M.F.A. Theses 2011
2011 M.F.A. Degree Recipients:
The Domestication of Origin
For generations, western civilization has turned its back on the wellbeing of the natural world in the name of technology and progressive systems of subsistence. Now, with the rising anxiety of dwindling resources and the reality of climate change, there is a resurgence of interest and concern for the environment. Almost everyone has an opinion on what needs to be done to ‘save the planet’ but few have the frame of reference needed for what that means. We use words like authentic, pristine, organic, and pure to describe nature when in reality; real nature bares little resemblance to the way we contemporarily define those terms. Advertising suggests that if we buy products that utilize such terminology, some miraculous result will emerge. It seems as though the only nature destined to survive is that which can be directly absorbed into culture.
Physically, my work presents these ideas through the rendering of organic objects juxtaposed by nests of a culturally significant appearance. An objectness and occasional implied function exists as a commentary on the demands for use and consumption by society and our economic system. Parallel to this are the material references embedded in the work. The organic portion of each work is conventionally vitrified making it very permanent in existence through a wood-firing process that is extremely violent and unrefined. The nest or tureen components are alternatively fragile bisque fired clay that has been painted, representing conditions of impermanence and economically constructed (yet compelling) commodity. Together they are intended to suggest an interaction; not only with each other but also with the viewer.
Improving the Patient Experience: Using Ethnographic Research Methods to Identify Patient-centered Design Opportunities
This thesis project is an attempt not to design a product, but to reshape an experience.
Traditionally industrial designers create products—objects to be marketed, coveted, purchased, used and otherwise consumed. A recent shift in design research has turned attention from the things people consume to the people themselves, giving way to a human-centered design process aimed at shaping the experiences these products facilitate.
Human-centered design is a strategy that employs empathetic primary research methods to identify and address the needs of users, stakeholders, clients, co-creators and recipients of designed solutions. Of all consumers or benefactors of design, those in pursuit of medical care—patients—find themselves in their most vulnerable state and thus potentially benefit most from this human-centered approach. Designers—armed with acute sensitivity to human needs and the ability to analyze, synthesize and translate research insights into visualized solutions—are well-positioned to empower healthcare providers to address patient needs more effectively and deliver more positive medical experiences.
This work is a manifestation of this broader shift in design strategy and practice, especially within the medical field. By breaking down into its basic elements the patient’s experience of undergoing a diagnostic procedure, key touch points in the process were identified and opportunities for improvement conceptualized. Transforming these critical patient interaction points has the greatest potential for reshaping experiences. This serves not only as a business strategy for healthcare providers, but more importantly leads to more positive patient outlooks and potentially better medical outcomes.
Unbearable Whiteness of Being
“White people are not literally or symbolically white, yet they are called white. What does this mean? In Western media, whites take up the position of ordinariness, not a particular race, just the human race.“ - Richard Dyer
“Some people are born white; others achieve whiteness; and some have whiteness thrust upon them.” - Phil Cohen
The objects in my work are representations of whiteness. Whites in western culture have been able to control their representation more than any other group. Through this ability, whites have been able to eliminate the markings of race by eliminating the labeling of whiteness in language, allowing whiteness to be a process, not a thing. I do not pretend to speak for all whites, nor do I pretend to collapse whiteness into my own subjectivity or personal history. However, the position of a white person speaking about whiteness is rarely acknowledged, directly empowering the condition of whiteness. The desire to make this work is to not only undermine and criticize white authority, but to also show how white authority continues to repress a large percentage of whites.
This work is made using many different types of mediums such as painting, photography, sculpture, text and video. Like the trinkets that one picks up in a gas station on a road trip, the objects are in a constant state of change because of their shifting uses of logic and historical time reference. The constant shifting is a metaphor for how the definition of whiteness is constantly shifting and changing. The way we define whiteness today is not the same way whiteness was defined 100 years ago which is not the same as 100 years before that.
The myth of whiteness is always built on the past. Picking and choosing the material that represents whiteness is often part of a biological, economic, or political agenda. Understanding the construction of whiteness allows for a more clear definition of what whiteness is and is not. This work allows for the creation of new myths while dissecting and disposing of the old myths. All of society in general has something to gain from the examination of whiteness through both the good and the bad, the old and the new.
My work revolves around a layering of information and visual systems that come together and evoke dense fragments of meaning. I borrow forms from biology, cartography, and geography, to reference the natural world. Creating hints of multiple perspectives and indeterminate spaces, the prints bring to mind everything from spider webs to star charts. They serve as a reminder that although we attempt to categorize and delineate the world we live in, at times, it is hard to grasp and understand the invisible systems around us.
