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UT students challenged to think experimentally in Ox-Bow summer program

heat lamps used in outdoor sculpture

Each year, the Department of Art and Art History funds scholarship opportunities for selected students pursuing BA’s or BFA’s in Studio Art to attend the Ox-Bow School of Art Summer program. This year eight undergraduate students were awarded funds to attend, including Lindsay Davis, Haley Hill, Brook Johnson, Rae Kim, Emily Lee, Vivek Sebastien, Celia Shaheen, and Audrey Williams. These student artists took courses in everything from “Speculative Weaving” and “Exploding Paint” to “Goo, Chunks and Sometimes Vases: Glassblowing for Beginners & Maestros.” 

Senior Haley Hill took “Lighting: Fixtures, Flashlights & Reflectors” with artist Chris Buchakjian. Through hands-on demonstrations and practical exercises, students were meant to investigate the different qualities of light and its varied relationships to space, as well as its relationships to viewers. 

“I was interested in this class because I felt that lighting was a really important part of my practice as I mainly focus in photography, performance, and installation sculpture,” writes Hill. “More importantly, I wanted to have the ability to create something in an experimental manner without the pressure of a graded critique. I walked away from the course with basic wiring and soldering skills, as well as knowledge about miniature bubblers for fish tanks, sandblasting, and a lot of readings that I'm still processing and thinking about while I make work for classes now.”

Hill had experimented with heat lamps and projectors in her practice at UT as a Junior, interested in the color they emit and utilizing temperature in her work. “I've been thinking a lot about temperature (because it's Texas), but also in the context of global warming,” writes Hill. “How much agency does temperature have over us and vice versa? How does it affect our daily lives, do we stay inside most of the day, or do we go outside and brave the heat? If so, where do we find coolness that alleviates the extremely high temperatures?”

red funnel dripping water

Haley Hill, 2018

Now that Hill is back on campus, her time experimenting with temperature at Ox-Bow has brought renewed focus to her work in Studio Art Lecturer Rachael Starbuck’s Intermediate Sculpture. She is currently working on a piece involving a motion sensor and a heat lamp, where viewing the piece would trigger the heat lamp, allowing her work to take on a kinetic, interactive energy. 

Art History major Brook Johnson was another UT student who attended Ox-Bow this past summer, using various light sensitive media, the darkroom, film and digital cameras, sound recorders, night vision cameras and solar telescopes to explore time and the properties of waves in the course “Ghost in the Machine.” Artists Sarah and Joseph Belknap led this experimental photography and video workshop, focusing on conceptual themes from the class centered around nature, science and Rebecca Solnit’s idea of “getting lost.”

“My class helped me to think more closely about the tools I use to make images and videos,” writes Johnson. “Since our instructors really encouraged us to experiment without worrying about the ‘success’ of an artwork, I treated my time at Ox-Bow as an opportunity to gather as much video and photo material as I could. Michigan is a really beautiful place that is very different from Texas, where I have lived my entire life.” 

In the midst of art production, there is also always time for a bit of levity. Johnson writes of a particularly amusing interlude, “There is a lady at Ox-Bow who goes to the dock everyday around dinner to feed a HUGE snapping turtle she has named Sampson. She has been feeding that dinosaur-like turtle hot dogs for at least fifteen years now. She has two tiny dogs that she brings with her and she talks to the turtle the same way she talks to her dogs. I made a lot of video underwater while at Ox-Bow, so I knew I had to get some footage of Sampson before leaving! Sampson was definitely interested in my camera, which had me wondering how similar my fingers might look to hot dogs in the eyes of a hungry snapping turtle.