So, a few weeks ago I said I wanted to write about my classmates and peers. I did three interviews after making that post, and at that point most everyone else had left for Christmas break and, around the same time, the burst of energy I had ran out. Call it residual energy from school that then petered out.
I don’t do well with nothing to do, and the motivation to make work and write has started creeping back in. I’ll write this with the disclaimer that I still don’t quite know how I want to go about these posts about my peers’ work. The biggest hitch is, everyone’s work is so good that I don’t know what to add to it; I’m not really trying to figure out anything new about it through writing (which is why I write about my own work on this blog). So, I will write in admiration and respect. As I said before, I am indebted a great deal to my peers for the awesome work they make and the stellar learning environment they help to create.
I asked Shannon what she thought art was, and she said “Nothing. Nothing is art.” A true zen saying.
Shannon has been in at least one of my studios every semester since we started in photo in the fall of 2014. I’ve gotten to be much better friends with her over the last semester, and her work has changed a fair bit since I first met her, so it was fun sitting down to talk to her and reminiscing about some of the projects she made in Digital Imaging 1, which we had together our first semester in the photo program.
I won’t look for any of the work we talked about, but it’s suffice to say that it looked a lot different than the things she makes now. She attributed the previous work primarily to trying to fit work into the assignment and play to the tastes of the professor, approaching assignments as just that- assignments. Shannon spoke of assignments in terms of graphic design: fulfill the parameters and make the client, the professor, happy.
When I asked Shannon what one of of her most fun project was, she mentioned this one, which was a portrait assignment in her darkroom 1 class. Shannon has spoken negatively of portraits, saying that the thought of capturing someone’s personality, emotions, any substance of a person besides their appearance is a silly thing- a futile undertaking. So, tasked with a portrait assignment, Shannon decided to take it in the opposite direction and create this collage of tightly cropped vignettes of herself. She spoke of it as one of the first instances in which she went a completely opposite direction in an assignment than what her professor wanted, and despite the fact that the professor absolutely hated it, she liked it. Of course, she said she then hated it a month or so later. Such is the vicious cycle of art school.
And art school is a sort of vicious cycle, but Shannon always seems to stay on top of it. She described her approach to artmaking as “militant” and “a lot of staying up late”. And there certainly is a lot of the latter. When Shannon, my friend John, and myself were locked down in pollak for what felt like a continuous week of no sleep the past finals, John ended up wheatpasting posters that said “you suck” and his name all over a part of our building, I ended up making a project that was essentially whining that I couldn’t make perfect prints, and Shannon just held it down and made really kick ass work.
Throughout my time interviewing her, she never really let on that she thought she was making exceptional work. This was in the spirit of knowing that she’d move on from what she was making now, or maybe not, but even if she didn’t it would become much better, and the best stuff was still ahead of her. She had some idea that eventually there would come a time when she had “arrived” and was making good work- maybe at 60 years old, though she hopes it’s before then.
Similarly, she said the idea for a project always comes to her, though that may only be a few days before the final thing is due. As of now, she starts with her formal inclinations and works at those, works at realizing objects and images she has some sort of idea for, and realizing them perfectly, and the “why” comes as she makes the thing itself.
And have I mentioned how stellar the things themselves are? That’s another thing I admire about her work- how beautifully realized it all is. The above photo, I can’t even remember if that’s documentation of an installation or the photo she later printed for crit. Her documentation and digital work is always pristine. She spoke of there always being a “right” or “fully edited” in the digital space, but the difficulty comes in translating that to a physical media- there’s always going to be a bit of dust, or a wrinkle, or a fold, or an unwanted glare. Her meticulousness is best seen in the digital space. I once saw one of her files that had a curves layer that could not have been masked more than 10% visible on the areas it was affecting with a curve moved mere points in the direction she needed it to be. Toggling the layer on and off, it certainly made some difference, but only being able to see what it was doing and the before and after. I certainly wouldn’t have noticed it, though she would’ve, and she was quick to state this fact- she will always notice the smallest imperfections in her work and is quick to edit them.
That’s one of the most exciting things about Shannon’s work for me- it always looks like her work. I make fun of her sometimes for being in love with grids, but her work has a rigorous aesthetic that goes beyond any one motif. I’ve seen her try a lot of different forms this past semester and none of it was half-assed. When translating her work from a perfect digital space to the analog space which certainly has a higher chance of things going wrong, she always brings such a level of patience and control and formal, rapt attention to her materials that it’s usually quite easy to pick out whatever work is hers.
It’s hard for me to say exactly what Shannon’s work is about at this point other than trying to exact this level of control over her materials. There are other classmates that I can say with a fair bit of confidence what their work is generally “about”- the themes and areas of interest they explore. However, with Shannon’s work it seems to me that she explores her materials and begins to start picking at a few ideas without ever going too deep into them. Which I think she’s fine with, ultimately. I think it’s a very sound assessment of what’s useful to do in an undergraduate art degree. Rather than making work with the assurance of “I know what I’m doing and just need to do it better” I see her work as “I need to get better at what I’m doing then I’ll know” and I’d say she’s doing a great job.
It’s a restlessness, certainly. But I think that’s such an important component, if not the main thrust, of learning to make great art.
Shannon’s tumblr for more of her work.