My work is more about trying to understand, rather than suggesting paths of action or advocating a particular ideological position. Trying to understand the world we see and observe, but also understanding that nothing can be fully explained or depicted. Essential to all these pieces is the shift that happens when the viewer approaches the work. The atmospheric gives way to the quiet emergence and accumulation of seemingly insignificant fragments. The delicate quality of the marks and the richness of the surface become apparent.
This body of work exists at the confluence of memory and imagination. It developed out of my experiences when travelling with my family. Every trip, we took turns reading a map and deciding which roads to take, which experiences to have. It became more about the journey than the destination. This work is also influenced by textures, by small and incidental marks, and the layers of history I find in the surfaces of life. This includes natural formations, the pattern of ice crystals on a window, moss and lichen in the forest and by the sea. They are layers of history and growth in the natural world, creating marvelous patterns and abstractions. With my layering of natural patterns and textures with the language of maps we begin to see the interconnectedness of the visual world we live in. The paint cracking on a wall is reminiscent of human veins, which look like the roads connecting city to city.
Using the language and abstract space of the map, printing has become my method for navigating the blurry terrain between memory and imagination. I think about tracing and retracing paths. By doing this, it makes them known and familiar, regardless of having travelled the paths or simply imagined them. The symbolic language of maps makes visible something that cannot be seen by the human eye, but exists in our consciousness, conflating several kinds of memory into methodologies for travel both into interior space and the physical world.
Recruiting Volunteers for Non-Profit Organizations by Designing for Social Influencers
In seeking to address the volunteer recruitment and retention needs of non-profit organizations, specifically through visual communication, the following thesis examines four areas of concern: social influence, the changing field of graphic design, graphic design research practices, and volunteer behaviors. These concerns are synthesized through combining an understanding of volunteer behavior with the development of research and communication strategies that embrace the influence of certain key individuals. These key individuals are people who are both centrally located within these contemporary social networks and connected to multiple networks. In light of the contagious behaviors of these social influencers, combined with their vast social connections, communication strategies aimed at these individuals have the potential to be more effectively communicated and implemented than does the traditional method of broadly targeting a segment of the population. By employing a design research process focused on the non-traditional audience of social influencers, these influential individuals then become advocates for the organization and foster stronger, longer-lasting connections between the organization and its volunteers. By making this method accessible to non-profit organizations, this graphic design strategy has the potential to transform volunteer recruitment, which in turn will help non-profits continue to improve our world.
My work examines the American character and its construction through history, popular culture and mythology. I utilize characters and images drawn from popular culture to explore the way Americans view themselves and their country. I aim to subvert these cultural images that act as a lens through which we frame our personal experiences and sense of identity.
My recent works focus a critical eye on the much romanticized period of the American Frontier and its place in the popular imagination. In these paintings, I challenge the archetypical image of the cowboy by casting him as a tragic hero in a perpetual state of arrested male development. While the fiercely self-reliant cowboy of myth must ride off into the sunset to avoid being tied down, my characters are not going anywhere. Instead, they wander around in the twilight, aware that change is imminent.
In addition, the cowboy has always been the hero of the preadolescent, and in truth shares much in common. Personally and culturally, the cowboy is intrinsically linked to childhood. I evoke this connection by placing toys into dioramas that I construct an ultimately photograph in compositions reminiscent of film stills.
An undercurrent of nostalgia runs through these works reflecting a desire to return to a supposedly simpler time of both personal and national innocence (childhood and the American Frontier). For contemporary Americans dealing with economic decline, ambiguity, and increasing complexity, nostalgic images of the past can be comforting and seductive. However, in my work, these comforts are denied by the lurid, film noir lighting bathing the characters and their environments, casting a foreboding shadow of uncertainty and melancholy. Furthermore, the toys and constructed environments display rather than hide their artifice, pointing to the fabrication of these sentimental perspectives. In spite of a recognition of the culturally constructed nature of these romantic images, we nevertheless long for a past that never truly existed.
Write Your Name Backwards in the Dirt (So you can Read it from the Other Side)
“[Fragments] are at once beautiful things and reminders that beauty was present long before us… [They] are a means of considering the relationship of the part to the whole… it is at once part of something else, something larger, and is complete in itself, even in its partial form.” - James Cuno
My work centers on the role objects play in our day-to-day lives; specifically how we assign value to those objects. What to keep, how long to keep it, how to live with it. Why do we keep things at all? Often the objects we choose to preserve are mere pieces of some larger physical or emotional entity serving as a link to the past. These pieces are an echo of otherwise intangible places or people.
These ideas manifest in forms that make reference to pieces of an unknown whole. I undermine traditional notions of monumentality by employing disposable, less-than-heirloom materials. Ephemeral materials switch the focus from permanent reminders for the future to mementos of a bygone existence. Referencing fragments I raise questions about the importance of their origins and why one tries to save, collect, or preserve what remains.
painted MDF on steel shelving