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Art exhibitions provide students learning experiences

April 20, 2012

Most evenings the classroom buildings of UW-River Falls echo with the rare footsteps of students.

The Kleinpell Fine Arts (KFA) building is not an exception, unless, that is, when the higher level art students celebrate the opening of their senior exhibitions in Gallery 101 in the lobby of KFA.

Rachel Hanson, fifth-year bachelor of fine arts (BFA) student at UWRF, hosted one of these gallery shows from March 21 to March 28 to exhibit prints that she had been developing in the print studio on campus throughout her time at River Falls.

When she started her print studio classes six semesters ago, she focused on the human body and the insecurities people have about their own bodies. Then after developing prints of body parts and more interpretive works on plastic surgery, she began to question why people were insecure.

“[The] question I asked myself was, who defines beauty?” Hanson said. Hanson was one of the four students who shared the KFA gallery.

Other types of art that were being shown that evening included glass sculpture, and photography, which represented three of the eight art departments total on campus.

The arts shows are composed of works done by the art students, normally at the senior level, to teach them how to set up a gallery show and to give them a chance to share what they’ve created with their community and peers in a professional environment.

“[UWRF has a] long history of believing in its own students to get them into galleries,” said Morgan Clifford, the art department’s fibers professor who is in charge of the art exhibitions.

The process of getting students to put together a show forces students to find cohesive themes in their work and focus on those themes, Clifford said.

“When they [students] focus on too many things it’s like dating to many people,” Clifford said. “You don’t have time to figure them all out and know them that well.”

Art students who are pursing their BFA, like Hanson, or even their broad field art bachelor’s degree, have had the chance to gain this rare opportunity in a university environment.

“I feel like it’s a very valuable experience,” said Scott Vadnais, a fifth-year senior who finished his BFA coursework in glass last semester and is completing his minor. When Vadnais first started putting together his show he had nothing from his assignments to draw from because he didn’t have a common theme.

“All the art students are supposed to be trying new things and developing,” Clifford said.

Instead, Vadnais thought of his theme, which was identifying the connections between natural material and man-made materials, and made all of his pieces for the show.

By the end of his project, he had collaborated with the greenhouse on campus and the biology department. An example of this collaboration was one of his pieces that drew on the similarities of how life begins for humans and for nature.

He made a glass sculpture of a human uterus and put seeds that he was given by the greenhouse on campus inside of the uterus.

This showed the starting point for plant life and the starting point for human life in the same piece of art.

Vadnais explained that this positive experience of working with other departments and applying the professional business aspect to art encouraged him to enter smaller selections of his work into larger scale shows. For him, that included the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) that he was accepted into this year.

NCUR is a national conference that was located at Weber State University this year that brought in more than 3,000 attendees this year to show the work of students all over the country.

The visual arts category has 73 students submit their work to be reviewed to possibly be accepted into the prestigious program.

Despite this large number, only 37 artists were able to present at the program because they either did not get accepted into the conference, or they were unable to make it there.

“We’re really proud of our students. The students blossom when you have them put it [their work] out to the public,” Clifford said. “It’s really impressive.”