MFA Candidate: Lesley Art + Design

Faculty Advisor: Deborah Davidson

Artist Mentor: Georgie Friedman


Bridging the gap between the aura and the object with the quickly paced and exponentially expanding virtual space we all have found ourselves living in during the COVID-19 pandemic is a major concern within the work. As a visual artist, there is a strong tension between these two different sides of the art world. The push to move everything - gallery exhibitions, museum tours, art sales (NFTs), etc. - to the digital space threatens why we create art: to tell stories, to explore physical materials, and to feel the energy that objects emit. My practice sets out to merge them in order to satisfy both strings that pull in opposite directions. Is it possible to follow the instinctive urge to feel materials with my skin, to continue to physically push paint, charcoal, and ink around, to build and deconstruct layers, and to preserve the aura of the work while simultaneously succumbing to the rising world of digital art and NFTs? Does the materiality and the material allegory that communicates fragility and vulnerability become untranslatable when seen through a screen? How does the object stay preserved when NFTs and the virtual platform easily remove the object from the value? These are questions that drive the work.

Implementing a transdisciplinary approach that merges the physical object with video and projections is one possible solution. My process begins by capturing videos - vignettes - that are filled with experimental marks, textures, sounds, and various materials. In past work, the layering process was very crucial in exposing the fragility of the materials, and in parallel, the fragility of life. In order to attempt to bridge the gap while preserving this quality, this step is done digitally through various key framing and masking techniques. 

The videos, which are filled with rich textures, layers, and expose the many physical qualities of art, are then projected onto specific materials and objects that relate to each projection. A projection of paper moving spills onto actual stacks of paper falling off the wall.  An oil stick drawing circles is projected on a cylinder pole. I set out to blend the boundaries by playing with space, objects, and materials. 



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Over the course of the Spring 2021 MFA in Visual Arts virtual residency, I was confronted with new perspectives and ideas that will help guide my research and studio practice over the next term. Prior to the residency, I had embarked upon a quest to explore my work under the guise of an excavator-as-artist/artist-as-excavator, and there was a lot of uncertainty about where the work would go and what the work would tell me. New connections in my work were made during the many critiques with faculty and students, and they have generated new paths to explore. It seems that the consensus throughout the residency was that my art wants to exist in two realms: the physical and the digital. Many highlighted my desire to expose the process and suggested that I combine the process and physicality with projections and installations. As a group two student, I am comfortable with using the term to explore the many routes suggested to me. Minor areas of interest include phenomenology, space, and archiving and excavating from my past, and the major areas of focus will be exploring materiality and mark-making while simultaneously learning about installations and projections. This twofold exploration is a continuation of the transdisciplinary approach that was discovered in the previous term.

Investigating materiality and mark-making will be the first component of my work this term. What is the significance of the material that is used in the work? Where is the material sourced from? What is the material relationship to me as an artist? All of these questions were generated during the residency, and they sit at the forefront of my inquiries. These questions paired with the observation that my work is a reflection of my life and the record of my journey create new avenues to explore. One possible route could focus on choosing materials and objects that are more relevant to my upbringing; for instance, starting with an object from my childhood (a toy, a photo, a map, etc.) and using it as the substrate. I could take it through the additive and subtractive process to expose the foundational object. Another possible direction could be to exaggerate the landscape quality of the layering and to use a macro lens while filming to play with scale for the viewer. Additionally, sustainability is a topic I think about frequently, and giving a new purpose to materials is something I want to continue to do in my practice. Another route I could experiment in would be to combine my love for the trails with sustainability, and I could source materials on walks through the woods; I could then use these materials to build layers in the work. ​Materiality, Materialism, and Conceptualism in Art and Society​ by Russell Honeyman and ​Materiality as the Basis for the Aesthetic Experience​ ​in Contemporary Art​ by Christina Murdoch Mills are two thesis papers that I will be reading that address similar concerns found in my practice. I will also be reading J. F. Rodenbeck’s text Yayoi Kusama: Surface, Stitch, Skin.​ Ana Mendieta, Christine Shannon Aaron, Anselm Kiefer and Lynda Benglis are artists that I will be looking at in terms of materiality.

