Words from the President: Michelle Graves and IMAGe Unit

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Michelle Graves is an InterArts student dedicated to getting things done. In her third and final year, Graves has been balancing her upcoming thesis project with perhaps the most important of positions in the student body–that of IMAGe Unit President for the Media side of InterArts. I caught up with the Prez to get her thoughts on her art practice, a layout of IMAGe Unit under her leadership, and where she hopes the student organization will go when she graduates.

Before we start in with department politics, let’s talk about you. What was your background before arriving at InterArts? 

I definitely have considered myself an interdisciplinary artist all along. My background is in photography, but even in undergrad I was doing video and using PhotoShop to make images. Since then, I’ve started writing—writing as a performance and integrating text into my images. I’m also doing research in other fields for the work, such as philosophy, psychology, anatomy, and mathematics. For me, making interdisciplinarity means making work framed by other sources or fields.

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Currently, I’m working on my thesis, which is focusing on the breath. I’m interested in the anatomical frame of looking at the lungs and how we intake oxygen and the environment in order to survive. We all share this air. We use it to communicate and question our existence and experience.

Communication is a good segue into your role as IMAGe Unit President. What is the organization and what is your role in it?

IMAGe Unit (Interdisciplinary Media and Arts Group) is an umbrella group allowing students to collaborate with one another on a larger scale. With Columbia College Chicago recognizing us as a student organization, we are able to deal with money, programming, and decision-making with our InterArts Faculty advisor Jeanine Mellinger. We can get more done faster as an organization.

One of my duties as IMAGe Unit President is to be a liaison between SOC (the Student Organization Council) and IMAGe Unit. I go to the SOC meetings and relay opportunities to IMAGe Unit about fundraising, social events, and organization presence within and outside Columbia.

And you were a direct catalyst for some of those events…

Yes. One big event IMAGe Unit accomplished last year was the international exhibition Post-Human // Future Tense in collaboration with DEPS (Department of Exhibition and Performance Spaces). We submitted a proposal to them about how our [current graduate student] generation is the last to have grown up without the full influence of technology. Our call for work asked for pieces that could address that influence on our future as a culture. The international artist Danny Plager came to our closing reception as a lecturer and performer, which was a huge victory for that show and as an organization.

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Other events we’ve done have been small fundraiser gallery shows for students to present their work and raise funds to travel. For example, we went to CAA (the College Art Association) meeting in New York last year on some of those funds gained from the exhibit. We’re planning on doing the same for our trip to CAA this coming winter in Los Angeles.

Looking inside the department, there was a debate about studio spaces for the Media students. Did IMAGe Unit assist in arriving to the current integrated (and awesome) model?

Definitely! IMAGe Unit really pushed to allow the Media students to have studio spaces. The original system was a communal room on the North Side of the 1104 South Wabash basement. Individual spaces branched off from this central room that students could check out for two weeks at a time. It was a system that just wasn’t working. Our argument was that we needed a grounded space for students to make work, not just a temporary area for making. And the next year, we got it done.

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Now, there’s an interesting interaction happening between Media and Book & Paper students, the latter group having had studio spaces on the South Side of 1104. These two sides of the department are starting to blend. We’re seeing Book & Paper students taking Media classes like Sound as an Art Material and Space & Place. Media students are now taking Book & Paper classes. It’s a great thing for the department to show its interdisciplinarity.

Since you’re graduating this year, you’ll have to step down as President. Where do you see IMAGe Unit heading in the future?

My hope is that IMAGe Unit has set a proactive tone for the first- and second-year students, and to keep that going. This organization needs students who can make positive decisions for the entirety of the department—acknowledging who we are, embracing it, and pushing our abilities to be better. We need to convey those aspirations to incoming students.

This department is an odd one. It has no undergrad component. Things are changing in how it is defined. So, the sooner students realize how much they have a say in shaping the department, the better.

I hope we continue to send proposals for exhibitions, raise funds, and be a presence at CAA…but having fun while we do it. You can be passionate and hardworking in this interdisciplinary field, and still have fun. It’s very rewarding.

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