Kinetic student sculptures interact with campus landscape

Student sculptures permeated Vassar’s campus in the last few weeks of the spring semester. Members of the Vassar community were encouraged to interact with some of the sculptures and experience art. Photo By: Samantha Rosenwald
Student sculptures permeated Vassar’s campus in the last few weeks of the spring semester. Members of the Vassar community were encouraged to interact with some of the sculptures and experience art. Photo By: Samantha Rosenwald
Student sculptures permeated Vassar’s campus in the last few weeks of the spring semester. Members of the Vassar community were encouraged to interact with some of the sculptures and experience art. Photo By: Samantha Rosenwald

With its eclectic mix of architecture and blooming trees, Vassar’s campus is always a beautiful one come the end of the spring semester. Over the last couple weeks, students enrolled in sculpture class this past semester have work on display amongst the budding trees and picturesque buildings.

The sculpture show is a combination of the works of students from Sculpture I and II and, as of recent years, features Video Art displays as well. The pieces on display around campus mostly came out of class assignments, though students have the flexibility to create what they desire  “Many of the assignments are open-ended enough so that some of the students went and planned to do larger, outdoor sculptures,” Professor of Art Harry Roseman said. “This term there was not a particular assignment to work in the landscape or very large. These sculptures are answers to assignments that had lots of room for moving around.”

The sculpture classes were structured around a cycle of assignment-workday-workday-workday-critique. “We would get a new prompt (often slightly cryptic) every few weeks and then spend the following five to six classes developing ideas and building, said Samantha Rosenwald ’16, whose Mylar cone was on display in the quadrangle in front of Vogelstein. “Each prompt culminates in a critique day where we see and comment on all of the finished pieces,” she said.

The function of the sculpture show is to encourage dialogue between viewers, artists and the pieces of work themselves.

“We ask what art can do, what its function is, [how] it contributes to the viewer’s experience, sense of the world, to their vision of the world, and to their thinking about both art and life. At its best, that’s what we hope is going to happen,” said sculpture Professor Harry Roseman. Roseman added, “But at its most fundamental and straightforward level, it’s very nice for students to see what other students are doing. It’s nice to see serious work from students who are in a discipline that is different from their own.”

Rosenwald’s Mylar cone was a product of a class assignment that dealt with the students’ understandings of weight and gravity. “The idea was to create a piece that seemed to be disconnected from gravitational pull and ambiguous in both weight and support,” she said. “The reflective exterior disorients the viewer, blending with its surroundings and distorting what it reflects. I intended the sculpture to seem to defy rules of weight while simultaneously bearing a distorted, disorienting reflection of its surroundings.”

Like Rosenwald, Hannah Fink ’14 is one of the many sculpture students to have work on display. Unlike many of the sculpture students, however, Fink is lucky enough to have a number of her sculptures exhibited throughout campus. These sculptures include a “lettuce-cacti,” as the artist calls it, which is placed alongside Sunset Lake, four sculptures in the Palmer gallery, and her “TriChairitops,” which is beside the path to the All Campus Dining Center. Fink’s most recent work includes a kinetic model of a colon, a slap box, a wire sculpture of a fish skeleton, and a photograph of a temporary instillation of floating grass.

Fink worked hard on her pieces throughout the year in both the physicality of the works themselves and the creative impetus behind them; the artist largely aimed for her sculptures to incorporate movement.

“The kinetic model of a colon was made out of 45 hand carved wooden gears,” she said. “The colon itself was made out of a fishnet stocking, and push rods [which] cause the “colon” to expand and contract with the rotation of the gears in such a pattern that it could potentially push something through it.”

Fink also intended for viewers to have an active—as well as light-hearted—relationship with her work. She said, “The slap box is a box that has an opening for somebody to stick their head. Inside of it is a silicone rubber mold of my hand attached to a rod on a pivot. The rod’s end is attached to a spring with a string that pulls the hand back. When you let go of the string, the hand comes around to slap the viewer in the face.”

The kinetic model of a colon and the slap box are Fink’s two favorite works that she completed this year due to their interactive qualities. “I enjoy making kinetic sculptures that people can interact with. I also enjoy watching people’s reactions to them. People often feel slightly embarrassed after experiencing the slap box.”

Fink continued, “They usually laugh and smile after exiting, but also seem sheepish, because even if you are fully prepared to be slapped in the face, even if you count down to your own slapping, and even if you aren’t being slapped by a human hand, there is some sort of shame and embarrassment felt when getting slapped in the face that people can’t seem to shake.”

For both Fink and Rosenwald, having works of sculpture on display around campus can be a revealing and self-realizing experience that leads artists to reconsider their original goals and conceptions of their pieces. “It is very eye-opening and makes for clarity for students to see their own work out of the environment in which it was made,” said Roseman.

“When the work gets put out, you have to back up and see the work as a viewer as much as a creator-artist. It sort of makes you understand better what you’ve done and how it sits in the world. Sometimes it’s reassuring and sometimes it’s not so reassuring, but it certainly gives you a little bit of distance.”

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