Teaching art remotely

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2020 5:00:26 AM
Modified: 9/12/2020 5:00:08 AM

To a casual passerby, Greenfield Community College’s intimate gallery space can easily be overlooked. It’s situated near the campus’ police department, at the end of a long corridor in a newer section of the Main Building, along which is situated the offices of the bursar and registrar.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Physically, the gallery is removed from the ebb-and-flow of the Greenfield college’s student body; its quiet atmosphere invites viewers to linger and contemplate in front of each curated work. From the hallway, a half-staircase leads up to a three-walled gallery space, which, during the semester, typically serves as a veritable oasis for art of all mediums and intentions — huge drawings; small photographs; student showcases; special projects; projected videos; mixed medium pieces of such complexity that, to the shrewd observer, it’s impossible to pass them by without stopping for a closer look.

“That space has been my baby since I started teaching full time. I’m the one who hangs the shows,” said Joan O’Beirne, who teaches photography in the college’s art department. “I miss it.”

Like every gallery in Franklin County (and the world over, for that matter), Greenfield Community College’s art space has been scaled back due to the ongoing pandemic. Its doors were shuttered in the spring, a short time before the college’s annual student art show, and haven’t reopened since. As a new semester harkens, its walls will remain devoid of art — as a whitewashed reminder of the challenges that local art students are facing.

“All of this is challenging. Everything about teaching art online is challenging,” O’Beirne said, noting hurdles like a lack of studio space and the missing social interaction that many students need. For painting and drawing students, “Most will have to set something up in their bedrooms. … Some of the biggest challenges are technology. I have students who show up to class outside the library in their car. I dread the cold weather coming for people who are stuck like that. Some people thrive in the online environment, but there are many who don’t.”

Of course, O’Beirne, who holds an MFA in photography from the University of New Mexico and has taught fulltime at the community college for about eight years, has adapted to the unforeseen circumstances. The school as a whole has shifted into the digital realm.

Instead of an in-person student showcase at the end of last semester, the art department put together a last-minute online blog to honor the students’ work. This year, O’Beirne says she’ll be teaching a class on cyanotype photography, an artistic process that uses chemicals to produce a cyan-blue print (blueprints), entirely remotely. She’ll have to guide the technical and hands-on process from behind a screen.

And instead of the annual exhibits and corresponding art talks that are typically held in the gallery, O’Beirne and her colleagues have put together an online art series that will feature artists talking about their work via the video conferencing platform Zoom. Notably, the lectures are free and open to anyone from the community, not just students.

It’s not all detrimental. In this unprecendent era of learning, the digital format has provided an opportunity. Artists who wouldn't typically be able to be highlighted because of location limitations will be able to participate remotely.

Photographer Pipo Nguyen-duy, for example, an artist who attended graduate school with O’Beirne and currently teaches at Oberlin College in Ohio, has been stuck in his native country of Vietnam since the pandemic began, unable to return home because of lockdown orders. He will hold a talk about his photography work remotely at the end of next month. It’s a chance for local students to learn from professional artists they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

“From the very beginning, some of (Nguyen-duy’s) work was looking at himself as a Vietnamese living in America — some of it was (about) identity,” O’Beirne said, noting Nguyen-duy returns to Vietnam in the summertime. “He talks about, in some cases, the collision of cultures. … He does this brilliant series where he just shot outside his window at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. The camera never moves, it stays the same. Sometimes you see curtains; sometimes it’s night; sometimes it’s day.”

Notably, Nguyen-duy is one of two photographers who will be featured in the lecture series, which will take place Wednesdays at noon via Zoom starting on Sept. 16. Each artist was selected by a panel of faculty members that includes O’Beirne. While the semester will undoubtedly bring more challenges with it, O’Beirne says she’s confident that the students and the college’s art department will rise to the occasion.

“I hope people will notice the GCC art department — we’ve always been a really strong” presence in the community’s art scene,” O’Beirne said.

Art lecture series

Sept. 16: Matthew Steinke explores the “inner voices of objects” through the intersection of sculpture, sound, text and robotics. Based on assumptions and unknowns relating to subconscious identity, he develops fictional entities from found media, found objects, and fabricated materials. Although he employs technology, he does not promote interactivity in the conventional sense. Instead, the user-initiated dynamic is reversed, so that the work becomes “inductive.” It is intended to act upon and change the spectator, to contribute to their own process of becoming. More information can be found at matthewsteinke.com.

Sept. 23: Marjorie Morgan, Making Ink with Natural Materials. Morgan is an artist who grew up in Vermont and currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts. She received a BA in Dance from Oberlin College and went on to perform nationally and internationally with several Boston-based dance companies. She is currently a faculty member at Zea Mays Printmaking. A serious injury in 2011 greatly reduced Ms. Morgan's ability to dance and perform. Since then, she has focused primarily on painting and printmaking. More recently, she has been completely captivated by the practice of making her own inks and pigments and using them in drawing, painting and printmaking. More information can be found at marjoriemorgan.net/index.html.

