Department of Art and Art History Study Abroad

Haley Parsa, undergraduate in Studio Art, receives UT System Regents' Outstanding Student Award in Arts and Humanities

Sat. April 30, 2016

Haley Parsa, undergraduate in Studio Art, received the 2016 Regents' Outstanding Student Award in Arts and Humanities. Only two students will be awarded across The University of Texas System. Both students will be recognized in May at the U.T. System Board of Regents' meeting.

Parsa’s work covers a large variety of mediums, gliding smoothly between them, never committing entirely to one or the other. The ways in which images or objects are embedded in and experienced within time, histories, bodies and space through repetition and documentation is a point of investigation within Parsa’s work. Repetition negates the passage of time yet each mark, unit, form, is documentation of a repeated action.

As an Iranian-American, her Persian history and her connection with it are placed under an intimate and meditative lens. Parsa challenges the expectation to identify with one culture wholly yet entertain both sides and works to situate herself somewhere in between the two. By embracing the liminality of not belonging to one side or another, Parsa is interested in how things can engage with histories and with space to transform, to become more mysterious and impactful.

Farsi letters written in black in on white paper
You Are My Liver, 2016, lithograph, 25 x 18 inches.

This originated from a reoccurring childhood memory of my grandmother that is carried out to this day. As she only speaks Farsi, almost everything she's ever said has had to be translated to me. She would always say "you are my liver," meaning "you are my life/I cannot live without you." Not only was this phrase funny to me but it was always funny to think I feel completely connected to her even though we've never "spoken" - that I can still be in touch with my family, roots, heritage on a very intimate level despite not knowing Farsi or being "fully" Persian or being Persian "enough." I have struggled to situate and understand my place in my family and myself as an Iranian-American woman.

Aesthetically, the piece employs the same repeated letter technique used when learning a language on a fundamental, elementary level. Each letter of the Farsi alphabet is contained in an organic shape similar to bodily, liver-like parts all composing one unit.

black and white print of abstract shapes
Chromatophores at Your Local Grocery, 2015, hand reduction screenprint, 22 x 15 inches.

I drew inspiration from an unlikely source: the grocery store. I took what appeared to be mangled meat or fish and distorted the image into a more abstract representation while staying true to the present values. It was important to treat each indistinguishable form with the same attention and grace. Each is rendered in a very precise and meticulous way in hand reduction (totaling 7 layers) to make accentuate the 3-Dimensionality of this seemingly grotesque abstracted image that would not normally be warranted this much attention or found as striking and curious.

Bucky Miller reflects on his time in London as RCA exchange student

Thu. February 25, 2016

Each fall, Royal College of Art, London (RCA) sends one graduate student to study at UT Austin, and the Department of Art and Art history sends one graduate student in their third semester to study in London. Bucky Miller, M.F.A. candidate in Studio Art, studied in London last fall.



First, an American man wearing all denim and an eye patch picked me up at Heathrow and took me to meet Genie, who was to live my life for a while. I was in London as an exchange student at the Royal College of Art Program in Sculpture, where I would spend four months working and researching through the seemingly limitless layers of history that describe that city.

courtyard surrounded by brick buildings

The majority of the pictures I made during my trip, the majority of the research I accomplished, will hopefully find their own versions of sense over the coming months. But some pictures are outliers—one-offs or tangents that could easily slip through the cracks. I shared some of these tangents on the website of the Walkative group. Here are a few more:


volley ball floating between white walls in large room

I was housed alongside nearly seventy M.A. students inside the RCA Sculpture studios. The student body is so large that I don’t even think I met everyone in Sculpture, let alone the other disciplines, but I miss the ones I met. It is quite an international group, and I was one of only a few Americans.

Once, standing outside the pub opposite the RCA, I heard a man with an American accent say, “do you know Ari?”

“Sorry?” I said.

“Is your name Bucky? Do you know Ari? I’m Matt. I think I met you in Arizona in like 2006.”

ceral boxes and peach on table

(Studio Table) Here is a detail of my studio table. The studio spaces at the RCA are communal, and I was surrounded by wonderful people: one from Chile who made a sinking Moai and was charting the Rhubarb Triangle, one from Germany who was collecting novelizations of Dirty Dancing from the £1 store, one from South Korea who made a campfire without fire, and one from Japan whose art defies explanation but who seemed to be ruining televisions toward some fruitful end. In other parts of the building, somebody was preparing to launch a duck decoy with a brick while some others were conducting a ballet starring camp chairs.

