On the evening of Jan. 16, spotlights illuminated 15 models as they strutted down a runway to ethereal music in GC’s Magnolia Ballroom for the opening of “Unhindered Spirit: Embracing Imperfection,” the current exhibition on display in the Leland Gallery. An estimated total of 150 spectators sat and stood on each side captivated by the organic feeling given off by Judy Bales’ fiber artwork made of industrial material.
“People forget fashion can be art too and not just something you buy off a rack,” said Grace Callaway, a senior art major co-curating the current exhibition.. “Whether you’re an artist or a passerby, it can offer some inspiration in your own work seeing something that different.”
At GC, art majors with a concentration in museum studies are required to curate the work of an artist of their choice to be exhibited on campus in fulfillment of their senior capstone thesis project. “Unhindered Spirit: Embracing Imperfection” satisfies the requirement of senior art majors, Callaway and Sophie Daniel, as they co-curated the exhibition.
Prior to the opening of an exhibition, capstone students like Callaway and Daniel spend at least a year on research, coordinating with their artist, designing the exhibition, producing didactic information and handling the shipment and installing the work. Afterward, they are expected to deinstall the work, ship it back to their artist and write a reflection paper on their experience including detailed documentation of their entire process.
Callaway and Daniel based their artist selection process on their mutual interest in fiber artwork. From there, they selected Bales due to her proximity, unique style and agreeance to display her work at GC.
“In this exhibition, we wanted to showcase Judy’s work and its contrast of industrial and organic forms,” Callaway said at the opening reception. “Judy’s work appeals to us as curators with her modification of the materials’ intended purpose.”
Over the next several months, Callaway and Daniel meticulously planned out how they wanted to showcase Bales’ artwork. The Iowa based artist is influenced by her surrounding environment to any industrial material she can get her hands on to replicate forms found in nature.
“It’s made to be flat and tight and without holes in it,” Bales said about the aluminum screen materials she used for her piece, “Star Fly,” that is on display. “So as an artist, the first thing I do is I do everything to that aluminum screen that you would not do if you are using for the purpose that it was manufactured.”
Bales’ artwork takes many forms when it comes to being displayed and is never rearranged in the same manner. In the Leland Gallery, her work is suspended from the ceiling, mounted on the wall and clothed on mannequins.
“We felt like she had so many pieces that we couldn’t fit into the gallery,” Callaway said. “I’m always really inspired by fashion shows that are really theatrical, and I sort of got that feeling from her work.”
With a fashion show added to their agenda, Callaway and Daniel used their inspiration from theatrical fashion shows to bring Bales’ fiber art to life. They began organizing the show by collaborating with GC’s theater department for models, makeup artists, a hairstylist, lights and a stage manager.
This fashion show gave Bales’ the chance to work with her first male models. Stephen Mosley, a senior physics major, enjoyed his experience wearing one of her pieces made completely out of zip ties.
“Once I got out on the runway, I just felt such power because it was such an empowering clothing item,” Mosley said.
Callaway and Daniel not only brought Bales’ work to life through a fashion show but created a site-specific installation inspired by Bales’ work within the exhibition. This allowed the two students to have hands-on experience working with and creating in the improvisational manner Bales’ does with her work.
They collected scrap bedsheets, pillowcases and other fabric from a factory nearby Daniel’s home. Over winter break, they crafted different forms seen in nature, as Bales’ would, in preparation for the installment, which took place within three hours with some assistance from their faculty mentor, Ernesto Gómez, and Bales.
“As students and artists, I think it can be inspiring to know that there are different routes to take when creating art and just realizing how much you can create from what already exists or maybe you find,” Daniel said.
Jessica Eleazer, a junior psychology major at GC, attended the fashion show and opening reception held Jan. 16. She found the whole experience to be insightful, especially for a non-artistical student like herself.
“A lot of times people will see art, but they don’t ever get to hear about the process of creating pieces of art, so the exhibition opening helped me see the art in a new way,” Eleazer said. “It is unlike any other art I’ve seen.”
“Unhindered Spirit: Embracing Imperfection” is free and open to the public in the Leland Gallery at Ennis Hall until Feb. 14.