Learning the Artists' Way

When you walk into the Vaulted Gallery at the Visual Arts Center (VAC) this semester, you'll see not paintings or photographs but a two-story house. Seattle-based artists Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo known as Lead Pencil Studio designed and constructed this work of art/architecture titled Diffuse Reflection Lab.

The structure contains rooms of various sizes, nooks and hallways. Some rooms can be walked through, others are more like dioramas, but each holds an array of reflective surfaces and objects. Lead Pencil Studio, this semester's artists-in-residence at the VAC, uses each room, wall and object to consider different reflective surfaces and their properties, as well as how the reflection of light informs and defines spaces.

"In stripping down these interior spaces to their minimum, we are asking viewers to ignore the underlying forms and simply observe the way light and color move around a room via reflection," Mihalyo says. "Using this directed observation, we wanted to invert the natural manner of seeing the world and reinterpret it as though it was made entirely of reflections with the objects that generated their shape as secondary."

Each spring and fall semester the VAC (part of the College of Fine Arts) invites an artist to create a site-specific installation in the 1,875-square-foot Vaulted Gallery. During the three- to five-week residency, art enthusiasts from around the region are often invited to observe and participate in the creative process. What's more, students enjoy a valuable educational opportunity through hands-on involvement in all aspects of the project from planning and development, to implementation and staging.

"Our artists-in-residency program is a real opportunity for students to get hands-on experience," says Jade Walker, director of the VAC. "We commission two artists, sometimes three to four artists per year in the space to come be with us for three to five weeks and make new pieces."

Working alongside these professional artists offers students meaningful and pertinent experiences that allow them to better understand their own practices and prepare them for careers in the arts.

"You really are exposed to so many different processes that you don't get exposed to in the classroom setting," says Maia Schall, a student intern at the VAC. "I think it's any young artist's dream to be able to work in a space that size."

Unlike many residency programs in which an artist might work in a more solitary manner, the VAC's program gives artists an environment in which they can explore and challenge their artistic practices by allowing students to observe and participate throughout their creative processes. Previous artists have come from around the world, including New York City, Los Angeles and Stockholm.

"Working with actual artists who had been doing it for a while and who knew what they wanted was something that not only influenced me but inspired me to think larger," says Vlad Mejia, a work-study student in the VAC.

Diffuse Reflection Lab will be on view at the Department of Art and Art History's Visual Arts Center through May 11.

[Front page photo by Jill Chan.]