FYS is approached as inquiry development. Through multiple mediums and disciplines, students are encouraged to think through an idea, sustain a thought, and develop more questions than answers. This means students are learning that a thought takes time, a thought gathers, and thinking is a difficult pursuit.
We support students in engaging the mind and developing the way thoughts are considered, articulated, and in conversation with the world at large. In order to develop this abstraction, students produce artifacts that represent their attention, exploration of ideas, and focus/relationships with those ideas. It is a risky class in the sense that it isn’t easy to represent an abstraction, to make an abstract thought communicable, and to assess how that thought has been considered with your peer group.
Emerson understands that thoughts are influenced by the world around us—nothing appears out of a vacuum, and, instead, everything relies on the practice of collecting, collaborating, and experiencing. In an effort to experiment with collaboration, Emerson looked at the “stark” black and white images of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis and wondered about the political intention of “neglecting” color. Was it to make the character an “every person”? Was it to subdue the “Middle Eastern” context and politics? Was it to erase arbitrary boundaries? Emerson couldn’t know the intention, but he could relate the color lack to a reference in his own expertise: Orson Welles’s insistence that Citizen Kane remain a black and white film.
Suddenly, black and white shifted to an issue of “high art” instead of a cultural question. Black and white, in this context, is associated with words like classic, clean, professional, and polished.
Starting with the subjectively “low brow comic” and the “high brow graphic novel”, Emerson continued to apply relationships: “low brow movies” like Transformers and their relationship to “high art”/classic films like Citizen Kane. And he kept going with this thought, remembered this quotation: “Keep Ted Turner and his goddamned Crayolas away from my movie!”
Emerson started to see colorization, colonization, and categorization as akin. Emerson started to add color to Citizen Kane; he started to manipulate the film and edit, cut, and mesh the film with scenes from the movie Transformers. He was critiquing multiple things at once: ownership, color as a construct of high and low art, color as a racial construct, and the right—or infringement of copyrights—to “collaborate” with already existing materials like films.
The study was wobbly, unyielding and did not offer easy answers. The work was in tune with our prompt, a quotation from Mark Handforth, “I let objects collapse, and through their destruction they are transformed. So, in a sense, through their destruction they are reborn. It’s a creative act beginning with failure. In this failure things become something else—and that something else is often much more beautiful and interesting than the original.”
The work, in Emerson’s mind, represented questions of authenticity and, in opposition to Handforth, the adoration of the “authentic.”
I can’t say Emerson found an answer or a way to convey an answer. Instead, Emerson started a conversation about guilt and what it means to “borrow” or alter. How close can you get to destroying a work before it becomes unethical? This can be applied to something as small as a button or as large as a film—if someone has made something, anything, when and how do we determine its value? Is it different to color Welles’s Citizen Kane than to add new buttons to an old blouse? What gives these “objects” different values and what gives us different privileges and relationships to these objects? Emerson succeeded in bridging conversations, in seeing how intricate small actions/thoughts can become. Emerson succeeded in approaching questions of value regarding workmanship and the labor of making—why isn’t all “labor” seen as equally valuable? Why preserve films and not work harder to preserve a handmade basket?
FYS Instructor: Kristen Orser
Emerson Sigman (major/Film): Born in Chicago, Emerson has moved six times in the eighteen years since his birth. Sigman returned to the city to attend Columbia College Chicago, where he currently sates his sense of wonderment through the medium he idolizes: film. His works are personal explorations of what fills his mind at the time of inspiration. The common threads connecting all of his works are his interests in haecceity—that which makes something what it is—and the experimentation involved in removing that, taken in combination with the manipulation of perception.