The University Art Museum at UAlbany is shining a light on women artists with its latest exhibitions.
Entering the museum, jungle-like calls engulf the space. In “Louise Lawler: Birdcalls 1972/81,” the artist loudly mimics the names of famous male colleagues, making them sound like birdcalls. The sharp chirps creep into the two other exhibitions, especially the sculpturally-focused “we are here.”
Artist Nicole Cherubini’s work in “we are here,” is heavy on texture. Combining everything from clay to fiberboard, acrylic paint, buckets and other found objects, Cherubini’s work is both fantastical and familiar.
Her exhibition also relies partially on sound, though, unlike Lawler’s, it’s optional. There are several mobile seats that viewers can sit on and wheel around the exhibit. Each seat has headphones connected to it with music playing out. The music was composed by female artists and is mostly classical. It redefines the idea of an audio walking tour that so many museums offer these days. It also makes visitors see her work from a different viewpoint.
While it can make for a more isolated viewing experience, it works well in that space because it blocks out the sound from the first exhibition as well as people passing through the museum on their way to class, work, etc.
Upstairs, the works of Carrie Schneider play off that idea of being engulfed in the work of art in front of you, so much so that the rest of the world melts into the background. “Rapt,” the title of the exhibition combines a few of the Hudson-based artist’s series, including “Reading Women.”
In a large, bright photo, the first we see in the series, a woman sits by a window, rabbit in her lap and head bent over a book. Several other portraits are lined up next to “Diana reading Anne Carson (Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, 1998).” In each, the figures are similarly engrossed in a book. Some are languidly slouched on couches and chairs, others hold the book in one hand and a cigarette (or in Diana’s case a bunny) in the other.
Not too far off, Schneider changes the camera’s perspective, drawing viewers in further. Instead of the woman’s faces, we get a look at what they’re reading, with their hands holding the books open, either over their laps or on a table. Bibliophiles will have a difficult time stopping themselves from reading the books or trying to guess the titles before looking at the label copy.
For the series, Schneider also shot video clips of each woman in the series reading in their studios or in their own homes. All the books the figures are reading are written by women, pointing to this idea of women influencing women.
Viewers can participate in this influencing process by looking through the long shelf of 100 books, all of which can be seen in the series. They’re placed on a tiered shelf, where viewers are invited to sit and take their own inspiration and influence from the books. It’s a mammoth reading list that points to this thread of influence, and specifically feminine influence, that runs through Schneider’s work and has been largely absent from conventional history, as Schneider said in an interview with the Gazette.
The “Reading Women” series has viewers as ‘rapt’ as the subjects themselves. But the series is only one piece of the exhibition. In other series nearby, Schneider focuses on pushing the envelope technically rather than socially.
In “Summer Drawings,” Schneider draws in the familiar to create an abstract composition using photography. She experiments with solarization and several exposure techniques to pull this aesthetic off. In one “drawing” Schneider weaves in the familiar image of the head of a statue at Yaddo, window panes, and an image of a woman in the background
She further pushes these techniques in another series on exhibition at the University Art Museum, working this time with colored paper to produce at times neon-colored abstract pieces. This is the first time they’ve been exhibited.
Here, Schneider talks about the thought process behind “Reading Women” and her latest work.
Q: Can you tell me about how the “Reading Women” series got started?
A: I started the project in 2012. It was right after I’d moved to New York City from Chicago. It started out pretty small, I didn’t assume that I would have 100 portraits as a part of the project. I was figuring it out as I went along. It was more of an experiment that I ended up really enjoying. I asked a couple of friends to sit and read for me in their own homes or in their studios while I photographed and filmed them reading. I asked them to sit for a couple of hours while I took their portraits, knowing that it would take a bit of time to get someone to relax while having two cameras pointed at them. I think because they were my friends and because there was this passing of time it became more natural. That was what I was interested in capturing, someone sitting in their own home in a way that they would sit without anyone else there, having their own time and space and becoming immersed in a text that was important to them.
Q: What are some books that have really influenced you over the years?
A: There are so many. There’s an art historian and a film philosopher whose name is Kaja Silverman, her books have been really important to me. She writes about feminism and art. Her book “Flesh of My Flesh” has been a real touchstone for me. Other books that I was introduced to through this project like Anne Carson have become a touchstone for me. The Angela Davis texts have become so important even though they’re historically important they’re just so topical right now it’s kind of alarming how the things that she wrote about in “Women, Race, and Class” are so important to continue to grapple with.
Q: What went into the “Portrait of an Artist in Her Studio” series?
A: I was at an artist residency in rural Maine, it’s called the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and I think the residency is something like 75 years old. I was there about 10 or 12 summers ago and I actually saw my friend Katie sleeping on the floor of her studio, and I was just so struck by it. I wasn’t able to grab my camera in time so I had to recreate it, but it just perfectly summed up one aspect of all of the activities that can happen within an artist’s studio. It’s not always about incessant production, you’re not always having these strokes of genius. There are periods of rest or there’s a post-event feeling. There are all these phases to art making that are part of the process that we don’t get to see or that we don’t usually talk about.
Q: Can you tell me about the process behind “Summer Drawing”?
A: I was exposing black and white photographic paper inside a large format camera. The intended purpose of these cameras is exposing film negatives and I exposed paper, which is a much faster process and it’s more experimental. It’s hard to determine the results you’ll get. I was interested in experimenting and working through these materials in a way that led to uncertain results. Exposure can be so technical and I wanted to buck some of that. I think of them more as drawings or paintings where I’m making these gestures while recording actual things in the world, like natural elements or portraits, and layering multiple exposures on top of each other. I don’t really know exactly what it will look like until I develop the paper.
Q: Is that process similar to your other new series that’s in the exhibition?
A: Yes, I used a camera that was a little larger, [a] vintage Deardorff camera from the 50s. I shot colored paper instead of negatives. It’s more experimental and even more unwieldy than shooting black and white paper because color just responds [differently] to light. There was a lot of experimenting going on there where I’d say most didn’t turn out at all so it was really frustrating but also fascinating to work through that. [The pieces in the exhibition] are the result of what I was working on last summer, but that’s what I’m currently working on.
“Carrie Schneider: Rapt,” “we are here.” and “Louise Lawler: Birdcalls 1972/81” will be on exhibit until April 6. For more info visit albany.edu/museum.