I have always felt an affinity for working with an array of materials and my bare hands, and I want to continue that practice. It was pointed out to me that the action of making marks can be reflective, hypnotic, and meditative. I will be looking at artists Ann Hamilton, Yayoi Kasuma, Jean DuBuffet, Helen Booth, and Christine Shannon Aaron in terms of repetition, mark-making, and process. ​Lines: A Brief History​ by Tim Ingold, ​Ancient Ritual in Contemporary Mark-Making​ by Catherine Eaton-Skinner, and the student resource, ​Mark Making Coursework Guide,​ through the Tate, are texts that I will be reading this term. It is possible that my studio practice could begin to drift from the complex layering towards the study and isolation of the mark and gesture or it could become hyperactive and take on even more layering and depth.

The second component of my twofold investigation this term will be experimenting with video art, projections, and installations. Time-based media is not a discipline that I have studied nor have practiced so it will be imperative to understand the history of video art. I will be looking at Chris Burden’s ​Through the Night Softly​, Hermine Freed, Video Data Bank’s experimental video anthology ​Surveying the First Decade​, and UbUWeb’s collection of art film and videos. During the previous term, my artist mentor was a mixed-media artist so this term I have decided to work with an artist that practices in projections and video artwork. Georgie Friedman was recommended to me by both faculty and students during my residency, and she has graciously agreed to work with me this term. Friedman recommended the following readings ​Off the Wall Video Sculpture and Installation​ by Chris Meigh Andrews, ​Video Art ​by Michael Rush, and ​The Body, the Image, and the Space-in-Between​ by Margaret Morse to prepare me for the term.

The impetus to start filming my practice was to expose and document the significance of the process and to better understand the physicality of the work. This presents many different routes the work could go in. I am interested in video projections and installations that create large tableaus that fill an entire space. Inviting the viewer to experience what I experienced while creating artwork is significant to me, and I think it could be achieved through projections. Other interests of mine include creating an aural experience, exploring topography, highlighting meditation, and playing with scale. In addition to Friedman, I will be looking at Brian Knep, Jane Cassidy, and Camille Utterback’s projections, Richard Serra’s scale, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, and the installation of Mark Bradford, Patricia Miranda, Do Ho Suh, and Heather Hansen. Potential readings for this area of study include ​Installation Art​ by Claire Bishop, Understanding Installation Art: From Duchamp to Holzer​ by Mark Rosenthal, and Deconstructing Installation Art​ by Graham Coulter-Smith.

Not only am I interested in documenting and exposing my process by using time-based media, and inviting the viewer into my mind, I am interested in how we navigate, interact, and occupy space. I will also explore phenomenology per the recommendation of Stuart Steck. Him and I discussed a condition I have called body dysmorphia, and although I am not sure how to address this in my work, the idea of bodies in space is a possible route my work could go.

Another topic I could explore is creating a space that is full of stimulation and then transitions into silence; the first space could have layers of sound and video and the second space could display the work created in the projections. Additionally, another idea is figuring out how manipulating space can dictate where viewers walk and how they experience my work. I am interested in how to invite the viewer to participate in the process, and this may manifest in creating an interactive space/social experiment. Possible readings include ​The Poetics of Space b​ y Gaston Bachelard, ​Participation​ by Claire Bishop, and ​Mind/Body Problem​ and ​Some Notes on Phenomenology of Making​, both by Robert Morris.