At one point I made a drawing out of a bran flake. I tried to bring it home in a box of tea but it didn’t survive the flight.


car parked in front of red one story building

London contains—by my count—276 museums; these gave me a map for my research. I went to as many as I could—up to five in one day—acting simultaneously as tourist and collector, getting lost in displays and wall text until I realized that I had forgotten to eat and scrambled off to find a sandwich. Actual museums that I visited, with made-up yet accurate names, include:

  • The Middle-Class Living Rooms Museum
  • The Museum of Famous Fat Men of the 1940s
  • The House Where Freud Died

When I go over the blur of floor plans in my head, attempting to separate all those collections, I am surprised at how little overlap there is. Still, I believe these places can be united—not just museologically, but through fiction.

blue broom handle in front of two cropped images of clouds

There are also museums that are built entirely out of photographs, but I will write more about that at a later date.


blue berries on tree on street

I lived in Waterloo with Barbara and Simon. They had two cats, called Gilbert and George. I had my pig, Pig, who learned to fly in the downstairs kitchen. I learned to love QI. Sometimes there were visitors. Once, there was a Hanukah party.

shirts hanging off doorway


swan on black surface

Somebody informed me that all swans in England belong to the Queen, and that tampering with a swan was a serious offense. Generally I am more nervous that a swan will tamper with me. These two factors—combined—may explain why I did not photograph any actual swans.

goose head between curved bars

I felt more comfortable photographing the other waterfowl in the Royal Parks, and it seemed a lot of the tourists had the same idea. It was one of a few indulgences I permitted myself; I didn’t ride the London Eye or take a Haunted Bus Tour, but the birds were free.

heron on grass lawn with fallen leaves

This is me. At one point I agreed that I was a heron. Heron Bucky still lives in London, patrolling the banks of the Thames for fish and discarded Shrek plushies, while I’m back in the States. I miss him.

pigeon on gray stones

It was immediately clear to me that pigeons in London are surprisingly handsome. This fellow, who is really pretty average by London standards, hung out on the balcony at Tate Modern. I lived relatively close to the Tate and found myself there all the time, taking in their massive collection bit-by-bit. One day I might only look at Arte Povera stuff, the next Nam Jun Paik, and one specific Dorothea Tanning painting on the third. There were at least a couple visits where I only looked at the pigeons, who had a great view out over the Thames at a point where the buskers sang American folk songs.

minature horse in dirt pen with barn in background

This bird is a horse. It is about the size of a typical London swan, but I’m pretty sure it does not belong to the Queen. Photographed for scale.


field of lettuce

I’d been in the UK for less than two weeks when I wound up on a farm in Cuckfield, West Sussex, for a performance art festival. In this picture, a performer hides in the lettuce patch, wearing lettuce and talking on a lettuce phone about the latest happenings in British politics (Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected leader of the Labour Party). All the work was heartfelt, different, and, for me, slightly mind-bending. Overall the day was produce-heavy: I was given blackberries straight from a bush, I photographed a cabbage, I sang to a pear, and I fell in love with a cauliflower.

London contains a lot of art. So much art, in fact, that I’m not sure how to distill it here.

stacked sandwiches wraped in plastic


stones stacked in shape of person in front of brick building

Before I left Texas I made loose plans to travel, to see more of Europe. It didn’t really happen. I did make it to Cambridge once—and here’s their Polar Research Institute—but I was completely consumed by the ecstatic act of existing inside of London. I saw no reason to leave.

noborder building painted on side of another building


roof of building with planters and carosel in background


lion statue in park at night


tree and street outside sunny window


All images courtesy Bucky Miller.

Q+A with Shelby Johnston, undergraduate in Art History

Thu. January 28, 2016

woman poses for photograph in front of scenic view
Johnston on the Palazzo Piccolomini Loggia in Pienza

How did you learn about the Undergraduate Research Fellowship and what was the process of applying like for you? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?

Shelby Johnston: Dr. Ann Johns, my thesis adviser, recommended I apply for the Undergraduate Research Fellowship. In addition, I discussed the process with Jessica Thompson, an art history major who had received the fellowship the prior year. In August I started on the application. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and needed to see how that corresponded with my thesis, which helped me in the application process.

Photograph of Italian landscape
The view of the hanging gardens from the Palazzo Piccolomini Loggia. In the way background Mont' Amiata is covered with fog in Pienza.

What sites or artifacts were most important for you to visit? How does the in-person experience of your research topics change or influence your ideas?

