Seniors Nominated for AICUO Art Award

Oberlin College seniors Matthew Gallagher and Lily Gottschalk have just been nominated to compete in the 2012-13 Excellence in the Visual Arts Competition sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. AICUO is a consortium of independent institutions throughout Ohio that maintains a commitment to value-based education and involvement within the larger community. The six winners will receive a $2,500 cash prize and will have one of their works purchased by AICUO for its collection. Both Matthew and Lily agreed to meet with the Review and answer some questions.

Taia Kwinter

Are you an art major?

Lily Gottschalk: I’m a Visual Art major, with a concentration in cinema studies. I do a lot of video.

Matthew Gallagher: Yeah, Studio Art. Unofficial honorary TIMARA major, I do a lot of TIMARA stuff.

Tell me a bit about the projects that you’ve done here at Oberlin.

LG: I really don’t paint and draw for my main body of work. I’ve always done mostly video and stuff like that. Trying to incorporate video into installations, and that has kind of led me to performance art, which is really what I’ve been doing. I started moving into more kinetic sculptures, stuff like that, and [there] is a costume [I wore] that is loosely based on the virgin Mary, kind of like her antithesis but also the same as her, because I think that opposites are the same. And this is the baby Jesus, this Furby. We had to do a 12-hour drawing, so I did a 12-hour performance and was in the museum for a while and then went around different places on campus and did different things. 

What are you working on right now?

LG: Right now I’m really interested in pushing my body in ways that make me kind of have to transcend my ego, and I kind of think of these performances as they kind of feel like possessions. Allowing my body to be a voice for something ¬— I mean it’s my own voice, but something that doesn’t always feel like, “I’m going to do this and say this and this is what it means.” Everything is very intuitive, and then [later] I understand what it meant, but at the time, if I think about it too much then I get nervous and I think I’m a freak and I make mistakes a lot, so I have to just not think about what I’m doing; I have to be completely present.

MG: I have a couple different things going on: [for example,] these almost blank canvases. All my stuff usually looks kind of busy and intense, so I wanted to try something subtle and I wanted to work with color a little bit and explore the ways you can mess with people’s experiences using color. The painting is supposed to change the longer you look at it. This one is interesting: If you look at it for long enough, it will just turn into a blank canvas. I’ve been doing a lot of experimental stuff at the instruction of my teachers. I was having trouble making stuff at first because of this kind of massive pressure… You’re having your senior show that’s going to be this definitive body of work for you and they were just like “oh, try a bunch of different things at once.” We’ll go into a critique and they’ll be looking at paintings or pieces by people, and usually in a critique there will be two pretty distinct directions that people are going in, and people always ask, “Which one should I focus my energy on?” Our teachers always say to do both, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. 

Tell me about your life here at Oberlin.

LG: I had a really hard time here, for a while. I lived in New Orleans one summer, and then after that I went to Indonesia and studied with medicine men and that was just a game-changer. Then I came back to Oberlin and felt like I had so much fuel from these experiences, but I felt pretty disturbed by a lot of the things about the culture here: in America, but also about liberal arts school, I was really disturbed by the rhetoric and things like that, so I kind of wanted to spend my time here developing a different kind of language that I really believe in and that can be expressed a little more universally than the context of the liberal arts school.

Do you think your art responds to your perceptions of Oberlin?

LG: I don’t really know what art is, and that’s the cliché, but I don’t know, I don’t really know — I’m just trying to be totally present and do what I need to do to breathe. If I’m not creating things and voicing things in a certain way, I just crumble. I’m just doing what I need to do to breathe. And I don’t know what’s going on, and probably won’t until later. But I’m also just trying to bring some color into this space. I’ve felt the culture grow a little colder and a little more dark and a little more hopeless, not as a judgment on people — it’s just kind of where we’re at in our world or whatever, but I don’t really want to submit to that, and I’m willing to sacrifice people’s perception of me being a normal person, which I can be, but in this context something else is called for.

So do you work primarily with painting?

MG: I have been, yeah. I started doing visual art sophomore year when I took (E)CAMP with Assistant Professor of Integrated Media Julia Christiansen. It was a totally new-media based class and I did a lot of weird installation projects and weird kind of archival art projects, if that makes any sense. One of my first projects was a collaboration, and we actually made these hanging kites out of old Oberlin Reviews, like 1874 old, microfilm copies, and we found these old gym books in Hales to line them with, and that was one of my first things. So I stared off in (E)CAMP and then I guess I’ve only been painting for a little over a year.

Painting seems to be very much about the physical gesture for you, as well, of applying paint and the process.

MG: Oh yeah, painting for me is really physical. It’s weird: I always wonder when I’m in here late at night, like, “what exactly do I look like?” You know, because it feels one way when you’re doing it, but it’s going to look entirely different to someone else. And that’s a weird thing that no one gets to see, because they get to see the end product but they don’t get to see you doing it, and I think people should be able to see that.