Joy club luck

UNR’s Wallworks

Can themes of consumerism, home and self be examined with TV screens?

Can themes of consumerism, home and self be examined with TV screens?

Photo by David Robert

When you attend the current show at Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, you will need to maneuver around the giant and ominous mobile in the entryway. Lit from the center and spinning slowly around, the mobile casts outward the shadows of twisted forms that run into view and across the back wall of the gallery, rotating in and out of focus.

“This is the first piece we did,” says Jeanne Jo, a senior studying for a bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Everyone made something, put it together and saw what we got out of it.”

The “everyone” she refers to is actually the group of 17 students enrolled in the three-week mini-session course titled “Wallworks.” The comprehensive class effort is now on display in Wallworks: Light, Sounds, Image.

For the mobile, each student was assigned the duty of creating one hanging piece from sheet metal and wire. It was also required that they focus on the subject of ‘self.’

Jo’s cat circles around as Pete Froslie’s sculpture of a man with a giant hand pursues. Numerous faces and forms, including a rocket ship, follow closely. When broken down into its parts, the mobile consists of many visions, but as it begins to stir, revolve and twirl, each smaller sculpture joins with the others; the individual identity is blurred as shadows run quickly—one immediately transforming into another—along the wall.

Traditionally, the Wallworks class has been centered on individual students creating individual works of art. Each member of the class has typically been allotted a generous section of empty wall, and the space in front of it, to create a large-format, mural-type piece in a studio setting. This year, however, Professor Joe DeLappe decided to rethink this format and challenge the students in new ways.

While the studio atmosphere remains the same this time around, the concept of the class is now to eliminate individual focus. The students and DeLappe decided on a display consisting of seven different components, each of which would be thought out and produced by all 17 members of the group. DeLappe assigned themes on the subjects of consumption, home and self, among others, for which the students were obligated to consider during the creative process.

The only major guideline students were required to follow was that all studio lighting had to be part of the work itself, conceptually and formally linked to any of the pieces the students would be designing. Resulting was a collaborative setting that addressed matters such as problem-solving, communication between artists and decision-making, and which forced students to, as DeLappe puts it, “learn to play well with others.”

In the days before the opening last week, the students were indeed working; Sheppard Gallery was abuzz with industrious excitement. The class had divided into groups, each addressing different aspects of the display. As some students finished construction on a large, wooden frame to house 17 televisions, each running a different looped video short, other students readied a pair of slide projectors, prepped to cast manipulated images onto a wall.

Some members of the class directed, some cleaned and some put the finishing touches on other installations throughout the gallery. As one student lettered the names of class members on the entry window outside, another found time to rest and observe some of the previously completed pieces, like a giant grid consisting of 105 small bottles of lemon-scented Joy detergent.

Inside each bottle rests a transparency upon which students earlier scribbled their contemplations on the word “joy.” The writing process was filmed at close range to later be superimposed over the mounted, soap grid.

Certainly the most uniform in structure among the seven different modules, the “joy” piece seems to best convey the anonymity in collaboration, even if there was quite a debate as to what item to display on the wall in the first place. Suppressing the urge to let their individual egos interpose and completely take over, many of the students conceded to one another and now seem pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

“Everyone is really mellow and willing to compromise," Jeanne Jo says reflectively, as she scans the gallery. "It’s cool to see 17 people working together and problem solving … like adults."