Sept. 30: Marisa Murrow was born in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. She has traveled all over the world exploring art and culture. India and Indonesia left a significant and lasting impression on her creative path. A traveler in her place of origin, Murrow collects visual information on site; producing vibrant, iconic paintings of mobile home parks and floral abstractions. Murrow has exhibited her work at museums and galleries throughout California. More information can be found at marisamurrow.com/home.html.

Oct. 7: Cesar Melgar was born in Newark, N.J and raised in the Ironbound section, a workingclass neighborhood. This upbringing as a child of first generation immigrants influences his eye as he turns his lens onto his community that has faced environmental injustice, disinvestment, and now the force of gentrification. His photos capture the poetic nuances of daily life in a city that is often misunderstood by the rest of New Jersey and beyond, and especially the media. Cesar has exhibited his work in all of the major galleries and institutions in Newark. He is a contributing photographer for the International Society of Biourbanism based in Rome. Cesar is the subject of an interview for the New York Times and The Design Observer. More information can be found at cesarmelgarphotography.com.

Oct. 14: Jesse Harrod has an MFA in fibers and material studies from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Currently, Harrod is the Head of Fibers and Material Studies at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Harrod’s solo exhibitions include “Tender Buttons” Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art Project Space, New York, "Low Ropes Course" at NurtureArt in Brooklyn, “Hatch”, Bowtie Project, Los Angeles, Calif. "Toxic Shock and Hotdog" at Vox Populi in Philadelphia. Their work has been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions throughout the United States. These include “In Practice: Material Deviance” at the SculptureCenter in New York, the traveling exhibition "Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community," and “Even Thread Has a Speech”, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisc. More information can be found at jesseharrod.com.

Oct. 21: Jacin Giordano (b. 1978 Stamford, Conn.) works in Easthampton, MA. He received his BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Md. and his MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Although his work sometimes blurs the line between painting and sculpture, Giordano primarily identifies his work through the lens of painting where he is continually interested in deconstructing and reconfiguring the physical possibilities of paint. His work is the result of experimentation and a constant exploration of material, texture and process. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Artforum, New American Paintings, The Boston Globe and Vogue.

More information can be found at jacingiordano.com.

Oct. 28: Pipo Nguyen-duy was born in Hue, Vietnam. Growing up within 30 kilometers of the demilitarized zone of the 18th Parallel, he describes hearing gunfire every day of his early life. He immigrated to the United States as a political refugee. Pipo has taken on many things in life in pursuit of his diverse interests. As a teenager in Vietnam, he competed as a national athlete in table tennis. He also spent some time living as a Buddhist monk in Northern India. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at Carleton College. He then moved to New York City, where he worked as a bartender and later as a nightclub manager. While living in the East Village and meeting people such as musician Don Cherry and artist Keith Haring, Pipo’s interests turned to art. He earned a Master of Arts in photography, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in photography, both from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. Pipo is a professor teaching photography at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. More information can be found at piponguyen-duy.com.

Nov. 18: Guen Montgomery is obsessed with the ordinary things of the material world. Her work looks at the life of objects, the longing to collect and acquire, and how possessions collaborate in our performances of identity. Materially, Montgomery’s work is located in the intersections between printmaking, performance, and sculpture. Recent pieces look critically at the relationship between possessions, historic privilege, and whiteness. Montgomery has work in multiple public collections including the Centre for Art and Design in Churchill, Australia, and Mushashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan. In 2019, Montgomery started a new body of work during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center that will be exhibited in upcoming shows in St. Louis, Wisc., and Pennsylvania. She currently teaches at the University of Illinois, UrbanaChampaign, where she lives surrounded by ordinary treasures with her wife, dog, and three cats. More information can be found at guenmontgomery.com.

Dec. 2: Joe Saphire works in video, digital imaging, and installation. His projects explore the iterative nature of digital material, sourced from both popular culture and personal archives; and the ways in which narrative meanings are shaped and dismantled. He received his MFA in studio art from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a BFA in photography from the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford . His work has been screened and exhibited in various New England venues, as well as festivals around the country. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at Greenfield Community College and Holyoke Community College. He lives and works in Northampton. More information can be found at joesaphire.com.

Each lecture will be held on a Wednesday at noon via Zoom. The lectures can be viewed by logging onto the same website every time (https://bit.ly/3kb6KZc). The Zoom meeting identification number is 981 3161 3995 and the password is 642716. For more information, visit gcc.mass.edu.

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