To conclude, there are numerous directions that my work could move towards over the next term. The basis of my research and studio practice will be exploring mark-making and materiality while simultaneously exploring video projections and installations. There is a curiosity surrounding the significance of the mark, gesture, and material in my practice, and experimentation will be at the forefront. To document this, I will utilize time-based media and projections. Juxtaposing the digital image with the tactile work is also intriguing to me especially as we navigate the virtual world. More so, I will continue to build on both the self-assigned role of artist-as-excavator and my interest in various hyperactive processes. Finding ways to show the commonly unseen steps in art making is fascinating to me as many people during the residency pointed out that the journey is what I value in my art practice. Merging the disciplines could help me achieve my goal of blending the roles of both the creator and the viewer as well as inviting the viewer to experience the sacred, process oriented aspect of my art.

MFA Candidate: Lesley Art + Design

Faculty Advisor: Alex Jackson

Artist Mentor: Julia Rooney

Group: 1





Excavate:  uncovering, unmasking, and unearthing. What does it mean to be an artist as an excavator, and more so, what happens when the physical action of excavation is prioritized over painting, drawing, or any mark-making? I assume the role as excavator in order to find what is in the underbelly of the material and in my practice. My initial desire to create was to get messy and discover what the tools were capable of doing while searching for ways to communicate fragility and vulnerability. What better way to examine fragility than to dig and carve away at the work without the pressures of turning out an aesthetically pleasing masterpiece?

Implementing transdisciplinary methodology that consists of borrowing printmaking techniques (relief) and instruments (cutting tools) and then applying them in a non-printmaking way to a plethora of different substrates challenges a system previously established while testing the strength and fragility of the materials. My work has always been very additive and subtractive, but currently, I have flipped the sequence; I carve first, then build. Different outcomes are forced to emerge when different parameters are set. Additionally, in the printmaking world, the matrix only lasts for so long before it is worn out and no longer printed. When I push my new system in a hyperactive deconstructive way through carving, the final outcome no longer matters. The process that contains the significance, and the outcome sometimes does not even survive the carving. 

It is paramount to record the process to document what is valued. Additionally, my time-based media eliminates any preconceived responsibility of producing a final piece thus allows for hyperactive digging to occur. I want the voyeur to experience my vignettes as I did while I was carving away at the piece, so I film in an aerial perspective. I keep the camera low to the ground so the voyeur can be included in the process.


The following statement and body of work were used to apply to the program and were presented during the first residency.

The impetus to create started as a need to feel the materials with my bare hands and to discover what they were capable of doing. As an inquisitive child, exploring art was a natural process, yet it remained at the superficial level only touching the aesthetic side of creativity through collage techniques, craft, and mark-making. As my life progressed, I was faced with many hardships, and my work began to shift to a deeper, darker investigation of identity, self-worth, perception, and healing. I explore the intersection between my internal energy and the external influences that have percolated throughout my life by creating mixed-media abstract pieces with or without figurative graphite drawings. My work satisfies an innate desire to physically feel the materials while communicating vulnerability. The main theme that is prevalent throughout my work is fragility. I have faced much adversity and trauma throughout my life, and it is consistently explored through an intuitive, fluid process. Over a decade ago, I left a volatile world to navigate the world as a young, single mother. At the core, my work is the visual record of the many fragments surrounding my story. My most recent body of work combines mixed-media abstraction on wood panels. My pieces tend to be somber in mood and touched with the muted overcast tones from my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Chance dictates my process, and the work grows as I react to the formation of shapes, negative spaces, and textures. I prepare wood panels with a mixture of gesso, acrylic ink, and stain. After establishing the groundwork, I build up several layers with an array of materials including, but never limited to, tissue paper, transfer paper, gouache, acrylic, gold leaf, oil stick, and graphite stick. I then deconstruct the work by sanding and/or scraping away areas to expose the underbelly of the piece. This process repeats as much as it needs to until the work effectively communicates fragility and tension; there is chaos and order in each piece. Life is a series of layers being built on top of each other, but the foundation and history is too significant to ignore and mask. There is beauty in the past despite how ugly it is because the present and future were built upon it. My goal is to mimic the trials and tribulations of life through my art while exposing hope and beauty that may have been hidden within.

AARYN LEE - 2020