more on the narratives of transgender people and themes within Greco-Roman myth. From research into myths that are shared or similar in both cultures, there is a large sum of narratives that display gender transformation or transition as a peaceful union, or a bettering of the person. Coates’ zine aims to explore and amplify those stories by displaying them with a contemporary lens and and medium that is utilized by marginalized communities.

Aashana Daru
2021–2022 Smart Scholar
Inspired by Gerald Williams’ paintings Wake Up and Messages, second year Biological and Biomedical Sciences major Aashana Daru began her research journey with the aim of exploring how these works represent African American life in the United States. As she researched her focus shifted to the inherent qualities of the work itself, namely Williams’ art as a reflection of the cultural, historical, and visual contexts in which it was produced.

Williams is a key artist associated with the AFRICOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists)—an African American artists collective formed in 1968 Chicago. This collective later evolved into the Black Arts Movement.

Early in the research process and with the support of her research mentor, Daru was able to interview Gerald Williams. This interview shifted the course of her research and as a result she spent time reading books about AFRICOBRA by other AFRICOBRA artists (recommended by Williams). She then analyzed the works through the lens that AFRICOBRA created for themselves in their manifesto, formally called the AFRICOBRA principles. These principles were the foundation of creating a unique artistic language that was created by Black people, for Black people. A community historically underrepresented in contemporary art of the day.

Upon encountering the AFRICOBRA principles, Daru worked on decoding the visual language while honoring its intricacies and meaning. As part of this translation, Daru performed an elemental and comparative analysis of both works, noting how the principles were incorporated in art, deconstructing them principle-by-principle. She presented her translation work in a research paper, focusing specifically on the elements of color. To further develop this, she chose the ten most dominant shades, and creatively captioned them in relation to the very significant principle of “Kool Aid Colors” as well as the intended meaning of the works. Lastly, to apply these principles to Daru’s Indian identity, she adapted some of the principles to create a postcard-sized creative response. Not intended to visually resemble Williams’ work, she aimed to incorporate the ideas of meaningful color, purposeful and creative use of text while staying true to organic forms, lines, and structure.

Livia Miller
Michael Rakowitz’s paraSITE imagines new use for discarded, marginal urban space and envisions new forms of comfort and shelter to similarly marginalized individuals. Fourth year Anthropology major Livia Miller’s Smart Scholars project considered the theory and materiality of the work prompting them to think critically about both “marginal” spaces and “marginal” materials.

The form of the paraSITE series is simple; plastic tubing is inflated by heat vents or fans, creating interior spaces of privacy, rest, and comfort. The materiality is ubiquitous but also ingenious; using the air byproducts of industrial heating and cooling system to inflate a plastic space repurposes resources that are often entirely invisible.

The method of Miller's research began with immersing themself in the literature about Rakowitz’s art practice. They read his writing and transcriptions of conversations with artists and augmented those ideas with those of architects and thinkers also engaging with questions of social practices and urban space. In the winter quarter, Miller visited Rakowitz’s studio in Chicago and transitioned from thinking and reading to making. From Rakowitz they learned how to fabricate plastic inflatables and other technical details of production.

As the final component of their Smart Scholars project and Department of Visual Art BA Thesis show Miller installed “I Think We’re Getting Somewhere,” where they focused on integrating the ideas behind Rakowitz’s project and his fabrication process. Miller's final piece is titled Touch Grass, which references a common online refrain (“go outside and touch grass!” when someone says something particularly unhinged) as well as the literal outdoor landscape. They constructed a roughly 6’ long, 3’ wide plastic bubble, inflated at one end by a small fan found in the bowels of a passed-down Hyde Park living space. The body of the inflatable is made from plastic textile, scavenged plastic packaging and disposable bags. Taped together and globulus, Touch Grass gestures at shelter as well as the sheltered body.