SJ: I was in Siena, Italy for the majority of my trip, but I also took a day trip to Pienza. The sites that were the most important for me to see were the Piccolomini Library, which is located in Siena’s Duomo, the façade in Piccolomini Square, and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza.

My senior thesis is on Pope Pius II and his legacy in Siena and how his patronage affected the city. The in-person experience is so different from researching online and looking at photos from books. Art History and art historical research so heavily relies on the visual aspect of things and being able to see Pius II’s projects as well as the Piccolomini Library in person greatly benefited my thesis research, especially since Pius describes all of his projects in his Commentarii. There are certain details that you cannot retain from seeing a photo or reading about a place. Being able to actually walk around these places you can make your own observations and that can influence your ideas. Pius II’s descriptions have more meaning now that I have seen some of the places he describes. For example Pius II describes the view of Mount Amiata from the Palazzo Piccolomini loggia in Pienza and compares it to Petrarch’s Mont Ventoux. If I had not seen this view myself how could I truly understand Pius II’s inspiration?

christmas tree by sculpture of man in courtyard
Piazza Salimbeni in Siena decorated for Christmas (I was there the week before Christmas).

What was the funniest or most surprising experience during your travel?

SJ: Well, Italy is always bound to be an adventure. When traveling there during the off-season not as many restaurants are open and different sites and buses don’t have their normal hours. Probably the most surprising thing that happened occurred on a day trip from Siena to Pienza. Normally the bus first stops outside of Pienza and then again in the square just outside the medieval gate. Of course it being the off-season the bus did not make its second stop.

By the time we were leaving Pienza I realized the bus wasn’t stopping and ended up getting out at the next stop and spending that day in Montepulciano instead. However, this mishap turned into a wonderful day nonetheless. We met Adamo the owner of Cantina Contucci who is featured in Rick Steves’ travel books on Italy. He was delightful and gave us a personal tour of his winery.

fresco of man shaking hand of woman with battle in background
The fresco Meeting Between Frederick III and Eleanor of Aragon and Canonization of Saint Catherine from the Piccolomini Libraryin Siena. Pius II is the figure in the center.
What's next for you in this upcoming semester?

SJ: I will finish writing my senior thesis “Pope Pius II: The Building of a Legacy in Siena” and present it at the Undergraduate Art History Symposium in April.

Q+A with Eugenie Scrase, Royal College of Art exchange student in Sculpture

Tue. November 24, 2015

screen shot of video of dog
Image still from Powdercoat Footprint/Kevin and Dylan, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

What has been the most surprising experience of your time in Austin so far?

Eugenie Scrase: I was surprised to see so many people riding bikes around Austin. As an ardent cyclist back in London I was so happy to see such a strong love for it here in Austin too. I had never seen bike racks on the front of buses either (not even in Copenhagen!); I’ll be pushing that idea onto the mayor of London when I get back to the UK!

In your work, which media do you find yourself working with most? Why do these fit your practices best?

ES: I mostly work in sculpture and film. The metal workshop in the Department of Art and Art History is brilliant—as are the technicians there. I’ve just come back from a week long road trip across Texas over to White Sands National Preserve in New Mexico. Along the way I chose particular locations to shoot some film footage that I’m now editing.

Writing plays a huge role in my practice. Along with drawing, it enables me to percolate thoughts and ideas.

screen shot of video of person's foot with yellow painted footprints
Image still from Powdercoat Footprint/Kevin and Dylan, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

Would you describe the themes that you work with? What drives your interest in them?

ES: I often use the term ‘Haptic Visuality’ or ‘Hapicity’ to describe my practice. It is sensuous imagery that evokes memory of the senses (i.e. water, nature); depicting acute states of sensory activity (smelling, sniffing, tasting, etc.). The haptic
image is in a sense, ‘less complete’, requiring the viewer to contemplate the image as a material presence rather than an easily identifiable representational cog in a narrative wheel.

This has stemmed from my previous research into the Phenomenology of Landscape—our perceptions of landscape and our movement within it.

As part of the UT < > RCA exchange program, you will present an exhibition. When and where will your exhibition be on view?

ES: It’s going to be in one of the Long Horn Stadium Squash Courts. I’m immensely excited to have to opportunity to be showing work in a space so heavily associated with the human body. There are some stunning marks on the court’s walls made by the contact of ricocheting squash balls. The date hasn’t been set yet. I’m anticipating it opening in the first week of December.

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