The Lay of the Landscape

grad student-curated exhibition

“The landscapes of my childhood—in Transylvania—are ever and always with me,” says grad student Lilla Szekely MFA 20 PR. “We always leave a mark on the landscapes we touch, and in turn those landscapes leave a mark on us.”

“We always leave a mark on the landscapes we touch, and in turn those landscapes leave a mark on us.”co-curator Lilla Szekely MFA 20 PR
All Ears, one of the proposed tools included in The Civilian Corps of Landscape Reassessment by Adam Bowen MID 19

Szekely’s exploration of making in relationship with the natural world struck a chord with fellow printmaker Heather McMordie MFA 20 PR, so the two joined forces in early September to co-curate Land // Fill // Land, a multidisciplinary exhibition on view in the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery.

The show “seeks to rethink, reframe and regenerate our relationship with the landscape,” explain the co-curators, who pulled together work presenting “personal impressions of the landscape and how it’s influenced by humans on both large and small scales.”

detail from Weaving My Own Ocean by Textiles tech Polly Spenner 10 TX

Land // Fill // Land presents a wide range of perspectives on people’s often troubled relationships with the spaces around them, incorporating everything from floor-to-ceiling textiles by Polly Spenner 10 TX (a technical assistant in Textiles) to sterling silver jewelry by grad student Diya Wang MFA 21 JM as well as prints, paintings, glass, sculpture and even a dreamy video game by grad student Thomas Brett MFA 21 DM with an original musical score.

“We visited the studios of almost everyone who participated in the show to make sure we were picking pieces that best represented the artists and best fit with the rest of the show,” says McMordie.

Co-curator Heather McMordie MFA 20 PR explains how work by Ji Yoon Chung MFA 20 DM reflects on environmental change.

In some cases, unexpected discoveries led the curators in new directions. When they spotted Distortion, for example—a huge, crystal-laden hammock by Architecture student Anya Drozd BArch 20—they knew it would work perfectly in the show. “Distortion is part of a series of explorations into how ocean currents move and how they’ve been altered by human activity,” Drozd explains.

In other cases, the work that originally caught the curators’ attention seemed right for the show but presented a puzzle in terms of creating a natural flow through the space.

Heightened Senses by Diya Wang MFA 21 JM monumentalizes the ephemera of the natural world.

“It really gave us the opportunity to think deeply about how to lay out a gallery and create a narrative for visitors as they walk through,” says McMordie, pointing out one of the primary lessons most new curators learn in the process. “Once we started installing the show, we kept asking ourselves, ‘Does this piece create a dialogue with the one next to it or is it just repeating what was said before?’”

Occupying center stage in the gallery is a series of pieces by recent grad Adam Bowen MID 19, including a giant, cartoonlike headset called All Ears. Part of his thesis project The Civilian Corps of Landscape Reassessment, it proposes a new branch of government that charges citizens with actively monitoring our shared resources.

“What I love about Adam’s project,” says McMordie, “is that he has created these really practical tools that anyone could use to learn more about the landscape.”

Soot at Home by Szekely and fellow printmaker Elena Redmond 21 PR reminds us that pollution affects both east and west.

Another multifaceted contribution to the show is Surface Study for Tide and Sediment by grad student Ji Yoon Chung MFA 20 DM, which brings together art and science.

The project incorporates vials of collected seawater and drawings made with carbon paper and copper plates that were submerged in the ocean and are tarnishing differently depending on the sediments they were exposed to.

Visitors take in Eclipse Phase, a powerful piece by alumna Deborah Cornell 69 PT.

“The piece is about changes that happen with the passing of time, which can be difficult to capture in visual art,” McMordie explains.

“To make these little images of the tide, the artist retraced the drawing using the same piece of carbon paper over and over again until there was no carbon left and you could barely see the drawing. It’s an amazing and subtle reflection on our disappearing resources.”

“It’s an amazing and subtle reflection on our disappearing resources.”Heather McMordie MFA 20 PR

Right next door in a private alcove providing sound insulation, a video projection piece by Boston-based alumna Deborah Cornell 69 PT with a soundtrack by Richard Cornell offers an abstract yet ominous looping view of an exploding sun. “The work acknowledges the nuclear fusion that is the essential precondition of material existence and suggests cataclysmic phases of transformation,” the artist notes.

Szekely (pictured) discovered that it was complicated to help artist Kara Cox MFA 20 PT use dirt inside the museum.

Szekely met Cornell several years back and was delighted to include her work in the exhibition. “Deborah has been working with these themes for years,” she explains, “and this is the first time she has shown this piece in North America. So, it was a very exciting find!”

Simone Solondz