Arts students responded to the political theme, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” with broad and personal takes in work presented at the 2018 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, which opened on March 16 at The Anderson gallery.
Charles Westfall, the director of The Anderson, said this was the first year the show has had a set theme.
“We wanted to introduce a wrinkle and professionalize it a little more in a healthy way,” Westfall said, “extend the challenge presented to the students by having a themed call so that it wasn’t just a ‘best of,’ but a show organized around a conceptual principle.”
The exhibition’s juror, Alex Klein of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art, selected 37 works out of 199 submissions. She said she chose the theme in part because of its relevance to Richmond and the rest of the state being that it’s Virginia’s state motto. The latin phrase, which translates to “thus always to tyrants,” also relates to modern political debates, such as those surrounding Richmond’s Confederate monuments, Klein said.
“I was trying to think of something that would both relate to the local position, but could also have a broader interpretation,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of complications around art in public space, right now.”
Klein said she enjoyed seeing the different reactions to the prompt. Some artists — like the exhibition’s best in show winner, Summer Balcom, a senior studying craft and material studies and art education — produced a more personal interpretation.
Balcom’s performance piece was inspired by her sister’s military burial at Arlington Cemetery. At first, Balcom said she didn’t think the personal nature of the performance, in which she mimicked the ceremonious folding of the flag with a slab of clay, would fit the political theme.
“Now that I see it in the space with other pieces, I feel like it really shows more of a struggle of personal power,” Balcom said. “The politics of experiences of loss and how that weight is carried through time.”
Though the performance was originally submitted as a video, Balcom said she was asked to perform the work live at the exhibition. The request was unexpected, but she thinks the work is best experienced as a live performance.
“I think it’s so much more impactful because you’re witnessing this moment that will never happen again,” Balcom said. “It’s really different to be in that space with the person and the artwork. I think it really changes the piece, makes it more personal to you.”
Balcom used a 140-pound slab of clay for the performance, a number she says is significant because it was her sister’s body weight, in addition to her own. The physical weight is representative of the situation’s emotional heaviness, representing the effect on Balcom.
“I feel like every time, it’s a very reflective, kind of somber thing for me to go through and think about what’s happening,” Balcom said.
Klein said Balcom’s piece touched on every facet of the prompt and the work itself can be interpreted a multitude of ways, given the well-known nature of the symbol of the flag.
Participation in the exhibition also gives student artists an opportunity to see how their work interacts with other pieces.
“I think it’s great experience to think about how your work goes from a private studio to a public space of discussion,” Klein said. “You have to stand up for your work when it’s on the wall because a lot of different people are going to see it.”
Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor