InterArts Class Profile: Space & Place

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Space & Place is a defining class for InterArts students in the course of their graduate studies in the department. The reason? Collaboration. It is the foundation that instructor Jeanine Mellinger implements for the class, pushing students to collectively create works that utilize all of a given environment. Not only is Space & Place a course in site-specific installation, it is a training session in working well with others…the results of which are always a pleasant surprise for everyone involved.

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The structure of the course fluctuates with the size and personality of each incoming class. Performers and dancers may comprise much of a given year, and the installation labs in 916 South Wabash may turn into performance spaces. Or a smaller class (as in my case) may develop tighter collaborative bonds and design a large installation spread across the multiple labs as one experience for the viewer. Since Space & Place is only available to students after their first year, students are well-acquainted with one another and can anticipate how their group will operate.

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The first set of S&P works opened last week, and I had the opportunity to visit them repeatedly over the past few days. Two of the three labs became Susceptible, an installation environment exploring the realms of comfort and unease through physical space. Warm amber lights filled the entrance area of one lab, coloring the folds of fabric on the walls as if they were living membranes; an unlit narrow hallway scattered with rice crunched like hard snow from an impending winter; a full-size painting of people appeared as frozen cavemen behind a curtain of plastic. These sensory vignettes were controlled enough to create a specific mood, but abstract enough for viewers to bring their own interpretations to the installation.

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Alexa Rittichier, one of four Susceptible collaborators, explained that this open structure was their goal for the installation. “From our view, the pieces create a certain mood, but certain people may not have similar feelings,” she said, “we’re interested in what narratives a viewer could make with the different areas”. A case in point are the aroma pods hanging in both spaces–fabric sacs filled with mint, chamomile, and other herbs. The chamomile triggered memories of my grandmother’s house in Michigan, altering my perception of the rest of the installation…one of an infinite number of associations depending on the viewer.

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Transmute, the second installation, took a very pointed approach towards the relationship (or, better put, tension) between industry and nature. The group, consisting of Media and Book & Paper students, created a garden space of handmade paper, video projection, and interactive planting. Blocks of ice hung above the tabletop container of soil, slowly melting in the light of a mediated sun. Viewers were encouraged to plant their own seeds and revisit the space to observe their horticultural efforts.

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This organic beauty was contrasted with a paper print of a coal factory planted in the soil as well. A video projection of the same coal factory overlaid the print, almost haunting the garden space with the specter of pollution. As a viewer, I had to accept the premise of Transmute: man-made contamination is another element in the natural process now, and it will continue to alter the balance of our ecosystem.

There is an encouraging note though. Despite the absence of natural light and lack of water, the seeds viewers planted began to sprout. In fact, they did more than that. They sprouted and lifted the factory print, little by little, out of the soil. Perhaps nature, in its quiet defiance, will have the last word in the argument.

Stay tuned to the InterArts website for more Space & Place installations throughout the semester.

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