are we dreaming?

"Are We Dreaming", The PUB, Fall 2008, Vol. 4, Issue

From the day you make the decision to be a Studio Art major at Wheaton College you begin to fantasize about your Senior Show. This is the culmination of all of you’ve learned as an Art major and your chance to stand on the soap box to shout whatever dean approved message you want. However, as my education developed as a photographer here, I began to refine my process of art making to match up with my theology. I began exploring theories and ultimately shying away from the Western culture’s tendency to stress the individual within the photographic process as a sole creator and “the other” as my benefactor. By instilling a collaborative process in portrait making and recognizing not only the importance of self-reflection, but of community reflection as well, my perception of “the Senior Show” and the possibilities it held within it radically changed.

Thus, for the culmination of my learning at Wheaton College, I have chosen to involve ten of my friends/acquaintances in a collaborative two year portrait project. Starting the spring of 2007, I took portraits of each one using a 35mm camera, sitting for hours at a time listening to their stories inside a “sacred space”. The photography studio served as an environment that functioned equally as a social arena for the collective activity as well as a quiet space conducive to contemplation. The first set of images portrayed negative space in a very awkward and looming manor, echoing isolation, the weight of suffering and the desire to escape within. We were dealing with the concept of the places we “live”, abstract space, meta-narrative, “the home”, universal suffering, and the response of the internal escape. Having first found many of these characteristics within myself, I played the role of “artist as social critic” and asked my peers a question that has also been posed to me, “Are We Dreaming?” With an overall desire to call people to be aware of the present and the community around them rather than continually retreating into self, actively remembering the relatively near past as individuals and as a community has been essential. Through instigated writing, my participants began reflecting on the experiences that they have had within and outside of that “sacred space”.

However, it was not until the spring of 2008 that I began to create what has been referred to as “site-specific art”, where my subjects and I are aware of and respond to “a function of specific circumstances instigated by an artist… [and are] aware of the effects of these circumstances on the very conditions of the interaction, performing its own coming together and coming apart as a necessarily incomplete modeling or working-out of a collaborative social process” [1]. The second set of images therefore visually portrays the process that my peers and I were partaking. By having the subjects hold their portrait from the previous year; our present conversation referenced the relatively near past, but also enables the wider Wheaton community to enter into that dialogue through the resulting image created—giving the community tangible signs of growth and hope.

I have once again asked them to return to that “space” with me for the spring of 2009 to create new images. With the goal of being intentionally present in remembering the past two years, we will include both of their images from 2007 and 2008. This year we will also use a more intentional method of portrait making via a large format camera. Allowing each participant to take only three representative images of themselves will draw us to an even greater awareness of time and place. With a belief that one also truly learns something when they teach it to others, we also hope that by sharing this experience with the Wheaton community, we will begin to ingrain a practice of awareness and remembrance in our own lives and have a community to keep us accountable in order to do so.

[1] Miwon Kwon One Place After Another: Site Specific art and Locational Identity

“Are We Dreaming?” was on view in its final form from April 17th-30th in Wheaton College's Adam’s Student Gallery. Images can be found at http://www.zhibit.org/acoles/are-we-dreaming/sarah-2009-b . For a book from this show please visit https://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/632681 .

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