Saturday, July 18, 2009

VSC Exhibition and Special Summer Reading List

Near the end of my residency at Vermont Studio Center, my curatorial self was lured out of hibernation by the wealth and variety of work being created by the writers and artists sharing the experience with me. I decided to curate a selection of their work into this exhibition for my blog. Because logistics and space constraints dictate that I can only include a portion of the residency group, I plan to write another article of this kind in the near future.

The first image you see was not created by one of the residents, but I did find it in a shop in Burlington. It was created by “dug nap,” a self taught artist born and raised in Vermont. The remarkable ecosystem described in this text gives you a taste of how amazing the VSC artists and writers actually are, considering what they have to deal with! Yes, of course it’s exaggerated, but the erratic nature of the weather in Vermont is one of its hallmarks. We experienced all of the named conditions except a blizzard.

Although there were artists working in all media in the program, it unsurprising that I was particularly attracted to those working more conceptually. Among those artists is Danielle Julian-Norton, a sculptor whose sculpture and installation work often involves sensate experiences.

Ambrosia, a 40 ’passageway created with 20,000 bars of Neutrogena soap, suggests a very heady experience in this regard. The variation in the soap’s golden tones and translucency of the installation’s walls evoke magical childhood tales, a quality she also creates with Treading and Transport. In this installation Julian-Norton has suspended dozens of tiny rice paper boats in the gallery space, again carrying the viewer’s imagination to tales of enchanted transport. These qualities are enhanced by the human scale of the work, and her strong use of light and shadow.

In a very different way, Ailsa Staub has been experimenting with creating spaces and modes of escape and safety. With installations like Scout and Escape, she encourages the viewer to tangibly experience their feelings about these activities by partially hiding in a wall mounted box, or by climbing onto

a platform high on the wall. Although these works pose slightly ridiculous solutions to the question of what can provide a sense of escape or safety, the work also addresses the question

of whether these feelings or goals are ever really possible.

Michele Jaquis’ installations, videos, and performances explore the complexity of relationships. In some cases, the work addresses tensions and the dynamics of closeness, often focused on family and friends. During the residency, she investigated this through a photographic series that explored her own sense of cultural identity with 26 Passports (at left). Considering the complexities of immigration in our own time, her work Fake Passport 2 (at right) is a reminder that these issues are not new, and that many of us--born in the US--would not be here if our ancestors did not enter the country surreptitiously.

In 2008 Michele applied her personal identity interests to making the film Recovered – Journeys Through the Autism Spectrum and Back, a remarkable portrait of four children who have recovered from Autism Spectrum Disorder. This award winning film was screened at the ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto during our residency, and Michele did a screening for us when she returned from the festival.

Questions of identity are also central to Lewis Colburn's work, which he explores through reenactments and history, as we encounter it "fabricated, sanitized, and manipulated for consumption." Produced for the International Prize for Performance, 4th Edition, put on by the Galleria Civica, Trento, Italy, Colburn hired a local group of Napoleonic-era reenactors to perform drills and guard duty for an evening near the theater where the Performance took place.

Sometimes he recreates historical elements (like the blood spattered coat, appropriated from a 19th century painting) as means to investigate "how history's protagonists become an exercise in contextualizing myself in the 21st century, and an opportunity to interrogate our longing for a past that never was."

Lewis' works sometimes have a surreal quality, such as his Inspections Stations Project, based on an installation of empty guardhouses in Wendover, Utah. Originally part of the Hercules Aerospace plant in Magna, Utah, from 1988-2001 these buildings were occupied by groups of Russian weapons inspectors. As part of a residency at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Lewis recreated a segment of one of the Soviet guardhouse buildings (at right), that were moved to Utah from Russia.

This work is a reminder that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction--and that history does repeat itself. Writer and poet Tom Andes evokes this quality in his poignant vignette "Lechery."


We bring them oysters, sautéed with butter and leeks. We pour their wine, propping the bottle in the ice bucket next to the table, and we withdraw, bowing with exaggerated flourishes, making the obvious jokes—one joke to him, and then another to ourselves. She looks like his granddaughter, we say, snorting, safely out of earshot, on the other side of the fountain. She’s so young, and yet we cannot stop ourselves from looking. We tally their check, watching with mingled horror and fascination through the French doors, while he leans across the table and cups her chin in his hand, feeding her a morsel of lamb.

-Tom Andes

The expression of desire, coupled with horror and fascination, is also wonderfully expressed in Emari DiGiorgio's "Head in a Hand Basket," published in Barn Own Review (below and at
"Head in a Handbasket").


When I get it
in the mail, priority
delivery, I’m expecting
the buy-one-get-one-free
panty offer. Box bigger
than I was expecting but
what do I know of shipping
panties across the country.
And when I open it
I’m not expecting my
ex’s head, swaddled
in bubble wrap, Styrofoam
peanuts littering the floor—why
would I be expecting his head?—
I just hold it in my hands a minute
or two and set it on the table.
What is this? I ask my cat.
She knows that face too.
But she’s hungry and she’s
a cat so she’s not worried
about an invoice or a return
address or how I’m going
to explain this to anyone.
I feed her. And I start
talking to him. What?
He doesn’t have anything
to say now. I wonder
if I should call his sister;
it’s definitely his head.

You would think I’d know
what to do with my ex’s head.
The same way I ought to know
what to do with my mother’s head
or that jackass who let his little
dachshund shit in my yard earlier.
I might bowl his bald head down the street.
But I don’t even know what I’d do
for sure with my mother’s head.
I think I’d like to shrink it and
wear it like a ring. But my ex?
I feel sort of bad just throwing it out
but I don’t really want to keep it
around. If I plant it in the backyard,
not bury it, plant it near the pumpkins,
I wonder if they’ll look like him.
I’m wishing it were October, not
August, I could just leave the head
on my front step with a bowl of candy:
Snickers and Kit-Kats and Gummi Worms.
Some kid dressed as Spiderman might
steal it and then, then I would be free
of this face, I know, I loved, staring at me.

—Emari DiGiorgio


Check back in the next week for Part 2 of the VSC Exhibition and Special Summer Reading List.


  1. Wow, thanks for this great blog about VSC, which I heard about from John Gregg's blog. I was at VSC last March, and I'm going back this August 14-28, so I'm very curious about what summer is like.

  2. Hi Terri. I stumbled across your blog trying to find Tom Andes's email address. He taught a class of mine but I no longer have my university email and need to get a hold of him to see if he'll write me a letter of recommendation. It's no where online as far as I can see. My name is Daniel Bablinskas. Please, if you wouldn't mind, send me the email to Thank you very much.

  3. Daniel, I passed your request on to Tom Andes, and assume he'll get in touch with you.